Additions and Apprehensions

by tannertexaslady and Wendymypooh

MCAT: Turbulent Transition #6

Chapter 1 - 3 | Chapter 4 - 6 | Chapter 7 - 9 | Chapter 10 - 12
Chapter 13 - 15 | Chapter 16 - 18 | Chapter 19 - 21 | Chapter 22 - 24
Chapter 25 - 27 | Chapter 28 - 30 | Chapter 31 - 33 | Chapter 34 - 36
Chapter 37 - 39 | Chapter 40 - 42 | Chapter 43 - 45 | Chapter 46 - 49

Chapter 37

Santa Ana, California

Monday~ August 14~6:00 am

Neither Buck nor Vin slept much, both men deeply disturbed by the hostile attitude that Chris had displayed a few hours earlier. Tanner finally gave up and decided that he was ready to get the hell out of dodge. Standing in a hot shower to relieve his aching muscles he thought about the events of the previous evening.

You handled that really well Tanner. What made you so certain that seeing Chris would resolve anything? It seems that you only managed to make matters worse. Hell, not only has he shut you out, now he thinks Buck has turned against him. Vin, he did not act as if it made a difference. He didn’t even ask about his family, or Kel or anyone else. What in the hell has he gotten himself into? The only time he has ever behaved this way was when…No; he couldn’t be back on drugs because. Chris is smarter than that. Since when does being smart mean a former addict can’t have a relapse? You heard what Nathan said, Chris would have to face the possibly that certain drugs could affect him for the rest of his life. Chris was still vulnerable; he had no damn business putting himself out there so soon after his troubles with Jack. Then again, maybe it is the stress of this damn case. Lord knows that it has played hell with everyone’s mental process.

Pounding on the bathroom door drew him back from his musings. “You plan on camping out in there all day”

“Be out in a minute Buck.” Vin turned the water off and grabbed a towel. Wrapping one around his waist, he took another to dry his hair, and unlocked the door. “It’s all yours.”

“He speaks! I thought you had forgotten how.” Buck took note of the bruises that were starting to show on Tanner’s body. “You okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Yeah, sure you are and I’m Mother Teresa. Vin he…”

“Leave it Buck. I just want to get the hell out of here and go home.”

“I called the airport; the plane will be ready for take off within the hour.”

A slight nod of the Texan’s head was the only acknowledgement he was going to get.

Wilmington sighed; it was going to be a long silent trip.


For Chris Larabee, sleep was a long time in coming. Finally he was able to drift off just before dawn, and he had tossed and turned for the last three hours. His regular nightmares were back with a new one that saw his six brothers’ dead. He saw himself standing alone at their graveside wishing that he could join them, but the fire surrounding him would not let him. Chris knew that he was trapped in a living hell of his own making. Isolating himself from his family was not what he wanted to do, but in the state of mind that he was in he did not see that he had any other choice.

“Adam! Wake up! Jesus, you’re burning up.” Creed was certain that the man was in trouble, and when he pulled back the covers he understood why. The wound on his left arm was inflamed and a foul smelling yellow puss oozed from the stitches. “Damn it, why didn’t you say something?” Cortez wrestled the bigger man out of the bed and somehow managed to help him dress.

In his dazed state Adam could do little to assist him. He was hot, lightheaded, and not real sure about where he was. It was hard to separate his thoughts and his words made little sense.

Creed threw his arm around Adam’s shoulder and helped him out the door, through the club, and finally to the car. There was a hospital only a few blocks away, he could drive there faster than the time it would take to wait on an ambulance. It took only five minutes to reach the emergency room, but by the time they made it Adam had passed out. He explained to the nurse how Carmichael was injured, when, and what had been done to treat him.

That same nurse stopped Cortez at the examination room door. “Sir, there are some forms that you need to fill out at the desk. We’ll let you know about your friend as soon as possible.” Taking the clipboard, he sat down by the window and began to fill in all the blanks that he could. He decided to hold off calling Jonah until he had something more to tell him.

Denver Colorado

MCAT Office ~10:00 am

Buck had suffered in silence during the two and a half hour flight home. Vin had not said a word since they left the hotel early this morning. It wasn’t that Wilmington had not tried to get the Texan to talk; he had kept a one-sided conversation going for the first thirty minutes, but had finally given up. Once they landed Tanner had insisted that they go straight to the office.

Wilmington knew that Vin was as disturbed by Larabees’ behavior as he was, maybe even more. Buck had known Chris for over twenty years, and was well educated about the dark side of his friend. Tanner knew that Chris could be an ornery bastard at times, but they had a special twin like connection, and until now Vin had always been able to keep the blonde from sinking into that murky corner of his soul.

Appointing himself Tanner’s protector for the day, Buck set about becoming a buffer between Vin and the rest of the team.

“Buck, I think I may have found something that Vin should know about. Is he in his office?” JD roused Wilmington from his thoughts about his brothers.

“Yeah he is, but now is not the best time to disturb him.” Buck knew that Tanner intended to write his resignation, he only hoped that it would not be necessary for him to actually go through with it. “Why don’t you show me, and we’ll talk to Vin later.”

“I’ve been tracking O’Mara Enterprises’ financial trail, and have found several links to holding companies that are held in a blind trust. Usually that means someone in the public that can’t risk being accused of conflict of interest. I don’t have any names yet, but I’m close.” The report that he showed Buck was full of computer terms.

“Stay on it JD and try to put all of this into plain English for the team meeting in the morning. Be watching for pictures that Raphael is sending to us too. Good work, kid.” Buck grinned when JD rolled his eyes in response to being called kid and walked off.

Ezra approached Vin’s office door, but was sidetracked when Wilmington called to him. “Hey Ez, can I see you for a minute?”

“Certainly,” Ezra detoured to Buck’s desk.

“I figured you were on your way in to give Tanner a rundown of activities since we left. Hold off for a bit, Vin needs some time to …sort through a few things. I’m sure he’ll want to give you’re a report on what happened with us too. “

Standish took a closer looker at Buck, noticing the swollen knuckles and the tinge of blue on his cheek. “Am I to assume that all did not go well?”

Nathan walked up and joined them, overhearing that last remark. “Is Vin injured in some way?” Jackson had not missed the fact that Tanner had hurried to his office without speaking to anyone. “Does he need to see a doctor?”

Wilmington sighed. “No it didn’t, nothing major, and all he needs is some time. I’m sure that you both will hear all the details soon enough, but for now…”

Gunny interrupted. “Captain Tanner would like for the three of you to join him in his office. Agent Dunne has already been informed that his presence is requested, also.”

“I guess we find out now.” Nathan stated as he led the trio to Vin’s door where JD met them. Jackson wanted to check out the state of the Texan’s health himself.

Vin had done some soul searching and had come to two conclusions. One he would leave MCAT when Chris returned. His resignation letter was written and prepared to put down on Chris’ desk the day Larabee walked back in that door. Most of his personal files had already been transferred to his home office since they had moved into the new house. The rest were in a bag sitting behind his desk, along with a few other special mementos. Thanks to Ezra’s financial genius, and their decision to let him handle their investment selections, he and Kelli would not have to consider this choice a monetary hardship. Kelli’s trust fund, plus their investment returns would allow him to take time to consider his future. When the time came, all he had to do was walk away.

The second decision was more difficult. How much to tell the brothers about Chris’ behavior and how to proceed with their investigation. They needed to be prepared for actions that were sure to shock a couple of them. Vin’s first consideration had to be for MCAT. That meant making choices that would be contrary to any that he had made in the past. Larabee had made his decision and now the young Texan had to find a way to live with it.

Tanner was standing at the window with his back to the door when he heard the knock. “Come in.”

The four agents entered the room and sat down waiting for Vin to acknowledge their presence. Only one was prepared for what he suspected was coming, and the determined set to Tanner’s shoulders said that he was prepared to tell them.

Turning away from the window, Vin allowed for the expected reactions to his appearance before he said anything.

“Good Lord, what in the hell did you two get into in California?” Ezra was the first to speak.

Nathan was on his feet and already examining the black eye and bruised cheek on the younger man. “Damn, can’t you go anywhere without finding trouble?”

“I’m fine Nate, quit fussin’ over me.” Vin stepped away from the healer and went over to sit at his desk.

“Did Donner’s men do that?” JD asked “How did they know who you were?”

“All of you just sit.” Vin waited until they did.” What ‘m gonna tell you, I want it to stay with the five of us, for now.

“Sure Vin,” JD agreed and the other three nodded.

“I think y’all should know that our situation has taken a very serious turn. As of yesterday Lar’bee is to be considered a rouge agent. He refuses to come in under direct orders and will be stayin’ in California. However we will proceed with our aggressive investigation against Donner in spite of that. I’ll go over our latest reports and have a plan of action ready by tomorrow mornin’ to discuss with the entire team.”

Nathan questioned. “What wrong with that man’s thinking? When is he coming back?”

“I don’t know Nate, I wish I did.”

“Hell Vin, they deserve a better explanation than that. If you don’t tell them I will.” Buck stood up. “They have a right to know what that stubborn jackass is doing.”

Vin silently glared at Buck, and then took a deep breath. “Chris is not actin’ like himself. He was hostile, belligerent, and has only one thing on his agenda, and that is gettin’ Donner, his way. He and I had a difference of opinion about priorities, and he made no effort to disguise his dissatisfaction about how ‘m handlin’ my job. Raphael voluntary stayed with him to watch his back, and he will keep in touch with Josiah, but we cannot factor ‘em into any decisions made about how we proceed. Lar’bee and Cordova are officially on their own time.”

Nathan snorted. “Those different opinions have anything to do with how you got all those bruises and that black eye?”

“You and Chris got into a fight?” JD had a hard time imaging that they would let things go that far. “Now you’re saying we let him run off on his own, just like that?”

Ezra had sat silently and observed the conversation, while watching Vin and Buck’s body language. He also took notice of the slight changes in Vin’s office. Personal items, such as pictures and certificates, were not on display, it was as if all the individual signs that marked this as Vin Tanner’s space were gone. It was obvious that there was much more to this story than Tanner was willing to share. He decided to bide his time and wait for events to unfold.

“Gentlemen, I do believe we have heard all the explanation needed. I suggest that we refrain from asking more questions on this subject, and return to our duties.”

Buck knew how hard this was for Vin. “We’ll have a team meeting in the morning, for now it’s enough that you know what to expect.” Reluctantly Nathan and JD allowed Buck to herd them out the door, while Standish remained behind.

“Thanks Ez, I’ll talk to you later about the status of your covert ops. I need to go home early and talk to Kel.” Vin hated to even think about it, the Texan knew from first hand experience that being in the middle of a disagreement between two people you love was hell. He also knew that she would need to know a helluva lot more than he had shared here.

Ezra gave Tanner a two-fingered salute. “I am at your service brother; do not hesitate to call on me, should you require a friendly ear.”

Santa Ana, California

Donner’s office

“Are you certain that this man can do the job?” Victor Donner was wearing a hole in the carpet from his desk to the window. “I do not want this attempt fucked up like the last ones.”

“Word has it that he is the best at what he does, and at the price he’s asking for I’d say he has confidence in his abilities.” Willis sat in a chair and watched his boss pace. “His successful track record speaks for itself.”

“Three million dollars is a lot of money Arthur.”

“When you want an entire unit of a government agency taken out, it cost the big bucks. Once he has his money he will do the job, but you will not be able to call it off or even contact him again, besides Gant guarantees his work.

“He had better, I want MCAT ruined. Chris Larabee will rue the day that he dared to fuck with my business!” Victor stabbed a letter opener into a stack of papers on his desk. “Pay the man and tell him to go on it.”

Santa Ana Hospital

Creed had been waiting for almost five hours, before a doctor finally came out to see him

“Mr. Cortez, I am Dr. Glass. Your friend Mr. Carmichael asked me to come and talk to you. Let’s sit.” The doctor indicated the waiting room chairs and both men sat down.

“Is Adam okay?”

The doctor glanced over the chart in his hand. “He will be. The wound Mr. Carmichael received in Mexico was not cleared properly before it was sewed up. Consequently he was left with minute pieces of wood splinters inside that caused contamination to the injury. I have reopened it and cleaned the gash. Twenty-four hours of IV antibiotics and he will feel much better. We will be keeping him overnight, and you may see him as soon as he is moved.”

‘Thanks, Dr. Glass.”

“You are welcome, see the nurse and she can give you a room number. You can plan on taking him home late tomorrow afternoon or the next morning, unless we encounter unexpected complications.” The doctor shook hands with Creed and left.

Cortez when in search of the head nurse and she gave him directions to Adam’s room. By the time he found it they had Adam settled in and the young nurse was attaching another IV bag.

The nurse was explaining to Adam the purpose of each one. “It is not as bad as it looks, Mr. Carmichael. One bag is an antibiotic, the other is saline, and we also have a morphine drip that you can self administer when needed for the pain. All he had to do is push this button for a pre-measured dose to enter the IV line. “The nurse explained. “My name is Rita and I’ll be on duty until midnight. Call if you need anything.”

When she exited the room, Creed moved over to Adam’s bedside. “You look a helluva lot better than you did this morning. You need anything?”

Adam shook his head. “I do feel better, it hurts some, but I’ll live. Go on back to the club and tell Donner I’ll be back tomorrow. One of us needs to be there, and for now it’s you. Oh, and there’s no need to mention this to Jonah when you talk to him. “

“I hate to leave you here alone. Are you sure?”

I’m sure; I just need to get these antibiotics in my system to knock out this infection. Go on, I’ll be fine.”

“Then I’ll see you tomorrow, but call me if you do need anything.” Creed hesitated for a moment and then left.

Adam lay back on the pillows and sighed. He had the only thing he needed; he pushed the button on the morphine pump. He would not be having any nightmares tonight.

Denver, Colorado

Larabee 7

Early turned out not to be but an hour before their usual departure time. Tanner drove while Wilmington watched the young Texan silently struggle with his thoughts. Outwardly not many would know that Vin was hurting because that was a part of him that he rarely shared. Buck knew though and felt helpless.

“Anything I can do little brother?”

“Thanks Bucklin, but this is somethin’ I need to do on my own. I just have to find a way to tell Kel that her dad is being a stubborn bastard and that he is likely to end up gettin’ himself killed because of it this time.”

Buck had not yet considered that part of Vin’s turmoil had to do with his wife. How do you tell the woman you love that her father is leaving himself in a position that could easily have him end up in the middle of a disaster? Chris you have a lot of people needing some answers and you had better have some damn good explanations this time.

Trying to lighten the mood, Buck grinned. “I think she knows about the stubborn part already.”

Yeah, I reckon she does,” Vin stopped in front of Buck’s house.

“Vin …”

“Nothin’ more to say Buck, I’ll see you in the mornin’.”

Buck watched Tanner drive away and then he heard the shrieks of his two little angels as they yelled, “Daddy’s home!”

Dropping his bag, he caught the two little bundles of energy that were running to him. “Yep, Daddy is in the house.” He tickled both of them until they dissolved into hysterical laughter.

With a child under each arm he met Inez on the porch and kissed her before setting the young ladies down. “Hello beautiful.”

Sarah hopped from one foot to the other. “Can we show him now?”

Maria joined her sister. “Pleeeese, can we?

Buck looked to Inez for an explanation. “Barbara dropped off the preliminary papers for us to sign, she’ll file tomorrow and we should be officially Caleb’s guardians by the end of the week. The girls have an idea about a welcome gift they want to add for their new brother’s room, but they may need your help.”

“Then lead on ladies.” Buck grinned as they took his hands.

Tanner Home

“You’re home!” Andi and Jason exclaimed together the moment that Vin walked through the front door. Caleb’s broad smile in his direction was enough to let Tanner know how pleased the other boy was to see him again.

As all three kids ran to him, Vin dropped his overnight bag onto the floor and crouched down to catch them all in a bear hug. He stayed hugging them for several moments, relishing the feel of their arms around his neck, their love and excitement at seeing him a balm to his wounded spirit. He felt, rather than saw, Kelli enter the room from somewhere else in the house.

He looked up slowly over the children’s heads and saw her blue eyes widen a little in shock at the bruises on his face. Her mouth opened to ask him what had happened, but he gave his head a slight shake to indicate it wasn’t the time to discuss what had happened in California.

“That’s a pretty purple. “Andi reached up a hand to stroke his face lightly over where most of the bruising was located and asked, “Does it hurt?”

“Not much.” Vin told her softly, smiling at her comment about the color.

Andi kissed him on the cheek.” Now, it won’t hurt a’tall.”

Vin grinned at her lovingly. “Thanks, princess. Kisses always make booboos go away faster.”

Jason had been taking in the conversation quietly. “What happened?”

“Did you get in an accident or something?” Caleb added.

“No, I wasn’t in an accident.” Vin replied honestly as he stood up. “I just had a difference of opinion with someone.”

Jason gave him a funny look, and would have posed more questions to him, if Kelli hadn’t decided to intervene on Vin’s behalf. “Why don’t you kids, go get washed up for dinner? Max should have it about ready.”

“Okay.” Andi said, running off to do what she had instructed, but Jason and Caleb hesitated a moment, before they followed Andi out of the room.

Kelli closed the distance between them and Vin opened his arms to receive her. He hugged her tightly to him, drinking in the scent and the feel of her, adding it to the healing balm that the children’s hugs had given him.

“Bad?” Kelli said softly.

“About as bad as it can be,” Vin replied. “ Let’s not talk about it now, please…I just want to focus my attention on the children and supper…later, after they’ve gone to bed and we’re alone…I’ll give you all the details.”

“Alright,” Kelli replied. She would not push, because she knew that Vin would tell her everything when he was ready to talk about it.

Tanner leaned down and picked up his bag and the couple moved through the house toward their bedroom. Kelli talked quietly with Vin as he prepared to take a shower before supper. As each item of clothing was removed, her blue eyes trailed over his lithe figure checking for further injuries.

“I’m fine.” Tanner assured her, sensing her eyes upon him. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”

“I’ve heard that the women in California were aggressive, but damn, this is overkill.” She quipped lightly. “For your sake I hope you fought ‘em all off successfully.”

Vin cast a slight smile over his shoulder. “Don’t worry I protected the boys from trespassers. Your property rights are still intact.”

“That’s good to know. “ Kelli replied. “Not that I was worried in the least about your virtue. Now how about you get your assets in the shower and I will have the liniment ready for you when you get out.”

“Yes ma’am.” Tanner gave her a sloppy military salute as he headed for the bathroom.

The assorted members of the Tanner household gathered together for the delicious dinner that Max had fixed for them. The talk around the table that night was lighthearted for the children’s sake. No one mentioned blackened eyes, bruises, California, or Chris.

Vin eyed Andi picking at her Brussels sprouts and said, “What’s the matter princess, you don’t like the Brussels sprouts?”

“I’m not the princess anymore.” Andi replied, as she moved her fork around the little cabbages on her plate, lathered with butter. “I’m Sugar…’cause that’s what horses like, and I want them to like me.”

Snickers erupted from both boys on either side of the table in response to Andi’s comment.

Ezra quickly choked off the laugh that threatened to erupt when he noticed the chastising look on Kelli’s face. Schooling his features, he addressed the young lady in his best southern drawl. “Sugar is a popular southern endearment. I’m sure that the equestrians that reside on the property will be pleased with your choice.”

Tanner cocked an amused eyebrow at Ezra, and the southerner shrugged his shoulders as if to say, ‘What?’

Andi gazed across the table at Ezra with a puzzled expression on her young face. “Uncle Ra, what’s the question?”

Trying to decipher Andi’s response, it suddenly dawned on him what she meant. “Sugar, it’s Equestrian, not the question. Equestrian means horse.”

“Oh.” Andi’s cherubic face lit up with understanding.

As they were finishing their meal, Wilmington showed up.

“Hey, Buck. What’s goin’ on? Are Inez and the kids with you?” Kelli asked, looking behind him.

“Nope, I thought I would come over here and see if I could steal three little urchins for the night.” Wilmington replied.

Three little faces lit up.

“Can we Daddy?”

“Dad, can we?”

“Please, Vin?”

Vin looked at his wife who nodded her agreement. “Sure, why not? Go get your stuff ready.”

All three children excused themselves from the table and fled to their rooms to get their overnight bags. Once the children were gone, Buck seated himself in Jason’s vacant chair.

“Can I get you somethin’ to drink Buck?” Kelli offered.

“No, I’m fine.” Buck replied.

After Kelli, Max, and Barbara left the room with dirty dishes, Buck turned to Vin. “I thought you and Kelli could use some time alone to discuss California.”

“Thanks Buck.”

“While you two were gone, Ezra and I came up with an idea.” Walter spoke up. “Between your plans and Ezra’s financial wing dingin’, I think we can pull off that facility y’all want built on the ranch in no time at all. The location is perfect, accessible by the same road that goes up to your property and that makeshift firin’ range that y’all put up will be right close by, with a few improvements. It’ll be a separate and secure compound with everythin’ each of y’all requested, included. Best of all is that even by air it will appear to be just a set of barns for a few brood mares.

“I say go for it.” Buck said.

Tanner nodded his head in silent agreement.

“So, when are you going to inform the rest of us about what transpired in California?” Ezra asked.

“Ez, if y’all don’t mind I need to talk to Kelli first.”

“I’ve got the kids…” Buck said.

“Barbara and I can finish cleaning up in here.” Ezra added.

“I’ll be more than happy to walk Max home.” Walter volunteered.

Left with no more delaying tactics, Vin took a deep breath, and rose from the table to go to the kitchen and claim his wife. Vin knew that he had to prepare her for what could be a life changing experience, but …How do you tell the woman you love that the father she had just found and loved had made a choice that could end his life?

Chapter 38

Tanner Home

Just do it Tanner. Vin had never had a problem confronting dangerous situations. That was something he had done most of his life and never gave it a second thought; he would just wade in and take on whatever came at him. But when it came to possibly of hurting Kelli he had discovered that he was hesitant and unsure about just how to go about it. There was no way to soften the risks that Chris was taking and any way the Texan looked at it she was going to get hurt by either her father or her husband.

“Buck’s got the kids. Ezra volunteered himself and Barbara to finish cleanin’ up and Walter is gonna walk Max home. “Vin told his redhead when he entered the kitchen. “We need to talk.”

Kelli nodded silently, having anticipated that Vin would be ready to talk soon, and slipped her hand into his, allowing him to lead her out of the kitchen toward their bedroom.

Tanner closed the bedroom door behind them, leading her over to their rocker, and sat down, pulling her down onto his lap.

She gently caressed his bruised cheek. “Dad did this to you. Why?”

“He’s not comin’ home any time soon Kel, he’s on his own private mission and likely to get himself seriously hurt or killed.” Vin told her. “He was hostile, and just down right ugly about it. He let me know in no uncertain terms that he didn’t approve of the way I was runnin’ HIS unit. In fact, he tried to hand the reins over to Buck, but Wilmington refused. “

Kelli had figured out that Vin was reluctant to talk to her about Chris, and knew that whatever her father had done it could mean trouble. She decided to make it easy on Vin and not ask for all of the details…yet. “So what happens now?”

“Bottom line, the day Larabee walks back into MCAT, I’m walkin’ out. I’ve already written my resignation, Chris has accepted the terms, and I see no way of us continuin’ to work together after this case is over.”

She looked up at Vin to make certain that he understood where she stood. “Okay, so what do you have planned for us?”

Somewhat surprised by her apparent easy acceptance of his words Vin was a little thrown off track. He had expected that he would have to answer a few more questions about Chris. “Hell, I don’t know. I’ll probably take some time off and then go back to bounty huntin’.”

“Good, that’s somethin’ that we can do together.”

“Like hell it is.” Vin exclaimed. “You are NOT goin’ to be a bounty hunter.”

“And why NOT?”

“It’s too damn dangerous.” Vin stopped just short of yelling at her.

“As opposed to bein’ kidnapped, shot at, assaulted, and run off the road?”

“You are not goin’ to do this.” The Texan softened his tone and drew her closer.

”I can be like that bounty hunter’s wife on TV. She and her husband always work together, and they even get their kids involved.”

Vin gazed down at her with an incredulous look. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Vin, my whole point is that we can do whatever we want to do. I love my Dad and of course ‘m worried about him, but my life is with you. I’ll back whatever decision you need to make.”

The Texan tightened his hold around her waist in response to her words. “You don’t realize how much that means to me. I know how difficult this is for you to be in the middle between us. This is the one time that I can’t be my brother’s keeper though and it hurts like hell.”

With Kelli’s encouragement he eventually gave her all the details about their trip to California. He knew that she was as worried about Chris as he was, but she made her feelings crystal clear. If she had her way she would be on a plane today, hunt Larabee down and give him one helluva lecture about his responsibilities to the people that love him and the foolishness of risk taking with his life as well as the lives of others. Fortunately the Texan was able to talk her out of it, reminding her about her concussion and their responsibilities to the children.

Once they had both vented, Kelli went to work on easing his pain. Her gentle massage helped sooth his aching muscles and her loving touches helped to diffuse Vin’s mental anxieties. Neither of them could control Chris’ actions, but together they could face the emotional turmoil that was created as a consequence of those actions. They found the peaceful comfort in one another that they both desperately needed and let sleep claim them for some much needed rest.

Tuesday ~ August 15~ 5:00am

Vin felt one hundred percent better than he had last night. His body was rested and the aching muscles that had been protesting every move he made were now amicably agreeing to cooperate with his wishes. As he mentally reviewed the last few days his thoughts turned to the sleeping woman nestled next to him.

She learned well didn’t she Tanner. But then so did you, you thought that you were the teacher in this relationship, but she sure as hell showed you a few things. We spend our lives looking for the complicated recipe for happiness that is really very simple… love…so hard to find, but so easy to live with. Unconditionally given, it returns to enhance our lives with a freedom that is unobtainable in a state of solitude and immensely rewarding when shared. You’re one fortunate man Vin, do not ever lose sight of the treasure fate has given you.

“Tanner, you’re thinkin’ too hard.” Kelli snuggled closer to him “Whatever happens is out of your hands, Chris saw to that. The only thing we can do is pray that he comes out of this okay.”

“I got that message loud and clear, actually I was thinkin’ about you.” The Texan kissed the top of her head and tightened his hold on her. “The next few days are gonna be rough, I need Kelli Tanner wife, more than I need Kelli Coulter the agent. I want you to stay home for a while, give yourself time to completely heal, and be here to give me a place to retreat to after I leave the office. I’m not askin’ you to quit work, just…”

Kelli silenced him with a light kiss. “Vin, I do understand and I‘ll stay at home if that’s what you need me to do. We will get though this storm together, the same as we have all the others. You have been my safe shelter since the first day I met you, and I’m here for whatever you need, for as long as you want.”

“Then you had best plan on forever baby.” It had been too damn long since they had last made love and he needed to travel to that special place that belonged only to the two of them. With a one swift movement Vin rolled over her, blanketing his wife with his body and then proceeded to tenderly show her what he wanted, while their shelter of love shut out the rest of the world.

MCAT Office

Tanner had secluded himself in his office most of the morning reviewing reports. Had he been completely truthful, he would have acknowledged the fact that he was purposely distancing himself from the rest of the unit. After reading the same paragraph for the third time he threw the paper across his desk and sighed.

You made your decision Tanner, now live with it! I can damn it! Then why can’t you shake the feeling in your gut that says you should do more? Chris may have shut you out of his thoughts, but you can still feel his pain. Yes, but how do I help him and protect our families? Could you live with any of their deaths, if you didn’t do what your head says is required to insure their safety? You can follow your heart Vin, as long as you’re prepared to face the consequences. Are you? Damn you Larabee! Your stubborn ass is going to get someone killed if you don’t come to your senses soon. Talk to me, help me help you!

A sharp knock on his door pulled him back to the present. “Come in!”

Paul walked in, he was not certain if his information was important enough to disturb his Captain. However he was not willing to risk not telling him. “Sir, I’ve been going over the credit card receipts from our undercover operatives as you requested. Most of them are expected purchases but this one came in this morning and I think you should see it.” Roberts handed the information to Vin.

Vin looked it over, and was concerned. “Can you get me an itemized billing on this?”

“I already have Captain.” Paul passed three sheets of paper to Tanner.

Taking a deep breath, Vin knew he was holding a big piece to the Larabee puzzle. “Thanks Paul and let’s keep this private. If anymore come in, bring them to me immediately.”

“I’ll see if I can pry more information out of that computer for you.” Paul went back to his own deck, leaving a contemplative Texan behind.

Raised voice from the bullpen drew Vin’s attention. He recognized the two combatant’s words as belonging to Buck and Nathan. Those two had been dancing around one another since the Wilmingtons had announced their decision to adopt Caleb. It sounded as if they were done avoiding the issue.

Throwing his door open Tanner ordered. “Wilmington, Jackson, my office now!” Once he had them inside, Vin slammed the door. “What in the hell is going on with you two?

“I’m tried of hearing sarcastic remarks about us adopting Caleb. If you have a problem with me Nathan just say it!” Buck yelled.

“I don’t have a problem with you Buck! But what do you know about being black?”

“What in the hell are you talking about?”

“Caleb is a mixed race child. He has needs that you may not be able to handle anymore than Vin and Kelli could. He needs to know about his black heritage and someone that understands what that feels like. Until he came along, I didn’t realize how much I had neglected my own heritage and now I plan to do something about it.”

Buck was stunned by Nathan’s remarks. “You prejudiced bastard! You dare stand there and say we can’t be fair to that child! MY WIFE is Hispanic, and in case you’ve forgotten, my girls are of mixed race.” Wilmington took a threatening step toward Nathan. “We don’t consider race an issue with our children, and I damn well won’t allow ANYONE ELSE TO!”

”You don’t understand any better than Rain! I am NOT prejudiced! “Nathan met Buck face to face.

“ENOUGH!” Vin stood up shouted. “Both of you sit your asses down NOW!” Vin shot a scathing glare to both men. “Buck, you cool off.”

Tanner then turned and addressed the medic. “Nathan, I don’t know why this is an issue suddenly but it ends here at work. In all the years we’ve known one another I don’t think any of us have even thought about the fact that your skin color is darker than ours. ”Vin put his hand up to stop Jackson’s reply. “Regardless, whether you approve or not, Caleb is gonna have two parents that will give him what he needs more than anythin’, and that’s love. You have a problem with that, keep it to yourself! I want both of you to check your goddamn attitudes at the door! We have work to do here! Are we clear?”

“Yeah,” Buck sighed.

“Yes,” Nathan took a deep breath.

The Texan sat down again. “We may have a much bigger problem on our hands.” He pulled out the papers Paul had brought in. “Nathan look at this and tell me I’m wrong about what I’m thinkin’.”

Nathan read, and then raised his head to meet Vin’s eyes. “I wish I could tell you that this means nothing, but I can’t. If this is true then Chris is serious trouble. Did you know he was injured?”

“Yeah…yeah I did, but I didn’t think about how or…hell!” Vin looked at Buck. “According’ to what Paul dug up, he was injured in Mexico; a doctor there treated him and then sewed him up. The wound was contaminated and he had to go to the emergency room in Santa Ana. Evidently he or Raphael used Adam Carmichael’s credit card to pay the hospital expenses. Roberts was able to get an itemized list of the charges…they admitted him and …morphine was on the list of drugs included in the bill.”

“That is something Chris should never have, and I would guess that he had pain pills prescribed by the first doctor.” Nathan explained. “After what he just went through a few months ago…it’s too soon to expect his body not to react and demand more.”

“Damn, if he’s taking pills again that would explain his belligerence and all that hostility.” Buck shook his head. “We have to do something.”

“What would you suggest that we do, Buck? You saw how he was, and like it or not the man is of legal age, we can’t force him to do anythin’.” Vin stared out the window. “Chris knew that he couldn’t take any drugs without consequences. He made his decision and now we have to do our jobs.”

“I have some contacts in California, maybe I can track down the doctor that is treating the infection.” Nathan tried to think of a way to help.

“And then do what Nathan? You can’t ask about Chris Lar’bee, and you can’t use your name.” Tanner shook his head. “There is not a damn thing we can do unless Chris voluntarily agrees to it or comes home. I don’t see either of those things happenin’ anytime soon.”

Buck stood, “Vin…”

“Team meetin’ in thirty minutes, I’ll see you both then.” With those words, Tanner effectively closed the subject and dismissed them.

Santa Ana, California

Adam Carmichael did not have nightmares last night; in fact he slept better than he had in weeks. His arm still throbbed, but the sharp pains that he had been experiencing were gone, evidently the antibiotics were doing their job. As he lay in the hospital bed waiting for his doctor he thought about his situation. He knew he was walking on thin ice, but this was something that he had to do, for himself. He did not know any of these kids personally, but he did have children of his own and he felt the weight of responsibility to do something to help them resting heavily on his shoulders.

Vin doesn’t understand…Donner has to go down for what he has done to those kids. Anything less is unacceptable. I want the world to see him as the monster he really is. Didn’t Buck say Linda was home? Yes, but she will understand that I could not protect Kelli, but I can damn sure make a difference for Grace’s future. You should call her….No, not until I get that bastard and see that those girls make it home. Linda and Grace are safe, Tanner will see to that. You cut him out, what makes you think that you can fix things with him when you get home. This is Vin we’re talking about; of course I can fix things. He will forgive me, he always has.

Dr Glass entered the room with a nurse and picked up Adam’s chart.” How are you feeling Mr. Carmichael?” He began to remove the bandages on his arm to examine the wound.

“Better, it hurts like hell, but…better.”

“Uh huh, I believe the antibiotics have taken hold of the infection. I will be releasing you, but you must continue taking them orally. I will also prescribe a pain killer for you. Do you have someone that can pick you up?” Dr. Glass had the nurse redress the injury.

“Yes I do, but do you think you could double that prescription? I will be out of the country again soon and don’t trust foreign doctors anymore.” Adam requested.

“Sure, the antibiotics you only need for ten days, but I will give you a double script on the pain meds.” The doctor smiled. “You take care and don’t bang that arm around for a while.”

“Don’t worry doc, I won’t.” When the doctor left, Adam reached for the phone to dial Creed’s cell number.

MCAT Office

War Room

The agents barely had time to be seated when Vin started the meeting. The first thing they noticed was his short clipped words, no banter, and no preamble, just straight down to business.

“We have a lot to cover so let’s get started. Buck, you have a report on the task force results?” Tanner waited for Wilmington to start.

Buck opened the folder in front of him. “The task force has officially disbanded. The U.S. Attorney’s office has asked for and received felony indictments against thirty two individuals that we arrested in association with child trafficking and illegal imprisonment. Sorenson has felony indictments pending against him and is facing thirty years in prison. Two thirds of the juveniles recovered have either been reunited with their families or placed in a foster home. The rest are being treated for an assortment of medical problems and placements are pending. Bottom line, we shut down a large part of a multi-million dollar operation and our apprehended suspects will be spending many years behind bars.”

“Greg was next. “Forensics did not find any further evidence that would tell us who was responsible for the attacks on Agents Coulter, Santos, Walton or me. We are at a dead end on that part of our investigation. The only good news is that the two Denver PD officers that were wounded will recover.”

Nathan picked up next. “We may have found a South American connection to O’Mara Enterprises and weapons. I should have more information later today”.

“Our covert ops teams have been active. Justin aka Billy Ray has been assigned as a driver to the Costa Mesa Chief of Police and has been able to procure enough evidence to prove corruption in that department. The attorney general’s man, Michael Vance aka Michael Welch has proof of at least one FBI agents’ involvement and unfortunately has given us a trail of bodies to follow. It would appear that no one has survived to testify against either O’Mara enterprises or Victor Donner. Each possible informant has met with an untimely death. Raphael aka Creed Cortez has managed to send us picture of individuals that have met with Donner and I believe Agent Dunne has information for us as to their identities.” Ezra ended his report.

JD stood up and went to the big board. “Donner has met with several men over the last few days. This one is FBI Agent Zimmerman.” He pointed out the photos on the board. “This one is a known mercenary that specializes in weapons, Charles ‘Ghost’ Gant; CASSIE is digging into his background now. These other two we have not identified yet, but we will. I also am tracking a financial trail that had led to a blind trust. I am waiting on answers to inquires that I sent out, but if my suspicions are correct, we may have over first real link to Donner.”

Tanner nodded. Nathan, I expect to see what you’ve found as soon as it comes in. JD, Pam, stay on that link and I want Gant’s dossier on my desk ASAP. Buck, you and Mark join Nathan and Ross on finding those ties to Donner. Paul, you are to stay on top of the matter we discussed this morning. We are still on high alert status and will continue to work in teams, do not let your guards down, dismissed.”

Vin stood up, grabbed his folders, made a stop at Gunny’s desk and then went straight to his office.

Twenty minutes later JD was at his door and brought Gant’s file with him. “He is definitely a bad boy.”

Tanner took the file and JD still stood in front of his desk as if waiting for something. “What’s on your mind?

“How long do you want Mallory to work from the ranch, and do you think it’s safe for me to take Casey and the girls’ home?”

“I want to keep Mal out of the office for as long as Josiah is undercover, and no, I don’t think it’s safe.” Vin answered the younger man. “Keep working on that link. If the person you think is involved is at the top of this heap of criminals, he may be what we need to bring ‘em all down.” The Texan waited until JD had left to open the file and then began to read.

Three hours later, Tanner was finished making calls to his own unique sources, and he did not like the information that he had be able to gather. One thing he was certain of, MCAT was a target and this was no practice game. Whoever was behind this had hired the best and intended for the results to be lethal.

A sharp rap on his door as it opened was all the warning he got. Director Orrin Travis entered the room. “Don’t get up son, but we need to talk.” Orrin made himself comfortable in the chair in front of Tanner’s desk.

“Sir, you received the reports I had Gunny prepare and send to you?”

“Yes, I did, and that’s one reason that I’m here. I came to see for myself what it is that you weren’t telling me and to find out why you haven’t called Larabee in.” Travis laughed. “One look at your face tells me what you did not want me to see and unless I miss my guess, your received that paint job while attempting to convince Agent Larabee that it was time to come home.”

Vin did not answer, either to confirm or deny Travis’ guess.

Travis shook his head. “It doesn’t matter Vin, I suppose deep down I knew Chris was not ready for this. Travis the director is still in the dark, but Orrin the friend knows the demons that Chris has faced in the last few months. I should have pulled rank and ordered him not to go under, but…I did not. You are not to blame for him being out there, I am. Is he in serious trouble?”

The Texan thought about his answer. He may be pissed as hell with his brother, but he did not want to hang out their dirty laundry in public, especially with the director. “Probably.”

“I understand that this has put you in a difficult position Agent Tanner and I empathize with you. However, I trust you to do your job and right now MCAT’s survival is your job. I need to know exactly where we stand.” Travis made a decision. “What I am about to tell you does not leave this room.”

The tone of the director’s voice had Tanner’s full attention. “Yes sir.”

“As you well know, MCAT started out as a test. In the last year, we have done outstanding work on a number of cases. Most notably, this unit has neutralizing three terrorist’s threats, and halted at least two assassination attempts of high- ranking officials. Taking on serial killers, public corruption, computer crimes, and formed some remarkable specialized task forces, as well as now being involved with the current trafficking case, all of these successes have convinced the higher ups of MCAT’s worth. I told Chris that I wanted to move the office; I did not tell him the whole truth about why because at the time I could not confirm it. As of the first of the year we will not longer be under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Attorney General. MCAT will become an independent, specialized unit, and the only person I will report to resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We have been given an unlimited budget and will have state of the art equipment, satellite feeds, a video war room, and anything else we ask for. We will remain a versatile, responsive, and respected premier Federal law enforcement agency, demonstrating excellence in all aspects of our operations. “

“Damn, sounds like a lot of expectations.”

“Indeed, and MCAT has proven itself capable of meeting those expectations. This unit will meet terrorist threats at home and from abroad, as well as to continue to take on the toughest, dirtiest cases, which will be what the public sees. We will however be called upon to covertly work on delicate matters that concern the national interest, which will not be publicly acknowledged. We will play an important part in keeping this country safe. MCAT must survive whatever threat is out there…even if all the agents do not. I need strong leadership and regardless of what happens with this case I plan for you to be a part of that. I will talk to Agent Larabee when he returns and make my expectations from him clear also. In the meantime, what are we facing?

Vin gave Travis the file on Gant. “My sources tell me he plays hardball, he is the best at what he does, he is successful ninety nine percent of the time, and has never left even one thread of evidence that would lead back to him for an arrest, hence the nickname, Ghost. I believe he has been hired to take out the unit.”

Travis read the dossier and Vin’s notes. “Okay what are you doing?”

“I am keepin’ the number of agents in the office at a minimum, our families are in safe locations, we are workin’ in teams of two or more, and I have ordered that our sensitive materials be moved to another location. I have also put buildin’ security on notice as well as kept all of MCAT of the highest alert status.” Vin leaned forward. “To be honest sir, if this man wants to take us out, there is not much I can do to stop him unless I have specifics on how he plans to do it. All we can do is to try to minimize the damage.”

“Can you link this to Donner?”

“He met with Gant in his office at the club, but just meetin’ with him is not illegal, I can only tell you what my gut says. We can take Zimmerman now for bribery and conspiracy to commit murder, connectin’ him to the attempt on Agents, Standish and Dunne in the warehouse. We have enough to indict five members of the Costa Mesa Police Department on conspiracy and corruptions charges. The only possible we have on Donner is this.’ Vin gave him the financial records that JD found. “I think you might recognize that name.”

“Yes I recognize that name and I hope you allow me to be the one to arrest the bastard.” Travis was learning how tough this job really was, with each new case. Not only did they have to watch for terrorist threats, they also had to deal with the greed of people that disguise themselves as law abiding citizens. “The man was already a millionaire, but he has to make money on the backs of innocent children too. That is unforgivable!”

“The only thing holding me back from giving the go ahead is the fact that I have two agents in deep with Donner. We blow the whistle now; they are as good as dead.”

Travis took in a deep breath and turned to Vin with troubled eyes. “Give them a forty-eight hour deadline to get out, and then we move on this despite the consequences. I will alert the proper authorities that we may have an attack coming, do what you can to protect as many as you can, but remember…this unit is not just one agent. Keep me informed and good luck son.”

As soon as Travis was out the door, Vin picked up the phone, dialed, and waited for the secretary to answer. “Jonah Drake, please.”

Santa Ana California ~ 5:00pm

Creed had picked up Adam at the hospital earlier and was surprised at the difference twenty-fours hours could make. Adam looked one hundred percent better and sounded great. They were back at the club, sitting at the bar, waiting for Donner to give them their next assignment.

“Man, I can’t get over how good you look; yesterday I thought you were on death’s door.” Creed studied his partner.

“I’m fine, the arm is better and I’ll be good as new in a few days. Has Donner been busy while I was gone?”

“Yeah, something is up but I haven’t been able to find out what it is. I’ve sent pictures back home, but as for around here they have clamed up tight as a drum. You want to see who Donner’s been meeting with?” Creed had the stored pictures ready to show him.

“Hell, erase those and let the guys at home work on them, let’s see what we can dig up around here.” Adam rose from the table. “I think it’s time to let the boss know we’re ready to roll.” Carmichael downed what was left in his glass.

The two men walked through the club to the back and knocked on the door to Donner’s office.

“Come in”, Donner answered and turned to face them. “Just the men I wanted to see. You ready to work or do you need time for the arm to heal?”

Adam grinned, “Hell, it’s just a scratch and it’s not my gun arm anyway. What do you need?”

“I have a new associate that wishes to do some business with us. His men will be meeting me tonight to show me his merchandise. If I like what I see, then tomorrow night we meet with him. I want you two to go along as my protection. Be ready to move out in two hours.”

Creed smiled, “Will do.” He and Carmichael exited the office and walked outside the club.

“Now we have to protect the sonofabitch from one of his associates. I hate this!” Adam growled.

“Maybe this will be the one we can nail him on.” Creed tried to think positively. “I need to call Jonah and then we can go get ready.”

Make it fast; we don’t want to keep the man waiting.” Adam snarled.

Creed made the call and listened to what Jonah had to say. “I understand, we have a meet tonight, but we will make that deadline, I promise you. This is the last check-in we’ll make by phone, see you in two days.”

Adam had half-listened to the conversation. “What about two days?

“Code red, we have forty-eight hours and then we are out of here, with or without evidence. MCAT will be moving in on Donner then.”

“They couldn’t have enough to get him on the trafficking! What in the hell is Tanner doing? I should have hit him harder to knock some sense into that hard head of his!

“Doesn’t matter, we are out of here before they move in, you got that Carmichael! Midnight Wednesday we find Jonah and we are finished!”

“A lot can happen in forty eight hours!”

MCAT Office ~ 5:30pm

Tanner was ready to leave for the day. Tomorrow morning they would start the plans to take down, Zimmerman, The Costa Mesa PD, Donner and The big boss. Vin was anxious about Chris and Raphael, but hopefully Josiah could deliver the message and they would get out in time.

JD stopped him as he was headed to the elevator. “Vin!” Dunne was waving a picture at him. “You need to see this. I ran this photo through CASSIE again and crosschecked with our old cases. This man is the one that met with Donner this morning…he is also Kyle Wheeler, the same man that Chris busted five years ago.”


Chapter 39

MCAT Office~ 7:30 am

Tuesday ~ August 15th

Tanner had worked late into the night trying to track Kyle Wheeler, after Josiah had confirmed there was no way to reach Chris or Raphael. The fact that Cordova promised to make the forty-eight hour deadline was not in the least bit comforting. It only further testified how out of it Larabee was. In his right mind, Vin knew that Larabee would have never have given up control of the situation, and would be staying in contact with Josiah himself. .As long as Wheeler was a wild card, Larabees’ life was in jeopardy, but the man was off the radar. After his early release from prison for ‘good behavior’, it seemed as if he had left the planet. The only good news was that Chris was still okay when Raphael made their last call in; it was possible that Wheeler never saw him.

Ezra walked into the break room where Vin stood staring at the empty coffeepot. “Why don’t you allow me to make a pot of fresh brew? I promise to mutilate it just they way you like it. Standish grinned at Tanner and didn’t wait for a response, before he proceeded to take over the coffee making. “Have you slept at all?”

“I got a couple of hours of sleep on the couch in my office. Appreciate you comin’ back in to help, Ez.

“Nonsense, we are a team and we support one another.”

“We were a team, now we’re…hell, I don’t know what we are anymore.” The Texan massaged his neck and grimaced.

Standish had been filled in on the events in California, and the suspicions that Larabee was reconnecting with drugs. It did not take a genius to see that stress and guilt were eating away at Tanner. While he may not be able to help Chris at the moment, Ezra pledged to do everything he could to ease the pressure on his younger brother.

“We are still a team, a damn good one I might add, but more importantly we are family. Although we may have our differences, perhaps a few more pronounced than others, we will find a way to survive. I know how it is between you and Chris, Vin. I have seen it, felt it and admired it, but he is an adult Vin. As an adult he will make his own decisions, good or bad, and answer for the consequences of his actions. Some of those decisions have inadvertently had an effect on the family as a whole. This one, however, is rippling throughout the entire MCAT unit, but in the final analysis, Chris is the one that will be held responsible, you can do no more than what you have done."

“You must have been talkin’ to Kel, that’s pretty much what she said. I know what I need to do and I will do it, but it don’t mean I have to be happy about it.

“It also ‘don’t’ mean that you have to face it alone.” Standish handed the young Texan a fresh cup of coffee.

Taking a sip, Vin smiled and gave his approval. “Damn, I didn’t know you had it in you. Are you gonna have some?”

“Good Lord, no! You enjoy it brother, I’ll stick to my imported brew.”



“Thanks Ez.”

“You are welcome.”

“Travis will be here in an hour, have everyone together in the war room by then. I need to call Kel.” Vin headed to his office and shut the door behind him. Sitting at his desk, he dialed home.

“Tanner zoo, head zookeeper speakin’,” Kellie answered, while she shushed the children.

Vin laughed, “Mornin’ baby.”

“Mornin’ yourself, Tanner…hold on…Jason take her outside to the box we fixed up, we’ll talk with your dad about keepin’ her….Tracker hush! Sorry, the kids found an apparently orphaned baby raccoon this mornin’. They brought it in and now Tracker thinks his territory has been invaded…I missed you last night…Are you okay?”

A slow smile spread across the Texan’s face. “I am now. I’m gonna try to get home tonight, but no promises. I love you, Kel.”

“Love you too.”

“You don’t overdo today, and remember to rest. Now, let me talk to Jason. I’ll tell him how to take care of that critter and suggest a few ways that might help Tracker become friends with our new family addition.”

“Oh lord, I suppose we add this one to the fish Barbara gave Andi and the turtle the boys found last week. Hang on…Jason, your dad want to speak to you.” Vin spent the next twenty minutes educating his son about raccoons.

War Room 8:00 am

Orrin Travis joined the MCAT team meeting as a silent observer. He intended to stay closely involve until this case was brought to resolution. As he watched the agents come into the room, it struck him that the men and women of this unit were truly remarkable. Even though their unit and their families were threatened they did not back down and pulled together as a team. He knew also that Chris Larabee’s style of leadership was partially responsible for that, and he could see that same commitment in this room. He was also gratified to know that men such as Tanner, Willington, Sanchez, Jackson, Dunne and Standish, were also there to strengthen the core of this agency and teach that commitment to the newer agents.

Travis knew that he would do what he could to keep Larabee as the Commander of MCAT, but Chris would have challenges to meet, and hopefully with the support from these men he would be able to beat the demons that chased him. It would sadden him a great deal to lose a man of his caliber to drugs, and he could only pray that Larabee stayed alive long enough to have a chance to find his way back to a leadership position. Orrin was certain that MCAT however, would survive, because it was not the place or any one person that keep it alive. It was that commitment, caring, and the dedication of the team that made it what it was.

“Okay y’all listen up,” Tanner began, as he stood in front of the big white case board. “This is what we know.” He pointed to each item as he spoke, “This is a list of warehouses that O’Mara Enterprises uses and this one is the most active. Accordin’ to Agent Michaels there is a major shipment goin’ out of there in four days. We have surmised that Donner is reorganizin’ his inventory and plans to get rid of ‘excess baggage’. Nathan checked the shippin’ schedules and the ship they are using is headed to Turkey. Once we can place Donner with his unlawful merchandise at his warehouse, we will have the connection we need to arrest State Senator Bryant Hanson as a co-conspirator. JD has linked the two through, several dummy corporations, and a blind trust set up specifically to hide illegally gained profits from the trafficking of drugs, people and weapons. Director Travis has volunteered to make that arrest for us.

With information from Michael Vance, we expect FBI Agent Zimmerman to be present as well as several members of the Costa Mesa Police Department. Their purpose is to get rid of the loadin’ crew using their badges to make it look like a raid gone badly, when in fact it is plain old murderin’ the witnesses under the cover of law enforcement officers doin’ their job. This is the same set-up that Agents Standish, Dunne, and Coulter were caught up in last June. Once we move in, we will have what we need to charge all of ‘em with conspiracy to commit murder, kidnappin’, and corruption, to start with. The Internal Revenue Service will then begin another investigation into the financial affairs of the Senator, Donner, and O’Mara Enterprises.

Our target date is Saturday August 19th; the ship is scheduled to begin loading at 5:00 am and it will leave out Sunday morning at 3:00 am. We expect Donner to send his crates over to the dock by truck sometime around midday. Agent Wilmington has your team assignments, and we will leave for California at 4:00 pm Friday afternoon. In the meantime, we will remain on high alert status, and I am closing the lab for the rest of the week. Are there any questions?”

There were none, this was the moment they had all been waiting for, since the entire case had begun. This was their opportunity to strike back at the forces that were responsible for the attacks on their team and their fellow agents.

“All of you need to take the time to study these photos, and be able to match a name to the faces you see up here. Then see Agent Wilmington for your instructions, dismissed.”

Vin was gathering his papers when JD approached him. “I want to be involved, but Buck said you have me staying here.”

“JD, you are not completely healed from your last go around with these guys. I appreciated the fact that you want to go, but…I need you here.”

“I need to be there, to prove I can still work out in the field.” JD pleaded.

“Sorry, not this time.” Vin felt badly for JD, but he would not risk him getting hurt again, or worse. "I know how good of an agent you are JD; you don’t have to prove that. You will have other opportunities to be out in the field again, just not now." Watching JD walk away with slumped shoulders and obvious disappointment, Tanner almost called him back

“Being in charge sucks sometimes, doesn’t it.?” Travis grinned at the younger man. “He’ll be fine son, but you and I need to talk. Will it be in your office or mine?”

“Mine, it’s closer.” Vin led the way and shut the door when Travis entered.

Tanner waited for Orrin to sit down before he did, “Sir?”

“I have given our current situation some serious thought. When Larabee returns, he will need some time off to consider his future with MCAT. I am more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, within reason, that his rebellious actions are a one-time occurrence. However, I must insist that he attend mandatory counseling before he returns to his post and then there will be a probationary period for him to prove that he is truly rid of his…demons. I need you to continue as acting Commander until such a time I am convinced that Chris is indeed fit to return to his duties. This changeover is too important to leave MCAT without strong leadership and there will be numerous decisions that will have to be made concerning the new alignment for the unit.”

“When do you need an answer?” Vin had not considered that Travis would actually reprimand Chris. But thinking about it, what Orrin said made sense, not only for work, but for Larabee’s own health, mentally and physically.

“Is there a problem?”

Vin hesitated before answering. ”Actually sir, I was plannin’ to leave MCAT when Chris returned to Colorado.

Travis had suspected as much, and he was not going to allow that plan to come about in any event. Beside, he needed him to stay on until Larabee could straighten himself out. “I sincerely hope that you will reconsider. Just because Chris returns to Colorado, does not mean that he is returning to MCAT as if none of this ever happened. He will be put on suspended status regardless of your decision. Think about it and let me know what you have decided when this mission is over.”

“Tanner thoughtfully nodded his agreement. “I will sir.”

“Now what do you need from me for the operation on Saturday?

“Just be prepared to take Senator Hanson into custody when I call you.”

“That will be my pleasure.” Travis stood up.” Go home for a while, and that is an order. I know that you were here all night, and I do not want to see you drop from exhaustion before we’re done. You have a great team, delegate and let them help.”

“Yes sir.”

Larabee 7 ~ 1:00 pm

When Linda had called and invited Kelli for lunch with the girls, she never expected to get into the middle of a bitching session. However, here she was fielding questions from, Linda, Casey and Rain. Mallory, Barbara and Inez stayed pretty much out of it, but Kelli received the full brunt of the other women’s frustrations.

“We need a liaison with MCAT for all the wives and families of the agents. How can we help our husbands, if we have no idea what they are facing.” Casey asked.

“I agree that we need to be kept informed, not just ordered into seclusion because ‘it’s safer this way.’ Keep us safer from what or who? How can we protect ourselves if we have no idea what needs protecting? ‘Linda demanded. “Especially when our men are off on some assignment God only knows where.”

“It would be nice to understand what sets them off.” Rain joined in, thinking about Nathan’s strange behavior lately.

“It’s easy for you and Mallory; you both work there and know what is going on.” Linda snapped. “We get ordered around and aren’t even told why.”

Kelli sighed, and her head was about to explode. “Linda you of all people should know what it’s like out there. Some things you don’t need to know, just trust that it’s for your own good. But if you want things to change then you should talk to Chris when he returns and let him answer your questions, and decide then about a liaison.”

“I would ask him now if I could if talk to him. Can’t you just tell me when he will be back?” Linda glared at her friend.

"I don’t know when he is going to be back here Linda. It probably will not be until he’s finished with his end of this case. Kelli took a deep breath. “Look, I understand that it can be frustratin’, and this case has been hard on everyone, but it won’t last forever and then we can all take a breather.”

“Until the next case, “Casey commented.

Inez decided that it was time to change the subject. “Tomorrow night you are all invited to our place to welcome Caleb into our home. Barbara drew up the papers and Ezra filed them for us, and we are now officially Caleb’s guardians. Tomorrow is moving day for him, and the girls and I have a party planned. Buck is going to barbecue so come hungry, dinner first at six and then the party.”

Mallory hugged Inez, “Congratulations How long until you can officially adopt?”

Barbara answered. “We are hoping to have it completed before the new Wilmington baby gets here.”

“It doesn’t matter when the courts say its official, he is our son, and we plan to love him enough to make up for all the years he did not have a family. I am so grateful that Vin and Kelli brought him here.” Inez hugged Kelli. “Thank you.”

“No thanks are necessary Inez, just love him.” Kelli hated to lose Caleb, but she was more than please that Inez and Buck were the ones to adopt him.

“Unfortunately, since we are not allowed to leave the ranch without an armed escort, we can’t shop for a gift for him.” Linda pointed out.

“There are other ways to give a gift if you need to, Linda. But all he needs is the gift of family and we don’t need to shop for that.” Mallory smiled. “We will be there with bells on.”

“That’s somethin’ I need to see Mal. What kind of bells?” Vin walked in the back door. It had taken him longer to get away from the office than he had planned; it seemed that it was one thing after another. Buck and Ezra finally decided to take charge and insisted that the Texan go home for the rest of the day, assuring him that they would call if Larabee checked-in. When Tanner saw his children outside Chris’ home, he knew Kelli was somewhere close and stopped on his way home, visiting with the kids before he went inside.

“The jingly kind.” Mallory quipped, “What else?”

“Tanner you are just the man we need to see. “Linda was ready to blast him with more questions. “What happened to your face?”

“Sorry Linda, my head is killin’ me, now that Vin is here; I think I’ll try to persuade him to take me home.” Kelli was not about to let Linda start on him or tell her how he got the bruises. The redhead walked over to her husband and took his hand.

Vin narrowed his eyes, not sure just what he was missing, but was more concerned for his wife. “Of course, I will.”

“How about I bring the kids with me when I leave?” Barbara offered, more than willing to give her friend some time with her husband. “We may stop at the swings first though.”

“Thanks Barb, see you at home, and Linda thanks for lunch. I’ll see y’all later.” The couple walked outside, stopping to let the kids know that Miss Barbara was brining them home later.

“But we need to show you the baby raccoon.” Andi pouted, while Jason and Caleb ran off to play.

“Tanner knelt down and looked her in the eye. “I promise sugar, that I won’t peak until y’all are there to show me.”

Pleased that her daddy remembered her new name, Andi smiled. “Okay.” She quickly rejoined Joanne, Sarah and Maria.

“Vin led his wife to his truck and held the door for her to climb inside; she slid over enough to make room for him. As he put the key in the ignition he asked. “Do I want to know what you saved me from in there and how bad do you hurt?”

“No you don’t and I’m fine”. Kelli leaned into him and sighed. “Let’s go home. We have an empty house and you need some sleep.”

It only took a few minutes to make it to their home, and with his arm around her waist they walked inside. Once the door was shut, Vin drew her to him. “I’m not tried enough to sleep.” The Texan then lowered his head to meet hers and took them to a faraway, passion filled place with his kiss, as his hands caressed the women he loved and needed to take him away from the demanding world. The effect on both of them was immediate and explosive, leaving them breathless.

“Damn! “Kelli took a ragged breath and held onto Vin for support.

“Damn good!” Vin had found his shelter and for the next few hours he could forget the pressures of work and the stress of worry.

Tanner home ~ early evening

The newly acquired baby raccoon produced mixed reactions from the various adults in the Tanner household. Barbara was intrigued with the animal, Walter was amused, and Max took it in stride that they had another pet to care for. Ezra however, was apprehensive.

“Are you certain, that it is safe for the children to handle that…small creature?

Vin held the baby raccoon. “It’s safe Ez, you wanna hold her?”

“NO! I mean no thank you. I shall allow her to stay in your capable hands. After all you know more about wild things than I.”

Kelli smiled. Yep, “Tanner is an expert concerin’ …wild things.”

The Texan grinned at his wife’s double-edged remark and then placed the raccoon back in the box that the kids had fixed up for her. “First chance we get, we’ll build her a proper home, and have Matt come over to check her out.”

Max announced that dinner was ready and the group of adults and children turned their attention away from the new baby, to the meal that awaited them.

Santa Ana, California

Adam was anxious about the upcoming meet. Last night had only been a preliminary showing of the ‘merchandise’, two young girls that Victor took a personal interest in trying out. Carmichael and Cortez had no choice but to wait, while Donner took the juveniles into a back office for inspection. Once he was satisfied, he made arrangements to finalize the deal tonight, insisting that he would only do business with the boss. The time was set for 10:00 pm at a warehouse in Costa Mesa, and according to what they had been able to overhear, this batch of inventory was headed overseas.

“These are American girls being sold into sex slavery to foreign buyers!” Adam paced their quarters. “We have to find a way to stop this!”

“Unless you come up with a plan to put into action within the next twenty-four hours, our hands are tied. We are not going to miss out exit window.” Creed wanted to make sure that Carmichael understood that.

“Call Jonah, have him tell Tanner we need another week. We are too damn close to get out because someone is trying to play mother hen! I won’t leave until we save those kids!”

“No, I won’t! You did not hear a word I said did you? This is not about you or me! The takedown is already planned and scheduled; we have no way of changing that. We stay here and we might fuck up the best opportunity to get all the players or worse cause someone else on the team to get hurt. We are out of here by tomorrow night, with or without any evidence. You got that!” Creed did not want to risk the wrong ears hearing this conversation so he did not yell, but he did make his position clear.

Adam waited until Creed had stormed out the door and then pulled out his pills. He was certain this case was the root of his problem, and once it was over, things would return to normal. Tanner is overreacting and he has let the power of temporary command go to his head. I can straighten him out when I get home. Linda is overly concerned, but that is understandable, this is the first undercover assignment we’ve been through since we have been married. She’ll be fine once I return. What about Buck? Hell, I know he never meant to side against me, he was just caught up in Vin’s fears. Buck and I are okay What about the pills? Hell, I quit them before, and I can do it again, no problem.

In the meantime, it did not hurt a thing to use what he could to get through this hell This is only temporary. Downing four capsules without water, he counted the remaining pills. There were only a few left, but that was enough to get him through tonight, and tomorrow he would simply tell the doctor he needed more. He looked toward the closed door and said softly. “We’ll see about pulling out, Creed. I don’t need your help, and I damn sure don’t need Tanner’s. I will find a way.”

Costa Mesa Warehouse 10:00 pm

They arrived in two vehicles, Donner and Willis in one, Creed and Carmichael in the other. Wheeler’s warehouse was in the last row of over a hundred nondescript storehouses. The remainder of Victor’s crew waited for him by the semi-truck that would transport his merchandise to a secure location until Saturday, when it would be delivered to the docks.

Victor Donner smiled when he thought about the results of this night’s work. He had made an exceptional monetary arrangement with his contact in Turkey and this merchandise was easy money. The fifteen units of merchandise would triple his investment in less than ten days. His crew was ready to neutralize the merchandise with drugs and load into a waiting container, as soon as the money changed hands. He ordered Carmichael and Cortez stay to assist the crew in the warehouse, while he and Willis walked to back office to meet with Kyle Wheeler, and finalize payment for the goods.

Kyle Wheeler was looking forward to making this deal. He knew Victor Donner by reputation, and if he was pleased with the merchandise, this transaction would produce a long and profitable partnership for his future. He stood to greet the two men that entered his office.

“Mr. Donner, welcome.” Kyle extended his hand and was ignored. Covering his embarrassment he walked over to the window that looked out into the interior of his warehouse.

“I have your money, tell your men to allow my crew to load my products.” Willis placed the case with the cash on the desk and opened it.

Wheeler signaled his men and started to turn away when he saw the face of a man he would never forget. He whirled around and yelled at Donner. “You bastard! You set me up for the feds!” He made a threatening step toward Donner, and Willis moved to intercept him.

“What in the hell are you taking about?” Donner yelled back.

“Chris Larabee, that’s what! That sonofabitch put me in prison for almost five years. Trust me, even under all that hair and with a beard, I’d know him anywhere! Him and that damn ATF crew of his have plagued my nightmares for years, and now you brought him here!”

“Show me.” Victor said softly.

“There…the man standing next to your car! That is Federal Agent Chris Larabee! He’s more ragged looking than I remember, but it is him!”

Donner took a deep breath to control the rage inside him. “You have been a great help to me, Kyle.” He placed his arm around Wheeler’s shoulder. “I never forget the people that help me, and I want to make certain that you get a reward.” The gun, which was pressed against his side made very little noise when it discharged. The bullet that entered Kyle’s body stopped only when it lodged in the man’s heart.

Stepping over Wheeler’s dead body, Victor wiped his hands with his handkerchief. “Arthur, no witnesses please.”

Willis nodded and then picked up the money case, following his boss out of the office into the warehouse. Heading over to the crew chief he quietly gave them their instructions.

Victor stopped and then called Adam and Creed over. “There has been a slight change of plans, gentlemen. I have one more meeting to make tonight. Carmichael, you’ll drive, Creed, with us.”

Willis and Donner entered the back of the car, while Adam slid into the driver’s seat and Creed sat in the front passenger seat.

“Where to sir,” Adam asked.

“Newport Beach, Peninsula Park, I have some business to tend to there with an old friend.” Adam drove toward the beach. Behind them at the warehouse, Donner’s crew boss carried out his orders. Six of Wheeler’s men lay dead in pools of their own blood, while the semi pulled out with the merchandise and a second car followed Donner at a discreet distance.

Adam followed the directions that Willis gave him, but he was beginning to get an uneasy feeling in his gut. This time of night the area they were headed for was desolate and dark, not somewhere he wanted to be with Willis and Donner behind him.

“Pull over here,” Donner ordered.

Exiting the car Creed passed a concerned look to Carmichael. He was beginning to have the distinct feeling that no one would be meeting them here. However, Cortez had no time to even register that thought before he saw a flash, and felt a burning pain in his chest and then… nothing.

“NO!” Adam lurched forward to attack Donner as he raised his gun to shoot Creed, but Willis was expecting the move. The larger man tackled Carmichael before he could reach Victor. With his reactions slowed down by drugs, and his injured arm, Adam was prevented from stopping the shot that impacted his partner’s chest. Helplessly he was forced to watch in gut wrenching agony, while Creed’s body fell to the ground and the front of his shirt was quickly saturated with blood.

Donner stalked over to Adam, his movements ridged with barely controlled rage. “Congratulations AGENT Larabee, you’ve just earned a one way ticket to hell!”