MCAT: Turbulent Transition #7
Chapter 1 - 3 | Chapter 4 - 6 | Chapter 7 - 9 | Chapter 10 - 12 | Chapter 13 - 15
Larabee 7 ~November 1st
Breakfast was finished and Vin spent a few minutes alone with Andi before he and Kelli left to take Jason to school. Saying goodbye was hard on the Texan and he made certain that he had spent as much time as possible with the kids before he left.
Yesterday they had taken Jason out of school for the day, and along with Andi, they spent the entire day together. A trip to the mall had them Christmas shopping early, and then to McDonalds for lunch, followed by an hour spent on the playground. A quick stop at the hospital to check on Paul was the only non-kid activity of the day. They had done more shopping in the afternoon for Halloween costumes, a quick pizza for dinner and then visited the Halloween carnival at the Church. Vin read them three of their favorite bedtime stories to hold them over until he returned home again. He had already signed and addressed a stack of cards for them that would be bundled and sent to a post office box in Virginia to an agent friend. Over the next few weeks they would be sent to Jason and Andi with a Quantico postmark. Buck had also promised to take Jason with Caleb to all the Bronco home games. They were small details, but hopefully these few actions would make his absence easier for the children.
Pulling up in front of Jason’s school, Tanner cut the engine and hugged his son. “I’ll call every chance I get, but I expect it won’t be that often. You look after your Mom and Andi for me, son.”
Jason was determined not to cry. “I will Dad.”
“Max and Walter are stayin' at the house with y’all tonight and I’ll be home in the mornin'." Kelli hugged him, too.
Vin opened the door for Jason so he could walk him to the front door. “I love you son. Remember that, and I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
The Texan choked up when Jason threw his arms around his neck. “I love you Dad.” He finally released his hold and after hugging his Mom again, walked to the front of the school with Vin.
Kelli knew how hard this was on Vin as well as the kids; six weeks seemed like forever when you are a child. Hell, it seemed like forever to her too. She watched her husband as he walked back alone and her heart clenched when she saw him looking so miserable. He climbed into the driver’s seat, started the engine and drove for twenty minutes without saying a word. They were on their way to a cabin that one of Vin’s acquaintances had prepared for Vin Tanner to transform into Dusty Slater. Tomorrow morning Dusty would travel on to Rocky Meadows and Kelli would return home.
Tanner hit the steering wheel and cursed. “Damnit! What in the hell made me think that I could leave y’all for six weeks or more? When I get home Kel… I promise you, ‘m taking at least three months or longer to spend with you and the kids, before I do any damn thing else!”
“I’ll hold you to that time off Tanner, but I know as well as you do that this is somethin’ you need to do, and not just to protect Nathan or the unit. Remember what Jason said when he took on those bullies that harassed Caleb?”
“Yeah, he said that bein' a Tanner meant he had to do somethin’.” Vin clearly heard his grandfather saying those same words.
“That is why you are goin’ in there Vin. You have no other choice, any more than Jason felt that he had a choice to stand up for Caleb. What those men did to Paul and what they would have done to Nathan is wrong and they need to be held accountable for it. That Tanner code of justice that your grandfather instilled in you and that you are teachin’ our kids is part of who you are. You can’t change that any more than you could make the sun rise in the west. I would never expect you to either. It won’t be fun, but the kids and I will manage.” Kelli reached over and trailed her fingers down his cheek. “I waited a lifetime to find you, I reckon I can handle a few weeks of separation, as long as I know that you’re comin’ back.
Vin took one hand off the steering wheel and squeezed her hand. “I am comin’ back, baby. Count on it.”
MCAT Office ~10:00am
Buck had met with Director Travis for over an hour this morning and now sat behind the desk that he still considered Tanner’s, staring out the window. Watching the snow fall was supposed to be relaxing, but that was a state of being that was elusive for him at the moment. Wilmington had only been acting Commander for one day, but he already felt the extra weight on his shoulders that the job carried. Even before they were in law enforcement, back in their Navy Seal days, Chris had always handled the responsibilities of command much better than he did, and liked doing it. Vin hated being in charge but never shirked the responsibility when it was forced on him. Both men had set the bar high for MCAT and Buck was uncertain about measuring up to what was expected of him, but he would give it one hell of a shot.
Ezra rose from his desk and moved through the hangar toward the office that he had seen Buck disappear into a few moments earlier. He had a hunch that Wilmington was feeling a bit burdened with all of the hefty responsibilities his new title presented him with and wanted to give his brother a bit of support. He knocked softly on the door and waited for Buck to signal to him to enter.
“Come in,” Buck yelled.
“I thought perhaps you would have some work for me.”
“Hell, there is always more work to do around here.” Buck motioned to the stack of papers on his desk. “Travis sent us a whole mess of it.”
“Oh, joy.” Ezra said sarcastically as he settled himself down in one of the chairs before the desk.
“Is any of it worthy of our undivided attention and superb individual skills?”
Buck heaved a sigh. “Damnit Ezra, there should be something we can do to help Vin besides sit on our ass here and do…paperwork. He only left this morning and I’m already worried about him.”
It was the opening that Standish had been waiting for. The perilous solo sojourn that their brother was taking had kept him up most of the night, despite the fact that he had Barbara's luscious nude body curled up beside him. Tanner was gifted with his methods of defense, but even he had vulnerabilities, and the thought of him being without backup in an isolated situation didn't bode well with him. “It seems as we are both plagued with concern over Vin's welfare.” he said softly.
The intercom on the desk beeped and Gunny’s voice was loud and clear, “Captain?” Buck looked around hesitantly.
Ezra cleared his throat and pointed to the speaker. “I think that’s for you…Captain.”
“Right…uh” He fumbled for the speaker button. “Yeah…it’s me.”
“Commander Larabee is on line one and is requesting to speak to Captain Tanner.”
“Oh Crap...” Buck said...”Uh...thanks Gunny.”
His finger hesitated over the flashing yellow light that indicating a call was waiting. He glanced over at Ezra. “What do I tell him?”
“First you need to ascertain what Chris requires.” Standish told him. “Answer it.”
“Yeah right…Hey Chris, it’s good to hear your voice stud…Vin? ...No, he’s not here…he…”Buck hesitated too long. “Wrong? Nothing’s wrong exactly… Hell, Chris I guess you’ll find out soon enough, Vin is gone.” Wilmington pushed the button for the speaker to be on, and looked to Ezra for assistance.
“What the hell do you mean he's gone?” Larabee's voice bellowed over the speaker making Ezra wince.” Explain that cryptic remark Buck or so help me...”
Buck did not want to lie to Larabee, but he had his orders and he reluctantly gave Tanner’s cover story. “Chris…Vin left this morning for Quantico, Virginia. He was offered a new position with Homeland security…a chance to command his own unit, and he accepted. I’m in charge here until you get back and…”
“When did this all go down? Why didn't he tell me?” Larabee's voice was calmer than it had been and even over the speaker Wilmington and Standish could hear the thread of hurt in it.
“It was sudden, but it was too good of an offer for him to pass up. He told us on Monday and he left for six weeks of training today. He will be back…he is to be assigned here in Denver. Kel is staying with MCAT…” Buck swallowed hard. “You got me now as your Captain when you come back.”
A lengthy silence followed. Buck raised a worried eyebrow at Ezra. Standish shrugged his shoulders. He didn't know any other way in which they could have possibly told Larabee about Tanner leaving...even if it was only a cover story.
“Damn.” Larabee was unmistakably disappointed. “I had hoped to talk to him today...about things.”
“Whatever you had in mind Chris, I reckon it will have to wait, at least until his training is over…” Buck wanted so much to tell him the truth, but held back. “Or maybe he’ll call when he gets settled in there.”
“Yeah…I’ll talk to you later Buck.” The line went silent as Larabee hung up the phone.
“Vin's mission, although admirable, couldn't have come at a more inopportune time.” Standish stated calmly. “It is a certainty that Mr. Larabee has finally come to some clarity with his life and most assuredly decided to try to atone for his grievances toward Mr. Tanner, and attempt reconciliation.”
Buck smirked. “I just hope Chris forgives me when he finds out the truth. He is not gonna be a happy man when he discovers where Vin really is and I have no doubt that he will find out.”
“Don’t worry Captain; I’ll be standing right behind you when he confronts you.”
“Standish you best be standing beside me when thundercloud Larabee storms into the office.” Buck told him. “He won't kill me in front of witnesses...”
Chris already knew that Vin was not at home and that he was not answering his cell, that’s why he had called the office. Now he sat and stared at the phone replaying Buck’s words in his head. Something was off, way off. Tanner wouldn’t leave MCAT for Homeland Security, he hated being in command, hated the paperwork, and hated the hours. He only did it…He did it for you Larabee, plain and simple, because you asked him to. “Damnit Vin what are you up to and why?”
Reaching for the phone again he dialed Travis’s number. Suzanne answered. “This is Chris Larabee; I need to see the man, ASAP!”
“Director Travis is out of the office for the remainder of the day, but I do have a morning opening at ten tomorrow. Do you want to see him then?”
“I’ll be there before ten, thanks.”
Chris pulled out his phone book; he had several other calls to make and errands to run before his NA meeting tonight. Orrin Travis may not know it yet, but he was going to be the center of a full-fledged paper assault tomorrow morning.
The directions to the cabin were not hard to follow and they arrived shortly before noon. Vin pulled up close to the door and killed the engine. A light snow was falling and it looked like a picture in a magazine, but Tanner knew that no matter how pretty it looked, this was where Vin was going to cease to exist for a while and he shivered involuntarily. There was a blue GMC pickup parked by the side of the house that the Texan knew was registered to Dusty Slater. He shook his head when he saw all the stickers on the back window. ‘White is right’, NRA Rules, ‘guns equal freedom’, and more.
“Are we gonna sit here or go inside? Kelli prodded.
“Right,” Vin grabbed their bags and they both trekked up to the front door. Tanner pulled up a loose board on the porch and produced a key. Unlocking the door he entered first, he was confident that it was safe, but all the same he wanted to make certain that there were no surprises waiting before Kelli walked in. “Clear.”
Kelli walked up behind him. “Are you really worried about bein’ compromised or are you just practicin’ paranoia?”
“Reckon ‘m might be overreactin’ a bit, sorry. I’ll feel better about things once I get my mind around Dusty and who he is.”
“That’s why we’re here Tanner. By tomorrow mornin’ you will be Dusty Slater and I’ll be…on my way home.” Kelli was determined to make this as easy as possible for Vin, but it was going to be damn hard for her. “Why don’t we explore and see what’s here for us?” She took off her coat and accepted his, hanging them both on the pegs by the door.
Tanner tossed the bags into the other room, which was obviously a bedroom, while Kelli checked out the rest of the cabin. He decided that the first item on his agenda was to get a fire going. Wood had already been laid in the fireplace and within a couple of minutes he had a blaze going and the room began to heat up. The Texan knew that all the information he needed was in that large brown envelope on the counter, but he was not ready to open it just yet
Instead he headed into the bedroom where Kelli had just finished changing and was putting their belongings in order. Vin leaned against the doorframe and smiled, as he watched his redhead. She was wearing nothing but one of his old shirts, barefooted and beautiful. It amazed him that as long as they had been together, she could still affect his senses now, as much as she did the first time he laid eyes on her. He also knew that no matter how much this mission may resemble the ones he used to take, that it was different. Always before it had been just him, there was no one that would be affected if he did not make it back, he had been a loner. Now he had his brothers, his kids, and this woman whom he carried with him in his heart wherever he went. You are a fortunate man Tanner, don’t lose sight of what you have.
Making his presence known, he spoke softly. “It should be warmin’ up in here real soon, baby.”
Laughing, Kelli walked over and hugged Vin. He had stopped shaving Sunday and he now had that scruffy look about him that she found so damn sexy. “I expect that we’ll be generatin’ our own heat. This is our last day together for a while and I plan to take advantage of every minute.” Kelli patted his stomach. "First though, ‘m gonna check out the kitchen and rustle us up some food.”
Vin swatted her backside as he gave her a quick kiss. “Good, ‘cause ‘m starved.” He waited until she walked out of the room and then sat on the bed to remove his boots and rid himself of his cumbersome clothing, in exchange for something more comfortable. Before joining Kelli in the kitchen he grabbed a couple of comforters, and some pillows to make a cozy love nest for them in front of the fireplace.
Kelli was impressed with Vin’s former colleague, the man known only as Raven to her, he had certainly thought of just about everything. There was enough food stocked in the cabinets for any situation. In the refrigerator there was a plate of chocolate covered strawberries and a bottle of expensive champagne. The note attached simply said, ‘compliments of the house’. She also felt better knowing that Tanner would have a safe place to come to if he needed it. She knew that her Texan trusted this man with his life and although she wanted to know more about why and who he was, she had refrained from prying into that part of Vin’s past. Still, she worried, so many things could happen out there and Vin would be facing them on his own. God, please keep him safe and bring him home to us.
Tanner came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. Looking over her shoulder he saw a plate full of cut up meat, sliced cheese and grapes. “Looks good, but you look better.” He nuzzled her neck and began to trail kisses across her shoulder.
Kelli leaned back into him. “I thought you were hungry.”
“I am baby, but man does not live by bread alone. Besides I want time for just me and you, before Dusty joins us.”
“Ummm…your friend left us champagne and chocolate covered strawberries in the fridge.”
“You grab the plate, I’ll get the champagne.” Vin used one hand to open the refrigerator to collect the bottle and the strawberries, while Kelli balanced the plate of food and two glasses. The Texan then led her to the love nest he had made for them by the fire, where after undressing each other they curled up under the soft comforter to enjoy their time of just being together. As they lay snuggled in front of the roaring fire and were feeding each other strawberries it was too painful to think beyond the here and now.
Kelli lay with her head close to her Texan’s heart, feeling the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. Vin took in the vision before him, no make up, just pure natural beauty. The firelight bathed her skin with a warm glow, while her hair hung loosely over her bare shoulders. She was sexy as hell, and just looking at her, he knew that he had found his own private paradise as he felt currents of desire ripple throughout his body.
It was early evening before they thought about food again, and reluctantly they began the process of discovering Dusty Slater. Kelli worked in the kitchen, while Vin dressed warmly and went out to ‘Dusty’s truck’. He returned with his arms full of assorted weapons, including a rifle, handgun, and a bag just as Kelli set their food on the table. She started to take the rifle from him to lay it aside and he stopped her.
“Don’t touch it!” Vin laid it down along with the rest of his load. “Sorry for yellin’ Kel, I don’t want your fingerprints on any of these weapons. That’s why ‘m wearin’ gloves, I expect someone will try to lift prints from anythin’ I bring in.”
“No need to say you’re sorry, I should have thought about that. This is your show Tanner, you tell me what you need me to do and I’ll do it.”
Vin slid the brown envelope off the counter, sat down at the table with Kelli and they ate as he tore off the top of it and spilled the contents onto the table. The identifications, wallet, cash, and keys for the pickup he set aside, and then began to read the information that had been left for him. As he read each page he passed it to Kelli for her to look at. By the time they had finished eating they both had a good idea about who Dusty Slater was and neither of them was too fond of his background.
“It shouldn’t be too difficult to remember most of it. “ Vin commented. In fact, the basic information, such as birthplace, age and schooling, mirrored his life. Both men were weapons specialist and proficient in martial arts. They were both considered dangerous men to cross and worthy adversaries. The biggest difference was that while Vin Tanner entered law enforcement after the Rangers and a stint of bounty hunting, Dusty Slater became seriously involved in the anti-government militia, the KKK and the white supremacy movement. Three months ago the real Dusty Slater had been killed in a shootout with law officers. It had been fairly simple to keep his death quiet because he was a loner that no one really knew well enough to identify by sight. With no family to claim his body, he was buried as a John Doe and any documents with his name on them had been destroyed.
Dusty’s reputation lived on with the help of unofficial manipulation of the facts, and his identity had been added to, and now it appeared that Slater had left Texas not by choice, but out of necessity, apparently he was being investigated by the Texas Rangers in connection with several hate crimes, one of which had ended in the death of two black males. Slater had gone into seclusion and now was rumored to be headed toward Colorado.
“I think Slater’s record will be burned in my memory forever.” Kelli was suddenly apprehensive about Vin going through with this mission. “After readin’ his rap sheet, I don’t think I like Dusty very much.”
“I reckon that means that the RMR will love him.” Tanner resigned himself to the fact that the next few weeks were going to be a private hell for him. “I think I’ll go outside and check out these weapons, you can quiz me later on Dusty’s background.” Vin leaned over, kissed Kelli, and then picked up the guns as he headed out the door.
Kelli realized that Vin needed some time alone and after slipping on her own gloves, busied herself packing Vin Tanner’s personal effects into her bag and Dusty Slater’s into his. She cringed at the obscenities printed on the shirts that were suppose to be Slater’s, and almost cried when she took out Vin’s wallet and replaced it with Dusty’s. They had already left his cell phone, badge, and gun at home so the only way to communicate with him after today would be with Slater’s untraceable cell and the phone that was designated for her to receive his calls.
When Vin came back inside an hour later, Kelli immediately noticed the difference in his demeanor. Apparently he had locked the weapons in the GMC and he was satisfied that the Winchester 70 stealth was a good choice for him, but she detected a harder edge to his words and actions than before he had gone outside. It was very unsettling to watch Vin Tanner disappear before her eyes, to be replaced by Dusty Slater.
“I changed the duffel bag over for Dusty and yes, I used gloves and your stuff is in with mine, now. Are you ready for a review?”
“Sure, fire away.” Vin sprawled on the couch next to his wife, and for the next hour answered the questions about Dusty as Kelli asked them.
Kelli felt him distancing himself already and the more confident he became with Dusty’s background the more clipped his answers were. Finally he decided that he had answered enough questions and he felt he could handle anything the RMR wanted to throw at him.
“Enough already! I’ve got it and we’re done with the questions.” Vin pulled her over to him and fiercely claimed a possessive kiss that was lusty and provocative, but screamed detached, rough sex, not fiery loving passion.
Kelli was not about to have sex with Dusty Slater on the last night she would spend with her husband for possibly weeks. “Vin, stop,” she pulled away from him. “I love you and would do anythin’ within my power to make you happy, but I refuse to let Dusty into our marriage bed. If Vin Tanner wants hot lusty sex, ‘m ready, but I don’t think the man that just kissed me is my Vin and that is who I want to make love with in that bed tonight…my Vin.”
Tanner immediately realized that in the process of transforming his mind over to thinking like the persona of Dusty Slater, he had gone too far. “Kel, ‘m sorry, I…” The Texan drew her close again. “Baby, I love you and I don’t want to share you with him. Dusty doesn’t deserve someone like you.” He kissed her again, still with fiery passion, but also with the love she was accustomed to receiving from her Vin. “The only two people in our bed tonight will be you and me.”
Vin then proceeded to prove just that, sweeping her up into his arms, he carried her to the bedroom. It was hot and lusty lovemaking that they made, but it was between the only two people that mattered. The rest of their night was spent making sweet memories to sustain them over the long weeks that lay ahead.
Journal Entry~ November 1~Reclamation
It was a proud day for me; I received my sixty day chip. I didn't tell anyone in the family that I was getting it either. I feel better about myself than I have felt since before California. It is getting easier to talk at the meeting and as I see more first-timers come in, I find myself even reaching out to a few of the newer members. Who would have thought that I would be doing that?
I spent the rest of the day preparing for my meeting with Travis. I saw my shrink early today and then had an even longer discussion with my counselor at NA. Finally I talked it over with Colonel Mike. They all agreed that I was ready…now all I have to do is convince Travis. I have to do this because it’s the only way I can find out the true reason Vin left MCAT. I know the story Buck gave me sounds good, but my gut says that Tanner is walking on dangerous ground.
It was the real Vin Tanner that had spent the night with his wife last night and they enjoyed a wonderful morning; however as he dressed to leave he became more of Dusty Slater with each article of clothing that he added. On one hand, Kelli was glad to see Vin so disciplined and focused on his mission; it meant that it was less likely that anyone would think he was a Federal agent. On the other, she found herself missing him before he was even physically gone. The cabin was back the way they had found it, Dusty’s GMC was packed and Kelli had her keys in hand ready to leave.
Vin and Kelli walked out the front door into the cold and for a moment the silence between them was awkward. Dusty Slater turned to the beautiful redhead beside him, but it was Vin Tanner who reached up with one gloved hand to cup Kelli's face and stare deeply into her blue eyes.
“I love you Kelli Lar'bee Tanner. Don't you ever forget that.” he told her hoarsely, before he pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
Kelli fought to keep her composure, knowing that if she lost control of her emotions, Vin would lose his as well. “I love you too, Vin Tanner. Always remember that you are a good man, a loyal friend and brother, the best damn husband in the world, and a father with a family that loves you.”
“I will.” Tanner whispered softly, leaning his forehead against hers for several moments before he drew back and together the two of them walked down to the driveway. It took both of them several attempts to walk away, but finally Kelli turned toward her truck. Vin watched her get into the vehicle, before he moved to get into the GMC.
Kelli's fingers trembled as she inserted the key into the ignition and pulled the vehicle out of the driveway so that Vin could back the GMC out. She watched through her rear view mirror as Vin waved at her, before he stepped on the gas and sent the truck into motion down the road in the opposite direction. It was only then that Kelli managed to do likewise, her heart beginning to pound in her ears the more seconds past by and Vin wasn't with her.
She wasn't sure how far she made it down the road, before her resolve not to cry broke, and she had to pull the truck over to the side of the road because she couldn't see through the blur of tears. She leaned forward onto the steering wheel and wept.
Vin had not made it far before he slammed on the GMC's brakes and brought the vehicle over to the side of the road. He wanted nothing more than to turn the truck around and speed after Kelli, take her into his arms and hold her forever. He had known it was going to be hard to leave, but he had not figured on his heart being ripped out of his chest in the process.
One would have thought that he had never gone undercover before, but he knew that wasn't it. It was the fact that he was going undercover in unknown territory without anyone he trusted to watch his back, something he had not had to do in over nine years, thanks to team seven. That presented the very real possibility that he may not make it out of this mission alive. That prospect may not have bothered him all that much before, when he was alone, but it was damn well different now. Yet, despite the threat of bodily injury or even death to himself, Tanner knew that he couldn't walk away from what he was about to do. He couldn't let these radicals get away with what they had done to the missing FBI Agent...to Paul...and to Nathan. Regardless of his being on the outs with Jackson, the man was his brother in every sense of the word and he would be damned if he was going to let anyone hurt someone he loved and get away with it.
Ok Mistress Fate, it’s up to you, but whatever you have planned for me, please keep my family out of it and safe.
Travis’s Office~ 10:00am
Chris had been pacing in the outer office for twenty minutes, waiting for Orrin to finish his phone call, when Suzanne stood up and drew his attention. You can go in now Commander Larabee.”
Chris didn't need anymore prodding from Travis's secretary, but strolled into the office and closed the door behind him. This was the moment he had been waiting for, a chance to have an early return to MCAT. Stay cool Larabee. Do not lose your temper…yet
“Chris, you're looking good. What is it that you wanted to talk to me about?” Travis asked amicably as both men sat down facing one another.
“Me returning to work,” Larabee told him, getting directly to the point.” Hear me out before you say anything Orrin...please.”
“All right.” the director agreed.
“I know that the ninety day probationary period is not over yet, but I'm ready to return to work. I have obtained written recommendations from my psychiatrist, NA counselor, and my sponsor detailing the progress that I've made and all stating that they feel that I am ready to resume my command.”
Director Travis took the papers that Chris passed to him and read each one. He had been getting a few reports on how Larabee was doing and he was pleased to see that he had made good use of his time off. He looked up and saw the old Chris Larabee that he knew so well, but he also recognized the spark in the Commander’s eyes that usually meant a headache for him.
Chris waited with bated breath as Travis read the recommendations he had presented to him. He needed to come back to work. He needed to be in the know of where Vin went and why.
“These letters say a lot Chris, but you tell me why you think that you are ready to return to MCAT.” Travis waited for a response.
“Because this is where I belong.”
Orrin recognized the confidence and sincerity in those few words, no excuses, no pleas for sympathy, just one honest statement. “IF I defer the remainder of your suspension, you will still be facing a six-month probationary period, Chris. One slip with drugs for any reason and I would have no choice but to terminate your employment.”
“I understand Orrin and you would be right to do so. I assure you that I will not slip, I may still have a few personal challenges to meet, but the threat of using drugs again is not one of them. I intend to continue with my NA meetings. I will stay in touch with my sponsor, and if you want me to, I’ll submit to random drug testing.”
Travis nodded, “Very well, you’ll have your chance Chris. Commander Larabee, consider yourself reinstated to duty, but before you pounce on me with whatever it is that is going to make my head hurt, there are a few changes that you should be aware of. The director proceeded to update Chris on those changes, starting with their new boss and continuing through the explanation of shadow ops and confidentiality statements. “Captain Wilmington can fill you in on the newest agents and applicants. There is still a lot to be done before the first of the year, and that is when I want this unit fully operational, with all personnel in place.”
Hearing about the changes in operational procedures explained a lot to Chris. Why no one discussed MCAT around him and why Buck found it so difficult to explain Vin’s absence. The shadow assignments did concern him, and although he was certain that he already knew the answer he had to know.
“Where is Vin?”
Orrin opened his desk drawer and pulled out a file, handing it over to Larabee. “The only people besides me that are aware of what it contains are Kel, Buck and Ezra.” He gave Chris time to read through it and waited for the explosion that he knew was coming.
Chris stood up. “How in the hell could you agree to let him go into that hellhole alone! I understand that the unit is not ready for the trouble that this kind of case could produce, but to send Tanner into the same group that may be responsible for another undercover agent’s death with no backup, and no way out if he gets into trouble. Damnit Orrin, you should have called me, I would have gone in with him!”
“I know.” Travis said softly. “That is why I did not call you. There were only three people that possessed enough experience with this type of mission to take on this assignment. Tanner, Wilmington and …yourself, with Vin out, I needed Buck here and regardless of what you think Chris, you need time to readjust before you go under again.
“You may be right about that, but I sure as hell can supervise this type of mission. Have you run his cover to see what CASSIE shows? What kind of deadline does he have before he is forced to abort? What extraction plan is in place in case he runs into trouble? How often is he expected to check in? Have all the members of the RMR been identified and screened? It only takes one person to recognize him as Vin Tanner and he is a dead man. Just who in the hell is setting this up for him? Do we know?” Chris stopped ranting long enough to take a deep breath and Orrin jumped in.
“All good questions Chris, and unfortunately I do not have answers for all of them. You know what Tanner may be facing and I had to trust Vin that he knew too. He assured me that his contacts were reliable. Now that you are back in charge we may want to handle this differently. I know that you routinely handled this type of assignment in your Navy Seal days. The only requirements that I have is that at this point MCAT cannot be officially involved in anyway, and that I stay informed. I set it up that Kelli would give Tanner’s reports directly to me, if you decide to oversee this mission, she can report to you. If you are ready to step in, I’ll transfer controlling authority to you.”
“Damn right I’m gonna oversee it! “
“You might want to talk to Kelli before you start the inquisition on Buck. She will be back this afternoon and should have more information to add to what we already know.” Orrin stood up and shook Chris’s hand. “Welcome back. Do you want me to announce your return or handle it your way?”
“My way may work better.” Chris started to leave, but turned around. Thank you Orrin.” He then left the Director’s office and pulled out his cell phone as he walked across to the MCAT office.
“Max, I’ll pick Grace up after five, give her a hug for me, and tell her that daddy is going back to work.”
Rocky Meadows, Colorado
It was shortly after noon as Dusty Slater drove down the main street of the small town of Rocky Meadows. He had no problem finding ‘Bubba’s Bar and Grill’. It was the only business in town that had more than three cars parked in front of it. Dusty parked next to an old Ford pickup that had a back window covered in decals proclaiming the right to bear arms, membership in the NRA and a symbol he recognized as belonging to one of the white supremacy groups. He knew he was in the right place so he set his hat on his head, climbed out of his truck, and lazily made his way inside the bar.
He stood just inside the bar to allow his eyes to adjust to the dimly lit interior. The air was filled with a mixture of cigarette smoke, perspiration, warm beer, and fried onions. Immediately to his right was a row of pool tables with scratched surfaces and worn linings, there was a cluster of small circular tables with a few stools nestled in the corner. To his left was a small area in which a couple more of the small tables and stools were located, and on the chipped wall beyond them was a dartboard. Alongside the same wall was the bar, which he estimated to be about eight feet long. More stools were lined up beside it. Behind the bar was a large mirror covered with gilt, with rows of shelves on either side of it filled with an odd assortment of alcohol bottles in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.
To the back of the room there were a couple of doors which he supposed were the supply closet, office, and restrooms. In the same area was a small dancing floor and a jukebox that looked as if it had just been plucked out of a junkyard. There were at least a half dozen or more patrons that were lined up at the bar, playing pool, dancing in the back to an old Kenny Rogers’s song or shooting the breeze. All movement seemed to have ratcheted to a stop the moment Dusty entered through the door because he suddenly found himself the center of attention. He did not let it faze him. He strolled confidently up to the bar and gruffly asked the bartender for a Budweiser.
The bartender slid the beer down the bar and Slater grabbed it without spilling a drop. “We don’t get many new faces around here. You lost or something, Cowboy?”
“Why? I got a sign on my forehead that says lost?” Dusty smirked.
“No, just asking. I like to know the people I serve in here; you see I’m kinda particular about the company I keep.”
“You ain’t alone on that.” Slater said, as he took another long swallow of his beer.
“You see, I’m Bubba Jones and I own this place. Like that sign says, ‘I reserve the right to refuse service to anyone’. More importantly, I’m not afraid to back it up. I only serve white bread, if you get my drift.”
Dusty pushed his hat back and looked the bartender in the eye. “Bubba, “he drained his beer. “On that we agree… seems to always be a coon or two that wants ta make like friends and yak at ya.”
Bubba smiled. “You've got trouble with coons too?”
“Ain't we all? They seem to be multiplyin' faster than jackrabbits. “
A few of the men at the bar burst out laughing. “Jungle bunnies are bound to do that. They'd be populating the whole damn country if it wasn't for folks like us doing something about it.” One of the men said. “You won’t have to worry about their kind around here.”
“That's for damn sure.” Bubba agreed. “We have to stand up against the tyranny of our government and let them know that we aren't going to just sit around and do nothing while they tear this great country down by allowing coons and greasers to overpopulate it, take our jobs away from us, infiltrate our race, and stomp on our rights.”
Slater nodded his head in agreement. “I heard tell that there was an openin’ fer an exterminator around these parts.”
A sudden tenseness filled the bar area in reaction to Dusty's words. Another man, one who had been following the conversation, but hadn't joined in, spoke up. “Where did you hear that?”
“Word gets around when ya got the right connections.” Slater said,” Was told that I needed to talk ta a man named Anson about the position.”
“That so huh, and who are these ‘right’ connections?
Slater cut his eyes to the man and drilled him with a steely blue glare. “That’s my damn business.”
“It was just a question.”
“I don't like folks meddlin' into my affairs.”
“It pays to know who you’re dealing with. You got a name, Cowboy?”
“Slater… Dusty Slater and judgin’ by the way these fellows are lookin’ at ya for direction. I reckon ya must be Anson.”
Anson Ricter had already heard about Dusty Slater. Word came up from Texas that the man was headed his way and looking for a place to light. He studied the man in front of him and then nodded. “I’ve heard about you. We should talk. Why don’t you step into my office? Bubba send us a couple more beers over.” Ricter turned to walk toward the back table, expecting Slater to follow him.
Dusty did not move immediately, he was aware that every man around the bar was waiting to see what he would do. There was not a one of them that dared to ignore Anson Ricter when he spoke, yet this Texan seemed unfazed by the ordered ‘invitation’ to join the man. Slater looked at Bubba. “I’ll take that beer; let the man know that if he wants ta talk to me, I’ll be over there till I finish it and then ‘m out of here.” Dusty threw some money on the bar, took the beer and ambled over to a table by the window. He sat down and stretched out in the chair that would put his back against the wall, so he could observe everyone in the room.
Bubba cleared his throat. “Anson, the cowboy…”
“I heard.” Ricter had stopped walking when Slater started talking. It rankled him that this man was challenging his authority in front of his friends, but Karl had been impressed by what he had read about this Slater fellow and insisted that they follow up with him. Anson did not want to have Karl Chambers breathing down his neck so he decided to bluff his way through this. He laughed. “Cowboy’s been here fifteen minutes and he has his own office.” He nodded to Bubba and changed direction.
Anson sat down in the chair opposite to Slater. “You seem to have a reputation that has preceded you. Tell me how much of it’s true.”
Dusty shook his head and smiled. “Hell, ya probably know more about me by now than I do, if ya have done yer homework right.”
“That may be, but we are a long way from making a decision. You need to answer a few questions; we have to complete a background check on your references, and then you will be expected to …”
Slater pushed his chair back and stood up. “Yer wastin’ my time Anson, I’ll be catchin’ up on my sleep at that motel right outside of town. Ya want me; I’ll be there ‘til noon tomorrow.” Dusty just nodded and then disappeared through the front door.
Ricter could not believe that the man walked out on him. Slater did not even ask for the job or try to sell himself with tales of his accomplishments. Damnit the man should have been full of questions like all the others that wanted in with the RMR. Instead he acted as if he didn’t care one way or another. Anson knew he would have to give a report to Chambers and even though he did not like this Dusty guy, he was certain that Karl would want to meet him.
Chris walked in the front door of the MCAT office and all activity ceased as he purposefully made his way through the bullpen to Gunny’s desk. He did not see Josiah or Nathan and he knew that JD was wherever CASSIE was. Buck and Ezra were not in sight either, but the other faces he recognized, and curtly nodded to as he walked through.
Standing directly in front of Ms. Montgomery he asked. “My office?”
Gunny grinned, stood up, and came around to the front of her desk, “This way sir.” She directed him through the door closest to her station into an office that was twice the size of the one he had occupied at the Federal building.
Larabee stood in the middle of the room and looked around. Everything seemed to be situated just as it would be if he had arranged it himself and the massive oak desk was one he would have chosen. It had felt like his office since the moment he had stepped inside. “You did well, Gunny.”
“Sir, I only took care of your files. Captain Tanner personally selected the furniture for you and ordered that it be grouped specifically this way. Your office was completed before his was sir. Sorry, I suppose I should say Captain Wilmington’s office, but I have not gotten used to Captain Tanner being gone.”
“It’s okay; change takes time to get used to. I want to see Captain Wilmington and Agent Standish ASAP. Send out an office memo notifying the team of the change in command, and schedule a team meeting for tomorrow morning at nine. I also want the latest medical reports on our injured team members and all pending personnel applications. Oh, and get me Sandoval’s records and have him in my office at three.”
“Yes sir, if you need anything else…”
“I remember." Chris grinned." Use the intercom.”
“Welcome back, sir.” Gunny left to carry out her orders while Chris tried out his new office chair. Checking the desk to familiarize himself with the locations of everyday items, he stopped when he slid out the middle drawer and he found an envelope with his name scrawled across the front of it. Recognizing the handwriting, he momentarily hesitated before opening it to silently read the enclosed letter. When he had finished he slipped it inside his jacket pocket and sighed deeply.
Damnit, Vin, we should have talked sooner. You always believed I would be back, even when I didn’t. I may be late coming around to what is important, but I promise, no more shutting you out. Now that I’m back I’m going to make certain that your ornery ass gets home in one piece. You have a family that needs you and a brother that wants you back in his life.
A short rap on the door as it opened announced the arrival of Buck and Ezra. Both men entered with solemn expressions on their faces and sat down quietly, expecting to face a raging black storm.
Chris gave each man an intense glare before he spoke. “Buck…my return has nothing to do with your leadership abilities. I am confident that you would handle MCAT with the same commitment you give to every other assignment that you have taken on, but it’s time for me to reclaim my command. I need MCAT and being around you guys probably more than you need me and now you are stuck with me.”
“I don’t mind at all Chris. Welcome back.” Buck was too emotional to say more.
“Indeed, your presence is most welcomed Commander and may I say well-timed.” Ezra stated, relieved that his brother had found his way back to them.
Larabee acknowledged their welcome with a nod and continued. “I understand why you could not tell me what was really going on here, but now that I know the truth about Vin’s whereabouts we have work to do. Travis has given me controlling authority over his mission, and the three of us are going to figure out a way to give that stubborn Texan some support and backup, whether he wants it or not.”
“Damn, it’s good to have you back at the helm again!” Buck grinned.” What do you need me to do?”
“You Buck, are going to catch me up on the last three months and bring me up to speed on the current status of MCAT. You have an hour to accomplish that.” Chris turned to Ezra. “Standish, I understand that Kel is Tanner’s contact and that you are her backup. I’ll talk to Kel, when I pick up Grace. In the meantime, I want a full report on Tanner’s current status and circumstances and I want it immediately. Then I want you to discretely rattle your own sources and find out who in the hell is helping him… and why. We won’t trust the safekeeping of Vin’s life to anyone, except us.
Ezra stood up to leave and smiled. “Consider it done.” Standish then left to make a few phone calls.
“Buck, let’s get started.”
Kelli had managed to stay busy since she had returned home and only thought about Vin a few dozen times…an hour. She was doubly surprised to find Max watching Grace, and to hear that Chris was back at work, but was pleased to hear that it had come about. She could not help but wish that he had come back sooner though, if he had, maybe Vin would still be here instead of out there alone. It was going to be a long night for her and even then she did not expect to hear from Vin until late tomorrow afternoon.
“Uncle Chris is here!” Jason yelled drawing his Mom’s attention.
Andi beat her brother to the door and giggled when Chris tickled her. “Hello munchkin, “he squeezed Jason’s shoulder, “Hey pard, how you doing?”
Jason shrugged. “Okay I reckon. Did you know that dad is gonna be gone for six whole weeks?”
“Yeah, I know, but we’re all going to get through it just fine.” Chris spoke to Jason, but he was looking at Kelli. “Your dad will be home before you know it.”
Max walked in to announce that dinner would be ready in fifteen minutes and to let Chris know that Grace was asleep.
“Thanks Max, I’ll let her sleep a little longer. I need to speak with Kel for a few minutes.”
“Jason, Andi, you two go wash up for dinner, okay?” Kelli smiled when she saw Jason leading Andi by the hand to go and do just that.
“I’ll go check on dinner.” Max excused herself.
Larabee wasted no time. “Kelli, we need to talk.”
Kelli nodded. “I heard that you’re back with MCAT, ‘m glad.”
“It’s good to be back, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about. I need to know everything you know about Vin’s mission. Travis gave me the authority to oversee it and I plan on him coming home safe and sound.” Chris pulled the letter out of his pocket. I also need to know if you knew about this.” He handed it to her to read.
“I don’t need to read it; I was there when he wrote it.” Kelli stalled, trying to decide how much to say.” It’s a resignation Chris, plain and simple.”
“I know that and there is nothing simple about it. What I don’t know is why.”
“Vin gave it a lot of serious thought. He believes that it will be best for everyone and that it’s time for him to move on to somethin’ else.”
“That’s bull Kelli and you know it. This is written more like a …he doesn’t think that he’s coming back from this assignment does he?
Sighing deeply, Kelli began to explain. “We both knew goin’ in that there is that possibility; he figures his chances of makin' it out are about fifty-fifty. He just wanted to make sure that you had your command back without anyone questionin’ if he planned to return to MCAT to challenge you for it, and that you…” Kelli choked up. “That you knew that he had no hard feelings about anythin’ that happened in California. You are his brother by choice, and he loves you Chris, it was important to him that you know that in case…”
“Don’t even think it! Vin Tanner is going to make it out of this alive and well! I intend to see to that and make certain that he returns to you and the kids. Then I’m gonna kick his ass for even thinking that he could leave MCAT. You can also count on the fact that one way or another he and I will work out our personal problems if we have to beat the shit out of each other to do it.”
Kelli only nodded and then went over to her bag to retrieve the paperwork on Dusty Slater. “This is what I have, I was gonna give it to Travis in the mornin’; but…” She handed the papers to Chris. “Vin should call me before six tomorrow evenin’ and he’ll let me know then when his next contact will be. I only know his former associate by the name Raven, and he is to send me any information that he thinks should be passed on to Vin”
“How are they to contact you?”
Patting the cell phone attached to her belt Kelli explained. “This cell is clean and untraceable, it’s the same as the one Vin has and he is the only one that will be callin’ me on it. Raven will only make contact if absolutely necessary and through e-mail. Vin has some kind of cyber block software on his computer that will decipher encrypted messages for him, so it will be a secure contact. There is also a safe house available if Tanner runs into trouble, and… has an opportunity to get there. The rest of what you need is in that paperwork.”
“We’ll make it work Kel.”
“Yeah,” she took a deep breath. “You want to join us for dinner?”
“I’ll take a rain check on dinner, though. Grace and I should be leaving.” Chris went in and picked Grace up from the port-a-crib and then returned to the kitchen area. “We’ll see you in the morning Max. Kel, you call if you need anything.” He then headed home. It was time to tell Linda about his return to work.
Linda was waiting to confront Chris when he walked in the door. “Just where in the hell have you two been all day?”
Rocky Meadows, Colorado ~November 3rd ~8:00 am
Dusty Slater was bored to tears. Sitting around a damn motel room with nothing to do, and the farm channel the only thing available on television until afternoon was not his idea of fun. He had been awake since five, walked two blocks to get breakfast and had finished with it over an hour ago. Reviewing mentally what he knew, and had learned from his hours on the Internet, about groups akin to the RMR helped him to pass the time.
Domestic Terrorists… militias and white supremacist organizations… They’re all very well organized, and they're very smart… They understand criminal conspiracy laws … They understand the First Amendment... And they take advantage of those laws in training their operatives to go out and do these activities. The leadership is careful about separating themselves from the actual criminal conspiracy, but they do set the motives.
SPIKE training programs (Specially Prepared Individuals for Key Events) involves such topics as lock-picking, counter-intelligence maneuvers, cryptography, and weapons. These trainings are designed to enable participants to create so-called “Christian Covenant Communities.” They are essentially self-sufficient, paramilitary enclaves within which patriots can enact their own laws and dispense their own brand of justice, separate from what they believe to be illegally constituted authority…extreme hatred of the Federal government…Militias advocate preserving gun rights and other individual freedoms, and armed resistance to what they see as government infringement upon those rights…
Violence motivated by bigotry, hatred, or bias. The Extreme Right in the United States is comprised of groups that overtly promoted White supremacy and anti-Semitism along with forms of heterosexual patriarchy. The White supremacy of the Extreme Right is rooted in pseudo-scientific theories of the biological superiority of the White “race.”…a mixture of armed groups and people who hate is a recipe for disaster…
A loud pounding on the door to his room drew Dusty from his mental review. Reaching for his weapon he walked over to the door, “What?”
“Open up Slater, my superior wants to meet you.” Anson Ricter waited for a response.
The door to Dusty’s room opened. “Where and when?”
“Now… at Bubba’s, and you can ride with me…”
“I don’t need no damn babysitter.” The door closed abruptly and left Anson standing out in the cold; cursing the man he was beginning to dislike intensely. Ricter turned and went back to his truck, angrily muttering something about damn Texans.
Bubba’s Bar and Grill~8:30am
Slater took his time getting to the bar and although the sign said closed; the front door was not locked. He opened the door, walked in, and stopped by the entrance long enough for his eyes to adjust to the dim light, before proceeding. It may be early morning and Bubba’s was closed to the public, but there were several men sitting inside. One older man however, sat alone at a table by the window. Even if he had not seen the picture of the leader of the RMR, Slater knew instinctively that this man was Karl Chambers.
Ignoring the rest of the men, Dusty walked over, pulled out a chair and sat down opposite Chambers. “You wanted ta see me…here I am.”
Karl Chambers considered himself a good judge of men, but he had not survived all these years in the resistance by taking anyone at face value. He had done an extensive background check on the man sitting in front of him and he already knew that Dusty Slater was a man that had made a few mistakes. He also knew that he had learned from those mistakes and was now reputed to be a dangerous sonofabitch. Slater was experienced with resistance work, known by reputation to most supremacy groups, skilled with a rifle as well as in martial arts, and he was wanted for questioning concerning the death of a black in Texas. The man needed a place to lay low for a while, and he appeared to be the man Chambers needed for what he had planned.
“It seems that you have made quite a reputation for yourself.” Chambers said at last, as he gazed across the table at Slater.
Dusty shrugged his shoulders. “That so?”
“You come highly recommended.”
Another shrug, “Job needs doin’...I do it.”
“I do have a question, why the gloves?” Anson had mentioned that the man never removed his gloves.
Chambers laughed. “You ever train a bunch of green recruits?”
“That's two questions.”
“So it is.” Chambers remarked.” Indulge me, then, with an answer.”
“I can train anyone, providin' they’re trainable.”
Chambers carefully considered his next words before speaking. “I suppose you’ll have to find that out for yourself. I have enough recruits, what I need is a man that can turn them into reliable soldiers.”
“I reckon you just found one”
“Be at the compound at six in the morning, and plan to work them six hours a day, every day for the next two weeks. You will of course have to find a legitimate job here in town as a cover for you being in Rocky Meadows. Talk to Bubba about part-time work, and then Anson will give you directions to our training grounds.” Chambers stood up.” I’ll see you in the morning.” Karl nodded to Anson on his way out the door.
Dusty didn't rise from his chair right away, giving Chambers's words some thought. Then he rose from his chair and moved over to the bar. “Ya heard the man. He wants me ta work here part-time, but I'll tell ya now that I won't be no slave ta ya or anyone else.”
Bubba grinned, “Stockroom, four to eight. Nine bucks an hour and you can start Monday.”
Slater nodded and then held out his hand palm up to Anson. “Directions?”
Anson did not approve of this turn of events, but he had no choice but to follow Chambers’s instructions. Without a word he slapped a piece of paper in Slater’s hand. Dusty glanced at the note, stuck it in his pocket and with only a slight nod of his head to the men at the bar, he walked out the door.
MCAT office ~8:45am
Chris had come into the office early because he needed a quiet place to think. Linda had been in fine form when he got home last night and she did not stop waging her battle to change his mind about working until well after midnight. She had yelled, threatened and cried with her attempts to make him quit. In the end he had to compromise and promise to hire Linda a full-time housekeeper, but Grace would be staying with Max during the day and that was what was important to Larabee.
After Linda had stormed off to their bedroom for the night he was finally able to sit down and read the file on Dusty Slater. There were some similarities between Dusty Slater and Vin Tanner. The obvious being the physical attributes, his record as a Ranger, and the fact that he was a weapons expert and skilled in various martial arts forms. That was where the similarities ended. Dusty Slater was a nasty piece of work. He was a man who you would never allow at your back, because it was a certainty that you would have a knife in it as soon as you did. Involved with all kinds of sordid activities within the KKK, and white supremacy organizations, he was even wanted for questioning in the death of two black men in Texas. By the time that he had finished reading the file, there was a bad taste in Larabee's mouth, and a knot in his stomach the size of Texas itself. Dusty Slater was the sort of man that committed the types of injustices that Vin Tanner had fought against most of his life. Chris knew that it was going to be difficult for Vin to mentally keep up that pretense for long.
The intercom on his desk beeped and Gunny’s voice announce that Agent Jackson was waiting to see him.
“Send him in Gunny, and ask Dunne to step in here for a minute.” Chris wrote the name Dusty Slater on a piece of paper and marked it ‘confidential, for my eyes only’.
Nathan walked in. “Chris it’s great to see you behind that desk again.” Jackson sat down in the chair opposite Larabee.
“Thanks Nate, although for a while yesterday I thought all of you were going to try to chain me to my desk so I wouldn’t disappear.” Chris grinned. “So, I know you’re not here to welcome me back again. We have a few minutes before the team meeting so...What’s on your mind?”
JD knocked and entered before Nathan had an opportunity to answer.
“Hang on Nate.” Chris gave JD the note he had written. “I need a detailed and deep background check on this name ASAP”
Dunne saw the notation that Chris had made. “No problem, I’ll get right on it.” He nodded and smiled Nathan’s way and then headed back to CASSIE to begin his search.
“Sorry for the interruption, go on.” Larabee watched as Nathan collected his thoughts.
“Chris, I want you to reconsider our involvement into the investigation of the RMR. I know Vin was dead set against it and talked Travis into backing out, but considering what those bastards did to Paul, this is something MCAT should handle not the FBI.”
Larabee had read the reports and he remembered how devastated Buck, Vin and Nathan had been about what had happened to Paul. Hell, the entire unit and Travis had been outraged as well. Chris measured his words carefully to respond. “First of all, we have no proof that it was the RMR responsible for the attacks on you and Paul. Second, look around you Nathan, this unit is just now getting back on its feet after the damage that Donner threw our way. We still don’t have the entire team healthy and back at work. MCAT is in no position to take on this type of investigation yet. Third, it was Travis that made the call to pull us out, not Vin.”
“That is all bull! We’ve taken on more criminals with fewer agents than we have now many times, and we never backed down! You and everyone else know that it was the RMR that ordered the attacks on Paul and me. I also know that if Vin had stood up to Travis we would have this investigation. Instead he had no interest to take on racism and the hate crimes that it leads to. He either let his personal agenda influence his decision or worse yet he just didn’t give a damn! The only thing Tanner was thinking about was his future, hell, he didn’t even stay around to wait for you to come back before he deserted the team.”
It took all Chris’s self-control not to blast Nathan for his outrageous accusations. He answered in a soft, but firm voice.” I agree with the decision that was made.”
Nathan huffed. “I should have known. Some things never change.” Jackson stood up. “I can’t let this go Chris. If I have to fight alone, so be it, but I will not stand by and do nothing while those racist bastards try to control my life.”
“You have your orders Nathan; make certain that your activities stay within them.” Larabee watched Jackson leave without a word and then tried to relax his tense muscles. He had a feeling that he had not heard the last of this subject.
Chris had been listening to Ezra’s report his findings, and his words had done nothing to eliminate the knot in his stomach. If anything it only made it worse to hear about Karl Chambers and Anson Ricter. The RMR was a dangerous group of radical militants and now Vin was sitting smack-dab in the middle of them.
Buck had been listening too. He could not help but react when Standish began to list the things that Chambers and Ricter were suspected of being responsible for. “Damn, do you think Vin knew all this before he went in?
“I think he knew most of it Buck and that’s why he went in alone.” Chris was certain that Tanner had known. “These men would not think twice about killing Rain or Terrell to get to Nathan. Plus you can damn well bet they would have come after MCAT.”
Ezra agreed.” The biggest problem is that groups akin to the RMR have sympathizers in positions that we would never suspect. Certain members of law enforcement, judges, public officials, and a multitude of others, all secretly aiding the ‘cause’, either by donating funds or passing along information.
“Closet bigots,” Buck snorted with disgust.
“Regrettably yes, Ezra sighed. “The good news though, is that according to what Kelli provided us and JD’s search results; Dusty Slater does have a rock-solid cover. There is no reason for anyone to connect Slater to our Vin. The bad news is I have thus far been unsuccessful in ascertaining the identity of the source that is aiding Mr. Tanner.”
“We are going to have to depend on Vin to get us a layout of the RMR compound too. As soon as he does we will put together an extraction plan. Hopefully we won’t need one, but we’ll be prepared if we do.” Chris affirmed.
“What do we do in the meantime?” Buck questioned.
“Trust Tanner to communicate with us, and… pray,” Chris replied. He realized that Vin had trusted him to do the same thing when he was under as Adam Carmichael, and he had betrayed that trust. How could you have put him in that position Chris?
Southern Breeze Ranch
“Life is just not fair!” Finally she was getting some of what she wanted. A husband that was sexy as hell that supposedly loved her, a fulltime housekeeper, someone to keep Grace during the day until Chris was home to take over and she had free reign to spend her own money on the things she wanted. She could practically feel and taste the freedom she had been denied for so long. Liberation at last! Now…that would all disappear…again. Damn, damn, damn!”
Linda paced angrily in front of the massive fireplace in Matt’s den. She could not believe how fast all her plans were falling apart. Chris had gone back to work without even discussing it with her. The rift between him and most of his family was closing fast and it was only a matter of time now before he and Kelli were talking again. Hell, before long he and Vin would be back to their silent communicating and she would be pushed even further back in his thoughts than she was now. She had already been replaced as the working manager of Larabee 7 when Chris hired a new trainer to handle the work with the horses that she had been doing. Admittedly she had not done it in a while, but damnit, he should have talked to her about it.
“You do know that this is not the end of the world don’t you? You should be happy and counting your blessings instead of railing at the universe about life being unfair.” Matt found Linda’s tirade amusing.
“What the hell do you know about it? I loved my father, but in all the years that he was ill and I cared for him, not one of my loving brothers ever offered to spell me, even for a weekend. That was okay though because I knew that someday I would have my own life again, my own home, my own husband, and we would be able to do all the things I had to miss out on when dad was sick. Well, I got Sarah Larabee’s home, a husband that I have to share with half the world and a child that demands what little bit of free time I might find for myself. Now when I am on the verge of changing all that and actually getting what I want…one phone call slams the door shut on me and you say I should be happy!”
“Linda, you should see this as a gift, not as a life sentence to prison.”
“A gift, Matt? Having my husband drop everything and fly me to Paris for a romantic holiday as a surprise is a gift. Finding out that I’m pregnant again is the same as being sentenced to life in prison!”
“You didn’t get pregnant by yourself. Talk to Chris, I’m sure you two can work things out.”
“There is nothing to work out Matt. With Grace I was thrilled because I thought that when I gave Chris a child he would be more loving to me. It did not work out that way; I ended up alone having to take care of her while he did what he wanted. Face it; I am just not cut out to be mother material. I do not want another baby, but I’m the one that has to be miserable for the next several months anyway. If Chris wants another child then he can damn well quit his job, stay at home, and take care of it himself. I refuse to give up my freedom for a man that obviously does not give a damn about what I want.”
“When are you going to tell Chris?”
“I’ll tell him when I get good and ready to and it will be when it’s best for me, not him.”
Matt loved his sister, but he found himself sympathizing with his brother-in-law right about now. Linda loved new ideas and situations, her stint at the police academy, her five months of sky diving, her rounds at all the horse shows as an exhibitor, and so on. The problem was she always became bored quickly and was off to find another adventure, Then she was grounded, so to speak, when their dad became ill, and she was forced to stay doing one thing for several years. It saddened him as her brother to think that she was already tired of motherhood, but it did not surprise him. Even on her best behavior, Linda could be a challenge to handle, but an unhappy Linda could be a real test of fortitude.
Kelli was sitting on the living room floor playing a board game with Jason and Andi to take her mind off the phone call she had not received yet. The kid’s laughter did make it easier, but she worried all the same. Grace was in her carrier sitting next to them and even though she had no idea what these other little people were doing she seemed to be enjoying the show.
Max let Chris in through the back door and when he heard the children laughing and giggling, he had to smile. This was what he wanted to hear in his home when he walked in every evening. He followed the sounds of the children’s voices to the living room and found toys and games spread across the floor. In the middle of all of it was a wide-awake Grace apparently attempting, as much as a five-month-old was capable of, to join in the fun.
“Wanna play, Uncle Chris?” Jason grinned. As he moved his playing piece two spaces.
“You play, too? “Andi gave him the big eyes look that always melted his heart.
“You two appear to be winning, How about you keep playing and let me talk to your Mom for a couple of minutes?” Two little heads nodded and he said hello to Grace while Kelli handed over the ‘bank’ of play money to Jason.
“I’ll be with you in a minute Chris, I need to get somethin’.” Kelli disappeared, but was back in a few minutes carrying a fair sized box. She motioned for him to move to the other side of the room so the children would not be able to hear their conversation.
“What’s in the box?
Kelli handed it to Chris. When he opened it, he immediately recognized the jewelry pieces that Linda had given to Kelli. “This was a gift to you.”
“One that I never felt right about takin’ in the first place,” Kelli tried to explain. “Those heirlooms should belong to Grace, not me. And quite honestly even if they were the type of jewelry I was accustomed to, I wouldn’t want ‘em. Linda and I are not on close terms anymore and I don’t see that changin’ …Please take ‘em, and put ‘em up for my sister. If it makes it easier, then call it my gift to her.”
Chris wanted to ask Kelli to enlighten him about her obvious riff with Linda, but after watching her expression he decided that it could wait until a better time. “Okay, but we will talk more about this down the line.” He did not miss the show of relief that crossed his daughter’s face. “Now tell me, have you heard from Vin?”
“Not yet, he said he would call before six, so he still has thirty…well twenty-five minutes. He will call.” Kelli said firmly.
“I know. I was hoping however that he would get through while I was here. I wanted to talk to him.” Chris quickly explained when he saw Kelli raise an eyebrow." I only want him to know that we are working on a few things that may help him.”
“It shouldn’t be much longer; you’re welcome to wait with us.”
“Thanks, I think I will.” Chris moved back over to sit on the floor by Grace and the other kids, so Kelli could have a few minutes of privacy when Vin did call.
Ten minutes later the cell phone did ring and Kelli answered it immediately. After a few minutes she came over to let the kids talk to their dad and the game was history. Tanner spoke to Jason and Andi and then she handed the phone to Chris.
“I still want my time, Larabee and I already told him that you were back at work.” She hustled the excited kids off to wash up for dinner and picked up the toys while Chris talked to Vin.
“Tell me where we are.” Chris listened as Tanner told him about the training he was to give and the two week window before whatever they were planning went down. Plus detailed descriptions of the men he saw in the bar. Larabee wrote on the pad that Kelli had slipped to him and easily fell into a familiar working pattern with Vin. This was something they had done for years and it was second nature for them. Personal discussions would come later after Tanner was home again. But for now Chris felt damn good that they at least were working this mission with both of them on the same wavelength for the first time in months.
They talked for fifteen minutes, made contingency plans, and agreed to a schedule for contact. Chris handed the phone to Kelli and then took Grace with him to join the kids in the kitchen while she and Vin talked. Twenty minutes later with her face freshly scrubbed, she joined them.
Rocky Meadows, Colorado
Vin Tanner stared at the phone that was his lifeline to home and took a deep breath. As long as he could talk to Kelli and the kids he could keep the Tanner part of him grounded when the Dusty part threatened to overwhelm him. He had never worked with a partner long distance before, but it was better than not having one at all. He was pleased to hear that Chris was back and that he sounded confident again. Knowing that Larabee had his back did make him feel better and he figured that the odds of him making it out of this place alive had just increased dramatically in his favor.
Journal Entry-November 3-Reclamation
I am sitting here alone and it is close to midnight. Linda was in a strange mood this evening, she never mentioned the fight we had last night and turned in early for the night. It was unsettling because I have a gut feeling that I have not heard the last of it about my going back to work. Sooner or later, though, she is going to have to explain why she and Kelli are on the outs, too.
Travis did listen to what I had to say and took to heart the recommendation letters I gave him. He deferred the rest of my suspension and I now have my command back, but not my entire unit. I still have a few agents out due to injuries, and I have a missing Captain. Tanner is out there in the middle of a potentially explosive situation with no one to cover his ass if he runs into trouble. Correct that… with Vin it is not if he runs into trouble, but when trouble finds him. Orrin gave me full control over this covert mission and I plan to get that smart-ass Texan home. I was able to talk to him tonight and made certain that he understood that anything less than his safe return was NOT optional.
I have to admit that it felt good to talk to him again. I know that there is a long road ahead of us in getting back to the closeness we once had, but I’m no longer doubtful that we can reclaim the friendship my actions nearly destroyed. It is even more imperative now to make sure that Tanner returns home safe and sound to the wife, children, and family that loves him. I’ll be looking out for them for him while he’s gone, but it will not be a hardship for me, in fact I plan to enjoy it. At least my eldest daughter is talking to me again.
I know I will still face some challenges with my recovery; however for the first time in a long time I can truthfully say that I feel self-assured again. Still there are a few things missing to make my life complete. Only when Vin is home again, and the entire family is back on an even kilter with one another, will I feel that everything is fully alright again in my world.