Chapter 1 - 3 | Chapter 4 - 7 | Chapter 8 - 11 | Chapter 12 - Epilogue
A horn sounded as soon as Chris, Vin, Linda and Kelli got out of the big black Ram. Looking up in surprise, they saw a pink and silver explosion flying straight at them. Sarah was inside it, squealing with delight and Buck was running after her, shouting at the top of his lungs for her to stop immediately.
"What the hell," Vin stammered, looking at the strange scene. "Damn, that's a real car! What did Buck do now?"
"Yep," Linda smirked. "She loves it, Chris, she definitely does!"
"I wonder what Inez is thinking right now," Chris sighed, still a bit apprehensive despite Linda's reassurances on the way home last night. This didn't look like the thing to put Inez in a better mood about Buck's gift.
"Uncl' Chris, Uncl' Vin, look!" Sarah was yelling, still aiming for them unerringly and coming at full speed. "Look! I have a car!"
"SARAH CHRISTINA WILMINGTON, STOP RIGHT THIS MINUTE!" Buck hollered. Sarah didn't pay him any mind and didn't stop until she could do it right before her uncles' toes. She was giggling when she looked back at her father.
"Daddy! You are too slow!"
"I am not! You get out there and race with me girl, then we'll see who's too slow!"
"YEAH!" the happy girl screamed, jumping out of her little truck. "Uncl' Chris, come! She ran off immediately and her father spurted behind her with a groan. Chris smiled and ran after them. Just when Buck was ready to grab his girl and tickle her mercilessly, Chris caught up, picked Sarah from the ground and ran away with her.
"HEY!" Buck roared. "Damn it Chris, not fair, I've been running all morning! Vin, stop them!" Vin grinned and jumped in front of Chris, arms held wide. Green and blue eyes flashed at each other, Chris tried to avoid the inevitable, but soon there was a heap of three men and one little girl on the ground. Chris tried vainly to keep the others from tickling the giggling birthday girl and soon got the full load himself. This made Sarah pound on Buck and Vin relentlessly.
The group didn't stay a foursome very long. With a loud "Me too!" a little whirlwind jumped right into the fun.
"OUCH, MARIA, my nose!" Buck could be heard yelling and then none of the onlookers could make head or tale from the whirling arms and legs. In the end, they all ended tickling Buck, Chris and Sarah on one side of him, Vin and Maria on the other. The rogue started to sound desperate when finally Inez took pity on him and moved in to save her man.
Soon they were all standing around, the women brushing grass and dirt off the men and the girls dancing up and down, yelling for more. Inez was firm though. "No ladies, first we're going to drink something, I think these guys need coffee, badly. Besides, maybe they have a present for you, Sarah?"
"Nah," Vin teased. "The little girl has a car. Figured she didn't need any other present."
"OOOH!" Sarah squealed. "OOOH! Aunt Kelli, he should give me a present, yes? He should! Or," her little face crunched up and solemnly she stated, "Or you can not have a piece of my birthday cake. And it's the bestest birthday cake. I know, 'cause Aunt Nettie made it herself! So there!"
"Aaah," Vin gasped, grabbing with two hands at his heart. "A birthday cake by Miss Nettie? Oh, you have to give me some, you have to!" The girls started giggling again. "Oh, alright, you want a present before I can have some cake? Here it is!" Vin opened the back door and got out a flat present, wrapped in silvery paper and tied with a pink bow.
Buck grinned when he saw it. "See stud?" he whispered to Chris. "Pink and silver, it's all the color for little girls. Vin and Kelli don't seem to think it's ghastly."
"Buck, it's ghastly!"
Sarah didn't pay them any mind, she was tearing off the paper, despite Inez's admonition to wait until she was inside. Her mouth formed a big O when she saw what was inside and for a moment, she was speechless.
It was a pink and silver princess's dress, with lots of lace, a little crown, a necklace and even a little ring and slippers. The little girl stared at it with reverence, then she carefully put it on the ground and before any of the adults knew what hit them she had kicked off her shoes and ripped her dress over her head.
"Sarah, stop that!" Inez gasped. "Buck, do something!"
"Me? Why me?"
"Because she does this kind of thing only after she's seen you running around the house naked! Stop her!"
"She only wants to put on her new dress!"
It was true; Sarah was trying to see how to get the dress out of the plastic package, her eyes shining. She hadn't heard a word her parents had been saying. "Come here and I'll help," Vin smiled. "You can open it here, see? Now, I think this is for the back...."
Sarah and Maria immediately started to giggle. "Silly Uncl' Vin! That's not the back! Look, it has flowers there! The flowers must be in the front!"
"Really? The flowers in the front?"
"Vin, please, just get her dressed before someone else gets here," Inez told him a bit pertly. "She's taking her clothes off way too easy as it is!" A glare went in the direction of Buck, who wisely decided to ignore it. Soon the proud little girl was standing before them in a long, flowing pink robe, with lots of silver lace and tiny silver flowers. A silver crown with pink roses rested on her long, brown hair, a necklace gleamed around her throat, a big pink ruby adorned her hand and on her feet, she was wearing pink and silver slippers. Buck had disappeared for a while, but now he was back with a whirling video recorder, muttering something about JD getting his ass over here so he could take over the camera.
Sarah was oblivious to the camera and so was Maria, who was staring in adoration and clearly jealous of her older sister. When Sarah threw her arms wide and twirled around in front of the amused adults, her lower lip started to quiver. Everyone shared a concerned look and then Vin hastily crouched next to her. "Hey," he whispered, "You didn't think I'd come here to a party and not bring you anything? So, me 'n Kelli got something for you too."
"W... weally?" the little girl asked.
"Really," Vin nodded. "Here."
Out of a bright blue paper came a lovely bear, about 14 inches tall, with a big nose and an adorable grin on his furry face. "OH!" Maria yelped and then she hugged the bear tight.
"I love him," she told Vin with shining eyes.
"You know, this ain't just a bear, it's a special bear."
"Yeah. This here bear can sing 'n dance. You just have to squeeze his paw. Come on, let's see." They put the bear down and soon they all stared at the wiggling and singing toy. The two girls gazed on in admiration, the adults in a kind of horrid fascination.
"Uh... can he do more than one song, Vin?" Buck finally asked after the fourth repetition.
"Nah, don't think so. It's just this one, ain't he adorable?"
Buck groaned and Inez sighed. "You do realize we'll have to listen to that same tune thousands of times during the day now, don't you?"
Vin looked up at her with big, innocent eyes. "Aw, Inez, I know you and Buck won't mind that! Look how she loves it!" Then he grinned impudently.
Buck scowled, but Inez suddenly smiled. "Maria,
dear, you really love your bear, don't you?"
"Oh, yes!" the one year old nodded vigorously, while she squeezed the paw again for the song and dance.
"So the next time you are staying with your Uncle Vin, we will bring him too, alright, sweetheart?"
"OH YES! YES! Uncl' Vin, please?"
Vin suddenly looked a lot less smug while he assured the little girl that the bear could come too. Happily, the little girl squeezed the paw yet again and Vin looked a bit disgruntled at a smirking Kelli. "Hell, you'll be around that bear all day as well, Kel, so I don't see what you gotta laugh about," he grumbled at her. The smirk grew.
"I think I'll be VERY busy with the horses, Tanner," she replied archly.
"Traitor," Vin murmured.
Now Chris approached Maria with a packet as well. "Hey girl, I've got you something too," he smiled. Anxiously the little girl put down her bear, squeezed the paw so it would sing again and tore up the paper.
"A BABY!" she squealed. "A baby like aunt M'lory!" She was holding a little carrier basket with a plush baby doll under a blanket. When she pulled it out wildly to give it a hug, a plush milk bottle, a diaper and a little plush teddy bear showed up. "Oooh, a bear. Baby has a bear like me!" Immediately she held out the baby doll to her bear.
"Look Bear, a baby!"
"This is great for her!" Inez smiled. "You've all noticed too how she adores Adam? Maria, shouldn't you say something?"
"Maria! You should say thank you! Come on, say thank you to your uncles!"
"Thank you," she mumbled, not looking up at her two proud uncles, but busying herself with placing the baby doll back in its bed with the little teddy in its arms. "He's Adam," she stated proudly. Then she took her own bear in a fierce hug and looked at the adults with shining eyes.
"Give it up, Inez," Linda laughed when she saw the frown on the beautiful brunette's face. "She'll learn. Maybe."
"Yes, well, maybe we now really should get inside and I'll get you all some coffee."
"But... but Mom...." Sarah started, looking a bit forlorn.
"I... I...," Sarah looked helplessly at her mother and then at her uncle Chris. "I...."
Chris smiled and knelt down, so he was at the same level with her. "You were waiting for a birthday present from me?"
Vigorously she nodded, all lessons from her mother about not asking for gifts totally forgotten.
"Well, I DO have something for you," Chris teased. "But I don't know.... It's in the back of the truck and you being such a lovely princess right now.... I guess you couldn't climb in there anymore."
Immediately Sarah started to open up her dress, all ready to take it off again, determination on her face.
"OH NO YOU DON"T! CHRIS LARABEE, IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A PLEASANT STAY IN THIS HOUSE, YOU ARE NOT GOING TO STIMULATE THIS KIND OF BEHAVIOR!"
"Uh... alright Inez, sorry." Ignoring the snickers around him, Chris took his niece in his arms and walked to the back of the Ram. "I'll help. Here you go. It's under that blanket." Soon he was with her in the back of the truck, helping her to remove the blanket and the rope binding it around whatever was laying there. When they finally had gotten it uncovered, a long wooden cage could be seen, lying on its back with the legs sticking out towards them. Between those legs a bale of straw and a bale of hay were resting. Sarah was staring at it in wonder.
"Do you know what it is, Sarah?"
"M... maybe...." Huge eyes were looking at him imploringly; the little girl was clearly stunned and also a little frightened that she might have it wrong.
Chris smiled at her. "Perhaps something is still missing from it, don't you think?"
"M... maybe...," Sarah stammered again. Chris ruffled her hair and leaned over the side of the truck, where Linda stood ready to give him something. He turned back with a box in his hands. Carefully he placed it before the little girl. She looked at it and then she looked at him.
"Come on, little munchkin, you open it," he whispered.
A small nod and then her hands carefully opened the top of the box.
"OH," she breathed. "Oh...."
"You can take her out, she's very tame."
"I... I can?"
"Yes, and when you take her out everyday, pet her everyday, then she will stay tame and she will become your best friend. But only if you don't forget to take her out and pet her. So, why don't you try it?"
Her hands went into the box eagerly. Chris directed her. "This one here see, so you can take her up and then you put your arm under her, here. Easy, you have to cuddle her very, very gently."
"Oh!" Sarah breathed again. Then she plopped down, holding the little dark grey rabbit carefully in her lap. "Oh!" Softly she caressed it and soon the little animal relaxed enough to start sniffing at her.
That brought forth a happy laughter. With shining eyes, Sarah looked up at her uncle and stated, "I think she likes me!"
"See?" Buck had sidled up to his wife, who stood gazing happily at her two little girls, so he could whisper in her ear. "I told you they always find ways to top our presents? And the others haven't even arrived yet!"
"You could've thought about a rabbit yourself, lover boy," Inez whispered back, with a mischievous grin on her face. "Just a little rabbit, instead of immediately wanting to buy her a pony! It doesn't always have to be big to be appreciated!"
"Really?" he was nuzzling her neck now. "That cage is pretty damn big, though. You knew he was gonna do this, didn't you?"
"You never buy an animal for a child without consulting the parents first!"
"No one asked me!"
"I was going to talk with you about it and then you came with that stupid pony plan! It riled me up good and I completely forgot about it. When Chris called to ask if we had thought it over, I decided that someone who wanted to bring a pony in the house wouldn't mind a tiny little rabbit."
"Aw, lady, and you just wanted me to pay a little more. I'm still not completely off the hook, am I?"
"Nope! But you can make it up to me tonight!"
"I thought I did that last night?"
"OH NO! That was for the car! You still owe me some more for that Pony. Now, when are you all going to tell her about the riding lessons?"
He grinned. "Chris wanted to do that tomorrow, during the barbecue, spread the wealth a little. Seeing what he brought now I can understand why. Man, he needs to get a child of his own again or he's going to spoil ours rotten!"
"Like you are any better! Or Vin!"
"Well.... Do you think we can get her away from the rabbit long enough to celebrate the rest of her birthday?"
"Why don't you say 'car' to her and I'm sure she's ready to race us all to the house!"
"I can't believe you just said that! You hate that car."
"Well, it does take some getting used to.... But, as long as you are the one running behind it to see that everything goes all right, I guess I can live with it. And she truly loves it, I have to admit...."
A moment later, a speeding pink and silver truck with a happy pink and silver princess in it was racing towards the house. Her laughing dad jogged behind it, with his second little girl on his neck, who was holding on tightly to a bear and a baby carrier. Before the others started walking after them, Inez pointedly looked from the departing trio to the box in Chris' hands and shook her head.
"And I'm going to keep these kids from becoming spoiled brats, how?" she asked with a sigh. Chris and Vin only grinned wolfishly at her and hastily followed the birthday girl with her father and sister.
"It's a losing battle," Linda stated. "You don't know how many addresses we've been to so Chris could find just the right rabbit for her!"
"And all those toy stores! I don't ever want to see the inside of a toy store again!" Kelli added. "Nope, you ain't got a chance in hell, Inez."
"Not even a small one," Linda agreed.
Inez threw her hands up in surrender. "And look, there comes the rest of the cavalry. Oh, I can at least go and see what they have thought up for the little princess!"
Wilmington's residence - 2.30 p.m.
"Maria's finally sleeping," Inez sighed, rolling up on the couch beside Buck and putting her head in his lap. "With her bear tightly in her arms and her baby on the dresser next to her bed, so she can look at it. And you can't begin to imagine what a hard time I had getting her to take off the bracelet Casey and JD gave her." She smiled looking at their now three year old, sitting in the middle of the living room in her princess's dress, the crown beside her on the ground, surrounded by her new toys.
"Buck, do you think the computer games JD gave her are really suited for a three year old?"
"Don't worry, I'll test them first."
"I bet you will! All night long probably!"
"Nah, not all night long," he leered at her. "Never all night long. Got something else I wanna do then."
She swatted him. "Buck Wilmington, you will never change!"
"And that's what you love about me!" He grinned impudently and wagged his eyebrows at her. "It was a good day, wasn't it? Everyone had a great time."
"Yes, it was. And did you see Joanne? Mallory is very worried, because she still ignores Adam, pretends he isn't there. She can get very upset when Mallory has to take care of him or wants to spend some time with him. It's almost half a year now and she still doesn't seem to change her attitude. But today she was playing with Maria's baby doll and she took real good care of it, like she really adored it!"
"Maria was hovering over her and yelling at her the minute she did something wrong," Buck smiled, remembering. "I think you were busy in the kitchen just then. It was so funny, our little girl hovering over big three-year-old Joanne and telling her she shouldn't do certain things or she would hurt the baby, or upset it! You know what Joanne said? She said, 'I don't care, I don't like babies' and Maria hit her, just punched her in the nose and took away her doll, telling it that she did love it."
"Was that why Joanne was crying?"
"Yep. But Josiah didn't want me to interfere. He was hoping Maria would get through to Joanne, where they couldn't. I don't know if it worked, but she did play with the doll later on."
"Mallory is going to buy it first thing Monday," Inez said softly. "I hope it helps. Buck, I'm really glad that Sarah never reacted that way. But what if they do when we have another child? We've been talking about it for some time now, but what if they get jealous this time? I don't really think Sarah will, she accepted Maria without problems, only, how about Maria?"
"Honey, the way that kid was doting on her baby doll and is trying to hold Adam, pet him and help take care of him if she gets the chance even as small as she is, I think you'd better worry about her not trying to take over your mother role," Buck laughed.
"She is doting on Adam, isn't she?" Inez agreed. "Maybe that is getting even more through to Joanne then the baby doll. You know, maybe it's not such a bad idea to have Maria stay a day over at the Sanchez's from time to time. When Joanne sees Maria with Adam a little more, she might notice a baby brother can be fun."
Buck took her lips in a sweet, long kiss. "You are something else, lady. I think it's a wonderful idea. Why don't you propose it to Mallory tomorrow, at the barbecue?"
"I will." She answered his long kiss with a passionate one of her own. For a moment they were lost in each other, but suddenly a little body squirmed her way between them. With a happy sigh, Sarah made herself comfortable. The two adults grinned at each other.
"Was it a good day, munchkin?" Buck asked, ruffling her hair.
"DAD! Not a munchkin!"
Buck grinned. "Alright, little princess. Now please answer me, your highness, was it a good day?"
Sarah giggled. "YES!" she said with fervor. She sagged against them and closed her eyes. "Tired?" Inez asked softly.
"Oh no!" The brown eyes flew open immediately. "No, mommy, I'm not tired! Really!"
Inez smiled at her and ruffled the dark hair. "Don't worry, sweetheart, you don't have to go to bed. Hey, you're three years old now!"
"Yeah, I'm BIG!"
"Sure you are, munchkin," Buck grinned. "And, is there something you'd like to do right now?"
"Eat some more cake?"
"You know it's all gone."
"Ride my car!"
Buck snorted. "You've ridden it so often today that the batteries are empty, that's why it stopped. It is in the garage now until the batteries are full again."
"Oh." Sarah clearly didn't understand a word he said, except car driving was out. She fell silent, a look of longing on her face.
"Sarah? What is it, dear?"
"Well, I... I thought.... Mom, now ever' one is gone, can I sit with my rabbit? Uncl' Chris said I have to hold it real often, ever'day! So we can be good friends."
"He said that, huh?" Inez asked, frowning.
"He told me too, Inez. A rabbit's brain is so small that if you don't hold him everyday, he forgets you eventually and turns wild again."
An eyebrow raised in the handsome face of the feisty brunette. "Is that a fact?"
"Oh, alright! I will look it up though, to see that you two aren't spinning me a tale so I let her hold it as often as she wants. It is a rabbit, not a dog!"
"Mommy, please? It's so cute!"
A moment later Sarah was sitting on the couch, holding the tiny, gray rabbit and petting it, talking softly to it. Buck and Inez were quietly cleaning the house around her.
"I call her Pony," the three year old suddenly stated.
"P... Pony?" Buck managed to get out without choking.
"Yeah. Pony is Chris' most loved animal in all the world, even if he is old now. And this is my most loved animal. So I call her Pony too."
"Oh, yeah...." Buck looked helplessly at Inez who just grinned. Children's logic was hard to fight.
When the house was completely neat and tidy again, Inez kneeled before her eldest, who was still holding the little rabbit. It was lying quietly, contently in her lap, clearly not minding the soft, endless petting.
"I think it's time to put her in her rabbit hutch outside, Sarah."
"OH! Oh no, she will be so lonely there! You can't put her in there all alone!"
"Sarah, it's a beautiful rabbit hutch, with lots of hay and straw just like rabbits want it! It's the best place for her, her own little house."
"I don't care, its mean," Sarah told her stubbornly.
"It's a rabbit, sweetheart, not a dog or cat! It's not meant to be inside!"
"MOM! Dad, Mom wants to put Pony all alone outside!"
"Buck, don't you dare side with her in this! Buck?"
That night a very happy three year old went to bed with a beautiful pink truck standing beside her bed and a big rabbit hutch filling up one wall, where until then a dresser had been standing. In her arms she was holding her dancing Dora the Explorer doll and between her and the wall a big, stuffed dog was squeezed. A beautiful princess dress was hanging on a hook.
When they looked in on her before going to bed themselves, the look of utter bliss on the face of their sleeping eldest made the wonderful day complete for Buck and Inez.
Larabee 7 - Monday
The best way Vin knew to start off Monday morning was to make love to his wife. He woke her to gentle kisses and the sound of his soft sexy drawl whispering softy in her ear. "Morning, Texas." It did not take long for them to become lost in each other and the outside world closed off completely. The Texan held on to her for a long while afterward, not wanting to give up the intimacy they had created with their morning's love session. In the end, the clock refused to stop the time and they reluctantly decided they would have to leave their private world to face the day
"Chris is going in early and that means that you and I get the horses this morning, if you're good I'll treat you to breakfast first." Tanner coaxed his woman out of bed with a kiss and the promise of a "Tanner special" for breakfast.
Josiah had been in the office since five and was no closer to an answer now, than when he had started. He had read everything he could get his hands on concerning 'The Soledad' and it just did not made sense that now, after five years they would be back. If there had been any survivors, it was only logical that a comeback would have been much sooner. Nevertheless, facts were fact and there was definitely something on the horizon, but he felt he was missing a piece of the puzzle, a very important piece. The ding of the elevator told him he was not longer alone, looking at his watch he knew it was Chris.
"Josiah, you spend the night here?"
"I came in early to get some work done. I wanted to get a head start on this if I could, but so far ..." Josiah shook his head in frustration and sighed. "I did map out incidents that happened over the weekend that might be related to this OMG, but nothing conclusive.
Chris laid a hand on his shoulder, "Don't rush it, we'll check them out and see where it takes us."
The elevator ding sounded again and Vin and Buck made their entrance, quickly followed by the other agents. There was laughter and a lot of talk about the barbecue they had all attended the day before at Chris' ranch house. Number one on the list to discuss was JD and Casey's announcement about having twins and number two was Ross's apparent fear of horses.
"Ross, you want me to set up riding lessons for your kids, too?" Buck grinned and could not resist a new target to tease.
"No! I still cannot believe you are going to let your little girl have riding lessons already. Was that a serious birthday present?" Ross asked Buck. He shook his head. "No way will my girl ever be allowed on one of those huge, dangerous animals!"
Buck slapped him on the back and grinned. "Spoken like a true city boy, Ross, spoken like a true city boy! I swear I saw you blanch when we showed you all the stables and you realized some of them actually had horses inside. And were you really trying to keep your kids from petting them?"
"He didn't have much luck with that," Justin grinned. "As soon as you weren't paying attention anymore Ross, they snuck off with my youngest to get inside the stables again."
"They did? Why, those disobedient brats!" Ross shook his head. "What ever do they see in those frightening monsters?"
Laughter and teasing followed his statement. However, the banter only took as long as was needed to get the first coffee for everyone. All were eager to work on the new case and waited anxiously for their assignments. Once they were all settled Vin made an announcement. "We meet in the war room at eleven, until then work your sources and gather whatever information you can." He turned to Chris, "First man is ready to interview whenever you're ready.
"Bring him on, let's get this done." Chris kept walking as Tanner called the first man into Larabee's office. The meeting was brief, although the man was certainly qualified, Chris just did not see him fitting in with this team. The same was true of the second candidate that came in wanting to be a part of this unit. Vin came in as the last man left. Larabee sighed, "Okay where is this guy you told me about?"
"He still has twenty minutes to get here. I didn't expect you to go through the first two so quickly." Vin smirked, "You were kinda rushed with the first ones."
"I know, but I just don't see either of them making it with this bunch." The two men stood outside Chris' office. "I hope this other guy is better suited for us than the last ones were. What's his name again?"
"Cordova, Raphael and I think you'll like him... that must be him, now." Vin stopped as he observed the new man enter the bullpen. He was lean, but well built, dark features and was what most people would call good looking. The man halted at the door and scanned the room; suddenly he smiled as he recognized someone he knew. Moving quietly, he walked up behind Kelli and tugged at her hair, she quickly turned ready to do battle when she stopped and grinned. Neither Chris nor Vin could hear what was said, but it was obviously friendly banter.
She did have a life before you met her, Vin, probably knows a lot of people you don't.
Yeah, I reckon.
Chris smiled, Tanner may not exactly be jealous, but he was definitely interested in knowing more about the man his wife seemed to know rather well. "I supposed you plan to sit in on this one." He saw Kelli point towards them, directing her friend to the right office.
Raphael Cordova approached them, Chris held out his hand introducing himself and Tanner. "Come on in and we'll get started." Vin leaned against the credenza and said nothing, leaving the questions for Larabee to ask. Raphael sat opposite Chris apparently at ease with himself and the questions.
"I have read your record and Captain Tanner gave me a report on your phone interview. I know you are forty-three years old, a damn good pilot, have been with the DEA fifteen years and are a Marine Veteran. Tell me what I do not know. Why do you want to be a part of this Unit?"
Raphael studied the man in front of him. "Probably for the same reason you do. I want a chance to make some kind of difference out there and have the resources to do it. We do good work at the DEA, but we will never get rid of the drugs coming into this country. The best we can do is slow some of it down and in the process save some lives, but not enough unfortunately. I want to be able to make the future safer for my children and I believe MCAT can help do that. I have already tendered my resignation to the DEA and if you don't want me then I will retire because what I am doing now is not enough to keep me going another twenty years.
Chris liked this quiet spoken man for some reason, but before he said anything definite he wanted to head off any potential conflict." I noticed that you already are on familiar terms with one of my agents. How do you know Agent Coulter?"
"Blaze?" He grinned, "Six years ago I was assigned a case in the south part of Texas and got a redheaded, hot-tempered rookie to work with that did not know the first thing about the DEA or how we operated. That did not stop her though, she jumped in with both feet, she was good with a gun, but quickly found out she was in over her head with the rest of it. It did not take me long to find out that rules and regulations were not part of her vocabulary and neither was the word quit. For that reason, I decided that I either had to teach her how to survive in that kind or operation or see her get killed trying. I was hard on her, but she learned to follow the rules at least some of the time and turned out to be a damn good agent. Besides, she reminded me too much of my own daughter and I just could not see her hurt, without at least attempting to get through that hard head and teach her how to stay alive."
"You have a daughter?"
"Actually, I have two of them; Selina is twenty-four and is with the police force here in Denver. Alicia is twenty-two, married and lives in Boulder, with her husband and my one-year old granddaughter. I lost my wife twelve years ago and it has been the girls and me ever since. I want to safeguard their future, as well as my grandchild's and they are the reason I applied to be part of your unit."
Chris nodded and exchanged a look with Vin. "We have a helicopter coming by the end of the week; it will be your baby. Do you have any questions?
"Just one," he turned to address Tanner. "Are you satisfied that I'm not interested in your wife for any thing other than friendship?" Sensing Vin's discomfort he added with a smile," She told me. In fact she was quiet please to point out her fearless husband, a legend with any rifle."
The Texan blushed and smiled, "Yeah 'm satisfied and 'm glad you took the time to teach her how to stay alive. But, Blaze?"
Raphael gave him a slow grin, "She hates it, but it fits with her hair and her temper,"
Chris stood up, "Welcome to the team. When can you start?"
"I'm ready, as soon as you do the paperwork. I told you I either would retire or work with MCAT, I moved here to Denver over the weekend to be closer to my girls whichever way it worked out."
"In that case, find an empty desk and start filling out the papers in this packet for personnel. I'll take care of the rest." Chris handed him the documents and watched him walk out. "Hard to believe he has grown children, he is only a year younger than me."
"I hate to break it to you Cowboy, but you are old enough to have grown children, too."
"Yeah, I guess so... If I started as young as Cordova evidently did then, yeah, I could. Adam wasn't born until I was almost thirty and he would have been fourteen this year." Chris had a faraway look in his eyes.
Vin decided to bring him back. "We got a pilot, now get Travis moving on that bird so he'll have something to fly."
"Right, I want to check on what he has Linda doing anyway. Move them to the war room in ten minutes and ask Rafael to join us."
As the agents sat and waited for Chris, they could not help but notice little pin makers on the big map on the wall and several crates sitting on the floor. Curiosity mixed with a tingle of excitement kept them alert and ready for the next step.
Larabee walked in, "First a couple of announcements, By Friday we will have our own helicopter and we now have a new agent that will also be our pilot. Raphael Cordova this is your new team. Take your time with the names, but feel free to ask any of them for help if you need it. Now, we move on to other business." He had folders prepared to hand out and was ready to put the agents to work with their assignments. "Over the weekend there were several incident reports that could be related to our OMG. We are going to take a second look at each one. Buck, you and Mark take this mornings' multiple homicide in Aurora; Bones, as well as Kat are already there, see what you can find. Nathan, take Justin and check out the clinic break in Commerce City, reportedly a large quantity of drugs disappeared. Ezra, you and Kelli take a trip to Eldorado Springs, home invasion with injuries. Ross, Paul, you two will work with Josiah and go through these crates of files. They hold hard copies of every reported crime attributed to The Soledad in Detroit. JD and Pam will load the information into Cassie, but I want human eyes on it first. We meet again at four, let's roll out!"
"Raphael, Captain Tanner will show you around and get you settled in. "Chris went back to his office to make some calls.
Buck and Mark made it to the scene before the coroner finished preliminaries on the bodies, identifying themselves to the detectives in charge. Bones had already claimed jurisdiction and the DPD was not happy about it at all. The senior officer on the site appealed to Wilmington to reason with the good Doctor.
"Well see, I can't do that. First, he has the right to call this scene and second, I am taking over this investigation. You can help or get out of the way." Buck waited for the officer's answer, while Mark smirked in the background.
"Shit! I suppose next you expect us to take directions from you?"
"Talk to your Captain and then let me know." Buck walked off leaving the detective reaching for his phone and joined Bones for his report.
Bones was ready for him. "Three males, dead less than two hours, probable cause of death gunshot, but I think this will interest you." He knelt by the bodies, "Come on they can't hurt you, they're dead." Buck reluctantly knelt down beside him. "All three had the same thing attached to their bodies," he pulled their coats back.
"Holy mother of God! Bones, I want you to back up with me now! Mark, clear the area and don't be slow about it!" Buck pulled the doctor along with him and when he reached the other officers issued more orders." Call the bomb squad and clear every one for a five-block radius. NOW! Each of those men has a belt of explosives attached to their waist, enough to do some serious damage".
Nathan and Justin tracked down the director of the clinic and had a list of the items stolen. "You don't seem to be too upset about losing this many drugs." Justin observed.
"We just count ourselves lucky that is all that happened." The director answered.
Nathan stopped walking. "What does that mean?"
We are the tenth clinic that has been hit, some were vandalized, some trashed pretty badly and two had female employees that were raped. That's why we were lucky to only lose some drugs."
"There are no reports on any of that with the police. Why not?"
"I guess, because they are smaller clinics that work with volunteers and because they were warned not to. They did not leave us a warning and due to insurance requirements I had to report ours."
Jackson felt a chill run down his spine, "I want the names of every one of them, now." The man started making a list.
"Mr. Madera, we will need to speak to the young lady that was here when the incident occurred." Ezra requested.
"You would be wasting your time, as I explained to the local police, it was all a misunderstanding. The girl that works for me just panicked here by herself. She overreacted to some boisterous coworkers of mine. I assure you it was nothing, I am sorry you made this long trip for no reason, but I am glad to see that law enforcement responds so promptly to possible crime." Madera tried to shepherd them toward the door.
"It was a long drive, do you mind if I use your facilities before we head back to Denver? Kelli asked sweetly.
Paul Madera hesitated for a moment and then said," Of course, upstairs and to your left."
Ezra kept the man engaged in conversation as he watched his partner slip towards the back of the house. He hoped that she knew what in the hell she was doing, but just in case she did not; he planned to give her a long lecture on the way home. After five minutes, he saw her coming back and distracted Madera long enough for her to make a noticeable entrance from the stairs.
"Thanks, we'll be on our way now and sorry to have bothered you." Kelli smiled, "Come on Standish, maybe this time you'll let me drive."
Ezra held back his remarks until they were outside. "Just what do you think you're doing? We were not through with him."
"Oh yes we are and we need to leave, now. I'll explain once we get away from here." She urged him to hurry.
Inside the house, Paul Madera made a phone call. "Two federal agents were just here. I DO NOT want them to make it back to Denver alive. It must look like an accident with no ties to me. The car is a late model, emerald green Jag XKR, Colorado plates, license number 542-ICC.
Vin came into Chris' office." Buck just called, they ran into a problem in Aurora, three DB's and all of 'm have an explosives belt attached to 'em. Bomb squad is there now and they evacuated five city blocks. As soon as they give the all clear, Bones is gonna take 'em and try to identify the bodies. Buck will go to work tracin' down the source of the explosives. I told Bucklin to make sure he keeps his ass in one piece out there."
"Damn, have you heard from Nathan or Ezra?"
"Nate is on his way in; he said he had some information that looked promisin'. There is still no word from Ezra and Kel."
Chris picked up the phone, "I'll coordinate with Buck while you get on the other line to find Ezra. I have a bad feeling about all this." Both men began to call.
"Mark, dammit, what in the hell do you think you are doing? You plan on dying today, son?" Buck reached the younger man and dragged him back behind the line. The fierce look he gave him made sure he stayed there, while he answered his cell phone, putting an end to that irritating musical ring. "Wilmington!"
"Buck, what in the hell is going on down there?"
He took a deep breath and counted to ten before he answered. "Chris, we've got it covered. The business owner was tired of being harassed and sat in his store all night with a twelve-gage shotgun, waiting. Our three perps showed up at six this morning and he blasted 'em. I don't know what they had planned, but all three had explosives strapped to their bodies. The bomb squad has removed the belts and neutralized the threat. As soon as I get the particulars from them we are headed in, Bones has already transported the bodies and will try to ID them."
"Before you come in find out how many other businesses in the area are having the same problem and not reporting it. Watch your back."
"You got it, Boss." Buck called Mark over and shook his head over Westin's eagerness. "Relax junior, now we do some old fashioned foot work and start interviewing the other business owners on the street."
"What about the explosives?" Mark asked, disappointment written all over his face.
They will still be there when we finish. The sooner we start the sooner we move on to tracking down the sources."
"Do you at this time have an inclination to enlighten me as to the reason for our premature departure? Ezra was clearly irritated with his young partner.
"You don't really believe that bull that Madera was givin' us." Kelli countered.
"No, however, by engaging the man in dialogue we had the potential to reveal his true intent."
"Maybe, or we could have ended up the same as the young woman that called the police." She dug a plastic bag out of her pocket. "If we find her body, I'd bet you anything this blood will match it." In the bag was blood evidence she collected.
"Where did you find this?"
Kelli grimaced, "In the same room that had enough firepower in it to start a small war. I tell you Ez that man has a million bucks worth of firearms in that back room, state of the art stuff. Not somethin' your traditional hunter or collector would have, nor likely to be missed by criminals lookin' for loot to steal."
"Call Chris, have them start running a check on Paul Madera, the man is definitely a major player in some illicit enterprise. You did not happen to confiscate his prints did you?"
She smiled and produced another bags, "Well, as a matter of fact, I picked up his glass from the coffee table on my way out." Kelli tried the cell and got no signal. "We'll have to call when we get away from these mountains."
"You do realize that you threw the rule book out the window?" Truthfully, Standish had no problem with it, but did not want Larabee or Tanner to think he was corrupting Coulter.
"Rule book? You mean we are supposed to follow rules. Hell, I suppose you'll have to tell 'em to me as we go along. I've never been to keen on rules and regulations."
Ezra laughed, thinking maybe he had someone to work with that saw things from his own point of view. When he glanced in the rear view mirror, he stopped laughing. "We have company, make sure you are buckled up and hang on." He stepped on the accelerator and the powerful engine roared, pushing the Jag for more speed.
Chris looked at the wall clock and his concern increased. Four o'clock and there was still no word from Standish or Coulter, hell even allowing for a two-hour interview, plus a long lunch they should be in range for their phones to work. He watched Tanner pace with his phone in his hand, hitting the redial button every two minutes. "Vin, it's time." Chris knew the Texan's mind was somewhere between here and Eldorado Springs, but had no doubt that Tanner would do his job. If those two were out there leisurely taking their own sweet time getting back, Lord help them because first Chris intended to read them the riot act and then turn Tanner loose on 'em.
Vin looked up, "I'll have 'em in there in two minutes." He pushed the redial button one more time and still could not get through. He directed the rest of the agents to the war room and halfheartedly joined them.
+ + + + + + +
For over thirty minutes, Standish had driven the winding mountain roads at speeds in excess of one hundred miles per hour. No matter which direction he went, he was not able to shake their shadow. At the top of the next rise, another vehicle joined the chase from the opposite direction intending to force the Jag off the road and over the side of the mountain. It was only due to Ezra's driving skills and the precision handling of his car that he avoided the move and the other two cars hit head-on. The momentum of the impact sent them both flying over the guardrail to the rocks below. The Jag slid and came to rest against the inside of the curve after bouncing over more than one area of rocks.
Once the car stopped, neither passenger moved for a full minute. Finally Ezra rallied, "Kel, are you alright?"
"I think so, you?"
"We seem to have fared better than our adversaries; I daresay they will not be going anywhere." He opened the door and exited the vehicle helping Kelli out the through driver's area since a wall of solid rock blocked the passenger side. Taking a good look at the damage to his Jag, Ezra felt sick. "Good Lord!"
"You did a great job of driving Ez, but even I know that there is no way we are gonna move this car." Kelli walked to the rear of Ezra's beloved car. "My truck might not do zero to sixty in 5.2, but I do have four wheel drive and that or a tow truck is the only way this Jag is movin' again." They both cringed when they heard another explosion from the burning vehicles below.
"Yes, we should obtain some assistance and report this, along with reaching headquarters to let them know where we are. The difficulty I see is that with the various roads we took to avoid our pursuers, I have no idea where that might be and our phones are still not working. I am certain though that we must stay together and trust no one because there may be a few more of their associates roaming around."
"We checked out the other clinics and found at least ten more that have been hit and not reported the incidents. JD has the information and is running it into CASSIE now." Nathan reported. "Dammit, those fools didn't even report that two woman were raped by these bastards."
"Rain is pulling out tomorrow, at least until this is over?" Chris wanted to make sure she was out of harm's way.
"Yep, she gave you her word and she intends to keep it. Tomorrow is her last day until after the baby is born." Nathan assured him.
"Buck, what did you find?"
"The same thing is happening with the small business owners we talked to, they are too scared to say much." Buck relayed their discoveries. "The only one willing to take a stand was the old man that shot those guys this morning. It's a good thing he did because they had enough explosive material on 'em to take out a few square blocks. The DA is calling it self defense and they are not filing charges on the old man." Buck looked at his notes. "Bones is hoping to ID them by tomorrow." He laughed, "I tell you that medical examiner was not happy when he found out Metfied had controlling authority over the autopsies and tried to intimidate our good doctor. He discovered real quick that he was out of his league, Bones just rolled over him and went to work."
Sanchez took his time to answer Larabee. "The only conclusion I can give you is that this is not the same gang that ran free in Detroit, but someone wants us to think that it is. As of right now, that could be just about anybody. What we need are some names to look at and try to connect someone to one or more of these incidents."
"We are feeding all of this information into CASSIE, plus the fingerprints from our dead guys and then we just have to wait and let her do her thing. She is fast, but it will still take her some time to assimilate all the facts we have given her."
"Okay, Nathan you stay with Rain tomorrow and help her close down, Buck you and Mark work on those explosives and see if you can find where they came from. Justin I want you to talk to some more business owners, take Raphael with you and start first thing in the morning. The rest of you continue with the assignments that you had today. We start fresh in the morning and by the end of the day I want some more names on that board, hopefully we will be able to connect one or two of them."
Tanner's phone rang and everyone froze. "Tanner... yes... let me talk to him. Ez, are you both okay? ... Yeah I know where that is ... Repeat that name ... okay I got it. We'll be there in about forty-five minutes." He turned to the others, his voice was calm, but the intense blaze in his blue eyes said otherwise. "There was an accident, but supposedly neither of 'm is hurt. Ezra's havin' the Jag towed and they need a ride, the State Police will have an officer with 'em until we get there. JD, Ez gave me a name he wants you to check out, Paul Madera, dig up whatever you can."
"I'll drive." Chris felt Tanner's disquiet and was already on his feet, "Buck, take over, the rest of you know what you have to do." He and Vin were out the door and gone before anyone had a chance to any questions.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra and Kelli decided to limit what they shared with the State Police, to the details of the 'accident' they witnessed. The rest of their experience they decided to keep to themselves until Chris and Vin arrived. At the pace the recovery was going, they were likely to be here before the wreckers moved any of the vehicles. Standish and Coulter knew that neither Larabee nor Tanner would be happy campers after their drive from Denver, thinking that carelessness was the cause of this accident.
As if their thoughts materialized them, a black Ram appeared on the scene and stopped abruptly. Two fierce looking men descended on the State Police. Chris immediately sought out the officer in charge, his angry strides carrying him forward. Vin's eyes narrowed when he saw the Jag wedged against the rock wall and he slowed to scan the area looking for his wife, visibly relieved when he saw that she was safe.
Ezra drew Kelli's attention to the Ram. "Prepare yourself; The Eagle and The Dragon have landed."
She laughed, "You take on the dragon and I'll take care of my eagle, strictly speakin' for myself, I kinda like the way he lands." She heard her partner grumble something about rats deserting a sinking ship as she moved to intercept the Texan that was now treading in their direction, his eyes angrily fixed on Standish.
Kelli easily stopped him with one word. "Tanner." She wrapped her arms around him, "It's not his fault and 'm fine."
Vin felt the tension that had taken over his body, since receiving that phone call, drain away and returned her embrace. For the moment, he did not care who was at fault, he was holding his main concern and the feel of her heart beating against his chest assured him she was alive. Taking a deep breath, he leaned back to make a visual assessment of the woman facing him, looking for any sign of injury. "You're sure?"
"Absolutely, but please don't ask for explanations until we are away from here. Just make sure Chris asks for a report on the occupants of the other vehicles. Tell him to go easy on Ez, because if it weren't for him, we might not have made it out of this alive."
Tanner was not about to leave her out in the open alone, until he knew more about what was going on, so he caught Larabee's attention and communicated the request without moving. Chris' nod was his answer. Vin led Kelli to the Ram ignoring her complaint about overprotective men. "You lady, stay put, I'll be back in a few minutes and don't worry about Ezra, Chris will hear him out before he says anythin'." Smiling at her disgruntled frown, he gave her a quick kiss and was gone.
The wrecker was ready for the Jag and Vin helped Standish move his personal items to the truck. Chris joined them and once the car was gone, he steered them all into his Ram. They sat in silence until the recovery of the other vehicles transpired and the state coroner took the bodies away. Turning in his seat to face Standish, his voice barely above a whisper he stated, "I've heard the bull and now I want the truth."
Ezra knew what Larabee was expecting to hear and did not disappoint him. "We initiated the interview with Mr. Madera and immediately were alerted to the fact that he was being less than truthful. I engaged him in a lengthily discussion allowing my colleague an opportunity to explore the premises under the ruse of need for the lavatory. Once she returned we concluded our business and departed. We immediately set course for the office and began to discuss our individual assessment of the meet. While doing so, we acquired unsolicited company that evidently intended to prevent us from reaching Denver. The mountains blocked the signals from our communications devices, leaving us with no opportunity to call for assistance. The ensuing thirty minutes I spent attempting to avoid the efforts of our pursuers to propel us off the face of the mountain. That ended with the mishap that we recounted to the police."
Chris inhaled deeply, "Kel, what do you have to say, anything to add?"
She shook her head, "No, what he said is good." Ezra's account amazed Kelli, all truthful, but told in a way that gave the impression they had preplanned their actions at the Madera home.
Vin read between the lines and felt his tension return. "What you mean to say Ez is that Kel took off on her own, you covered for her, whatever she saw or took, set off some alarms with Madera and then he sent the bastards out to kill both of you."
Ezra shrugged a shoulder, "You could put it that way."
Larabee silently laid his hand out palm up and Kelli gave him the plastic bags. "The man has an arsenal of new-fangled weapons in there and 'm willin' to bet none of them are registered." Chris turned the key, started the engine and began the long trip back to Denver. Ezra sat silently in the front wisely deciding that he had said enough.
Kelli sat in the back with Vin, who couldn't decide if he was upset with his wife's disregard for procedure or proud of her as an agent that had used her intelligence and relied on her instincts to lead her. Regardless, he was damn glad Standish used his head, along with his driving skills and kept them both alive. He pulled Kelli closer to his side, where she belonged, choosing to give her hell later about procedure and for now he would just be thankful she was okay.
By the time, they cleared the mountain area, it was almost seven, and Chris pulled over, got out of the truck and made a few phone calls. The first call was to Dr. Metfield alerting him about the bodies coming in from the accident. The second one was to Buck, arranging to meet him and the boys at the ranch. Last, he called Linda to let her know company was coming. Climbing back into the truck he chose to let the other know what was going to happen.
"Madera may already know that his men failed and you two are still alive, but we are not going to advertise that fact. Ezra, you have clothes at the ranch and you will be staying there for a few days. Kel, you're homebound, too." Larabee saw the satisfied smirk on Vin's face. "Tanner, don't get too happy, you can't show up at work when you supposedly just lost your wife. You will all stay out of the office, at least until we know who we are dealing with and I find the sonofabitch that tried to have two of my agents killed." Larabee raised his hand for silence. "No arguments. Now, we are going to the ranch, Linda will have dinner waiting and the boys will meet us there."
After dinner, they all met in the den. Since Larabee knew that he was bringing his work to the ranch he allowed Linda to sit in, and listen, after all, she spent ninety per cent of her time here now. He would let her make the decision whether to stay or go back to her own home until this was over. Ezra repeated his story, this time in plain English, for the others to hear, while Chris had Kelli make a list of the weapons she saw at Madera's home.
"Wow! I bet it was hard to stay on the road taking those curves so fast." JD found the tale exciting, "How fast did you have to go Ezra?"
"The Jaguar is made with a high caliber of workmanship and has the ability to handle well under any circumstance or speed." Standish explained.
"Yeah, but how fast did you get her up to?"
Ezra started to answer the younger man, but noted the sharp look his partner gave him and reconsidered his answer. "Only fast enough to stay ahead of our pursuers." He saw her look toward Tanner, who was intently listening to the particulars of the dangerous chase and noticeably tensing with each revealed detail.
Chris watched the exchange and intervened, "Bottom line is they made it, the bad guys didn't. Bones will try to ID them for us, and Buck you get the lab on the evidence that our dynamic duo 'found' in the course of their investigation. JD you work with the Madera name unless the prints come up with a different one. Also, try to get a line on the woman that called in the home invasion report. Nathan as soon as you pack Rain out of that clinic, I want you to help Bones, with five dead bodies to ID I'm sure he could use your assistance. Kel, how is that list coming?"
"I wrote down the names I was sure about, the others I can only describe, but this is what I have so far." She handed the list to Vin.
The Texan let out a low whistle, "This is some serious firepower, enough to launch a small war."
"Vin, pull out your books, sit down with her and try to put some name to those descriptions, I want to know what we could be confronting. Ezra, tomorrow I want you and JD to work on that face-building program of his and get us a picture of this man, so the rest of us know what he looks like. You can use my computer to communicate with each other. Josiah, I know you have your own thoughts about this, you ready to share?"
Josiah shook his head, "Not yet, but I have an idea that is trying to take shape."
Chris nodded, "The one thing I want you all to remember is that until proven differently we are working two cases here, The Soledad and Madera. I have a feeling they might be connected, but until we find that connection, we stay with separate investigations. As soon as Madera knows his men failed, he might try another attempt. If he does, we will be ready for him. Tomorrow morning we will talk to the rest of the team but remember we want Madera to think that he was successful, at least until we can confirm that he already knows he failed. Any questions?"
Silence answered him, "Okay, get out and get a good night's rest, you're gonna need it." One by one, they left, Standish said goodnight and headed to the guest room.
Vin stood, "We can work on this list at home, see y'all in the mornin'." He picked up the papers on the table with one hand and drew Kelli close to him with the other.
Tanner, you work on that list first.
Message clear, Cowboy,
Once they left Chris turned to Linda, expecting her to want to pack her bags and go home. "Well, you now have a good idea of what is going on. What are you thinking?"
Linda stopped her deliberations and grinned, "I'm thinking that we need to do some shopping."
"Shopping! Linda, were you even listening to what we were talking about?"
She wrapped her arms around his neck, "Of course I was and I know you can handle whatever happens." She halted her sentence long enough to give him a very passionate kiss." But, Ezra, Vin and Kelli will be here full-time, for the next few days and I am sure the others won't stay away in the evenings so we need more supplies to keep this bunch fed. Translation! ... Shopping!"
Chris laughed, "Woman is there anything that takes you mind off shopping?"
"Now that you asked, there is one thing." She stood on her toes and whispered in his ear.
Larabee gave her a wicked grin, "That I can do." He lifted her in his arms and headed for the bedroom.
"Mr. Madera, I have the information you requested." The man handed him a packet of files.
"Outstanding, your completed assignment will be noted. This is all of them and their personal information?" He looked at the names on the folders, Larabee, Tanner, Wilmington, Standish, Dunne, Jackson and Sanchez.
"The ones that matter sir, the other are fairly new and inexperienced. These men however, could be a problem."
Madera shook his head, "Not for long, tomorrow we bring the battle into the open and make sure they see what we are capable of doing. Initiate the orders; Operation Soledad is no longer a covert mission. Send them a message to let them know we are here and I believe we will start with that place on Jewell Avenue, that one should get their attention. Then, we take care of some unfinished business."
Once he was alone Madera made a phone call. "Sir, it has begun. MCAT is now involved and you have my guarantee that neither Commander Larabee nor Captain Tanner will survive this war.
Larabee 7 - Tuesday
Tanner looked at the clock and mumbled a soft curse, "Damn, not even four yet." He knew Kelli was up, but he mistakenly assumed she would be coming back to sleep. Throwing the covers aside, he left the bed, pulled on some sweatpants and went to investigate. He smiled when he found her, wearing nothing, but one of his old shirts, her hair a mass of unruly locks. She had one knee on the chair leaning over the kitchen table studying the books and papers in front of her. His unobstructed line of vision gave him a good view of her attractive backside and she was so absorbed in her reading that she failed to hear him enter the room. Quietly he moved behind her and tenderly grasped a handful of bare cheek.
She let out a surprised yelp. "Dammit Tanner, you are a dangerous man that needs to wear a bell around his neck! "Kelli turned to face him, "A little warnin' would be nice before you scare the hell out of me."
"Sorry... Blaze." A mischievous look danced in the azure of his eyes that said he was more amused than sorry. The Texan laughed at the look of annoyance on her face and heard an inaudible mutter about people with big mouths. With his hands on her back he looked over her shoulder, "What are we doin'?"
"We are tryin' to match the pictures I see when I close my eyes to the guns in those books." She sighed, "The further I read the more menacing it seems."
Vin kissed the top of her head, "Let me grab some coffee and I'll help you." He poured a cup, straddled the chair to sit behind her and together they started pouring over the firearm books, adding to the account they began last night. After thirty minutes and looking at the long list in front of them, Tanner stopped the search. "We have enough, anymore and we will both end up nuts over this. I want to get this to Chris before he leaves, so..." He closed the books, turned her around to face him and claimed her mouth with a slow, sensual kiss that left them both panting.
Kelli nuzzled his neck and whispered softly, "I love you, Tanner."
Leaning back and looking into her dark blue eyes ablaze with passion, the Texan managed a husky murmur, "Hell, Chris can wait." Vin thought that he had been satisfied with his life before he met Kelli, but could not for the life of him figure out how he could have missed knowing how incomplete it really was. Now, he could not imagine his life without her in it and he intended to take pleasure in every minute that providence allowed them to have together. Yeah, Larabee will just have to cool his heels Tanner, you have had something more important to do.
Vin kissed her neck and then whispered softly, "Texas, I think we need to make another memory first." His kiss took her breath, and they quickly became lost in each other.
For a long while after, Tanner held a contented Kelli snuggled against him. Their lovemaking was even more gratifying for him, knowing how much pleasure he gave her, after all fair was fair and she pleased him more than she would ever know. The Texan marked another page in his mental book of memories.
+ + + + + + +
Chris left his lovely Linda asleep and waited for the Tanners out on the deck, one of his favorite places. The mornings were getting cooler though and it would not be long, until leisurely drinking coffee in the warmth of a new sun would be a pleasure put away until springtime. He had made a decision and although he had not discussed it with Tanner, he knew what he wanted to say. Coulter needed a tighter rein, as her sometimes partner he appreciated that he could count on her not to back down and he respected her abilities, but living with another risk- taker in the family was just asking too much. Kelli would just have to accept that she would have to follow the rules and not take chances out in the field.
Watching the young couple walk up from their house he knew that he could not sit by and see Vin go through the hell that he had after losing his family and that had almost happened yesterday.
"Mornin' Chris," Tanner handed him a folder as he walked up, sensing that there was something weighing heavy on Larabee's mind and it wasn't about the case. Whatever it is talk to me, first.
"Thanks, morning Kel."
Vin decided to heads things off, "Kel, go ahead and bring Midnight out, I'll join you as soon as I go over this list with Chris." Tanner gave her a kiss and watched her head to the barn.
Larabee waited until she was far enough away. "She needs to quit taking risks, Hell, she jumps into the middle of things without thinking about her own safety and bends the rules so far that I'm surprised they haven't sprung back and hit her in the as... well, you know what I mean. You could have lost her yesterday, Vin."
"Chris I know where you are comin' from and I won't deny that I worry about her, but I do the same thing when it concerns you or one of the other guys. Until Kelli came along y'all were the only family I had and it is not always easy to stay objective, especially when y'all depend on me to cover your asses during an operation. One mistake and I have to live with the fact that I could be responsible for one of you gettin' hurt or dead." Vin shook his head, "I worry about y'all as much as I worry about Kel, maybe more about you because you're such a damn trouble magnet."
Larabee took a hard look at Tanner, "I suppose I never thought about it being the same thing. I just do not want to see you go through the hell I did when...
"That is not up to you, it wouldn't matter if we work in the same unit or fifty miles apart, you cannot control how long we get to have together because someone else higher up already has that job. Kelli and I know that, it does not keep us from being concerned about each other, but we will not let it control us either. We both do our jobs, but we also take pleasure in the time we spend together and God willin' we will have a long lifetime to share. I have confidence in her abilities and I know she is a good agent. You do too, Chris."
"She is, but if she could just be a little more... reasonable and not so...
Vin laughed and earned himself a blistering glare from Chris. "Not so what? Stubborn, hardheaded, hot-tempered, confrontational, rule breakin', hell, pick one or all of 'm and it would fit. That is who she is, but she also has an innate sense of right and wrong and will do whatever is necessary to defend the victims. She also loves and protects the ones she cares about with an intense passion. All the same traits as someone else that I know and care about, except she's a hell of a lot better lookin'." Tanner made eye contact with Larabee.
Chris grudgingly conceded, "Okay, I get your point and I won't say anything else."
"We'll be fine, you wanna worry about someone, try Linda. You know I can keep Kel and Ezra here, but if Dubois makes up her mind to stray off the homestead, just how in the hell am I supposed to stop her?"
"Your not, I told her you would go shopping with her this morning, 'to assure her safety', but I really just wanted to give you something useful to do with your time off." Chris grinned, "That will also give you the chance to sneak by the federal building and pick up your truck, just make sure Ezra and Kel stay here while you're gone. Now, I need to head out to the office, wanna get this gun information into CASSIE." Larabee headed to the Ram and ignored Vin's protest.
"Dammit Chris, don't do this to me!" Tanner was talking to air; Larabee had already made his escape.
Nathan observed his beautiful wife as she organized files to take home with her. He enjoyed seeing her pregnant and was impatient to meet his son, but it would be nice having Rain at home for the next few weeks. It would give him a chance to spoil her a bit, taking pleasure in just the two of them, before they became three. He also hoped to put the final additions on their new home. Some of her patients would see the various doctors that had volunteered to keep the clinic open two days a week. The others refused to see anyone but Rain and for that reason, she wanted to have copies of their files on hand, just in case they needed her.
"My last patient will be at noon, so we can plan lunch somewhere on the way home. I still think you and Chris are overreacting, but you can thank our son for making me agree. Truthfully the days are getting longer and harder to manage, the closer I get to our delivery date." Rain grudgingly acknowledged that she was moving slower, too.
"I'll take these out to the car and at least make myself useful." Jackson grabbed a box of files and went to their car parked in front. Once he loaded the container he took a good look around, something felt off this morning, but he could not put his finger on what it was. He decided to keep an eye on things while Rain finished up with her patients. He stationed himself by the front window and waited.
JD and Pam worked furiously at their computer station and Judy stayed busy typing the information that was pouring in. CASSIE's processors whirled and did whatever mysterious thing it did to come up with the reports cascading out of the printer. Josiah, Ross and Paul tried to keep up with the mountain of information and make some sense out of it, desperately looking for the one piece that would connect to the facts that were already in their possession. Justin and Raphael were out on the street tracking
own business owners that could provide them with even the smallest detail to add to their growing list of unreported incidents.
Buck walked into Chris' office, "Mark just picked this up from the bomb squad, the reports on our explosives."
Chris tossed another file across the desk. "Kat brought this over from Bones; our perps are all local, evidently recruited for the job by someone who wants to control the street crime in Denver for their own profit."
"Hell, Chris most of the organized crime in Denver has been white collar stuff, counterfeit securities, insurance fraud and maybe some auto theft. The streets have always been about the drugs, but this is something else altogether." Buck tried to come up with the right term. "It's as if someone wants to start a war on the streets. But for what purpose?"
"I don't know, Buck, but I have a strong feeling we don't have much time to find the right answers."
Wilmington stood," I'll give these to JD and see what Josiah and Ross have come up with," he started out and then stopped. "You do think the ranch is safe, right? Inez is going to ask Linda to watch the girls for a bit, while she opens up the Standish Tavern. With Ezra on ice, she may have to work a few extra hours and our regular babysitter is out of town."
Larabee smiled, "Yeah, the ranch should be safe, I just wanted them out of sight for a few days and if Linda can't handle the girls, I'm sure Ezra and Kel can help her. They'll have to anyway until Linda gets back from her shopping trip." He grinned, "I sent Vin with her, just to keep him busy, plus it gave him an opportunity to retrieve his truck from the lot downstairs." Chris was already picking up hostile vibrations from his young brother, which meant Linda was leading him on a merry chase through the mall.
Buck broke out in laughter, "Man, I bet Tanner is not happy about that. I would not turn my back on that boy for a while, if I were you because he always manages to get some payback sooner or later."
The activity on the street was not normal and Nathan was getting an uneasy feeling. A glance at his watch told him it was just after eleven and he knew Rain had at least another hour of patients to see. However, he refused to ignore the growing apprehension in his gut and made a decision. If he was wrong, Rain could give him hell later, but if he was right, he could only hope it was not already too late.
He turned away from the window and made an announcement. "The clinic is closing, now! I want all of you to leave immediately and go home. Stay inside for the rest of the day and if you see anything out of the ordinary call the police."
"Nathan! What are you doing?" Rain seemed shocked by her husband's abruptness.
"Honey, don't ask me to explain, get on the phone and call Chris. Tell him we need some help down here ASAP, he'll know what to do," he saw her hesitate." NOW, Rain!"
The medic ushered everyone out the front door and pulled out his keys, praying there was enough time to get Rain out of here. She had just hung up the phone when the first outbreak of gunfire rang out down the street, followed quickly by an explosion. Nathan grabbed her hand and ran toward the back of the clinic, abandoning any idea of making it out through the front. They had barely reached the back door when the windows in the other part of the clinic shattered. The explosion that followed was deafening.
Chris threw down the phone and ran into the bullpen, "Nate needs help at the clinic, unknown trouble, Josiah get us some backup. Pam, you stay with CASSIE, everybody else, let's roll!"
They wasted no time reaching their vehicles; they were on the street in a matter of minutes with lights on and sirens blaring. Larabee was not sure what his instincts had been screaming for him to understand, but whatever it was, he knew this was the beginning of it.
Justin and Raphael were only two streets away when they heard the first blast of gunfire. Immediately Michaels thought about the Jewell Avenue Clinic, he knew Jackson was there with his wife and would be in need of assistance. They were too far from their car to get back to it; he pulled his weapon and took off in a run to Jewell Avenue, yelling for Raphael to follow him.
"I daresay Vin was not pleased with this assignment." Ezra smiled recalling the disgruntled look on Vin's face as he left with Linda.
Kelli did not find it so amusing. "Linda can be a might fanatical with her shoppin' excursions, Tanner will not be in a good mood when he gets home, and I assure you, Lar'bee will pay for that somehow."
"Think of the pleasure that you will benefit from by putting him in a better mood." Standish grinned and swore that she blushed. "In the meantime we have the delightful company of two beautiful young ladies." They watched the girls run across the yard, chasing a butterfly, both squealing with excitement,
Suddenly Kelli froze, the sun's rays reflected off some kind of metal, on a hill overlooking the ranch. She felt a cold chill when she realized what it was. Ezra's voice was soft, but clear, "I saw it, too. You take hold of Maria and I will take Sarah and then we slowly should make our way to the homestead."
The two agents gathered their respective charges and headed to the house. Both felt a sense of urgency to find safety for the children. Once inside Ezra tried to call for assistance, while Kelli pulled out blankets and flashlights, she grabbed some snacks from the kitchen, telling the girls they were going on an adventure.
"Damnation! The phones are not working; someone has cut the lines and jammed the signal, for the cells. Take the girls to the basement and don't come out until I come to get you." Ezra ordered Kelli to stay with them, but had little hope that she would. He felt sure that they would soon be entertaining uninvited guests.
"Come on, sweethearts we are going to play a game and you must follow the rules. Okay?" Kelli led them down the stairs and settled them on the blankets with food and a radio. "Sarah, 'm leavin' you this flashlight, if the lights go out, don't worry. Now for the rules, no matter what you may hear, you stay here. Do not come out until someone from the family comes to get you. Understand?" Sarah gave Kelli an intent look and then nodded while taking hold of her sister's hand .Kelli hugged them both and gave them a promise. "I'll be back as quick as I can, but I need to go help Uncle Ezra."
Reluctantly, she left the little ones, amazed that Sarah seemed to understand the importance of obeying. When she reached the top of the stairs, she locked them in and said a prayer. Kelli then went straight to Chris' gun cabinet and began to take out weapons and ammunition.
"I thought I told you to stay with the girls." Ezra admonished the young agent. "There are at least four of them out there that I can spot and the phones are not working."
"That's why I am out here; you'll need someone to back you when they make their move. Try e-mail." She continued to load several rifles.
"Excuse me? E-mail? I do not think Chris even checks the mail on the desk computer; much less would he know how to retrieve it on the phone."
"Chris might not, but Vin does" She read Ezra's skeptical look, and sighed, " We don't talk much at the office, but that does not mean we don't stay in touch with each other. Trust me, use Chris' computer, it's connected to the cable and just send it to Vin's phone, he'll get it."
Ezra quickly ran to Chris' home office and returned shaking his head "Sorry, it too, has been disabled. I daresay someone does not want us to request assistance."
Park Meadows Mall
Tanner had been through a lot with Larabee and their bond had only grown stronger after each challenge they faced down together. However, after today that could be a thing of the past, right now Vin was thinking that even brotherhood was not enough of a reason to endure a morning at the largest mall in Denver, with a woman that he was now convinced was a compulsive shopper. The Texan was grateful that his redhead did not like to shop and knew that she would never drag him through this hell.
"Linda, we have been to fifteen different stores and already have so many packages to pick up it will take both our vehicles to carry them and we have not even made it to the grocery store yet. Don't you think ... "
"Vin, loosen up, this is supposed to be fun and you do have a six month anniversary coming up soon. Wouldn't you like to find something special for Kelli?"
"I've got that taken care of, so can we go now?"
"I won't tell her, what is it? Jewelry or is it maybe a trip to some romantic place? Is it a special night out on the town?" Linda was dying of curiosity.
The Texan just smiled, "Not tellin'." He gained a little satisfaction when he realized that Linda would drive herself crazy trying to find out.
When his phone beeped he pulled it out and said a quick prayer, maybe a rescue from this hell was on the way. He saw who was calling and read the message. "Sonofabitch!" He grabbed Linda by the arm and growled, "We are leavin'!"
Tanner pulled a protesting Linda out of the mall and when they reached their vehicles, he gave her explicit instructions. "Go straight to the federal buildin' and up to the office. Stay there until Chris tells you to leave. I do not have time to explain or argue. Now go!"