MCAT: Turbulent Transition #7
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Larabee 7 ~7:00 am ~Tuesday
Journal Entry~ October 10th ~Reclamation
I don’t know if it was a result of my counseling sessions, or the fact that the MCAT office will re-open tomorrow without me, but my nightmares have returned. Visions of what the twelfth floor had looked like after the grenade attack invade my sleep. Maybe if I had listened…Do not go there Larabee. It is over and done with. Second-guessing yourself will not help anyone, especially you; at least that’s what they keep telling me at our meetings.
Seven weeks into my sobriety and I'm still no closer to having my life and family back, although I am making progress. Or so Col. Tai has told me that I am. He agreed to be my sponsor, and as I had expected, he's a hard taskmaster...but also fair one. Although I'm still having doubts about how things are going to work out in the end, I'm beginning to see things with more clarity.
It is getting a little easier to relax a bit at those meetings, but I still have difficulty talking about myself. More accurately my fears...I don’t know why it is so damn hard for me to talk to Vin or Kelli, but it is. Maybe I need to talk to Colonel Tai about it. He seems to be an okay guy and he does understand where I am coming from…
Linda walked in the kitchen and Chris quickly closed his journal.” Here you are.” She poured herself a cup of coffee. “I’m going into town to talk to the decorators today, and for some reason Inez refuses to watch Grace for me. You need to cancel your physical, or take her with you; I doubt that I’ll be back before five.”
“I can’t do that Linda. Dr. Gilford has several tests set up this morning and then I have a counseling session after that. As much as I’d love to take Grace with me, it’s just not possible. You’ll just have to stay home with her.”
“Well I can’t change my appointment.” Linda sighed. “You would think with your family crawling all over the place, someone could take her. Mallory is off somewhere with Josiah, and Adam, Casey, and JD took the twins for a day out, Rain is working, and Max said no.”
“Why don’t you ask Kel? With Jason in school it’s just her and Andi at home. Besides, she would probably like spending some time with Grace before she goes back to work.” Chris felt bad that his estrangement from Vin and Kelli had kept them from seeing Grace, too.
The blonde hesitated before answering; trying to decide how to handle that question and then an inspiration struck her. “No, I won’t ask Kel. I wasn’t going to tell you, but you do have a right to know. At Jason’s party she had some awful things to say about you. I tried to reason with her, but she wouldn’t listen to me. I’ve known her for a long time, but she even shocked me with some of her hateful remarks.” Sighing deeply she continued. “I suppose that even good friendship can not survive jealousy and lies. It’s really a shame though that she includes Grace in her contemptuous attitude toward us. I guess she is more like her mother than we realized.”
Chris was momentarily speechless and felt as if he had been stabbed in the heart. Damn Chris, you knew she was upset, but is Kelli capable of hating you that much? Look at Marissa, Larabee; she sure as hell hates you. Half of your daughter’s genes came from that wicked woman. Is it really so difficult to believe that Kel could be capable of hating you, too?”
“If that’s how she feels, then…I suppose we should keep Grace away from her. You had better make plans to stay with the baby yourself today.” Chris stood up.” I need to get dressed and out of here if I’m going to hit Gilford’s office on time. Chris’s disappointment was obvious as he left the room.
Linda watched him walk away with a sense of satisfaction.That was brilliant Linda! By the time he finds out the truth, it won’t matter. You will have your own place and Chris will see how happy you both can be without the distraction of family obligations. Kelli made it damn clear that she was not going to support you anyway. She chose Vin over you, after all these years of you two being friends! She also did without Chris most of her life and managed just fine. Kel is a survivor, she doesn’t need him now…not like you do. Besides, keeping Chris and Kelli apart will give you time to finish your plans before he and Vin have an opportunity to mend their differences.
Pleased that she was spared telling Chris about the disagreement that she and Kelli had, all she had to do is find someone else to take Grace for the day. Reaching for the phone, she dialed a familiar number and waited for her brother to answer. “Matt, I need a favor…”
Tanner Home ~ 1:30pm
Max and Kelli had been baking, cooking, and freezing prepared meals all morning, while two little girls helped. Inez seemed to be having a more difficult time with this pregnancy than she had with the previous two and Kelli wanted to help her out as much as possible. Since Inez was not feeling well, Maria was spending the day with Andi. Consequently they had spent the entire morning making enough food not only for the Tanner household for the next week, but to share with the Wilmingtons also. Looking at the clock, Kelli saw that it was almost time for Vin to arrive. He had only gone in to the office for half a day to make certain that everything was ready for tomorrow, and then he planned to pick Jason, Sarah and Joanne up from school on the way home.
Max closed the freezer door. “That is the last of it. Now I suppose we should pay our crew.” She reached for a plate of warm cookies and offered them to the girls.
Kelli laughed when two little blurs ran past her in a race to the cookies. “Y’all save a few for Jason and Sarah. They’ll be home and hungry before you know it.” She was still laughing when she grabbed the ringing phone. “Hello…”
Vin and Buck walked into the kitchen with Jason, Joanne, and Sarah. After a stop at the cookie plate, they barely had time to take a bite before Andi and Maria came running into the room.
“Daddy!!” Maria exclaimed and launched herself at Buck. “We make cookies!
“You home!” Andi yelled louder as Vin picked her up. “Good cookies!”
“Yes they are.” Tanner grinned. “Where’s your mama?”
“Gone,” Andi answered as she happily munched on another cookie.
“Gone? Where?” Vin suddenly felt uneasy.
Max came into the kitchen. “She went over to the Southern Breeze. All I know is Matt called and she was upset after talking to him. She asked me to watch the girls and then left without saying another word. That was about one-thirty and I haven’t heard from her since.”
“Matt called? Matt Dubois? What in the h…heck did he want?
Max reached for Andi. “Don’t know, but I’ll watch the kids while you find out.”
“Thanks,” he kissed Andi and then told Jason to help Max with the girls, before he headed out the door.
“Wait for me, you might need some backup, and even if you don’t I want to watch the fireworks.” Buck was grinning as he kissed his girls and followed Tanner.
Southern Breeze ~3:00pm
Kelli had walked the floor with Grace for almost an hour before her little sister finally fell asleep. When Matt had called and begged for her help with the crying child, her first fear was that the baby was ill. It was when he told her that Linda had left Grace with him at eight o'clock that morning with no formula, two diapers, and the promise that she was only going to be gone a couple of hours that Kelli became furious with Linda.
“I’m sorry Kel. When Linda didn’t answer my messages and I couldn’t reach Chris, I did not know who else to call.” Matt apologized for the umpteenth time. “I told her I was not good with babies and Martha was away for the day with Ben. She promised that she would be back before Grace even woke up.”
“It’s not your fault Matt. It was no problem for me to stop at the ranch house and pick up some diapers and formula on my way over here. So stop apologizin’’ to me. But, I promise you that when I see your sister, she is damn well gonna get a piece of my mind. We’re going on seven hours here. What in the hell did she expect you to do with a wet, hungry baby?”
Matt threw up his hands. “I have no idea what my sister expects anymore. I only know that she’s not happy and you know how she can be when things don’t go her way.”
“Yeah, I do.”
It was then that they heard a vehicle drive up out front and both of them went outside to see who it was. Grace was still asleep in her sister’s arms and Kelli was reluctant to lay her down. As soon as she saw it was Linda walking toward the house though, Kelli handed the baby over to her Uncle Matt and moved to intercept the blonde.
“Linda, you and I need to talk!” The furious redhead grabbed Linda by the arm and practically dragged her to the other side of the barn. Kelli wanted to have her say and not be in earshot of Matt or Grace. It was way past time for a one-on-one confrontation with Linda as far as she was concerned.
Linda pulled her arm loose from Kelli’s hold on it as the two women rounded the corner, the blonde gazing defiantly at the redhead. “What in the hell do you think you are doing, and why are you here?”
“I am about to kick your ass, that’s what I’m doin’. I’m here because you left Matt alone with Grace for seven hours with no formula and two diapers. You wouldn’t answer your messages and your brother called me for help when she would not stop cryin’!”
“Grace cries all the time and Matt is big enough to handle one little baby without your assistance! Hell, she is not gonna starve in a few hours.” Linda resented the insinuation that she had done anything wrong. “I had some important matters to tend to, and Grace would have been fine without your interference!”
Without warning, Kelli roughly shoved Linda against the wall of the barn and held her there. “I have known you for over ten years and I thought I knew what you were capable of, but you have hit an all time high with your bitchiness, most of which I have managed to ignore, but to leave your baby without a second thought about her welfare is too damn much!”
Linda pushed Kelli off. “It’s none of your business what I do. Ever since you met Vin you’ve made it clear that HE comes first in your life. Never mind that I have known you longer and I thought we were friends!”
“It’s not a damn competition Linda. I love Vin and of course he comes first in my life. You have always resented him though, not just my relationship with him, but Chris’s too. Even so, I have valued our friendship, but it’s getting damn hard to remember why! Over the last few months you have become a bitch and a half! Everythin’ is about you! As long as life is problem free you are fine, but when it’s getting a little rough you do everythin’ in your power to make it hell.”
“That’s not true! You just refuse to see what I’ve been through! Look at the last year! That loony serial killer took Chris and I was forced to take orders from your husband. Then I was kidnapped, and where was Chris when I needed him? In the damn hospital that’s where! Next I find out that I am pregnant and do I get any attention? No! Chris discovers that you are his daughter and again I have to pick up the pieces alone. He was more concerned about what he had done to your life than mine!”
“Linda you are being way too over dramatic about all this! You were not the only one that had a hard time, Chris did too!”
“Really? I had a miserable time being pregnant and instead of having Chris to help me; his demented brother kidnaps him and turns him to drugs! Again Vin is issuing all the orders and he refused to listen to me. On top of that Chris wanted us to adopt two kids and we weren’t even married yet! Again, did I have anyone interested in what I wanted? NO! We finally get married, have Grace, and at last I was able to do something that rated some attention and it lasted about two months! Chris just had to go undercover, leaving me with a baby that cried for her daddy constantly! Again I find Vin giving orders while Chris is back on drugs.”
“Jesus! You make it sound as if you are a kid yourself Linda. Maybe it’s time you grew up and started to take on some real responsibilities! Like carin' for your child and helpin’ to support your husband through a rough period in his life! Chris has more than enough to face without havin' to baby sit a thirty- five -year old woman, too!”
“You’re one to talk! You turned against him and finally he sees that you don’t really give a damn Kel. You, Vin, and that so-called family of his left him hanging out to dry and I had to suffer for it. Vin was more concerned about solving that damn case than he was about Chris! You are so wrapped up with your kids that you can’t even make time to help me!”
"Bull! You are the only one that has turned against your husband, and tried to blackmail him usin' your daughter! Need I remind you that Buck and Vin both went to California to try and talk some sense into him, and they were prepared to quit their jobs to look for Chris when he went missin'. The rest of us respect Dad enough to give him his space and let him make the decisions he needs to without pressurin' him." Kelli shoved her again. “You say what you want about me; I can ignore it the same as I always have! But, at this point, Vin and his brothers care more about Chris than you do, and they don't deserve your criticism! Regardless of what you think, this family is standin' with Chris, and we do care what happens to him. Chris, along with the rest of this family, and my children are important to me, too. You only care about Linda and will even use your own daughter to force things to go your way!”
“No one will believe that load of crap Kel! You wait and see. Chris will never forgive you for siding against him. He’s also beginning to see your jealousy of Grace. He sees through the rest of this so-called family too.” Linda shoved her back. “But if it makes you feel better to make pathetic excuses for them and resort to violence, you are welcome to try to kick my ass. If you think you’re woman enough to do it!”
“I don’t think it, I know it!” It took only a few seconds for Kelli to grab Linda and put her into a chokehold. “I’m gonna say this one time and you had better damn well listen. When it was just me, I always let your outrageous behavior go, but now too many other people stand to be hurt because of it. Do NOT screw with the people I care about Linda! That means Vin, Jason, Andi, Chris and the rest of the Wild Bunch! And do NOT use my sister as a pawn in this stupid game you have decided to play.”
Vin and Buck came around the corner in time to hear the last part of their exchange and see what was taking place. Assessing the situation quickly they moved in to separate the two women. Tanner was well aware of what his wife was capable of, and had no intention of letting this get any more out of hand than it was.
“Okay, that’s enough!” Vin grabbed Kelli, pulling her back and then facing her, he placed himself between his redhead and Linda. "Settle down, Kel."
Buck grabbed Linda when she tried to take a swing at Kelli. “That goes for you too, Linda.” He held onto the angry woman.
“Linda, Grace is awake, maybe you should go see to her.” Vin stated calmly, his eyes never leaving his wife.
“I don’t need you to tell me what I should do, Tanner!” Linda pulled her arm free of Buck’s hold on her and addressed Kelli. “You made your choices Kel, but I promise that you’ll regret them. Chris will side with me, not you!”
“That may be, and if it happens, I’ll have to live with it. But you hurt that baby with your childish behavior and you’ll have more to worry about than me kicking your ass Linda!” Kelli tried to push past Vin, but he would not budge.
“That is not your concern! You want a baby to worry over, have your own because you won’t be seeing mine!” With that parting shot the blonde turned around and stomped off.
Buck shook his head. “Something tells me that Chris will never hear about any of this from her.”
“Unfortunately you’re probably right Buck. I know Linda too well; she’ll only tell him if it is to her advantage to do so.” Kelli agreed. “Did Matt tell y’all what happened?”
“Yes and he was inclined to let you two go at it. But Kel, this is not the way to get her to listen to reason.” Vin answered as he finally let go of Kelli.
“Vin, I wasn’t trying to get her to listen to reason, Linda is way past that point. I’ve just had enough of her bullshit and wanted to kick her ass. I would have too, if you hadn’t shown up.”
“I never doubted that baby, that’s why I stopped you. You need to reconcile yourself to the fact that you and Linda have grown in different directions over the last year or so. She’ll have to live with her decisions the same as you will.” Tanner grinned. “Besides, do you want to have to explain to Jason why you can fight and he can’t? I’m still tryin' to figure out how to explain that ‘difference of opinions’ stuff to him.”
Buck chuckled. “When you figure it out, let me know. I have a feeling I might need to have that conversation with Caleb myself.” Wilmington then turned serious. “Kel I have known Chris for twenty plus years, he may be standing on some shaky ground right now, but he won’t stay there. It’s just not in his nature to let things happen to him, sooner or later he’ll get tired of it and the Larabee we know and love will be back with a vengeance. He’ll make a stand with Linda, and all this will be just a bad memory.”
Vin pulled Kelli up next to him and threw Buck the keys to his truck. “You go on Buck, ‘m gonna take the long way home with my wife. Tell the kids we’ll be there soon.”
“Buck, we put up some meals for y’all this week so Inez can get some extra rest. Ask Max for them when you get to the house.”
“Thanks, I will. You two take all the time you need, I‘ve got you covered.” Buck was smiling as he walked away.
The Tanners walked slowly back to the Tahoe and stopped when they saw Matt still standing outside.
“Kel, I just wanted to say thanks again for coming to Grace’s and my rescue. I don’t understand where Linda’s mind is right now, but I hope you both know that I don’t agree with her. No one, including my baby sister, should ever let their child be nothing more than an afterthought.”
“At least we agree on that Dubois.” Vin shook his hand and then opened the truck door for Kelli.
Once Vin climbed into the driver’s side Kelli had a question. “It’s truth time, Tanner. Did you come over here because you somehow knew what Linda had done or because you’re still jealous when it comes to Matt?”
The Texan leaned over to claim a long leisurely kiss before he answered and then grinned. “I’m here, because you’re here.” It would be hours later before Kelli realized that he had not answered her question.
Chris pulled the Ram up in front of his house and just sat there thinking without getting out. Today’s session with his psychotherapist had been a particularly intense one. Impatience was making it difficult to wait for results. Chris wanted to go back to work now, the doctor said not yet. Chris wanted to get on even ground again in his marriage, the doctor said he could take a stand now, but he had to be willing to face the consequences of it. Chris wasn’t ready to chance losing Grace. He wanted to sit down and just talk with his best friend and not be uncomfortable when he did it. He couldn’t open up to Vin… not yet. He wanted his eldest daughter not to hate him, but…he was afraid it was already too late.
Damn Chris, all you want is your life back. Why is that so hard to do? Because Larabee, a big part of your life is intertwined with the six men that you call brothers, men that you would give your life to protect, men that cannot even share their work with you without Travis’s permission. They are part of your family and the same men that your wife resents and wants you to let go of. They are your friends that you let down when you gave in to those damn pills and lost all sense of reason.
Wearily, Larabee opened the door to step out of his truck and into the house that should be his retreat from the world, but instead was feeling more like a prison cell each day. Chris knew that the road back to being whole again was through that house; somehow he had to pick up all the pieces that made him who he was, and reconcile them into his life again.
Linda had their entire evening planned and when Chris walked in she set her plans into motion. “Hey darlin’, I have your favorite dinner almost ready. Sit down there with Grace and relax while I get you a cold beer.”
Chris kissed her on the cheek and smiled. “You do remember how to cook. What’s the occasion?”
“Nothing special, I just had a nearly perfect day and felt like cooking.” She watched as he went to the refrigerator and pull out a coke instead of a beer.” How was your day?”
Larabee sat down next to where Grace was and grinned at her reaction to seeing her daddy. “Okay I guess. Gilford said that physically, I’m doing great.”
“I could have told him that.” She set a plate down in front of him and took another one for herself before sitting down. “Your body is damn near perfect.”
“Only damn near?” Chris was beginning to relax, Linda seemed more like the woman he met and fell in love with. Maybe you have been overreacting Chris, maybe she hasn’t been the one to change. Maybe it was you all along.
“Grace and I had a fantastic day together, and you will never believe how great the plans for the house are coming along.”
Chris resigned himself to hearing about them and having to look at all her new purchases. “Really? Then I suppose you can show them to me after dinner.” He hated going over fabric and paint samples, but he did agree to compromise. How bad could it be to recover some furniture and paint a few walls?
“Linda, when you said you wanted to make a few changes; this is not what I was expecting!” Grace was down for the night and dinner was long past. Chris was now looking at the blueprints that were meant to practically rebuild his home.
“Chris, you said I could make this more my home than Sarah’s and this is what I want. Besides with a Nanny coming in we have to have a room for her.”
“I said a part-time Nanny, Linda, not a live-in one!”
“If we want the best for Grace, we have to be willing to provide for a full-time position. Otherwise we’ll have to settle for inferior help. Do you want to compromise on Grace’s care?”
“No of course not but…Linda, you are talking about a major renovation here.” He pointed to the plans. “That room has always been Ezra’s room and now you want to expand it and move a Nanny in there. And move Grace? I thought she would stay in the room we built for her for a long time. Hell, you want to double the square footage of the entire house and add a guest wing? What kind of guests needs their own living quarters and a swimming pool?”
“First of all, Ezra does not live with us, and he has his own home. Second, we need our privacy, and Grace should be closer to the Nanny’s quarters. Third, I told you my circle of friends are used to the best and we can damn well afford to indulge them! When people walk in here I want them to see Linda Larabee’s home, not Sarah’s!
“I’ll have to give this some serious thought.” Chris already knew he couldn’t live this way. Grace needed to be close to them at night, and he wanted his home to be open and comfortable for the Wild Bunch, not some strangers he didn’t even know.
“Well you had best think about it quickly. The Nanny that I hired starts in three weeks, and the contractors will be here in the morning!” Linda left him to think about it as Chris heard the bedroom door slam.
You thought the road to your recovery was through this home, Chris? If it is, it just took a detour through hell.
Larabee7 ~October 11 ~Larabee Home
Chris had spent most of the night going over Linda’s plans for the ranch house and was not in the best of moods by morning. He had worked out what he would be comfortable with, but he was positive that his wife would not be happy about it. He was willing to have ‘Ezra’s room’ remodeled, and add on one more bedroom to the house, but he had vetoed guest quarters and a pool. There were too many small children on the Larabee 7 for him to feel comfortable with having a pool on the property. There were already enough potential hazards for the children to get into on the ranch without adding another one. The changes that she wanted to make were not ones that he was ready to accept. Maybe he should let go of all the reminders of Sarah and Adam and someday that may happen, but not yet. He walked over to pour himself another cup of coffee and watched out the window as he saw first Vin, and then Buck followed by Nathan head off to work.
You should be leaving with them Chris. Instead you are stuck here and you know that today will be one more hurdle to overcome in your road to returning to your old life. Only forty-six days to go Larabee, and then you can confront Travis about getting your unit back.
The contractor pulled in about ten minutes later and Chris went out to inform him about the change in plans. Contractor first, Larabee, and then you can tell Linda what you have decided.
The smell of new wood, paint, and, sheetrock dust hung in the air; but it was good to have an office again. The time off was great at first, but the fun of it had worn off quickly for most of them. Every available agent was in early and anxious to get back into a normal work environment. Still, it would not be the same until all of their teammates could return and that would not be for a while yet.
Buck stood beside Vin and watched as the agents familiarized themselves with their new work areas. “It’s good to be here, but it won’t feel right ‘till we have the entire team together again.”
Vin was not certain that it was possible to accomplish that, but now was not the time to voice his doubts. “One day at a time Bucklin. In the meantime I’m headed over to Travis’s office to discuss our next assignment and when I return we’ll have a full briefin' with the team. Gunny will have the war room prepared by ten; you inform the rest of ‘em.”
Tanner walked the short distance from their building to the smaller one that housed Director Travis’s office. With the clean, fresh air and the view of the mountains not so far away, it was a totally different atmosphere here; than the one in the concrete and steel high-rise office they had previously occupied. Their MCAT jet and helicopter were accessible within minutes and the noises of the city were replaced with the soft whisper of the wind and the sounds of nature. Best of all it was only a twenty minute drive from home and there was no heavy traffic to fight on the way, just a few mountain curves and an abundance of beautiful scenery.
Suzanne smiled when Vin walked through the door. “He’s waiting for you, sir.”
Orrin Travis had been standing by the window enjoying the view when he heard Tanner come in. Turning to greet the younger man he smiled. “Good morning Vin, take a seat. You know I realize that I’ll have to do a helluva lot of commuting to make meetings in the city, but that view is worth every mile of it.”
“Yes sir, it is.”
Travis sat at his desk and prepared for the discussion to come. “Vin, I told you that MCAT would continue with the same type of cases we have had in the past, however, there are more than a few we’ll be taking that are very sensitive and will be handled in a more unorthodox fashion. This is one of them.” Orrin passed a folder to Tanner. “For our purposes we will call these assignments ‘shadow cases’. Our involvement will not be acknowledged in any way, but we are to get the job done using any means necessary. Doesn’t matter if conventional or unconventional methods are used, whatever works, we are authorized to do what is needed to accomplish our goals. In this age of Global Terrorist attacks on the United States of America, it would be desirable to believe that we could at least count on the loyalty of all US citizens to help protect and preserve our country's security. History has shown otherwise though, and as discouraging as it is, we must realize that some of the threat of terror and violence to the United States is from organizations with a twisted sense of values.”
Vin was all too familiar with the concept of clandestine assignments; he had been given enough of them while he was in the Army Rangers. He knew that Chris and Buck too, had survived more than their share of the same type of operations with the Seals. He looked at the folder that he held in his hand and saw the words ‘Domestic Terrorism’. His country had asked him to do many things to protect her on foreign soil; he had hoped that it would never become necessary to employ those methods on his home turf. But that was exactly what Travis was implying. Get the job done.
“What do you need us to do, sir?”
“First things first, Vin. Every agent will be required to sign a confidentiality agreement, which you will find in that folder. We will not discuss any of these assignments outside this unit with anyone, period. Our security clearance levels have been raised, and all new applicants will have additional background checks before they are assigned to this unit. Dunne will be responsible for the security measures for MCAT and our location will not be made public knowledge. There will be times that the only information we have will come on a need to know basis. Our standard assignments will remain the same however, and trust me; there will be more than enough of them to keep us all busy.”
Tanner read the first few lines on the pages before him. “Daniel Abbot? He’s an FBI agent missin' on an undercover assignment?”
“Yes, and we are to find him and bring him out or confirm his death, locate his body and give his family some closure. You have all the details that you will need in that folder. Put your team to work on it and let me know how you decide to handle it.”
Vin looked at the case file and raised an eyebrow. “You want us to handle this like a shadow case, why? Wouldn't it be faster if we use all our resources?”
“I have my reasons, Vin,” Travis stated. When he had told them, Vin nodded in understanding.
The Texan stood up, nodded his silent affirmation, and then made his exit, all the while thinking about what laid before him and the MCAT team.
Chris and Linda had been arguing over the same topic for the last thirty minutes. She had voiced her disappointment clearly enough when Chris told her about the changes he made in the plans for their home. He had not waived on his position in spite of a barrage of tears and then a lengthy string of snippy comments.
“Linda, we are NOT going to add a separate wing to the house, or guest quarters, or a pool. If you invite people to stay the weekend, then they can damn well live like the rest of us, or stay home!’
“You just don’t want to get to know MY friends! They may not be able to talk about crime or guns and heaven forbid that they may not be perfect like YOUR friends!
“I talked to the contractor and he will return tomorrow to start work on the plans that I approved. That’s the best you are gonna get Linda, so I suggest that you find a way to deal with it.”
“Fine, Chris! But when they finish with our house, it had better be bigger than Tanner's. We should have the largest home on the Larabee 7, not them!”
Before Chris could answer, he heard Grace’s cries coming from her room. He immediately went to tend to her, leaving an angry Linda standing alone in the middle of the room.
MCAT Office~ war room ~10:00am
Compared to their normal meetings this one was small, however considering that they were here at all was nothing short of a miracle. The rocket grenades that took out the twelfth floor of the Federal building were meant to wipe out the existence of MCAT entirely. Their new war room was just that, a room to prepare for any situation they may come up against. Deemed to be the hub of their command center, bare walls were replaced by huge television screens that showed satellite imagery. Rotating security cameras transmitting video images that covered all the buildings and the surrounding forty acres, flashed continuously as well as monitors that could connect them to any government channel or agency. All the high tech gizmos currently available were at their disposal, including individual computer monitors on the table at each chair that could be linked to CASSIE or used to view video feeds. The old conference room furniture had been replaced with a huge horseshoe shaped oak table with cushioned captain’s chairs instead of the older uncomfortable ones they had in their former office. Not only did they each have more individual room to stretch out, the furniture was far more comfortable than what they had in their former office.
Bones immediately took a place, looking around with his usual quiet thoughtfulness. Buck sat down immediately as well, putting his hands behind his head and leaning back comfortably. Justin made himself at ease as well while Pam and JD took seats side by side and Josiah pulled out a chair for his wife. Paul and Nathan showed their growing closeness by seating themselves together at the far side of the table, a little away from the others. Kelli was still standing by the wall of monitors taking in all the images, when Ezra came in carrying one of his high priced lattes; having immediately stocked the kitchen area with it when it had hit him there would be no Starbucks around to go to anymore. To him Gunny’s coffee, while good, still was for emergencies only.
Tanner waited until everyone was seated before he began. “First off, welcome to your new home away from home. I expect y’all will be spendin’ many fun-filled hours here.”
“At least here we can see what’s coming at us long before it arrives.” Buck commented. “No more surprises.”
“Amen to that Brother.” Josiah added.
Tanner continued. “Nathan, you wanna give us an update on our missing teammates?”
Nathan started. “Both Kat and Greg are improving and I expect them to be with us in the next six to eight weeks. Mark has three more weeks of physical therapy and then he will be released for active duty. Raphael will be out for another month minimum and Ross still has a long way to go yet. Bottom line, the prognosis for all of them is good.”
They all looked at each other, knowing who Nathan hadn’t mentioned in his report. Vin cleared his throat, to get the meeting going again. “That’s good to hear. Okay gang. We have had a few changes with this move and I want to go over them with you. Josiah has been authorized to enlarge the profilin’ part of this team and he will be workin’ with and trainin’ at least two additional profilers. JD is now in charge of our communication system, includin’ satellite transmission, CASSIE, and all surveillance operations. Buck, in addition to being Chief investigator, will be workin’ to train our own bomb experts and as soon as Mark returns he will be trainin’ with our very own bomb sniffin’ dog. I will also be adding a couple more weapons specialists to the team as well as overseein’ a continued trainin’ regime. Ezra will remain our undercover specialist as well as teach classes on how to negotiate with terrorists. That gives you an overview of how the team will be laid out. Now, as for MCAT herself we have some things to discuss.” Vin pulled out a stack of papers to distribute to each of them.
“Before we go any further I need y’all to read what I am about to give you and then sign it, with Gunny as a witness. Then hand it back to me.” Tanner passed the stack of papers to the right.” Vin waited for the anticipated questions. It did not take long for the inquisition to begin.
“Confidentiality agreement, what in the hell is this for? Travis doesn’t trust us?” Buck snipped.
“Hey Ez, is it okay for me to sign this?” JD looked at the inquisitive faces around the room. “What? He’s my attorney and he said that I was never to sign any legal paper without his approval first.”
“While I am gratified to discern from your remarks that you trust me implicitly, this is not so much a legal document as it is one of commitment. I gather that our Captain has an important pronouncement to share with us and that our cooperation is requisite.” Ezra placed his signature on the document in bold script and then handed the pen to Josiah.
Josiah chuckled. “That would be a yes JD.” He then signed his document and passed it to Gunny.
One by one the others followed Ezra’s lead and soon Gunny placed ten signed and witnessed documents in front of Vin. Adding them to his own that he had signed earlier along with Gunny’s, Tanner slipped them into a folder and gave them back to her. “Originals go to Travis, copies in our main files, plus one for me and the Commander.”
“Yes sir.” Gunny took the folder and left the conference room.
“MCAT is no longer under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General’s office. We are now an independent Agency. Director Travis is still our boss, and he will send his reports to his superior. We will continue to handle the same types of cases we have always had with a few exceptions. At times we will be asked to run what Travis calls a shadow investigation. These 'shadow investigations' will entail keepin' MCAT involvement under the radar, and generally will involve sensitive requests or assignments. Some of our investigative methods may require confidentiality, and us usin' unconventional techniques. Our location while not totally blacked out will not be common or easily obtained knowledge outside those that work here. We also will be carryin’ a higher security clearance along with our added responsibilities.
As far as the outside world is concerned we only report to Director Travis and he will be responsible for addressin’ any further inquiries about our authority to operate. No MCAT agent will discuss a shadow assignment with anyone outside this office, and at times we will be workin’ strictly on a need to know basis. On the plus side we will have access to information not previously available for us to use. Once JD is connected into those sources he will be able to explain more to us about ‘em. Any questions so far?” Vin sat back and waited for his agents to digest the information he had given them.
JD was the first to speak. “When do I get connected?”
Tanner laughed, “This afternoon JD. Check with me after we finish and I’ll give you the name of the man you are to contact.” Looking around the room he saw ten agents that were ready to hear more. “Okay, our first assignment revolves around this man.” Vin pulled out a picture and had JD put it up on the wall size screen at the front of the room, as well to the table monitors in front of each agent.
“Daniel Abbott is an FBI agent who has been workin’ on an undercover assignment here in Colorado. With the assistance of an informant he was able to infiltrate the RMR or Rocky Meadows Resistance. This group has loose ties to the Ledger Militants that we were investigating earlier this year; however, they are an independent cell of predominately white supremacists that has formed their own militia. Abbott went in six months ago and has not been seen or heard from for the last three of those months. Our job is to find him and bring him out or confirm his death and try to recover his body for his family.”
“White supremacy groups are usually hard core and have a dangerous mentality. This group in particular is suspect in a number of hate crimes that have been committed in the last year in this area. Our group, ‘Without Prejudice’, has a lot of information on who some of these people are and we have been trying to get evidence that the local police would listen to about their activities. Paul and I can probably ask for and receive a list from them that may help.” Nathan explained.
“Nathan, while ‘m sure you could get it, we will not broadcast our involvement, if the man is alive we want him to stay that way, we also have an informant to protect. Askin’ a private citizen’s group for help is not gonna happen. If they can get that list then we should be able to get it too, without involvin’ them. Let me repeat again. This is a shadow investigation and our public involvement will be at a minimum. You may use your usual sources only, but do so discreetly and do NOT imply that MCAT is associated with your question in any way. We will not use any other organizations to acquire information. I do not want to see any one of you put yourself in a position to become a target for these fanatics. Are we all clear on this?” Vin studied each agent’s face to make certain they were receiving his message.
“I think we’ve got it.” Buck answered.
Tanner nodded; satisfied that everyone was paying attention. “JD, I made you a copy of the file, until Judy returns and she is cleared, only you, Mallory and Pam will have access to what you find. I want a background on Abbott, anythin’ you can find on this RMR and a list of crimes from the last year that could even remotely be considered a hate crime. Buck, you and Justin pull the case files on the Ledger Militant group, follow up on any possible connections. Kelli, I want you to work with Josiah on developin’ profiles for our players as we identify them. Nathan, I do want any info that you or Paul can personally remember from your meetin’s, but let’s keep it in house. Ezra, I want to know everythin’ that Agent Abbott would have had to know goin' into this type of operation. What he should have done, as well as what he could have done that caused him to turn up missin’. Okay y’all get on it and see what rocks you can turn over. You’re dismissed.”
As Vin watched the agents disperse, he was having a difficult time ignoring the knot in his stomach that usually meant trouble ahead.
MCAT ~late Afternoon
Vin had spent the afternoon reading over one file after another that concerned supremacy groups and militias. There were over 700 hate groups identified in this country and the message was basically the same from all of them. Their belief was that the white race should be protected at all costs against the Blacks, Jews, Native Americans, and Hispanics, or any race that was not considered white. They believed that a race war was inevitable and they were prepared to help it along by any means possible. Anti-government, Para-military groups had joined with splintered off factions from larger sects to form small cells of domestic terrorists that felt the lone wolf or smaller pack strategy was the best bet at not being caught.
The undeniable facts were that racism was still alive in small towns, large cities, on the Internet, and from both the old and the younger generation. Recruiting was an on-going process and even some that did not join secretly supported the movement with private donations or information to further the cause. There were also enough of the hard core right wingers that did not recognize the authority of the U.S. government and looked upon any Federal agency as the enemy, to cause as many problems as possible for America. All in all, Vin thought disgustedly, it was the kind of stuff that could give you nightmares, and created the situations at Waco and Ruby Ridge.
A quick knock on the door and Nathan entered. “Vin, you got a few minutes?’
“I reckon. Come on in, Nate. What’s on your mind?”
Nathan sat down and began. “Vin, I just want to make sure you understand what we may be up against. I know it’s difficult for a white man to understand because you have not had to live with racism or prejudice most of your life. It’s in the schools, and racial profiling is a fact of life, we have…”
“Hold on Nate. I am part Native American and I know what prejudice is. I’ve seen it in the schools firsthand as well as with Caleb and Jason. Discrimination hits all of us and it doesn’t matter if you’re Black, White, Hispanic, Native American, or any number of other races. Females are discriminated against, the homeless, gays, straights, the handicapped, young people and the elderly are not excluded. At any given time and place someone somewhere has it in for one segment of the population or another. I don’t have to be black to understand intolerance and I do not condone it in any form.”
“I know you don’t, but this is a subject I do know firsthand and I want a bigger part of this investigation.” Nathan argued.
“So noted, anythin’ else?”
Nathan felt that Tanner had dismissed him and bristled. “No…no, I guess not.” Jackson stood up to leave. “I will be watching how you handle this Vin.”
“You do that Nate.” Vin watched him leave and sighed. Welcome back Tanner. One day and it’s already started to be a bitch of a case.
Nathan stood outside Tanner’s door and looked around the room. Everyone was busy and immersed in his or her work, but he knew that none of them really understood what they were up against. He silently made a decision and went in search of Paul. Jackson would need his assistance to do what he felt needed to be done.
Larabee 7~Larabee Home
Chris slammed things around in his home office. Shortly after their argument this morning Linda had taken off and been gone most of the day. When she did return she was driving a Cadillac XLR infrared Roadster! A luxury sport car that cost more than his yearly salary with MCAT! It would only seat two people and just where was Grace’s car seat supposed to go? Of course he realized that she bought that damn sports car just to spite him for not agreeing with her planned changes.
Sarah never would have…Where did that come from Chris? Linda is not, never has been, or never will be Sarah and you knew that from the beginning. So why think about it now?
Wearily, Larabee sat down in his leather desk chair and leaned back. This is what he wanted and whatever Linda was really upset about would pass. Right? Maybe she should come to a few of his counseling sessions, too.
He heard Grace’s cries on the baby monitor and knew she was awake. Chris rose and headed off to the nursery to see what was wrong with her. He was surprised to see Linda sitting in their room curled up with a book, reading.
“Don’t you hear Grace, she’s crying?”
“Chris, Grace is always crying for one reason or another. It’s something babies just do.”
“Not my baby!” Chris went into the nursery and picked up his daughter, speaking softly to her to ease her tears.
“Well she's my baby too, and if there was anything really wrong with her, don't you think I would know it? I am her mother after all.” Linda yelled through the open door.
“Well, act like it then!” Chris snapped as he walked back into the bedroom and continued to rock Grace, hoping to soothe away her tears.
“Damnit, I do act like it! I got her a nanny didn't I? She's got the best clothes that money can buy, and as soon as the additions to the house are completed, she will have the best care twenty-four-seven. “
“What Grace needs most from you Linda isn't anything that you can buy, it's what you can give her of yourself...your unconditional love...”Chris told her. “But I am beginning to think that you are not capable of giving that.”
Chris charged out of the room with Grace before he said even more of what he was thinking.
The kids were asleep, and Max and Walter were gone for the night. It was just Vin and Kelli sitting on the deck, the skies were clear and a cold front was on the way, but for now they were comfortably snuggled together enjoying the beautiful night.
“Have you noticed how much time Walter spends with Max lately? I think those two have somethin’ goin' on that their not tellin’.” Kelli laughed. “Maybe the walls of our old place have been talkin’.”
“You want me to talk to Walter and see if his intentions are honorable?” Tanner grinned. “Get out the old shotgun?”
“Nah, I say more power to ‘em. I hope if they are startin’ anythin’ that they find even half as much happiness as we have.”
Vin pulled his redhead closer and kissed her temple. “If they do then I’d say Walter is a lucky man.”
“How do you feel about this shadow ops thing?
The Texan was quiet for a minute before he answered. “I’m not sure yet, but there is somethin’ I wanted to talk to you about. I’ve given this a good deal of thought and keep comin’ to the same conclusion. When Chris comes back to work he needs a shot at reclaimin’ his command. Over the last year I’ve been in charge more than he has for one reason or another. I think it’s time for me to step out and let him have it all. It will be easier for him that way and easier on the team.”
Kelli did not hesitate at all. “Vin, you do what is right for you and I’ll back your decision, but if you leave we’ll manage, and either way, we’ll be fine.”
Vin shook his head in wonder. “Just like that, you’ll back my decision, no arguments, no think it over Tanner?”
“You’ve already thought it over, or you would not have brought it up.” Kelli turned to look at her Texan. “We are in this together Tanner, what’s good for you is good for me. If this is what you decide, then so be it. Just make certain it’s what you want to do.”
“You are what’s good for me Kel, you and the kids. I just want Chris to have things good for him again too.”
“Then that makes two of us, Tanner, cause I want to see him happy again, too.”
Stretched out together on the double lounger, they had ample of room to leisurely explore their desires. Vin drew her into a long passionate kiss that left them both breathless. Kelli slid one hand down over his muscular chest and the other entangled in his hair to pull him closer. Lost in kisses that seemed to go on forever; they took pleasure in the moment of just being together in perfect harmony. It had been too long since they had had the opportunity to simply just be…
Vin gruffly whispered. “Why don’t we go inside, hit the bedroom and make us happy too.” He stood up and offered Kelli his hand.”
She took it. “Sounds like a plan to me.” Together they headed into the house.
Not so far away, Chris sat on his deck with Grace snuggled in his arms. I don’t know where we’ll all end up, but I promise you that I will always be there for you Grace.
Journal Entry~ October 11th-Reclamation
I wish I could talk to Linda about all that I'm feeling and thinking, but she doesn't seem to have the time for it. She does not find the time for Grace either, and when I try to bring up the family or my job, all I seem to get is arguments and attitude. It's seems as if attitude is all I'm getting from her anymore. She doesn't like my job, my family and friends, or my house. I'm beginning to think that there's not much she likes about me or our daughter either.
Maybe I'm being unfair to her, I don't know. I just wish that we talked and laughed with one another like we used to do. I know that things have been rough on her, but damnit, they've been rougher on me and I'm doing everything that I can to make things right again. Why can't she meet me in the middle and do the same? Why does everything have to be her way or no way at all?
MCAT War Room ~ Friday ~ October 27th
Two weeks into their investigation and the MCAT team had a fair idea of where Daniel Abbott disappeared from and why. Vin had watched videos of hate speeches, surfed the Internet, and found dozens of websites that promoted hate and bigotry, as well as read every file that JD had produced for him through CASSIE. They met this afternoon to go over what they had and then he had to make a decision on where they would go from here.
“Okay, I think we all have a good picture of the RMR by now and I know that none of us like what we have found. We have a job to do and it does not matter that we disagree with their principles; we are in this for one reason and one reason only. That is to locate Agent Daniel Abbott. Buck, what do you have to tell us?”
“The only connection we found with Ledger Militants is one shared training exercise back in March. It appears that the two groups had war games against one another during a two-week period at that time. Just as a side note, Frank Harrison, the father of Robert and Thomas, is suspected to be a member of the Ledger Militants. If we find reason to arrest him, I want to request ahead of time that I get to do it.”
“That explains his attitude, and why his boys picked on Caleb, and I will note your request.” Tanner answered. “Josiah, your profiles indicate that any of the members of the RMR are capable of extreme violence. Do you feel that there is any chance of Agent Abbott still bein’ alive after three months?”
“The probability is slim to none. They have no reason to keep him alive and every reason to eliminate him. I also profiled Abbott and I do not believe there are any circumstances that would convince him to convert and join them voluntarily. I would have to say that we are strictly on a recovery mission with no likelihood of a rescue.”
“After readin’ all the information JD gave me and what I have seen on the Internet about these clans, I would have to agree with you. Ezra, you and Kelli interviewed Abbot’s informant. Is there any indication he turned on him and got him killed in the process?”
Ezra answered for them. “That I believe is extremely unlikely. The man is scheduled to go into the witness relocation program and has too much to lose to risk putting Abbott in danger. Whatever went wrong with Agent Abbott’s cover had to have happened in Rocky Meadows.”
“In light of what we know, I want us to continue to use outside sources on this one. It is entirely too dangerous to try to put someone inside with no hope of a live rescue. Unless we receive information that changes the situation, ‘m recommendin’ to Travis that we keep our hand’s off this organization.” Tanner did not want to put his own agent’s life at risk to confirm what they were already ninety-nine percent sure of.
Nathan disagreed. “Vin this is a list of names of people that I know are members of the RMR. He handed the list to Tanner. “These men are responsible for three-fourths of the hate crimes that have been committed in and around Denver this entire year. They are too damn dangerous for us to walk away from.”
“Where did you get these names Nathan?” Vin had a feeling that he already knew and was not pleased to know that Nathan had disregarded his orders.
“Paul and I have been doing our own research. And yes, we used some of the records of the ‘Without Prejudice’ organization to do it. But damnit Vin, this is too important to me to sit by and let them get away with what they are doing!”
“Nathan I specifically told you not to involve them! What part of MCAT involvement of stayin’ under the radar is so difficult to understand?”
“Then we need to make this a full-fledged MCAT case and to hell with under the radar!” Nathan stood up and yelled. “These people need to be stopped and if we don’t do it they will continue to intimidate and injure more black people. We have a responsibility to protect those that cannot protect themselves, and damnit we need to stand up and be counted!”
“We have a responsibility to this unit, the MCAT Agency, Director Travis, and his boss, to follow directives, too! Your unauthorized inquiries may have put this unit at risk, as well as other innocent people. These fanatics have ears everywhere and they use them. Their paranoia is what fuels their hate and somehow or another they always seem to know when they are specifically bein’ targeted and by whom. Your personal investigation ends here and now! Are we clear?” Vin angrily yelled.
“Crystal.” Nathan scoffed. “We can talk the talk, but we are not willing to walk the walk! I should have expected that from this bunch anyway!”
“Agent Jackson you are out of line!” Tanner had seen and heard enough of racism rhetoric over the last ten days and had heard enough hateful garbage without being accused of indifference himself. “Go on home Nate and give some serious thought about what you expect from MCAT. I’ll see you on Monday. The rest of you are dismissed.”
Nathan stormed out, followed by Paul. JD busied himself with CASSIE along with Pam and Mallory. Justin went back to his desk in the bullpen
Captain Tanner gathered his papers and left the room, leaving behind several concerned agents.
Paul had caught up to Nathan outside before Jackson reached his car. “Hey Nathan, are we going to cancel attending our meeting tonight?”
“No way in hell! Tanner may not have enough backbone to fight those bigots, but I’m not about to give up! I’ll pick you up at seven and we can ride together.”
Paul nodded his affirmation. “I’ll be ready.” He watched as Nathan pulled out and then headed back inside the building.
Buck looked at the remaining agents in the room and shrugged his shoulder. “I, for one, am glad we’re not sinking any deeper into this shit. Unless we have proof, I think Vin’s right; this baby is too hot to handle quietly.”
“I agree, however I think Brother Jackson may have reached a different conclusion.” Josiah somberly commented.
“It’s too risky to launch our own undercover maneuver when our unit is not operating at full capacity. Whoever went in would virtually be on their own and that is unacceptable with the information we have at this time.” Ezra shook his head. “While I understand Nathan’s reluctance to accept that, we have no choice under the current circumstances.”
“Kel, is Vin having difficulty with this one?’ Josiah asked.
“You know Tanner; he hates to see injustice and prejudice in any form. It has been hard for him to sift through all these files and remain unaffected by all that garbage. A weekend away from all this will do him a world of good.”
“Hell, a weekend off from this stuff will do all of us some good.” Buck stood up. “Thirty minutes until closing time. Let’s get started; I’m ready to go home.”
Ezra waited until Josiah and Buck left and then told Kelli. “You go take care of our Captain; I’ll shut your station down. Have a good weekend.”
“Thanks, you too and say hello to Barbra for me.” Kelli headed off to Vin’s office and entered without knocking.
She walked over to his desk where he was sitting, and closed the file he was reading, reached over and closed the window on his computer. “Shut that contraption off cowboy and let’s go home.”
Tanner grinned. “Considerin’ it’s not five yet, you’re awful damn bossy Coulter.” Even as he half heartily complained he shut off his computer, and placed the files into his briefcase as he stood up.
“It’s already five o’clock somewhere, so move it, Tanner.” The redhead playfully slapped him on the butt and was delighted to see his mood lighten.
“Watch it woman or you’ll have to pay for that when we get home.” Vin grabbed his case with one hand and swatted her backside with the other.
Kellie sassily responded, “Promises, promises.”
They were both smiling as they exited Tanner’s office and stopped at Wilmington’s desk. “It appears Bucklin, that ‘m bein’ high jacked. Close up shop and send ‘em all home.”
Buck grinned and winked at Kelli. “You got it Captain. Have a nice weekend.”
Tanner drove through the open gates to the ranch and as he passed Chris’s house he saw Walter and the kids out by the corral. Stopping the truck by the fence, he and Kelli exited just as Jason and Andi spotted the Silverado and came running to meet them.
“Dad, Uncle Chris is working with one of the yearlings and he’s letting us watch!” Jason said excitedly.
“Me too,” Andi yelled as she threw her arms up to her Daddy to be picked up. “Grace here, too.” Walter stood by the stroller that the littlest Larabee was in.
Jason grinned and leaned into Kelli for a hug as they walked over to the fence. “You wanna see?”
“Sure thing, Uncle Chris is great with the horses isn’t he?” Kelli ruffled his hair as he took off and then knelt down to talk to Grace. “Hello darlin’, how are you?” Of course the baby did not answer, but her sister swore she smiled.
“If she answers you I wanna know what she says.” Walter chuckled. “I didn’t think y’all would mind if the kids watched Chris with the horses and Max said dinner was at least forty-five minutes away from bein’ ready.”
“Not a problem Walter. “ Vin answered. “I’d rather they be here watchin’ Chris work with the horses than have ‘em sit at home and watchin’ television.” Tanner looked over the fence and studied Chris. He noticed the tired lines on his face and recognized the signs of tension his old friend carried. It disturbed him that all this time off did not appear to have eased Larabee’s burdens.
Chris walked over to the edge of the fence next to Tanner. “I wanted to start working with some of the yearlings and this young filly seemed to be a good one to start with. I know she’s one of your projects, but…”
“Hell Chris, she’s a good choice and it’s not as if I have time right now to work with her. Go for it.” Vin knew Chris was one of the best men around to work with the young horses. “But I thought Linda was doing all the yearlin’ selections.”
Larabee shook his head. “Not anymore…I think she’s lost interest in ‘em. We need to find someone to work with ‘em on a permanent basis, but until we do I thought I’d get a head start on some of the older ones.”
Vin was not surprised that Linda had shifted her interest away from running the horse business of the Larabee 7, but he refrained from commenting on it. “You probably know better than any of us what to look for, do what you think is best.”
“I think George has someone in mind, a man named Angelo Lopez. I’ll follow-up with him.” Chris was puzzled by the different signals he was receiving. According to Linda, Vin and Kelli were both still very angry with him, but Vin did not sound angry and Kelli seemed genuinely glad to see him and Grace out here with the kids. “I’ll let you know as soon as I talk to him.”
“Whatever you decide is okay with me, and 'm sure the others will agree.” Vin could not read what Chris was thinking, but his instincts told him that Larabee was in the process of working something out. “I reckon we need to haul these two young’ns home for supper.”
“Yeah, I’ll talk to you later.” Chris watched as Vin and Kelli rounded up their two and lifted them into the truck.
Walter elected to stay for a while and help out with Grace. “If you would, tell Max I’ll be up directly.”
Kelli smiled. “I’ll tell her for you Walter. See you later Chris.”
“Bye Uncle Chris, see you tomorrow.” Jason waved.
“Me too,” Andi yelled.
Chris had a lot to think about as he watched them leave. Why would Linda mislead you Larabee?
Supper was finished. An ugly cold front was forecast to move in sometime tonight and this might be their last chance to play outdoors for the next few days. So, while Walter walked Max home, the kids took advantage of the remaining daylight to play outside with Tracker and Buttons, the baby raccoon they had found a few weeks earlier. Kelli and Vin sat together on the swing to watch as Jason and Andi played hide ‘n seek with their pets. It did not matter where they hid Tracker found them within minutes, much to their delight. Buttons on the other hand sat unperturbed in the nearest tree and observed her small humans as they ran and attempted to hide from the Australian Shepherd puppy that was growing by leaps and bounds.
“I don’t think they care that Tracker finds them so quickly.” Kelli commented
“They don’t, they’re just bein' normal kids that are enjoyin’ the moment. They’re a lot different from the children we found at the cabin with Chris nine months ago.” Vin smiled. “It seems more like a lifetime ago doesn’t it?”
“For them it was. After Andi’s birthday yesterday, they have both marked a new page in their lives. She loved her party and I think she now has plans to have a birthday once a month, just for extra presents.” Kelli laughed. “I know they have benefited from bein’ here, but I think we’re the lucky ones Vin. God has been good to us.”
The Texan kissed the top of his wife’s head and tightened his arms around her waist. “Yes he has.”
Kelli sighed in contentment. “What do you say we gather our little flock and get them inside? A couple of quick baths, a bedtime story and then we can talk about that promise you made earlier. Somethin’ about you makin’ me pay?”
Vin laughed, “Oh yeah. You’re gonna pay baby, but it will be my pleasure to collect.” They pushed off the swing and spent a few minutes playing chase with the kids, before they all went inside for the night.
In less than an hour two tired little Tanners were bathed, had heard a story about horses and were sound asleep. Vin locked the doors and turned out lights as he and his redhead retreated to their room. The Texan shut the door and then pulled his wife into his arms.
Vin lowered his head and gifted her with a slow sensuous kiss that left them both wanting more. “Still feelin’ sassy?”
“Absolutely!” Kelli laughed as Vin picked her up and carried her to their bed.
It looked as if the Tanners were turning in early for the night for their own private celebration.
Nathan and Paul left the ‘Without Prejudice’ meeting feeling good about what they had accomplished. MCAT may not take up the case against the RMR, but this group was fired up about making local law enforcement listen to them. They had done their homework and now had what they felt was enough information about that wretched group to at least call for them to be watched on a regular basis.
“Do you really think anyone is going to listen to us, Nathan? Paul knew they were working in the right direction, but even he was not convinced that they had enough solid proof for an investigation.
“We’ll just have to keep digging until they do Paul. This is too close to home to let it go. MCAT may not be willing to take these people on, but we can find someone who will.”
“The Captain appeared to be upset when he found out what we were doing. I don’t want to rock the boat at work because I like my job.”
“Vin’s not gonna fire us for speaking our minds. Besides what we do on our off time has nothing to do with the job so quit worrying over it.” Nathan slowed down as he approached the street that Paul lived on. “Why do you live so far out with so few neighbors?”
Paul laughed. “Coming from metro Atlanta, I suppose I wanted something as opposite to city hubbub as I could find. When I got here, this fit the bill perfectly. It’s quiet; I don’t hear the sounds of sirens running all night long, or heavy traffic under my window. I find that I can wind down out here like I never could in the city.”
“I hear you. Since we built our home on the ranch I’ve discovered a silence I never knew existed.” Nathan reflected, “You’re right, it is a good way to slow down.” Jackson turned into Paul’s driveway.” If you would call Rain and let her know I’m on my way home, I’d appreciate it. If it’s after ten, she starts to worry.”
“That’s what you get for having a family,” Paul laughed. At the moment he still enjoyed the freedom of his bachelor existence, but he did hope to settle down with the right person someday. Someone like Rain would be a dream come true. “No problem, I’ll call her and thanks for the ride. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Paul stepped out of Nathan’s car and watched as he drove off before turning to go into the house.
Paul had barely made it to the top of the porch steps when he was grabbed by unseen assailants. His arms were pulled behind his back and someone gut punched him hard enough to take his breath away. “Welcome home jungle boy. We’ve been waiting for you.” Another fist came crashing into his face and the last thing he saw as he slowly sank to the ground was a hooded figure standing in front of him laughing.
A few miles down the road Nathan was cursing the small droplets of rain that had just started splattering on his windshield. He had forgotten that there was a cold front coming in, and apparently this was the beginning of it. “Twenty more minutes, that’s all I need to be home dry and warm in bed.” he muttered to himself. The road that was dry not ten minutes ago, was now covered by a glossy sheen of water and he slowed down as he approached the next curve.
Nathan saw a set of headlights in his rear view mirror that were approaching fast and his first thought was some damn fool did not know how slick these mountain roads turned with just a small amount of rain. As the vehicle began to overtake him he felt a small voice warn him of impending danger only a few seconds before he felt the impact to his car from behind. Then he had no time to think as his car began to slide, crashing into the guardrail, and over the rocky terrain below.
The ringing of the telephone drew Vin out of a sound sleep; he reached over Kelli and turned on the bedside light so he could find the noisy instrument. Lifting the receiver to his ear he was surprised to hear Rain’s panicked voice on the line.
“Vin, I hate to bother you, but I’m worried about Nathan. He should have been home hours ago and he’s not answering his phone.”
“Where did he go Rain?”
“He and Paul went to one of those meetings again. They’ve been attending two a week for a while now. Nathan was supposed to drop Paul off at his house and he should have been here by about 10:30 or so. With the weather turning bad …I’m probably over reacting I know but…”
Vin was now wide-awake and so was Kelli. “Rain, I’ll drive over to Paul’s house and see what I can find out. Maybe the weather turned bad and the phones are out, or the road is blocked for some reason. You just stay calm and I’ll call you as soon as I know anythin'.”
Kelli was already out of bed and starting to dress. “I heard. I’m goin’ with you. Walter is downstairs and ‘m sure he’ll listen for the kids while we’re gone.” She hurriedly slipped on her jeans and a pullover sweater.
Tanner did not spend any time arguing with her. He knew Nathan was angry this afternoon, but even so he would not stay gone without calling Rain unless he was somewhere he couldn’t call. “You go tell Walter we’re leavin' and I’ll meet you outside.” Vin picked up his cell phone and tried Nathan and Paul’s numbers with no results. He stopped at the gun safe to pull out both his and Kelli’s weapons and ID’S on his way out of the bedroom.
Walter and Kelli were both outside waiting for him as he walked out the door. He handed his wife her service weapon and ID as she handed him his jacket. Walter closed the truck door when Kelli was inside.
“Don’t worry about the kids; I’ve got ‘em covered. You two be careful though, ‘cause this is ugly weather.” The older man cautioned them.
“Thanks Walter, we’ll be back as soon as we find Nathan.” Vin slipped into the driver’s seat and started the engine. He decided they would check out Paul’s house first. His warnings to Nathan from this afternoon were now echoing through his mind and yelling at him to hurry.
In spite of his gut telling him to hurry, Vin drove slowly enough for Kelli to keep spotlighting the sides of the road as they reached the cutoff to Paul’s house. If Nathan had been in an accident he did not want to miss him because he was moving too quickly. He used the strobe lights on his truck, too, to help illuminate the darkness through the rain. They were about a half-mile off the main road when Kelli caught sight of the broken guardrail.
“Vin, stop! Look at that!”
Tanner pulled his truck over to the side of the road and turned on the flashers as he jumped out. Looking over the edge of the embankment his heart pounded when he saw a car about thirty feet down. “Kel, you call 911 for the rescue squad and wait here, I’m going down there.”
Although the wet earth made it more difficult, Vin was used to maneuvering on this type of terrain. He made it to the car in only a few minutes and had no problem recognizing it as Nathan’s. Pulling back shrubs he worked himself around to the driver’s side and tried to open the door that refused to budge. He could only see part of Nathan’s body with the flashlight through the window, but he did not see any sign of Paul at all. “Nate! Can you hear me? Nathan!” He desperately tried to open the other door with no luck.
An unrequited silence followed.
As slight movement drew Vin’s attention and a moan told him that someone inside was still alive. He stepped back and yelled up to Kelli. “Tell rescue to hurry and then throw me down a damn tire iron to break a window.”
It only took a couple of minutes for the tire iron, wrapped in a towel, to land close by. The Texan did not want to risk hitting either Nathan or Paul with glass so he went to the back of the car to swing at the rear window. It shattered immediately and using the towel, Vin removed enough of it to climb through the hole and then carefully worked his way to the front of the car. There he found Nathan barely conscious, but thankfully with a strong pulse. Paul, however, was nowhere inside and with both doors wedged shut it was unlikely that he had been thrown out.
Vin removed his jacket and covered Nathan, speaking softly to him as he held onto his hand. “Hold on brother, help is on the way.”