Chapter 1 - 3 |
Chapter 4 - 6 |
Chapter 7 - 9 |
Chapter 10 - 12 |
Chapter 13 - 15
Chapter 16 - 19 | Chapter 20 - 22 | Chapter 23 - 25 | Chapter 26 - 28 | Chapter 29 - Epilogue
Fourth day missing
The Jacksons were staying at the main house to keep watch over Linda. Matt was behaving for now and only time would tell if his attitude change was temporary or permanent. Inez, Casey and Mallory had a schedule worked out to keep hot meals ready and it took all of them to keep Linda in bed.
Vin’s thoughts drifted, in the bright light of day he was even more convinced that he and Kelli had made a good decision. He mentally reviewed their talk from last night; they had stayed up having a late night heart-to-heart, the thoughts of two neglected and scared kids on their minds
*Kelli wants those kids away from their abusive father and Lord so do I. What did we go to all those classes for, if not to help kids like this? These aren’t just any kids Vin they are family, Larabees any way you want to look at it. Yeah and we will do whatever we need to give them a chance for a decent life. First though Tanner, y’all have to keep them safe and out of the system. That part should be easy, but then what? Will Chris try for them…hell yes, you know he will and it would be the right thing for him to do. If he doesn’t’? … Well, you and Kel will do it, Vin.*
Tanner brought himself back to the present. He was on the CASSIE terminal that JD had set up, he would rather be in the office, but Doc would not release him yet. He was able to communicate with the others though through the set up here at home. After reading the notes that JD had faxed him, he made a decision. It was time to do what he did best, he was tired of waiting for something to break and he was going hunting. He was not coming back until he found what he was looking for.
“Kel, pack us a bag, you and I are goin’ to check out some of the properties CASSIE picked as probable places that Jack could take Chris. It may take a few days, but we have to do somethin’, maybe we can pick up a trail to follow. I’ll call Buck and let him know what we’re going to do.”
She stood behind where he was sitting and placed her hands on his neck, trying to rub out some of the tension that she knew was there. “Where do we start?”
“We will start workin’ our way toward Gunnison, Durango and the four corners area; there are several state parks around there that have cabins. If we don’t pick up anythin’, we’ll head toward Colorado Springs. Between Josiah’s profile and CASSIE’s program, it all points to some place south of Denver, somethin’ accessible this time of the year and remote enough to avoid nosy people. Right now it’s all we have to go on.”
A knock on the door stopped the neck rub and Kelli answered it. “Nathan, is Linda okay?”
“Yeah, just complaining about being confined to bed, but you know Rain, she will make sure she stays there. I came over to show you this; I wanted it out of the house so Linda couldn’t see it.” He gave her a copy of today’s paper with Chris’ picture on front.
“God, he looks awful!” Kelli was almost sick to see him look so bad.
Vin came to stand behind her, reaching around her to take the paper. “It’s not surprisin’ that after that article yesterday Jack would ask for money. Anythin’ that makes Chris look worse would suit his purpose. Nathan, tell Rain no television news and watch who Linda talks to on the phone, she does not need to know about this”.
Nathan agreed. “I’ll make sure, but how do you want to handle the ransom demand?”
“I don’t know yet, but I don’t think it matters. This was never about the money in the first place,” Tanner threw the paper on the table. “We’re gonna check out some properties, might be gone a few days. We will stop by the office before we head out and we can all decide how to handle this newest development.”
Kelli cleared her throat and found her voice. “I’ll come over to see Linda before we leave; I want to tell her myself that we will be gone.”
“Be sure and take your meds and don’t push it. You both nee…”
“Nate, we’ll be fine, we’ll take care of each other just as if you were there watchin’ over us.” Vin assured him.
”Then, I will see you guys at the office.” Nathan left them alone to pack.
While Kelli gathered clothes, Vin took care of the weapons they would take. He did not know what they would find, but he was going to be ready for anything.
Linda was going crazy; staying in one place for more than a few hours was definitely not something she wanted to get used to doing. A week of this and she would be a basket case.
Kelli stuck her head in the door. “Okay to come in?”
“Yes! I need a rescue.”
“Sorry, I can’t rescue you, but I did want to talk to you for a minute.”
“What’s wrong now?
“Nothin’ new is wrong Linda, but Vin and I are gonna be gone for a few days and I wanted to let you know. We have some leads to look into south of here. I didn’t want you to worry if I didn’t come see you.”
Linda tried to read what her friend was not telling her, but could not. “Find him Kel, I need him here.”
Kelli hugged her, “I know you do. Vin is the best tracker around and we won’t come back without Chris.”
Somewhere in Colorado
Jack kicked the door open and before Chris could move, a newspaper landed on him “Morning Brother, I thought you might like to know that you made the front page again.”
Chris moved slowly and tried not to let Jack know how much he was hurting. Damn it was hard to think…yeah, newspaper. “What do you want?”
“It’s not what I want, Chris. The whole world thinks that you want a half million dollars to be released from your imprisonment and they believe you are doing all this by yourself.” Jack’s laughter filled the room. “God, it they could only see you now.”
“Fuck you, Jack!” Chris wanted to yell at him more, but the effort was just too great and even his momentary outburst drained him of all energy. He tried to reach out to Vin, but his mind was just too confused.
“Oh Chris, you do amuse me. I’d bet that your leg hurts, huh? Looks bad, but then ... Oh that’s right, you cut it on the car bumper. You should not have fought me; maybe you wouldn’t be in so much pain now. Yep, this is all your fault.”
“Not…hurting.” He was not giving his brother the satisfaction of knowing that he was right.
“Liar! You do hurt, but I am going to help you Christopher. That is what brothers are supposed to do. Right?”
“Go away, Jack.” He did not think he could pretend much longer.
Pulling out the syringe, Jack was pleased to see Chris look at it longingly before he cut his eyes away. “I am going to help you now, just relax and enjoy it.”
As he approached, Chris attempted to back away, but the pain in his leg cried out for relief and in the end he did not fight much at all
Tanner felt the tension and anger in the air when they stepped of the elevator. Evidently, the entire team had seen this morning’s paper and they were not happy about it. Vin heard Buck yelling from the war room, long before he saw him.
“No way would Chris do something like this and they damn well should know it! “Wilmington was ranting and Josiah was trying to calm him. “The sonofabitch could have come to us before he printed that trash!”
Vin walked in ahead of Kelli. “But he didn’t Bucklin and now we deal with it. This is not gonna change what we are doin’ or make any difference in findin’ Chris.”
“Just how in the hell to you figure that Vin.? That bastard wants a half million dollars or…”
“Or nothin’, this is not about money, if it was Jack would have taken Chris’ identity himself instead of sellin’ it.” Tanner looked at the faces around the room. “All of you just take a deep breath and go back to doing what we do best. Follow the leads until we find the right one.”
Buck sat down. “You’re right I suppose the press will say whatever the hell they want to and there is not a damn thing we can do about it.”
“I do not believe that Jack expects a ransom to be paid. He is only interested in making Chris inferior to him. Probably this last divorce set him off, the timing is right. He hit bottom at the same time Chris gets all the publicity on this unit and now he is plastered all over the society section of the paper due to his upcoming marriage to Linda. Not to mention the good write-ups on Larabee 7 and the success of the breeding program, add that to his failure to bring Chris down with the identity theft, you have a very dejected little brother.” Josiah offered his expertise.
Gunny came in and set a cup of coffee in front of Vin and another one for Kelli. She did not say a word but did squeeze Vin’s good shoulder when he nodded his thanks.
Buck composed himself and took charge again. “Justin, you and Mark work on the addresses we came up with from the phone calls yesterday. Raphael, you and Ross will handle the ones from today. Nathan, you and Paul will work the phones and pass the leads to them as they come in. JD and Pam will coordinate with you Vin, as CASSIE comes up with other possibilities for you and Kel to check on out there. Josiah and Ezra will follow up on the police reports that involved Jack Larabee and his previous activities.”
The agents rose to leave and Kelli asked Ezra and Josiah for a minute. “Two things, first of all Vin and I talked about this on the way in, If y’all need to come up with the money, for some reason, this man wants to buy Texas Lady.” She gave the card to Ezra. “You know what she is worth and you have POA for us, so sell her if you need to.”
“We also are concerned about those kids. Ezra, would you talk to Barbara Lindsey and find out what we need to do for gettin’ temporary custody of ‘em? Vin asked.
“Certainly, I would be happy to.”
“Josiah, maybe you could write up somethin’ about the conditions that were found at the apartment. We qualify as emergency foster caregivers, but these babies are Larabees and they need to be with family not in the system.” Vin explained. “Chris may want to go for somethin’ more permanent, but if he doesn’t we will.”
“Whatever will help, Ezra can tell me what we need.”
Buck had been silent, but had to ask. “Are you two sure about this?”
“Yes and when we find ‘em we want the authority to keep them before the system grabs ‘em.” Kelli said with enough conviction to leave no room for doubt. “So the sooner you can get somethin’ to us the better.”
Buck asked them to wait for a minute and went to his desk. When he came back, he was holding a brown teddy bear. “We found this in the apartment, when forensics finished with it I had him cleaned and stitched up almost as good as new. One of the...kids might…hell, just take it with you in case you need him for one of ‘em.
“You are a good man, Bucklin.” Vin stood up. “We’re going huntin’ and headin’ toward Gunnison, will let you know what we find.”
They spent the day driving from Denver to Gunnison, Colorado. A stop at twin lakes near Mt Elbert produced nothing, they checked one area of water after another and the more they cross off their list, the longer it got.
“This could take forever and CASSIE just keeps addin’ more place to the list.” Kelli was frustrated.
“We will stay with south and west, it’s the only thing that feels right.” Vin could not explain, but he knew that they were headed in the proper direction.
*Chris if you can hear me, just hang on, we will find you soon.*
“I hope you don’t mind eating in, but I thought we could get more work done here.” Barbara was checking on their meal in the oven.
“No, I don’t mind at all. In fact considering what we are endeavoring, this is probably best.” Ezra watched her as she moved around her kitchen. “What can I do to help?”
“If you want, you may work on throwing a salad together, everything you need is in the bottom drawer of the fridge.”
Ezra pulled out the salad makings and was finished with his masterpiece by the time Barbara had the table set. They enjoyed a leisurely meal and did not discuss business until after dinner was over and the dishes were cleared.
Barbara laid down the dishtowel. “Let’s move to the living room and go over what I have done since we spoke this morning.” They settled on her couch and began the task of sorting paperwork.
“This is Josiah’s evaluation of the immediate situation.” Ezra passed her the document.
“This is good, but honestly I see no problem. I pulled in a couple of favors today and got this.” She gave Ezra some legal papers. “This is an emergency order for the Tanners to take temporary guardianship of both children. Once the children are in their hands, I will make a motion for it to be more than an emergency order. At least for now they will be out of the system and if medical care is needed they will have the power to authorize it.”
“You do work fast, don’t you?” Ezra smiled at her and was pleased to see her beautiful smile in return.
“Ezra, I want you to consider being the advocate for these kids. I can walk you through what the court will ask for and they can remain with Vin and Kelli throughout the proceeding. For terminating the parental rights of their father and making recommendations for permanent placement, we will need detailed reports for the judge. I will be happy to provide the legal consul, but we need the independent voice of an advocate”
“I am not sure that I can do justice to what is needed. Certainly there are other more qualified…”
“I know you can do this and there is no one I would like to see stand up for those kids more than Ezra P. Standish.” Barbara was positive and determined. “Of course it would mean that we will have to spend more time together. Can you handle that?”
“Where do I start?” Ezra found that he enjoyed spending time with this woman. Barbara was a multi-faceted jewel; every time he was with her, he discovered one more reason to like to this intriguing lady. Although the amazing part to him was that, she saw through his outer barriers and accepted the man she saw beneath them. Spend more time with her? Absolutely!
Somewhere in Colorado
Two small figures stepped into the room he was beginning to hate with a vengeance. This time it was dark outside and the two children seemed to be dragging a lot with them. The smallest immediately trotted over to him and Chris braced himself. The nausea and dizziness were back full force, he was shivering even with the blanket wrapped tightly around him and God, he would kill for a bath right now, a very hot bath. He wished he could stop the heavy tremors wrecking his body and that he didn’t have to struggle for every breath.
At the moment he felt terribly inadequate to look after the two young kids, who had looked for shelter with him during the day. All of which didn’t mean anything to the small girl who happily dragged something that he now recognized as a blanket with her.
“We come sleep with you,” she stated, throwing the blanket beside him.
Chris frowned. “Sleep with me?” he asked, confused. “I don’t understand.”
“See, he don’t want us near.”
“I didn’t say that, Jason,” Chris said softly. “But wouldn’t it be better if you slept in your beds?”
“Have no bed.” Before he could think up a reply or Jason could do something, Andi plopped onto the blanket, as close to Chris as she could get. “I want my pillow,” she told Jason imperiously. It was almost too dark to see, but with some amusement, Chris thought he saw the little girl hold out her hand commandingly.
“Oh, alright!” Sounding extremely put upon, Jason came closer and threw a pillow at his little sister. Soon he had helped her make a bed at one side of Chris and was all set to make his own bed beside her, sandwiching her between him and Chris again, when he froze.
“What’s that?” he hissed. Chris felt how Andi had gone rigid as well. “What?” he asked confused, trying to block out the pain and listen to sounds out of the house. “Is it Jack?”
“N… no, dad is gone for the night, to meet with the mean man,” Jason said softly, unwilling to admit he and Andi had felt frightened with the idea of being all alone in that strange, big room with the funny wooden walls. “There!” he cried out, “There it is again!”
“It comes every night! Is a ghost, Chris?” Andi asked, seeking protection by crawling as tightly against him as she could.
“You mean this?” Putting his arm around Andi and hugging her close, Chris imitated the owl’s call with almost stunning accuracy.
“Yes!” Jason called out, forgetting for the moment that he was a tough, big brother. Andi only nodded against Chris’ chest.
“Don’t worry, that’s no ghost, it’s an owl and it would never harm you. The owl is a bird that lives at night and sleeps all day long. Do you want to hear more about it?” He held his other arm open invitingly to Jason. There was a brief hesitation and then the boy came over. At first, he set stiffly beside Chris, but when the story of the incredible life of the night owl unfolded, soon followed by other stories about the wood by night, he started to relax until finally Chris could sneak an arm around him. A moment later, Jason sighed and lay down as well.
The two kids didn’t mind that the stories were told haltingly, because Chris had to catch his breath so often. After a while he felt them go limp and listening to their breathing he knew they had fallen asleep. With a small body curled up against every side of him, the pain and sickness were suddenly a lot better to bear.
Fifth day missing
Chris felt as if he had hardly slept at all when he woke up because of the stirring of two small bodies beside him. For a moment, he did not know what was going on and where he was. Then a nudge against his left leg made him gasp in pain and woke him up completely.
“Shoot, Andi, you didn’t need to wake Chris, he’s sick!”
He heard someone hiss and looking that way he saw Jason sitting up with his hair sticking out to all sides. He was halfway through folding his blanket in a haphazard way and looked straight over Chris as if he was not there. Chris turned his head and saw Andi trying to keep her lower lip still that was trembling treacherously.
“S… sorry,” she sniffed.
“’s Okay Andi,” he said softly. “I don’t mind. I sleep too much as it is.”
“You need sleep when you’re sick,” Jason huffed. “I know! Mama told me!”
That silenced Chris, but not Andi. “She did? Really?” she asked, her eyes suddenly huge. Jason looked away, but not before Chris saw the sad look in his eyes.
“She was right,” he said softly. “You did good to remember it.”
“Y… yeah?” He looked a bit uncertain at Chris. “I… I don’t ‘member much, but I do ‘member that. And that she felt s… soft.” A hitch in the voice of this boy who tried to be so brave told Chris that they were talking about something, which was very upsetting to him. Before he could pursue the matter further, Jason was hissing at Andy again. “We gotta hurry! Dad can’t find us here or he’ll lock us up in the closet again.”
“No, don’t wanna go to the closet,” Andi whimpered and started grabbing her blanket. It made Chris feel sick.
“He… he didn’t! Jason, did he really lock you and Andi in… in a closet?”
Hooded eyes. Jason was suddenly back on guard around him. Not that Chris thought he had ever had really let all of his guard down. He cursed himself inwardly for his stupid words.
“I’m sorry Jason; I didn’t mean to say that I didn’t believe you. I know you speak the truth, I do! It was more that I….” At a loss for words, he looked at the boy. God, it was hard to concentrate! He was cold and he was shaking all over again. Hurt… it all hurt so damn much….
No, Jason. He had to talk to Jason. “I just wanted to express my surprise, Jason, because I had never thought Jack would be so mean to you two. You’re his kids, you two are really great children and to lock you up, that’s… that’s….”
“Daddy says we bad.” Andi stated. “Real n… naughty.” Her face screwed up in concentration while she was trying to remember the word correctly.
“Well, I think you’re both great!”
Andi beamed at his words, but Jason was suddenly very busy with his blanket again. He was trying to somehow bind it around his pillow.
“Jason, I’m not going to leave you with him. We’re getting out of here, all three of us. I’m going to take you two with me to my ranch.”
“Ranch?” There was a look of awe on Jason’s face now. “A real ranch? With cows and horses?”
“No cows, but we have a lot of horses. It’s a horse ranch.”
“Horses? I luv horses,” Andi screamed, jumping up and down at the other side of him, forgetting all about being quiet.
“A ranch,” Jason said softly, a dreamy look on his face. Horses and kids, it was something wonderful, Chris knew. Suddenly he saw Adam in his mind’s eye, patting Pony and talking softly to the big horse towering above him.
Jason went rigid again and picked up his blanket and pillow. He trotted over to Andi, picking up her pillow as well. “We gotta get out of here now, Andi. Come on.”
“But Jason, wanna hear more ‘bout the horses!”
“Just come!” he yelled, heading for the door.
Chris sighed. He hated how this boy had learned not to dream or hope again. “We will get out of here, Jason. We will. You see, I have these great friends looking for me and one of them, well, he always finds everyone and everything. You’ll like him. His name is Vin and he has always found me before, always!”
Jason looked at him dubiously for a moment and then he turned away. Dragging the blanket and pillows to the door, he only said, “Come, on Andi.”
Andi gave Chris a huge smile and hurried after him. When they were almost through the door, Chris tried one last time.
“Jason? Vin will find us and when he does, I’ll take you to the ranch with me. I will.” Looking earnestly in Jason’s eyes, he repeated, “I will. No more closets!”
A moment of indecision, then Jason gave a curt nod before disappearing through the door, Andi following him on his heels.
Chris hoped he had reached the boy. He couldn’t think about it anymore though, it was too hard to keep the pain at bay any longer, or the nausea.
Kelli awoke to find that she was alone; her watch showed seven o’clock and Vin was not in the motel room. She stretched only to find that not all of her muscles had completely healed and did not mind talking back to her. “Damn Kel, don’t do that yet and for heavens sake don’t let Vin know.” She got up, grabbed her clothes, brushing her finger over the teddy bear Buck gave her for the kids and then headed to the bathroom. When she heard the room door open, she was almost finished dressing and peeked around the corner to make sure it was Tanner.
“Mornin’ baby,” he held out a steaming cup of coffee. “Come join me for breakfast.”
“Lord, you do know how to stay on my good side.” She took the coffee, kissed him and then sat down by him to see what he had brought. The breakfast was from the McDonalds across the street, but she was more interested in the papers he had. “How did you get those at this time of mornin’?”
“JD faxed them to the motel office.” He handed her a plastic fork, “You eat and I’ll tell you what they say. JD did a background on Carol Martin Larabee and found no livin’ relatives, so that means there is no one on her side of the family to claim the kids. He also sent a copy of their birth certificates and applied for the originals.”
“So that means the only person we have to worry about is Jack, It shouldn’t be that hard to get his rights terminated and free them for adoption.”
“Right, but Kel I don’t want to see you get disappointed. If Chris decides he wants them, he will probably get them as their Uncle and you know as well as I do that given the chance, he will at least try. The only thing we can do is keep them out of the system and have custody awarded to us. Barbara is already workin’ on it.”
“I know, but a lot will have to happen for him to get them. He and Linda will probably have to be married first and then she will have to agree. She doesn’t even know about them, yet. You know the court will look at his finances and…”
“Kel, we can help them, but these kids are probably not going to stay with us.” Vin made sure she was listening. “Our kids are still out there somewhere and when the time is right we’ll find ‘em, but if I know Chris, he will want these Larabees to be with him and Linda.”
She sighed, “I know you’re probably right and I will do what I have to do. Chris will want them to have a family, when his mother died he was ten and Jack was six, he never forgot how hard that was for them. He will want these kids to have a lovin’ home to grow up in with parents that love them, somethin’ he never had.”
The Texan leaned over and kissed her, “We’ll give them a good start and trust Chris to take it from there. Now eat and then we’ll head to Durango, we have three Larabees to track down.”
Somewhere in Colorado
“Jack, I think we need to get the hell out of here. We are just taking too many chances and every day we keep him here is one more day to get caught,” Lester was yelling in the telephone and Jack held it a little further from his ear. He had come back about an hour ago after a night on the town. He and Lester had soon gone their separate ways and now he was checking to make sure that Lester could get him what he needed.
“Lester, you worry too much, I still need a few more days for my plan to work and those idiots don’t even know where to begin looking for him. They are still crawling all over Denver and by the time that they realize that we are not there, it will all be over. No way will they think to look out here, we are safe.”
“I hope you are right Jack because I do not plan to spend the rest of my life in prison for you or anyone else. They find us and there will be a lot of dead bodies because I will not go peaceably or alone.”
“We have enough money put up and plenty of places to go where we can start over. Now, make sure you have what I want when you come back! You just keep being the muscle on this team and let me be the brains. That way we both get what we want, now excuse me but it’s time I pay another visit to my dear sainted brother.” He disconnected his cell phone, picked up the syringe on the table and slipped it into his pocket.
Chris was awake and prepared this time when the door opened. “I thought maybe you forgot me today, Jack.”
“There has not been one day in my life that I have not thought about you, Chris.”
“Explain it to me, you have two beautiful kids and you’re smart enough to do anything you wanted to. Instead, you’re an accessory to the attempted murder of a federal officer and now, kidnapping of a federal agent. “Why?”
“Why? You have no idea what my life has been like! My first wife left me after six months of marriage and ran off with another man. The second one died and left me with the two hellions in there to raise by myself. The third one expected me to be home every day and have some kind of normal family life. I just wanted her to take care of those brats and be available to take care of my needs. The bitch finally left me alone, just like everyone else ever has, you included!”
“I know that must have been rough but…”
Jack kept talking as if Chris was not in the room. “You on the other hand could not understand, you have always had the touch. Everything worked for you, the great Chris Larabee. Do you know how hard it was to be your brother? To have a father that only cared about one son and ignored the other? To have to measure up to the smarter brother? The captain of the high school football team, voted most likely to succeed, you never had a problem getting a date did you Chris?”
“Jack that was a long time ago and not all of it was the way you remember.”
“Bull! I remember all of it! I have spent my entire life reliving it! You mattered, I didn’t and that is what it boiled down to, but that is going to change. After this week, you will not matter to anyone and you will be the one alone with nothing!
“How in the hell can you think you are alone? You have kids and that must mean something to you.”
“I never wanted them, that was all Carol’s doing and it killed her. I just got stuck with them! Hell, I don’t see you with a bunch of brats running around. If you think they are so great where are yours?”
The words were like a punch in his guts and brought vivid images of Adam to Chris. Adam, who had been so muck like Jason now looked. But it wasn’t all about loss anymore for him, he had Linda and their child and Kelli, the best daughter a man could wish for. He was pretty sure where Kelli was. “Mine is out there looking for me,” he spat at Jack, “Along with the rest of my family and she won’t give up!
“I hope when she finds daddy dearest she likes what she finds because it will not be what she expects.” Jack pulled the syringe out of his pocket. “Time for the magic needle again, Chris.”
This time he did fight, but in the end, Jack overpowered him and injected the liquid gold into his vein.
The drive between Gunnison and Durango was a long one and they had stopped often in different areas along the way. Vin figured that he had shown Jack’s picture to over one hundred people today and no one remembered seeing the man. Kelli had talked to just as many and so far nothing, the same results they had come up with yesterday.
All of Tanner’s instincts said that Chris was out here somewhere, but he had no idea how close. CASSIE projected that the most likely place for Jack to hold up would be some type of campgrounds near the water and with cabins. Unfortunately, there were too many damn places like that in Colorado to hide someone.
“It’s getting’ late, let’s find a motel and stop for tonight. We can map out our route for tomorrow and grab somethin’ to eat.” Vin was tired and he knew Kelli had to be, too. “We’ll check in with Buck and see what they have covered in Denver.” Vin looked worn-out and drawn, right now he was carrying a heavy weight on his shoulders. The Texan was not out, but he definitely was in low spirits
Kelli tried to lighten the mood, “A motel room to share with the sexiest man alive. What more could a woman want?”
“Careful lady or I’ll have to tell your husband about your strange fantasies.” The Texan smiled slowly. “I hope he’s an understandin’ man.”
“Oh trust me, he is and damned good lookin’, too. He’s also the most generous lover a woman could ask for and he has this soft, sexy, Texas drawl that drives me crazy.” Her mischievous grin did make him laugh and he suddenly felt better. She pulled into the motel parking lot and waited while Vin went inside the office to register.
A few minutes later, he was back. “Room 134, down on the end,” Once stopped, they each grabbed a bag and went inside.
Kelli was worried about her Texan. Everyone expected him to take charge and led them to Chris, but he was hurting deeply over Chris’ situation, too. The stress was wearing on his spirit and his body that still needed healing, so she made a suggestion. “You call Buck and I’ll run next door to get us somethin’ to eat. After that, I’ll check your shoulder and if you are good I’ll give you a back rub, if you are really good we’ll talk about some stress relief.
“Sounds like a plan to me.” Vin smiled softly as he picked up the phone and she went for food.
Linda had finally convinced Rain to let Matt carry her to the couch in the living room, with the promise that she would not move from that spot. One more hour in that bed and she thought she might lose her mind, at least out here she did not feel so isolated. Rain sat on the opposite couch with Terrell and Inez was in the kitchen giving the girls an early dinner.
“Rain, he is growing so fast and before you know it he will be running through the house with the rest of the kids.” Linda enjoyed watching the two month old with his Mom. She thought about her own baby, she now knew the sex of the child, Dr Ryder told her after the last ultra sound. However, no one would know until she had the opportunity to tell Chris. She only hoped that she would be able to soon.
“It does seem like just yesterday we were waiting for him to get here.”
Inez walked in and laughed. “Just give him another six months and he will have you running every second that he is awake.” To emphasize her point Maria and Sarah made a mad dash past her, to get to baby Terrell.
Matt watched the antics of the children and was very pleased to see Linda smile. “This reminds me of how it is when Luke and Doris are around with their brood.”
“How many children do they have? Inez asked
“They have a total of eight, two of hers, two of his, two adopted and two of their own.” Matt shook his head. “Plus, they plan on more.”
Rain laughed, “Lord and I though I had my hands full with Terrell.”
“Daddy! uncl Natan!” Maria and Sarah squealed at the sight of the father coming in the door followed by Jackson. Buck caught Sarah and Nathan caught a flying Maria.
Buck swung Sarah up high. “How are my girls? I do hope you have been good for your Mom today.”
“Yes, we good alllllllllll day.” Maria yelled.
Nathan allowed Maria to climb on her daddy’s neck and went to kiss his own son, as well as his wife. “Hello beautiful lady. I see our patient talked you into letting her out for a while.”
“Now don’t blame her, I just needed a reprieve for a while.” Linda looked from Nathan to Buck. “I guess there’s nothing new, huh?”
Wilmington set the girls back on their feet. “Linda…I don’t know what to tell you hon. I talked to Vin not long ago and he is convinced that they are holding Chris somewhere away from Denver. We don’t have any proof, but Vin Tanner has the best instincts for finding people of anybody I know, if anyone can pick up an trail to follow, it’s him. So tomorrow morning we are gonna join forces so to speak”.
Josiah and I are going to work our way southwest checking on sites that CASSIE has chosen.” Nathan added.
“Ezra and I will go due south doing the same thing. Vin and Kelli are working east from Durango. At some point, we will all meet and then decide from there where to go next. Justin will lead the Denver part of the investigation and JD will coordinates for us while Pam coordinates the rest of the team. I don’t know long we will be gone, but we won’t come back without Chris and the kids.”
“Kids? What kids?’ Linda was trying to sit up.
“Damn! Just cool you heels and lay back!” Buck decided that his mouth needed a zipper and the glares from Inez and Rain said even more. “It …we think Jack has his kids with him, a boy that is six and a little three-year-old girl. It appears that Jack may not have given them the care they deserve, in fact, we have an emergency court order to give them over to Vin and Kelli when we find them.”
“Well hell, nobody tells me anything! I should have been told about those children…God what it must be doing to Chris if they are there.” Linda felt an ache in her heart for Chris and those kids.
“Now Linda, you just stay calm. We will leave at daylight and find all of them as quickly as possible.” Nathan did not want her more upset.
“I will be fine, but y’all had better find Chris and don’t come home without him!”
Somewhere in Colorado
Chris has never experienced anything like this. He thought that he knew all about pain, both the emotional and physical kind, but this was different. This physical pain though was nothing compare to the emotional swings he was having. Anger and depression alternated control of his thoughts, on one hand he prayed that Vin and the others found him quickly, on the other had he prayed they would never see him this way.
*Maybe, you’ll get lucky Chris, if you die before they get here, you won’t have to see the disappointment on their faces….Fuck! Here it comes again.* Waves of nausea rolled in his stomach and tremors of pain shook his body. *Dammit Tanner, get your ass here and help me. Shoot me and end this fucking misery…NO! Stay away…stay the hell away and forget about me.* Chris cried out as a black void reached out and pulled him into temporary oblivion.
In the next room, Lester and Jack were arguing.
“Lester, you of all people know that you cannot draw attention to us!”
“Dammit Jack I was just having a little fun and no one around here is gonna pay any attention to a little hell raising. I got what you wanted me to and besides, you said yourself that those idiots would never look here for us so relax.” He threw a bag down in from of Jack.
“I’m warning you Lester, do not fuck this up! You need to drink and screw some dammed whore, you do it after this is over and we are away from Colorado. Not get drunk and mean in a public bar, what if that woman has reported you? “
“That bitch got paid for what I did to her and no one can possibly connect a bar fight in Arboles to you, that fed in there or me. Instead of worrying about what I do you had better be thinking about what to do with those brats when we leave here and I still think you’re crazy for letting that fed live to identify us.”
“I told you I’d take care of them and I will, they won’t be going with us! As for my brother, no one will believe a word he says by the time I get through with him, hell his brain will be so useless he won’t even remember his own name much less ours.”
“I guess that’s what you wanted the heroin for, huh?”
“Yep and all I need is three or four more days. I already have him willing to take what I bring him and after a few days of this, the old Chris Larabee will cease to exist.”
Later that afternoon
Jason had felt bad all afternoon. He and Andi had eaten the food bar he was supposed to give to Chris, because there was nothing else. Chris hadn’t reacted to his voice when he had gone in the small room and after all, he had said he couldn’t eat those things, hadn’t he? So he had kept it and taken it with him again when he’d left the silent man.
That morning, after he had got him and Andi their breakfast, there still wasn’t any sign of his dad. He and his sister had brought Chris the last of the cereal with some milk and they hadn’t left until Chris had eaten it. He had felt awkward about that, but Chris was sick and no one was looking after him. So that meant he, Jason, had to do it. Andi had insisted she wanted to help and since their father still wasn’t there, he’d let her. It had been stupid though; their dad had almost caught them when he finally came back. He had yelled at them and told them to stay away and leave him alone.
Chris liked having them with him and he never yelled at them.
There was not any other food left and when Andi had started to whimper because she was so hungry early afternoon and Chris didn’t respond anyway, he had decided to keep the food bar. He had given Andi the biggest portion of it and had only eaten a few bites himself. Even that little bit had been so good, but he still felt he had done something very wrong.
Luckily, the bad man had come back with groceries in a big cardboard box. He and Andi had eaten cereal again with some chips, now his dad told him to take some food and water to the stranger. That was after he had talked about Chris with the mean man. Jason had heard it all and he did not like what they had been saying.
It scared him. It had scared him a lot when his father had said the old Chris Larabee would cease to exist. It sounded really mean.
Despondently he looked through the food box and then he saw the crackers. Crackers were what Patrice gave him the one time he’d been sick and they were okay. Maybe Chris would like them too. So he took some of those instead of the food bars, feeling a little better.
Quietly he slipped inside and looked at Chris. The man looked back at him, so at least he wasn’t asleep, but he didn’t try to sit up. That was bad. He looked very bad too, as if he was getting sicker and sicker. Which wasn’t right, because you were supposed to get better, not sicker, even he knew that!
Chris didn’t say anything, all he did was lay there in the blanket he had brought him. It was not enough, Jason saw, the man was still shaking.
“Here,” he said softly, putting the canteen and crackers down. “Maybe you can eat crackers?” Chris looked at them and a smile lit up his face. Jason liked it when the man smiled at him or Andi. He couldn’t really remember how his Mama had looked, it was more like remembering feelings when he thought about her, but he did remember her smile and how it put the world aright. It had just been such a long time since someone had smiled at him as if that person was glad to see him. His dad never smiled like that to him or Andy anymore. Patrice hadn’t either. She had been nice, but she never looked at him like that, as Chris was doing now, as if he was really glad to see him again.
Suddenly embarrassed he shoved the crackers closer to Chris.
“’s Good, I liked them when I was sick.”
“I… I know. Like them myself when I’m s… sick. God!” Suddenly Chris turned into a ball, clutching at his belly and Jason hastily backed away.
“Not… not your fault,” Chris managed to grit out. “Just… sick.”
Jason knew something else that helped when you were sick and hastily he ran out of the room to get it. When he came back, he went to sit beside Chris who was still curled up, sweating and shaking so bad it worried Jason. He knew about the sweating, Andi had that too when she was really sick, but the shaking scared him. Carefully he put the wet cloth he had gotten from the kitchen on Chris’s forehead, although most of it ended up over the blond hair. The green eyes opened and looked at him. Jason was shocked at the pain he saw in them.
“I… I wish I could help,” he stammered.
“You d… do, thanks.” The soft words were followed by a smile again and Jason smiled back.
“You really have a horse ranch?”
Jason didn’t dare ask more. He didn’t dare ask if they really would be found and especially not if Chris would take them with him. It was too scary to ask about that. Chris seemed to understand anyway.
“You’ll l… love it there, Jason,” he said softly, “You and Andi. It’s right in… in the mountains. I’ll teach you how to… to ride horses.” A short pause, then Chris added, “I’d love to teach you.”
Jason suddenly was very busy with taking off the wet cloth and putting it down again. Chris would love to teach him. Really?
“They will find us, Jason. Vin and Kelli and… and the others. Vin’s my b… best friend and Kelli, she’s my daughter you know. They will find us and we will go home. Home….” The man’s eyes closed. Jason waited a little longer, but Chris didn’t say anything anymore, only groaned from time to time. Then he heard Andi cry and he had to rush away to help her.
Again, he remembered what his father had said. ‘The old Chris Larabee will cease to exist.’ He didn’t want Chris cease to exist. He wanted to go to that ranch with him and be with him instead of dad. Chris at least wanted him around.
Sixth day missing-Durango Colorado
Tanner knew he needed to wake up. He was sweating bullets, but could not shake the feeling of cold that surrounded him and his stomach felt as if two cats were trying to claw their way out. He was positive his head had at least fifty one-pound bags of sand weighing it down and any attempt to move was a mistake, as his stomach rolled and threatened to revolt. Even breathing was an effort as tremors racked through his body and he felt he was lost in some black void.
It was four in the morning and this had been going on for twenty minutes. Kelli knew she had to do something, but had no idea what it should be, “Vin! She had a wet cloth for his face and a trash can close by, just in case. She knew from the way this came on so quickly that it was more than just the Texan becoming ill, he was somewhere between here and Chris, who definitely was in bad shape judging from Tanner’s reactions. “VIN! Vincent Jamison Tanner you come back here right now before I kick your ass!”
Somewhere through the fog, he heard a voice calling to him, but he was having trouble concentrating. Again, he heard…his name, only this time it was louder and more urgent. * Kel? ... Gotta…answer…* God his head hurt, hell his whole body was in pain. *Move Tanner, make yourself…try.* A long groan accompanied his effort to make his body respond and then his stomach lost the battle to hold on and he was violently ill.
Kelli could not stop what was happening, but she did hold him up and push back his hair until he was through being sick. Then she laid his head in her lap and taking the cool washcloth, bathed his face while rubbing his back. Slowly, his color returned and he seemed to be aware of where he was,
Tanner was still for a long time and then forced himself to sit up with Kelli’s assistance. “God, what has that bastard done to him? He cradled his head with his hands, taking a deep shuddering breath he spoke softly. “We’re getting closer to him …but before this, I’ve only been able to sense what Chris was going through. This time I felt it, it was real pain and …God, Kel he hurts so bad, but it’s a different kind of pain than a gunshot or a knife wound…it’s. Hell, I can’t explain it.” The Texan was at a lost to describe it and failed to understand why his special connection to Chris for some reason, had changed. The only thing that stuck with him was the feeling of cold and the word lake.
“Are you okay? “She felt his head, “Your color is back to normal, and you don’t have a fever.”
“You can quit worrying, ‘m okay now.” He rinsed out his mouth with the water she offered him and he was feeling like Vin again. Whatever he had felt before was gone, at least for him; Chris was still trapped in that void somewhere.
“You probably should have a hot shower; I’ll get it goin’ for you.” She stood up and hurriedly started for the bathroom. He had not yet seen the tears that silently slid down her cheeks. She ached for Vin and what he was feeling.
Vin did notice and was beside her before she made it halfway to the door, he
turned her around to face him. “Talk to me, baby and tell me.”
She knew what he was asking. “Vin, I hurt when you hurt and knowing that I couldn’t help you was hard, but the tears are for Chris and what he must be going through with no one there for him.” He simply nodded and with his good arm drew her to him.
Resting his chin on the top of her head, he whispered, “I heard you and knew that you were there.” He leaned back and managed to smile. “Did you really say you’d kick my ass?”
She shrugged a shoulder, “Maybe.”
“Maybe huh?” . He drew her into an embrace and they held on to one another, absorbing the comforting strength their love spawned. The Texan slid his hand down her back and lovingly caressed her backside. “Well, maybe you can take this damn sling off and help me with that shower. Then we’ll take a look at that map and plan our next move.”
Chris lay on the cold floor with the one blanket and it did not provide enough warmth to stop the shivering that controlled his body *Get a grip Larabee you made it through SEAL training; you can make it through a little cold and pain. Focus dammit!* The more he tried to think of something else the more he thought about how good if felt to take that damn shot and be rid of the hurt.
A voice from the doorway stopped his thoughts. “Think about it a lot don’t you?’ Especially when the pain reaches out, grabs you by the balls and spreads over your body. Then the chills come, only you’re sweating so much that your mind can’t tell you if it’s really cold or hot or much of anything else. It’s called withdrawal, brother.”
“Now, now … you of all people should know. I may be many things, but a bastard is not one of them. Our parents were married.” Jack laughed when Chris attempted to get up and fell.
“Fuck that hurts!”
“I know, that is why I decided you need a break. I have something different for you today.” Jack grinned, “You should know that the liquid gold was meperidine or what most people call Demerol, gift of the Gods.”
Chris cut his eyes and glared at Jack, although it was more of a cross between a weak stare and a grimace.
“Nice try, but it doesn’t bother me and in spite of how much you hate me, I am going to do you a favor.” He pulled out another syringe. “This is not Demerol, but I think you will like it. This one will make you feel good and I guarantee that you’ll want more.”
“No…don’t want it.”
“Oh, but you will.” Jack kicked Chris and when he fell backwards grabbed his arm, plunging the new stuff into his vein. “Welcome to the wonderful world of heroin, brother”
“Damn you to hell! “Chris yelled even as the drug began to give him a rush.
“Have a nice trip, brother.”
Vin was on his knees leaning forward on the bed that had maps spread across it, planning their route for today. Kelli returned to the room carrying their breakfast, setting it down on the small table by the bed.
Picking up one of the cups of coffee, she offered it to Vin. “Here baby, hot and sweet, just for you.”
The Texan stopped what he was doing and ardently kissed her, taking his time to enjoy the moment between them. He relieved her of the cup and teasingly said, “Bet the coffee’s hot, too.”
“You’re bad, Tanner.” She sat next to him and pulled the styrofoam cartons out of the bag. “Eat your breakfast and behave, before I don’t.”
Turning, he slid into a sitting position and they sat Indian style on the floor, eating and discussing the day to come. They both realized that time was getting short and that if they did not find the three captive Larabees soon; they might lose the chance to find them at all. Still, they would not allow despair to slip in and destroy their confidence, each worked to keep the other one’s spirit upbeat and positive.
“I talked to Buck, he and Ezra are gonna drive straight through to Alamosa and work their way to us from there. Josiah and Nathan will go to Trinidad Lake first and then head west. You and I are gonna check out Mancos State park. If none of us locates Chris today, we’ll all meet up in Pagosa Springs, tomorrow at noon.”
“Sounds like a plan,” she reached out and stroked his cheek. A concealed attempt to make sure he was not running a fever. The shoulder wound appeared to be healing, at least on the outside, but she worried anyway. Vin had not rested as he should, tired too easily and his color was off. It might have to do with Chris’ condition, but she damn well was not taking any chances.
“Are you tryin’ to tell me that I need to shave?” He rubbed the whiskers that had grown from the last five days of not shaving.
“Hell no, I like a scruffy-lookin’ Texan.” Kelli smiled, “Just tryin’ to figure out how to talk you into keepin’ it that way”
“I’ll think on it, Sassy, but for now let’s get packed up and head out.” Vin felt a pressing urge to find Chris, he was aware of something happening with his brother and did not like the feel of it one bit. Whatever it was it was bad and the sooner they got to him the better.
Kelli stood up first and offered her hand to the wounded Texan. “Come on, I’ll get this stuff in the truck, you take care of those infuriating maps.” Even with one hand, he could fold them better than she could with two.
Vin allowed her to help him up off the floor. “You’re problem, is that you have no patience for details.” He laughed at the look she gave him. Truth be told, she had a lot of patience with the things that mattered, but not for silly things like folding maps or people that acted foolish.
*She sure as hell has patience with you Tanner and she would follow you into hell if you asked her to. And Lord know she needs tolerance sometimes for Chris and his temperament. Hell Vin, I reckon Kel has more endurance than most people you know, but then survival is what Larabees are good at, thank God. Remember that Chris!*
Kelli came in from outside. “I’m done and you’re still not through. You gonna spend the day here or get movin’ Tanner?”
Her words spurred him into action. “Right behind you, baby.” He quickly folded the maps, put them together, grabbed his cup and followed her out the door.
Rain pulled the blood pressure cusp off Linda’s arm. “I am proud of you, you reading is near normal. Keep this up and you might get to sit up for a while.”
“How long is a while?” Linda’s impatience was showing.
“Relax Sis; I’m sure Dr. Jackson will tell you when the time comes.” Matt was glad to see that his sister’s impatience was one of those things that never changed.
“Eat your breakfast and I’ll be back in to check on you after I feed Terrell.” Rain left the brother and sister alone.
“Matt you don’t have to baby-sit me; I’ll follow orders, for now.” Linda gave him a serious look. “I want to be back on my feet to help Chris when he gets home.”
“You have really put down roots here haven’t you?”
Linda knew what Matt was asking and she did not mind telling him. “I love Chris and I love this crazy family, too. Matt, I am happy and I have a place here, so tell the others I expect them to behave if they come to visit.”
“I can see that.” He shook his head.” I must admit after watching everyone this week that I found out much more than I expected to. You are family here and I know now that we worried over nothing.” Dubois laughed, “In fact I am looking forward to seeing what this bunch will do next because it seemed as if there is never a dull moment around here.”
“So you are planning to stay?”
“As long as you are okay with it, yes. I promise to be a good neighbor as well as a good brother and uncle. However, I would like to stay with you until they find Chris and bring him home. Everything else will work out just fine, too.”
Linda thought about what he was saying and decided that he was being sincere. “Welcome to Colorado, Matt.”
Chris curled up on the floor in a fetal position and he could not remember anytime in his life that he felt as miserable as he did now. The gash on his bad leg oozed with pus and pain invaded every part of his body. He has no idea how long he had been here, but he knew that it was too long. His heart felt as if it was ready to jump out of his chest and he was positive that he would rather die on this dirty floor than to become a slave to those damned drugs.
*What about those kids? Shut up, Chris! What good is a drug addict to them? Hell, they already have that; they need…something you do not have right now to give them. Jack sure knows what he is doing because all you want now is for him to come back with more stuff to ease your misery. Might as well, I have nothing left to fight him with. Since when are you a quitter Chris, you know your brothers are looking for you. Yeah and maybe it’s better if they don’t find me like this.*
Another shaft of pain tore through his body and he shivered when the door opened.
“Waiting for me, Chris?” Jack was disappointed that he got no response from the man on the floor. ”Silence it is then, I brought you something.” He smiled when Chris passively took the injection. “We’re almost there.” He left Chris to take this trip alone.
In the other room, Jason watched his father pull out another bottle of whiskey. He could not help thinking about the sick man in the next room, he had talked nice to them and now he could barely talk at all. If he only knew what to do, maybe he could help.
Mancos State Park
Most of the day was gone and just like yesterday they were no closer to finding Chris. The cold and the snow had Kelli feeling awful, but she never said a word about it to Vin. She was more concerned about him because as the day wore on he looked worse and moved slower. A couple of times he had a burst of energy followed by a dark temperament that had him snapping at her over everything and then it had disappeared as fast as it had appeared.
“He’s not here,” Vin walked up beside her. “I think we need to call it a day for this park.” He was positive that Chris was not here and they had already checked out every place possible in this area.
“We still have some daylight, you want to stay in the four corners area or take a different direction?”
Vin took a good look at his redhead, she was miserably cold and looked as if she felt like hell. He knew she would not be the one to say quit either. “No, we’ll head east; by the time we get to Bayfield it will be dark. We’ll stay the night there and then leave early enough to meet the others by noon tomorrow.”
“You’re the boss.”
The Texan wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “If I’m the boss I say we find some decent food, a warm room with a hot shower and then we both get some rest.”
She leaned into his side, “Like I said you’re the boss, let’s go.”
Buck saw Josiah and Nathan when they walked into the restaurant and motioned for them. Once seated and the four agent had ordered, they reviewed their progress.
“Josiah and I started at Trinidad Lake and hit five more sites between there and here. We came up blank.” Nathan started.
Ezra gave them pretty much of the same report. “We unfortunately fared no better with our endeavors.”
“Justin gave me a forensics report on Chris’ truck. The lab picked up prints for Chris of course, plus one for Jack Larabee and a Lester Smite.” He gave them a picture of Smite.” His print was also found on Vin’s truck so we can now connected him to the attempt on Tanner’s life. Jack may be nothing more than a second-class con man, but Smite is a violet ex-con with a bad record. JD is doing a background on him now and will send it ASAP.”
“So, we can’t count on Jack to keep Chris alive.” Josiah stated solemnly.
“If Lester is still involved, evidently we can’t,” Buck answered.
“Gentlemen, I have arranged our accommodations for the evening, here are your room keys and directions.” Ezra handed them each an envelope.
“I have to call Vin and let him know what the lab discovered. Maybe that infamous connection between him and Chris can help us pull off a miracle tomorrow,” Buck added, “We’ll all meet in front of the motel at seven in the morning and then leave for Pagosa Springs.”
“Let’s hope that Vin and Kelli had more luck today than we did.” Nathan stood to leave. “See you guys in the morning.”
After a hot restaurant meal, they checked into another motel, admittedly a bit less optimistic than they had been this morning. Vin was on the phone with Buck while Kelli unpacked what they would need for the night. Tanner hung up and started pulling on his sling, cursing at his unsuccessful effort to get rid of it.
“Tanner, what in the hell are you doing?”
“I want this damn thing off, feels like it choking’ me.” He was almost frantic to remove the binding.
Kelli reached up and unsnapped it at his neck. “All you had to do is ask Tanner.” She gently freed his arm from the confines of the sling. “Vin, are you okay?”
The Texan took a deep breath and rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. “Yeah…no…Hell, I don’t know. It feels like somethin’s crawlin’ on my neck and ever nerve in my body is on fire. By now, Tanner was pacing anxiously.
“Chris,” she said softly.
Vin stopped pacing. “That’s what ‘m afraid of and if it is, he’s hurtin’ bad and I can’t do a damn thing to help him. Hell, I can’t even figure out what’s wrong with him. All I get is garbled thoughts that mean nothin’ to me.” He sat down next to Kelli. “We’re closer here than we were in Durango, but not there, yet.”
Rubbing his back, she said in a whisper, “He knows we’re comin’ and Chris will hang on for us.” Kelli was determined to be patient with Vin and just be there for whatever he needed, for as long as it took.
“I hope so baby, but I have a feelin’ that it’s gonna be a long night.”