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
Denver Memorial Hospital
Buck had been a busy man making arrangements for families and checking on agents. Mallory took Adam and Joanne to the Wilmington home at his insistence. He had Max take the Tanner children over there too, knowing that Vin as well as Kelli needed some time alone before they saw the kids to decide just how much to tell them about what had transpired. He knew they did not want to lie to them, but they did not want to scare them either. How could they explain to the children and help them understand when even the adults could not fully comprehend the mentality behind the acts of a man like Donner?
“Inez, I know it’s a handful darlin, but…” Buck did not have an opportunity to finish.
“Nonsense, Mal should be here and the kids are all fine. Besides you know I love having them here, Caleb and Jason are no problem and Andi fits right in. You do what you need to and don’t worry about us.” Inez could hear the concern in her husband’s voice.
“Love you baby.”
Wilmington looked over his list; he had full itineraries from every MCAT agent. All were accounted for and ordered to remain on high alert status. Greg Ramsey was staying with Pam and Kat at the apartment the women shared and Buck had a patrol unit posted outside their building. Ross Anderson sent his family to visit with relatives and he had confirmed that Justin’s family was safe and sound in Florida. Selina assured her former boss that she and her sister were okay and that they had their own contingency plan to follow when Raphael was on assignment. Gunny was on her way to Max’s house, and Judy was in route to New York.
Closing his notepad Buck looked toward the examination room. Despite Vin’s best efforts. Dr. Gilford had not released Kelli yet. Tanner may not like it, but Wilmington had appointed himself personal bodyguard to the two Texans and would stay with them until they were safely home.
Ezra sat down next to Buck. “JD has moved his family to the ranch house. Bones said to tell you that and I quote ‘This old man can take care of himself.’ Mark, Ross and Paul are working on securing Larabee 7, with Walter and will assist him until Monday. I convinced Linda that she could be more help there than running down here. She is on her way over to help out Max with the preparations for dinner. I fear that Vin and Kelli will have a houseful of well-intentioned family members before this night is over.”
“I think you’re right about that.” Buck laughed. “It’s good that they carry extra clothes in their truck. At least they have a chance to cleanup and change before they get home. I suppose it’ll be up to us to make sure the crowd disperses early enough so that they can get some rest.”
“Most assuredly, but I have confidence that we are up to the job. Now however, I am on my way to meet Barbara. She is taking a few days off work, and is home packing as we speak. We are going to bring in extra supplies and will meet you at the Tanner’s before six. Is there anything else that you require?”
“Thanks Ez, but I believe we have everything covered. Since you are taking care of getting my truck home, we’re good. As soon as the doc springs Kel, we’ll be heading out, too.” Buck shook his head and sighed from exasperation. “Damn I hate this; it feels as if we’re going into hiding and I’d much rather hunt the bastards down!”
“Taking precautions with our most precious possessions is not hiding. We simply need time to regroup in a safe environment and to plot out our next strategy.” Ezra laid his hand on Buck’s shoulder. “Once we are certain that Chris and the others are out of harm's way, we can become the aggressors and ‘hunt the bastards down’ as you so aptly stated. I shall see you shortly.” Standish left the hospital. He was uneasy about the recent turn of events and earnestly hoped that Vin could convince Chris that it was time to pull out of O’Mara Enterprises and come home.
Nathan closed his cell phone and muttered something about hardheaded women before turning to Buck. “I finally convinced Rain that she was not needed here. She is on her way over to Vin’s house now and will not rest until she sees for herself that they are both okay. I did fill the prescriptions, but I doubt that either of them will take the pain medication… the muscle relaxants, maybe.”
“Were you able to reach Josiah?
Yes, and he sent back two messages of his own. One was to thank you for taking Mal and the kids to your house. Two was to tell Vin that it could be Saturday before Chris checks in, and he would only tell him to call. He felt that Vin should be the one to let him know what is happening here.”
“Thanks Nate, you can head on out and I’ll handle it from here. See you at home.” Reluctantly Jackson did leave.
Thirty minutes later a tired Tanner finally emerged from the examination room with a worn-out Kelli.
Buck stood up to meet them. “You two look like you took a slow ride through hell, it a good thing that I’m driving.”
“Thanks Bucklin, that is exactly what it feels like.” Vin was glad that Buck was there, the adrenaline rush from earlier was long gone. “Let’s get out of here; you can fill me in on the way home.”
Friday ~ August 11 ~3:00 am
Tossing and turning in his sleep, Adam was trapped in a nightmare. He saw Alberto and Reyes struggling with two little girls that were fighting the men that held them. One was blond and the other had red hair, their screams pierced his soul as he tried to reach them. Kelli! Grace! God, not them, too! Victor Donner held him and callously laughed when he screamed for the men to release his children.
As he struggled against Donner he saw the two children begin to weaken and then Alberto grabbed little Grace and slammed her to the floor while he began to undress. The scene in his mind changed and he saw a four-year-old Kelli standing in the corner, staring at him. Her words though cut him deeply. “You should have stopped them. Why didn’t you? You can’t help me, it’s too late, but you need to rescue Grace, she’s just a baby, they’re all innocent. Please make them stop!”
Adam sat straight up in bed and gasped in air. Sweat poured off him and as his eyes began to focus, he realized that he was still in their rented room in Mexico. It was just a nightmare! Get hold of yourself! Grace is fine and Kelli survived. The throbbing pain in his arm reminded him of his injury. That doctor had given him some pain pills, but he threw them away. Don’t want them and don’t need them.
Another evil voice from his past whispered. But you do want them, you want to sleep and make the nightmares go away, don’t you?
Throwing the covers back, his feet hit the floor. He remembered throwing the pill bottle in the trash can, grabbing it; he dug and found the bottle that held the pain medication. All I need is two, just to make the nightmares end. Opening the bottle he took two small capsules and held them in his hand.
“You okay?” Creed’s sleepy voice drifted from the other side of the room.
“Yeah… I…I’m okay.”
Cortez stretched. “Damn, I guess we should be up anyway. That plane will be ready to fly us out of here before sunrise. You want the bathroom first?”
“No, you go ahead.” He waited until Creed shut the door behind him and studied the pills in his hand. Is this what you really want to do, Larabee?
Tanner Home 4:00 am
Pellets of water bounced off the ground as the rain fell; Vin listened to the distant thunder, and watched the magnificent lightening display Mother Nature was providing. He stood by the sliding glass door to their private bedroom patio, and tried to shake the feeling of unease that had settled over him. He had been up and dressed for the last hour. The disquieting events of yesterday had left him with an underlying anger that he was trying hard to control. Last night he had barely held onto that rage until everyone left, and by some means he and Kelli had made it through explaining her injuries to the children. Giving their statements to Ezra about the attempted kidnapping was over, but he could not get the image of that man holding his wife out of his mind.
What if I had stayed in that garage five more minutes? I would have been too late. Don’t go there, Tanner. You do not live your life on what if. But I knew Donner was a threat and I still screwed around. Vin! Since when do you second-guess your actions? You were there in time and Kel is safe. So what do you do now Tanner? Chris is out there in the middle of it all and refuses to come in. That bastard Donner is a loose cannon and is capable of anything. Take it one step at a time Vin.
A startled scream from the bed had him across the room in seconds. “Kel, wake up, it’s only a bad dream, baby.” Vin gathered her into his arms and waited until she could talk, brushing away the tears on her face.
“God, it was awful! I saw you coming across that road and that man shot you and I couldn’t stop him!” Kelli was trembling and only managed to speak between sobs. “I saw you laying’ there on the ground, covered in blood.”
The Texan held her tighter and massaged circles on her back as he spoke. “Shh, ‘m fine, and so are you. Hell, even if he did shoot me, it wouldn’t have stopped me from getting’ to you Kel. There is no way he was leavin’ with you and not him or his partner or anythin’ else was gonna get in my way.”
“Chris was there, and he was yellin’ at me, said it was my fault that you were dead!” Kelli continued to shiver. “Why would dad be in my nightmare and why would he think that you’re dead?”
I don’t know Kel.’ Vin hesitated before he said more. He sensed that Chris was experiencing some type of distress, but he was not certain what was causing it. “I reckon that Chris is not in a good place right now...not emotionally at least. Maybe we’re both pickin’ up on that.”
“Maybe, but it seemed so real…”
Tanner tilted her head up and kissed her reassuringly. “I promise you, ‘m not plannin’ on leavin you anytime in the near future. We have too much to do and kids that need both of us.” He found his anger dissipating, replaced with a desire to help his wife through her fears. “It’s early, you wanna try and go back to sleep?”
“Don’t wanna sleep.”
“Well, with that bruised leg, we can’t dance.” His teasing tone did produce a smile from the redhead. ”Doc said we shouldn’t risk getting pregnant till the drugs are out of you system, and that you should keep any physical exertion to a minimum for a couple of days. I haven’t own a condom since I met you, and anythin’ we start will end up physical, so lovemaking is out.” The Texan grinned. “We can raid the kitchen, you didn’t eat last night and I’d bet that you’re hungry.”
Kelli managed another smile. “I am hungry, but I reckon I’ll have to settle for food.”
“So the kitchen it is.” Vin helped her with her robe and let her lean on him. Slowly they made their way to the kitchen, with Tracker right on their heels. The pup had not been three feet away from Kelli since they had come home.
Pouring Kelli some juice Vin sat it in front of her. “No coffee for you, at least for another twenty-four hours, but breakfast I can do.” Vin began pulling out items from the refrigerator.
“Vin, how much longer before this is over?”
“Doc said the headaches, could last for a while, but the drugs should be out of your system within thirty-six hours.” Vin deliberately misunderstood her question and continued his preparations for breakfast.
His wife’s raised eyebrow and that annoyed look on her face said it wasn’t working. Tanner exhaled a deep breath before answering. “I don’t know Kel, soon I hope. I want Chris and Raphael out before Donner figures out who Adam Carmichael really is. If they don’t have any physical proof to connect him to all this, it will take longer, but we will get him. He will pay for sendin’ those bastards after you as well as everythin’ else he is responsible for.”
“I concur with that evaluation.” Ezra entered the room after overhearing part of their conversation. “May I inquire why y’all are sitting in the kitchen at this dreadful hour, instead of resting as the good doctor prescribed?”
“Hell Ez, I could ask you the same question. I didn’t know you could function at this time of mornin.” Vin smirked.
“On the contrary, the word morning indicates the break of dawn. It is…” Ezra looked at his watch. “Good God, it is the middle of the night!” Standish reached for a cup with one hand and the coffee carafe with the other.
“Do I smell coffee brewing?” Barbara joined them, “Morning all. How are you feeling Kel?”
“I feel fine.”
“Uh huh, sure you do.” She gave Ezra a lingering good morning kiss as he poured her a cup of coffee. “Thanks sweetheart.”
“That is one of the advantages of being up this time of day Ez.” Tanner grinned.” Plus a few…” The ringing of his cell phone, which he had earlier picked up out of habit, interrupted Vin. “Tanner.” He answered and as he listened to the caller his expression changed from a grin to a frown. “Hang tight Greg, we’ll be there inside of thirty minutes.”
“Someone attacked them at Pam’s apartment, shot the two officers on guard duty outside, and scared the hell out of her, Kat and Greg. They’re okay, but we need to get over there. Ez, you have five minutes to change.” Vin was already speed-dialing Buck as Standish kissed Barbara and then raced out of the room. “Buck, we gotta roll, outside, five minutes.”
Vin closed the phone and turned to Kelli. “Baby, I’m sorry but…”
She shook her head, stood up and wrapped her arms around Vin. “Don’t apologize. Go, and do what you have to, I’ll be fine.”
“We’ll be fine.” Barbara corrected. “I’m here and I can take care of the kids as well as a certain stubborn redhead.”
Tanner leaned down and kissed Kelli hard and long. “Love you, Texas.”
“Love you Tanner.” She watched as he left and said a silent prayer for his safety.
Katrina had been Pam’s roommate since Kelli had left and moved in with Vin, almost eighteen months ago. The two women were compatible and the most exciting thing that had even happened in their building was when the lady down the hall went into early labor, needing their assistance. Tonight had changed all that.
Pam and Katrina both had been on edge about the possibility of being targets, but did not believe for a minute that anything would actually happen. Asking Greg to stay over last night was more to appease Agent Wilmington, than any fear for their safety. Now there were two Denver policemen in the hospital, fighting for their lives, their glass patio door was shattered, their apartment was crawling with law enforcement officers, and a dead man lay in the middle of their living room.
As the trio sat on the couch and waited for their Captain to arrive Greg whispered to them. “You think we should let the Captain know that his extra training paid off?”
“Hell, I think we all owe him and the Commander a debt of gratitude for forcing us to attend those sessions.” Katrina knew the basics that she had been taught in the academy, but the new moves that Vin had instructed them on had, in her mind at least, made the difference here tonight.
“I know I owe him an apology, I balked the loudest when the announcement was made.” Pam thought that she did not need to stay up to speed on her hand to hand training, after all she work with CASSIE most of the time.
“Speak of the devil, look who’s here.” Greg announced.
Tanner was the first one through the door, flashing his credentials to the officer in charge. While Buck talked to the Denver Police Captain, Vin and Ezra sought out their teammates
“Y’all okay?” Tanner approached the trio of agents.
“Yes sir,” Pam answered. “That is, as much as we can be with a dead man in our living room.”
Vin sat in front of them, “Who wants to start?”
“I guess I can sir.” Greg answered nervously. “I was asleep on the couch when I head glass shatter and before I knew it, two men barged into the room with their guns drawn. I rolled off the couch onto the floor and made my way towards the other room. Before I could make it though one of the men spotted me in the darkness and came at me. Without thinking I threw my leg out, the way you and the Commander had shown us in class, and knocked him off his feet. The other man yelled and then I saw Kat come out of her room with a weapon.”
“Katrina continued. “I head the glass break, and looked at the time. It was 3:50 am. Anyway I jumped out of bed and grabbed my service weapon. When I heard a loud thud, I opened my door and saw one man on the floor wrestling with Greg, and another armed one at Pam’s door. I raised my firearm, identified myself as a federal agent, and when the man turned his gun in my direction I fired. Unfortunately I think that I missed him and that was when the first man jumped up. Greg and I were able to subdue him and we kinda lost track of the other one.”
“When I heard the shot, I counted to fifteen and then opened my door” Pam added. “I think Kat did hit him because he seemed stunned. I used the move you showed us and knocked his gun from his hand. What all happened next was so fast that I’m not certain which came first, but my man yelled to the other one in Spanish. He ordered him to abort the mission, whatever that meant, and made a fast retreat back through the window.”
“Our man was not so smart, he didn’t listen and instead, he grabbed the gun that had fallen on the floor, aimed it at Ramsey, and then I shot him. “Katrina sighed. “That’s him.” She pointed to the deceased.
“I called Bones and he should be here anytime now.” Greg offered.
Vin knew that Ezra was writing this down, but he wanted to make certain he knew what they were looking for. “Okay, so we should find both of the assailant’s weapons here, and the one that you might have hit, went back out through the window, correct?
Three heads shook yes in unison.
“Give Agent Standish the best description you can of the second man, and Kat I need your weapon.” Vin instructed.
“The police Captain already took it, sir.”
“Fine, I’ll take care of it. Ezra, no one talks to them but us.” Vin stood and followed the sound of Buck’s raised voice to the other side of the room.
There he found Buck and the Police Captain in a heated discussion about jurisdiction.
“Captain …” Tanner looked at the name on the officer’s shirt. “Captain Morris, I am sorry about your men, however this is part of an open MCAT investigation and we will be taking over the scene. Please leave any evidence you may already have collected and ask your men to vacate the premises. If you have any further complaints, take ‘em to the Attorney Generals office.” He turned to Buck. “They seized Agent Santos’ weapon. Make sure it stays here.”
Once the locals were gone, the MCAT agents set to work. Dr. ‘Bones’ Metfield arrived with the MCAT mobile analysis’ Unit (M.A.U.) and the real investigation began. It did appear that Katrina had shot the first man; however the loss of blood was not enough to indicate a mortal wound. Fingerprints were lifted, distances measured and photos taken. Bones took charge of the dead body and promised Tanner a preliminary report by late tonight, along with the final report on yesterday’s deceased suspects.
Several hours later they were finished, but the apartment was a mess. “Y’all are welcome to come and stay at the ranch until we can get this cleaned up.” Tanner offered.
“Thanks Captain, but Greg said we can stay with him. We’ll be closer to the lab for them, and I’ll have a chance to tackle the cleanup here sooner. “Pam explained. “We will stay together and keep our eyes open.”
“Make sure you hire some professional cleaners, and have that door replaced as soon as possible. MCAT will pay for it, so do it right.”
“We appreciate it, and Vin, thanks for the brush up on hand to hand. “Katrina smiled. “You were right to torment us into learning.”
Tanner just nodded his acknowledgment. “Buck, Ezra, let’s go, ‘m anxious for JD to start runnin’ these prints, maybe we’ll get a break.”
Buck and Ezra went on to the Tanner house in Wilmington’s truck, to meet their ladies, after a quick stop at Standish’s townhouse to check on Huey, Dewey and Louie. Barbara had installed an automatic feeder for her beloved fish, and the southerner wanted to make certain it was working.
Vin stopped at Chris’ to consult with JD about their findings. “Damn, it looks as if you’ve moved half the office out here.” Tanner shook his head.” I need you to process the fingerprints we found on the scene.”
“I can get right on it Vin. With the upgrades I’ve installed it like having CASSIE’S twin here with us. Tomorrow I’ll be over to upgrade yours.” JD was excited about his creation. If anything ever happens to our main CASSIE, this network will be one helluva replacement.”
“JD, you amaze me with your abilities sometimes.” Tanner grinned. “But start on tryin’ to match those prints now please.”
“You got it Vin.”
The Texan spent a few minutes with Nettie and the twins, while Casey and Linda were in the kitchen working on their evening meal. Tanner said hello and was almost to the door when Linda called to him.
“Vin can I see you for a minute in the den?”
Tanner sighed and followed her into the other room. “What can I do for you Linda?”
“You can tell me how to contact Chris. I need to talk to him.”
“You can’t talk to Chris, he only checks in three times a week and right now he needs to concentrate on his work.” Vin was not about to discuss the danger Larabee was in with Linda.
“Then you need to tell me what’s going on. Chris goes undercover, Kel gets run off the road, the unit is on high alert, and if I heard right Kat, Pam and Greg were also attacked. I did not ask a lot of questions when he told me what he wanted to do, but now I’m thinking I should have.”
“Sorry Linda, you will just have to be patient and when Chris gets home he can tell you what he wants you to know about it. In the meantime you can help him the most by keepin’ yourself and Grace safe. Since you decided to come home without informin’ anyone, the least you can do now is cooperate and stick to the security measures we’ve set-up.”
“Oh I will, but when you talk to my husband, you tell him that he had better call me, and I’m not gonna wait too damn long.”
By the time Tanner walked out of the Larabee home, he felt his headache growing and it was only 2:00 pm. Damn it Chris, you better talk to me real soon!
Grace was in her crib, and Linda had fled to her own bedroom after talking to Vin, her and Chris’ room. Only, Chris wasn’t here, was he? He was still on some mission and they still wouldn’t tell her anything, her, his wife!
She needed him, she needed him so badly. Even if it was only to talk for a while, talk to him about Grace. At least with Chris she felt she could talk about it all.
His arms around her when they talked would even be better.
She still couldn’t get over the closed entry gate and the invasion of her and Chris’ home. Although she was glad she wouldn’t be alone with Grace, she still felt like they had broken in on her privacy, her and Chris’.
It was Chris who should be here, not them. Chris she could talk about the disaster this family trip had been. She had talked with Matt about it, he knew how their brother Luke and his wife were, but she had wanted Chris’ understanding.
A soft whale came out of the baby’s room and she groaned. She fell down on the bed and grabbed her head. In a minute, she would go to Grace in a minute.
Why was she crying so much? Why had she been crying so much all the time she had been with her family? She had been to two doctors while she was in Louisiana, but they both had assured her Grace was doing fine. At home, her sister-in law. Doris had patted her on her back, before being demanded by her own eight kids, and told her it happened, some babies cried a lot, it was something you just had to live through.
That hadn’t been all though. Their constant observations about her life had been just as bad. Shit, she could still hear their derisive comments about Chris running around in her head; the man they didn’t think was good enough for their family.
“How could he leave you for so long when Grace is still so little, dear? It must be so hard on you.” Not that you really helped, Linda thought scornfully. You and your eight kids, pretending like it’s nothing to have so many! Looking at me with those mocking eyes when I couldn’t handle even one!
“Is she crying again? It’s awful when you have a baby like that, isn’t it? That is when you need the support from your husband the most. A baby that cries so much is not a burden to carry alone.”
But Chris hadn’t been there! And stuck on her own, in her brother’s household, where they expected her to be fully able to handle one tiny child on her own, was when she had realized how much Chris had done for her. How wonderful it was that he had taken Grace out of her hands the moment he came home, so she could do something on her own for a while, go for a ride, go take a long, hot shower or go clean the toilet for Heaven’s sake!
Share those broken nights with her…. Lord, this is not how you imagined it would be.
Her family did not understand…“He’s still not back? Damn, Linda, what’s that man of yours up to that he can’t even call his own wife to check on her and his new baby? I don’t get that; I really don’t.”
Even though she kept defending him, Linda did not know the answers to their questions either.
It had been wracking her nerves up until the point she couldn’t take it anymore and had fled, fled home where people at least knew about Chris and his job. But it had rankled her, rankled her deep.
Not even one phone call from him to hear how she and Grace were doing. Not even one call to let him know just how awful everything was going and perhaps convince him it was time to come home. That Grace missed him so terribly that she hadn’t stopped crying since he had been gone.
“I know I’m not your precious daddy!” she screamed when the wailing became more insistent. She was instantly ashamed with herself and hurried off to the baby’s room, to her daughter. Grace was so little, how could she blame her precious baby for things she didn’t understand herself?
All she knew was that she and Grace needed Chris.
Arthur Willis was not a happy man. Hans and Broderick had not reported in and according to his sources it was highly probable that they were both dead. Now his second team had run into trouble with their assignment. The only information Clark gave him over the phone was that he needed to meet with him immediately. So here he stood out in the middle of nowhere waiting on the only one of him men that apparently had survived the attack on the MCAT agents.
Clark was not out of his car before Willis laid into him. “What the fuck happened?”
“It went down bad, Rand is dead and I caught a bullet, it’s only a flesh wound, but it’s enough. I want my money so I can get the hell out of here. Once they check for prints they’ll have my face plastered everywhere.”
“You did not complete you assignment. What makes you think that I owe you money?”
“I figured that you’d want me out of the country before they have a chance to ask questions.” Clark answered cockily.
“You’re right, can’t have them asking too many questions. On the other hand I suppose they can ask you what ever they want to, you won’t be talking.” Willis, who was standing behind Clark, pulled out his gun and cold bloodily shot him in the head, at point blank range.
Willis left the man’s body where it fell. Calmly he walked back to his car, and picked up his phone to call Donner
Santa Ana, California
Adam and Creed were in Victor Donner’s office giving him a report on their trip to Mexico They had completed the assigned mission and now Adam felt that Donner should give them some more lead way.
“What you’ve had us do so far, any errand boy could do, and that is not what we signed on for. When are you gonna start giving us some real work?” Carmichael’s impatience was showing.
“Excuse me Carmichael, but the last time I checked, I was the boss. You work for me and will do what I want, when I want it! You will have a chance to prove your worth to me, when I say so and not before!”
Donner’s phone rang. “What!” He listened. “What the fuck do you mean? …How many dead? ... Sonofabitch! ...No, come on back here first, I think maybe it’s time we gave MCAT something they will never expect. We’ll talk when you get here.”
“Problems?” Creed asked
“Me? No, but if I worked for MCAT, I would be worried about right now. You two get the hell out of here I have some calls to make.” Donner dismissed them.
Once they were out the door and out of earshot, Creed asked. “What do you think he is going to do?”
“I don’t know, but I think we need to talk to Jonah, we’re running out of time.” Adam pulled out his cell phone and dialed.
“Jonah Drake, how may I help you?”
“Tell me.” Adam barked into the phone.
“A storm passed through yesterday and wrecked havoc, there was some damage taken at the red house, the condo and I heard Texas even took a hit. You need to call the Texan right away to get a breakage report.” Jonah passed the message and waited for a response.
Silence reigned on the line for a full minute and then Adam sent his own message.” No, tell Texas a much bigger storm is on the way soon and this cowboy hasn’t finished his ride.”
Things were well under control in the Tanner household. Since the ground was soaked from last night’s rainstorm, the children were playing up in the loft, and Kelli was finally resting on the couch in the family room. Rain had been by earlier to check on the redhead and agreed that rest was the best medicine she could have. Gunny was at Max’s house, helping her sister unpack the last of her moving boxes. After Barbara and Inez assured her that they would take care of the Tanner’s, Max had agreed to let them as long as they called her if she was needed. They decided to keep the evening low keyed, and that tomorrow the entire family would gather together in the afternoon.
Walter would be joining them for supper; he was staying in ‘his’ room downstairs while Mark, Paul, and Ross used his motor home for the weekend. Buck called a unit meeting for tomorrow morning that would include the full team. He was concerned about Vin pushing too hard, and wanted the Texan to take some time to recharge tonight. Wilmington also hoped that Chris would call by then, and they would have good news to share with the others. The moment they could confirm that Chris and Raphael were safe they could complete their plans to move in on Donner.
Vin found them all in the family room and readily accepted the coffee that Inez offered him. Sitting next to Kelli his first question was of course about how she was feeling. “How’s the headache, baby? He drew her to his side and kissed the top of her head.
“About the same, how’s yours.” She could always tell when Vin was stressed and today was no exception.
“I took some aspirin and ‘m fine. So where is everyone else?”
Buck gave him a rundown and told Tanner about the meeting. “I figured we could all use some time to regroup after the last twenty-four hours.”
“Probably, tomorrow mornin’ sounds good. We’ll have Doc Metfield’s autopsy reports to cover.” Vin chuckled. “Besides I think JD has plans for my computer.”
“I shall have my report finished tonight and we can begin to plan our next move.” Ezra had the start of an alternate plan of action in his head. Once Chris, Raphael and Justin were secured, they could become the aggressors.
Inez nudged Buck, since the girls were with Mallory at the house now seemed to be an opportune time to discuss their decision. “We have two attorneys’ present, and since this involves the Tanners, Inez and I want to run something past all of you.”
“Shoot Bucklin,” Vin had a good idea what his brother wanted to say.
“Well…we…Inez and I have talked, and we want to adopt Caleb.”
The Texan grinned. He had suspected that this was what Buck was leading up to with the talk about school supplies and football games. “I think Caleb is a lucky young man.”
“So you would approve?” Inez asked anxiously.
“Yes, and more importantly I believe that Caleb, Jason and Andi will approve. Our two have taken Caleb under their wings and they are determined that he ends up with good parents.” Kelli smiled. “I can’t think of any two people that would love him better.”
“I would be happy to represent you.” Barbara offered. “However before you talk to Caleb, are you certain? What about the girls and the new baby?”
“The girls love Caleb already as much as we do, and they want a big brother like Andi has. We haven’t discussed specifics with them, but thanks to Jason they kinda understand what adoption means.” Buck explained. “They know that it’s special.”
“We already know that our new baby is a girl, so that would give him three little sisters.” Inez addressed Barbara. “I am Hispanic and Buck is Caucasian, our girls are both. We understand what it means to have a child of mixed race. I know we have more than enough love for Caleb to be part of our family, and his background or race will never be an issue in our house.”
“I suggest that you talk to the girls and then Caleb, ultimately it will be his approval that is important. I don’t think that will be a problem though, and I see no reason that we can’t make this happen.” Barbara smiled. “We can even have guardianship changed over to you and Buck, until we can finalize the adoption.” She saw Vin nod in agreement.
Ezra cautioned, “It may take a little longer than the adoption of Jason and Andi. Kelli was blood related to them and they were pre-approved because of their foster care status. That doesn’t mean you will face any problems, but it will take time.”
“We understand, but we could talk to them today and get things started. If it all works out maybe an overnight for all the kids would be in order.” Buck looked to Vin and Kelli.
“Absolutely, but you had better plan on more than a few overnights in the future once Jason finds out that Caleb will be staying on the Larabee 7 . Those two have become best friends and now that they will be related, we may all have our hands full.” Kelli was happy, they might not ever find Danny, but Caleb would have a loving family and a chance at a future that he did not have before.
Vin squeezed her hand, he was pleased. Buck would be a great dad for Caleb, a strong influence for the child, and the perfect role model for the man he would become. Inez had the capacity to love and mother a hundred children, four would be easy for her. “Uncle Vin and Aunt Kelli will take their share of overnights, too.”
“Tomorrow, I’ll go over the procedure with you both, and if we are all in agreement, I can start the paperwork on Monday.” Barbara took the smiles around the room to mean a consensus by all the parties involved.
Ezra raised his coffee cup, and offered a toast, from Uncle Ra. “To the Wilmington family, may their future be blessed with love and happiness.”
They sat around for a while, planning how to handle the news with the other children and the rest of the family. They finally decided that Buck and Inez would talk to the girls alone and then come get Caleb. Once he and Inez told him what they wanted to do, the four of them could tell Jason and Andi, then extend the invitation for a sleepover. Tomorrow they would make an announcement to the rest of the family, provided that the kids did not tell everyone first.
Twenty minutes later Vin’s cell phone rang. “Tanner,” Vin answered on the second ring. “Josiah, I was expectin’…hang on a minute.” He pointedly looked to Inez, and she did not need to read minds to know that this call concerned MCAT business.
“Barb, you and I should start supper. We’ll leave this conversation to the MCAT agents.” Inez closed the door as they left.
“Where in the hell is Chris?” Vin shouted into the phone, and apparently did not like the answer he received. “Fuck! Who does the sonofabitch think he is? Superman?”
Josiah repeated his earlier conversation word for word.
“I’m supposed to know what in the fuck that means? Damn it all to hell and back!” Tanner took a deep breath. “Sorry Josiah, it’s not your fault that the ornery bastard is bein’ difficult.” Josiah tried to calm the waters and spoke for a minute. Vin sighed, “I don’t know right now. The last time he played the lone ranger it was only him…Hell, I’ll have to get back to you after I’ve had some time to think on it…Mal’s fine and the kids are too. They miss you and send their love…I will, you watch your back.”
The Texan closed his phone and barely resisted the overwhelming urge to throw it across the room.
Santa Ana, California
Adam had been driving around aimlessly for almost twenty minutes without saying a word. Creed was willing to give him some time to think, but when they passed the same street corner for the third time he figured that it was time to say something.
Raphael Cordova though, was ready for a serious discussion. “Chris, you gonna drive in circles all night or tell me what you got us into?”
Pulling the car to the side of the road, Chris dug into his pocket and came up with a handful of large bills. “I want you to take this, go to the mission and Josiah will take you to the airport. Use the cash to buy a ticket to Denver. I’m staying, but there is no reason you can’t leave.”
“Like hell I will! I have never left a partner on a case alone, and I am not about to start now! Just tell me what in the hell is going on.”
“Vin wants me to call him. He is going to order us out, I know that’s what he wants, but I can’t do it. I want Donner and the only way I can see for justice to be served is to follow through with our original plan.”
“Hell Chris, maybe he knows something we don’t. Have you talked to him?”
“No…and I don’t plan to. This is something I have to do, but you don’t, so take the money and go.”
“You are a hypocritical bastard, you know that. If anyone else pulled this shit, you would rip them a new asshole! You put Vin in charge for a reason. Do you remember what it was?”
“Yes, because I trust him to do the job, and I fully expect to have to answer for my decision. Hell it may cost me my job…and my best friend, but I can’t leave those girls without knowing I’ve done everything possible to sink that bastard. This had gone on long enough.”
“What about teamwork? Are you willing to take a chance that the unit will pay for your decision?” For the first time in this discussion Raphael thought he saw Chris waiver. “Think hard before you answer because I will not leave you without backup. We walked into the viper’s nest together and that is the same way we walk out.”
“I can’t explain why, but I know I can’t leave and I cannot ask you to disobey a direct order either.” How can you explain to the man that is willing to risk his life for his partner, what you do not understand yourself? …That it is only a stupid nightmare that is making you stay
Raphael sighed. “Hell, it’s not a direct order if I don’t hear it. I just hope you’re right, for both our sakes.” He saw Chris about to argue. ‘Don’t even think about pulling rank on me. You’re going rogue and God help me, I’m going with you. Now shut up and take us back…Adam.”
Larabee 7 ~ 11”00Pm
All of the kids had been ecstatic when Buck and Inez told them that they wanted to adopt Caleb. Any fears that the adults had that they might need a period of adjustment vanished when Jason and Andi were thrilled that Caleb would stay so nearby and become family. Caleb looked around shyly and a bit dazed, but when Buck pulled him in his lap and asked him if Caleb wanted to be his son, the boy's whole face lit up with joy. And when Andi squealed that he could call everyone else uncle and aunt now, he carefully tried it out with the two people who had given him his first home, the Tanners. He called them Uncle Vin and Aunt Kelli, and his hug for them was so heartfelt that it moved most of those present to tears. Jason and Andi eagerly went to the Wilmington home for a sleepover celebration.
Ezra and Barbara had called it a night about thirty minutes ago and Kelli was starting to get impatient, waiting on her husband. She knew Vin was disturbed by Chris’ decision to deliberately avoid talking to him and that he needed some alone time to think. However he had been out on the deck, drinking beer for almost two hours and she decided that he had brooded enough.
Kelli limped out the door and had to stop long enough for her vision to adjust to the darkness.” You’ve been out here a long time Tanner. You ready for some company?”
Vin was stretched out on one of the deck loungers and motioned for her to join him. “Yep.” The Texan carefully watched her move slowly across the short distance to him and then gently drew her down beside him. “Clear skies, clean fresh air, it’s a beautiful night. Layin’ here lookin’ at the mountains silhouetted by the moon, it hard to believe there was a storm ragin’ through here yesterday.” He leaned over and kissed her on the temple. “Nights like this can almost make a man forget the evil that lurks in this world, waitin’ for him to falter.”
“We could run away from home, pack up the children and head for those mountains.” Kelli snuggled against him. “We won’t take any phones or pagers, just you, me. the kids, and Mother Nature. Or we can say to hell with the rest of the world and just lay here makin’ out.”
“Either one sounds good to me. “Vin tightened his hold and possessed her with a kiss that was demanding, yet gentle. The kind of kiss he needed to bring himself home from the dark place his thoughts had taken him. “Love you, Kel.”
She could feel the turmoil that was raging inside her Texan. Vin was hurting and the only thing Kelli could do was, to be here, and be prepared to listen when he was ready to talk.” Love you too, Tanner.”
Their physical act of love would come later, for now Vin concentrated on the powerful emotions that passed between them. This is what he had missed in previous relationships with women, the intimacy that demanded nothing, but gave so much. The love between them offered the gift of just being, and finding contentment in doing so, the pleasure of letting go, and having no need to explain. Together they lay in comfortable silence until Tanner finally spoke.
Chris has completely shut me out Kel. He’s only done this one other time and now…Hell…I have no idea what he’s thinkin’…if he’s thinkin’ at all. I only know that he has put me in one helluva bad position. He might as well have slapped handcuffs on all of us, because we have to keep playin’ defense as long as he and Raphael are in that hellhole. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”
“You think he’s in trouble don’t you?”
“I think…” Vin sighed. “I think he may not have been ready to take on this assignment. It’s only been a few months since he went through all that shit with Jack and then…”
“The drugs… this is a test for him isn’t it?’ Realization hit Kelli hard. “Chris Larabee cannot admit that he may need a support system. So mister I can do it myself is out to prove that he can do what millions of other can’t. Go it alone and take on anythin’ right? Damn it! I though he finally recognized the fact that even he has his limits!”
“I’m only guessin’ Kel, I really don’t know, and I reckon that right about now he doesn’t either. The only thing that I’m certain of is the fact that I have to make some tough calls in the next few days, and anyway you look at it, ‘m screwed.
“Vin I wish I knew what to say that would help.”
“That’s the thing baby, there are no easy answers. I have a responsibility to the unit and to Travis to keep it going. I’m supposed to make the decisions that will either keep them alive or get them killed. On the other hand, my brother has turned into a maverick, and he is makin’ uninformed decisions that affect all of us, without a second thought about the consequences.”
“As hard and cold as it may sound, you have to forget that he’s family and do what you would do if it were any other agent jeopardizin’ the protection of the unit.” She raised her head to look into his eyes. “Vin, he’s my dad and I love him, as much as you do, but he has chosen the wrong time to go Larabee on you.”
“My gut says he’s in over his head and my first impulse is to go and try to help him, but…”
“Then you should quit and go after him, shift the responsibility of MCAT to someone else, and hope like hell it works out okay.” She hoped that her flippant statement would cut through the conflicted misgivings that that Vin was experiencing.
“You know I can’t do that Kel, not when we’re bein’ attacked from all directions, and accordin’ to Lar’bee more is comin’, he just doesn’t know what.”
Kelli reached up and stroked his cheek. “I do know that and so does dad. Chris left you in charge because he knows that you are strong enough to do the right thing, regardless of the fallout. Just listen to yourself Vin, you’ll find the path you need to follow.”
Tanner laid his hand over hers. “Like I said before baby, you do know how to cut to the heart of the problem.” Kelli had not told him anything that he had not already known, but talking it out helped to put everything in perspective. His responsibility to MCAT and the agents had to take priority, but he would continue to try and protect Chris the best that he could, in spite of his Larabee stubbornness.
Chris, you have nothing to prove, come home.
Santa Ana, California
He was back in that damn cabin and Jack was standing over him, laughing. Goddamn you Jack, you’re dead! It’s over!
But it’s not over Chris, as long as you remember, it’s still a part of you. The drugs may be gone, but you can still feel them, the euphoric rush you felt as they poured into your veins. The nightmare free sleep they provided. They can make the ugliness go away for you.
The scene in his mind changed, and he saw Alberto attacking the young girls that he pulled off the truck. Reyes was holdin two girls apart from the others and he could hear the blond headed one screaming. “Daddy, help me! Make them stop!”
The other child did not scream, but her piercing blue stare spoke louder than any words could. What are you doing? You travel to the past when the people you love are hurting in the present Do something to help them, before it’s too late. The storm is coming
Chris, you have nothing to prove, come home.
Forget them Chris, you can make it all stop. Trust me, I helped you before, I can help you now. You don’t need them; you only need to pick up that bottle.
Go away Jack, get the hell out of my life, and take you fucking drugs with you!
“ADAM! CARMICHAEL, WAKE UP!” Creed shook the man that seemed to be lost in a nightmare until he received a response. “Are you with me here?”
“Yeah…bad dream…I’m fine now.”
“Hell, this place is nothing but a bad dream. You were asleep when I left this morning, but I did bring you some coffee.” Creed handed him the container.
“Thanks,” he took the coffee with shaking hands. “You find out anything interesting?”
“Not a helluva lot, but Donner is meeting with that FBI guy today…Zimmerman…and I did pick up this. “ He pulled a new phone from his pocket. “It a camera phone, with internet access. I figured we could start sending some pictures home of sunny California.”
“Good idea, but you had better keep that out of sight, if you plan on keeping it.” Adam apparently felt better after ingesting the caffeine. “What time is it?
“Almost ten, Zimmerman should be here by noon, so shake a leg and get moving.”
“Are you always this bossy in the morning?”
“Yep, it’s one on my most endearing traits don’t you think?” Creed grinned.
“Hell, it’s no wonder you’re still single. Now get the hell out of the way so I can go take a shower.” Adam threw back the covers and entered the bathroom. Once he closed the door all pretense of feeing good drained out of him. He locked the door and slid down to sit on the cold tile floor, holding his throbbing arm.
Flashbacks, Nathan said they were a possibility, but you never believed it could happen. You arrogantly thought it was all behind you. That damn Demerol must have triggered it. What in the hell are you gonna do, Larabee? You sure as hell can’t continue thus way!
Larabee 7~ August 12
Inez, Linda, Max, Casey and Rain were keeping the kids occupied at the Larabee ranch house, while they prepared lunch under Gunny and Nettie’s supervision. Once the MCAT meeting was over, they would take everything over to the Tanner’s deck and feed the hungry mass of agents.
All team members were present and prepared for their conference. It seemed strange to not be in their familiar war room, but it was nice to have everyone together, especially after the events of the last few days. They gathered in Tanner’s living room, and waited for him to begin.
“Y’all all are aware of what’s happened, and except for the forensics reports, I see no need to rehash the events of the last forty-eight hours. However, we have good reason to believe that more is on the way, and we need to be ready for it. Greg, you have those reports?”
“Yes sir, the three deceased suspects have been identified and I think JD has a rundown for you on their identities.” He paused while JD passed out folders to the others.” The first two suspects, Hans Riesman and Broderick Landon, have long criminal histories, both died at the scene of the attempted abduction of Agent Coulter.” He looked up at Tanner, who nodded. “Broderick was killed when Captain Tanner fired his gun and the bulled entered the suspect’s upper chest, killing him instantaneously. Riesman died as a result of a knife wound to the heart.
We have no way of tracing the drugs they used to subdue Agent Coulter. Aside from recreating the staged accident, we were unable to trace their movement before that. Nothing was found to make any further connections to another individual. Their vehicles were rented under assumed names and paid for in cash.
The deceased suspect from Agent Walton’s apartment was identified as Randal Davis. He has the same type of criminal history as the other two, but we could find no connection between them. He died from massive internal bleeding, caused by a bullet from Agent Santos’s gun. The second suspect was injured, but fled the scene. The State Police found a body late yesterday, and a preliminary report from Bones indicates that he was the same man that was in Walton’s apartment. The interesting thing to note is that the flesh wound he exhibited was minor; he was executed, by a point blank shot to the head from an unknown weapon.”
“No loose ends.” Buck solemnly stated.
“So we have nothing to go on from either incident?” Mark questioned.
“We do know from a statement made to Agent Coulter, that Donner sent those men to kidnap her. However, that alone is not concert evidence, so we keep working on it.” Tanner explained. “Greg, you and Kat continue to work on findin’ anythin’ that might connect those four men.”
“Paul and I found that O’Mara Enterprises does an extensive amount of business with South America. My guess is that in addition to human trafficking, they are into drugs and gunrunning, too.” Nathan passed around information sheets to the other agents. ‘This is a list of all the countries they have done business with in the last three years.”
“If we can’t prove the trafficking, maybe we can put them away on the drugs or guns.” Ross did not care what they went down on as long as they went down.
“We are aware that they recently had some type of operation in Mexico, we’re waiting for a full report on that. “ Ezra thought to himself that they would be waiting until hell froze over, before Chris called in a report. “However Justin Aka Billy Ray has secured a position as personal driver for the Costa Mesa Chief of Police and is in a position to obtain vital information.”
“What about the Commander and Raphael?” Pam asked. “Are they okay?”
“As of yesterday afternoon, they were both alive and well.” Ezra answered.
JD stood, “Someone tried to breech our personnel records. I had each one encoded with extra security measures and should know within twenty-four hours who did it. I found that they were specifically looking for picture identifications of every agent except, Kelli, Ezra, and me. I have to assume that is because Donner already knows what we look like. The intruder spent an excessive amount of time trying to access Vin and Chris’ files.”
“Donner has pictures of Vin and Chris?” Buck angrily shouted his question.
“Yes and no. Both files are sealed due to their days in the military and the top-secret missions they executed. Our spy evidently does not have a high enough security clearance to get to them. Yours either Buck. However, pictures of Chris are accessible on the Internet, all the publicity he has received in the last year has made certain of that. I did a search on each of our names and his was the only one that had pictures available. I scanned them so you would know what was out there.” JD handed them to Vin, who then passed them to Ezra.”
“Pam, you did some work on securing the files for the witness protection program, work with Mallory and develop something for ours. JD I want you to finish your upgrades and find me some damn link between Donner and O’Mara Enterprises to drugs, guns, or human trafficking! You and Pam will work from the office next week, but Mallory will work from Chris’ home terminal. Nathan, you, Mark and Paul explore the South American connection; find us a backdoor into this organization, drugs or guns, either one, I don’t care. We are gonna take Donner down one way or another and we aren’t going to sit on our hands while he’s planning another way to hit us.”
Vin gave Kelli a signal and she slipped out to call the other ladies about lunch.
Tanner continued. “Ross, I want extra security on our building, work it out with Crandall and don’t let him order you around. Oh and keep Chris’ name out of it, he and Crandall had a run in when Ezra’s Jag exploded and the man is probably not over it. Buck, I want to see you and Ezra when we finish. The rest of you, take every precaution you can in the next couple of weeks, we know it’s coming, but we don’t know what, when or how. As of today we are moving our game to offense, because havin’ to stay on the defensive sucks. Agent Wilmington and I will be away until Tuesday. Agent Standish will be in charge. Now, if you will join Kelli on the deck, I believe our lunch is on its way.”
As soon as the rest of the team was out the door, Vin turned to Ezra and Buck, “Ez, I know it’s a lot but I need you to do two things. I want all sensitive data removed from our office and brought here to the ranch. Work out a plan with Walter to get a start on the facility we agreed on… I know we said we would wait until this case was over, but…hell JD has already started to duplicate some of CASSIE’S files, and I see no need to wait on the rest of it. I also need you to keep an eye on Kel for me, and stay on top on things at the office until Buck and I get back.” Tanner gave him a sheet of instructions. “This is what I want you to do.”
“Certainly I will do it, but do you really feel this is necessary?” Ezra looked over the list.
Buck could not stand the suspense any longer. “Where in the hell are we going, Vin?”
“California, Chris won’t call us, so we’ll have to pay a visit to him.”
Santa Ana, California ~ Sunday ~ August 13
Great Circle Airfield
Cord and Sam Buchman stepped off their private plane. Both men wore full western attire including, tight black jeans, cowboy boots, and Stetson hats. They garnered more than their share of attention as they walked over to their waiting rental. Sam slid behind the wheel to drive them to their hotel, while his younger brother reclined the passenger seat to catch a few winks. The Buchman brothers were from Texas and in town to meet a business associate, plus have a little fun.
The valet opened the door and Sam threw him the keys.” Here ya go son.” He slipped him a ten, grabbed his bag and followed Cord inside.
When they reached the front desk, Sam did the talking. “Sweetheart, we have a reservation, Buchman’s the name.”
“Yes sir, room 310,” she gave him two keys.
Sam leaned over the desk. “Darlin’, we have a little business to take care of and then we wanna have some fun. Where can two good ol’ boys go to get some action around here?”
“I wouldn’t know sir.” She looked helplessly at the bellhop.
“I’d be happy to assist you sir.” The bellman picked up their bags. “Follow me please.”
He led them to their room and gave them a few suggestions for their evening activities. Cord slipped him a fifty. “Thanks, we’ll take it from here.”
Collapsing across one of the beds Vin growled. “I don’t know how in the hell I let Ezra talk me into this. “Damn, my feet hurt. Tell me again why I had to wear new boots?”
“Ezra’s plan,” Buck groaned when he tried to pull his own right boot off. “We’re rich Texans that enjoy spending money. We want to stir up as much attention as we can so people will remember us as just that. Who is their right mind would believe that we’re federal agents?”
“Right, I still say we should just go to the club, find Chris and kick his ass’ till he sees reason.”
“Real low keyed approach huh?” Buck sighed. “Look Vin, Ezra may be a bit paranoid about this, but he does have a point. If Chris and Raphael stay rouge and refuse to come home, we don’t want our little visit to draw the wrong type of attention and have Donner asking questions. This way we’re just two rowdy Texans that will be gone in twenty-four hours.”
“That’s fine, but this irate Texan has a big bone to pick with a rogue cowboy and ‘m not leavin’ ‘til he hears everythin’ I have to say. Even if it means that I have to beat it into that bad-tempered hardhead of his.”
The Silver Slipper
Adam slipped on a long sleeved shirt after changing the dressing on his arm. It still throbbed and the he suspected that the redness around it meant that wound had become worse. Somewhere in the back of his mind he remembered Nathan saying that wood was notorious for causing infections, but any medical treatment would have to wait. Taking the pain medicine that doctor in Mexico gave him was the only alternative to going to the emergency room.
You can handle this Chris, you only need to take those pills for a while, to see this through. He swallowed three of the capsules and went out to meet Creed.
Creed was sitting at one on the tables out front, playing solitaire. “I thought I’d have to send a search party after you.”
“Was I on a damn time table?” Adam snapped irritability.
“No, the club is closed, but Donner has had a steady stream of visitors this morning. Zimmerman has been here again and gone, Victor in there with another associate now. I sent pictures home; maybe they can identify who it is.” Creed discreetly showed the pictures to Adam.
Adam looked around; it appeared that they were alone in the big room. “Where is everyone?”
“Hell, by their standards it’s early. The only ones moving around are Donner, Willis, and visiting associates. You want to stay and observe or go grab some lunch?”
“I’m not hungry, let’s stick around and see who else shows up. Deal the damn cards.”
Larabee home ~ morning
Linda heard footsteps following her, but she didn’t stop until she was in Grace’s room and held her crying daughter in her arms. When she turned to go, she saw Miss Nettie standing in the doorway, looking at her worriedly.
“Linda, you look awful! Is Grace crying again?”
That heartfelt concern suddenly released her damned up flood of tears.
“Yes, yes she is, Miss Nettie. And I don’t know what to do! She’s been crying and crying all the time ever since… since Chris has been gone! Nothing helps; only when I feed her is she quiet! And for a little while after! But I can’t feed her every two hours! They say there should be four hours between feedings by now! And… and the doctors all say there’s nothing wrong with her.”
“There, there, dear, everything will be all right, you’ll see. Now, let me take a look.”
Grace was taken out of her hands firmly.
“Linda, I’ve been watching both of you since I arrived, and I can tell you right as rain what’s wrong here. This baby is hungry.”
“But… but I feed her even more than according to the schedule! I feed her a lot!”
“I don’t know how come, my dear, but I can assure you this baby needs feeding.” She looked Linda over sternly. “Maybe something happened to your milk, but it isn’t enough for her anymore. I’ll take care of it, I’m pretty sure Casey still has some formula with her and I’ll feed her by spoon until we have a bottle. You!” The old lady looked at her sternly. “You get some rest, right now!”
“Do you really think that’s… that’s...” God, she felt awful now, a failure as a mother. She had let her child go hungry all these weeks?
A wrinkled hand was put on her shoulder and Nettie gave her a soft shake. “Linda, she looks fine to me, so I gather you have been feeding her a lot more than that schedule, which means no harm is done. But it’s exhausting you, child, and it has to stop. Now, let old Nettie take care of everything and it will all be fine, you’ll see.”
It felt so good that someone took over, took the responsibility for a while. Linda nodded, too tired suddenly to argue. She still couldn’t get over that it might be hunger, simple as that, but at the moment she didn’t care what it was, as long as it stopped!
“Thank you, Miss Nettie. Thank you so very much.”
“Any time dear. Now, get that sleep!”
Once on the bed she sighed, deeply. If only Chris was here, then things wouldn't have become such a mess.... Did he even know how much she needed him? Needed him to be safe and at home? Thinking about her husband, wondering what was going on with him and why he stayed away so long, she fell in an exhausted sleep.
Tanner Home~ afternoon
Kelli was still under doctor’s orders to say quiet and rest, but she was finding it difficult to follow his instructions. She watched as the children prepared to go out. The kids were ready to run, but Caleb hung back to talk to the redhead.
“Aunt Kelli, are you sure it’s okay?” Caleb was excited about his upcoming move to the Wilmington home, but he did not want to hurt Kelli’s feeling
“Of course, it’s okay. You should be excited; this is a big event in your life.” Kelli sat down so she was eye level with the child. “You know as much as we would love for you to stay with us forever, I am really happy that you will be so close by. The Wilmington’s want you to be part of their family and you get the best of both worlds. You’ll have parents and sisters that love you, plus a ton of aunts, uncles and cousins who will love you too.”
“I love you.” Caleb exclaimed, and threw his arms around Kelli’s neck.
Kelli held him tight as she held back the tears that threatened.” I love you too. Now I think Jason is waiting for you, something about a fort?”
“Yeah, we’re building one.” He grabbed two Granny Smith apples from the fruit bowl on the table and ran out the door to meet Jason.
Barbara picked up her coffee cup. “I hope he can last out the week until the guardianship change is completed.”
“That is one excited little boy.” Linda laughed. “Who would have thought Inez and Buck would adopt?”
“It not really so surprising, they love children and Caleb is a lovable kid.” Kelli commented. “I just wish I could figure out why Nathan is so against it.”
“He didn’t say anything in front of Caleb, but I think he and Buck had a few words over it.” Linda shrugged her shoulder. “I’m sure it will all work out.”
“Linda, I can’t stand it any longer. Please let me hold my sister for a while, I don’t see near enough of her.” Kelli reached out as Linda passed Grace over to her. “Lord, she’s grown so much and her eyes are so beautiful, Larabee green, just like her daddy.”
“Yes she has, and her daddy is missing out on a lot.” Linda supposed it was now or never. “Vin won’t do it, so Kel, tell me how to call Chris.”
“Linda, I don’t know how to reach him, he’s undercover, and no one can just call him up. He has certain check-in times and as long as he meets them, we have to assume he’s fine. You should know that.”
“Somebody has to be talking to him right? Couldn’t they just get in contact with Chris and tell him to call me? Linda pleaded, not willing to admit that she was so overwhelmed with the demands of motherhood that she needed Chris to help her.
Kelli gazed across the table at the blonde in disbelief. “Let me get this straight. Not only do you want to interfere in your husband’s work, you also want to jeopardize a federal operation, and endanger the lives of several agents. Not to mention puttin’ your own life and your daughter’s life at risk simply because you say so?
“Not because I say so.” Linda said in her own defense.” Surely he has some free time.”
Kelli said in a low voice so as not to startle the baby. “What part of undercover is so difficult to understand? Chris Larabee, your husband, my father, became someone else the moment he got on that damn plane and left Colorado. So no, you can’t talk to him.”
Barbara had been following the conversation between Kelli and Linda with interest. Thinking about it, she decided to put her two cents in. “I’m the newbie in this wild bunch, but even I know there will be times I will not be able to reach Ezra. You need to try and be patient.”
Trying a different tactic to get information the blond asked. “So where did Vin and Buck go on such short notice? And don’t you dare tell me you don’t know!” Linda huffed.
“Of course I know where they went. Vin said that they were going to a rodeo.” Kelli told the blond. “He said somethin’ about roundin’ up a rouge stallion and possibly castratin’ it if he give ‘em any problems.”
The Silver Slipper
Cord grumbled all the way to the club. “I smell like a damn brewery.” Sam had liberally doused him with alcohol after they left the hotel. If he was going to act drunk, he needed the rights props.
“Little brother, I never knew that you were such a whiner. Quit your bellyachin’ and save some of that grumblin’ for the cowboy. He’s the one that deserves it.” Sam laughed and shook his head. “Besides, I had to do the same thing.”
“This had better work! And just so we’re straight, I do not whine or bellyache!” Cord growled. “I hate this; it would be so much easier to just kick his ass.”
“You might have your chance to do just that before this night is over. Just make certain that we find a way to get that note to the cowboy in question.”
For a Sunday evening the club was relatively crowded. The blaring music assaulted their eardrums as they entered the darkened room, and it was time to put on their own show.
“Yew Haw!!!!” Sam let out a yell.” Hot damn, we made it!”
Cord, a bit unsteady on his feet meandered over to the bar and slapped a hundred dollar bill on the smooth surface. “Whiskey, straight, two shots, and leave the bottle.”
Adam looked up from the corner table, where he and Creed sat. He knew that voice, and that yell was unmistakable. Damn! What in the hell is Buck doing here?” He felt like shit, his arm burned and no matter how many he took, the damn pills that the doctor gave him had stopped knocking out the pain. The last thing he needed or wanted was to have to answer any damn questions about his actions. Elbowing Creed in the ribs, he nodded toward the front of the club, this called for some investigating.
Ryan took note of the two cowboys, and decided that at least one of them was way over the limit, but he set the bottle on the bar anyway, slipping the hundred into his pocket. He then turned to talk to one of the waitress as Adam and Creed made their way through the crowd.
“Here come our two lovebirds now.” The bartender flashed a brilliant smile. “Hey sweet cheeks, are you ready to ditch that Latin lover of yours, and spend time with a younger stud?”
Sam followed the younger man’s line of vision and almost choked on his whiskey, drawing attention from those close by. Cord pounded his brother on the back and grinned. The older Buchman brother’s blue eyes lit up with amusement when he realized that he was not the only one that saw the twosome approaching.
“Sir, are you all right?” Ryan looked at the mustached cowboy
“Yep, just got somethin’ stuck in my craw.”
Sam could feel the heat from the intense glare aimed in his direction as Adam and Creed straddled the adjacent barstools. Ignoring the two men seated next them, Cord slapped another hundred on the bar and told the bartender. ”Drinks fer ever’ body, and even include them lovebirds over there.” He tiled his head to indicate the ‘couple’ seated next to them.”
What the fuck are doing here.
You never call, you don’t write, not even a postcard… sweet cheeks? What the hell do you think I’m doing here?
Don’t Vin me! You need to haul your ass out of here!
Not a chance in hell! Go home!
Adam did not miss the flash of anger in the blazing blue eyes of the younger man, before he turned away.
Sam shouted as the next act took the stage. “Look at that Cord! You reckon my Becky Sue could learn to move like that?”
“My Gina knows moves that would put that girl to shame. Hell that one ain’t half growed yet. Where’re the real women in this joint?” Cord spouted off.
“Hell brother, all the real women are in Texas.” Sam poured another drink.
As if on cue two scantily dressed, but obviously underage girls, made an appearance, draping themselves all over the two ‘Texans’.
Sam removed the arms that were wrapped around his neck and smiled sweetly. “Sugar, I ‘preciate the offer, but I think it’s past yer bedtime.”
Cord grabbed the hand that was reaching to lay claim to parts of his anatomy that he considered off limits. “The boys are private property, no trespassin’ without a personal invite.” The two rejected young ladies appeared to pout and then they moved on down the bar to the next customers.
Adam finally spoke. “What’s so special about the women in Texas?”
Cord winked and drawled, “They don’t come much livelier.”
“Then perhaps you and your brother should just mosey on back to Texas and leave the California women to real men.” Creed joined the conversation.
A wide grin creased the older Texan’s face as he pointedly looked from Cortez to Carmichael. “Reckon if there were any real men around here, you two wouldn’t be so smug. In fact, where I come from, your kind wouldn’t be caught dead in female strip joint.”
“Course, I don’t reckon, you’d know about what real men like.” Cord added, prepared from what he knew was coming. It did not take long to get the reaction he was aiming for.
Carmichael’s fist connected to the younger Texan’s jaw with his first swing and the brawl began. It didn’t last that long, but enough damage was done to draw Victor Donner’s attention. His men put a stop to the fisticuffs’ and separated all the participants involved. Wills had hold of Cord’s arm, while his partner held on to Sam.
Donner stepped forward. “Gentlemen, you will leave on your own or with the help of my men. It’s your choice.”
Cord, pulled away from Willis and then he laid out a stack of large bills on the bar. “That ought ta cover any damages to yer club.” He took a step toward Carmichael, stuffed some bills in his shirt pocket, and grinned. “That was one helluva a good brawl, almost as good as back home.” He patted Carmichael’s chest. “Come visit our neck of the woods sometime.”
Sam grabbed Cord’s arm. “Come on brother, I think we done wore out our welcome here.”
Donner watched the men leave, before turning on Adam and Creed. “I don’t pay you to start fights with paying customers. Get out and don’t come back until you have both cooled off.”
Adam’s temper was boiling and he started to smart off, but Creed pushed him toward the door. In a low voice only Adam could hear he snapped. “Not here and not now.”
Once they were outside the club, and far enough away so as not to be heard, Adam let his anger out. “We don’t need a goddamn babysitter checking up on us.”
“Empty your damn pocket.” Creed retorted.
Carmichael pulled out two folded over hundred-dollar bills with a small slip of paper tucked in between them. There was a crude map drawn on the note with a short message that Adam read aloud. “Your ride’s over Cowboy! One hour…BE THERE!
“That ornery ass Texan believes that he can order me around? Who in the hell does Tanner think he is?”
Buck leaned against their rented SUV, and hissed as he rubbed his aching hand. “You couldn’t find another way to pass Chris the damn note?”
Vin shrugged, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“Yeah, good and painful for both of us, and you’re gonna have one helluva
shiner tomorrow. You think they’ll show?”
“I don’t know. Chris ain’t actin’ like our Chris, plus he’s hurt.”
“Hurt? You mean from the fight?”
“No, he favored his left arm, even before he hit me and he didn’t pull his punches like I did.” Vin knew he would be sore as hell tomorrow. “He’s not even thinkin’ like Lar’bee, and he’s holdin’ a lot of anger inside.” For the brief time that Chris allowed him in his head, he felt the turmoil that plagued the older man.
“Vin, maybe I should talk to him.”
“Uh uh Buck, he shut me out, not to mention disregarded a direct order. The whole purpose on me being in charge was to keep an objective view of the operation and protect MCAT while Lar’bee was under. Chris is acting like he’s the only one out here. He’s put the entire unit in jeopardy and he is gonna tell me why.”
Looking at his watch, Buck shook his head. “It’s been over an hour and they’re not here. You sure the map was clear enough?” All Wilmington was certain of is that they were somewhere near Big Canyon Reservoir.
“Nothin’ wrong with the map, Lar’bee knows where we are.”
Headlights indicated the approach of company. Keeping the SUV between them and the unknown car, Buck and Vin’s hands stayed on their weapons until they could identify their visitors. The car stopped and Raphael called out to them as he exited the driver’s side of the vehicle
Chris came out of the passenger side, advancing angrily toward the truck, and setting a course straight for Tanner. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
Vin did not back down from the coming confrontation. “I’m doin’ my goddamn job! Trackin’ down a rouge agent who seems to think he’s the lone ranger!”
Buck intervened. “Maybe we should talk about this with cooler heads.”
Larabee snapped. “Stay out of this Buck; this is between me and Tanner!” Chris needed a target for his mounting frustrations, and the young Texan provided him one.
Vin’s own anger exploded. “The sonofabitch wants a fight Buck, and he’s got one! Bring it on cowboy!” Tanner didn’t hold back as he did in the club, he lit into Larabee with all the pent up rage that he had held in check since he had received Chris’ last message. They were not sparring for a class demonstration; both men faced one another with a burning ferocity. Chris got in several good hits, before Vin grabbed Larabee’s injured left arm and applied enough pressure to stop the raging black storm that Chris had unleashed.
A winded Tanner held on to Larabees’ arm and drew in a deep breath, “You want to continue this bullshit or are you ready to talk?”
Out of breath and in pain, Chris jerked away from the Texan, glaring at the younger man. Once he had the burning pain in his arm under control he ignored Vin and turned his attentions to Wilmington. “Take him home Buck, and I want both of you to stay there!”
“You want? You refuse to be called in, jeopardizin’ the entire unit as well as risk your own life and three other agents undercover. You know nothin’ about what is goin’ on and you have the balls to stand there makin’ demands about what you want! You are fuckin’ unbelievable! “Tanner yelled.” I’ve come damn close to losing four agents in the last three days, includin’ you daughter and do you care to know. Hell no! Hackers are breakin’ into our personnel records lookin’ for information on your ass! I’ve had to send all our families into seclusion and the whole damn unit is on high alert. I’ve got four dead suspects and I have to sit on my hands playin’ defense because you want everythin’ your way. You shut us all out, and owe me an explanation Lar’bee. I’m not leavin’ ‘til I get one!”
“I’m staying; you’ll just have to work around it! You seem to forget who is in command of MCAT. This is my unit and you take your orders from me, Tanner!”
“What happened to the Lar’bee that said ‘this is NOT a mission we will pursue at any costs’? You want to command, then get your ass back to Denver and do it! You stay here and you’ll be nothin’ more than out of control agent that has left the reservation and is runnin’ wild.”
“Your job is to mind the store in my absence, not dictate to me what I can and can’t do!”
“MY job is to lead the agents that work in this unit and ’til you walk back in that office that is what I plan to do. The only man I have to answer to is Travis. When you get back, ‘m gone, until then I am in charge and you can consider this a warning. MCAT has enough to take down Costa Mesa PD thanks to Justin and Zimmerman is history anytime we want him, thanks to Vance. We are going on the offensive against Donner, and we are gonna take him any way we can, along with anyone that stands in our way. I will not sit back and wait for you to get off that damn fence you’re sittin’ on, while MCAT is under attack.”
“I can fix that!” Chris turned to Wilmington. “Buck, as of now, you’re in charge.”
Buck hated being caught between two men that he loved and cared for, but he had to think with his head and not with his heart “Sorry stud, you’re the one that put Vin in charge, he has Travis backing him, too, and unless you’re coming back, he’s the man I take orders from. Looking from where I stand, he’s done a helluva job under some tough circumstances. Hell, he ought to get a medal just for handling Linda, she and Grace are home by the way, if you’re interested.”
Ignoring the reference about his family Chris only focused on Buck’s refusal to take over.” Fine, you two want to mutiny, go ahead. I will take Donner down myself, my way. I don’t need your approval or your interference! Get the hell out of California and go back to Denver, take Cordova with you if you want, but I’m not leaving!”
Vin briefly considered knocking Chris out cold and dragging his ass back to Colorado, but reason said even that would not stop him. Whoever this man was, he was not the Chris Larabee that he knew and Tanner had no idea what was wrong with him or how to keep him from self-destructing. The Texan was torn between loyalty to his brother and his responsibility to the other fifteen MCAT agents, as well as their families that were depending on his direction.
The deciding factor for Vin, was Chris’ refusal to listen, and his apparent apathy about his family’s welfare. “I’m sorry you feel that way Chris, my resignation will be waiting for you on your desk, effective the day you return to Denver. You might consider callin’ your wife though; she’s scared about what’s been happenin’ and worried about you.”
Chris did not give an answer; he simply turned and went back to the car.
Vin looked over at Cordova. “Rafael, your daughters are safe. Your wisest action would be to return to Colorado with us, because it’s your life at risk too. However, I’ll let you make that call as long as you realize that MCAT cannot sanction or protect you if you stay.”
“I know, and while I may not agree with him, he needs someone to watch his back. I’ll stay, and I will also be making the check-ins with Josiah myself from now on. You need to send a message, I’ll get it. I don’t know if I can influence the man, but I will try. You should have some pictures that I sent, waiting on you when you get back to Denver, maybe they will help. As soon as I get more, I’ll pass them along.”
Tanner nodded, and a non-verbal understanding passed between them. Raphael would do what Vin could not; stay here to protect Chris to the best of his ability, in spite of Larabees’ reckless actions.
“Watch both of your backs Cordova. It is no longer a question of if they find out who Adam Carmichael is, but when. I don’t know how much time any of us have before the shit hits the fan. I can only pray that it’s enough.”
Cordova shook Vin’s hand and received a slap on the shoulder from Buck. Taking the keys from his pocket, Raphael retraced his steps back to the car. He was aware that he might be walking into more trouble than he could walk out of, but his personal code of ethics would not allow him to leave Chris out here on his own. He vowed to himself that he would make every effort to get to the root of Larabees’ growing anger and attempt to defuse it…before it was too late.