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
Sixth day missing, evening
Jason and Andi had slipped inside the small room to be with Chris as soon as their father had fallen asleep between his bottles. The mean man was in the one bed the cabin had and he and Andi wanted to be with Chris again. Andi had hoped that Chris would tell some more stories, but to her enormous disappointment, Chris had been quiet and had hardly opened his eyes. All he had done was smile at them, a small hesitant smile, but still a smile, said ‘hi’ and had closed his eyes again. So he and Andi had just rolled themselves in their blankets and had gone to sleep. Jason knew he would wake up before his father or the mean man, so he and Andi would be able to sneak out of the forbidden room on time.
Jason hadn’t expected to be awake so soon. He was sure he had not slept long.
Chris woke him up. He was shaking again and he was moaning softly, but through the years, Jason had learned to wake up for even the slightest of noises, so it had been enough.
Carefully he sat up and looked at the huddled and trembling form beside him. “Chris?” he asked softly. “Chris? Please?” There was silence at first, but then Chris whispered “S… sorry, Jason.”
That confused him. Why would Chris say he was sorry? For what? Waking him? “You’re sick,” he stated and when you’re sick, you can’t help yourself and don’t need to say sorry!
“I sh… shouldn’t b… be.”
That was stupid! When you got sick, you got sick and when you got real sick you died. Like… like Mama.
He didn’t want Chris to die! He didn’t want him to disappear!
“My dad is making you sick, isn’t he?” he asked finally.
Again, there was silence and then, just when Jason thought he would not get an answer, Chris softly said, “Yeah.”
“He wants you to c… cease to exist. I think that’s not right.” Resolutely he stood up. “I won’t let him,” he stated.
“N… nothing you can d… do.”
“We could leave,” he said hopefully. “Go to your ranch….” Oh, he had really said it! Suddenly he did not dare move; he could only stand there and wait for the words that would hurt him, tell him he was not wanted.
“W… want to,” Chris said softly. “Want that very m… much. Go to the ranch with you two…keep you safe.”
Jason couldn’t help the big grin on his face. Chris had said again that he wanted them to come and Chris didn’t look down on him or make him feel he was stupid.
“Let’s go,” he urged, leaning down to get his blanket. Blankets were always handy when you escaped; he’d seen that on television when they still had one. And food, he should take some food out of the kitchen.
“Jason, I c… can’t …chain.”
Chris had slowly moved onto his back and was looking up at him. He moved his right leg and Jason heard the chain rattle. Frowning he looked at it.
“Daddy has a key,” Andi mumbled sleepily from the other side of Chris.
“I know, silly!” He frowned again, thinking. “I know where it is too, I think!” Triumphantly he grinned at Chris. “I’ll go get it and then you can take it off and we’ll go to your ranch!”
All excited he hurried off.
The boy delivered. Not that Chris had doubted it for a minute, what he had seen from Jason had impressed him enormously. For a six year old, this kid sure knew how to get by!
He was smart too, he felt it in the answers the boy gave him and he saw it in the bright eyes. Andi too, she somehow reminded him of Sarah and it tore at his heart, just thinking of her. How miserable her short life had been, made him want to rage against the world. It also made him want to hit his brother, hard, knock him down and knock some sense into him. God, had all capacity to love been beaten out of Jack by their hard, cruel father?
Chris closed his eyes and took a deep breath. No, he was not going to think about that man and his belt, or about his mean games to make him and Jack into what he considered to be men. He had promised himself he would not ever again and he was going to keep that promise. Besides, he needed to sit up and get that key in the lock of the chain.
He managed to sit up and immediately doubled over when the rolling pain in his stomach hit him again. It overrode even the pain in his leg. He did not think the leg was broken again, but he knew things were not right. Somehow, he had the feeling his doctor would not be pleased at all.
*Key, think about the key. Also think about breathing, damn, why’s it so hard to breath! *
He took the small key from Jason and pulled his right foot up. Inserting the key was easy, managing to turn it almost proved beyond his strength. “Chris?” Jason asked breathlessly and clearly worried. For a moment, he saw again the brightly shining eyes of the kid when he had come back to give him the key and he knew he could not let Jason down. Andi either, who was looking on just as excited, clutching her rag doll close to herself. He needed to do this, if not for himself, then for them.
The lock gave and the shackle fell away from his ankle. For a second he couldn’t grasp it and then it hit him. Free, he was free! He had not anticipated the pure joy he would feel because of it. Good, some part of him still knew what was important and what he needed to do, which was get up and get out. Get these kids to safety.
He looked around himself and then he pulled himself over to the windowsill. He grabbed it and managed to haul himself up. When he was finally standing on his right leg, he was shaking so hard he thought he would topple over immediately again. With a sigh, he rested his head against the glass. When the shaking finally got a bit less, he managed to right himself and look at Jason and Andi, both were gazing up at him with trusting eyes. It cut through him more then all the pain. So, he did what he knew he couldn’t do, he tried to stand on his left leg.
That almost landed him in a heap on the floor again. Hanging on for dear life, sweating profusely now, he knew he could not stop being sick. Andi cried softly when he started to puke and again he felt how damn inadequate he was to help these kids.
There just was not anything left of him.
“Your leg, you can’t use your leg!” Jason suddenly said, understanding in his eyes. “That’s… that is why they had those crutches! Wait, I’m gonna get them!” He ran off again. When he came back, he was holding Chris’ crutches awkwardly in his arms, struggling with them and trying hard not to let them knock against anything.
“Whas that?” Andi asked excited.
“Crutches,” Jason told her. “I think they are from Chris. We didn’t have ‘em before, dad and the mean man don’t need ‘em. Here.” With a bright, triumphant smile, he held them out.
What else could he do but take them? Chris turned carefully, so he was now resting his back against the window, being half perched on the windowsill, right leg keeping him up. He swallowed and wiped his sleeve over his mouth, trying to muster his strength and just do this. Just take the damn crutches and get out of there.
“He should drink, Jason. I always wanna drink after I puke.”
“Oh, yeah. You give him the canteen, Andi. I don’t think he can do it himself.”
Jason’s matter of fact statement brought the heat of shame to Chris’ face and inwardly he cursed his stupid weakness. It was drugs; he should be able to fight drugs! He tried to shift and stand on his own, only to fall back against the windowsill again. “I’ll manage,” he gritted out between clenched teeth. Seeing Jason’s pinched and scared face, he thought to himself *I goddamn will!*
“Here!” Andi squealed in delight as she dove between the blankets and pillows to get the canteen.
“Ssssssh!” Jason hissed, staring at the door in terror.
“Oh!” The little girl looked startled, then frightened when she realized what she had done, standing forlornly while clasping the canteen in one arm and her doll in the other.
“That was stupid!” Jason hissed. He put down the crutches very carefully and darted out of the room.
Andi looked at Chris through tear-filled eyes. He smiled at her and held out his hand. “Thanks for… for finding the water,” he said softly. She nodded and quickly gave it to him, all her excitement and happiness gone. He sighed and held his arm out to her. She came to him hesitantly and while he was holding on with the other hand to the windowsill behind him, he put the arm around her, careful that he did not bump her with the canteen.
“’s Alright,” he whispered. “It is.”
“I’m n… n… not stupid,” she sniffled and it tore at Chris’ heart that she didn’t wail like any other three year old would have done. Like Sarah would have done. Wail or argue loudly. He smiled thinking of the three-year-old Wilmington girl. Sarah would probably have opted for the loud argument if someone had told her she had done something stupid.
“Andi, it’s alright,” he told her again, very softly.
With a sigh, she leaned into him, knocking him almost down. Then Jason was back, the relief clear on his face. “They’re still sleeping!” he whispered excitedly. “Come on Andi, let’s get Chris his crutches.” This time Andi only nodded. While the kids gathered the crutches from the ground, Chris took a few deep swallows from the canteen, grateful to be able to get rid of some of the foul taste in his mouth. Then he braced himself not just physically, but also mentally and grabbed the crutches. He managed to get them in place and not thinking about anything he started to slowly work his way out of the room, while Jason darted ahead to see if the coast was clear and Andi stayed right beside him as if she wanted to offer her support with every painful step.
Chris went slow, very slow. He tried not to make any noise with his crutches, but they thumped on the wooden floor anyway.
It was scary, seeing their father’s huddled form in the big chair and knowing that behind the curtain, in the bed alcove, the mean man was. Still, they were doing something, they were trying to escape and that felt good.
They made it to the door and Jason carefully opened it. His father and the mean man never locked it, because there was no one else outside. That worried him a little, because there would be no one to help Chris if he fell. He let first Andi and then Chris pass him, before closing the door softly behind them. Then they were outside, under the stars and Chris looked… he looked…. Jason did not want to think about how Chris looked.
Chris moved forward and he and Andi followed. Chris moved forward again and then he groaned, almost collapsing He stood hunched over between his crutches and just when Jason thought the escape was over, Chris looked up, looked at him and Andi and started limping forward again. He was going for the trees. Jason hurried up until he was walking beside Chris.
“I w… want you and Andi to run off,” Chris said softly. “To the trees and… and find someone.” He stopped again, trying to catch his breath.
“You gotta come too,” Jason said alarmed.
“I… I try. But when I c… can’t, find someone and… and ask for V… Vin Tanner. Vin and Kelli Tanner in Denver. You g… got that?”
A pit opened inside Jason’s stomach. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea after all. He felt like crying all of a sudden.
He looked up at Chris and found two green eyes gazing at him with intensity.
“I’ll try to make it. But when I d… don’t, you and Andi run and find s… someone! And ask for Vin and Kelli Tanner in Denver.” Jason couldn’t answer and Chris’ head drooped for a moment.
“We go to the ranch now?” Andi suddenly spoke up, pulling at Chris’ sleeve.
“I’ll try, Andi,” Chris said softly. “Jason, listen, Vin and Kelli live on the ranch as well. You… you have someone call them and… and they will come, like I s… said. God!” One crutch fell down, while Chris held himself tightly with his right arm, the left still desperately holding on to the crutch. Hastily Jason stooped down and gave the crutch back to Chris.
Chris took the crutch. “Repeat the… names,” he told Jason.
“Vin and Kelli Tanner.”
Chris started limping forward again, towards the trees. Jason took Andi’s hand and followed. They were almost there when the door of the cabin behind them crashed open and a bellow could be heard. Fearfully Jason looked behind him. The mean man was standing there, yelling angrily. Then he ran towards them and he saw his father emerge as well. Andi started to cry.
“Run!” Chris hissed.
Run? Where? He didn’t know where to go!
“Run, Jason, you and Andi run and f… find someone! Remember, Vin Tanner!”
“But… but you….”
Chris had moved back, to stand between him and Andi and suddenly he knew Chris meant to fight for them. Only, he could not fight at all because he was sick and hurt….
“Run!” he yelled at Jason and Jason did. He grabbed Andi’s hand and pulled her with him. Andi cried loudly now, but as usual did what he told her too. Within seconds, they were between the trees. He stopped a moment and looked back. Chris was standing awkwardly, leaning on his crutches, while the mean man came running, gun in hand and yelling for him and Andi to stop and get back right now!
It looked like he would run straight past Chris, but then Chris pushed his crutch out and managed to trip the man, launching himself on the stumbling form. They went down in a heap. Andi screamed and just before Jason turned around to run off again, he saw their father coming, calling out their names.
Chris had said to run. To find… Vin, Vin Tanner and someone else. K… Kelli, yes, Kelli. Chris told them she was his daughter, didn’t he? So maybe she really would help.... He grabbed Andi’s hand again and ran. Behind him, he heard branches break and their father cursing at them. Then Andi screamed and fell and hastily he stopped to help her up.
“My knee! My knee hurt, Jason!” she cried. “I don’t wanna run in the dark! I’m s… scared!”
“Andi, please, we gotta go! Come on!”
A hand suddenly grabbed him by the back of his neck and turned him harshly. Before him stood his father, he was panting and very, very angry. “Yes Jason,” he hissed, “We gotta go, go back! And after I’ve dealt with my dear brother, I’ll take care of you two as well. Move!”
He could not shake lose that hand and then his father had grabbed Andi too and dragged them both with him. When he pulled them out of the woods, Jason saw the two crutches on the ground and the mean man entering the cabin, Chris thrown over his shoulder.
It was dark, no one could see and he could not help it. Silently Jason let the tears fall.
He had never been so scared in his entire life. Ever!
Whoever this other man was who worked with Jack, he loved to hurt, that much was sure. There had been no reason for the bastard to kick him that often after he had been down and helpless.
Or to target his left leg a couple of times, just for the fun of it.
Chris had come back to consciousness when he was dumped on the floor of the cabin room unceremoniously. He’d screamed and tried to kick out when he felt the chain being fastened back around his right ankle. He really had tried to fight again, really… Anything that he could do to keep this bastard with him and away from joining Jack in his search for Jason and Andi. It scared him to think of this man with the two kids.
God, he hoped Jason managed to get Andi and himself out of here! If only they escaped and found someone, anyone…. It had been the main reason to try this madness when he could hardly do anything, try to get the kids out. Get them to move and find the courage to leave. He had given them Vin’s and Kelli’s name, so they had a purpose, a goal. If only….
In the central cabin room, he heard a loud thump, probably the door being slammed against the wall and then the crying of a little girl.
“Don’t fight me, Andi or so help me God…. Get in there now! Jason, make her be quiet!” Another door slammed and Chris huddled in on himself, unable to stop a moan. The kids …both of them. Jack had caught them and all was lost. He would not get another change to try to get them out of here.
“Seems they’re back, Larabee,” his brother’s partner grinned above him, before he kicked him again, hard. Chris didn’t care, he only cared about those two scared little kids in the other room who were in a lot of trouble now because of him.
Then again, a door slammed, this time it was the door to the room he was in. Jack came storming inside and grabbed him by his shirt, hauling him up.
“You think that was funny, Chris?” he yelled. “Setting my own kids up against me? Having them help you against me? So, now they like you more then they like me don’t they? God, it is the story of my fucking life! Well, they’ll be sorry!”
“Jack, no, I… I threatened them, alright? Made them sc… scared.”
“Sure you did! How? You can barely move, so why would they get scared of you?”
“Told them I’m a cop, told them they’d go to… jail… otherwise.”
He was slammed against the floor, hard. Then Jack hissed in his face “If you think the withdrawal from Demerol was bad, let’s see how withdrawal from heroin will make you feel! Enjoy the rest of the night, brother. I’ll see you again in the morning.”
“Jack…” the other man started to say.
“No!” Jack shouted. “I’m gonna get some sleep now! Those damn brats are safe in the closet for the time being and I’ll decide what to do in the morning!” He ran out, but came back almost immediately.
“Just get out of there, Lester. Now, or I’ll make sure you won’t be able to get any of the money we made.”
“Damn it, Jack! You’re a stupid asshole!”
“Just leave it ‘til tomorrow Lester, alright? We’ll talk about this then.”
He waited until Lester had left the room before closing the door behind them.
Chris tried not to cry about it all, but he could not stop the tears. He felt as if he was in some deep, dark hole that he could never crawl out of. In a closet, Andi had been so frightened about being locked in a closet again…. Then the pain in his stomach came back even worse than before and Chris knew Jack was right. It was just beginning.
When the first sign of morning light came through the window shutters, Chris was a wreck. He didn’t fight the needle anymore, but welcomed the end to his misery and pain.
He did not see Jack’s look of triumph when the rush took him away.
Seventh day missing
It seemed as thought she had just closed her eyes when she felt Vin squeeze her hand. The long night was over and although there was no reasonable explanation for what had happened, neither Vin or Kelli questioned it. They knew that somehow it all connected to Chris and that it would not end until he was back with the family. Both of them hurt knowing that Chris had to endure his hell alone.
The Texan had been unable to sleep and walked the room most of the night to ease the pain in his leg that had only worsened as the night progressed. Then the nausea came and the uncontrollable chills that invaded his body that had left him weak. As the hours passed, breathing became difficult and every muscle in his body ached. Finally, sometime after daybreak Vin was released from his night of torment.
“Time to get up baby,” the Texan was already dressed and holding a cup of coffee for her. She had been so busy taking care of him through all of this that she was not taking care of herself and he was concerned about her, so he had let her sleep for a couple of hours.
“You okay?” Kelli squeezed his hand back, Vin looked as if he had taken a trip through hell and she was damned sure he had not slept at all. She was also concerned that since last night, he had refused to let her bind his shoulder again and he had to be in some pain.
“Yeah, just tired and sore, but I’ll survive.” He was aware that as bad as it had been for him, having Kelli with him made it bearable.
“Give me five minutes and I’ll be ready to go.” She took the offered coffee and a good morning kiss that turned into a long much-needed hug for both of them.
Vin was reluctant to let her go, but finally relented and with a sound pat to her butt released her. “Take your time Texas; it’s only a two hour drive from here.”
He slept most of the way to Pagosa Springs and they arrived a little before noon; everyone had agreed to meet at a local restaurant to plan their next move. Buck decided on a booth at the back so they could have some privacy. When Nathan took one look at Tanner’s condition, Kelli knew he was ready to explode. She caught his attention, begging him with her eyes not to and she was immensely relieved when he complied with her unspoken request.
Buck witnessed the exchange and decided for once to wait before he said anything out of line. “Hey, it’s good to see you both, take a load off and join us. Josiah and Ezra are getting the area police activity reports from the sheriff and will be here in a few minutes. Once we all eat, I’ll go over what JD sent and we can go from there.”
Tanner waited until Kelli slid into the booth and then sat next to her. “The sooner we get started, the better, Bucklin.”
Josiah and Ezra joined them before Buck could comment and they were concerned by the Texan’s appearance, but neither said a word, choosing to wait until Vin was ready to explain. “We found a couple of reports that sound promising.” Sanchez allowed Vin to take the papers from him as they sat down.
The waitress came to take their order and after she left, Nathan could not stand it any longer.
“Vin, does your appearance have anything to do with Chris?”
“The Texan looked up with pain evident in his eyes. Chris has everything to do with it! “He sighed; he felt he did owe his brothers an explanation.” The closer we get, the more I can feel what’s happenin’ with him, but for the life of me I don’t have the slightest idea what it is. His thoughts are so mixed up, I don’t know what or even if he’s tryin’ to communicate. Last night was bad and it’s only gonna get worse if we can’t find him soon.”
Jackson persisted, “Vin, I know it’s hard, but I want to make sure I have what Chris will need when we get to him. “Can you describe what it feels like?
The Texan was at a loss to describe it, but tried to list the things he felt.” Intense tremors of pain, nausea, dry mouth, muscle cramps, cold flashes and it’s hard to breath. What the hell else do you want to know?” He snapped at the medic.
“Disorientation, mood swings, aggressiveness, itchin’, sweatin’ and drowsiness, too.” Kelli told Nathan. “You have any idea what it could mean?”
Nathan could think of one thing that would cause all of that and he knew he was right, but prayed that he was wrong. He swore softly, but everyone heard him. “Withdrawal, the sonofabitch is drugging him.”
Drugs? Are you sure, Nathan? Buck could not imagine Chris Larabee on drugs.
“It sounds like withdrawal symptoms of opioids such as demerol, morphine, heroin, dilaudid and oxycontin to name a few. There are other symptoms of course and side effects, but judging by the way Vin looks and what he feels it is a top consideration. If that bastard is giving him this stuff, it could be real bad for Chris.”
“You know it would fit with his profile. We know Jack is a user and if he could get Chris addicted he would feel that they are more equal. Not to mention what it could do to mess up Chris’ life, which is what Jack wants to do. Causing the loss of his job, personal ruin, stopping his marriage and total degradation would all fit his plans.” Josiah could see this as a feasible possibility.
“You all talk like Chris could let this happen. I know him he would fight like hell against it!” Buck was angry.
“Buck, he might not have a choice and if Jack is injecting him on a regular basis, addiction is a probability. Despite what people believe, this is not just a question of will power! Your mind alters when you’re given enough drugs. Jack’s had seven days to work on it and with enough drugs…” Nathan did not want to finish his thoughts, but he knew what he needed to take with him.
“Then gentlemen, we need to insure that he is not successful. Whatever we need we will acquire it and with family support we’ll help Chris through this.” Ezra quietly stated.
“Ez is right, but first we have to find him.” Vin started to say more, but the waitress arrived with their food. He was not hungry and if Kelli had not pushed him, he would not have eaten anything. They finished their meal and returned to business.
Buck dug out the background report on Lester that JD had faxed to them this morning. Lester Smite is a two-time loser; he served four years for assault of a prostitute in California and another three for assault in Arizona.”
Vin pulled one of the police reports and quickly stood up. “Arboles, a man that fits Smite’s description assaulted a prostitute two days ago after tearing up a local bar. That is close enough to Navajo Lake for me, let’s go talk to her.
“Okay, but from here on out we stay together.” Buck was not only concerned about Vin, but Kelli did not look much better. He reminded himself that it had just been a little over a week ago, he thought that they were both lost to them. “I’ do not intend to lose any member of my family today.”
It took less than forty minutes to reach Arboles, but another hour to locate the woman named Becky Morris. Vin decided that Buck and Ezra should interview the woman that was still showing the bruises from her assault, while the rest of them waited with the vehicles.
Once Buck showed her his identification, she invited them inside her small apartment. “Miss Morris, we’re sorry about what happened to you, but hope that you can identify the man responsible.” Wilmington spread three pictures on the table. “Do you recognize any of these men?”
Becky looked at the pictures and was hesitant to answer. “I don’t know…he said he’d come back and kill me if I told.”
“Miss Morris, I assure you that this man will not be allowed to come near you. With your assistance we can put him in jail for a very long time.” Ezra tried the Standish persuasion. “You will not even have to testify, all we need is a positive identification and any information he may have given as to his location.”
The woman considered the men in front of her and sighed. “This one and he said he was staying at a cabin on Navajo Lake. Now will you go?” She identified Lester Smite.
Both men stood, but Buck had one last question. “Did he happen to say what part of the lake this cabin was on?”
Becky Morris shook her head, “No, he only said that if I fought him he would drag me out to his cabin and kill me. ‘Give in or die a slow, painful death in the next fifteen minutes, bitch’. Those were his exact words.”
“Thank you for your cooperation, Miss.” Ezra shut the door behind them and they rushed out to meet the others. Buck relayed the information from Miss Morris to Vin.
“Get on the phone and have the Sheriff meet us at the entrance to the lake off highway 151. Tell him we need someone who knows that place from front to back and bring what manpower he can to assist us.” The Texan took the keys from Kelli and was in the truck before Buck could finish dialing.
*Not much longer Chris, but dammit you need to help me out here!*
Chris yanked at the damn chain that held him back, but it would not budge. He heard Jack raising hell at the kids and their cries of fear. He knew that they were paying the price for his failed attempt to escape. Suddenly a door slammed and silence filled the air.
*God, what had he done? Vin… you gotta help them…It’s my fault! Help them please…VIN! Lake…cabin.* Chris sensed that the Texan was close and he was positive that he was not coming alone. In spite of not wanting them to see him like this, those children needed help and he knew that their only chance would be for an outside rescue because he was in no condition to do it. The room was spinning and every part of his body was on fire, but he was determined to stay conscious long enough to give Tanner an opportunity to find them.
It seemed like an eternity before Jack returned and raised voices said that he was not alone.
“Dammit Jack, last night proved that the bastard is not as weak as you thought! We need to cover our ass and get the hell out of here!” Lester was highly agitated and would not be quiet. “That sonofabitch has to die!”
”Shut the fuck up and let me think!” Jack yelled back at him.
“Think all you want to, but you and I both know those brats won’t last twenty-four hours in that shed. Hell, they’ll ’freeze long before that and we can make it look like he did it!” Lester paced and thought out his plan. “Yeah, that will work. He locks them up to die and then kill himself! All you have to do is overdose the bastard and we’re in the clear!”
“Lester, I’m still in charge and we’ll do this my way, not yours!” Jack was having second thoughts. Hell, he wanted Chris to suffer but killing him and the kids was more than he had planned. He just wanted them out of the way for a while until he could decide what to do. “They’re only kids Lester, I can’t let them die and Chris may be a sorry bastard but he is my brother.”
“You’re soft Jack and I’m not going back to prison because of it!
“Then leave Lester, I’ll finish up here and when I’m far enough away I’ll make an anonymous call to the authorities to find them.” Jack may be many things, but he would not become a murderer. “Go on, take a new Identity and half the money we put up, no one will connect you to this. GO! Get the hell out!”
“I’ll go, but I’m taking all the money, you won’t need it where you are going. That brother of yours is a federal cop and he will throw your stupid ass in jail!” Lester grabbed his things and headed for the door. He had no intention of letting Chris live, but he would wait down the road until after Jack left to kill him and if he didn’t leave soon enough …then Jack would have to die, too.
Jack did not argue with him, the money was not all that important to him. It was never about money, all he had ever wanted was to feel that he was somebody that counted and to belong. But he had never measured up to Chris and everyone in his life had rejected him. Well, almost everyone, Carol didn’t and his mother did not push him away. Once upon a time Chris didn’t either.
He opened the door to the other room and stared at the man curled up on the floor.
“Ah Chris, what happened to us? I remember when mama died, I was only six and when I cried, the old man backhanded me across the room. You came in and stood up to him, told him to leave me alone…After he left, you held me and let me cry for hours. As I got older though, you started to shove me away, just like he did. Why? What did I do that was so awful to make you hate me?
Chris listened to the man in front of him talking, but he only heard the little boy that cried all night for their mother. “I never hated you Jack, I just knew that the more I tried to protect you the angrier it made dad and he always took it out on you, so I stopped. I always thought we would have time to…but you left and we did not get the time to make it right again.”
Jack sat silently for a minute. “I thought seeing you like this would make me feel better… but it doesn’t change a damn thing.” He stood up with a sigh. “I’m leaving, after your little escapade last night it’s too risky to stay any longer. The kids are locked in the shed down by the lake. Maybe you can find some place to stick them because I sure as hell do not want them with me. When I get far enough away from here, I will make a phone call and send someone to help you, that is what I had planned along, anyway. I want the world to see you on your knees.”
“Don’t go! You have not done so much that you can’t make up for it. I’ll help you.” Chris knew in his heart that if Jack walked out, he would never see him again and dammit, no matter what he had done he was still his brother. “Help me out of here and we’ll face it together.”
“You were always an optimist Chris, I help you and I go to jail, we both know that.”
“Maybe you do, but it won’t be forever and I can still help you, if you let me. Dammit, Jack, Jason and Andi deserve better from you than what the old man gave us! Don’t let him win!”
God how he wanted to believe him, but Jack Larabee had lost the ability to trust anyone when Carol died and he knew that it was too late to try to change, now. “Chris …You expect me to believe that after everything I have done to you that you would be willing to help me? Sorry brother, I quit believing in fairy tales years ago. I do have a parting gift for you though, something to remember me by.” He reached into his pocket for one more syringe.
“Jack, don’t do this…” Chris felt the needle and knew that his brother was lost to him forever.
Outside Lester was getting tired of waiting. “Ten more minutes Jack and if you’re still here, then you both die.”
The County Sheriff met The MCAT agents at the entrance and had a local man with them that knew the lake well.
“There is only one place on this side of the lake that has cabins and that is on what they call the Tiffany shoreline.” The sheriff showed them the area on the map.
“Wait,” before Vin followed the sheriff he open the locked box in the back of the truck. The sharpshooter brought out two rifles, he handed one to Kelli and kept the other one for himself. “Now we’re ready, let’s go.”
The road wound around to a deeper part of the campgrounds until they reach an area with three cabins. Vin ordered everyone out of their vehicles and had them split up to cover all three. The sheriff and his deputies hung back to cover any escape routes.
Buck and Ezra took the first one and it did not take long to find that it was empty. “Damn, nothing here, except a couple of field mice.” Buck was disappointed, but they quickly moved on to join Nathan and Josiah at the second one.
Vin moved quietly and Kelli stayed back far enough to cover his back. The third cabin was the closest to the lake and he could hear the water as it lapped against the shoreline. They were less than a thousand feet from the New Mexico border and it had to be at least twenty degrees out here. Suddenly all his senses were screaming at him, Chris was nearby and in immediate danger. The Texan ran toward the cabin.
*Chris talk to me, what in the hell is going on? DAMMIT CHRIS, STAY WITH ME!*
Inside Jack had stayed to watch Chris fight a losing battle with the heroin that invaded his veins. He knew exactly when Chris lost control of his body, his eyes half-closed, he could not move without a great effort to do so, his breathing became shallow and the flush look to his skin was a dead giveaway. Jack knew that the effects would last long enough that even after he called in to the authorities, they would find a man drugged and disoriented when they arrived. He laid the syringe next to his brother’s still body and took the key to the chain out of his pocket. He would take the chain away, so there was no evidence left that Chris had been a captive and held here against his will.
A voice from the doorway surprised him. “You just do not know when to quit do you, Jack”
“What the hell are you doing back here, Lester?”
“I came to finish my plan and you just became a big part of it. Too bad Jack, you should have left instead of staying around to watch your brother’s little trip.” Lester threw two more syringes at Jack. “Now you can join him in a double suicide, I filled those myself and II guarantee you’ll have one last great trip.” Lester raised his gun and pointed it at Jack.
“You’re fucking crazy! I’m not doing it, I’m leaving now!”
“I don’t think so! I guess this will be a murder-suicide instead.” Lester turned the gun on Chris and cocked the hammer of his .38. “Say good-bye to your brother, Jack”
A rifle shot from the cabin doorway killed Lester instantly, but not before, he had pulled the trigger.
Vin knew the man he shot was dead before he hit the floor, but he had heard the other shot and did not know what damage the .38 had wrought. He ran into the room and his heart stopped when he saw the blond head of the man on the floor, he checked for a pulse and found none. The picture JD had made did not do justice to how much the two brothers looked alike. Tanner kicked the .38 across the room and turned to the man curled up in the corner.
“Chris?” Vin dropped to his knees next to his brother and gently lifted him into his arms, a groan confirmed that he was still alive. “God Chris, what did they do to you?”
Kelli stood at the door and took in the scene before her. She cried tears of relief to see that her father was alive and tears of grief for his brother that evidently died from a bullet meant to kill Chris. “The others heard the shots and Nathan is on his way. How is he?”
“He’s still with us Kel, that’s all I know for sure. See if you can find a key for this damn chain, so we can get him out of this room.”
Nathan rushed in, followed by Buck, Josiah and Ezra; it was Standish who saw the small key laying on the ground between Chris and Jack. “Try this!”
The key worked and Vin remove the chain, taking charge, he began to issue orders. “Ezra, go and stall the sheriff until I yell for you. Nathan can we move him?”
Jackson had found the syringes on the floor and after a swift examination determined that Chris was under the influence of drugs. “Yeah, except for his leg, we can’t do much until he comes down anyway and that could take four or five hours. Apparently, the bastard injected him not long ago and from the looks of the needle marks on his arms it has been a regular thing. Josiah and I will move him, you and Buck do whatever you are gonna do in here.” Nathan did not ask what Vin had planned, but he trusted that the Texan would protect Chris anyway that was necessary.
“Get him on the couch and find any drug paraphernalia in there, get it out of sight. Buck, start working this room as a murder scene.” Tanner saw the questioning look in Wilmington’s eyes. “Just do it Buck and follow my lead. Chris is not gonna lose his career over this mess, not if I can help it.”
“I’ll do what I have to; I hope you have a plan though.” Buck agreed.
Vin put his hand on Buck’s shoulder. “Working on one,” Tanner went into the main room. “Nathan?”
“His leg has a cut that’s badly infected and he’s running a low grade fever, otherwise it’s only bruises and the drugs as much as I can tell. He needs a hospital…”
“No! We take him to a hospital in this condition and he never works as an agent again. Do what you can Nathan and somehow we’ll get what you need to treat him.” Vin was determined not to let Jack win and Jackson did not argue with him.
“Vin, the kids aren’t in the cabin and I’ve looked everywhere.” Kelli spoke calmly, but her urgent message was clear.
“They can’t be far…Josiah go out and ask the Sheriff to organize a search for them and tell him I’ll have a statement for his report after we find them. Oh and tell him to call the county coroner to pick up the bodies, give him Metfield’s information and tell him no one touches them until Bones gets here, Raphael can fly him in.”
“You want Raphael to bring forensics as well?” Josiah waited for an answer.
“No, after I give my statement to the sheriff this is over, we need Bones though to arrange the transport and for a death certificate on Jack. Have Cordova bring enough team members to drive our vehicles back. I want to get Chris to the ranch ASAP and the chopper is the fastest way I know.” Josiah went outside. “Nathan, call Rain tell her …ask her what she can get for us and she’d better prepare Linda.”
Buck walked in. “I have it all down, open and shut case. Smite intended to murder Jack, your shot killed Lester in an attempt to stop him, but his .38 discharged first and the bullet entered Jack’s heart, he was probably dead before he hit the floor.”
Vin nodded, “That’s what it looked like to me. They evidentially had Chris in here because he was sick and he never heard a thing.” He waited to see if anyone wanted to dispute that report. “Coroner should be on his way, Nathan stay with Chris, we still have two more Larabees to find.”
Outside the wind had picked up and it was colder than thirty minutes ago. Kelli put their rifles back inside the lock box and grabbed some blankets from her truck, as an afterthought she picked up the brown teddy bear. She, Vin and Ezra headed toward the water. Buck and Josiah checked the area behind the cabin, while the Sheriff’s men searched further out.
“Jason! Jason Larabee!” Tanner shouted, hoping that the boy would answer.
Kelli placed a hand on Vin’s arm, “He probably won’t trust a man’s voice, you track and I’ll yell.” The Texan agreed. “Jason, my name is Kelli and I have a blanket for you and Andi! Jason, I know you’re out here, please let me help you!” They all waited to see if he answered.
She tried again. “Jason Larabee! I know y’all are cold and scared, but all I want to do is give you this blanket. Think about Andi, she’s so little and I know you want to protect her!”
Ezra encouraged her to continue. “Keep trying, if he thinks it’s his decision he just might answer.”
“There are a lot of footprints leading toward the lake.’ Vin showed them and they all feared that they may be too late to help.
“JASON! Andi needs to stay warm and you can help her do that with this blanket! Just let me know where you are, please!” A knocking sound came from just ahead of them. “That’s it Jason, keep knocking!”
“Here! I think this might be it,” Vin suddenly yelled and he ran forward to a small shed. It had a bar across the door; Tanner removed it and opened the door. As soon as he saw the two small, huddled forms inside, he stepped back so Kelli could keep talking to the child. “Jason it’s good to meet you at last and this is Andi, right?” The boy shook his head and looked at the offered blanket. “I’d like to sit here and talk to you, if that’s okay with you.” Kelli again held out the blanket. After some uncertainty, Jason finally took it. She watched as he covered his sister and noted that he did not bother to cover himself. She handed him a second blanket, which he did not hesitate to grab. Then he sat silently, watching her. It was a bit unnerving to see a child that small stare at her like that, but she would sit here in the cold all night if necessary. She was not going home without them.
“Jason, my name is Kelli and we came all the way from Denver to find you and my dad, we’ve been very worried about y’all.”
A small voice chimed in, “Jason, like Chris’ d… daughter?”
“Is Chris your dad?” Jason asked tentatively.
“Yes, he is Jason.”
“He’s sick and needs a doctor.”
Andi stuck her hand out from under the blanket and then she reached for Kelli’s hair. ”Why your hair red?”
She was not sure which child to answer first, but decided to try both. “We have a doctor with Chris and my hair is red because…I guess the same reason yours is yellow. We were just born that way.”
Andi suddenly moved closer to the lady with the red hair, not caring that the blanket slipped away and ignoring Jason’s command to stay back. She reached for the brown teddy bear she had seen. “Jason, look, she has your mama’s bear.”
Jason looked at the bear, and suddenly there was a look of deep longing on his face. He didn’t say anything though or try to get it, he only looked at it. Kelli made a big deal about wrapping the blanket around Andi, “Good Lord, child you do know how to squirm. Jason could you hold this bear for me? I think Andi has ants in her pants.”
Andi giggled and hesitantly Jason took the bear, he looked up in amazement. “He looks almost new. How did you do that?”
“I had help. A friend of Chris’ had him cleaned and doctored up a bit, I hope you don’t mind.” Kelli decided to jump in with both feet. “Jason, I really would like for you and Andi to go home with us. My husband and I are gonna take Chris back to Denver and want y’all to stay with us for a while on a ranch called the Larabee 7.”
“You hear, Jason? The ranch, Chris said they lived on his ranch too, Kelli and… and….” She screwed up her little face, trying to recall the name.
“Vin,” Jason said reluctantly. “What about my dad, he’ll be mad.”
“He won’t be coming with us and we have papers from a judge that says he’s not allowed to be mad about it. I understand it has to be your decision, but we would like for both of you to be with us. Chris will be there, too.”
After having heard Jason mention his name, Vin decided it was time to see if he would be welcome in this little group. He sat down next to Kelli and introduced himself. “Jason ‘m Vin and we really would like it if y’all came to stay with us.”
Jason looked at him and clutched his bear to his chest. “You are Vin? You… you were the one who f… found us! Chris said you would find us! And… and the ranch is true too?”
“Yep, it is.”
“Chris said we could stay.”
“And see the horses!” Andi chimed in excitedly. “He said!”
“And it’s true, y’all can stay with us on the ranch,” Vin said softly, wanting very much to reassure the two kids. “Chris don’t lie.”
“I wanna see Chris,” Jason suddenly stated, standing up. “He needs a doctor and he said we could come with him.”
“Chris is very sick, Jason,” Kelli said softly. She had managed to coach Andi into her lap, where the girl was sitting totally at ease now, but still with her eyes on her brother. It was clear she would follow whatever Jason decided.
“I know,” Jason said a bit condescendingly, “I took care of him. I wanna see him!” There was a stubborn line on his face now. “Mee too!” Andi immediately piped up.
Vin and Kelli looked at each other. “Guess they know what to expect,” Vin said softly. “Maybe we’d better let them see him.” Behind them Ezra stood up and left for the cabin, to warn Nathan the kids wanted to see Chris and to make sure they wouldn’t see their dead father.
Fortunately, the coroner had already collected the bodies to take to Bayfield by the time they got back to the cabin and Kelli took the children inside to stand beside Chris, while Vin gave his statement to the Sheriff, who had no problem closing the report on the shooting. All that was left to do was move Chris to Josiah’s SUV and leave for Bayfield to meet Raphael.
Jason looked up from Chris’ still form and asked Nathan,” Are you the doctor?”
“Yes I guess I am, my name is Nathan and right now Chris is resting, but he’s going to be okay.”
Kelli introduced the kids to the rest of the family. “This is Ezra; he helped find you in the shack. You already met Nathan and this is Buck, he took your bear to the bear doctor for you. This man Is Josiah and he helps take care of all of us from time to time. Y’all this is Jason and Andi, they have accepted our invitation to stay with the family on the ranch.”
They all smiled at the kids and said hello, taking care not to get too close when they saw how the two stayed near Chris, even though he was barely conscious.
Vin, knelt down beside Jason. At least he and Kelli seemed to have gained some trust from the two children. “Is there any of your stuff here that you want to take with you?”
The child looked at the floor, “No sir. We don’t have any more than what we’re wearin’ and Andi’s doll.”
The Texan watched the child. “Jason, ‘m up here not on the floor and you have nothin’ to be ashamed about. It’s okay. We have time before we have to meet the helicopter in Bayfield.” He grinned when he saw the boy look up suddenly. “Yep that’s right; we’ll go to the ranch in a helicopter. Chris needs to be in a proper bed real soon, don’t you think? Now, how about on the way, we stop and get y’all a change of clothes at the store? Would that be okay with you?”
Jason made a point to look the Texan in the eye. “Yes sir that would be fine.”
Buck spoke up.” Tell you what, Josiah, Nathan and I are taking Chris with us, we will meet you at the airfield. I happen to know that Ezra is a great shopper and he can follow you guys in my truck, help with the clothes and then we’ll all be together on the way home.”
“Excellent suggestion Buck, I am positive that my expertise will be valuable in selecting apparel for Master Jason and Miss Andria”. Ezra spoke with an exaggerated southern drawl and was delighted to hear Andi giggle about it.
“Well then, how about I get y’all settled in my truck so we can go?’ Kelli picked up Andi, but Jason hung back with Vin and closer to Chris.
Nathan did not want to move Chris until the kids were gone and walked to the door with Tanner. Jason drew even closer to Chris and Andi squirmed so much that Kelli felt it better to stay close as well. Ezra drew Jason’s attention long enough for Nathan to tell Vin what was necessary.
“Rain will have antibiotics, an IV set up and the Buprenorphin we‘ll need to help him as he goes through detoxification. From what I found, he was given demerol and heroin, I’ll warn you now that it’s gonna be rough though. Give us enough time to get him settled on the chopper and then we will leave when you get there. Also you had better be prepared to deal with Linda; Rain said she was on the warpath about not taking Chris to the hospital.”
“I reckon that we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it, Nate.” Tanner knew there would be a battle, but he was not going to back down. “I appreciate your support on this and when he’s able I know Chris will too.”
Nathan nodded his response and then had one more question. “What are you gonna tell Jason if he asked about his father?”
“The truth. Now I had better convince those kids that they will be going where Chris goes, even if it’s not in the same car. Damn, but I hate how scared they are, ‘specially the boy. He’s seen too much.”
“He seems to trust you and Kelli, that’s a start,” Nathan said softly, also looking at the two children. “It will be alright Vin, you’ll see. At least they will be safe for the time being and we are gonna keep them that way.
“Yeah, we will.” Tanner vowed, before walking back to his wife and the two children.
To Ezra’s dismay, the only place to shop in Bayfield was the local Wal-Mart. When they arrived, Andi was asleep in Vin’s lap and Jason declared that he was too dirty to go inside the store. He elected to stay with the Texan in the truck, leaving Kelli and Ezra to shop.
“Okay Ez, we’ll take two baskets. One is for Jason and one is for Andi.” Kelli started with the basics, toothbrushes, shampoo, conditioners, brushes, combs, and some hair ribbon for Andi. Ezra worked on Jason’s outfitting and Kelli on Andi’s clothes. “Remember Ez, nothing fancy and we’ll meet back here by the shoes in…twenty minutes.”
Twenty minutes later Kelli was waiting on Ezra and mentally checking off what she had for Andi. She believed she had everything except the shoes and started to work on them while she waited for Standish.
Five minutes later, he showed up. “Master Jason is all set, from underwear to pajamas, up to and including a new coat. I also took the liberty of acquiring a travel bag for each child.”
“Good thinkin’, all we need to do is finish with shoes and they should be set.” Kelli looked around Ezra and saw that he had picked out a few additional items. “Ezra, what in the hell is all that?”
“Just a few games for the game cube that I found on sale and maybe a couple of extra toys for them.” Ezra had indeed found a few things on ‘sale’.
Kelli just shook her head and laughed. “I thought Tanner was bad about toys, but I think you have him beat. Remind me never to send you two together to the toy store. Let’s get out of here before Vin sends out a search party”
When they checked out Ezra insisted on paying for Jason’s things. Kelli did not argue because she had spent just as much on Andi. When they got to the truck, Vin decided they had both lost their minds, but he and Jason made room in the back for all the purchases. He did make them pack into the travel bags the most urgent things that the kids required and the rest would be in the truck when it was driven back to Denver.
“Raphael would never get off the ground will all of that.” Vin made up his mind that he was going to be in charge of the next shopping trip they took. He did however remove the blankets and made sure that each child had on their new coat.
When they reached the airfield, Nathan and Chris were already on board and Raphael had the heaters on high. The children hung back with Kelli and Vin until they saw Chris was on board as well. “Will… will you come too?” Jason asked Vin shyly.
“I will, right after I have told these guys here what to do, alright? Kelli stays with you though and Ezra too. They’ll help you in the ‘chopper and let you see Chris for a moment before you have to get into your seats. That okay?” Jason nodded tersely and followed Kelli, who was carrying Andi again. Ezra followed close, keeping an eye on the young boy, leaving Vin free to arrange everything else.
Justin, Mark and Ross were driving back with the vehicles. Buck gave Mark his keys and told him to take Dr. Medfield to the Coroners office. Once there Bones would prepare the bodies for transport and arrange for the paperwork to get them back to Denver. They would go back by commercial air and he would stay with them until they were in his home territory.
Ross would drive Josiah’s SUV and was waiting on instructions from Justin
Vin gave Justin Kelli’s keys, “You’re in command, just make sure y’all get back safely and stick together. Charge what you need to on this.” Tanner gave him his credit card that he used for MCAT expenses. “We’ll see y’all tomorrow sometime. If you have any problems, call me.” He did warn him about the guns locked in the back.
The Texan was the last one to board. He looked at his watch, with a little luck they would be at the ranch before eight. He strapped in with Jason next to him and signaled for Raphael to take off.
For better or worse, they were on their way home with all Larabees accounted for.
“Linda Catharina Dubois! What in the hell do you think you are doing?” Matt was ready to come down on her hard, if she did not get back in that bed. “You heard what Dr. Ryder told you!”
“I cannot just lie here while Chris needs me to get him medical attention! I can’t believe they won’t take him to a hospital!” Linda tried again to get up, but Matt stopped her.
“Linda, you hear me out! I will not even pretend to know what is going on, but if I have learned one thing this week, it’s that this family takes care of family! If they are bringing Chris here, it must be for a damned good reason and you will wait to find out what that reason is. Do you understand?”
Throwing herself back against the pillow, Linda huffed, “I cannot believe that you of all people are defending this family to me.”
“Scary, isn’t it?” Matt grinned. “Look, I may have jumped to some hasty conclusion when I first arrived and I’ll admit that my judgment was clouded by jealously. Nevertheless, as I have watched this unique family unfold, it has been an eye-opening experience for me. Considering that the only blood relationships are among the children, plus Kelli and Chris of course, they all seemed closer than some families reared together. I cannot believe that any one of them would risk Chris’ life for any reason. Trust them to do what’s best for him.”
A long-suffering sigh was part of his answer. “I do trust them and you are right. No one would risk Chris’ life on a whim, but…dammit I need to know what is happening.”
“I am sure that all will be revealed to you soon after they arrive, but you must follow your own doctor’s orders. Do not make them have to worry over you, too. From what Rain told us they have enough on their plate at the moment.” Matt recognized the signs of reason returning to his sister’s thinking. “Now, shall we continue our game of cards or do you want me to read to you?”
Rain Jackson smiled as she stepped back from the doorway; Mr. Matthew Dubois just inched up a notch in her estimation of him. Keeping Linda calm through what was to come would be a full-time job and Rain was more than glad to have Matt’s assistance. *Keep this up Mr. Dubois and you just might become a part of this ‘wild bunch’, yet.*
Sometime during the two-hour flight, Chris awoke. His mouth was too dry to talk, but he knew he should remember something very important…however, he was at a complete loss to know what.
*Chris, we’re all here and you’re safe, just relax.*
*Yep, it’s me and we are on our way home, Cowboy.*
*Jason and Andi are here with us, safe ‘n sound.*
*I’m sorry…co…couldn’t…help…damn it hurts.*
Vin was not the only one that noticed that Chris was awake, Nathan watched his patient closely and did what he could to ease his distress.
Nathan leaned over and whispered, “We’re right here with you, Chris, if it gets too bad squeeze my hand as hard as you need to.” He placed Larabee’s hand over his.” It won’t be long and we’ll be home, Rain has some medicine waiting for you that will help.”
“Th...anks,” Chris rasped.
“No thanks are necessary, save your voice for the important stuff.” Nathan was not surprised to see Chris drift back to sleep. Drowsiness was one of the side effects of opiate use; he wished the other side effects were as non-threatening. Unfortunately, Chris was in for quite a battle, pain, depression, anger, cramps, nausea and anxiety were just some of the discomforts ahead for him. It would be at least ten days before the withdrawal symptoms were no longer threatening, but the Buprenorphin would make it more bearable. It would take up to a month before all of the symptoms disappeared; even then, he may have mood swings or depression to face. Not to mention that he would have to be tested for aids and he had the possibility of contracting hepatitis from the needles.
Nathan observed the worried faces of the other men on board and knew that Chris would not be taking on this battle alone. Two little kids were looking on anxiously as well and he smiled at them. “Jason, Andi, he'll be alright,. He keeps fallin' asleep right now, but that's a good thing, don't worry." Andi seemed relieved, but Jason kept staring at Chris for a long time. It was Vin who finally managed to get the boy's attention and have him look outside instead of at Chris.
Raphael let them know that they would be setting down at the ranch in less than fifteen minutes. After a group discussion earlier, they had all agreed that the true details of what happened at Navajo Lake would stay within the family. When Chris was ready, Vin was elected to tell him what he could not remember. The world would only know that Chris Larabee was back at home and the kidnappers were dead. To protect the kids, there would be no mention of the family connection or the children, one of Jack’s aliases would be used for the press release.
Cordova was great; he set them down right in front of the ranch house, which meant they could take Chris directly inside. Josiah carried him to the guest bedroom that Rain had set up with a hospital bed and an IV ready to go.
Nathan kissed his wife hello. “Baby, how did you manage all this in such a short time?” he was amazed at what she had accomplished.
“I have my connections and a few favors that were owed to me.” Rain immediately went over to check on Chris and start his IV. “Guys, I know you all want to be in here, but give me some time with my patient first.”
“I think she is kicking us out.” Josiah smiled at Rain. “We’ll be just down the hall if you need anything.”
Nathan stayed to help Rain, while Buck, Vin and Josiah moved to the den. Ezra was at the Tanner home with Kelli, helping with the kids. There had been some commotion at first when the two children realized they were not going to go with Chris, but finally Vin and Kelli had managed to convince them that the other house was part of the ranch too and they would be seeing Chris soon. These kids really needed reassurances, they were going to make sure Jason, and Andi would feel safe and secure again.
At the ranch house Buck was still upset about the condition Andi and Jason were in when they found them. “I am going to call Inez and see if the girls are still up. I really need to hear their voices about now.” He was sure that talking to Sarah and Maria would make him feel better.
“Go ahead Buck,” Vin sighed. “Josiah you probably should call Mal. I reckon that I need to go see Linda and explain a few things.”
Josiah patted the Texan on the shoulder. “Need someone to cover your back, brother?”
“No, but you might want to call JD and fill him in on what’s going on, ‘m sure he’s walkin’ the floor waitin’ to hear.”
Sanchez nodded and watched Vin walk down the hall to the master bedroom. He whispered a prayer before he dialed his home number.
Tanner knocked on the door.
“Come in,” Linda yelled and when she saw that it was Vin started in with questions. “How is Chris? Rain said that he was ill, what is wrong with him? Is his leg okay? Why didn’t you take him to a hospital? Why can’t he be in here with me? Did you get the bastard that hurt him?”
“Damn woman, take a breath!” Vin moved closer to the bedside. “I’ll tell you everythin’, just slow down.” He was not happy to see Matt in the room and knew that he would have to choose his words carefully. “First off, how are you?”
“I am fine, tell me about Chris.” Linda answered impatiently.
“Perhaps I should leave and let you two talk alone.” Matt offered.
“No Matt, you can stay.” Linda stopped him from leaving. “You are family, too.” She glared at Tanner, daring him to make her brother leave.
Vin knew there was nothing he could do, but trust that Matt would be reasonable. “What I am going to tell you stays in the family and it’s not what you’ll be seein’ in the paper.” He looked directly at Matt when he spoke.
Matt felt some assurance was called for, “You have my word. Nothing leaves this room to anyone.”
“Chris’ original leg injury is aggravated and as soon as we can we’ll have the doctor look at it, but there are other more pressin’ issues that we have to deal with first. He has an additional cut on that same leg that is infected; Rain already has him on a high dose of antibiotics for that.’ Vin hesitated. “Dammit, there is no easy way to tell you so I guess straight on is the best way. He was drugged, Linda.”
“Drugged? How and why is that a problem?
“For the last seven days he was given injections of demerol and heroin. The intent was to get him addicted and ‘m afraid it worked. Chris’ is gonna be sufferin’ withdrawal symptoms that will be rough going from a while. If we took him to a hospital, it would go on his medical records and he could lose his job. Jack would win and ‘m not gonna let that happen.”
“There are worse things that could happen than to lose his job, Vin”
“Not for Chris, if he quits by his own choice fine, but to have that choice taken away from him…No, there is nothing worse than that for a man as independent as he is. It would eat away at him the rest of his life.”
“Wouldn’t he get better treatment in a hospital, though?”
“Rain and Nathan can handle it here. The rest of us will take turns being with him, but no hospital. Chris would not want outsiders to see him this way, hell he don’t even want you and Kelli to see him like this.”
“Chris can be too stubborn sometimes for his own good, you know that. His life in too important to take chances with, Vin.” Linda could be stubborn too, “I want him in a real hospital.”
“Sorry Linda, I know you’re worried about him and I would like you to be in agreement with what I decided because it would be easier, but I won’t change my mind. I have his POA and until he says different, ‘m not backin’ down. I respect Chris too much to do somethin’ against what he would want and he is gonna need our support to get through this.” Vin stood up. “Rain will explain to you in more detail tomorrow what will happen and Kel will be over then to talk to you.”
Matt had been silent until now. “Do what you need to Tanner, Linda will stay in bed and behave if I have to borrow some rope to keep her there.”
Linda shot her brother a look that was meant to cause pain. “Matt, you can’t possibly agree with him!”
“This is just as hard for them as it is for you and right now, it sounds like a sensible solution to a complex situation. Give it a chance to work, Linda.”
Vin was surprised by Matt’s support, but glad that he only had one Dubois to worry about. One was enough; he hoped that Kelli could get through to her when they talked. He nodded his appreciation to Matt. “Sleep on it Linda and think about what Chris would do. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Looks as if I don’t have any other choice, for now, goodnight Vin.” The temperature in the room dropped at least ten degrees with her words.
Once he was out the door the Texan ran into Josiah. “JD will be here in the morning, he’s driving Justin’s car over so he’ll have a way to take Mark and Ross to theirs when they get in tomorrow. I also talked Buck into going home to see his family and Ezra is staying over in case we need him.”
“That’ll work, ‘m gonna see Chris and then go check on Kel and the kids.”
“Go on in, Rain is catching some sleep with Terrell, but Nathan and I will be here all night and if anything changes, I know where to find you. “ Josiah explained.
At first, he thought Chris was asleep, but when Nathan moved over for Vin to get closer, Larabee turned his head and tied to talk. “Kids really okay?”
“Hell yeah, they’re at our house, bein’ spoiled as we speak, ‘m not sure who’s worse at it, Kel or Ezra.”
“You need to…get custody…protect them.”
“Already done, we had the judge’s approval three days ago. They are safe Chris and they are gonna stay that way. Quit worryin’ about ‘em and concentrate on gettin’ better.’
“I’m all fucked up…you…should’ve left me.”
“Never Chris, anymore than you would leave one of us. We have your back on this one Cowboy and we will get through it together”
“Together…not sure, I’m worth it”
Vin knew it was not the real Chris talking, but all the same he didn’t like hearing it. “I’m sure, so deal with it, Larabee.”
“I…don’t want Linda or Kel or kids to see m...me like this.” Chris cried out and balled up as a chill ran through his body. Nathan moved forward when Chris began to groan and his body convulsed uncontrollably.
“I‘ve got this Vin, go hug those kids for me. Chris and I have a long night ahead of us. Go on now, we’ll be okay.” Nathan shooed Vin out the door.
Between the two of them, Kelli and Ezra had the children fed, bathed, and into clean clothes before Standish left for the main house. The second bedroom of the Tanner home had already been made over as a child’s room when Kelli and Vin were authorized for emergency foster care. It had two twin-sized beds and was kid friendly. However, convincing Jason that it was okay to sleep in a real bed and even mess it up was a challenge.
“Jason, I don’t care if you mess up the bed, we can fix it back tomorrow.” Kelli tried to convince him. “It is not a problem, really “This had been going on for the last ten minutes and everything she tried had failed to sway the little boy.
“Thank you, but we would rather sleep on the floor, ma’am.” Andi nodded her head to agree with anything Jason said.
“Could you at least tell me why?” Kelli sighed in frustration. She could not let them sleep on the cold floor and was running out of ideas on how to persuade them to use the bed willingly. Forcing them was not something she wanted to do.
The child shrugged his shoulder, “Just what we’re used to.”
Vin stood silently in the doorway watching and found it amusing to see three stubborn Larabees butt heads. Of course, Kelli was outnumbered and in way over her experience level with kids. He figured she could use a little help. “Jason, could I see you for a minute please?” The Texan did not miss the rigid stance that the boy took when he heard his voice or how nervous Andi became.
“Yes sir.” The child walked over, fully expecting a spanking for being disobedient.
Instead, Vin crouched down and whispered something in his ear. When he finished, Jason leaned back and looked at him with surprise. “Promise?”
“Promise,” Tanner grinned.
Jason ran over grabbed Andi’s hand and crawled into one of the beds with her without more argument. A moment later two pair of huge eyes looked at the Tanners from beneath the soft blankets.
Kelli was not sure what had just happened, but whatever it was, it was a good thing. “Goodnight.” She joined Vin at the door. Tanner flipped the big light off, leaving the smaller nightlight on, said his own goodnight to the kids, and led Kelli into the other room.
“I saved you somethin’ to eat, I’ll heat it up and you can tell me your secret for getting’ through to Jason.” Kelli wrapped her arm around her Texan as they walked into the kitchen.
Vin sat down, the day’s events were catching up to him and he was tired. Kelli warmed his food and sat with him while he ate. “I promised Jason I would be the first one in their room in the mornin’ and if there was any accident during the night, I’d help him wash the sheets before you knew about it.”
“That’s what had him so worried, I would never…”
“Easy Kel, I know you wouldn’t, but for a six year old that has taken more than one spankin’ over it, it’s a big deal.” Vin picked up his glass for some water. “Actually, I think to someone it was a major infraction of the rules and it didn’t matter who did it, Jason was punished for it.”
“How did you know?”
“Before my grandfather came for me, after my mama died, I was in a group home for a couple of weeks and one of the boys always slept on the floor there. One day he told me why and I guess seein’ Jason balk at sleepin’ on the bed jogged that memory.”
“We’ll I reckon you get to be the first one up in the mornin’. Now tell me about Chris and how Linda took the news.”
“Chris is havin’ a rough time of it, but no more than we expected. He does not want you or Linda or the kids to see him though.”
“It wouldn’t bother me, after what I saw of him at the cabin, but I can see where it would bother him so I’ll respect that for now.”
“When I saw Linda, her brother was with her and surprisingly he agreed with what we did. It was a completely different story though with Linda. I hope you can make her see reason about it tomorrow when you talk to her.”
Kelli knew how stubborn Linda could get when she set her mind to it. “I’ll do what I can, but no promises.” She saw how much the day had worn on him. “You need sleep, tomorrow will be another long day and I do not intend to see you get sick.” Together they rinsed the dishes, checked on the kids that finally had given in to sleep and turned everything off on their way to the bedroom.
Vin wrapped his arms around Kelli and let himself relax for the first time since early this morning, but he still had more on his mind. “I plan to tell Jason about his dad in the morning, he deserves to know the truth and I don’t want him to be afraid of Jack showin’ up to take him and Andi.” Vin actually had decided earlier, but had not had the chance to talk to Kelli about it until now. “After he knows, then we’ll talk to Andi.”
“It’s the right thing to do; I don’t want them to hear about it by accident and then we have to decide about funeral arrangements. He may have been a sonofabitch, but he was still their dad and Chris’ brother.” Kelli had given it some thought, too.
Tanner had already considered that. “If Chris is up to it, he can decide how to handle it; we can stall for a few days and see how it works out. I also want to talk to Travis Monday and arrange some time off for all of us to take turns being with Chris.” She heard him take a long deep sigh and softly say, “Lord, it never ends.”
Kelli decided than for tonight it ended right here for Vin. “Yeah it does, at least for a few hours. You, Tanner are going to take a shower and hit the bed, if you weren’t so wore out I’d make you forget all your problems.” She pushed him toward the bathroom and started the water for him while he undressed. Before she knew what had happened, the Texan had her pulled into the shower with him.
After a long passionate kissed he grinned, “I may be tried baby, but ‘m not dead. Now just how did you plan to make me forget my problems?”
Nathan looked at the clock, it was only three, but it had already been one very long night. Doses of Buprenorphin could help ease the symptoms of withdrawal, but Chris wanted to do this without the aid of more drugs and refused to take anything that might help him. Consequently, he was in pain and felt terrible, it was only in the last hour or so that he made much sense with his words.
“How long will it take, Nathan? Chris’ eyes remained hooded, but he watched every expression on Jackson’s face.
It was not hard for Nathan to understand what Chris was asking. “Without using the Buprenorphin, the first three or four days will be hell, it will take maybe ten days to get through the hardest parts and some of it will hang on for near a month. Since they used needles…we must also consider the possibility of aids or hepatitis.”
“He…not they…just Jack…what happened to him?”
This was not a question that Nathan wanted to hear, Vin was supposed to answer this one. “He’s dead Chris, I wasn’t there so I can’t tell you how, but Vin saw it happen and he can tell you more, I’m sorry.”
Chris swallowed hard, he knew Jack was lost to him, but in spite of what he had done, he was blood related. “Not your fault, he made his choice. I want you to keep the others away…don’t want them to see me.”
“Now Chris, that just ain’t possible. I’d have to shoot Vin to keep him out and Buck, well he expects to be here, too. Ezra and JD want to help, right along with Josiah. I need Rain to keep watch on that leg infection and she is the only doctor in the house.”
“Vin gets here…send him in…by himself, nobody else. Nobody else!” Chris knew that Vin would do what he asked and that the others might not like it, but they would listen to him. “I’m tired, want to sleep now,” he turned his back to the medic and ended the conversation.