MCAT: Turbulent Transition #7
Chapter 1 - 3 | Chapter 4 - 6 | Chapter 7 - 9 | Chapter 10 - 12 | Chapter 13 - 15
It seemed that it took hours for the rescue crew and the county sheriff to arrive, while in reality it was less than twenty minutes. The paramedics trekked down the embankment and once the fire department had the car door opened they took over the ministrations for Nathan. Vin eased back out of the way so they could work, however he stayed within Jackson’s sight.
Suddenly Buck was there beside Vin with his hand resting on the Texan’s shoulder, spreading a rain slicker across his back. “Damn Vin, you look like a drowned rat. You okay?”
“Yeah, how did you know?”
“Kel called me as soon as you confirmed that it was Nathan’s car. I contacted Josiah, Mallory is gonna take Terrell so he and Rain can meet us at the hospital. I imagine by now word has spread to JD and Ezra, too.”
“Well I didn’t tell Josiah not to call him.”
Vin only nodded slightly as he watched the medics place Nathan on a stretcher. “We need to find Paul.”
“You think there was more to this than an accident?”
“Not sure, but I intend to find out. Have forensics look over Nathan’s car, just in case.” Vin followed the medics back up the embankment with Buck right behind him.
Nathan was not fully conscious, and according to the paramedics he had sustained a couple of broken ribs as well as another fracture to his left arm. They would not know about internal injuries until they were at the hospital.
Buck called forensics and informed the deputy on the scene that they would handle the extraction of Nathan’s car. He walked over to Vin in time to hear him tell Kelli to go with Nathan, while he went on to Paul’s house to check on him.
“Vin, she can take my truck to follow the ambulance, and I’ll go with you.” Buck handed Kelli his keys and read the message in her eyes. “You stay with Nate and I’ll take care of Tanner here.”
Leaning over to kiss his wife, Vin told her. “We won’t be far behind you baby, as soon as we confirm that Paul is okay we’re on our way to the hospital. Drive safely.” He watched the ambulance pull out and Kelli leave. Then he turned to Buck, “Let’s go, Roberts lives about a five minute drive from here.”
At first glance nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary at Paul’s home as Vin pulled into the driveway. The two MCAT agents exited the truck and as a precaution they split up, with Wilmington headed to the back and Vin checking out the front. It was dark so Tanner used his flashlight to illuminate the ground In front of him. Cautiously he started up the porch stairs and then his boot slipped on the third step.
Cursing, he looked down with the light to find the culprit that was impeding his advance. When he realized that it was a trail of blood dripping down the steps that caused his misstep, he drew his weapon, prepared for whatever laid ahead. Once he reached the top, Vin almost tripped again. That was when he found Paul and his stomach lurched at the sight before him. Satisfied that any assailants were long gone, Tanner dropped to one knee and felt his agent’s neck for a pulse as he began to assess his multiple injuries.
“BUCK! Get your ass up here now!” Tanner yelled as he attempted to find the many sources of blood flowing from Paul’s body. Vin knew the man was in bad shape and while his eyes took in what he was seeing, he found it difficult for his mind to fully comprehend the inhuman cruelties that had been inflicted on Paul’s body. The only thing that he was certain of was the fact that Paul needed more help than he could offer.
Wilmington was there in two minutes and as he leaned over Vin’s shoulder his stomach threatened to revolt. “Oh my God!”
“We need flight for life, ASAP, get forensics out here, and notify the sheriff.” Vin barked orders, and Buck was already on the phone with the 911 operator.
“They’re on the way Vin. Is that…did they do what I think they did?”
“Yeah, Buck. Not only did the bastards beat the shit out of him, they attempted to castrate him, sliced off chunks of his skin, and apparently left a message carved into his chest.” Vin did what he could, but it was way beyond his knowledge of trauma care to know exactly how to help. “There’s a message written on the front of the house, too”
Buck directed his light to the front wall and swore when he read the message there that was scrawled in blood. The same derogatory, racist message that had been carved onto Paul’s body stood out against the white siding of the house, ‘Back the fuck off!’ Die, Nigger, Die’!
“Jesus, what kind of animals did this?” Buck fought the nausea that tried to take control of his stomach.
“The kind we’re gonna hunt down.” Vin answered in a lethal tone. He heard the sound of the chopper in the distance. “See how close they can get in Buck. I’ll ride with ‘em. You stay here until forensics can take over the scene. Let them know that Nate’s ‘accident’ is probably related to this attack, and then come to the hospital.”
“I’m on it.” Buck took off to meet the chopper and then directed the medical crew to their patient.
Denver Memorial Hospital
Rain sat quietly between Josiah and Kelli, waiting on any news about Nathan. JD could not sit still and paced the room while Ezra played the observer of the gathered group. Standish watched as Chris came in, spoke to Rain for a minute, and then stationed himself on the opposite side of the room from the rest of the family. It occurred to the southerner that Larabee was purposely distancing himself from the others, but for the life of him he could not figure out why.
“Shouldn’t we have heard from Vin or Buck by now?” JD looked at his watch for the umpteenth time. “It’s been almost an hour with no word.”
“Patience, Brother Dunne. You know as well as the rest of us that they will stay out there until they find Paul.” Josiah spoke softly. “We will hear from one of them soon, I’m certain.”
Kelli stood up and walked to the door of the waiting room. “The more time I spend in this place the less I like it. You would think by now MCAT could have some type of express service privileges or somethin’.”
JD waited and when Josiah did not comment he huffed. “I say something and you tell me to be patient, Kel says something and you have no comment. That’s not fair.”
Ezra chuckled. “With you it works. We all know that with Kelli, telling her to do something usually has the opposite effect on the lady.”
“Especially if it involves patience,” Josiah agreed.
“I have plenty of patience. I put up with y’all don’t I?” Kelli retorted with a smile and looked back down the corridor.” Especially you Ez, if...” Something down the hall drew her attention and the redhead took off without finishing her sentence.
“I wonder what that is all about?” JD questioned.
Ezra waited to see if Chris would follow his daughter, but when he did not, Standish decided that he would. “I shall see what our young sister is up to.”
Kelli had seen the gurney being pushed off the elevator with Vin right behind it. Where before his clothes had only been wet and mud streaked, now his shirt was covered in blood, too.
Tanner moved between her and the gurney as it disappeared into the emergency examination room. Even though he knew that Kelli had seen the ugly side of this job often, but he did not want her to see Paul in the shape he was in. Hell, he didn’t think any of was prepared to see him in this shape. “Kel, how is Nathan?”
“They’re still runnin' tests on him. Was that Paul?”
“Yeah… We just came in on Flight for Life and it’s not good. I’ll tell you all about it later, but right now I need to go in there. Bones is on his way in, when you see him, let him know what room we’re in.” He kissed her on the cheek and disappeared through the exam room door. Vin was counting on Dr. Metfield to find a way to get evidence from the carvings on Paul’s chest.
“From the look on my brother’s face I deduce that all is not well.” Ezra walked up behind Kelli and startled her.
“Damnit Ezra, don’t do that.” Kelli half heartily slapped at his arm. “Whatever it is, it’s not good and Vin is a mess. He asked me to watch for Bones. Why would he request the presence of our ME if Paul is alive?”
“I don’t know.” Ezra said thoughtfully. “But I do know that Vin will need a change of attire. You stay here and watch for the good doctor, while I acquire the necessary items for your Texan.”
“Thanks Ez,” Kelli did not plan to budge until she saw Tanner again.
Five minutes after Bones arrived with Travis, and went inside; Vin came out and joined her. Kelli had been holding onto the sweatshirt that Ezra bought in the gift shop and handed it to her tired husband. “You had better change before Rain sees all that blood.”
“Yeah, I never want to see this shirt again anyway and I need to scrub this grime off.” They stopped in front of the men’s room and Kelli waited for Vin while he went inside to cleanup and change.
“Did Vin say what condition Paul was in, or tell you where Buck is?” JD questioned Ezra.
“No he did not. I am confident though that we will obtain a full report when Vin is ready to tell us.” Ezra instinctively knew that it was not a report that they would particularly want to hear.
“But where is Buck and…” JD persisted.
“JD, sit down.” Those were the first words that Chris had spoken since he came in the room.
Those three words effectively ended the string of questions JD had, and a few minutes later Vin and Kelli walked in. Tanner nodded to Chris and then turned his attention to Rain.
“Any word on Nathan yet?”
“Only what the paramedics told me. They seemed to think that he would be okay.” Rain stood up and hugged Vin. “Thank you for going after him for me.”
Vin hugged her back and told her. “Not a problem, that’s what family does.”
Dr. Landers came in with a smile on his face. “Dr. Jackson, I have a patient that wishes to see you.” He patted her on the shoulder. “He’s a little worse for wear. He has a grade two concussion, bruised ribs, and his arm is broken again, but he’ll be fine. I’m keeping him overnight for observation. You should be able to take him home tomorrow. If you would like to see him, you can wait in the examination room with him while his room is being prepared. The rest of you may see him after we move him.”
Rain felt relieved tears fill her eyes in response to learning that Nathan had not sustained life-threatening injuries in the accident and accompanied the doctor out of the waiting room, just as Buck entered it. “I take it from all the smiles that Nathan is gonna be okay.”
JD jumped up. “Yes, and he probably will go home tomorrow. Where have you been?”
Buck looked at Vin and saw the slight negative shake of his head. For whatever reason he knew that Tanner had not told them about Paul. “I had to wait until forensics pulled Nathan’s car up and impounded it.”
Bones stood at the door and motioned for Tanner to join him in the hallway.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Vin stepped outside the door. “Tell me.”
“In addition to the pictures, I used an infrared lens camera. From that we may be able to measure the size and pattern of the implement used to carve the skin. You find me a weapon and I should be able to match it for you.”
“Thanks Doc I’ll do my best to locate it. Anything else that your people find let me know.” Vin knew he had to talk to Travis before he proceeded, and Orrin was in with Paul now so he should not have to wait much longer. He rejoined the others in the waiting room.
Josiah finally asked the question they all wanted an answer to. “Vin, can you tell us what’s going on?”
Vin debated with himself about whether he should ask Chris to step out of the room. He decided to hell with it, If Travis wanted him to leave, then he could tell Chris to do it, as far as Tanner was concerned, he could stay.
“It looks as if Nate’s accident was not an accident after all. I believe someone tried to force him to stop and ran him off the road instead, someone that is associated with the men that assaulted Paul at his home.” Vin took a deep breath before he continued. “Paul was brutally beaten…had chunks of skin sliced off his body, and they tried to castrate him. Then he was left to die…after a message was carved into his chest, and written on his home with his blood. I won’t repeat it verbatim but basically it was a warnin’ to back off.”
Silence hung heavy in the room.
Tanner continued. “I reckon they had the same thing planned for Nathan, but fortunately for him, when his car slid down that embankment it saved him. Paul will be goin' up to ICU and it’s not certain that he’ll survive.”
“Do you think it was our investigation or their involvement in that group that triggered it?” Josiah broke the silence.
“Does it really matter at this point what started it?” Buck snapped. “Racism and hate are like a cancerous sore; it just keeps growing, until it explodes, or you die. We can’t stop it, and the best we can hope for is to try to keep it from spreading.”
Ezra was well aware of what this action meant. He mentally began to review the possibilities of an undercover assignment. Shorthanded or not, he was sure that they were going to dive into this one headfirst. When he saw Orrin Travis walk in, he knew that their involvement in some capacity was a certainty.
Orrin scanned the room and was only mildly surprised to see Chris Larabee present. His first impulse was to remind him that he was still on suspension; however this was part of Larabee's family that was involved so he said nothing.
“Vin, I want to find these bastards and bring them to justice, but for now though I want to secure the team. Tell me what you need and I’ll get it.” Orrin was deeply disturbed by the condition of Paul Roberts and the attempt on Nathan’s life.
“I need you to clear Alex Sandoval’s application for MCAT. I want to borrow four trusted agents from homeland security for a protection detail on Paul and Nate. I also want you to order that Nathan is to go into protective custody when he leaves here. When they find out he’s still alive; neither he nor Rain will be safe.”
Orrin nodded, “Anything else?”
“Probably, but that will do for a start.”
“Consider it done; I’ll have security on Jackson and Roberts within the hour. I’ll leave the rest to you, but I want a complete outline of any future plans on my desk by Monday afternoon. Now, if you will excuse me I need to call Paul’s sister and make arrangements to have her flown here to Denver. If anything changes call me day or night.”
“Yes sir.” Tanner waited for Travis to leave and then began to issue orders.” Buck, contact Justin and fill him in. JD, you wring out every last piece of information CASSIE or any of those new contraptions can give you on ‘Without Prejudice’ and its members. Some sonofabitch in there passed on Nathan and Paul’s information. I want to know who it was. Josiah, you and Kel are gonna pay Abbott’s informant another visit Monday morning. Make certain that he knows that he’s now workin’ for us. Ezra...”
“I am already on it Vin. I’ll have a list of possible scenarios prepared for you by noon Monday; however, my objection to a covert operation still stands. It’s too damn risky for anyone to go in there alone and as shorthanded as we are…”
Vin stopped him. “So noted Ez, just put it together for me and we’ll go from there. The lab is gonna work around the clock to process what we have. After y’all see Nate, go home, change clothes, and spend some time with your families while you can. Team meeting will be at noon on Monday.
Chris had stood back and listened to the way Vin handled the situation, and realized that he had covered everything that he would have, had he been in charge, but then he had always known that Vin was a good leader; and he had personally trained Tanner to be the best. He had just forgotten it for a while when he let the pills take over his thoughts. Suddenly Chris wanted this damned suspension to be over and to be back in the middle of the action with his brothers. He was only fooling himself if he thought that this was a part of his life that he could give up. Somehow Linda would have to see that, too.
Larabee stepped forward. “Is there anything I can do to help?
“As a matter of fact, there is somethin’. Once those animals find out that Nate’s still alive, they will try again to kill him. If they get a chance they will go after Rain and the baby, too. I need you to help convince our stubborn brother that protective custody is the best way of keepin’ ‘em all safe.”
“He’ll listen.” Chris stated confidently.
With a minuscule nod Vin acknowledged Larabee. “The rest of you, go in and see Nate for a few minutes and then go home. I’ll stay with him until we have some protection arranged.”
JD objected. “We can stay too.”
“No. You go home to Casey and the girls, spend some time with ‘em while you can. Travis will have agents here in an hour or so, so we won’t be too far behind you. Besides I reckon Nate’s not gonna be real happy about bein’ in protective custody and it could get ugly.”
Josiah chuckled, “And we do know how much Buck hates ugly.” He had watched the reactions around the room, especially Chris’s. For the first time in weeks he saw a spark in Larabee’s eyes that had been sorely missing. Sanchez hoped that maybe this case would be the catalyst in bringing their brother all the way back to them.
A nurse stuck her head in the door and announced. “Jackson, room 302, moved and stable.”
Josiah and Ezra went in to see Nathan first, followed by Buck and JD. Chris, Vin and Kelli decided to go in together. Tanner and Larabee were to present a unified front, Kelli was there to run interference if necessary.
Although Jackson was surprised to see Vin and Chris walk in the room together he hid it well. “Come on in” He waited until all three were closer to the bed before he said what was on his mind.” Good to see you Chris.” He then addressed Vin and Kelli. “Rain told me what you did and I appreciate you coming out to find me. It was dumb on my part for getting caught on that curve. I know how most idiots drive those roads and I should have been more observant.”
“We were glad to do it Nate, but there’s somethin’ you should know.” Vin looked him directly in the eye. “It was not an accident that sent you down that embankment. It was a deliberate act.”
“Someone purposely ran him off the road?” Rain retorted angrily.
“It looks that way.” Tanner hesitated before continuing. “Evidently Paul was assaulted shortly after you dropped him off at his house. We believe associates of his attackers followed you when you left intendin’ to do the same to you, but your car slid off the road instead.”
“Paul was attacked? “ Nathan shook his head trying to make sense of what Vin was telling him.
“Yes and the messages that were left lead us to believe it was racially motivated. Paul is in ICU in critical condition.”
“Those bastards! You know it was the RMR! We should have hit them first!” Nathan was up in arms. “I told you they were dangerous Vin. You should have listened to me.”
“I never said they weren’t Nate! I said it was not our call to take the damn case! Besides, until we investigate further we don’t know who is behind the attack on you and Paul.” Vin reined in his anger. “It doesn’t matter now. We’re involved, one way or another. Somebody made sure of that when they attempted to kill two Federal agents. You and your family are bein' placed into protective custody until we catch the bastards.”
“No way in hell you’re gonna leave me out of this one Vin!” Nathan yelled.
Chris chimed in.” Nathan, you need to think about Rain and Terrell. Your family’s safety should be your first priority. Protective custody is for your own good, too.”
“Are you giving the orders now Chris?” Nathan narrowed his eyes and challenged Larabee.
Vin knew that Nathan would balk about it and that is why he requested that Orrin give the order. “Travis gave the order; Chris is only followin’ his directive, consider it a done deal. You’ll have two agents stationed outside this door while you are here and they will escort you home when you are released.”
“I will be more than glad to escort you home Rain.” Chris offered.” The ranch should be safe enough, but you’ll have to make other arrangements about work.”
Rain looked to Nathan and then to Vin. “How long will we need to stay at the ranch?”
“I don’t know. It could be a while.”
Sighing deeply Rain spoke to Nathan. “I need to make provisions for the patients at my clinic. If I can’t go there, I want to make certain that they have access to good care.”
Nathan squeezed her hand. “You go with Chris, I’ll be fine.”
Chris grinned. “It will be my pleasure to see you home.”
Rain stood and kissed Nathan before leaving with Larabee. Jackson waited until she was out the door and then questioned Tanner.
“What are you not telling me?”
“I’m glad you’re okay Nathan, but I think I’ll wait outside while Vin explains.” Kelli knew it would be easier for Jackson to hear the details without her in the room.
As soon as Kelli was out the door Vin gave Nathan the details that he would not give in front of Rain. As much as Nathan hated hearing what had been done to Paul, he was ashamed to find that his anger was replaced with relief that he had been spared the same fate, and then felt a feeling of guilt that he was glad that he was spared.
Rocky Meadows, Colorado
Karl Chambers had been running the RMR for several years and had managed to further the cause of the resistance without bringing attention to this quiet community. His compound was actually ten miles outside of the town of Rocky Meadows, but most of his members that still held employment worked there. Anson Ricter his second in command knew that the strict laws of their order were there for a reason, but he had chosen to break several of them anyway. Now Karl was faced with a situation that could result in disaster for them all.
“Anson, because of your incompetence we may soon be facing the enemy on our home ground. Never leave a live witness in our work! You should have made certain that both those pieces of garbage were dead before you left them. Now we must prepare ourselves for a possible retaliatory attack!”
“I thought we were here to fight for what we believed in, not hide from the enemy. Isn’t that why we joined with the militia? So we would have the means to take down the armies that dare to lord over us!”
“Yes, but we fight on our terms, not theirs! If those two live, then we are certain to feel the repercussions from your reckless act. Now I will be forced to increase the size of our forces, and that means taking on new members.”
“I say it’s past time for the swine out there to hear our voices!” Anson yelled.
“Silence! You get the hell out of here so I can do what is necessary to protect us.” Karl waited until Anson left the room and then reached for the phone. He did not like the idea of bringing new members in, but if the enemy was coming he was damn sure going to be prepared to fight them.
Larabee7 ~ Saturday October 28th ~6;00am
Chris dropped Rain off at the Jackson home and then went to his house. He knew the second he walked into the door that something was wrong. Grace was crying so loudly that he heard her all the way to the back door. Rushing through the house to the nursery, Chris scanned each room along the way looking for Linda. Finally reaching the bedroom he found her, still asleep and apparently using earplugs to stay that way.
Continuing on through their bedroom to Grace’s room he found a very wet, cold, and unhappy baby. “Shh, it’s okay sweetheart. Daddy’s here and we’ll have you all dry and warm in just a minute.” Chris spoke softly as he tended to Grace’s needs and soon had her in better spirits. “Okay, now how about some breakfast for my girl. I’d bet you're hungry, too.”
Larabee decided to feed Grace before he confronted Linda about neglecting their daughter. First things, first, Larabee. Feed your child. It was not long before Grace was a happy baby again. Chris rocked her back to sleep and after safely securing her in her warm crib, he went back into the bedroom to wake Linda.
“Linda!” Chris took out the earplugs and shook her shoulder. “Wake up!”
“Ummm, what time is it?” Linda muttered as she turned over.
“It’s time we had a serious talk!” Chris growled, “NOW Linda!”
“Don’t you dare come in here after being out half the night with your buddies and yell at me Chris Larabee!”
“Our daughter was crying her head off while you slept. With earplugs yet! What if she had been seriously hurt or ill? What kind of mother are you?”
Linda huffed.” I’m the kind of mother that can afford a nanny to deal with my child’s temper tantrums. Grace is fine. The only thing wrong with her is that YOU have spoiled her and she cries when she wants her way.”
Chris was incredulous. “She’s only four months old. How in the hell do you figure she’s spoiled, much less deliberately throwing temper tantrums!”
“She’s a Larabee isn’t she? And we know Larabees have to have things their way or no way!” Linda threw back the covers and sat up. “You, Kel, and Grace are all the same! None of you even think about what I want and I’m damn tired of it! You know that I need help around here and that I depend on you to make things easier. Yet you refuse to hire anyone to alleviate some of my work and then the first time one of your ‘family members’ calls with a little problem you are off and running.”
“Linda, Nathan was almost killed last night! I’d call that more than a little problem! Now he, Rain, and Terrell have to be in protective custody here at the ranch”
“God, not again! Why is it that when someone needs to hide out they do it here and put the rest of us in danger? I hope that you don’t expect me to stay here under orders too, because I won’t do it!”
Chris was shocked. Had Linda always been this self centered and he just did not see it? Face it Chris. You made excuses for her outrageous behavior and then babied her when she was out of sorts. She told you early on that her father and older brothers spoiled her and protected her, but you thought that was all in the past. Linda has been used to always having the things she wanted without facing consequences for her outlandish acts. Even you played into that. You ignored what was staring you right in the face. A good part of the turmoil in your life is right here in this house and it’s time to do something about it Larabee.
“I suppose I don’t expect anything from you Linda. It’s pretty damn clear that there is not much about my life that pleases you and apparently that includes our daughter, too. I’m warning you, though. You can do what you want to me, but if Grace is hurt in anyway because of your anger or indifference you will pay dearly for it. I’ll make arrangements for her care so you won’t be inconvenienced and we’ll both try like hell to stay out of your way.” Chris went into the nursery and placed Grace in her carrier. The two of them would be spending the day away from here.
Linda watched Chris walk out the door with Grace and threw herself back against the pillows.Damn, damn, damn! This is not the way you had things planned Linda, so what do you do now?
Vin had waited until the protection detail was in place at the hospital and had stopped on his way out to see how Paul was doing. By the time he and Kelli made it home the kids were up and breakfast was on the table.
“Thanks Walter, for makin' breakfast. It looks great.” Kelli patted him on the shoulder as she passed by to first kiss Andi, then Jason. “Mornin’ kids, did y’all sleep well?” She sat down next to Jason.
“Me did,” Andi answered between bites of scrambled eggs.
“Dad, is Uncle Nathan okay?” Jason had been worried about his uncle, since Walter had told them where his parents were.
“He will be.” Vin tousled Jason’s hair affectionately and kissed Andi on the cheek. “In fact, he’ll be home later today.” The Texan sat down next to their youngest and took a sip from the steaming mug of coffee in front of him. “Thanks Walter.”
“No problem.” Walter joined them at the table. “I don’t know how your time is son, but if you get the chance I’d like for you to see what we’ve done to Camp Larabee.”
“Camp Lar’bee?” Vin laughed. “That’s a he…heck of a name.”
“Well, the compound didn’t sound right and the hole in the wall is too long so… Camp Larabee seemed to fit.” Walter passed the plate of bacon to Vin.
Tanner shrugged a shoulder. “Guess it does. We can ride over after breakfast. Maybe Jason would like to go with us and exercise Dancer for mom.” Vin’s eyes twinkled with amusement as he watched Jason’s reaction to his casual statement.
“Can I? I mean yes, I’d like that.” Jason looked over to Kelli, his eyes filled with excitement. “I’ll be careful with her, I promise.”
Kelli smiled and planned to head off Andi’s expected question. “I know you will son. Andi, will you go with me today? I want to stop by and check on Aunt Rain and then I thought we might run into town to meet Aunt Casey and the girls for some shoppin’. We need to pick up a few things for Aunt Inez’s baby shower and you might find somethin’ to spend your birthday money on.”
Andi liked that idea. “Yes!”
Vin chuckled. “Then since that’s settled, I reckon we should finish up here and get started.”
Breakfast was quickly over, the dishes were washed, Jason had a thermos of hot cocoa, and Vin had his thermos of coffee. Walter had gone down to the barn to saddle the horses. Andi and Kelli were ready to leave for Aunt Rain’s house.
As everyone prepared to take off in different directions for the morning, Vin stopped Kelli long enough for a long slow kiss before warning her to be careful. “Keep your eyes open Kel, and your phone handy. I don’t think you are a target, but better safe than sorry.”
“I’ll be careful and you two stay warm out there.” Kelli returned his kiss with a searing one of her own. “You enjoy the mornin’ with Jason, but save me some time for later.” Jason and Andi giggled while they watched and waited for their parents to say goodbye.
Tanner grinned, “Count on it baby.” Reluctantly he released her and waited as his wife and daughter drove off before turning to Jason. “Okay pard, let’s ride.”
Camp Larabee ~Larabee 7 Ranch~ 9:00 am
Chris stood in front of the new barns and shook his head in amazement. To an outside observer that is all they would see, a new set of barns for selected mares. No one would guess at what was inside. He laughed to himself when he saw the sign posted by the entrance to the first barn that said, “Welcome to Camp Larabee.” He entered the first barn, which really was just that with a corral attached. He had barely inspected the tack room when Chris heard riders approaching. Grace was asleep in her carrier that was securely sitting inside, and Larabee turned his attention to finding out who the new visitors were. He relaxed when he recognized the riders and smiled when he saw Jason.
“Uncle Chris is here!” Jason waved excitedly. “Look, I rode alone!”
Chris smiled. “I can see that.” He nodded to Vin and Walter as he swung Jason down from Dancer’s back. “You’re getting bigger every time I see you.”
“Dad says I’m ready for my own horse.” The young boy said proudly. “Dreamer won’t be ready to ride for a long time, so for now Mom said I could use Dancer.”
“Well, if your Dad approves maybe we can start looking for one that will be just right for you.” Chris looked to Vin before he said more and saw Tanner nod his consent. “I promised your mom and dad that when the time came, I’d buy your first horse. That is, if you want me to help you find one.”
‘Sure, you and Dad know more about horses than anyone in the world.”
“We’ll look ‘til we find one that’s just right for you, but today we’re here to see…Camp Larabee.” Vin took Dancer’s reins and turned her and Peso loose in the corral with Walter’s horse. “Walter promised us the grand tour. Are you in Chris?”
“That’s what we’re here for too.” Larabee answered. “Grace and I are ready when you are.” Chris picked up Grace’s carrier and waited for Walter to take the lead.
“We set up barns to cover the facility location, pretty much like Vin had the contractors use airplane hangers to cover MCAT’s location. Both are similar in that they have office space, state of the art communications, and even medical facilities. Our trainin' area is on a smaller scale than the one MCAT has but it’ll do.” He opened one of the barn doors to show them the fitness equipment inside. “There’s enough here to keep y’all busy. Each buildin' has a stocked kitchen area and showers. We have generators and survival supplies stored here too. The last buildin' has rooms that can be used for sleepin'. Best of all, to the casual observer this is just a new set of barns. I come up here once a day to check out the real barn, and we rotate some of the horses through here. We also have two other entrances that will bring you in through an underground route.” Walter spent the next couple of hours showing Chris and Vin the latest additions and what still had to be done.
Chris was impressed, and if this was similar to the new MCAT setup he was pleased. “You have done a good job Andrews. Hopefully we’ll never need this for an emergency, but it’s nice to know we’ll have it if the need arises.” He did feel a small bit of disappointment that Walter knew about the new MCAT facilities and he did not, but Chris forced himself to get over it and move on.
“Yep, I agree.” Vin added, “Thanks for headin’ this up for us, Walter, I know you’ve had your hands full.”
“No problem, it’s all part of the security package.” Walter grinned. “Anytime y’all want to jump in and take charge though, is fine by me.”
Chris hesitated. Well Larabee, you have to start somewhere don’t you? Besides, your alternative is to stay at home and fight with Linda Shaking that thought from his mind, Chris caught the look in Vin’s eyes. Tanner was waiting for him to decide, but Larabee could clearly see that the young Texan thought it was past time for him to become involved again with the plans for the future.Did you honestly believe otherwise Chris?
“I find that I have some free time on my hands lately. I reckon we could have it finished twice as fast if I helped”. Larabee answered and was strangely pleased to see Tanner’s nod of acceptance. Maybe this was not going to be as difficult as he had thought. The question you should be asking is why Linda wanted you to think it would be.
Vin was glad to see Chris acting more like his old self. He knew Larabee still had a ways to go before they could really talk about what had happened, but it was a start. “Looks like the weather is gonna take a turn for the worst; we’d best be headin’ home.”
Walter brought the horses up for Vin and Jason. “As cold as it’s gettin’, I’d bet that Max has a big pot of chili goin’ for lunch.”
“That sounds like a winner to me.” Tanner grinned as he helped Jason mount Dancer. “Chris, you want to join us?”
For the first time in almost three months Chris felt a brief connection with his young brother. They were not all the way back to where they started, but it was a damn site better than where they had been these last few hellish weeks.
Chris nodded and smiled slightly. “Yeah…yeah I think I will. I’ll drive over with Grace and meet you there.”
Rocky Meadows, Colorado
Karl Chambers had managed to find out that both Jackson and Roberts were still alive and he had spent most of his morning hours trying to figure out what to do about it. Using his contacts to gain information on the men, he was enraged to find out that they were both Federal agents and still breathing. Not that he minded those two bucks being attacked, but the fact they could be viable witnesses in a court of law, and they were still alive to talk was simply not acceptable.
Chambers had decided against bringing in a large number of new men. All he needed was a seasoned warrior to lead the younger men in his militia. He had already discretely put the word out that he was looking for new blood. It may take a couple of weeks, but he was confident that by the middle of November he would have the man he needed. The rest of the threat could be handled with a few called in favors. There were more than enough of like-minded men in this state to create a wave of havoc for law enforcement in the Denver area. Between the recruiting rallies and the pain in the ass crime wave they had planned, the Federal conspirators would be so busy putting out small fires that they would not have time to come looking for the RMR.
“Ricter, get your ass in here!”
Anson Ricter had been expecting Karl to call for him and was not far away. He only hoped that the older man recognized that this was the time to let their cause be heard. It did not matter to him how many people had to die in the process as long as they could get their message out. Although he was willing to hear what Karl had planned, he knew the day was coming that he would be the one in charge and then things would be much different.
“I’m here, you don’t need to yell.” Anson ambled into the room and sat slouched in a chair by Chambers’s desk.
“We have some damage control to do. I have already ‘arranged for a few diversions to take the focus off our group. Are you certain that you left no evidence that could connect those attacks to us?”
“I know what I’m doing! There is no way we can be connected, neither of those bastards saw our faces and we left nothing behind! You worry too damn much.”
“My worrying is what has kept us in business all these years! We cannot carry on our message if we have to disband, or spend the rest of our lives in jail. I want you to make certain that neither one of those apes talk about what happened. One of them is being released from the hospital today. Find a way to send him a message… If he continues to run his mouth… he is a walking dead man.”
Ricter grinned. “That will be my pleasure. I’ll make sure our message is delivered loud and clear.”
Chambers nodded as Anson stood up and exited the room. Ricter was a good man, but sometimes his enthusiasm for the cause made him reckless, but when it came time to silence troublemakers, he was the best man for the job. The next few weeks were certain to be challenging for the RMR, but it was not the first time they had been targeted, and Karl knew how to outsmart any government agency, no matter how good they thought they were. He had proven that with Daniel Abbott. Chambers chuckled to himself. That is one body they will never find.
Max had a huge pot of chili prepared for lunch, and while Chris waited for Vin, Walter, and Jason, she took the opportunity to visit with Grace. She had not seen much of the baby since those first two weeks that Linda was home from the hospital.
“She’s grown so much and I bet she is close to the perfect baby, too.” Max smiled as she rocked Grace in her arms.
“I think she is perfect.” As Chris watched Max handle the baby, he realized that he could not hand over the daily care of his child to someone that did not even know her. “Linda is determined to hire a nanny for Grace, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”
“Why on earth would she want to do that?”
Chris hesitated to answer, but he decided that if he wanted Max to help him, she needed to know the truth. “Linda was great with her at first, but…now she insists that taking care of an infant full-time is not what she expected and she wants more time for herself. Usually Grace is with me, but that will have to change when I go back to work.” He found that it was more difficult to explain than he had thought it would be.
Max decided that she had heard enough. Whatever was between Chris and his wife was for them to work out, but she knew from what Larabee was not telling her that this baby needed her. “I’d be happy to take care of Grace, if you want. Most days I only have Andi and Adam, at least until the older ones get out of school. She wouldn’t be any trouble at all. You just let me know when you’re ready.’
“Thanks,” Chris relaxed. Just knowing that Max was willing to care for his daughter was a load off his mind. “Whatever arrangement you have with Kel and Mallory, I’ll match, or pay more since she’s so little…”
“Relax Chris. I consider the Larabee 7 my home and like it or not, your Wild Bunch is the same as family to me. I take care of your eldest daughter; I can take care of your youngest. I don’t do it as a job; I do it because I want to. Vin and Kelli provided me with a rent-free place to live and compensate me more than they have to. I would love the chance to spend more time with Grace.”
Chris did not have an opportunity to say more, because the back door opened and Jason was the first one inside. Tracker jumped up from his resting place and greeted his young master. The youngster was followed closely by Walter and Vin. Somewhere along the way they had picked up Buck and Caleb, too. Max took the sleeping baby and laid her in the playpen she used when Adam was here and then turned her attention to her adopted clan.
“Uncle Chris! Dad says it looks like it might snow!” Jason was already thinking about the snowman he wanted to build. “Me and Caleb are gonna build a snow fort. You wanna help?”
“Might want to wait ‘til it actually snows pard,” Chris grinned at the youngster’s enthusiasm.
“Hey Chris, It’s good to see you.” Buck smiled when he saw his old friend relaxed and wearing a grin. Max, Inez is resting, the girls are with Mallory, and Vin said you’d have enough for us to join in for lunch.”
“There’s always room for one or two more Buck Wilmington, and you know that.” Max enjoyed it when members of the family dropped in.
“Kel called. She said Andi had talked non-stop all mornin’.” Vin laughingly informed Max. “She and Andi will be here in a few minutes and accordin’ to Kel, even though it’s only forty five degrees, it’s already freezin’ outside to her.”
“Vin, surely you’ve noticed that she thinks it’s freezing when the temp drops below seventy.” Buck grinned.
“I’ve noticed, Bucklin.”
Andi burst through the door and yelled, “We home!” She ran to her daddy first for a hug and then started talking ninety to nothing. “We saw Aunt Casey, Lilah, Daisy, Aunt Rain, Terrell, a big store, lots of toys and more. We gots lots of groceries, but mama said we had to come home. When we see Uncle Nathan he said a bad word…he said…”
“Andi!” Kelli came in with a shopping bag just in time to hear what her daughter was about to say and stopped her. “We’ll tell daddy later, okay”. She handed the bag to Vin and received a loving kiss in return. “Ummm, now that’s the best way to warm up that I know.”
Vin grinned, “I aim to please, ma’am.”
The kids were used to seeing Vin and Kelli being openly affectionate with one another, and truthfully it helped to make them feel more secure, but they giggled and grinned anyway.
“Jason, you, Caleb, and Andi can help me with setting out lunch in the other room while these gentlemen help unload the truck. “ Max redirected their attention and started handing out orders to the smaller ones, shooing them out of the kitchen to the big table in the dining room.
Chris did not miss the look of affection that passed between Walter and Max either. He chuckled when it hit him just how much he had missed being around his not so quiet family. Face it Chris, finding your way back into this circle is the only thing that matters. You have missed them in your life…you need this comfortable feeling of sitting in your best friend’s kitchen and enjoying the cloak of family around you. What you need Chris is your best friend, your brothers, and your daughter back in your life.
As Larabee observed Vin and his eldest daughter together, it struck him how well they balanced one another. Their caring and constant love encompassed all those around them and judging by the children’s reaction, they felt that love and approved. You want… no, you need that warmth and affection in your own home from your wife. Yes, hot sex with Linda is great, but when did that feeling of loving warmth disappear from your relationship with her Larabee? Chris frowned as he tried to recall the last time he and Linda had really connected on any level outside the bedroom.
Andi barely lasted through lunch, before her eyelids began to droop sleepily. Vin carried her to her bed, while Caleb and Jason took off to the loft to play. Max urged the adults to move to the den where a fire was roaring in the fireplace and she promised that hot coffee was on the way.
Kelli took the big chair closest to the blazing fire. When Vin came into the room he joined her while Chris and Buck sat on the opposite couch.
“Okay Kel. The kids aren’t here. “Where in the hell did y’all see Nathan and what was Andi about to say when you stopped her?” Vin let her snuggle next to him for warmth and waited patiently for an answer.
Buck was not as patient. “Nathan is supposed to be in the hospital until after three and under guard. I know the nurses did not allow Andi in there so...”
“Nathan checked himself out of the hospital this mornin’. I saw him when I dropped off the files that Rain asked me to pick up for her from the clinic.” Kelli sighed. “He was not happy that Alex refused to leave and when Rain said Sandoval was stayin’ Nathan hit the roof., He said it would be a cold day in hell when he hid at home from the bastards that attacked him and Paul.” The redhead laughed. “So when Andi calls it hell outside when it’s cold, you know that she took his words quite literally.”
“Damnit Vin, you’re gonna have to talk some sense into Nathan or he’ll never stay put.” Buck answered angrily. “Doesn’t he realize that he’s still a target?”
“Vin is not the one to convince him Buck. Nathan is not bein’ reasonable and he believes that if Vin had listened to him, Paul would not be in the hospital. I refused to listen to that rubbish and left him arguin’ with Rain.”
Larabee watched Vin for his reaction. No matter what he decided it was going to be rough going with Nathan on this case. Chris knew what he would do if he was in charge, but it was Tanner’s call.
I’ll talk to him.” Vin responded after thinking it over. “Nate can come in to work as long as he travels back and forth with Alex or Buck. But Rain and Terrell will be stayin’ here on the ranch for their own protection. That is non-negotiable.”
Chris nodded in agreement. He had been wrong to ever question Vin’s leadership abilities and he planned to tell that ornery Texan just that and clear the air between them as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Then they could work on repairing the damage he had done to their friendship.
Mistress Fate, however, had other plans.
MCAT Office ~Monday ~ October 30th
Talking to Nathan had not accomplished much. Jackson still blamed Tanner for what had happened to Paul and only reluctantly had agreed to Vin's terms for his return to work. The protection detail on Rain and Terrell would remain, but Nathan did not want anyone telling him what he could or could not do. His priority was finding the men responsible for the attack on Roberts, with or without MCAT's assistance.
Vin had spent Sunday doing some heavy thinking following his discussion with Nathan. After closing himself up in his home office for several hours and making numerous phone calls to a few trusted former associates, he had discovered that the RMR had put out the word they were looking for an experienced weapons specialist. They were also making plans for something big in the near future. Thinking over all the available options, he made a decision. He and Kelli discussed it thoroughly and with her support he was ready to move forward on it, if Orrin approved. After their talk on the phone he was certain that Travis would, and things would be moving fast in the next forty-eight hours. Several early morning conversations had set events into motion; all he needed to do now was talk to Director Travis and update him on the status of his proposal.
Tanner stopped at Gunny’s desk on his way out of the building. “Gunny, I need you to move the scheduled team meetin' from noon to three o’clock. I’m headed over to Director Travis’s office, and I may be gone a while.”
“Yes sir, will there be anything else?”
"Yes, when Buck returns, tell him I need an hour from him before the meetin' starts.” Tanner continued on toward the exit.
“Vin, wait up.” Nathan intercepted Tanner before he could leave. “I want a big part of this one Vin. When do we start putting the heat on the RMR?”
“Nathan, we’ll discuss it at the team meetin’ this afternoon. I’m on my way to see Travis and don’t have time now to talk about it.”
“Sure Vin, but I bet that you’d make the time if it were Buck asking.” Nathan retorted, before he stormed off.
Captain Tanner shook his head and opened the door feeling the cold blast of air that rushed inside. Vin shivered, pulled his coat tighter around him and walked out to brave the chill. He was afraid it was going to be colder inside than it was outside before long.
Suzanne smiled when Vin walked in. “He’s waiting for you Captain.” Vin entered the Director’s office, set a folder on Orrin’s desk and then sat down to wait while his boss read the contents.
Orrin read it through and then looked up at Vin. “I know that you told me last night that you and Kelli have discussed this. But are you certain that you are prepared for the consequences?”
“Yes sir. Kelli and I have talked it over and we know it will not be the easiest choice. But I am convinced that it is the best one under the circumstances.”
Travis knew that Vin Tanner did not react blindly without thinking about his actions and he was certainly qualified to take on this mission. He would feel a helluva lot better about it though, if Larabee was available to come back to work. But Chris still had almost four weeks to go on his suspension and then he needed time to reconnect with the unit. If Chris were here and the rest of the unit was healthy again they wouldn’t need to look at an alternative plan. Orrin looked at the papers in the folder again on the pretense of thinking over Vin’s proposal, but he already knew he would agree to it.
Vin waited patiently for Travis to consider his proposal. He was certain that the Director would come to the same conclusion he had. The MCAT family had been through enough over the last few months and there was no reason to paint a big red bulls-eye on them again. Specifically, he knew that Nathan would not let it go and accept protection for himself. This was a way to hopefully keep Jackson and his family out of the line of fire, but they were understaffed and Chris would not be back for another month. Now was not the time for the unit to take on another grueling case.
One man could take on this investigation and leave MCAT out of it. Vin had considered the options and it all came down to one conclusion. He knew that with his background in covert military ops, he was the one man available that was best qualified for the job. Admittedly he would prefer that he and Chris were on the same page again and that Larabee was here to work it with him, but this mission could not wait for that to happen.
Sighing deeply Orrin realized that Tanner was waiting for an answer. “It is obvious that you have given this a great deal of consideration Vin. The Director part of me agrees with you, but the other part of me is worried. Nevertheless, I am going to agree to your proposal, with a few additions of my own. Are you certain you want to leave MCAT this way?”
“I thought about it and I believe the only credible reason for my leavin' would be for me to move on to another position.” Vin then asked the question he most needed answered. “You are going to give Chris his command back, aren’t you?”
“Larabee will be back, as long as he has met my requirements and he will face a six month probation period.” Travis pulled a large brown envelope out of his drawer that he had prepared after speaking with Vin earlier, and handed it to Tanner. “Your new position is explained in these papers. It says that you will have a six-week training period at Quantico and then be assigned to the Homeland Security office here in Denver commanding your own unit. If anyone checks up on Vin Tanner it will be confirmed that he is in Virginia until December fifteenth. Today is your last day on duty here and I have officially waived your thirty day notice. Do you have your new identity set?”
Tanner took the envelope that held the papers that would officially explain his abrupt departure. “Yes sir. I contacted a few people I know and Dusty Slater now has a completely verifiable background.” Vin handed the information to Travis. “You’ll find all the details you need in that file, I have everythin’ I need to keep Dusty goin’; just don’t ask how I got it. The identity is rock-solid. While Vin Tanner is in Virginia, Slater will be infiltratin’ the RMR as a weapons specialist. The only people that will know differently are you, Kel, and I’ll tell Buck this afternoon. All my reports will come through Kelli and she’ll pass the information to you. MCAT will not be involved officially in any way.”
“I do have my reservations about this Vin, and I am giving you an order now that I expect you to heed. If you feel at anytime that your cover is at risk, you are to hightail it out of there. If I feel at anytime that you need assistance I will activate the unit. Are we clear on that?”
“I also want you to include Standish on this. “Travis held up his hand to stop Vin’s protest.” I understand why we need to keep the rest of the unit out of this mess and as good an agent as Kelli is, she is still emotionally involved. I want Ezra backing her up, and she will not meet you without informing him of where she is going and when she is expected back. Standish will also be second in command under our new Captain Wilmington, so he needs to be aware of our plan.”
Vin had no argument to offer, because truthfully he would feel better knowing that Kelli had a backup. He was confident that she would handle whatever was necessary to be his contact, but she would also have her hands full with the kids. Neither he nor Kelli wanted to lie to the children, but in this case, the less they knew about what their daddy was really doing, the safer it was for them. “I’ll tell Ezra and Buck together then.”
“When you make your announcement to the team, lay it all on me. It might make it easier when they find out that MCAT is being pulled off the investigation concerning Paul and Nathan’s attack. As far as the unit is concerned, I have arranged for the FBI to take over the case and they will keep me informed. Of course, they will do nothing, but it will make the team feel better. I also have several cold cases that you or Buck can assign that will keep the unit busy for a while.”
Taking the additional folders from Travis, Tanner inwardly cringed. He knew all too well how these assignments would be received, but that was going to be Buck’s headache, not his. “If you hear any unusually loud disturbances about three fifteen, just ignore ‘em. That will be me or Buck being bombarded with protests from the rest of the team.” The Texan grinned.
Nodding his acknowledgement, Orrin became serious. “Son, I want you back in one piece. Do NOT have me tearing up half of Colorado looking for you. I want the bastards that attacked Nathan and Paul as much as you do…but not at the cost of your life. If anything and I do mean anything changes and you need MCAT do not hesitate to call in for reinforcements.” Travis stood up and extended his hand to Vin for a handshake. “You take care and stay in touch.”
“Yes sir, but don’t worry too much. Kel has already told me that if I get into trouble that she’ll hunt me down and drag my butt home. I have no doubt that she would do just that.”
“You tell her, I’ll help.” Travis smiled as he watched Vin walk out of his office. Protecting MCAT and the agents that worked here was a priority and he knew it, but he hated that men like Tanner had to walk into hell to do it. “God speed, son.” Orrin spoke softly, yet Vin heard him just as the door closed.
Talking to Travis had been easy compared to the conversation Vin was going to have with Buck and Ezra. They knew him too well to accept that he was completely okay about taking on this mission alone. Before meeting his brothers, when he worked by himself he did not realize that with a team like theirs it could be so different. Now he knew what it meant to know that his back was always covered by men he trusted. He had come to depend on the bond that he and Chris had shared too, and it was going to be damn hard to get use to it not being there.
A loud rap on his door was the only notice he had before Buck and Ezra walked into his office. Wilmington took the chair on the right side of Vin’s desk, while Standish took the one on the left. Tanner mentally prepared himself for the arguments that he knew were coming.
“We’re here; I suppose you want to go over the case, right?” Buck stretched his legs out to get more comfortable.
“Actually Buck, we have a lot to cover and we’re short on time. So I reckon I’ll just dive in. Today is my last day at MCAT, and you Captain Wilmington will be actin' commander until Chris returns. Ezra will be your second in command.” Vin dropped his bombshell and waited for the explosion.
“Are you freaking serious?” Buck exclaimed, staring at Vin as if he had suddenly sprouted two heads. “You can't just up and leave us on short notice like this! Chris won't be back for another month, and MCAT needs you, regardless of what anyone else might think.”
“Mr. Wilmington is correct, Captain Tanner.” Ezra said quietly, studying Vin.
Tanner didn't seem in the least bit upset by this sudden turn of events, and in that Standish knew that there was something else going on. Vin had worked just as hard as the rest of them to make MCAT what it was, and regardless of whether the decision to leave was amicable or not, he would be showing some inkling of what he was feeling. Instead, Vin was giving him and Buck the equivalent of Tanner's poker face, and if Wilmington hadn't been too upset by their friend's words, he would have seen it too.
“Perhaps it would be wise if you would enlighten us with whatever else has you exhibiting that look of apathy, Vin.” Ezra leveled his gaze on Tanner. “I believe that I’ll have to call your bluff.”
Standish's words stopped Buck's tirade. Wilmington turned a sharp look at Tanner and saw that Ezra was right. “Damnit Vin, I'm getting too old for games. Tell us what's going on, and give up the pussy-footing around.”
Vin took a deep breath and began. “Officially I am leaving Wednesday for Quantico for six weeks of trainin’. When I return, I will have my own command here in Denver with Homeland Security.”
“Unofficially....you are doing what?” Buck prodded.
“Unofficially what I say is stayin’ in this room. Other than you two, only Travis and Kel will know the truth.” Vin made sure they understood that before he continued. “Vin Tanner is going to disappear for a while and Dusty Slater is going to try to infiltrate the RMR as a weapons specialist. I plan to find out what happened to Abbott and the identity of the men that attacked Nathan and Paul. My cover is rock solid and will hold up under scrutiny.”
“You're going in alone?” Wilmington's voice was incredulous. “Are you crazy, Vin? That informant today said word was already out that they were looking for a more seasoned weapons expert, but they were going to check and double check the background of anyone before allowing them in. Do you know how quickly things can turn ugly if they catch on that you're a fed?
“I am certain that Vin has considered the bodily danger to himself if his undercover ruse is discovered, Buck.” Standish said. “The question we need to be asking is how can we be of service?”
Buck looked first at Ezra and saw that he was serious and then to Vin who seemed to be waiting for his acceptance. “Aw hell, you know we’ll cover for you, but …Vin, are you sure this is necessary?”
“It is. MCAT is not in any position to become a target again. That’s the reason Travis had us workin' in the shadows on this case to begin with. Even with Mark coming back to work this week, we are still understaffed. Ezra is not a weapons expert, and although he is the best undercover agent I know, he has little experience with military operations. I do, however, fit the profile of what the RMR is lookin' for. Besides, truthfully I don’t think the team is ready for a repeat of the last assignment. Make no mistake in assumin’ that it wouldn’t happen, because as sure as ‘m sittin’ here I know it would. You do too, Buck.”
“Damn.” Buck said, knowing that Vin was right. MCAT was not operating at one hundred percent yet and any damage taken would be disastrous.
“Very profoundly put, Buck,” Ezra responded.
Wilmington shot Standish a glare.
Standish ignored it and addressed Tanner instead. “I am assuming that by revealing your intentions to go undercover and infiltrate the RMR that Buck and I are going to be involved to some degree in your plans. Am I correct?”
“Yes and no. Buck, you have been promoted to Captain. You’ll run things here. No one is to know where I really am. The director will tell you if anythin’ comes up that you need to deal with as far as ‘m concerned. Ezra, Kel is my contact. Travis wants you as her backup. She is to tell you if she has to meet me, where, when, and for how long. Other than that, y’all will not be involved; she’ll give my reports directly to Travis”.
“Now Vin, you know we can’t agree to that. You need…”
“Buck, I need you to take charge until Chris is back in command. Kel is gonna take off the rest of the week and be back on Monday. The unit is gonna stay busy with these cold cases Travis dug up and will not be investigatin’ the RMR or the attack on Paul and Nathan. The FBI will be takin’ the lead on that case. Now either I can tell ‘em that at the team meetin’ or you can. After that you, me, and Ezra are gonna go over the current work on this desk and then I am out of here. This office is yours Captain Wilmington.”
This was not what he wanted, but he would do his job as the new Captain. Shaking his head and sighing deeply, Buck reached out his hand. “Give me the damn case files. I‘ll give them their assignments, but you have to break the news to the unit about the investigation first, and then you have to tell them you’re leaving.”
The Texan laughed. “They’ll be so angry with me you’ll sail through those assignments, Bucklin.”
“Vin, I gather that you have your cover already arranged. As your brothers, what can we do?” Ezra felt a sense of dread fall over him.
“We are not tellin’ the kids anymore than the basic fact that I’ll be away
from home for a few weeks of trainin’. Watch out for my family, keep Kel out of
trouble, and Ezra, if you would make certain all my affairs are in order in
“You are coming back! “ Ezra reacted and then composed himself. “I assure you that all is in order and we will take damn good care of your family until you return.”
Buck had another burning question. “This official new position is not genuine right Vin? You do plan to come back to MCAT when this is over don’t you?”
Tanner hesitated before he answered. “Let’s get through this and when it’s over… ask me again.” Looking at his watch Vin noted that it was almost time for the team meeting and stood up. “Y’all ready to face the mob?”
“Don’t worry Vin; we’ve got your back.” Buck smiled. “We’ll make sure you at least get out of the war room in one piece.”
MCAT War Room 3:00pm
Tanner, Wilmington, and Standish were the first ones in the room. Together they presented a united front, all of them knowing that the next thirty minutes would be tough to get through. When the team found out that they were being pulled off this case, there were going to be more than a few unhappy people in the room. The race issue itself was enough to provoke strong emotions, add to that, the fact that two of their own had been targets of an attack and you had all the elements for a volatile meeting.
Agents filed in and sat waiting for Tanner to begin, expecting to hear a plan for the new case.
Vin stood up. “First off, ‘m gonna give you an update on your teammates. Paul is still in ICU listed in critical condition, but stable. Mark Westin will be returnin’ to duty before the end of this week. Rafael Cordova will be out for another two weeks, Katrina Santos will be back next Monday and Greg Ramsey will return the followin’ week. I also want to welcome Alex to the team, Sandoval is a new member of the unit and y’all can introduce yourselves to him when we finish here, I spoke with Ross Anderson last Friday and reminded him that there was a place for him on JD’s team when he was ready. He said he would think about it, but he still has several weeks of physical therapy to get through first. I expect Commander Larabee to be back somewhere around the first of December.”
Pam smiled. “That is all good to hear.”
“Yeah it is." Vin decided to just plunge in. “As of today MCAT will not be handlin’ the investigation into the attack on two of our agents. That case has been handed over to The FBI and they will be keepin’ Director Travis advised of their progress. Agent Jackson, we will however continue to maintain extra protection for you and your family.”
“Wait a minute Vin!” Nathan jumped up. “That should be our case! It may not be important to you, but as a black man that was targeted, it sure as hell is important to me! You are supposed to stand up for us Captain Tanner. Why didn’t you?”
“What makes you so sure he didn’t?” Kelli snapped.
“I think we all know that Vin never wanted this case in the first place.” Nathan retorted. “Maybe if one of us was white we might pursue it, but two old black boys gettin’ hurt is not a case for MCAT status.”
Buck jumped in before Kelli had an opportunity to unleash her obvious anger on Jackson. “Nathan! That was uncalled for. You know as well as I do that Travis has the authority to pull us off any damn case he chooses to.”
“Perhaps our Director deems this to be an assignment that hits too close to home, and he prefers a more objective investigation. Given the quantity of raw emotion that I am observing in this room at this moment I find that I must concur with his evaluation.” Ezra stated calmly.
“You would.” Nathan huffed and sat down.
“If we’re not working on this case, then what are we going to be doing? JD questioned.
Josiah sat silently and studied the agents in the room. The body language he was seeing told him that there was more going on here than a change of assignment. The fact that Nathan was the one that was most upset was telling him that his friend’s issues ran deeper than the question of who would be investigating this case. Mallory and Justin had not joined in the intense exchange of words and seem to be okay with waiting for more information. Buck and Ezra were definitely unifying with Vin, and Kelli apparently was barely holding onto her anger with Nathan.
“We’ll get to that JD in a few minutes. I have a couple more announcements first.” Tanner waited for their attention. “Special Agent Buck Wilmington has been promoted to Captain.”
“All right Buck!” JD grinned as congratulations followed around the room.
“Starting tomorrow mornin’ he will also be actin’ Commander of this unit until Chris returns. I have been offered and have accepted a position with Homeland Security as commander of my own unit. I leave Wednesday for six weeks of trainin' at Quantico, Virginia. Today is my last day here at MCAT.” The Texan did not have to wait long for a reaction to his announcement.
“What? You can't be serious?” JD exclaimed. “You can't just leave us Vin. What about the new house you just built? What about....”
Josiah reached out for Mallory's hand and she gladly gave it. “JD...” he started in a calm voice.
“Don't JD me,” the younger agent snapped, clearly upset at this newest turn of events. “I know things are bad right now… especially between you and Chris, but Damnit, we're your family too and you can't just walk out on us...”
“This is a career decision, JD, not a family one.” Vin told the younger man quietly. “I’m not givin' up on the family. I don't know how things are goin' to work out with me havin' to commute to Virginia and all, but Kelli, the kids, and me aren't leavin' Larabee 7.”
Kelli met her husband's eyes across the table and offered him her silent support, knowing how much it was costing him to keep up with the facade he was creating.
“We will always be family, no matter where we are all at.” Josiah said, hoping to provide some comfort for JD, as well as himself.
“Kel will be stayin’ on with MCAT, but she is takin’ a few days off to help the kids adjust to me being’ gone, and I'll be back in Denver in six weeks. I do regret however, that I'll be missin' the girl's birthdays, as well as Terrell’s, and Thanksgivin'.” Vin sighed. “The only real difference is you won't see me here everyday.”
JD swallowed hard to dislodge the lump in his throat that had formed at Vin's earlier words. He didn't know how Vin could possibly think that they would let him go, but he was family, and he realized that Vin's mind was made up. There was nothing he could do to prevent it from happening, but he didn't need to make things harder on Vin either.
“If your mind is already made up, I guess there's no point in trying to change it,” he said softly. “Just so long as you and Kelli and the kids stay in Denver, you won't get any more arguments from me. Try to relocate altogether and you're going to have a fight on your hands.”
Nathan had sat back in his chair, his heart racing, and his mind volatile. He couldn't believe that they were just going to hand the case over to someone else to deal with, and that Vin was walking out on the team altogether. He rose suddenly; his chair falling back onto the floor with a clatter that effectively drew attention to him. He moved toward the door without saying a word, but Tanner's voice halted him in his track.
“Like my decision or not Nathan, I'm still your commandin' officer right now and you will stay until this meetin' is over.” Tanner challenged Jackson.
Nathan turned slowly around and locked eyes with Tanner across the room, as the rest of his MCAT teammates watched tensely to see what would happen next. Slowly he made his way back to his place at the table, bending down to lift his chair back up to its rightful position and sat down. “I’m almost glad that Buck is going to be in charge because maybe it will mean that someone else's feelings are going to be taken into consideration before cases are discarded.”
“You don't think that Vin considers anyone else's feelin’s but his own?” Kelli exclaimed, her temper flaring. “You don't know what the hell you are talkin’ about Nathan! Vin's...”
The one word elicited from Vin was enough to remind Kelli of how close she had been coming to disclosing her husband's true agenda, and she hastily swallowed back her anger. She settled into her seat, staring daggers at Nathan as she waited for the meeting to continue.”
“The subject is now closed for discussion.” Tanner turned to Buck. “You wanna give out the assignments, Captain?”
Buck gave out the case assignments and then dismissed the meeting. Nathan left quickly, but Pam, Justin, JD and the others stayed around to offer Vin well wishes on his new position. As soon as he could, Tanner escaped to his office, or rather Buck’s office. Wilmington and Standish followed, and for the next hour Vin updated them on current paperwork, said his goodbyes, and attempted to prepare himself for whatever laid ahead.
Then it was done….time to leave. Tanner walked out of his old office and smiled when he saw Kelli waiting for him. Vin was surprised…this was a helluva lot harder than he thought it would be. When they reached the outside door he turned for a last look around. Standish tipped his imaginary hat to him and grinned.
Journal Entry~ October 31st~ Reclamation
Grace and I have stayed busy the last few days. I am not sure what Linda has been doing, she sure in the hell has not shared whatever it is with us, but it probably involves spending money. I feel as if we are worlds apart from one another, hell maybe we always have been and I refused to acknowledge it. Something has to give soon though, because it is damn hard to live this way.
Last night at my meeting we had a new guy come in and I suppose I saw myself as I was the first time I walked in to that room. Angry, defensive, and just plain pissed at the rest of the world for having to be there. This young man though reminded me of Vin when I first met him…not the drug part, but he had that same me against the world look in his eyes that Tanner did eight…no nine years ago. I supposed that is why I made a point of talking to that young man after the meeting and letting him know that the first time is the hardest and it does get easier. When I had finished my little welcome, I looked up and saw Colonel Mike nod at me and I would have sworn that he smiled, but he never smiled so it must have been the lighting in the room.
As of today I have made my amendments to each one of my brothers, except for Vin. I couldn't bring myself to approach him before now, and I hope that I'm not too late. I said such awful things to him...accused him of so much. I can't help but wonder if too much time has already passed and he won't be able to forgive me. But I have to try…November is a new month...my new mission…talk to Vin and clear the air between us. Tomorrow will mark the beginning of a renewed friendship for us, hopefully one that will bridge the chasm that lay between me and my eldest daughter, too.
Chris closed his journal and marked November 1st on the calendar.