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
August 16 ~7:00 am
The sky overhead was a bright blue with powder puff clouds dotted throughout it as seven-year-old Timmy Sanford and his father headed their blue van down the gravel and dirt road that led to the wooden pier that jutted out over the murky blue water a short distance away. His dad, James, had taken the day off work so that they could spend it fishing at their favorite pier. Although they never caught much, it was time that they could spend together and that was cool with him. Any day spent alone with his father was a special day.
Sanford parked the vehicle at the end of the long pier, and he and Timmy got out. Once they unloaded their gear from the car they began the trek to the water. As they walked onto it, a scrap of something colorful caught James attention out of the corner of one eye. He stopped suddenly and gave the speck of color more attention and felt horror fill him when his eyes were able to make out tousled strands of dark hair, and a pale face connected to it. Not wanting his son to witness the same thing that he had, he called quickly over his shoulder for Timmy to go back to their van immediately.
“Turn around and go back now Timmy!”
“But Dad…”Timmy started to protest, not understanding what it was that had caught his dad’s attention or why he was being ordered back to the van. They had only just arrived.
“Now, Timmy! I’ll be right behind you.” Once assured that his son was out of earshot, James Sanford pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911.
“911: please state your emergency.”
“My name is James Sanford. I was on my way to spend a day of fishing with my son when I spotted something colorful floating in the water along one side of the pier. Upon closer examination, I was able to discern that it was clothing attached to a body.
“Can you tell if the victim is male or female?” The emergency dispatcher asked.
“I think it’s a man, but can’t tell for sure unless I get into the water. I’d rather not do that because I don’t want my son to see.
“That’s okay, sir. Can you tell if the victim is alive or deceased?”
“I think the man is dead…’cause it doesn’t appear that he is breathing.”
“What is your location, sir?”
“Lido Isle at the Balboa Pier, I’ll be waiting at my car, a 2004 blue Dodge minivan.”
“I have a police officer in route now, ETA three minutes. Please stay on the
line.” Sanford joined his son at the van and waited for the police to arrive.
“What’s going on, Dad?” Timmy asked curiously as the sound of a siren in the distance drew closer.
“Nothing you need to worry about.” James told his son as a police vehicle with flashing lights was pulling up alongside of them. He opened the car door and got out to meet the officer. “Stay in the van.”
As first officer on the scene, Deputy Reynolds took down Sanford’s personal information and his story for being there, before heading out onto the pier to check out the reported dead body. He had to wade into the water to reach the sandy little dune that the body lay upon. Positively identifying it as that of a man, he removed one glove, pressed two fingers to the jugular and was shocked to find a faint pulse. He immediately radioed in, "Dispatch, I need paramedics ASAP at my location. The previously reported deceased John Doe is in fact, alive.”
Mission Regional Trauma Center
Mission Viejo, CA
The double doors flung open as paramedics raced in pushing a gurney between them. Emergency personnel were waiting to take John Doe straight to surgery. They were prepared for the gunshot wound and acute blood loss, having monitored his stats by radio with the medics. They also knew that his condition was extremely critical and that every second counted in the race to try and save his life.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy that had accompanied the victim approached the nurse at the desk. “Our John Doe is one lucky bastard. I don’t see how he is still alive, but if his luck holds and he makes it through surgery, contact me at this number immediately.” He handed her his card. “I‘ll swing back by and take his fingerprints, see if we can identify him.”
The nurse read the name on the card. “Deputy Reynolds it will probably be several hours before you can do that, but I will note his chart, and attach your card to it, with instructions to call you.”
“I doubt that he makes it, but thanks.” The Deputy left the emergency room to connect with his waiting partner and resume his duties.
Their plans for the raid were in place for Saturday. The incriminating evidence JD had found connecting State Senator Hansen with Donner through the O’Mara Corporation, was in the hands on the U.S. Attorney, and the warrants had been issued. The only thing left to do now was to wait. Chris and Raphael had until midnight, California time, to contact Jonah and confirm that they were out, and Vin would not rest easy until then.
“Chris may be a hard-headed sonofabitch, but he won’t stay knowing that we’re coming in.” Buck sat in Tanner’s office and tried to assure the young Texan. His assurance would have been much more effective if he had been certain himself of what Larabee would do. Trouble was that he knew his old friend all too well. Chris Larabee was a man who was used to calling the shots, and didn’t take well to anyone ordering him around, whether it was for his own good or not. Being under the influence of narcotics was bound to make the man even more reckless and eager to carry out his own brand of justice regardless of the consequences.
“I wish I could believe that you are right in that Buck, but I just don’t know. I wasn’t going to say anythin’, but I’ve got a bad feelin’ about all of this. I haven’t been able to shake it since Monday, but Chris is way in over his head on this one.”
“Hell, I realized that when we saw him in California.” Wilmington let out a weary sigh. “Whatever he needs, we can handle once this is over. It may take the entire family to see him through the fallout, but we’ll do it one way or another.”
“If we get the chance Bucklin, Lar’bee has to get out alive first.”
“Even fucked up on pills, Chris will make it, he’s too damn ornery not to.”
Vin wanted to believe that it would all work out, but he just did not feel as confident about it as Buck did. He knew only too well how very lucky Larabee had been in the past, and the kind of obstacles that he had survived, but always before he had been able to depend on the connection that he and Chris shared to know what was going on with his best friend. Now all he had was instincts to go on, and the deep seated knot in his gut told him that something was terribly wrong in California. “Go on home Buck, and spend some time with your new son before his party.”
Buck grinned, “Son…damn that sounds good. Inez and the girls have his room almost finished. Sarah and Marie picked out a bed that looks like a racecar and added things they thought a boy’s bedroom should have. I don’t want to spoil him, but he deserves to have some of the things most boys his age take for granted. We’re gonna have one helluva welcome for him. I just wish Chris could be here for it.”
“Yeah, me too. “Tanner knew that whatever lay ahead was out of his hands, and that tonight belonged to the new Wilmington family. “Give Caleb a big hug from me, and get that barbecue fired up.”
“In case I forgot to tell you Vin, Inez and I are grateful that you and Kel agreed to allow us to give Caleb a home. I know you both love him and I swear we’ll make a good life for him.”
“I know y’all will. He’s got the best parents a kid could ask for. Now get out of here and go home.”
Ezra walked in as Buck was leaving. He waited until the door was closed before he spoke. “Mission accomplished. I have been online and have everyone’s gifts ordered and waiting to be picked up.” Since the ladies could not leave the ranch, Standish had been designated to acquire the gifts they wanted purchased for tonight’s celebration.” However, I need to borrow your truck to transport them. Perhaps we could swap vehicles for the remainder of the day.”
Tanner pulled his truck key off his key ring and handed it to Ezra. “Did you have a chance to take care of the cashiers check?”
Standish passed Vin the key to his rental. “Yes, I took the checks from each of the brothers and combined them. Caleb will have a good start on a savings account.”
Looking at the list, Standish laughed. “I do hope the lad has a big room, he’ll need it for all of this.”
“I reckon Buck and Inez will manage to find room for it all.” Vin looked at the key Ezra had given him.” When are you gonna replace the Jag?”
“Probably about the same time you and Kel replace her truck.” Standish sighed. “I fear that until this operation is over none of us have the time or the inclination to take on that task.”
The Texan nodded in agreement as he gazed out the window. “See you tonight, Ez.” He heard Standish quietly close the door behind him as he left the room.
I don’t know what in the hell you’re doing Cowboy, but it don’t feel right. Reckon you could open up that hardhead of yours long enough to let me know that you’re still around?
It was the slow rolling motion that threatened to make his stomach revolt that woke him. Chills racked his body and sharp pains accompanied the undulations his insides were performing. Chris tried to move his head and was rewarded with what felt like sledgehammers playing tag inside his skull. Attempting again with slower movements, he tried to recognize something that would give him a clue as to his location, and then attempted to remember what in the hell had happened.
Assessing his condition, he quickly realized it was not good. The bandages on his left arm were filthy and damp. Every muscle in his body screamed in protest and refused to cooperate with their directions to move. Several voices outside his door drew his attention, however the language was not English, it was Spanish. Although he could pick out a few words here and there it was spoken much too fluently, and with a dialect that Larabee had a hard time understanding. He listened intently for a few moments, trying to decipher more of what he was hearing, but he finally decided that he was coming up with nothing that would help him ascertain his location.
Think Larabee…what is the last thing you remember? Another attempt to move, found his right wrist resisting, and Chris slowly turned his head and saw that he was handcuffed to a steel bar welded into the wall of his small quarters. There was something familiar about this… A ship…you’re on a goddamn ship! How in the….God! Raphael? … Blood …too much damn blood!
Flashes of memory began to return. He remembered him and Cordova riding in a car with Donner and Willis. Then the four of them standing on a beach in the dark and Cordova suddenly falling and Donner, was yelling …He called you Agent Larabee! He knows who you are and it cost Raphael his life. You got your partner killed Chris. You and your damn, ‘I can do this on my own stubbornness’. Now you have to live with the guilt… if you survive. Why are you still alive? What kind of game is Donner playing? Better question Larabee… How in the hell do you get out of this? What happens when you don’t contact Josiah? VIN…he’ll come…he’ll find me. If he does you’re gonna have to help him Larabee, it might be beneficial to find out where in the fuck you are and do it before withdrawal hits you.
Mission Regional Trauma Center ~5:00 pm
Mission Viejo, CA
John Doe had survived surgery and now rested in the critical care unit connected to machines, tubes, and monitors. The general consensus of the staff was that there was no medical reason he was still alive. The amount of blood loss alone should have been fatal, not to mention the gun shot wound to his chest. The night nurse was checking on her newest patient, carefully jotting down the rate of his heart beat, pulse, and the changing of the IV bags down in the man’s charts, when she heard the door open behind her.
“No visitors,” she said automatically, not glancing up from the notations she was making in John Doe’s chart. When she didn’t hear the door open again to indicate to her that the visitor had left, she finished her writing and looked up finally and recognized the uniform. “Deputy, he is not awake, yet.”
Reynolds smiled. “That’s okay; I was going off duty for the evening and wanted to get his fingerprints if I could, before I sign out.”
“Hang on, let me get something to remove the ink when you’re through and I’ll assist you.”
“Sure, I’m in no hurry. I won’t be turning these prints in until in the morning anyway.”
Larabee 7 Ranch~5:30 pm
Driving home, Vin still had not been able to shake the bad feeing he had about Chris. It was a little over eight hours until the deadline time, but deep down he knew that if Larabee was going to pull out or he would have already done it. It was going to be a long night if Josiah didn’t call with good news soon, but for the children’s sake he was going to try to put up a good front for Caleb’s party. He walked into his house, only to find it empty. A note on the kitchen counter told him where to find his family and he smiled as he read it. With the horses Tanner. Where else would they be?
“Andi, do not climb on there.” Kelli shook her head, and grabbed the mischievous imp, preventing her from climbing further up on the side on the stall. “We are here to visit the colts, not scare their mama’s half to death or me.”
“Mom, when will this one be big enough for me to take him out?” Jason was drawn to the little bay colt that he was brushing and was already callin him ‘Dreamer’.
“It will be a while, but if you really like that one, maybe we can designate you his personal caretaker.” Kelli knelt down beside him, while still holding on to Andi.
“I do…I like him a lot, but it seems like it’s taking forever for him to grow.”
“Just seems like it son.” Vin walked into the barn, hearing the last part of the conversation. “Midnight was about that size when I first laid eyes on him and look at him now.”
“Dad is home!” Jason jumped up and ran to meet him, laughing when Vin wrapped his arms around him for a bear hug.
“Daddy’s here!’ Andi wiggled loose from Kelli, and ran to Vin. She was hoping that he would keep her out of trouble for climbing again. “I love you and I won’t do it no more.” She giggled when he lifted her into the air.
Vin did not have to be a psychic to know Andi had done something that she shouldn’t have. He carefully leaned over with his additional blond cargo and kissed his wife. “What?”
“Climbing in the stall again,” Kelli whispered and smiled. She knew Vin would not be too hard on Andi. The little golden haired imp had him wrapped around her little finger.
Andi overheard. “Me forgot daddy.”
Shaking his head, Vin sighed. “Never climb into one of the stalls, you might startle the horse and get stomped on. We don’t want to see you get hurt Sugar, we love our Andi just the way she is, so remember, okay.”
“I will,” she answered, shaking her head enthusiastically as she spoke. Vin kissed Andi on the cheek, before he let her down. “We all okay about Caleb’s move?” Letting go of a foster child was hard even for an adult sometimes, he watched for any sign that either child had a problem with it.
Andi nodded and Jason answered for both on them. “He has his Buck and Inez now, we did good.” The youngster grinned and giggled. “He’s still got us too, Uncle Vin.”
“Then why aren’t y’all over at the Wilmington’s yet?” Vin smiled as he put his arm around Kelli’s waist. “I’ll bet Caleb is excited and anxious for you to get there.”
“We were waiting for you Dad.” Jason answered him as if he should have known why. “So our family can all go together.”
“Let’s put these babies back with their mamas and go then, ‘m starved.” Jason’s humor told him that he was okay, Andi’s smile said the same, but when he looked into Kelli’s eyes he saw the concern not for the children, but for him.
Tanner knew that he might be fooling the kids, but Kelli would know that he was worried. He sent her a silent plea to talk about it later and saw the reluctant acceptance in her eyes.
Chris did not have the strength to struggle any longer. He had given up trying to free himself from the cuffs, and now lay exhausted on the hard bunk. The pain in his arm was getting worse and he wished he had his pills to ease it, but they were gone, along with everything else he had on him last night. All he could do was stare at the ceiling and wait, for what he was not sure, but sooner or later he was positive that Donner would come to see him.
Suddenly the door opened and a man entered, gun in one hand, tray in the other. Sitting up as quickly as his aching muscles would allow, he realized that he did not recognize this man. “Who in the hell are you?”
The Latino man kept his gun aimed directly at Larabee, while he sat the tray on the floor. “No hablo ingles. No se mueva.”
“Great, the one person I see all day and he doesn’t speak English and tells me not to move, as if I’m going anywhere.” Chris mumbled and then attempted a question in Spanish. “¿Donde está aquí? Here. Where is here.” Chris pointed downward, but the only response he received was to have the tray of food shoved across the floor toward him. The man then backed out the door and locked it again.
Grabbing the water bottle, Chris fumbled awkwardly with the cap, trying to remove it. The food was some type of white gruel and not appealing at all, but the water was heaven sent. Once he quenched his parched throat, he sat back and thought about his situation. Any way he looked at it, it was not good; he could only hope that when he did not check in with Josiah, the team would begin to search for him. Maybe it was time to try to reach across the thousand miles to Denver and send Tanner a message.
Vin, if you can hear me, it’s time to send in the cavalry.
Wednesday evening 7:00 pm.
Buck had laid out a barbeque feast for everyone’s enjoyment, and Inez had the house decorated with blue balloons and big banners. Some of them, the girls had helped with, but they all said the same thing. It’s a boy! Welcome home Caleb! The young boy was overwhelmed by all the attention, but a big smile never left his face. He alternated his time between his new family and the Tanners, and he and Jason were inseparable for most of the evening.
With the exception of Chris and Josiah the entire family was in attendance, along with Max and Walter. There were lots of hugs from all of Caleb’s new Aunts and most of the Uncles as well. Finally it was time for a few words and lots of presents. Buck stood and demanded everyone’s attention.
“I know someone is anxious to open all these gifts. But Inez and I want you to know how happy we are that all of you have joined us this evening to welcome our son into the family. If you had asked us a few months ago if this was a possibility, I probably would have laughed in your face, but Caleb came into our lives and stole our hearts without even trying. I want you all to know how proud I am to call this young man my son and Inez and I are looking forward to the coming years we will be able to spend with him. We also want to thank Vin and Kelli for bringing him to the ranch and loving him enough to let him come to us. In fact, Caleb has his own surprise tonight for them. We had a family conference and we all decided that he would have the honor of naming his new sister. I know she still has a few months to get here and it’s not December yet, but we liked his choice so much we wanted to share. Caleb, you want to tell them?”
Caleb stood next to his new dad and leaned into him to hide his embarrassment, but he had practiced what he wanted to say and his voice was loud and clear. “Our new baby sister will be Tannis Rose Wilmington.” He went over and hugged both Tanners. “Thank you for taking care of me and helping me find real parents.”
Vin could only nod, and Kelli tried not to cry, but it was obvious that they were both touched by Caleb’s choice. Apparently the child made his own slight change in their last name and thought Tannis was perfect for his new baby sister.
Ezra broke the emotional spell. “Before young Caleb opens his gifts I have one to present from the entire family.” He handed Buck and envelope.” This check is given with love from all of us to start a saving account for our newest nephew.”
“Thanks, all of you. Now I guess it is Caleb’s turn.” Buck handed him the first of many presents. When he was finished he was in a little boy’s wonderland, filled with all types of sports equipment, including a baseball, bat, football, helmets and pads. A gameboy came from Jason and Andi, lots of games, and more new clothes than he had owned in his entire life from the others. Many memories were made this day that he was not likely to forget in his lifetime.
While Buck and Inez helped their son with all his new possession and the party was winding down, Linda came over to talk to Vin.
“How much longer will it be before we are allowed to leave the ranch?” Linda asked casually.
“Soon, I hope. But until you hear differently, none of you are to leave here without an armed escort.” Vin hoped that after Saturday the worse of their worries would be over and Chris would be on his way home.
I don’t suppose you have…”
“No not since Monday, hang in there Linda, this will be over soon.” Tanner only hoped that his words held a confident tone that he was not feeling. He looked down at his watch.
Time is almost up Chris, call damn it!
Charles Gant was a disciplined man and meticulous when it concerned his work. Every job he had ever taken was important to him and he prided himself on his ability to succeed, especially where other before him had failed. Details were crucial and he made an effort to personally check out each one. He double-checked, the building blueprints in front of him. His equipment was the best that money could buy and few were able to match his skills. Picking us a disposable cell phone he left a message for his current employer.
Satisfied that all was ready, he turned in for a good night’s rest. Tomorrow was a big day for him and he did not want to be too tried to enjoy it.
Thursday August 18th
5:00 am Mountain Standard Time ~ (Colorado time)
The deadline for Adam and Creed to withdraw from the undercover operation came and went with no word from Chris or Raphael. Vin gave up trying to sleep and quietly slipped out of bed, dressed and then headed for the kitchen to put on coffee. While it brewed, he walked out onto the deck, stared off into the darkness, and contemplated the possible reasons that Larabee had failed to make contact and the consequences.
He’s angry and not thinking clearly Vin, plus he did not want to be forced out. Maybe this is his way of showing you that he is still in charge… You don’t believe that Tanner, for a minute! Quit looking for a way to rationale your fears, and listen to your instincts. Chris did not make contact because he chose not to, but because he couldn’t! Now you will be forced into making one of the hardest decisions you have ever been asked to make. Can you say to hell with the case, and abort the arrest of the man responsible for the destruction of so many innocent lives to search for two rogue agents? Or do you perform your sworn duty to uphold the law, see justice served and hope like hell you can find them in the process?
Kelli had been awake since Vin had left their bed, and now stood in the doorway watching him as he struggled with his thoughts. She understood what it meant when Chris did not make his designated contact with Josiah, and to consider the possible scenarios that would explain why, hurt deeply. As much as she loved her father, knowing that her husband was caught in the hellish position between love and loyalty for his brother and his sworn duty to protect and serve justice, hurt worse. Silently she walked over and wrapped her arms around her tormented Texan.
Accepting her unspoken support, Vin returned her loving embrace. Resting his chin on top of her head, he let out a weary sigh. “I’m certain that Chris is out there in that darkness somewhere, in a world of trouble and hurt, waitin’ for me to find him, but with him cuttin’ me out and the haziness the drugs produce between us, I can’t hear him, and all I have to go on are my instincts. Hell, I don’t have a clue where to start lookin’.”
To Kelli, the powerful feelings of helpless frustration that was emitting from the Texan, actually felt like a physical presence standing beside them. With her head resting against his chest, she held on tightly to prevent room for those frustrations to flourish between them, and spoke softy. “Then you may have to wait for fate to lend you a hand, Tanner. In the meantime, have faith and trust your instincts to guide you into makin’ the right decisions.”
Tanner strengthened his hold on his wife. Fate and faith Vin. How many times have you said that some things are out of our hands? You are holding living proof of that in your arms right now. Have faith that mistress fate will provide the answers you seek, let her unfold her mysteries, and trust that your instincts will prepared you to act when she does. The Texan leaned back to look into the unwavering blue eyes that were waiting for him to resolve his conflicted feelings.
“Message received and registered, baby.” A light kiss sealed his words. “Coffee should be ready. What do you say we go in and face what Mistress Fate has in store for us today, together?”
“Sounds like a plan to me, Tanner.”
Mission Viejo, CA
7:00am Pacific Standard Time ~ (California time)
Deputy Alan Reynolds had come into work an hour before his shift officially began to follow up on yesterday’s John Doe. The way he saw it, if the man was fighting so hard to survive against the odds, he deserved to have a name. He took the fingerprints that he had obtained last night and entered them into Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System or AFIS, and he should have an answer within two hours.
MCAT Office ~ 8:00am MST
When Tanner had closed the lab and sent the technicians home for the week, he had not given much thought as to how quiet it would be to have half the twelfth floor uninhabited. The only evidence that they even had a lab was the presence of Greg Ramsey and Katrina Santos. Both agents had stayed on to lend their investigative skills to the unit and were working with Ross, searching dock records and ship’s registries for connections to the O’Mara Corporation.
Buck grabbed a cup of coffee and walked over to Tanner’s door. Leaning on the doorframe he took a sip and then said. “I figured with Ezra staying with you this week, he would at least be in on time in the morning.”
Without looking up from the papers on his desk Vin absently answered. “Ez is taking Kel to the doctor; she has a nine o’clock appointment. I expect Doc to release her today and they’ll both be in when she’s finished.”
“You okay Vin?” Buck knew that Chris not calling in had put the younger man in a damnable position. He had an obligation as acting Commander of MCAT to carry through with their plans, but he also had a deep sense of loyalty to his brothers, and when it came to Chris it was more than that. Regardless of why Larabee was acting like an ass, Tanner would move heaven and earth to try to protect him.
The Texan looked up. “As okay as I can be, Bucklin. We move in as planned on Saturday unless we find a specific reason not to.”
“You think they’re in trouble?”
“Paul says there as been no activity on their cells or credit cards since Monday, they have not contacted Josiah since that night, and my gut has a hole in it from churning so damn much. Yeah…I’d say it’s a safe bet that trouble found ‘em.”
“Chris is tough; he will hang in there and find a way to reach us.”
Vin realized that Buck was attempting to convince himself as much as anybody and simply nodded in agreement. He then stood and walked into the bullpen with Wilmington. Pam and JD were immersed into one of their CASSIE programs. Nathan and Mark were scouring over reports from South America. Tanner knew they would all continue to dig until it was time to leave tomorrow. He only hoped that Chris could wait that long.
California ~9:00 am PST
Chris had had a rough night. Only the chills that racked his battered, aching body, matched the pains in his stomach. Nightmares invaded his sleep and brought along all the demons from his past with them to torment him. He groaned as he tried to sit up and use the bottle they had left for him to relieve himself in.
Twenty minutes later, the door opened and Victor Donner walked in. “Agent Larabee, how are you this beautiful morning?”
“What the hell do you want?”
“Now is that anyway to speak to a guest?” Donner said a word in Spanish and quickly a tray laden with an assortment of appetizing food was brought in along with a television set. As one of the men hooked up the TV, Victor continued. “I thought perhaps you and I might share a brunch, and that you would be pleased to have some entertainment to pass the hours before you sail away.”
Larabee eyed the man suspiciously, Donner had told him a lot with that one statement. That he was to be here in confinement longer did not surprise him, nor did the fact that eventually the damn ship he was on would sail somewhere. But why was the bastard so damn happy? “Whatever game you’re playing, I’m not interested.”
“Agent Larabee, you and I have been playing a game for months. I won, and I can be a gracious winner. You on the other hand, do not have to be a sore loser. You will of course disappear off the face of the earth to your family and friends, but you can count on a fairly long life in captivity… like an animal.” Donner laughed.” Yes, I find it rather satisfying to know that you will spend the remainder of you life in absolute misery.”
“I’ would not count on that Victor. You may defeat me, but my team will hunt you down.”
“You keep thinking that Agent Larabee, and we will see who has the last laugh. Now will you join me for brunch?
“Go to hell!”
“I will take that as a no.” Donner picked up a piece of fruit and then reached over to set the channel on a twenty- four hour news station.
MCAT office 10:30 am ~ MST
JD saw the alert coming through before anyone else, and quickly pulled it off the fax to read. Then without a word, he jumped up and ran to Vin’s office. Not stopping to knock he burst into the room and almost fell over the chair in his rush to get to Tanner’s desk.
“Alert from AFIS, someone just ran Raphael’s prints through there!”
“Calm down JD. Who ran ‘em?”
“All the info is on here.” JD shoved the paper to Vin.
Tanner read the full fax and then reached for the phone, dialing the number at the bottom of the page.
“Orange County Sherriff’s Department”
“MCAT Special Agent Tanner callin’ for Deputy A. Reynolds, it’s urgent that I speak with him about his John Doe.”
“Deputy Reynolds is currently on patrol, may I take a message?”
“NO, get me his superior NOW!”
“One moment please.”
It was considerably longer than a minute. But eventually someone did answer, someone that had taken the time to pull the information Tanner needed.
“This is Captain Johnson; may I assist you, Agent Tanner?”
“One of your deputies ran a set of prints through AFIS, all inquires on this man were tagged to send to us. Where is he?”
“We have him as a John Doe; he is at the Mission Regional Trauma Center here in Mission Viejo. He was found yesterday GSW to the chest, he’s in critical condition, but last I checked he was still alive. You have a name for me?”
Vin hesitated; he was not sure who to trust out there in law enforcement. “Cortez, Creed Cortez. I have one of my agents not far from there and I’m sendin’ him over to the hospital as soon as we hang up. Please make certain that there is an armed officer on this man’s door until Agent Sanchez arrives, he will have identification on him. I ‘d appreciate your full cooperation on this matter.”
“Tell your man to go to the critical care unit and find Deputy Reynolds. He is being dispatched to the hospital as we speak. He was also the first officer on the scene when Cortez was found and can fill in details for you.”
“Thank you Captain Johnson.”
Hanging up, Tanner immediately redialed, waited for Josiah to answer and started barking orders. “Mission regional Trauma centers, Mission Viejo, CA. get over there to critical care unit ASAP, and find a Deputy Reynolds. Raphael was admitted as a John Doe yesterday, and I gave ‘em his name as Creed Cortez. Call me as soon as you find out the situation and check for any other John Does …Chris is still out there somewhere.” He slammed down the receiver and cursed.
“JD… Orange County Sherriff’s department… I need to know if this Captain Johnson is someone I can reasonably trust.”
“On it Vin.” JD ran out the door.
Vin went into the bullpen and found Wilmington as he was on his way out into the hall, Tanner stopped him. “Buck, you and I are headed out to California as soon as Standish gets back; Raphael is in bad shape at a hospital in Mission Viejo, no word on Chris.
“Damn! I’ll be ready, just say the word.”
The elevator door opened and neither man could believe it when Linda Larabee and Mallory Sanchez stepped out.
“Howdy boys, we were in the neighborhood and thought we would stop in and say hi.” Linda started to say more but Vin stopped her.
“I told you that no one was to leave the ranch without an armed agent!
Linda was ready for that. “Mallory is armed and is an agent, and we’ve been stuck on that ranch for over a week.”
“Vin, I’m sorry but it was either go with her or she was going on her own.” Mallory made a fast explanation.
“I want both of you out of here NOW!” Vin decided that he did not need this and wanted them gone.
“But, we just got here.’ Linda protested. “If Chris were here, he would let us stay”.
“Well, he’s not! GO STRAIGHT HOME NOW! No arguments!” Vin turned to Wilmington. “Buck, escort these ladies out of the buildin’ and make certain that they are headed home.”
“You got it, Ladies, this way please.” Buck made certain that they got on the elevator without another word.
On his way back to his office Vin stopped by JD’s station. “I want you to personally go down to Travis’ office. Advise him of what we know and tell him I need the jet on standby status. Buck and I are headin’ out today, before the rest of the team leaves tomorrow.”
“Here is the information you requested, and I am on my way to Travis’ office now.”
Tanner made one more stop by Gunny’s desk. “I need to see you in my office”
Linda grumbled all the way down the elevator about Vin yelling at her. Malloy wisely stayed quiet and Buck made every effort to not snap at her himself. He walked them through the lower level garage to the adjoining lot where Mallory had parked.
“Mallory please, straight home.” Buck pled. “Tensions are high enough already without having to baby-sit women that should know better and stay on alert for anything that may look out of place.”
“Just what is going on that has everyone so stressed?” Linda would not give up easily. “We should know what’s going on.
Buck sighed, “Nothing that you need to be concerned about right now Linda.” He thought again about how Chris and Linda were perfect for on another, both of them were stubborn to the bone and tenacious as hell. Although how in the hell they managed not to kill each other was beyond him.
Before he could say more to convince the blond, Ezra drove in and parked three stalls down. He and Kelli exited the vehicle and walked over to the trio.
“Are we having a family reunion?” Ezra teased.
“No, more like a farewell party. Ladies say good-bye” Buck tried to rush them into the car.
“Kel, what are YOU doing here? I though no one was allowed off the ranch, not even you.” Linda demanded to know.
“The last time I checked, I worked here.” Kelli smiled. “Ezra was gracious enough to escort me to the doctor’s office this mornin’. I have to drop off my release papers and ‘m hopin’ to steal Vin away for lunch before he sends me home, too.”
“We could wait for you and give you a ride.” Linda offered, not yet ready to go back to her home that now seemed more like a prison.
“No, you two are leaving, please.” Buck insisted.
Colorado time ~10:55am MST
Charles “Ghost” Gant had waited all morning for the perfect time to execute his plan. This was it, he raised the weapon to his shoulder, and three light squeezes were all it would take to launch the timed rocket grenades through the windows of the twelfth floor offices of the Federal building. He took a deep breath and held it, counting mentally one…two…three...
Once the three grenades were off, Gant laid the rocket launcher on the roof, walked over to the elevator and hit G. Removing his gloves; he stuffed them into his pocket. He would be out on the street and blended into the crowd before anyone realized what had hit the building across the street. Hailing a taxi, he gave instructions for the cabbie to drive to the airport. Tonight, he had plans to sit on a beach in Mexico with a pretty senorita, and relax.
10:56am MCAT office
Tanner stood at his desk and signed the stack of papers Gunny needed his signature on, while she waited patiently for him to finish.
“Gunny, Wilmington and I will be leaving shortly for California and Standish will be in charge. I want any call from Sanchez transferred to me, no matter where….INCOMING!!!!”
Vin threw himself at Gunny a mere second before the rocket propelled grenade connected with the large solitary window in his office. The two inch glass cracked upon impact and Tanner had barely enough time to tackle the older woman to the floor and cover her with his own body, before the window imploded. A million shards of glass rained down upon the Texan and Gunny, slicing through their clothing and stabbing into their skin, Tanner’s body taking the brunt of the abuse.
The missile burrowed its way through the door, sending chunks of wood flying in all directions. The deadly grenade connected with the floor just inside the office and exploded, peeling back the tiled floor like a giant can opener and sending pieces of it flying in every direction, along with red hot sparks from the fire that had been ignited by the explosion.
The explosion from Tanner’s office had no time to register with the operatives in the other room as the line of windows along one wall shattered inward, sending sharp shards of glass spewing in all directions from two more grenades detonating. Pictures and awards certificates fell off of walls, computer monitors, and personal items slid off of desks as they tipped over throughout the large room. Huge chunks of ceiling fell as the walls caved in around the agents, trapping most of them under piles of debris. The loud noise of destruction gave way to a stunning silence and then alarms began to sound and all hell broke loose in the Federal building.
Travis’ Office~11th floor
JD had just finished delivering the information that Tanner had wanted personally given to the director, and had turned to walk out the door, when he felt the structure give a violent shudder. He reached out a hand to steady himself in the doorway for a moment, pondering whether they had had an earthquake or not, when the building’s alarm system began to go off. Fear coursed through his body when a chunk of the ceiling fell onto the director’s desk and the MCAT agent gazed wide-eyed at the director for a moment in stunned silence.
“What in the hell was that?” Travis shouted at last, having been momentarily shocked by what had occurred.
“Explosions!” JD ran to the stairwell at the other end of the floor and jerked open the door. He darted into the stairwell and started up the steps toward the twelfth floor, saying a silent mantra of, Please God, let them be okay. He arrived on the landing between the eleventh and twelfth floors and stared in disbelief. The whole set of stairs was gone; there was nothing but a gaping hole between the landing and the wall. The door that led into the bullpen from the staircase was splintered into two pieces. JD wildly contemplated an attempt to jump across from the landing, and through the doorway, even though he knew that it was an impossible feat. Then Casey’s face swam before his eyes and reason prevailed over his emotions. As hard as it was for him to turn around and head back down in the direction that he had just come, the young MCAT agent knew that he had to find another way to help his brothers.
It took less than a minute to register with Buck, on what it was that he heard. It had been a long time, but he knew that sound, it was from a RPG. Rocket propelled grenade…He thought he would never have to hear that horrible noise again after he left the service; nevertheless his instincts kicked in and he shoved Linda and Mallory onto the ground behind the nearest car, sheltering them both from harm’s way with his own body. Ezra was a little slower to pick up on what had just happened, but he nevertheless followed Buck’s lead and dragged Kelli down behind the car as well.
A second and third explosion followed the first and Wilmington’s heart raced as he wondered what floor they had been aimed at. Even as he wondered, his head was telling him he already knew the answer to his unasked question. He waited until he was sure that there was no more falling debris before he allowed anyone to move. He signaled to Ezra that he thought it was all right to come out from behind the relative safety of the car and stood up. Several vehicles had damage done to them from the mixture of glass, splintered wood, and cement that covered everything in sight of the part of the parking lot closest to the federal building.
With fearful eyes, Buck glanced up the length of the building and exclaimed, “Dear God!”
Ezra stood up and his green eyes widened with shock as his mind tried to take in the fact that it looked as if the whole twelfth floor was demolished.
Kelli had scrambled to her feet as soon as she felt Ezra’s protective arm fall away from her body while Standish rose into a standing position. Her heart raced with fear as she, too, looked upward and took in the demolished state of the twelfth floor. Vin’s face flashed before her eyes and she let out an agonized, “NO!!!”
The need to help Vin propelled her into a dead run toward the parking garage, determined to get inside the building to find her Texan. She wouldn’t even consider the possibility that Vin was gone. She would know it if her husband was dead.
“Kelli!” Buck sprinted after the redheaded MCAT agent, grabbing her around the waist, and tackling her to the ground. “Kel, you can’t go in there yet!”
“Let me go!” Kelli fought to free herself from Buck’s grasp, shifting out of his hold on her and rising to her feet once again. She started toward the building again, only to have Buck grab her once more in a tighter hold. “Please Buck!” She struggled to get free. “VIN IS IN THERE!”
“I know darlin’, I know. We can’t go in there until we are sure that whatever is exploding has stopped. We’ll do Vin, Nathan, or none of the others any bit of good if we get injured in the process as well.” Buck told her soothingly, trying to ease her out of her panicked state of mind. He shifted his hold on her so that his arms encircled her arms, tightening the hold ever so slightly to prevent her from possibly disabling him with a well-placed hit. Even though Kelli was starting to calm down, he didn’t want to take any chances that she was lulling him into easing his grip on her, so that she could slip out of his grasp and go to her Texan’s side. The wail of sirens could be heard in the near distance. “Do you hear the sirens? Help is on the way, and we’ll get Vin out of there, Kelli, I promise.”
Linda and Mallory stared in disbelief at what used to be the top floor of the building. It now looked as if someone had taken a giant baseball bat and knocked off part of the entire floor. Where the bank of windows had once stood there was nothing but sinister looking holes peering out through the twisted metal frame. Frantic people were pouring from the exits in search of a safer place. Smoke was beginning to cover up the clear blue of the sky.
Ezra snapped out of his momentary shock and pulled out his cell phone to call Barbara at the ranch. When she answered he gave her no time to talk. “Barbara, listen to me, there has been an explosion of some sort at the Federal Building, have Walter and Max help you round up all the children and the ladies. Do not let the children near any television or radios. Screen all calls to the ranch and tell Walter to watch out for reporters. Tell Inez that Buck is here with me, and so are Linda, Mallory and Kelli. I’ll call as soon as I know more and Barbara…I love you.” He closed his phone and mentally listed what needed to be done.
“Standish, what can we do?” Mallory moved into agent mode and was ready to help.
“For now we wait, the building is being evacuated and the fire department will have to work their way up. The best thing that we can do is to stay together and watch for our friends and family to come out.”
”We were just up there, if Vin had not insisted that we leave…” Linda was finally realizing that there was more than one reason why it had been important for them to stay put at the ranch. “Thank God, I left Grace with Inez.”
Kelli had finally stopped struggling to free herself from Buck. He loosened his hold on her and instead of trying to flee toward the building, she found herself unable to move. She held onto him for the strength to stand. Buck’s words had penetrated through her overwhelming fear and she realized that the kind of help that Vin and the others needed was more than she could give. They needed professional help from people who knew how to handle crisis situations like this. All she would do was be a hindrance to them, and that was something that she was unwilling to do. Yet, she couldn’t just stand there and do nothing. So she did the only thing that she could think of to do, she prayed. She prayed for Vin, JD, Nathan, and the rest of the MCAT agents, and anyone else in the building that had been injured in the explosion as silent tears cascaded down her cheeks. Kelli watched with the others as emergency personnel arrived in the form of firefighters, paramedics, homeland security officials, and police officers, to begin assessing the situation and then act upon the commands of their superiors.
California time 10:10AM
Victor Donner had kept a one sided conversation going for the last thirty minutes. Chris had no idea what the man was up to, all he wanted was for the man to just leave, so he could suffer alone. His head ached, his stomach felt like fire, and listening to the man ramble on was nerve-racking.
“Donner, do you ever shut up?” Chris snapped. “Take your conversation somewhere else.”
“You should enjoy the company while you have it, Agent Larabee. “ Victor glanced down at his Rolex. “It should not be long now. Or should I say Commander Larabee, I do tend to get confused with all those blasted titles. You seem to have quite a bit of confidence in your team. Do you really believe they will come for you?”
“Our unit is the best of the best. They will come and you will pay when they do!’ Chris spat at him.
“You will of course forgive me if I don’t believe you.” Victor laughed. “Look, breaking news. Shall we listen?” He turned up the volume and sat back to enjoy the show.
The newscaster spoke. “We have just received word that the Federal building in downtown Denver, Colorado has been rocked by at least two explosions. We have a reporter on the ground there and we take you there live.”
“Amanda Banks, I am reporting live from the chaotic scene, in Denver Colorado. Details are still a bit sketchy, but we have been able to learn that the damage has been confined to the top floors of the building. Apparently the explosions originated on the twelfth floor that houses a federal law enforcement agency. Officials are being tight lipped about how many may have perished. We cannot confirm yet if anyone on the eleventh or twelfth floors have survived. It appears that most of the people from floors ten down have managed to exit the building with minor to no injuries, except for being in a state of shock. At this time no one has come forth to claim responsibility for this devastating terrorist attack. We hope to have more detailed information for you shortly, but here is a look at our view.” The camera panned to the building to show the outside damage.
“Hmmm, twelfth floor, federal building, Denver … Does that sound familiar Larabee?” Donner gave an exaggerated sigh and stood to leave. “It does not look as if your team will be going anywhere soon…except to the cemetery. Pleasant dreams Agent.” Victor left, but his laughter echoed down the hall.
Chris started at the television screen in disbelief. He felt the gut-wrenching spasms that gripped his insides and denial was all that he could grasp “No…they can’t all be gone….NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”
Mission Viejo, California
Mission Regional was the designated trauma center for south Orange County. As a Level II trauma facility, they were prepared to address the most critical cases immediately and maintained everything necessary to treat life-threatening injuries around the clock. It had taken Josiah only twenty minutes to reach the hospital, after turning over the job of director of the mission to Nancy Harding until Fred Wilcox returned to assume his duties. He had no trouble finding the critical care unit or Deputy Reynolds.
Identification in hand, Sanchez approached the deputy. “Josiah Sanchez, MCAT. I need to see Mr. Cortez and then you are going to tell me everything that you know about what happened to him.”
“This way,” Reynolds opened the door and allowed Sanchez to enter first.
Josiah had tried to prepare himself for what he would find once he arrived in Mission Viejo, and hoped that it was all one big mistake. However there was no denying that the man that lay before him was Raphael Cordova. Swathed in IV lines, tubes and wires, the man looked like death itself. Monitors beeped as the venerator swooshed, and there was a chest tube inserted that drained into a bottle beside the bed. A young nurse was adjusting the IV, and looked over to the intruder.
“May I help you?’
“Agent Josiah Sanchez, I’m here to identify this man. Has he been awake…said anything?
“No, and truthfully he is fortunate just to be alive. What is it?”
“His name, I like to talk to my patients, and it might help him, if I knew his proper name.”
Josiah knew that he would not be leaving his teammate alone and felt it was safe to use his real name. Without hesitation he answered. “Raphael…Cordova. I have orders to keep him under my protection, so I will be staying. If it’s not possible to be in here with him, then I will be right outside the door.”
“It’s for his doctor to decide about you staying in the room. If you’ll wait outside, I will find him as soon as I am finished here.”
Josiah walked back outside and rejoined Deputy Reynolds. “Tell me.”
“My Captain checked out your Special Agent Tanner, and once he was satisfied that you are who you say you are, he sent this over.” The deputy handed him the case file on John Doe.” I was first officer on the scene so if you have any questions after you look at this, I will try to answer them.”
Sanchez opened the folder and began to read, his attention however was diverted by loud yells of outrage from the waiting room. Keeping the door of Cordova’s room in sight, he walked the few steps down the hall to investigate. Several people were gathered around the television that was mounted in the corner of the room. As he watched the newscast and realized what he was seeing his heart felt as if it would burst into pieces.
“Sweet Jesus, No!!” Josiah quickly directed Deputy Reynolds to stand guard at Cordova’s door, while he rushed to reach the outside of the hospital. Cell phone in hand, the first number he tried was Vin’s and … nothing. He dialed again, praying that Buck would answer, but it seemed that all circuits to Denver were busy and a recorded message advised him to try again later.
A feeling of total helplessness washed over Josiah as he saw Mallory’s face and thought about his brothers. For all he knew, he, Justin, and Raphael may be all that was left of MCAT. He began to pray.
Buck herded everyone to a safe spot in the parking lot, away from the devastation point, but well within view. Anxiously, he and the others waited for any of their team members to exit the building with the rest of the personnel. Orrin Travis and his administrative secretary, Suzanne Mills, were among one of the groups. Wilmington waited until the director had handed the young woman over to medics to check out, before signaling to the older man.
There was obvious relief in Travis’ eyes as he joined the small group. “Buck… status report.”
“We were out here when the blast occurred sir, so far you are the only one I’ve seen…that.” Buck’s voice choked off.
“Dunne was in my office when it happened, he’s okay. The last I saw of him he was trying to make his way up the stairs to the twelfth floor. Jack Kerrigan will be the Agent in charge of the rescue and investigation. I don’t see how in the hell someone got past our security with a bomb though.” Travis shook his head in disbelief.
“It wasn’t a bomb. It was an RPG, sir. Unless I’m way off it, was fired from that building.” Buck pointed across the street. “I’d be willing to bet that the launcher is still up there too.”
Orrin was astonished. “Rocket propelled grenades, Good Lord.” He took in the stricken look on Kelli’s face, as well as the shell-shocked expressions on Linda and Mallory’s faces. “Buck, take this two-way and connect with Kerrigan. We’ll need a command center and it might as well be right here. It will also be an easy place for our other team members to find once they’re out.” He tried to sound reassuring.
Buck took the radio, but was hesitant to leaveKelli. Sensing his reluctance, the redhead gently pushed him away. “You have a job to do, ‘m okay. I promise I won’t try and do anythin’ foolish, unless I tell you about it first.”
Ezra stepped up to her side, appointing himself Kelli’s overseer until Vin was back with them. “We’ll be fine.”
Wilmington nodded. “If you happen to see Selina Cordova, I need to speak with her.” He picked up the radio and with Travis’ directions, began coordinating with Agent Kerrigan.
Linda came forward and put an arm around her friend’s shoulder, attempting to offer Kelli comfort. “Kel, I am so sorry. If Chris were here…maybe this wouldn’t have happened…I.”
Kelli pushed her back. “Stop it! I don’t want to hear any ‘I’m sorry! Vin is NOT gone! “Fear and anger were responsible for her next words. “You are right about one thing though! If my father was not such a hardheaded sonofabitch and had come home when Vin first ordered him to, this might not have happened! But Chris had to do things HIS way, effectually tyin’ our hands and stoppin’ the team from making the first strike. The whole unit waited on him to come to his senses and now…now it may be too late.”
“You think this is Chris’ fault? What do you mean ordered him home? Where in the hell is Chris?” Linda had a ton of questions. None, though, that anyone was prepared to answer…yet.
Mallory took Linda by the arm and moved her away from Kelli. She kept her own thoughts on the subject to herself. “This is not the time or the place for a screaming match, Linda. All your questions will be answered, but now we should concentrate on getting the team out.”
Kelli stalked off in the other direction, trying to get control of her seething emotions. Ezra fell into step beside Kelli; for once he was at a loss for just the right words to say. Although she had spoken in anger, he could not help but feel that perhaps Kelli was partially correct in what she had said. Would this have happened if they had been free to go after Donner sooner? And just where in the hell was Chris?
On the twelfth floor
Vin coughed, choking on the smoke and debris particles filling his lungs. He struggled to rise, feeling the pinpoint pricks of pain shooting through his limbs, and up onto his torso, from where he imagined he had been cut from the flying glass shards. Those smaller pains were doubled as he twisted into a sitting position on the floor next to Gunny, and he knew from the change in his breathing that he had sustained at least one broken rib. Even though he was in pain, he knew that he should be grateful, that he was still alive.
“Gunny…can you hear me?” he gently reached out and touched two fingers to the older woman’s neck and was relieved to find that her pulse was steady. She, like him, must have been momentarily knocked out from the explosion, and was covered in the fine layer of sheetrock dust.
Even as he felt for a pulse, Gunny stirred and began to cough.
“That’s it…come on, Gunny.” Vin coaxed the older woman.
“W-what happened?” Gunny questioned as she came awake and sat up slowly with his help.
“Rocket propelled grenade.” Vin told her. “Do you think you can stand? We need to get that fire all the way out and clear a pathway into the bullpen so that we can check on the others.”
“I’m alright sir, just got winded.”
Helping each other, the two of them rose to their feet. Gunny, like Vin, seemed to have only sustained multiple minor cuts and abrasions, and was ready to do whatever she could to help him get into the bullpen to find the others.
It didn’t take them long to put out the few sparks of fire still burning around the doorway, since the fire system had been alerted along with the regular alarms, and the sprinkler system had rained heavily down in the bullpen and Vin’s office. They cleared a path of debris out of their way and stumbled over what was left of Gunny’s desk to get to the other agents.
Tanner stood in wild eyed shock at the devastated outer office, fear for his fellow MCAT agents coursing through his body, one specific agent coming foremost to his mind. Kelli! No, she hadn’t arrived at the office with Ezra yet. He ran down a list of the rest of his brothers, remembering that he had sent JD down to Travis’ office, and had asked Buck to escort Mallory and Linda out of the office. Nathan.
“Nathan?” he called out quickly, trying to remember where he had last seen his brother. “Nathan, if you can hear me answer me!”
“Here!” Came a pain filled voice from somewhere to his left. “But I’m afraid I can’t move, my desk decided to sit on me for a change.”
“Keep talkin’, I’m comin’ to you.” Tanner turned toward Jackson's voice, wondering how in the hell any of them had survived.
“Sir, I’ll start looking over here.” Gunny told Vin. “I remember seeing Agents Santos and Ramsey talking near their desks before you called me into your office.”
Tanner nodded his assent and started toward the direction that Nathan’s voice had come from. He worked to remove wreckage out of his way, clearly scanning the debris-laden floor for any signs of movement, or a flash of color that would indicate clothing, or God forbid, even a stray limb that would indicate the positions of any of the other agents. He periodically called out their names as well as he worked, but only silence answered him and that was worrisome.
Closer now to Nathan's desk he could see one of Jackson's legs. "Almost to you Nate, hang on.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Vin."
Nathan’s comment startled a wry laugh out of Vin. Both of Jackson’s legs were visible from this side of the desk and Tanner hoped that the desk hadn’t severed anything. As he began to carefully clear away the rubble around Nathan, he began to breathe easier. While the desk was tilted over onto its side, one section of it had landed on top of a large chunk of the ceiling so that it wasn’t touching the medic’s extremities at all. This puzzled Vin at first, since Nathan had clearly told him he couldn’t move, but as the last of the debris was moved aside so that only the desk and the chunk of ceiling remained, Tanner could make out Jackson’s left arm partially pinned beneath both.
Tanner sucked in a breath. “I’m goin’ to have to do this a little bit at a time, Nathan.”
“Do whatever you have to do, I’ll handle it.”
Vin stood up and scrutinized the task before him. He didn’t think he would have any problem in moving the desk off of Nathan; it was just disposing of it. He took a careful look around the area directly nearby Jackson to make sure that he wouldn’t be heaping anything onto one of the other agents. He moved around the to the other side so that he was standing with his legs on either side of Jackson’s body, placed his hands on the edge of the desk and gave a mighty heave. Nathan let out an agonized scream as the desk went flying backwards and landed on its side. The piece of ceiling was easily disposed of and Jackson let out a groan.
“Where else do you hurt Nathan?” The Texan asked as he crouched down beside Jackson and began to give the medic’s body a look over.
“Everywhere.” Nathan replied with another groan as he moved one leg and then the other, relief flooding over him when they obeyed his commands. He hadn’t known if the reason why he didn’t feel the weight of the desk on him was because his spinal cord had been damaged, or because it had actually been stopped by something else to keep from crushing him. “Except from cuts and abrasions, maybe a cracked rib or two, the only thing broken is my arm.”
“That’s good, Nathan.” Vin told him. “Just rest here while I help Gunny keep lookin’ for the others. Emergency crews should be arrivin’ at any time to give us aide.”
Jackson nodded and Vin stood up, forced back a groan, and went to work moving debris and looking for other members of the team that were trapped beneath the rubble.
“Captain, I’ve found Agents Ramsey and Santos.” Gunny called out.
“What are their conditions?” Tanner called back.
“Ramsey is conscious, but in extreme pain. Santos is out cold with a large knot on the side of her head, but she’s breathing.”
“Help…someone help us.” A male voice called out from somewhere between Gunny and Tanner’s locations.
“Westin?” Tanner called out, recognizing the pain filled voice. “Keep talkin’. Who’s with you?”
“Ross…Captain, he’s hurt real bad…his leg…part of it’s gone.”
Tanner felt his stomach turn at the news, but didn’t let it deter him from getting to his men. “Is he breathin’?”
“Yes…but it’s very shallow.”
“I’m comin’…just try an’ stay calm.” Tanner tried to reassure the younger man. “How about you? Do you hurt anywhere?
“My…my left shoulder…fills as if somethin’ stuck a hot poker in it an’ my hands ache.” Westin replied.
“Vin…” Nathan’s voice filled the room, stronger than what it had a short time before. “You’ve got to get something and make a tourniquet around Ross’ leg…to stop the bleeding or we’re going to lose him before help arrives. If you find the missing limb, wrap it up in case the doctors can save it”
“I’m on it, Nate.”
Tanner reached the two agents at last and found that the area immediately around them wasn’t as filled with wreckage. It didn’t take but one look to realize why. Lying on the floor close to where Ross’s severed foot lay was a spent grenade. He chased down the red-hot wave of anger that flooded over him as he turned to his two agents. Westin leaned against the damaged wall with Ross’ head in his lap. Both agents were covered in the same ashy white substance as he, Nathan and Gunny were. There were telltale flash burns on the two men’s faces, as well as multiple minor cuts and abrasions. Vin struggled out of his shirt, ignoring his own pain, and quickly used it as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding and then he carefully removed Mark’s shirt to use for the severed limb.
Coughing to his right alerted Tanner to the fact of two figures moving slowly toward him, and he gave a sigh of relief as he recognized Pam and Paul. “You, two, okay?”
“I’m sore, but pretty much okay, Captain.” Pam said
“We’re about as okay as we can be after someone blows up a building with us in it.” Roberts told him.
Looking at Anderson, Vin knew that help better arrive soon or Ross was dead.
Agent Kerrigan had the command center in place and per Wilmington’s directions, the rocket launcher was found. Confirmation that it was not a bomb did little to lessen the apprehension of those on the ground. It was JD who reported to the emergency personnel that the stairs leading to the twelfth floor were gone. Buck’s blue eyes had filled with moisture as he caught sight of the younger MCAT agent coming out of the garage with a stream of personnel. He waited until JD had given the valuable information to the fire Chief, then reached over and grabbed Dunne in a warm hug. JD had hugged him back just as tightly, oblivious to the gazes on them. Then Wilmington had led the way over to the small group that had been outside of the building when the explosions had occurred where JD was greeted emotionally by all three women and Standish.
Buck returned to the command center where he was informed that Military helicopters were on the way to Denver to assist with the rescue operations, and National Guard troops were on standby, in case they were needed to assist with crowd control. A medical evacuation helicopter was the first to arrive and was now ready to make an attempt to get medics into the damaged area. Blueprints of the twelfth floor were spread out on the hood of a car and Buck pointed out the probable locations of his fellow team members. At least where he thought they would be before the attack. Several medics volunteered to go up and Buck pleaded for a chance to get inside, but in the end, those most experienced with high rise rescues were the only ones allowed to go up.
JD cursed as he tried again to get through to Casey. “Damn circuits are still busy.”
”That’s to be expected; at least Ezra got through to warn them about what was going on before the lines were overloaded.” Buck said as he watched the helicopter lift off.
“Buck, how long will it be before we know…who they can bring out?” Kelli tentatively asked. Every gut feeling she had said that Vin was still alive, because she was positive that somehow she would know if he wasn’t. Besides she knew that Vin would not leave her…not now... not yet…they still had too many memories to make.
“We should know something soon darlin’, hang in there’.”
“I’m tryin’…really, I am.” Kelli told him, fighting the tears that threatened to spill. She was usually far better at keeping her emotions under control in times of crisis, but because Vin was one of the people on the team unaccounted for, she was finding it exceptionally hard to do so now.
Mallory made a point to keep Linda further back and divert her thoughts from all the questions Kelli’s words had stirred up. “I suppose we’ll know soon how everyone is.”
Linda had not given up her quest for information, but had decided that she could wait a while for the answers. “Who all is up there, does anyone know?”
“According to Buck, there were only nine people in the office. The lab was closed. That leaves Greg, Kat, Ross, Mark, Paul, Nathan, Pam, Gunny, and Vin.” Mallory informed her.
“The lab was closed?” Linda thought about it. “Tanner was expecting some kind of trouble wasn’t he?”
“Apparently so, guess that’s why he blew a fuse when we showed up.” Mallory looked up and saw that two of the rescuers had made it inside the building by way of a construction crane that the emergency personnel had commandeered. The ladders on the fire engines couldn’t reach as far up as the twelfth floor. A military helicopter hovered and dropped a basket of medical equipment that could be pulled in, too.
Tanner wasn’t sure how long it was before he heard a chopper and the first rescuer slid through one of the holes in the wall and dropped down into the debris-laden bullpen. The man immediately shined a flashlight through the wreckage.
“Hello…Captain Tanner? Anyone, can you hear me?”
Vin, still holding the tourniquet on Ross’ leg, called out to him. “I’m Tanner; over here…I have a man in need of immediate attention.”
The man that was apparently in charge of their rescue directed his men and then carefully made his way over to Tanner.
Placing a hand on Vin’s shoulder the man took in the situation and spoke in a calm voice. “We’ll take it from here sir. How badly are you injured?” The medic went to work on Anderson and began issuing orders to the other rescue workers coming in.
“I’m fine, get the rest of ‘em out before you worry about me.”
Tanner leaned back against a broken desk and gave in to the pain he was feeling. By the grace of God they had all made it this far and he sent up a silent prayer that it stayed that way. His thoughts turned to Kelli and the other family out there waiting for them and the hell they must be going through. Vin could not help but feel that he should have been able to stop this. At this moment he was not exactly sure how, but he did know who was behind this assault, and he vowed that Victor Donner would pay dearly for attacking MCAT on their home ground.
On the ground ~ 12:30 pm MST
On a secure channel rescuers had radioed the information that all nine victims were accounted for. Three had life threatening injuries, the rest were assessed to be in fair condition. Those with critical injuries would be transported out first. The others would follow as soon as possible, all would be life flighted to the hospital in the interest of security.
MCAT had been specifically targeted, that much was obvious. Although the investigators would follow up on every possibility, Travis knew that Tanner had pegged this one right. Victor Donner was somehow behind this and if it took every resource he had, Orrin vowed that the man would pay for attacking his unit.
Knowing the true facts, Orrin Travis had made a hard decision, but one that he felt was required for the safety of his team. He conferred with Kerrigan and made arrangement to carry out what was necessary to pull this off and prepared himself for the difficult task that lay ahead. After discretely informing the unit members on the ground what he planned to do, he sought out a news crew to make his announcement. As far as the world was concerned the MCAT unit had suffered a major loss. Eight agents were listed among the causalities including the senior members of the team. Several non-agents and lab workers however had survived and would soon be transported to an area hospital. He also stressed that he would not be releasing any names of the deceased until all family members had been notified.
Denver~ Federal Building
Travis gathered his agents and Linda together. He had made arrangements for them to be escorted to Denver Memorial Hospital. “The press will be kept back, but I need all of you out of this area. Lifeflight will be transporting our injured team members to the hospital and the emergency room has a triage set-up and waiting for them. It is imperative that the rest of the world does not know that they have survived. Agent Kerrigan is going to have eight ‘bodies’ taken to the city morgue. We have arranged it that only a handful of people other than ourselves are the only ones that will know that everyone has survived.”
“Can we really pull this off?” Buck was skeptical.
Travis grinned. “We’re gonna try like hell.” Orrin spoke softly as he walked with them to waiting vehicles. “I have two agents on their way to the ranch as we speak. They will inform the wives about our plan and one of them will bring Dr. Jackson to the hospital. Dr Gilford has arranged private rooms for our people and all press will be banned from the hospital. Once we have a more complete assessment on the condition of the injured, I will assign protection to those that stay in the hospital.”
Kelli was anxious to see Vin and find out how serious his injuries were as well as her other teammates. “That is all well and good, but can we go now? The helicopters have already started to transport and one of the choppers should already be there.”
“I’m sorry Kel, I know you are in a hurry, and here I am holding us up talking. Ladies,” Orin opened the door to the waiting Suburban and allowed them to enter.
Denver Memorial Hospital
Private waiting area 2:00 pm
Dr. Robert (Bones) Metfield was waiting for them when they arrived at the hospital. He informed them that Anderson, Santos, Westin and Ramsey had been life flighted in first. Ross and Greg were already in surgery, but he had not heard anything on Katrina or Walton, yet. He also assured Travis that the morgue had instructions to release no information on the eight bodies that were supposed to be there. They all settled in to wait for further news.
Two more choppers had come and gone, but Kelli had yet to see Vin. Since her initial emotional outburst, she had become quiet, drawing behind the wall that kept her feelings from being seen by the outside world. Ezra and Buck both tried, but soon realized that Vin was the only one that was able to break through that defense, once Kelli had raised it.
Linda watched the others. She had a desperate need to ask about Chris, but sensed that she would not like hearing the answers she sought. Watching Kelli she wondered how they had let their friendship drift to an occasional hello, and be so far apart. Unquestionably their relationship was different since they had both married, Kelli was…she was not the same person she was a year ago
Admit it Linda, you have been wrapped up in your own life the last few months, so much in fact that you have neglected that friendship. Nonsense Linda, Kelli understands how hard it has been for you. At least she always did before. Linda tried to remember the last time she and Kelli had just sit and talked about nothing specific.
There was one time last May Linda, right after she and Vin adopted the kids. Then just after Grace was born, this case started…or was it before that? The only conversations y’all have had since then…were when you wanted information. Is it so surprising that she doesn’t want you to comfort her? What happened to all those promises you made about listening? Obviously Kel and the others have had a hell of a lot more to worry about than your need to know and be on the inside of everything. But then again, Kelli knows how I am, and understands. She does not expect me to change. Does she?
A security officer came into the room looking for Buck. “Agent Wilmington, there is an Officer Cordova asking for you. She said you were looking for her.”
“Damn, I almost forgot.” Buck started to get up.
“Sit down Buck, I’ll handle this.” Travis stood and went with the officer. He hated to deliver bad news, but that was part of his job. Once he told Selina about her dad he would bring her into the room with the others until he could arrange to get her to Mission Viejo.
Kelli had seen the look that passed between Buck and Travis. “Buck?”
“With everything going on, I never had the chance to tell you and Ezra. We found out a few minutes before… Raphael is in the hospital in Mission Viejo California. Josiah is with him…Hell, Josiah must have heard the news. I need to try to get hold of him.”
Ezra volunteered. “I will go out the side entrance and try to contact him. Mallory, would you care to accompany me?
“Thanks Ezra, I just plain forgot.” Buck felt awful.
Mallory tried to smile as she stood up to join Standish. “You have been kinda busy Buck; don’t beat yourself up over it.”
JD apologized. “It shouldn’t have been just your responsibility Buck. I should have thought about it, after all I was the one that told Travis.”
Ten minutes later, Ezra and Mallory made their way back to the waiting room. “I was able to reach our brother and he sends his love and prayers. He also is going to contact Justin and for now tell him to stick with our original plan and have him stay under until the warrants are served on Saturday or until he is notified differently.”
Travis returned with Selina in time to overhear that statement. “We may be changing more than a few plans. “Rain is here, she is in with her husband in x-ray now. I also made some phone calls and this is what needs to happen. Selina, I have a driver that will take you to your apartment to allow you to pack a bag, Agent Sanchez you will accompany this young lady to Mission Viejo. That same driver will take you to the ranch to see your children and collect your own clothes. I have a private plane standing by to fly you to California when you are ready.
“Director Travis, would it be possible to call my sister Alicia, and to stop at my dad’s place, he’ll need a few things, too.” Selina asked.
“I believe we can arrange that.” A young man walked into the room. “This is FBI Agent Alex Sandoval; he will escort you and be able to relive Josiah on the protection detail for Agent Cordova. Rooms have been prepaid and reserved for all of you at hotel, near the hospital.” Travis handed Mallory the slip of paper that he had written the hotel information on.” Take care.”
Mallory and Selina left with Agent Sandoval and Orrin turned to the rest of the group in the room. “As of this moment MCAT is on stand-down status, I want everyone to keep a low profile and out of sight out at the ranch. As soon as the agents that are not being admitted join us, everyone will be taken to the Larabee 7 for the night. We will meet there tomorrow morning at ten and reassess the situation. Buck, you will see that the extra guests have a place for the night?”
Buck nodded his head. “No problem, there’s no shortage of rooms on the ranch.”
Linda could not wait any longer. “Director Travis where is Chris?”
Orrin took a deep breath before he answered. “Linda, we don’t know at the moment. The last physical contact we had with him was Sunday night; we also know his whereabouts as of Monday evening. He failed to make a scheduled check-in last night though. We were making plans for Tanner and Wilmington to leave for California this afternoon to try to find him when the attack hit. We will still find him; it may however take longer than we had first hoped. I’m sorry.”
Linda had no time to answer before Dr. Gilford entered the room with updates. “Walton, Montgomery, and Roberts should be joining you all shortly. Ramsey, Ramos, Westin, and Anderson have been admitted under assumed names and Jackson is with his wife in casting. I’m sorry, but I have no further information on their medical conditions at this time.” He turned to Kelli. “Kel, I do however have one other ornery patient that demanded that I come and find you or else. If you’re interested in seeing a slightly beat up Texan that doesn’t mind threatening his doctor, I will be more than happy to take you to him.”
Kelli prayed for strength as she walked with Doctor Gilford the short distance to the examination room. Doc opened the door to allow her to enter before him and she held her breath as she walked inside. There Vin was sitting bare-chested on the side of the bed while a nurse drew blood. Kelli’s eyes quickly swept over him looking for injuries. She knew already that he had a broken rib and she saw several small bandages taped to his body in various locations, a number of visible scrapes, a few first degree burns, and contusions, but it was the vibrancy she saw in his blue eyes that allowed her to breathe again.
Vin watched the play of emotions cross her face while he took in the sight of her. For a short period today, he had thought that he might not see her again. When the nurse completed drawing blood, he extended his arm out silently inviting his wife to join him. Kelli was there in an instant, but hesitated to embrace him because of the numerous injuries. The Texan made that decision for her and drew her into his arms, holding her to him as if he never intended to let go. They held onto another, each drawing strength for the other for a long, long time.
After taking several minutes for a sweet unhurried kiss, Tanner finally broke the silence that surrounded them. “”It would seem baby, that Mistress Fate has been a royal bitch today.”