MCAT: Turbulent Transition #7
Chapter 16 -
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21 | Chapter 22 -
Chapter 25 - 27 | Chapter 28 - 30 | Chapter 31 - 34
Larabee 7 ~Sunday December 3 ~11:30am
Several events had been set into motion since Larabee had had his encounter with Raven and his men. As soon as Vin was in the clear, a warrant was ready to arrest Gary Hough on conspiracy to commit murder charges. He was the young man that attended ‘without prejudice’ meetings with Nathan and Paul. Apparently Hough had been feeding information to the RMR continuously over the past year and knew what was planned for Agents Jackson and Roberts. The only thing that might save him from the death penalty was the fact that Paul‘s condition was slowly improving. Federal prosecutors were working to secure RICO indictments against Chambers and twelve of his closest associates. All they needed was to have a judge issue arrest warrants based on Tanner’s testimony in front of a grand jury.
Chris wished that the day was already over. He knew that it was going to be one of the longest days of his life. Last night’s conversation with Vin was to be their last contact until Tanner called him tonight to confirm that he was out of Rocky Meadows and headed home. Larabee hated the waiting part of an undercover mission. The closer you got to the end, the slower time passed. On top of the worry about concluding this mission, Linda had taken off with Matt for a trip to Louisiana sometime Friday. She did not even bother to tell Chris that she was leaving or how long she planned to be gone. She had only left him a note on the kitchen counter for him to find when he arrived home from work.
Larabee stood in the kitchen making up bottles for Grace. When he had discovered that Linda was gone, he had immediately given the Nanny time off. He did not like the woman in the first place, and he would be damned if he would put up with her interference between him and Grace. He knew he could care for his baby without that annoying woman in residence.
Buck walked in the back door. “Morning stud,” Wilmington stopped at Grace’s baby seat that was sitting on the table. “Hey darlin’, how’s our girl?”
“She’s great, just hungry.” Chris sat down and placed her in his arms to feed her. “Sit down and take a load off Buck. What brings you out and about this morning?”
Wilmington sat down. “Did Vin call last night?”
“Yep, and he should be home tonight. He promised to call me by six to confirm that he made it out with no problems.”
“I bet Kelli is on pins and needles today.”
“Vin talked to her after we set a time, but he was not going to tell her he was coming home. He figured she would worry all day and this way he can surprise her and the kids.” Chris shifted Grace’s position in his arms.
Buck nodded. “Good thinking on Vin’s part. It’s gonna be hard enough on us, no need for her to stress over it, too.” He hesitated to ask, but he had to know. “Did you figure out who Raven is, and do we trust him?”
“The way he came up with Dusty's cover story was too well orchestrated to be impromptu and who he is working for is something we don't want to know. Raven is probably a black ops specialist with the Clandestine Service of the CIA, and there is not much classified, or unclassified that he doesn’t know, or have access too. My guess is he knows Vin from his Ranger days, and most likely trained Tanner." Chris said. "After meeting with him I’m convinced that he has Tanner's best interest in mind. Besides, Vin trusts him and that will have to be good enough for us. For reasons we will never know, he owes our Texan, and the man did not hesitate to help when Tanner asked for his assistance with this mission.”
“I know Vin has as much blacked out on his records as we do. I reckon if this Raven guy is the one that trained him, then it’s a plus for us.”
“After watching the action of those sadistic bastards on the DVD’s that Tanner copied, I’ll take all the pluses we can get.” Chris sighed. I’ll be damn glad to see the backside of this one.”
“You and me both, “Buck grinned, “I can’t wait to get that ornery Texan back home. I owe him a good ass-kicking for the close shave he tried to give me when we were in Rocky Meadows.”
“Stand in line Buck. Vin and I have a few things to work out first.” Chris smiled. “Then you can take him on.”
The back door opened again, and Ezra walked in. “I dropped Barbara at Kel’s house, and thought perhaps I might come over, and visit for a while. Did our Mr. Tanner call?”
Chris smiled at the Southerner. It appeared that all of them had the same thing on their minds. “Vin should be on his way home by six. You might as well wait with us.”
One by one, the other brothers began to congregate at Chris’s home. By two o’clock they were all accounted for, and going through the motions of playing cards. Their minds however, were not on the game, but on Vin, and all eyes were on the clock
Rocky Meadows, Colorado ~2:00pm
Dusty drove into the compound and stopped; he sat in his truck for a few minutes to prepare for the meeting to come. He had cleaned out his room at Bubba’s earlier that morning, and loaded what little he had into the GMC. Chambers believed that he was moving out to the compound, but Slater had other plans. Within a few hours he would be on his way to Denver, and back to his life as Vin Tanner. All he had to do was make it through this damn strategy meeting, and then find an opportunity to leave. By this time tomorrow he would be home with his family, and Rocky Meadows would only be a bad memory.
“You had better get a move on Slater; we’re starting the meeting in ten minutes, and Chambers demands promptness.” Chip yelled as he walked across the yard toward the main building.
“On my way,” Dusty replied. He threw his jacket on the seat before exiting the vehicle, closed his truck door, pocketed his keys, and resigned himself to a couple more hours of listening to Chambers’s rhetoric. He headed toward the main building, but stopped when someone called his name.
“Dusty, wait up,” Clay Waters shouted from behind him and jogged the short distance to catch up with Slater. “Did you know that one of the other groups came in early this morning?”
“No, but what’s that got to do with me?”
“Raven thought you might want to know. The group that came in is from Texas, and an old friend of Dusty Slater’s was asking Karl about you. Chambers is damn anxious to see you.” Clay waited to see what Dusty would do.
Slater locked eyes with the younger man, and saw in them the words he was not sayin. Clay had never been easy to read, and blended in easily with his surroundings, a sure sign that Raven had trained him, too. He realized that he should have known that Raven would have an operative inside the RMR to cover his ass, and for Waters to reveal his presence to Dusty, something serious had transpired. “Kid, in this business ya don’t make many friends.” Dusty looked at the big oak door, decided to listen to Clay’s warning, and his gut that was telling him it was time to leave. “Ya go on in; I forgot somethin’ in my truck.”
“Sure, see you.” Clay watched as Dusty calmly walked back to the GMC, unlocked the door, and climbed inside. It did not surprise him that Slater started the engine and then drove out the gate. What did surprise him was the sight of a white van pulling out from behind one of the buildings, to follow him.
Dusty saw the van pull out behind him, and knew instinctively that if he headed toward Rocky Meadows someone there would probably be waiting to stop him. Although it did not matter much at this point, he surmised that whoever had been asking about Dusty Slater had evidently known enough to alert Chambers that the man he had hired was an imposter. In the span of a few minutes Dusty Slater had ceased to exist, and Vin Tanner was resurrected. The only problem was that Tanner now had to find a way out of Rocky Meadows alive.
Tanner knew that it was Anson at the wheel of the vehicle that was closing in behind him, and Bubba’s black truck sat across the road about a half a mile ahead of him. Had it not been for Clay, Vin would have walked into a trap, and a certain death sentence. He should have known that Raven would have a contingency plan in place, and thanks to his old commanding officer’s paranoia, he at least had a chance to make a getaway. That was more than he would have gotten from Chambers. He reached under the seat for the cell phone that he had kept concealed, and punched in Chris’s number as he drove.
Five minutes ago, Chris had thrown his cards down, pushed his chair back from the table, and stood up.
“Are you alright Brother?” Josiah questioned.
“No.” Larabee began to pace the length of the room as five sets of eyes followed his movements.
Buck and Ezra exchange worried looks with Josiah and Nathan. They recognized the look on Larabee’s face, and knew that something was not right. JD jumped as Chris’s cell phone rang.
“Talk to me!” Chris had grabbed the phone from his belt and answered immediately.
“The shit just hit the fan Chris. I’m boxed in on FM225 heading east from the compound. ‘M gonna have to ditch the truck and hoof into the mountains, meet me at…”The phone suddenly cut off.
“Tanner!” Chris shouted into the phone, “God damnit!” Larabee threw the useless instrument across the room.
“What’s wrong Chris?” Nathan asked.
“Tanner has been compromised, we’re moving into rescue mode. Lock and load ‘em boys, we’re going hunting.”
They all knew the routine. Buck sent out the alert to the rest of the unit, pulled Larabee’s copies of the maps from his office, and then called Inez. JD used Chris’s CASSIE connection to set up current satellite views that might help them locate Vin, and called Casey. Nathan called Rain to let her know that she would be needed to monitor Inez, since she was due to deliver at any time, and to keep watch on Kelli’s medical status. Jackson planned on being on that helicopter when they left to hunt down Tanner.
“Chris, Vin marked two places on this map, I think he may have preplanned a rendezvous point, in case he needed a place to run. We should probably split up, you and I can have Cordova fly us in by copter, and try to intercept him somewhere close to here.” Wilmington indicated a spot on the map. “The others could drive in, and work their way backwards from the other place he marked, then we could all meet at a designated position.”
“Sounds like a plan to me. Buck, have Justin, Alex and Mark stay at the ranch to help Walter. We don’t know how they made Vin. They might only know that he is not Dusty, but if they know his real identity, Chambers may target his family. I want Mallory and Selena to stay with the women as part of a protection detail.” Chris was packing a bag for Grace as he talked. “Ezra, you’re going with me over to the Tanner house. I’ll have to leave Grace with Max, and we have to warn Walter that there may be trouble coming. Then we have to let Kel know what’s going on.”
“Do you really think that’s advisable? Ezra doubtfully questioned. “Considering her condition?"
“You said Barbara was already there, and once the other women and kids are together, I think they can keep Kelli calm. Besides, she’s not stupid. I think when her house begins to fill up with family and agents; she might become a little suspicious.” Larabee placed a call to Travis and waited for him to answer. “As soon as I talk to Travis we’ll head over…Orrin…we have a situation.”
Rocky Meadows Area
“Damn! Vin threw down the cell phone, he cursed himself for not recharging it after he used it last night, but he didn’t think he would need it again. He mentally ran over his options, and knew that he did not have many choices. It was going to take all of his skills to stay alive long enough for the cavalry to come charging in. Making his decision, he cut the wheels of the truck to the right, and headed off the road, forging his own trail down the rocky slope toward a stand of trees, coming to a stop less than ten yards from cover. Knowing that Anson was only a couple of minutes behind him, Vin grabbed his partially filled backpack, adding three bottles of water, and as much ammunition as he could carry to its contents. Tanner stuck the 9mm Glock inside his waistband, and then picking up his Winchester, he took off at a fast jog toward the trees.
Anson had pulled his vehicle over to the shoulder of the road. He knew the van would not make it down the incline, but he had another way to stop his prey. Exiting the van, he grabbed his gun, and walked to the edge of the gravel area. He raised the 30/30 rifle and located his target through the scope, with a bead on his quarry he pulled the trigger, and then smiled when he saw the man he knew as Dusty Slater hit the ground.
“Hot damn! You got the bastard!” Michael Stevens yelled.
“Come on, you can help me bring him up, Chambers will want to see his body.” The two men made there way down the side of the hill they were standing on, to the spot they had seen the man fall.
There was no body to be found. “I know this is where he fell.” Stevens walked around the area, shaking his head in disbelief.
Anson knelt down and studied the area around them. He ran two fingers over the leaf strewed ground, and felt them graze across something moist. With closer inspection he realized that the wetness he had felt was actually blood, and a wicked smile curved his lips. “Let the games begin.”
Chris stood outside the door and received a status update before going inside to see his daughter. Josiah helped Mallory to settle their kids in, while Nathan said his goodbyes to Rain and Terrell. Max had no problem taking Grace, and the baby was sleeping contently in the playpen. Barbara was helping to organize the sleeping arrangements, and planned to keep Jason and Andi occupied while Chris talked to Kelli.
“Inez will be fine no matter what happens, Chris. She insisted that we don’t worry about her; she said her life was not at risk, Vin’s was, and that is where she wanted me to be. Besides, Tannis would not dare arrive ‘til her Uncle Vin gets back here, and Casey, Miss Nettie, and Selina will be keeping Inez company.” Buck assured. “I’m gonna say good-bye to her and the kids and meet you at Camp Larabee.”
“Alex, and Mark, as well as Bandit are with Walter setting up additional patrols for the ranch. All the equipment we need is at Camp Larabee, too, and Raphael will be flying the copter in, landing on our private helipad, near the first barn. I’ve already said my goodbyes to Casey and the girls, and I’m going there now to open up the CASSIE station. Pam will be there shortly and will monitor our communications,” JD reported. It had been decided that Josiah, Ezra, Nathan, and JD would drive to the Rocky Meadows area. “I’ll be ready to leave when you are Josiah.” Dunne followed Buck out the door.
“Ezra, Nathan, and I will stick around until you talk to Kelli, in case you need some extra support.” Josiah offered.
“Thanks,” Chris knew he had put it off long enough. He walked back to his daughter’s bedroom and knocked on the door. She was supposed to be sleeping, but somehow he knew that she wasn’t.
“Come in.” Kelli waited for the door to open, “Hi Chris. “The lights were low, and she was curled up in an oversized chair by the fireplace.
Chris moved over to sit close by. “Kel...I need to talk to you.”
Kelli prepared herself for bad news after seeing the look on Chris’s face when he entered the room. “Just tell me Dad.”
“Vin’s in trouble and we’re going after him.” Chris moved to sit beside his daughter. “He’s headed into the mountains, and you know the RMR will have a hard time finding him once he’s in there. Raphael is flying me and Buck in by copter, while the others drive up. We’ll probably have Vin safe and sound by the time they get there.”
“You’re wasting valuable time worryin’ over me. I’ll be fine as long as you bring my Texan home. Have Josiah take the Tahoe, it’s full of gas, and it will hold more people, and equipment than his truck.”
Chris could only nod because at that moment, he felt a burning pain in his side. He was certain that it was Tanner’s pain that he was feeling. Composing his features he made an effort to disguise his reactions, and said. “Mallory, Barbara and Max are gonna stay with you and the kids.” He pulled her to him for a hug. “Kel, I will bring him home.”
“I know you will, now go.” She waited for him to leave the room before she allowed her tears to fall, and prayed that Chris could reach Vin to bring him home safely.
Camp Larabee ~3:30pm
Chris parked his truck close to the barn door, while Josiah pulled in behind him in the Tahoe. Their preparations were finished and they were all ready to go Tanner hunting. Raphael had the helicopter loaded with the equipment Chris had requested, and a map of the Rocky Meadows area was spread out before him on the hood of his vehicle.
“Copter is ready Chris. I’ve looked at possible LZ’s and think this is the best place to drop you and Wilmington.” Cordova pointed to an area close to where Vin had called from.
Larabee brought out the map that Tanner had sent to him. “I need to be as close to this X as possible.”
Raphael nodded. “That’s doable.”
The other men had gathered around to listen and Nathan spoke up. “I want to go with you and Buck.”
Already shaking his head no, Chris answered. “The last thing we need is for your face to be visible to those bastards. NO.”
“Chris, I need to be on that helicopter. I’ll stay with Raphael, but if any of you get hurt, I need to be there.” Nathan argued.
Larabee saw the guilt displayed in Nathan’s eyes, and realized that his need was more than being available as a medic. Jackson needed to be there when they found Vin. Chris was certain that their Texan was already injured so he diffidently agreed that Nathan could come with them. “All right, you and Cordova will drop us, and then set up a base camp here." He showed them on the map. “Josiah, this is where we’ll meet up with you, Ezra and JD.”
“With a little luck, we’ll be there before dark.” Josiah replied.
“Pam will coordinate our communications, and we’ll stay in touch by radio. We will only use codenames, and Josiah, change the license plates on that Tahoe, or take them off completely. I do not want to give the RMR any information they may not already have.” Chris gave them last minute instructions. “We have bad weather moving in, and I plan on us finding Tanner before it gets here. Let’s ride.”
Sanchez used the red and blue emergency lights on the Tahoe to push the speed limit, and at the rate they were traveling they would make it to the place Vin had called from in record time. If necessary he would not hesitate to use the siren, too. The sooner they reached the area, the better their chances were of finding Tanner tonight. He hated to think about Vin having to spend the night somewhere on a cold mountainside alone, when his brothers were so close.
JD sat in the backseat and posed a question that he had been unable to stop thinking about. “What will happen if some of the RMR people find Vin before we do? You think they would put him on trial the way they did Abbott?”
Ezra was positive that if the worst happen, another fate awaited Tanner. As Dusty Slater, he had not only breeched their security, he worked his way into their trust, and that would cost him his life instantaneously if Chambers or Ricter found him first. “It is up to all of us to make certain that they never have that opportunity, JD”
Raphael had Chris, Buck, and Nathan, in the air and on their way to Rocky Meadows within minutes. Chris stared out the window, and thought about the last year. It had been rough for all of them, but Jack’s treachery had almost been Larabee’s undoing. The only good things that had come out of that situation were Jason and Andi. Chris had never regretted allowing Vin and Kelli to adopt the kids, and since his relationship with Linda had deteriorated so rapidly, he was all the more grateful that he had. In spite of the hurdles, he had made it all the way back to being the old Chris, except for facing Vin to let him know how much he valued their friendship. It was difficult to even consider that after all they had been through; he may not get that opportunity, and would then have to tell Jason, Andi, and Kelli, that he had failed them.
Vin, we’re on our way
“We’ll find him Chris.” Buck interrupted his thoughts. “Tanner knows how to stay alive out there and we were part of the best damn extraction team the NAVY SEALS ever had. He’ll do his part, and we’ll do ours. As Lt. Larabee used to tell us, ‘Failure is not an option’.”
Chris grinned. “Thanks for reminding me Sergeant Wilmington.”
Nathan had been quietly reflecting on his personal journey through doubt the last few months. Listening to these men that he called brothers, and thinking about the one that was out there waiting for them to come, he did something he had not done in a long time, he prayed.
Chambers paced as he waited on word from Ricter. Moving his operation was the last thing he had planned, but a necessary precaution to take. Dave Arness had arrived early this morning, and reacted strongly when Dusty Slater’s name was mentioned. Karl wanted to believe it was all a misunderstanding, but Dave said he was there the day Slater had been killed in Texas, and saw his body as the enforcers claimed it. When he was shown a picture of their Dusty, he had no doubt that Chambers had been deceived by someone that wanted him to believe that Slater was still alive. Their plan to apprehend Slater when he walked into the meeting room had failed; somehow the man knew they were waiting for him, and he had attempted to slip away unnoticed.
Karl was furious that despite the trap that his men had set, somehow the infiltrator they had known as Slater had managed to escape. The compound had been placed on high alert status, and contingency plans were being implemented to move their operation. The Ledger Militants had offered them an extraneous facility they owned that would be their new base. Karl hated to abandon the compound he had organized after ten long years. Nevertheless, he could not risk the possibility that Slater was a Federal agent, and had passed along too much information. He did vow that if by some chance Slater managed to elude Anson on that mountain, and reached safety that he would find out his true identity. He would not rest until the bastard was caught, and Chambers planned to be there when ‘Slater’ took his last breath.
“Sir, the women and children will be escorted out in ten minutes, and our equipment is being loaded on trucks as we speak. I have everything I need, and will be taking Bellows and Stevens with me.” Anson reported.
“Don’t disappoint me Ricter, or I’ll see you dead right along with that imposter.” Chambers stated coldly. “I want you to take at least six more men with you.”
“Fine, but I know this area like the back of my hand, that sonofabitch will be dead by nightfall.”
“See that he is, Anson.”
Raphael had dropped Chris and Buck almost two hours ago, into an area they believed that Tanner would have to come through to make the rendezvous point that Chris thought he was headed to. Jackson and Cordova would be about ten miles to the north of them, setting up a base camp to meet with Sanchez, Dunne, and Standish. If Vin was not found tonight, Larabee and Wilmington would make a cold camp, and then continue on in the morning, while the others began a grid search from base camp.
The radio crackled. “Leader one, this is preacher, break. We have located last contact point and vehicle, break. Signs show that our lost lamb is injured, break.”
“This is Leader one, assemble at point two, break.”
“Affirmative Leader one, over and out.”
Josiah’s message had only confirmed what Chris already knew. Vin was injured, and darkness as well as the temperature, was falling fast. Okay Tanner, help me out here. At least let me know I’m in the right place, and you had damn well better hang on until I get to you.
Tanner had been on the move for close to three hours, and knew that he would have to stop very soon .Vin gritted his teeth against the agonizing pain that was shooting through his left side, as he forced himself to move on to higher ground. He had not stopped to assess his injury, wanting to put as much distance between him, and the truck as possible. Once he had reached a leaf and needle covered stone plateau on the mountainside he was climbing, Tanner stopped to catch his breath, examine his wound, and scrutinize his surroundings. He shrugged out of his coat, lifted his blood soaked thermal shirt, and got his first look at the jagged flesh that Ricter’s bullet had torn in his body as it pass through his side. It was a through and through, and for that he was relieved. If Anson had been closer when he fired, then this pursuit could have been over hours ago. Having a bullet lodged in his body would have complicated matters considerably, and slowed him down even more.
As Tanner was binding his wound with strips of material from the extra shirt he carried in his backpack, he heard Larabee’s voice in his head telling him to hang on.Easy for you to say Cowboy. Hurry up grandpa, big X marks the spot, and ‘m getting’ kinda tired. He hoped that Chris had studied the damn map he had made, and would recognize the escape route he had preplanned.
Vin uncapped one of the bottles of water, taking a long drink, and then glanced down the slope he had just climbed. In the distance he could make out movement. It was indication enough that Chambers’s men were coming for him, and he had wasted too much precious time resting, he needed to get moving again. Carefully pulling on his jacket, he grabbed his rifle, and slung the backpack over his shoulder. It was time to begin evasive maneuvers, and find a place to dig in for the night.
Chris had heard Vin loud and clear, they were in the right place, and still had a little daylight left, but the chances of finding Tanner tonight were plummeting by the minute. Even using night goggles it was dangerous to move around in unfamiliar mountain terrain in the dark. Larabee knew that Chambers, or some of his men were out there, too, but they would also have to stop at nightfall, or risk the possibility of falling off the mountain in the darkness. Reluctantly he called a halt for the night, but come daybreak he had a Tanner to find.
Monday~ December 4
Vin awoke with a start. He hadn't meant to fall asleep, only to rest, and mentally cursed himself for giving into the demands of his weary body. He reached into his duffle bag, and took a small drink from the last bottle of water. He cautiously moved aside the tree branches that covered the opening of the small, cave-like hole he had found refuge in the night before, and with pain-filled blue eyes peered up at the sky. It was still the dark purplish-gray of predawn. The sun was about twenty minutes away from showing its presence over the mountain, but Tanner knew that he couldn't wait for daylight to arrive. He had to start moving again, every minute that he stayed idle allowed Ricter, and the other RMR members coming after him, the opportunity to close the distance between them even more.
The Texan gritted his teeth against the sharp pain that shot through his wounded side, as he tried to maneuver his sore body and stiff limbs out of the hole and into an upright position. Evidently he had sustained a few bruises from being bounced around in the truck when he had decided to drive off-road yesterday. The stiffness was from a combination of things; using his muscles in such a taxing manner during the vigorous climbing and from lying curled up, and motionless all night. The good news was that it was so damn cold the blood had finally stopped oozing from his wound. The bad news was that it was so damn cold Vin could not stop shivering and it looked like it was going to snow. He took a moment to center himself. He breathed in and out as he had taught the other MCAT agents to do before each of the rigorous training sessions, and eventually he got the shivering to stop, finding that he could tolerate the pain in his side a little better.
He closed his eyes, picturing the map he had drawn, and given to Kelli to take back to headquarters. Vin remembered the location of the two X's that he had marked on it. If he headed higher up, and a little to the East, he would be closest to the first location that he chosen. It was also the best position for a copter to land, so he knew Chris would most likely have Raphael touch down there. He opened his eyes and let out a breath. Regardless of whether he was closer to one location over the other, he still had another hard climb to reach the trail that would take him around the mountain. He glanced up toward the crest. The climb would have been a fairly easy one under normal circumstances, but it would prove more difficult to navigate because he was injured, and moving slower than he usually did. Add into that equation that he was a hunted man who would be an exposed target once he made it to the halfway point, and Vin knew that the odds of him making it out of the mountains alive were slim without help arriving. Ricter was out for blood, and would do everything he could to make sure that he died a slow and painful death.
Okay Tanner, get your ass up and move. Chris is on the other side of this damn mountain waiting for you. If the bastards behind you want a shot at you, make ‘em work for it.
Vin forced himself into motion. He pulled his coat tighter, grabbed his duffle, and swung it over his shoulder, carrying the Winchester in one hand, and keeping the other free to help him keep his balance as he climbed. He also wanted to be able to draw the Glock he carried in his waistband, if necessary. The road to home led around this mountain, and right then that was the place he wanted to be. He needed to see his kids again, and be there for Kelli and the baby that was coming. He damn well planned to be there when he or she arrived. Tanner vowed to himself to find a way to survive because he was not going to let Chambers or Anson deprive him of being with his family. Meet you at the top of the trail, Cowboy.
Every fiber in his body was telling Larabee that it was imperative to reach Tanner as quickly as they possibly could. He knew that they were in the right place, but he could feel Vin's thinking process slowing down, and mixed with the sense of pain he was experiencing from the Texan via their mental connection, it was a bad sign. Chris had no idea what was going to happen in the next several minutes, or even hours, but his gut was screaming at him to hurry.
Coming at you Tanner
“Hustle it up Buck. I want to find that Texan, and be on our way home before noon.” Chris was already moving out.
“Chris, don't you think we should wait for him here? This is one of the places that Vin marked on the map, and it's where we told Josiah, Ezra, and JD to meet up with us.” Buck realized he was talking to the backside of the blond. “I guess not.” Wilmington mumbled as he moved to follow Larabee.
Five miles to the north of their location, Sanchez, Standish, and Dunne were already geared up, and in motion. The trio knew that the sooner they could get to the rendezvous point, and reunite with their brothers, the better they would all feel. There was an air of urgency in all three men as their thoughts drifted frequently onto their missing brother, and each wondered how he was doing.
At the rendezvous location, Raphael and Nathan were in the middle of breaking camp. Jackson's thoughts were on the Texan as well, and he kept a mental checklist running through his head of all the medical supplies he had brought with him, and in which bag that they were kept. He didn't have the foggiest idea if Vin was injured or not; but he did know that the Texan had just spent a night out in the elements, and could very well be suffering from hypothermia and dehydration, or worse. He hated that he wasn't able to be out there with the other brothers trying to find their lost sheep, but had promised Chris that he would wait in camp. He and Raphael were on standby. The minute Chris called to be picked up, Cordova could have the helicopter in the air, and they could be on their way to Larabee, Wilmington, and Tanner's location immediately. He hoped that the call would come soon, or else he was going to go stir crazy.
Anson was furious. First, Karl had insisted that he bring extra men with him on his hunt, but somehow the infiltrator had managed to elude them last night. The Texan would not be successful in escaping him and the others today. With the light of day aiding them, and none of them injured as their prey was, he was certain that he would be standing over the infiltrator's cold, bloodied body before noon.
“Let's move it! Our prey is going to have to go up the side of this mountain to reach the trail out of here; we have to make sure that he doesn't make it.” Ricter prodded his men into action
“Hell, with the firepower we have, we'll be lucky to find enough pieces of his no-good traitor's hide to take back to Chambers, especially if we use this.” Bellows pulled several pieces of dynamite out of his backpack to show Anson. “If we can't find him with our high powered scopes, these babies will do the job for us.”
Stevens laughed. “Just make sure you don’t pull part of that mountain down on top of us in the process, Chip.”
“If you two are through with the jokes, we can move out NOW!” Anson snarled as he motioned for the other men to fall in behind him. He wanted to kill that imposter himself, and anyone that tried to get in his way. Moving at a fast pace, he was certain that he could catch his quarry out in the open because there was no way he had made that last climb to the high trail in the darkness. Soon traitor, soon. It only took Ricter twenty minutes to find where the Texan had spent the night, and he knew that there could only be one possible way up for the man. He brought up his rifle, and sited his scope to scan the mountainside.
Tanner paused to try to catch his breath. It was getting harder for him to breathe past the pain shooting through his weary body from his wound. He knew that he had to keep going. He took another breath, wiped the perspiration stinging his eyes from his face with the back of his free hand and mentally called up the faces of his wife and children before him. He used their image to draw the strength that he needed to keep going.
Vin didn't know whether it was gut instinct, or Mistress Fate prodding him, but he suddenly felt the urge to duck his head, and it was fortunate that he did. A bullet flew past his head, and exploded against a boulder a few feet in front of him, sending shards of fragmented rock flying everywhere. Adrenaline filled him in a rush, propelling him to find some cover. He was like a sitting duck in a carnival game out in the open like he was, and Anson probably wouldn't miss the second time around. He moved zigzag up the trail a few more feet, making himself as difficult a target to hit as he could, all the while a cold sliver of dread raced down his spine as he anticipated the shot that would end his life.
He spotted an outcropping of rocks that would provide him as much cover as he was going to get, and dived behind it as he heard the bark of another high-powered gun. He moved as quickly as he could, taking his GLOCK from his waistband and setting it down beside him, removing boxes of ammo out of the duffle bag so that it would be at his ready disposal. Moving into a kneeling position, Vin carefully sighted down his own gun, it was time to suck it up and make his stand. He wasn't going to go down without a hell of a fight.
Cowboy, if you've got a plan to save my ass, now would be a good time to share.
Chris heard the shots. He instinctively knew that Tanner was in trouble, and Vin's call was as plain as if he had been standing next to him. Larabee took off at a run toward the sounds of more gunfire.
“Chris!” Buck had heard the shots as well, and feared that in his haste to get to the Texan's side, Larabee was going to make himself a target as well.
Hang on Vin, we're almost to you. Larabee sent back at Tanner, as he continued his descent down the mountainside toward the location that the shots were coming from. He heard more shots, these somewhat louder than the others, and a grim smile lit his face. Vin was evening up the odds against him. When he reached a clearing, he only slowed down enough to yell at Buck. “Cover me,” and then continued on his course.
“Someone has to be thinking about that fool hide of yours, 'cause it's obvious that you’re not.” Buck retorted as he opened up a volley of gunfire to give Larabee a chance to cross the open space.
Vin heard the voices yelling from above him, and shouted out a warning. “Stay where you are Chris! There are at least half a dozen high powered rifles aimed in this direction! "
“Can’t do that Tanner, make room!” Larabee began his decent down the side of the face of the cliff.
“Make Room?” Tanner exclaimed. “Are you fuckin' kiddin' me? There's barely enough room to cover my scrawny ass, let alone yours!” Vin did the only thing he could do though, and that was to fire are many rounds down the mountainside as possible to give Larabee a chance to make it down the fifteen feet of mountainside to him. Buck was shooting from above him, and miraculously Chris dropped down beside him, still in one piece.
“Took you long enough to get here...” Tanner quipped as he took another shot. "Get lost?"
"Hell no, you're the lost lamb, not me." Chris fired a few rounds down the mountainside." I can’t turn my back on you for a minute without you getting your Texas butt into trouble.” Larabee grinned. “How about we kick some ass, and get the hell out of here?”
“Sounds like a plan to me. You got any brilliant ideas?”
“Not dying would be at the top of the list.” Chris told Tanner. “Taking out a lot of the bad guys would be a close second.”
“Ya think?” Vin replied sarcastically as he loaded his Winchester and took aim again. “When can we expect the rest of the boys to be makin’ their appearance?”
“If they have their usual good timing, I’d say ‘bout right now. “Chris continued to fire as three more guns began to shoot from above. “You ready to hustle up that mountain to join ‘em?”
“I’ll cover your ass, but I don’t think I can hustle anywhere.” Vin believed that the odds of both of them making it to the top alive were next to none.
“Better draw up on that Texas orneriness I know that's inside of you Vin, and get your butt moving!” Larabee shouted at him. “I didn't come all this way, and risk my ass getting down here to you, to leave you behind. Now, move it!”
Tanner shot him a go to hell look, but knew that it was pointless to argue with Larabee when he was in such an indomitable mood. He tried to straighten up and felt red-hot pain shoot through him from his side, even as his muscles protested being put into motion again. He fired several more rounds down the sloping terrain, before he broke cover, and began to scramble up the mountainside as fast as his weakened body could go, with Chris following behind him, pushing him on. More bullets from above and below them whizzed by as they moved toward the grouping of their brothers only a short distance further up.
Suddenly Chris let out an agonized cry, and toppled into Vin, knocking him down, causing both of them to start sliding down the rock face at an alarming rate. Larabee cursed against the throbbing pain shooting through his left arm as he clawed at the ground in order to stop his descent. Tanner managed to do the same, and both men spent precious moments catching their breath before they regained their footing, and were moving back up the mountain, dodging bullets as they went.
Anson had grimaced menacingly as he, and the other RMR members steadily advanced on the man he had known only as Dusty Slater. Another couple of minutes and it was all going to be over, or so he had thought. They were only about 100 feet from the where the traitor had taken cover, and so far neither he nor any of the others had been wounded. He was in for a rude awakening. The moment that their prey took cover, was the moment that they all became targets as well. One by one, he began to hear the agonized cries of his RMR brothers as they fell under the cornered man's bullets.
Then more guns joined the man he knew as Slater, and Ricter knew they were in trouble. He felt pain shoot down his arm as a bullet ripped into his shoulder. He could not stop though; he was going to kill that sonofabitch one way or another. He took cover and yelled to Chip, “Bellows! Pull out that damn dynamite!”
“Yes Sir!” Chip brought out a dozen sticks of the explosive, and was preparing to use it when he heard a helicopter in the distance.
Nathan clung to the side of the helicopter as Raphael maneuvered it toward the coordinates that Ezra had given them a few moments earlier. “Two more minutes and we'll be there.” Raphael shouted over the whirr of the blades. Nathan nodded. The sooner they touched down, the better off he would feel. His brothers were in the line of fire and he needed to be there with them.
Buck and Josiah both slid a few feet down the mountainside, each grabbing hold of one of their wounded brothers, while Ezra and JD continued laying down cover fire. Just as they managed to pull the pair to the top the first explosion detonated close by.
“Fucking sonsofbitches are lobbing dynamite up here!” Buck yelled as he hauled Tanner up and over the top of the overhang, while Josiah did the same with Larabee.
“We've got to get the hell out of here or we're all going to be kissing our asses' goodbye!” Larabee shouted. “Get moving!” He felt the hands of his uninjured brothers, prodding him, and Vin in front of them as together the group moved further up the mountainside. The brothers took turns covering each other's backs as they scrambled onto level land.
There was a 'whish' of something flying through the air and landing in the middle of them. Six pairs of eyes flew to the ground as they realized what had just happened. Vin's reflexes were slowed down by his injuries, but he still managed to pick up the ignited stick of dynamite, break free from the group, and lob it back down the mountainside, shouting, “Parting gift from Dusty Slater, you bastards.” He took satisfaction when he heard the exclaimed curses from below, and then his body began to cave in, as he sank to his knees.
“Tanner! What in the hell are you trying to do?” Chris yelled. “I promised my daughter that I would bring you home in one piece damnit, and you wanna play with the damn dynamite! Get your ass into gear and move!”
“Yes sir!” Vin exclaimed as Buck hauled him up onto his feet, and started roughly dragging him toward the clearing a short distance away where Raphael had managed to set the helicopter down. He swore under his breath as he stumbled over rocks, each jerky movement sending sparks of searing pain shooting through his injured side. Tanner knew that Wilmington was only trying to save both their hides from the volley of bullets Anson and his men were still shooting up at them, even as more sizzling sticks of dynamite were raining down around them.
Explosions were going off all around them, and it would be a miracle if they all reached the relative safety of the helicopter without one of them losing a limb or worse.
Nathan jumped out of the helicopter as soon as Raphael had the bird close enough to the ground, and immediately ran toward his brothers. His dark eyes were full of concern as he took in the way that Vin and Chris both were being helped along, and was anxious to examine them to find out the extent of their injuries. The fact that both were still on their feet was a good thing. Jackson was also eager to add another gun onto their side against their assailants, as rapid gunfire was still going on between MCAT agents and the members of the RMR.
“It wasn't enough that Vin was possibly injured, and would be in need of medical attention?” He snapped at Chris as he reached them. “Without you adding yourself to the list?”
“I can't let Tanner have all the fun.” Larabee retorted as the medic swung his arm around his waist and helped Josiah lead their commanding officer toward the helicopter at a fast pace.
“Fun?’ Nathan snorted in disgust as he helped Josiah load Chris onto the helicopter.” You need to get a new hobby Larabee, or else you're not going to live long enough to walk Grace down the aisle.”
He climbed onboard the helicopter and began to examine Larabee, as Buck placed the near unconscious sharpshooter in the copter on the other side of Chris. “I think this one got up close and personal with a few rocks on the way up, and then decided to play superman with a stick of dynamite.”
Nathan bit off the retort that sprung onto his tongue as he finished his examination of Chris, and turned his attention onto the Texan.
“Gentlemen, perhaps we should talk later, and MOVE OUR ASSES NOW!” Standish yelled as an array of bullets whizzed by them as they hustled to haul their butts inside with the injured pair. Raphael had the helicopter lifting off the ground as JD and Ezra swung their bodies inside, and left the bullets behind, along with Chambers’s men.
“Damn! We made it!” Chris reached around Nathan to clasp forearms with Vin. “Welcome back brother.”
The five other brothers looked on with wide grins on their relieved faces, as for the first time in what seemed like forever, they were seven strong again, and all was right with their world.
“Hold that in place.” Nathan instructed the blond, motioning to the pile of bandages he had placed over Larabee's wound.” We need to stop the flow of blood as best we can until we get you and Vin to Denver Memorial.”
Chris nodded, and placed his right hand onto the compress as soon as Jackson removed his hand.
Nathan turned his attention onto doing what he could for Tanner until they reached the hospital. The side wound was a through and through, and didn't look to be very deep, but it would still need thorough cleansing, and suturing. After dressing it as best as he could, Jackson glanced up at the Texan's face, and was surprised to see Vin's pain filled eyes still open. He fought the urge to look away, knowing that he deserved any recriminations that his brother needed to say to him after the way he had treated him. There was no anger, only unasked questions, and also...forgiveness. Nathan knew that a private talk between the two of them was in order, but that was going to have to wait until a later date.
Cordova set the whirly bird down near the Tahoe. It had been decided that Josiah and JD would drive back to Denver, and Ezra, as well as Buck, would stay with Nathan, and the two injured men. Standish had volunteered to contact Kelli, and Linda concerning their husband’s situation. Once Sanchez and Dunne were on the ground, Raphael lifted off again heading straight to Denver Memorial. Nathan called ahead to alert the ER that two of the seven were on the way in and needed to be seen under assumed names. Buck placed a call to Travis to let him know their lost lamb had been rescued.
Denver Memorial ~Noon
Thankfully the snow that the weather forecasters had been predicting for their area had held off until they were almost to Denver. A shading of the powdery white substance covered the roofs of the cars in the parking lot and the entire hospital, including the helipad by the time Cordova set the helicopter down on. Here in the city, the snow was a wet, and cold inconvenience, but tolerable; had it begun snowing the evening before, or even this very morning while they were still on the mountain, it could have meant the difference between life and death for Tanner, if not all of them.
Even before the moment that Raphael cut the engine, and the flaps ceased whirling around, the waiting hospital staff was moving into action. Two medical teams of three rushed forward with a gurney apiece, and quite proficiently transferred first Tanner, and then Larabee onto them. An IV was immediately started on both patients; Tanner receiving blood and a saline solution to combat dehydration, and Larabee was started on infusions as well. The Texan was rushed off to the elevator to make a trip down to the ER and trauma room one. The identical procedure was followed to transport Chris to trauma room two.
Doctors Gilford and Landers were waiting for their charges, and immediately began their own examinations of the two injured men. Tanner had lost a large amount of blood, and was slightly dehydrated, but Landers felt confident they could avoid surgery. The bullet had passed through cleanly, without nicking any arteries or organs. After ordering two units of blood for Vin, he cleansed the wound, carefully making certain that it was not contaminated, and then sutured the skin.
“What you need now is rest, and antibiotics. Try to stay put, and give your body an opportunity to recuperate, at least overnight, before your next adventure.” Dr Landers signed the orders for medication, and then handed Vin’s chart to the nurse, before speaking to Tanner again. “We’re going to move you to a room, and I will be by later this afternoon to see you.”
“I want to be in the same room as Lar'bee.” Vin told the doctor.
“How did I know that?” Landers patted Tanner on his shoulder. “I’ll do what I can.” The doctor smiled and walked out of the room.
Dr. Gilford had assessed Larabee's shoulder wound and decided the man had been very lucky. The bullet had torn through muscle and just grazed the shoulder bone. The bone was ex-rayed, the wound cleaned and sutured. Since Larabee was a recovering addict, Dr. Gilford prescribed only non-narcotic medication to ease the man's pain.
“I want you to stay in the hospital overnight, Chris.” Dr. Gilford told the blond. “Your body needs some rest to recuperate from the shock of being shot. Someone will be in to take you to your room in a couple of minutes.”
“I want to be in the same room as Tanner.” Chris told the doctor.
“If it's possible,” Dr. Gilford told him and left the room.
Buck had been watching Ezra, and he appeared to be indecisive about something. “Ez, you okay?”
“I find that in this instance, my lack of experience with expectant mothers has hampered my ability to handle what should be a simple situation. How am I supposed to tell a woman that has been ordered to bed rest that her husband is in the hospital?” Ezra was having second thoughts about volunteering for this job.
“It's not like Kelli's going to come through the phone and rip you to shreds, Ez.” Wilmington told the undercover agent. “She’s going to be relieved that we got to Vin in time, and that even though he's hurt, he's relatively in one piece.”
“True, but how in the hell am I going to convince her to stay at home?”
“Hmm, I see the problem. Tell you what, let’s wait until we get these two in a room, and then let Vin convince her. I bet, even in his condition, he’s up for the task.” Buck grinned, and slapped Ezra on the shoulder. “Now with Linda, you’re on your own.”
“No way in hell, Ez.” Buck saw the trauma room door open and Tanner was being wheeled out. “What room?” he asked the nurse.
“The docs pulled some strings, and arranged for both your friends to be moved to room 503. Larabee is on his way up next; give me five minutes, and then you can see them.” The nurse called over her shoulder on the way to the elevator.
“Alright, Ez, make your phone call while I leave word at the desk for Josiah, and JD, then we’ll go on up." Buck hastily wrote a note for Sanchez and Dunne, and then gave the receptionist instructions to not give out the room number to anyone without calling up first for permission. Wilmington and Standish moved toward the elevator, Denver Memorial should be safe, but they were not taking any chances that the RMR had ears or eyes that could pass word back to Karl Chambers about Tanner.
Chambers paced as he waited word from Ricter. Moving his operation was the last thing he had planned, he was leaving ten years of his life behind, but it was necessary precaution to take. He did not want a standoff with the enforcers; he wanted to elude them for now. At least the good citizens of Rocky Meadows would cover them and never admit they had even been there. Whatever the government found on the property could not be tied to the RMR.
He knew that as more time passed without his second-in-command, and the other men showing up baring Slater's body with them that things weren't going well. This further infuriated him. How he had let the imposter posing as Dusty Slater into his inner circle was beyond him. He wasn't a man who trusted, let alone respected anyone easily, and in about a month's time, the infiltrator had gained both his respect and trust.
It was well after noon before Anson and the other men arrived back at their new base camp, which the leaders of the Ledger Militants had so generously given over to him and his followers for their usage until they were able to locate a permanent alternative. The front of Anson's shirt was bloodied, and his left arm dangled crookedly within the makeshift sling that someone had hastily prepared for Ricter.
“I hope that you have good news to share with me Anson.” Chambers told the other man in a cold voice.
“The bastard had help waiting for him, and a helicopter. He escaped.” Anson reported. “We also lost three men, and four more were wounded
“I warned you what would happen if you disappointed me.” Chambers drew his gun and shot Ricter between the eyes. Anson fell to the floor with a surprised look on his face. Karl stepped up to Ricter's body.” Make it four men we lost.”
Chip Bellows stood in stunned disbelief over what had just transpired before him. Chambers had killed Ricter as if he was swatting an annoying fly, and hadn't even blinked an eye.
Chambers turned towards him. “You're second in command now.” He threw a picture of Slater that had been taken on Thanksgiving, onto the table. “The first thing I want you to do is find out who in the hell Slater is. I have $50,000 for the man who can identify him, and another $50,000 for whomever is brave enough to kill him.”
“Yes sir.” Bellows picked up the photo from the table, wondering how long the man had to live.
Denver Memorial Hospital~ Monday ~3:00pm
There was a sense of relief and unity as the other five brothers that made up the foundation of MCAT, gathered together in Room 503 where an injured Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner were placed for the duration of their hospital stay. Josiah and JD had arrived at the hospital less than an hour earlier from a hurried trip back from Rocky Meadows.
“Which one of you had the unfortunate task of calling my absent wife to let her know about my condition?” Larabee asked
There was a shuffle of looks among the five brothers at Chris’s bold question. It had not gone unnoticed from them, and their wives, that things weren't right in the Larabee household. Having Chris ask about Linda in such an indifferent way, told them that things between the Larabees were far worse than any of them had imagined.
“At Ezra’s request, I made the call, Chris.” Josiah spoke up softly. “I left a message on her cell phone to call me as soon as possible. Obviously she has not received the communication yet.”
Chris accepted this piece of news with a curt nod. He had expected as much from Linda. The two hadn't been on speaking terms when she had left for Louisiana in the first place, and he and Grace weren't exactly at the top of her list anymore. Of course, it was not as if they had been on a list of any kind where Linda was concerned. “I'm not sure she will call even after she gets the message. Grace and I haven't been on the top of her list of priorities for quite some time.”
An uncomfortable silence hung in the air for a moment.
Tanner was the one to break it. “Which one of you called Kelli?” Vin asked as he scanned the faces of his brothers.
“That would be me.” Ezra replied, “In a manner of speaking.”
“What in the hell does that mean? Vin scowled at the Southerner.
“It means that I gave Barbara a message to pass along to Kelli. I told her to tell my partner that you were with us, reasonably well, and details would be forthcoming.” Ezra shrugged his shoulders. “At least Kelli will know you are among the living, even though she may not know your location at the moment.”
Buck laughed. “In other words you chickened out on talking to Kelli directly so that she couldn't wheedle out of you the information that Vin was in the hospital. Because you knew she would have high tailed it down here.”
“There was that possibility to consider.” Ezra acknowledged Wilmington's astute incite into the situation without shame. “I believe the information that he is wounded should come directly from Vin. He is, in all probability, the one person who is capable of convincing her to remain at home.”
“I appreciate you lettin' her know I was alive, regardless of how she was told the news.” Vin said as he fumbled for the phone on the bedside table. “I should give her a call to assure her that 'm okay.”
“Allow me.” Ezra stepped forward to pick up the receiver of the phone, and began dialing the number. As soon as it began ringing he handed the phone to Vin.
Kelli answered the phone on the second ring, “Hello.”
“Hey baby.” Vin said softly into the phone and heard his wife draw in a breath, and then let it out slowly in a relieved sigh. If he wasn't mistaken, the Texan heard her sniffle as well, and was finding it hard to keep his own emotions in check. It had been too close. If his brothers hadn't arrived when they had, he most certainly wouldn't have survived the volatile gunfight that he had been in the middle of with Anson and the other members of the RMR.
“Kel, I'm fine. A bit battered and bruised, but otherwise in fairly good condition. Chris got himself a bit scraped up as well, and the docs want to keep us both overnight for observation. The important thing is that my time away from our family is finished, and startin’ tomorrow I'm all yours. I want you to stay put for the evenin’. The only job you have is to be there for the kids, take care of yourself, and baby Tanner. Don’t make me worry about you overdoin’, and gettin’ out in this weather.” He listened for a few more minutes. “I love you, too. I’ll call tonight, and talk to the kids; you follow the doctor’s orders.” Vin laughed. “I promise, and I’ll be sure to tell him, bye.” The Texan handed the phone to Ezra for him to hang it up, and grinned at Chris. “Kel said to tell you that your ‘scratch’ better heal as fast as mine, or she’ll be givin’ us both hell for a month of Sundays.”
“She is staying at the ranch though?” Chris asked, knowing his daughter well enough that he was certain no one would be able to stop her if she decided to come here.
“For now, but if Doc keeps us past tomorrow all bets are off.” Vin smiled. “So I reckon we need to heal fast.”
“Baby Tanner,” Buck grinned at the Texan. “I bet it feels real good to say that, doesn't it?”
“Yes, it does.” Vin grinned at Wilmington. “The only regret I have is that everyone seems to already know, and I didn't even get to tell anyone. Kel swears she only told Chris, because he's the one that took her to the doctor's appointment, so how do the rest of you know?”
“I was informed of the happy occasion by an irate Larabee while he was chewing out my posterior for helping Blaze.” Ezra declared. “I swear Vin, if I had known Kelli was pregnant, I would have handcuffed her myself to keep her from carrying out her dangerous exploit.”
“You and I will be havin' a chat about that later, Ez.” Tanner forewarned him.
Standish nodded. He had anticipated that he and Vin would be having some words over his participation in helping Kelli during her dangerous exploit as Blaze Butler.
“Both JD and I were in the room when Chris told Ezra.” Buck added. “Or rather, shouted would be the correct way to describe how we heard the news. I'd be surprised if the whole MCAT team doesn’t know it by now.”
Larabee shot Wilmington a glare as the round robin of confessions continued.
“No one told me that it was supposed to be a secret.” JD said sheepishly. “So I told Casey. She in turn, informed Inez and Mallory that Kelli was expecting.”
“Mallory had already guessed that Kelli was pregnant, and filled me in on her suspicions.” Josiah added. “ I agreed with her after I went over how many times Kelli had been sick at work, and the fact that Chris had put her on desk duty.” Josiah added.
“I have to admit that I had missed all the telltale signs because my head wasn't on straight.” Nathan said, “But once I started paying attention it wasn't difficult to add two and two together to figure out that there was a baby Tanner on the way, and then I told Rain.”
“Who needs a telephone to relay news when we have the Wild Bunch?” Vin said with an aggrieved sigh.
“Don’t worry about it Vin. You do get to tell the kids. As soon as we’re able to, we’ll have a big welcome home party, and let you tell us all again.” Chris grinned, and it was contagious, as one by one all the brothers heartily congratulated Tanner.
The door was pushed open, and Orrin Travis strode into the room with a grim look on his face.
“Welcome to the party sir.” Buck said jovially before seeing Travis's expression.
“Larabee, it's good to have you back, Tanner, I am glad you are still with us...Wilmington, as both the Commander, and the Senior Captain are injured, you are in charge of MCAT. Place Agent Tanner under arrest.”
“Like Hell I will!” Buck exploded emphatically, wondering whether or not the stress of watching over the MCAT team had become too much for the director, and he had finally gone insane.
“I don't think so!” Vin exclaimed, narrowing his eyes at Travis.
“Orrin, are you out of your ever-loving mind?” Larabee asked incredulously, his green eyes intent on the older man's face.
The rest of the brothers were equally shocked at the Director's order, and were ready with their own opinions in defense of Tanner.
“Quiet!” Travis's voice was filled with thunderous authority that echoed through the hospital room. “There are Federal Marshals on their way over here to place Agent Tanner under arrest, and hold him in protective custody. Now, knowing Tanner like I do, he's not going to stand for being in seclusion away from his family, waiting out an arrest and then stay sequestered until a trial is over. Especially with people he doesn't trust at his back. In order to thwart that happening...I'm ordering that he be placed under the protective custody of MCAT. So Wilmington, do your damn job, and arrest Tanner before the Marshals get here.”
Buck locked reluctant eyes with Vin, and saw the slight nod of his head. “Vin Tanner, you are under arrest.” Wilmington turned to Travis. “Do I have to handcuff him, or are you satisfied that he is not a flight risk?”
“I think we know where to find him.” Travis visibly relaxed. “If there had been any other way I would not have resorted to such drastic measures, however I just spent the last hour arguing with two Federal attorneys who are chomping at the bit to get their hands on Tanner as a material witness. They had a warrant for his arrest in the Marshals hand’s before I left the Federal Building.”
“We understand the quandary that you were in, Director.” Ezra assured the older man.
“I'd have been respectful to the Marshal's when they arrived here,” Tanner told Travis, “But I wouldn't have willingly gone with them. I've been away from my family far too long, and no one is goin' to make me spend one more day apart from them, especially now that Kelli is carryin' another Tanner.”
Director Travis blinked at him. “Did I just here you correctly? Agent Coulter, uh, Kelli is pregnant?”
Vin grinned broadly at him. “Yes sir, you heard correctly. Kelli and I are expectin' a baby to add to our brood.”
“Congratulations, son,” Travis grinned. Then he had another thought that stopped him cold. “Did you know this when you volunteered for this mission?”
“No sir. If I had known…Hell, I probably would have done the same thing, but I definitely would have worked it differently, and not gone in alone.”
“You shouldn’t have gone in alone anyway.” Chris interjected, and then grilled Travis. “We’ll guarantee that Vin will testify, but why the big push for protective custody?”
“You know how prosecutors are Chris. All they are concerned with is their case, and the information Tanner obtained while undercover is the biggest part of their case against the RMR. Without Vin establishing the credibility of that evidence they have no case.” Travis explained. “They have already sent a Marshal out to arrest Gary Hough, and they want us to organize a raid on the RMR compound.”
“Oh, joy.” Ezra muttered, earning him a stern look from Travis.
“Are we going in alone or is this going to be a coordinated effort between MCAT and other agencies?” Larabee queried.
“You are not going anywhere Larabee. I have already asked our forensic agents to team up with the FBI on this one. Agent Abbott’s supervisor asked to be included, and I agreed.” Orrin held up his hand to ward off Chris’s argument. “I want our first priority to be the safety of this unit, and frankly, you all look as if you could use some rest. I will let you work out the measures for Tanner and Jackson’s protection.”
“My protection?” Nathan asked with surprise. “I'm not the one in police custody.”
“No, you're not, but I can arrange it if necessary.” Travis agreed. ”You are, however, still in danger from the RMR. From what I know about these people, Nathan they usually don't leave any witnesses behind. You and Roberts are still alive and that has to be a thorn in the RMR's side, along with Tanner's infiltration into their organization. So you need to go along with whatever Chris decides in regards for protection for you and your family. After tomorrow you will not need to worry about Roberts. His sister wants him transferred to a hospital in Atlanta, and I have made the arrangements. He is going to need several reconstructive surgeries, as well as skin grafts in the months to come, and his doctor’s feel that being closer to his family will help his recovery.”
Chris nodded. As much as he hated for the team to miss out on the raid, his priority was the protection of the family. “At least one MCAT agent will stay with Tanner and Jackson at all times. We need to be in contact with authorities in Atlanta to see to it that Roberts has someone guarding him at all times as well.”
“I have taken care of a protection detail for Roberts. You concentrate on our agents here. We are heading into the holidays, and right now I want the unit to stand down until after the first of the year. By then we will know what our position will be, and hopefully have a better idea of what to expect until the trial. For now, you two look as if you could use some rest. The hospital has been informed to black out any request for information on either of you, and your names are not on the registrar’s list.” Travis addressed Buck. “Captain Wilmington, make your assignments, and then I think you and I should intercept those Marshals before they get to this floor.”
“Nathan, I want you to work out with Rain what you will need to care for Chris and Vin when they are released tomorrow. Ezra, you go with him, and if there are any purchases to make, you make them. JD, if our forensic agents are going in with the FBI, I want you to set up communications with them. Josiah and I will stay here tonight.” Buck instructed them before he left with Travis, and then Ezra, Nathan, and JD reluctantly took their leave.
Josiah stood up. “I will be right outside the door. Why don’t you two follow your doctor’s orders for a change, and try to sleep for a while?”
“Yes sir.” Chris told Sanchez cockily.
Vin snickered as the older man tried his best to imitate a 'Larabee' glare at the man who had created it, and failed.
Larabee grinned at Josiah. “Seriously though, getting some shut-eye does sound like a good idea.” Chris closed his eyes and tried to relax his aching muscles. He knew that some of the tension that he was feeling was more from his being alone in the same room with Tanner for the first time since he had been back from California. The pain in his injured shoulder was tolerable, and something that he could manage on the non-narcotic medications that the doctors had prescribed for him. At least he didn't have to worry about the possibility of a relapse, as his mind was focused on other things. It was good to have his family back together again, and he'd go through a hell of a lot more pain than what he was experiencing right now, to make sure it never was torn completely apart. He had waited a long time for the opportunity to make things right with Vin. Now that they were here, face to face, he was not sure where to start.
“Start wherever you feel most comfortable.” Vin's soft drawl drifted across the room to invade Larabee's thoughts.
Chris sighed. He hadn't realized he had been broadcasting his jumbled thoughts so loudly. “I expect the first thing that I need to say to you Vin is that I'm sorry. I was wrong. The way I acted, what I said to you....what I accused you of… hell, most everything I did was backasswards.”
“I wasn't after your job Chris.” Tanner said, choosing his words carefully. “It was you who placed me in charge of MCAT while you went under. I just followed your orders and led the unit to the best of my ability durin’ your absence.”
“I know that, Vin.” Larabee said. “I just got so caught up in wanting to save those kids that I didn't care who it was I had to step around or over, as long as I did it. Part of it I know was the drugs talking, but the other part of it was all me. I let my ego override every other thought until I was in so deep, I didn't know how to get myself out of it. If it hadn't been for you and boys coming in when you did, I’d be a dead man right now, or a prisoner in some foreign country. Once again my brothers came through to rescue my ornery ass, even though this time, it was with me kicking and screaming all the way. I owe you all, and I can't begin to even up the score.”
“No one's keepin' track, Cowboy. We didn't do anythin’ more than what you would have done for us. What you have done for me more times than I can count, includin' rescuing my hide this mornin' before I became the prize trophy for the RMR.”
Chris chuckled in spite of the seriousness of their conversation, as an image of Vin, all trussed up and stuck over a fireplace swam before his eyes.
Tanner must have caught a glimpse of what he was seeing because he chuckled wryly. “You’ve got a twisted sense of humor.”
Larabee grew serious again. “In spite of my bullheadedness, all of you stepped back and let me make the decision about my future without forcing the issue. That means a lot to me. I can't promise that we won't butt heads over something in the future Vin, but I can say that I will do my damnest not to bring the unit or the family down around our heads again"
Tanner considered the underlying emotions he heard in Larabee's voice as he spoke. “It's done, and in the past, Chris. We can only move forward from here.”
Chris let out the breath he had been holding. “Now, that we've got that settled between us...there's something else I want to discuss with you.”
Tanner sighed. He had had a feeling that Larabee wasn't going to let how he went undercover in the RMR go without them hashing it out. “You would have done the same thing Chris.”
“It isn't the fact that you chose to go undercover in the RMR that bothers me Vin. It's how you went under.” Chris told him. “Damnit Vin, you aren't indestructible anymore than I am. I know that I forgot that for awhile, but I'm back to thinking clearly again, and I am certainly not going to make the same mistake twice. Hell, I could even go so far and say it was the pills I was indulging in that made me do it. What's your excuse?”
“I knew what I was doing Chris.” Tanner's voice had a touch of anger in it. “I couldn't walk away from goin' into this assignment, any more than you could not go undercover in California. Not only had those bastards killed one Federal agent, they damn near killed Paul and Nathan too. I don't even like to think of what might have happened to Nathan if Rain hadn't called and alerted me and Kelli that he hadn't come home."
Silence filled the room for a few moments, as the two men contemplated how close they had come to losing their brother.
“I agree that not doing anything was out of the question.” Larabee said slowly. “Why did you go in alone? Why didn't you set someone else in MCAT up as a backup? I understand why you didn’t take someone in the compound, but what about in town?”
"MCAT was not ready then to take on another explosive case when we hadn't recovered from the last one. Besides, who would that have been, Chris? None of the other available agents would have fit in with that group, certainly not Nathan or Sandoval. Buck and JD were needed at MCAT. Ezra was Kel's back-up and Josiah…"
"Okay, I get the picture." Chris knew that the options had been limited.
"As soon as I learned that Chambers wanted a weapons specialist, the cover that Raven gave me was set in stone.”
“It's not like you to trust your life to someone outside the family.”
Vin considered his reply before answering. “Raven isn't someone that I would call a friend, but he is someone that I trust. In the beginnin’, when he was trainin’ me, it was out of necessity. After I worked with him for a while I realized that I trusted him because under his paranoia, and meticulous plannin’, he is an honorable man. He just sees things a bit more in shades of gray than we do because of the constraints of our jobs. I knew that he would be able to obtain what I needed, without askin’ questions that I preferred not to answer, and that he would see his part in my assignment through to the end. If you had been available, I would not have gone to him. It was his extreme mistrust of human behavior that saved my hide. What I didn’t know until yesterday was that he had a man on the inside of the RMR watchin’ my back, and it was his man that warned me that I had been compromised. Otherwise, you would have never had the chance to pull me out of those mountains...I would not have made it out of that compound alive.”
“Raven told me that there were two men coming in today that knew you were not Dusty Slater. What happened?”
“Not sure.” Vin answered. “A group from Texas came in early, and apparently when Karl mentioned Slater’s name alarm bells went off, and they began to compare notes. When Clay used Raven’s name I knew it was time to get the hell out, and not wait for answers.”
“Clay? You sent us a file on him didn’t you?”
“Yeah, but I doubt any of it is factual. If Raven had him in the RMR to keep an eye on me, then the man is long gone now, and ‘m sure that Clay Waters was not his true identity.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you, but I am glad that your…acquaintance is paranoid.” Chris met Vin’s eyes. “His mistrust saved your life, and I'm forever indebted to the man for that. Gives me a chance to set a few things right again… When I think of how close I came to messing up our friendship because of my refusal to see that I had a problem and needed help...”
“Movin' forward, remember Cowboy?” The Texan knew that Chris needed to say his peace to make his recovery steps, but it was not necessary for him to hear it. “We’re more than just friends Chris, we're family too. Family doesn't keep score or give up on one another when things get rough. You had some things to work out, I stepped back to let you do it and you did. As far as ‘m concerned, were good, and what has past is history.” Tanner grinned, and changed the subject. “Kel told me that we’re not the only ones expecting an addition to the family. Congratulations Dad.”
Chris had reconciled with the last person on his list to make amends to, and just like that it was done. He had known that Vin would not make it harder for him, but he did not expect it to be this easy. Yet it was, and now they could move forward with no unresolved words between them. “Yep, number two is on the way, and I’m thrilled, but Linda…well that’s a long story.”
“Don’t look like either of us is going anywhere ‘til tomorrow.”
Larabee filled Tanner in on what was going on in his life and eventually both men succumbed to the sleep that their wounded bodies demanded.
Room 503 ~9:00pm
A few hours of rest had improved both Larabee and Tanner's conditions dramatically. Chris, Buck, and Josiah were speaking softly while Vin was on the phone. All of them had checked in with their families, except for Chris, and Linda was still not returning his phone calls, but he did assure himself that Grace was in good hands. Tanner had talked to both Jason and Andi, and promised to see them tomorrow. He was saying goodnight to Kelli, and the three men were trying not to listen to his private conversation.
Buck chuckled as Vin hung up. “Sounded a lot like the conversation I had with Inez earlier. I’m glad our baby watch is almost over. You, Tanner, are in for a long few months ahead.”
“I'm ready to experience it all alongside Kelli.” Tanner declared with a wide grin. "In fact, 'm lookin' forward to all the fun."
The three older men glanced at each other and burst out laughing. “Too bad I don’t have a tape recorder right about now.” Buck exclaimed. “I would love to play back your words to you a few months down the road when you've learned just how unpredictable a pregnant wife can be.”
Tanner rolled his eyes at Wilmington as the door opened and Ezra walked in carrying a large bouquet of multi-hued roses.
“Ez, you shouldn't have.” Vin quipped as he eyed the bouquet.
“I didn't. One of the nurses handed them to me and said that they were for Room 503.” Standish told him, setting the bouquet on the table between the two beds. He removed the envelope that had come with the bouquet and frowned when he saw the name written on it.
“What's the card say?” Larabee asked.
“There must have been some mix-up.” Ezra replied with a look of puzzlement on his face. “The envelope is addressed to a Lady Hawk...”
Vin tensed. “Give me the card Ezra.”
Standish handed the card to Tanner as the other men looked on. Vin opened the envelope and read aloud what was written on the card “The Wily Coyotes have moved their den. Scouts have been sent out to bring back the pelt of their wayward cub.” It was initialed with the letter 'R'.
“Damnit” Chris exclaimed.
“What in the hell does that mean?” Buck questioned.
Josiah had been watching Chris and Vin, and did not miss the tension radiating off their bodies. “I believe Brother Buck that it is not a Hallmark greeting.”
“You’ve got that right,” Vin voiced. “Lady Hawk is Kelli. The flowers were sent by Raven as a warnin’. The RMR has moved, and they are lookin’ for me, aka their wayward cub, dead or alive. We need to get home; I am not lettin’ that bastard anywhere near my family.” Vin carefully slipped the IV needle out of his arm, and silenced the alarm on the machine “Ez, I hope your brought us some clothes because we are leavin' here tonight.”
“I did, and your Tahoe has been detailed, and is sitting in the parking lot, but why the rush?” Ezra set the bag he was carrying on the end of the bed. “Barbara followed me over here, and is waiting for me downstairs.”
Chris removed his IV, and grabbed his clothes out of the bag, passing Tanner his. “If Raven knows we’re here, then Chambers could possibly find us, and he could already be aware of Tanner’s true identity. We can’t take that chance or risk that he knows Vin's family is at the ranch.”
Josiah pulled some gauze and tape from the bedside drawer to put on Vin’s arm, and then repeated the process for Chris. He and Buck helped both men to dress, put their shoes on, and then wrestled them into coats.
“Rain has setup a room for Chris and Grace at your house Vin. Give me time to
get you both checked out of the hospital and then…”
“No!” Chris snapped. “We are leaving here without warning anyone. Once we are on the ranch property, then you can tell whoever you want to.”
Buck mumbled something about Nathan having a conniption when he saw Tanner and Larabee’s condition. “Okay, all your other gear is already home; all we need to do is get you two downstairs, and out the side door without either of you falling on your face or ass.”
“I will go down, and send Barbara up here to create a diversion with the nurses, while I bring the truck to the side door to meet y’all.” Ezra grabbed the roses, and the bag that Josiah had stuffed with more gauze, tape, and whatever else he found that he thought might come in handy. “Give me five minutes.”
“Buck, you get any closer to me and we're both goin' to be wearin' the same clothes.” Larabee snapped at Wilmington as his long time friend hovered at his elbow, ready to grab hold of him at any moment as the blond started toward the door.
Buck chuckled sheepishly. “Sorry...just trying to help.”
“I know you are...” Chris sighed, gritting his teeth against the pain that shot through his upper chest as he moved, “…just don't do it so close.”
Tanner, although he was still weak and in pain, was able to walk unassisted over to the door to await their chance to escape, but felt as if he had suddenly grown a shadow that was twice his size as Josiah followed closely beside him to lend a hand if he needed it. “Could you spare me a few inches, Josiah? You’re smotherin' me.”
“Sorry, Vin.” Josiah replied as he took a step back.
Vin opened the door slightly and peered out. As Ezra had promised, Barbara was at the nurse’s station, and appeared to be giving them grief over something. He grinned when he heard her demand to speak to a supervisor, and watched the night nurse leave the desk to find one. It was now or never.
“Let’s go.” Vin whispered as the chime sounded for the announcement that visiting hours were over. The four men exited the room, into the hallway, and melded into a group of other visitors that were leaving for the evening. Barbara fell in behind them. It took only a few minutes to make the short elevator ride to the ground floor, and then find their way to the side door. Buck and Josiah helped the injured pair into the backseat of the Tahoe, and Wilmington sat with them. Sanchez opened the front door and climbed in beside Ezra.
Standish waited only long enough to see Barbara walk over to the Jag and get in. Once she was driving out, he pulled in behind her.
“Well this has been a load of fun, “Buck commented. “Next time though, I get to choose the activity...”