Deceptive Control

by Winnie

Disclaimer----Still not mine, but fun to play around with.

Comments----Many thanks to Marti for reading along with this one and beta-ing it while she was at it. A special thanks to Jordan for that extra kick in the behind to get back to this one. Thanks to Antoinette for the great beta and to Pamela for the wonderful pic for my story.

Orin Travis looked across his desk at the man he'd known most of his life. Their friendship started in university and continued through the years, cemented by the trust they had in each other. Orin looked back at the six files on his desk. He knew Dr. Daniel Coburn was taking a chance bringing this to him, but he could understand his friend's concern.
“Can your organization help me, Orin?”
“I'll discuss it with Chris and get back to you, but I think we'll be able to help. Just leave it to me,” Travis said.
Coburn stood up and reached across the desk, shaking hands with his long time friend.
“Thanks, Orin, Shady Acres is a wonderful institution and I'd hate to see it brought down because of this. I didn't know who else to turn to.”
“Daniel, I'll be in touch with you as soon as we figure out what we're going to do.”
“Okay, but don't call me at my office. I just don't know if it's safe.”
Travis frowned at the idea of his friend going back to the sanatorium, yet there was no choice. He'd worked at Shady Acres since it opened nearly thirty years ago. The dark lines that now marred the tired face were evidence of just how worried Coburn was.
“Daniel, be careful. Don't do anything to draw attention to yourself.”
Orin watched his friend walk to the door, before turning his attention back to the files on his desk. Six people were dead and no one seemed to give a damn. He pressed the button on his phone and waited for his secretary to answer it.
“Yes, Mr. Travis.”
“Doreen, call Chris Larabee and ask him to come to my office right away.”
“Yes, Sir,” the line went dead and he opened the first file. A young woman's face looked up at him, sadness evident in the hazel eyes. Heavy scarring covered most of the right side of her face, and Orin knew she'd suffered extensive burns to cause such damage.
“Mr. Travis?”
“Yes, Doreen.”
“Mr. Larabee is on his way up.”
“Thank you, Doreen. When he gets here, make sure we're not disturbed.”
“Yes, Sir.”
Chris walked out of his office and smiled as six men turned to look in his direction. He knew they'd be curious about why he was leaving after vowing an earthquake wouldn't budge him until the files were updated.
“Hey, Chris, what's happening?” Wilmington asked, tapping a pencil on the papers strewn across his desk.
“I don't know anything yet, Buck. Orin wants to see me.”
“Uh oh,” Tanner said.
“What's that supposed to mean?” Larabee asked, a smile on his face as he watched the tracker eating a cream filled donut.
“Well, hell, Chris, when Orin calls it usually means one of us is in trouble,” Dunne said.
“I do believe now would be a prudent time for us to find a place to enjoy a pleasant repast before the voice of doom descends on all of us,” Standish said.
“Voice of doom, Ez?” Larabee said shaking his head. “You boys go ahead and take an early lunch. I'll fill you in on what's going on when you get back here.”
“Can we bring you something, Chris?” Jackson asked.
“Yeah, if you're going to that deli JD raves about I'll have a hot corned beef on rye,” the blond told them.
“No problem,” Sanchez said, watching his boss move toward the elevator.
“Well, Kid, looks like lunch is on you,” Wilmington said, slapping the Bostonian on the back.
“On me? Why the hell does it have to be on me?” Dunne asked, grabbing his denim jacket from the back of his chair.
“Because it was your idea,” Tanner answered.
“No it wasn't, Vin. It was Chris’,” the youngest member of the team corrected as the six men headed for the elevator.
“Doesn't matter, JD, it was you who mentioned the great sandwiches the deli made,” Jackson said.
“Ah, hell, we gotta stop at an ATM machine on the way then.”
“No problem, Son, there's one on the way,” Sanchez told him as they stepped into the elevator.
Chris entered Travis’ outer office and smiled at the young woman seated there. “Hello, Doreen.”
“Hi, Chris, you can go right in.” She smiled and watched appreciatively as he walked toward Travis’ door. She'd been married for five years, and dearly loved her husband, but nothing compared to the sight of Chris Larabee and the tight black jeans he tended to wear. If only Reggie could fill them out like that!’ she thought, sighing as she turned her attention back to her work.
Chris pushed open the door and entered the spacious office. The decor was tastefully done in oak and soft, cream colored furniture. The desk was clear, except for a phone, a coffee mug, a desktop calendar, and desk organizer. Several files lay open in front of the older man.
“You wanted to see me Orin?”
“Yes, Chris, please have a seat.”
Larabee moved to the soft leather chair in front of Travis’ desk and sat down. He watched as the older man thumbed the files in front of him.
“Do you remember Daniel Coburn?” Travis asked, meeting Larabee's curious gaze.
“Think so. The psychiatrist you introduced us to at the New Year's Eve party?”
“That's him. You know we've been friends a long time?” Larabee nodded. “He works in a privately owned sanatorium called Shady Acres. He's been there a long time and helped a lot of people during his career,” Travis explained.
“Is he in some kind of trouble?” Larabee asked, hearing the undertone of worry in his employer's voice.
“Not yet, but he could be if he's not careful. I just finished a meeting with him and he's asked for our help.”
“What's going on?”
“Take a look at these files,” Travis said and passed the folders to Larabee.
Chris opened the first one and looked at the name. Martha Collins, aged 27. He read through the papers describing her as a victim of an arsonist's fire, and placed in Shady Acres at the request of her mother. The second victim was male, Steven MacDonald, 43, extremely violent, placed in Shady Acres by his older brother. The third victim, Janet Mallory, spent most of her adult life in the sanatorium since being committed by her sister. Francis Jacobson was number four, aged 69, placed at Shady Acres by his children after having a stroke. Robert and Julia Slocum, victims number five and six, an elderly couple placed in the home by Julia's uncle after the two were proven unable to care for themselves.
Orin watched as the younger man studied the files. He knew Larabee was a tedious man and paid attention to details, a trait that saved his life, as well as his friends, on more than one occasion. He knew the blond had chosen his team well, and that they worked well together in spite of the age difference between the oldest and youngest members. He admired the way the seven men formed a tight circle of friendship that was filled with loyalty and trust. Nothing about this team surprised him anymore, yet he knew there were things they'd kept from him. He knew they thought of him as part of their family, but theirs was a brotherly group, and as such his fatherly image was often left out in the cold. Brothers could share things with each other that they would not share with a parent.
Chris placed the last file on the desk and lifted his eyes to meet those of the older man. “Alright Orin, what does this have to do with us?”
“As you can see those six people were patients at Shady Acres.”
“Were?” Larabee asked.
“Yes. That's why Daniel came to me. Those six people died in the last seven months.”
“I take it their deaths are questionable?” Larabee asked.
“Yes, Daniel says the deaths can be easily explained as accidents or natural causes, but we both know how easily that's done.”
“What about the police?”
“There's not enough proof to get them involved. The autopsies showed nothing that couldn't be explained as natural causes.”
“Is there anything to tie the deaths together?” Larabee asked, comparing the files once more.
“Not much. They all come from well-to-do families...’
Sandy blond eyebrows rose and sea green eyes looked up at his boss. “Money is always a good bet when it comes to murder.”
“That's true, but why these particular six. Every patient at Shady Acres comes from money, Chris, so why would it only be these six and why did it start up suddenly with the death of Martha Collins?”
“What about their families. Anything suspicious there?”
“Not that Daniel could find out. He's been trying to figure out what's going on since the third victim was found.”
“Janet Mallory.”
“That's right. She was found in her private washroom, lying against the tub. It looked like she was getting out of the bath when she slipped and struck her head against the sink. One of the female orderlies found her an hour later when she was making rounds with the medications. Janet Mallory was showing signs of regaining her life and would have been released within a month.”
“All right,” Larabee said. “So we have a psychiatrist who seems to think there are six suspicious deaths, and it certainly looks like it.”
“I'm glad you see it that way,” Travis told him. “Chris, Daniel is a good friend and I trust him. I want to help him if we can.”
Larabee simply nodded and closed up the files. “Well, there's nothing pressing right now, so let me talk with the others and I'll get back to you.”
“Thanks, Chris,” Travis said. “You can take the files with you to show them.”
Larabee picked up the files and left the office. He nodded to the secretary and made his way to the flight of stairs. He hurried down to the floor where The Firm's offices were located. The door was open and he slipped inside, smiling as he heard his friends talking in the conference room. He moved toward the door and stood framed in it as he watched Josiah pass around the sandwiches.
“Hey, Chris,” JD called.
“Uh oh,” Jackson said when he noted the files in his boss’ arms.
“Oh, hell, Chris, what's Orin got planned for us now?” Wilmington asked with a grin.
“You might as well sit and have lunch, Chris,” Sanchez said.
“Yeah, man can't think on an empty stomach!” Tanner said, tapping his firm midsection.
“Shoot, Vin, guess that means you never think,” Dunne quipped.
“What's that mean, kid?” the tracker asked, making his way around the table toward the younger man.
“I think Mr. Dunne is making reference to your voracious appetite, Mr. Tanner. If you're always hungry then obviously you are not thinking.”
“Yeah, see, Vin,” Dunne explained. “You're always eating so...”
“JD, I wouldn't if I were you!” Larabee laughed, placing the files on the desk and taking his place at the head of the table.
“JD, I'm not in the mood to patch you up today,” Jackson said of the young man's penchant for joking around.
Vin tried to keep the serious look on his face, but lost it when JD turned toward him. The kid's face said it all and the tracker realized the young man thought he was serious.
“Come on, JD, it's time to eat,” the Texan said and took his seat to Larabee's right.
Chris reached for the sandwich and coffee Sanchez handed him. “Thanks, Josiah,” he said.
“Not me. JD treated today,” the ex-preacher said.
Larabee turned to the dark haired youth and smiled. “Thanks, Kid.”
“Yeah, thanks, JD,” Tanner said, opening the wrap around the thick Philly steak sandwich.
A chorus of thank yous followed and JD felt great.
“You're welcome,” he said and his eyes widened. “Since it was my treat and we're having sandwiches, I heard a new...”
“No!” Buck groaned.
“Aw, come on, JD, no more jokes,” Tanner said.
“It's really funny...”
“That's what you always say, Son,” Sanchez groaned, flipping the top off his coffee.
JD smiled. “It's short,” he said.
“Real short?” Wilmington asked hopefully.
“All right, Kid, let's get it over with,” the ladies man said.
“A sandwich walks into a bar...”
“Ah, hell,” Larabee spat, knowing what was coming.
JD didn't miss a beat. “The bartender says... ‘Sorry we don't serve food in here!’” Several groans went up and JD looked at each man indignantly. “What? That was funny...”
“Shit, JD,” Tanner started. “That's gotta be worse than your three legged dawg joke.”
“Mr. Dunne, it's time to do something about your choice of jokes,” Standish said.
“But it's funny. You guys are just too old,” Dunne told them.
“No, Kid, your jokes are just too old,” Wilmington advised.
“I got more.”
“Okay, Boys, how about we get down to business and make this a working lunch?” Larabee suggested.
“Hmm, JD's jokes or work?” Jackson said holding both hands in the air as if he was weighing his options. His right hand dropped and his left went higher. “No contest…work!” he said and heard the others agree.
“All right, Chris, what's going on?” Sanchez asked.
“Do you remember Orin introducing us to a man named Daniel Coburn?”
“On New Year's Eve?” Jackson asked. “He's a doctor isn't he?”
“Yeah. I seem to remember him working at some kind of institution,” Sanchez offered.
“That's him…he asked Orin if we could help him,” Larabee explained.
“With?” Tanner asked.
“Take a look at these and I'll explain when you've finished reading,” the blond said, passing a single file to each man. The men read the files while eating their lunch in silence. By the time the files were passed around, the meal was finished and they were ready to find out what Larabee had in mind.
“Okay, Chris, what's this all about?” Wilmington asked.
“Coburn came to Orin because he thinks these people were murdered.”
“Does he have any proof?” Standish asked, staring at the picture of Martha Collins.
“Not enough to take to the police,” Larabee explained. “So far all he has are suspicions.”
“I take it he wants us to find out if his suspicions are warranted?” Jackson asked.
“That's right.”
“Guess that means we need a plan,” Wilmington said.
Larabee stood up and paced the room, his right hand running through his hair. “I've been thinking about that. First I want Ezra and JD to find out everything they can about Shady Acres and its staff and clients. See if the victims have anything in common besides the institution.”
“What about the rest of us?” Wilmington asked.
“We'll be working on a plan to go in undercover,” the team leader answered.
“At Shady Acres?” Jackson frowned; knowing what could happen if they did go in.
“If Ez and JD come up with anything we'll have to,” Larabee told them.
“Damn,” the medic cursed softly.
“What's wrong, Nathan?” the scoundrel asked.
“I hate these types of cases. It means at least one of us is going in as a patient...”
“There's no choice.” Larabee turned toward Ezra and JD. “You two get to work. Start with the six names we have. Once you've checked those out go back over the last couple of years and see if there are any more that are even remotely suspicious.”
“On it, Chris,” Dunne said as he followed the gambler out of the room.
“Alright, boys, it's time for a plan of action,” the blond told them.
Chris looked at the men seated around the conference table. In the three days since Travis talked to him they'd formulated a plan. He knew these men were not going to be pleased with this undercover assignment and he shuddered at the part he was going to play. He looked at the seven identical files in front of him and passed one to each of his men.
“This is a list of employees from Shady Acres. Some of them have been there a long time, while others are newcomers. Study them and make sure you know whether or not you'll be involved with any of them. Josiah, would you mind reading the list of names and what they do at the institution? Just give us a brief outline on them and we can go over them more thoroughly later on”
“Sure, Chris,” the ex-preacher said. “Daniel Everett Coburn, age 60, graduated Harvard, was on the Deans Honor list. Worked several years as a missionary before coming to work at Shady Acres. He's been there for over 29 years,” Sanchez finished.
“Are we considering Coburn as a suspect, Chris?” Wilmington asked.
“Right now everyone on that list is a suspect. Go on Josiah,” Larabee said.
“Carl Sheppard, age 45, financial advisor for Shady Acres. He's been with the institute for ten years. There are a few questionable things in his background...”
“Such as?” Standish asked.
“Gambling mostly. He's lost a lot of money at the tracks,” the ex-preacher answered before continuing. “Raymond Kent, age 51, graduated Yale with a full scholarship. Worked in a private institute in New York for several years, but left suddenly, without explanation in ‘82, resurfaced in ‘95 when he went to work at Shady Acres.”
“We need to find out where Kent disappeared during the 13 years he was missing,” Jackson suggested.
“That'll be something for Ezra and JD to work on. I'm sure if there's a record of it they'll find it,” Larabee told them confidently.
“Next we have a Doctor Samantha Parker, age 35, graduated from the University of California. Inherited a large amount of money two years ago when her aunt passed away. Worked for several years at the university before being offered the job at Shady Acres. She's been there for two years.” He turned the page and looked at the next file before reading from it. “Jenny Lidstrum, age 60, RN, has been a member of Shady Acres staff for nearly 24 years.” Sanchez ran down the list of names until the major staff members were known to each man. They went through the medical, office, and cleaning staff until they had some idea of whom they'd be working with.
Larabee stood up and walked to the table that held coffee and donuts. He poured himself a cup and took a sip of the hot, strong brew before turning to his friends. He walked back to the table and pulled out several more files and placed them in front of him. He knew what he was about to suggest went against how their cases were normally handled, but his background was perfect for what they needed.
“Okay, I've got the files here and your new personas. Study them and get to know what your job will be,” he said as he passed each man a file. Once they were open and in front of each man he began speaking again.
“JD, you'll be going in as JD Carter. You'll be working in the office and we'll need you to access the computers, but don't do anything that'll make anyone suspicious of you. Study the file carefully as it's gonna be important that you play the part you're assigned. That goes for all of you. I can't stress enough how dangerous this type of assignment is. We're all essentially on our own once we begin.”
“I'll be careful, Chris,” Dunne told his mentor when he saw the worry in the sea green eyes.
“Buck, you're...
“Buck Chambers,” the ladies man finished.
“That's right,” Larabee said. “You'll be on the cleaning detail...”
“Lots of pretty female cleaners...”
“Those cleaners are probably just your style, Buck...”
“What's that supposed to mean, Kid?” the scoundrel asked.
“Well, the cleaners at Saint Vincents are all over the hill...Just like...”
“JD, you'd better not finish that sentence!” the ladies man warned.
“Okay, Boys, back to work,” Jackson told the two men.
“As I said, Buck. You'll be with the cleaners. Hopefully you'll be assigned a detail or two in the secure facility. Josiah, you're going in as Josiah Arnott, the family spiritual advisor. You won't be involved right away, but I want you to coordinate all the information the others come up with.”
“Consider it done, Chris,” Sanchez said.
“Nathan, you're now Dr. Nathan Bradley. You're doing an internship at Shady Acres as part of your psychiatric rotation.”
“Hey, Doc, you're a doc,” Wilmington said, patting the medic on the shoulder.
“It's a good thing I've had plenty of experience with you lot,” Jackson said and they all laughed.
Larabee turned to the tracker and knew the younger man could see where things were headed.
“Vin, you're going in as Vince Martin. You'll be playing the part of an orderly and will probably end up assigned in the secure area,” Larabee explained, before turning to the gambler.
“That leaves you and Ezra, Chris,” Jackson said worriedly.
“Ezra and I are going to be brothers...”
“Oh, hell, who are we supposed to feel sorry for?” Wilmington asked, a hint of humor in his voice.
“Shut up, Buck,” Larabee said, shaking his head as he saw the smile on Standish's face.
“Mr. Larabee, I am honored to find our paternity is no longer in question,” the conman said and smiled when the ladies man choked on the Pepsi he'd been drinking.
“Shit, Ez, that ain't funny,” Wilmington said.
“Sure it was, Buck, I didn't know you could make the Pepsi come out your nose,” the youngest member of the team said.
“Children, can we get back to work here?” Sanchez asked, smiling at the men surrounding the table.
“Yes, Pa,” Wilmington said and all eyes turned to Larabee again.
“As I was saying, Ezra and I will be brothers. Chris and Ezra Jacobson of Jacobson Enterprises...”
“Sounds like we're rich,” Standish said.
“We are...or should I say I am. I'm afraid you're the brother who drops money at the tracks or casinos and has squandered everything you own.”
“Oh, hell, poor Ezra needs to beg his big brother for money. You gonna give him an allowance, Chris?” Wilmington asked.
Larabee raised his eyebrows and shook his head. Buck knew how to relieve tension and he was grateful for it now.
“So what do our cover stories have to do with Shady Acres?” Standish asked.
“Well, as I said you've squandered everything, but you've managed to finagle your way into a top position at Jacobson Enterprises, unfortunately for you I now have the means to remove you as CEO of the corporation.”
“Kicked out on your butt, Ez,” Dunne said,
“Not quite,” Larabee explained. “Before I get a chance to go to the board we'll be making a trip to Shady Acres.”
“Why?” Jackson asked, beginning to see where his boss was going and not liking the idea one bit.
“It's all part of Ezra's plan. He's enlisted the help of Susan James...”
“Our Susan James?” Standish asked.
“That's right. She'll be accompanying us to the institution.”
“Why?” Wilmington asked, sitting further up in his chair and paying closer attention.
“Ezra is going to have his brother...”
“Committed,” Tanner finished for the blond.
“That's right,” Larabee answered.
“Chris, I...”
“Ezra, there's no choice. We need to find out what's happening at Shady Acres and that means one of us goes in undercover,” Larabee answered.
“Why you?” Jackson asked.
“Because part of the persona of Chris Jacobson is that he's got an anger management problem...”
“I can get angry...”
“I know you can, Vin. I know all of you can, but there's more to it. Jacobson will also have a drinking problem and his family background will be similar to my own.”
“Meaning?” Sanchez asked.
“Jacobson's family was murdered and he's been searching for the people who did it. Look, boys, I know you don't like this...”
“You got that right,” Tanner snapped sharply.
“There has to be another way, Chris,” Jackson tried.
“This is the best way to get in there. We've already done some of the groundwork. Orin and Dr. Coburn...”
“You started this without consulting us?” the tracker asked softly.
“Vin, I hate to say this, but I am in charge here and sometimes decisions have to be made. No matter who we decided to send in, it wouldn't be an easy decision. I talked it over with Orin and this is the best background we could come up with on short notice.”
“Chris, you do know what being admitted to an institution like Shady Acres means?” the medic asked.
“I know, Nathan,” Larabee answered as he leaned back in his chair.
“Do you? You said Ezra was going to have you committed.”
“That's right, Nathan,” the blond answered.
“So you'll be committed forcefully, which means orderlies and sedatives...”
“I know,” Larabee told him. “I know they'll...”
“They'll pin you to the floor until the doctor injects a sedative into you. Then you'll be placed in a small room until they assess you,” Jackson explained.
“Dr. Coburn went through the procedures with me.”
“You still think you'll be able to handle it? What if they decide to put you in restraints? That ain't pretty, Chris,” the medic stated.
“I know,” the blond said. “There's nothing else we can do and we all know that no matter who was going in as a patient there'd be arguments for and against. Ezra study that file, you'll need to know where our offices are located and how much we're supposed to be worth.”
“How long do we have before we go in?” Wilmington asked, resigned to the fact that his long time friend would be going undercover as a mental patient.
“Susan James is making an appointment for us to tour the facility next Thursday or Friday. I won't be leaving when Ezra and Susan do,” Larabee said and watched as his friends shuffled the papers before them.
“Chris,” Tanner said after the others left.
“I know what you're going to say, Vin, but I'm okay with this. I know what I'm doing.”
“That's not the problem, Chris, and you know it. Hell, I've seen you go undercover and you're one of the best operatives I've ever seen, but this means confinement, drugs, and probably restraints. It means you won't have control over your own life. We both know how hard that is.”
“Yes, we do, and we've all been through it in one way or another. I know what I'm getting in to and believe me if there was any other way I'd jump at it.”
“Me too,” the tracker said as he turned to leave. “Ya'd better watch yer back, Larabee?”
“That's going to be your job, Vin,” the blond said softly, unaware that the younger man heard him. He walked into his office and sat down at his desk, wishing, not for the first time that the case was over.
Vin shuddered at the thought of being unable to fulfill his promise to watch his best friend's back. Once inside Shady Acres, Larabee would be virtually on his own until the case ended. The tracker prayed things would be easier than it sounded. He walked to his desk and picked up his jacket before heading out. He knew the next few weeks were going to be some of the hardest of his life, yet he vowed to make sure the blond came out of it in one piece.
Time passed quickly as the agents prepared for the upcoming undercover job. Each man understood what was required of him and would make sure he knew what his part would entail. Buck and Vin often wound up at Larabee's ranch as if they could change the events that were about to occur just by being close to their friend.
Chris often felt his men watching him and knew it was their worry over the role he was undertaking. Again and again he tried to reassure his friends that he knew what he was getting into, but two men continued to worry in spite of his constant reassurances.
Buck wasn't sure if he could face the next phase of the assignment. He'd been working as a cleaner at the institution for a little over a week and had seen things he knew were the norm, yet it caused a shiver to run through him. He knew Vin and JD were already in place at Shady Acres and things were set up for Chris Larabee and Ezra Standish. Susan James would be accompanying the two men in an effort to add credibility to the cover story. Any background checks made by Shady Acres would reveal that Chris and Ezra Jacobson were business tycoons with conglomerates across the world.
“Buck, you okay?”
Wilmington turned away from the corral as the sharpshooter returned with two bottles of Budweiser. He accepted one and felt the cold mist run down the side of the bottle.
“Thanks, Vin,” he said before taking a healthy swig.
“You okay?” the tracker repeated.
“I'm fine, Vin…just worried about Chris.”
“Because of what happened after Sarah and Adam?”
“Yeah, I keep seeing him when we brought him in. Jesus, Chris thinks he remembers everything about that, but we know differently. Don't we?”
“Yeah. I can see it as if it happened yesterday...”
Buck floored the accelerator and took the curve at full speed. He felt the tracker next to him and knew the younger man understood the need for speed. They'd both read the note from Chris Larabee, the words written in the strong hand sent chills through both men.
“Easy, Buck, we won't do him any good if we roll the car,” the sharpshooter said as they sped toward a dangerous bend in the road.
“Ain't gonna roll it!” Wilmington snapped impatiently as they rounded the bend. His breath caught in his throat as he spotted the familiar turnoff to the spread Larabee had bought for his family, his dead family, his murdered family. The words tore at his heart as he remembered the soft laughter of Sarah and Adam Larabee, forever silenced to the real world, but always alive in his mind.
“Can you see him, Vin?”
“His truck's there, but I can't see him!” the tracker shouted as they turned onto the gravel drive.
“Fuck!” the ladies’ man swore as he pulled the car to a grinding halt in front of the burned out shell of Larabee's ruined home. Tanner was out of the Mustang before it came to a complete stop, shouting for their missing friend.
“Chris!” the tracker shouted, praying they'd find Larabee before it was too late.
“Larabee!” Wilmington's call joined that of the younger man as they moved toward the remnants of the once beautiful home.
“Chris! Answer me or I'll kick yer ass inta next week!” the Texan warned as he searched the broken pieces of what had once been his friend's life.
“Vin, over there!” the scoundrel shouted as he spotted a tuft of blond hair peeking out from under a piece of blackened wood.
“Shit! I got him,” the tracker said, moving toward his friend.
“Go easy!” Wilmington warned as he joined the younger man. He knew Tanner was completely recovered from the burns he'd received when he hauled Larabee from the warehouse, but he didn't want to chance him being re-injured.
Tanner moved quickly as he removed piece after piece of debris until the lean form was uncovered. To say that Chris Larabee had lost weight since his family's murder was an understatement and Vin knew it was partially due to the drinking. He didn't blame his friend for that, but he knew it was time to put a stop to it.
“Help me get him out of here, Buck!” the tracker said as he reached for the nearly empty bottle of whiskey clutched tightly in the blond's left hand, ignoring the growl that emanated from the lightly bearded face of his best friend.
Wilmington heard the growl and knew Larabee was starting to come round. He moved behind the fallen man and reached for his arms.
“” Larabee snarled, his breath was foul to the two men helping him.
“I got him, Vin,” the ladies man said as he pulled the blond from the rubble.
“Get yer fu...fuckin’ ‘ands off me!” the blond spat, his slurred words evident of his drunken state.
“Just shut the hell up, Larabee!” Tanner ordered.
“We're gonna help you out!” Wilmington said sharply.
“D...don't nee...yer....fuckin’ hep...jesh lemme be!”
“Ain't gonna happen, Larabee. Me and Buck's gonna take ya ta see Dr. James...”
“Don't need to s...see her...gimme my whishky!”
“No!” his two friends shouted as one. They carried the blond out of the rubble and placed him on the ground as his stomach rebelled against the weeks of binge drinking. The fact that none of them had seen this happening to the blond didn't escape their thoughts as the retching continued.
The tracker looked up as Larabee's shoulders finally grew still. He placed a hand on the shivering form and knew the blond would need psychiatric help to get through this. He would need to admit to himself that he had a problem with alcohol before he could let it go.
“Buck, help me get him in the car...”
“A...ain't leavin’!” Larabee spat and struggled to stand up. His body shook with the effort and he sank to his knees in front of his home.
“Chris, ya need help!” Tanner said softly as the blond tried to pull away from them.
Larabee turned maniacal eyes on the young man beside him as he struggled to his feet once more. Weeks of only a diet of whiskey and cigarettes combined to make the world spin around him. He fought against it as he shouted angrily, taking out his grief on the two men closest to him.
“I don't need your help!”
“Chris, you're drinking...”
“Shut the fuck up, Buck! I don't need you! Don't need anyone!”
“Chris, let us help...”
“Not fuckin’ likely Buck! Look where your help got me! If you hadn't helped me Sarah and Adam might still be alive!” the blond snarled as angry tears came to his eyes. He didn't see the pain flash across Wilmington's face at his harsh words, didn't see the tears in the blue eyes.
Vin didn't miss either of those things and he knew Larabee was lashing out because of the booze in his system and that he would come to regret those words. He latched onto Larabee's blue shirt as the drunken man tried to stagger away from them.
“Let me GO!” the blond screamed and tried to pull away so he could escape from the tight grip.
Chris lashed out with his left hand, missing the tracker's face by a fraction of an inch before the smaller man's arms wrapped tightly around his chest. “Let me go, Tanner or so help me I'll kill you!”
Wilmington reached out to help restrain his long time friend, knowing it was the alcohol and grief talking.
“Stop this shit, Chris!”
“Fuck you, Buck! Get off me!” Larabee snarled as the two men pinned him to the door of the car.
“Get the door open, Buck!” Tanner hissed as he fought to keep his friend in place.
“Can you hold him if I let go?” Wilmington shouted above the raging tiger known as Chris Larabee.
“Get yer cuffs!” the sharpshooter ordered and waited for the ladies man to reach into the glove compartment of his car.
“Get his arms behind his back!” the ladies’ man snapped.
“Don't you fuckin’ try it, Tanner!”
“Get them on him, Buck!” the sharpshooter ordered as he shoved Larabee's face onto the top of the car.
“Fuckin’!” Larabee warned as the cuffs clicked into place.
“Yeah, I'm sure you will,” Wilmington said as they turned the blond to face them. He was shocked as he got his first real look at Larabee's face. The eyes were sunken deep in his skull, the skin held a gray pallor, and a week's growth of whiskers covered the lower half of his friend's face. The lips and teeth were stained and the rank odor of stale booze and cigarettes turned his stomach.
“Jesus!” the ladies’ man swayed as he realized just how far his friend had sunk over the last few weeks.
“Easy, Buck, help me get him inta the back seat!” Tanner ordered.
“Get these fuckin’ things off me!” Larabee screamed as the door was opened and he was forced into the back seat.
The two men ignored the irate blond as Buck climbed into the driver's seat and Vin climbed in beside Larabee.
“You'd better call the hospital and let them know we're on the way in, Vin. Tell them it's suspected alcohol poisoning!” Wilmington shouted over Larabee's screams of rage.
Tanner took out his cell phone and dialed the number for Saint Vincents. He spoke rapidly to the ER desk and explained what was going on as Wilmington started the car and drove away from the ruined homestead.
They drove steadily, both men trying to ignore the cuffed man who fought against them. Buck drove well above the speed limit until he reached the edge of the city. Once there he slowed down and drove along the streets until he reached the emergency room doors leading into the hospital.
Two orderlies stood on either side of a gurney and the two men were relieved to see Stacey Midland and Susan James standing there as well. Buck was out of the door first and calling the doctors over as Vin tried to hold the raging bull down.
“Doc, it's Chris!” the ladies’ man shouted.
“What's wrong with him, Buck?” Midland asked, knowing this was one of only two men who could read Larabee easily.
“Pretty sure it's alcohol. He's been binging for weeks, but none of us saw this coming,” the ladies’ man explained.
Susan James watched as the irate man was pulled from the car. She was shocked by his appearance, but held it in check. Larabee had been doing so well, but she knew he was in trouble once more. She watched as Tanner and Wilmington helped the orderlies force Chris onto the gurney and strap him down.
“Let's get him into number one!” Midland said as she listened to the angered cries from the blond.
Vin and Buck ran alongside the stretcher, wincing at the vile language and obscenities that left their leader's mouth. Larabee struggled against the bonds holding him down as the words were screamed from his ravaged throat.
“Do you have any idea how much he's had to drink?” Midland asked as the orderlies pushed the gurney into the room.
“He had a bottle of whiskey with him when we found him. The damn thing was nearly empty. There's no telling what else he's had since he left the office last week,” Wilmington answered.
“Alright, you two wait here!” the doctor ordered as a second doctor and a nurse rushed into the room.
“Doc is he...”
“Vin, I'll let you know as soon as we know anything!” Midland said as she closed the door behind her, they heard the sound of retching and knew the blond was sick once more.
The two men stood on either side of the door listening as the doctor gave orders for blood tests and an NG tube to be inserted. The door opened and Midland stepped out.
“Who has the keys to the cuffs?” she asked.
“I do,” the ladies man answered and pulled the key from his pocket. He handed it to the doctor and she hurried back inside as the door began to close. Wilmington placed his hand on it to stop it from closing completely and watched as his friend received the treatment he needed.
Vin watched as Larabee continued to struggle against the people helping him. As soon as his arms were released he tried to come off the bed only to be stopped by the two orderlies who held him down while Midland and James wrapped the leather straps around his wrists and ankles. He swallowed the painful lump in his throat as he listened to his best friend. Chris Larabee was an enraged animal under the control of alcohol and until it was out of his system he'd need to be restrained. Somehow he knew the fight to get the blond back would not be an easy one. He looked up just in time to meet Wilmington's glance and knew he wasn't alone in his worry for the blond.
The flashback ended as abruptly as it began and Vin shuddered as if the night air had suddenly turned cold. He took a long drink from the beer in his hand as he looked at the ladies’ man.
“I remember how he reacted to the restraints when Dr. Midland ordered them.”
“Me too, Buck. He hated them and he hated us for bringin' him in and havin’ him committed. Jesus, he was like that old tale about the doctor...
“Jekyll and Hyde?”
“Yeah, it was like two people in one body only Chris never seemed to be there. I swore I'd never see him like that again.”
“We both did, Vin, but it's Chris’ decision.”
“What if he remembers, Buck?”
“We'll deal with it if that happens, Vin.”
“We will, but what about Chris. Will he be able to handle threatenin’ both of us or the fact that he blamed Sarah and Adam's deaths on you?”
“I...Vin...I knew Chris didn't mean those things...”
“Don't matter. At the time it was real and I saw the look on yer face. If Chris ever remembers half the things he said and did durin’ that time he's gonna have a hard time forgivin’ himself,” the tracker said before finishing the last of his beer.
“There's nothing we can do about it until it happens,” the ladies man said as he handed over the empty bottle.
“Want another?” the tracker asked.
“Yeah,” Wilmington mumbled as he looked out over the land. Larabee's ranch bordered on Tanner's and he sometimes felt jealous of their closeness. Buck knew the two men had a destiny together, one that surpassed his own friendship with Chris Larabee, yet there would always be a place for him in Larabee's life. That was something he would hold on to for the rest of his life. For now he needed to put his worries and fears behind him and pray that Larabee could handle the trials ahead of him.
Vin returned with two more beers and the silence stretched out between them as the sun dipped below the horizon, leaving in it's wake a bleak twilight that mirrored the thoughts running through both their minds.
Tomorrow was a long way off, yet it would arrive too soon for both of them.
Carl Sheppard studied the file before him. Ezra Jacobson and Susan James had come to see him about Jacobson's brother. Susan James was a well-established psychiatrist and she'd laid the ground work that would see Chris Jacobson become an inmate at Shady Acres. He flipped one of the papers, revealing a photo of a blond haired man whose green eyes seemed glacial in spite of the smile on his face. He quickly read the bio on the new patient.
Chris Jacobson, male, age 42. Parents, Martin and Erica Jacobson, deceased. Patient is prone to violent behavior and extreme rage. Arrested three times in the last four months for brawling in a public bar and destruction of property. Has problem with alcohol abuse, but refused treatment.
One brother, Ezra Jacobson, age 37, has Business Degree from Harvard. CEO of Jacobson Enterprises since the board voted Chris Jacobson out of the job.
Sheppard picked up a second document on Jacobson Enterprises. The corporation was a multi-national conglomerate with offices in New York, England, France, Canada, and many smaller countries. The company's assets ran in the billions and Sheppard rubbed his hands briskly at the thought of all that money so close. He looked at his watch, closed the folder and stood up. The new patient would be there shortly and he needed to make sure everything was set.
“Chris, are you sure you're ready for this?” Susan James asked, as she placed her briefcase on the seat beside her.
“There's not much choice now, Doc, besides I've got plenty of backup.”
“I know, but you're going into a dangerous situation. There'll be times when you won't have backup. Vin and Nathan won't be there at night. Buck's on night duty, but he may not be in your area. JD will only be there during the day.”
“I know, Doc. I can handle myself.”
“I know you can, but we know little or nothing about Shady Acres. The staff members are not all they seem to be either.”
“I'll be careful,” Larabee assured her and turned to see Ezra join them. “Well, dear brother, shall we get this over with?”
“Mr. Larabee...”
“Ah, Ez, I don't think it's a good idea for you to call your brother that,” the blond said with a grin.
“Oh,” Standish said, smiling sheepishly. “Sorry, Chris.”
“It's okay, just thought we'd better start playing the roles we're taking on…can't chance slipping up once we're inside.”
“Indubitably, Chris,” Standish said, the smile quickly leaving his face as the limousine pulled out into the traffic.
“It's okay, Ezra,” Larabee said softly.
“Is it, Chris? I'm signing you into Shady Acres and we both know what will transpire when you have your little episode.”
“There's nothing we can do about that,” the blond told him.
“I know, but I still don't like it,” the conman said.
“None of us do, Ezra, but it's the only way. If we go in there and I act nice and calm when you spring your little surprise on me it'll look suspicious. I'm supposed to be prone to violence and this is the only way to avoid attention.”
“I know you're right, Chris, but...”
“Ezra, we both have a job to do and I know it's gonna be harder on you than the rest of us, but I need you to put on the performance of a lifetime.”
“I won't let you down, Chris.”
“You never have,” Larabee said and turned his head to gaze out the window. The truth was his stomach was queasy at the thought of entering an institution where his freedom would be greatly curtailed. He wanted to believe they'd be able to handle any situation, but the term ‘deceptive control’ kept running through his mind. He closed his eyes, hoping to keep his agitation from the other passengers.
Daniel Coburn watched as the black limousine pulled through the heavy metal gates at the end of the red brick driveway. He knew who was in the car and wondered how this was going to go. Susan James would've explained to Larabee what would happen once he turned violent, but it still bothered him that he would have to order the medication.
“Is that the new client?”
Coburn turned to look at the man who'd just joined him. Carl Sheppard was a short man, barely over five foot, with thinning black hair, and a thick moustache under a nose that was too big for his gaunt face.
“Yes, just remember the client doesn't know he's being admitted today,” Coburn explained.
“I know, Doctor, you just make sure you keep control of the situation. We don't need to cause a scene with the possibility of new money.”
“Is that all you ever worry about, Carl? What about the patients?” Coburn's voice was filled with loathing as he stared at the smaller man.
“My job is to keep this place running smoothly and make sure the high standards are maintained,” Sheppard snapped. “The patients I leave in your capable hands, Dr. Coburn! Now we both have jobs to do, so please keep your opinions to yourself until after the client is admitted.”
Coburn watched as the limousine pulled to a stop and the chauffeur exited the car and moved to the back doors. A woman stepped out and the doctor knew this was Susan James. She wore a well-tailored beige suit with a white blouse. He recognized the second man as Ezra Standish and again was amazed at the way the man seemed to ooze sophistication. The dark Armani suit was tailored to fit his body to perfection. Standish stood beside James and looked around the grounds disinterestedly.
He had to hide his shock as the third passenger exited the car. Chris Larabee was barely recognizable from the man he'd met nearly three weeks ago. The man who stepped from the limo wore black jeans and a black leather jacket, but what struck Coburn was the scruff of beard and the unruly blond hair. He wore dark Ray Ban sunglasses and staggered as if he'd already had a drink or two too many. The man actually looked the part of a drunk and the doctor knew Larabee would be able to fool the staff, at least for now.
“What the fuck are we doing here, brother dear?” Larabee asked.
“Now, Chris, I already explained that we were asked to check Shady Acres as a possible tax break. You do want to make sure we pay only what we need to, don't you?”
“Why the hell should I care! I've got plenty of money,” the blond snarled, leaning so that his face was next to Standish's ear. “Or are you afraid there won't be any left over for you if you succeed in getting rid of me?”
“Don't bother answering, Ezra. We both know you'll soon be ousted from the company and I'm not even gonna have to lift a finger...”
“Chris, you're making a show of yourself,” James said as she placed her hand on Larabee's shoulder.
“What the hell do you care, Doc, long as I keep paying you,” Larabee smiled and lewdly reached for her. “Hell, Doc, that suit makes you downright appealing!”
“Excuse me...”
Larabee turned toward the newcomers and smiled crookedly at the doctor who was now officially their client. “What the hell do you want?” the blond asked.
“Mr. Jacobson, you're disturbing some of the patients...”
Larabee started to laugh at Coburn's statement. “I thought the patients were here because they were...ah...disturbed.” He laughed at the look on his ‘brother's’ face.
“Chris, let's just take the tour and you can get back to your...”
“Drinking and carousing, Ez...Jesus are you ever gonna get a life of your own and stop interfering in mine?”
“Mr. Jacobson, my name is Carl Sheppard and...”
“Is that supposed to mean something to me?” Larabee asked.
“Not yet, but it will. You see I'm the man who looks after the finances here at Shady Acres...”
Larabee laughed as he looked at the man. “Let me tell you something, Sheppard, if I do invest in this mental hospital the first thing I'm gonna do is insist on a name change. Who the hell came up with that name. Jesus, Shady Acres sounds more like a graveyard than a, what is it you called this place, Dr. James? Oh yes…a luxurious home for the mentally impaired.”
“Chris, stop it right now!” Standish said as he stood beside his ‘brother’.
“Or what, brother? You'll make me leave. Well, shit, I'm ready to leave right now!”
“Mr. Jacobson, please calm down for a minute.”
“I am calm, Dr...”
“Coburn,” the psychiatrist answered automatically. “I know you don't want to be here, but if you'll bear with me we'll get the tour over as quickly as possible and you can be on your way.”
“Chris, please,” Ezra began.
“Oh, fuck, he's using his impeccable manners. All right, let's get this over with. I need a drink.”
“I believe you've already had enough,” Standish mumbled, and was surprised when Larabee turned on him, grabbing him by the collar of his expensive suit.
“It's none of your business what I do, Ezra, and it's about fucking time you learned that! Those gambling debts of yours are not gonna go away and I'm not gonna okay any more money to your accounts!” he said and shoved the younger man. He smiled as Standish hit the ground and stared up at him wild eyed. “Don't look so surprised, brother dear. I've known about your heavy hand at the table for some time now and have just been waiting for you to dig your own grave.”
“Chris, that's enough,” James said as she helped the younger man to his feet.
“Yes, Doctor, that is enough. All right, Sheppard show me around your little facility,” the blond ordered, turning his back on the gambler and the female doctor.
Sheppard smiled as he looked at the three newcomers. “Alright, Mr. Jacobson, would you like to start with the grounds?”
“I don't care! Just show me what I'm supposed to be investing in. Ezra, since this was your idea you'd better get your ass in gear and follow me,” Larabee insisted.
“We'll start with the gardens then. Follow me,” Sheppard said, filing away the information he'd just received. He smiled inwardly at the possibility of getting his hands on some of the Jacobson millions.
“Gardens…just what I want to see,” Larabee said sarcastically.
“Chris, please...”
“Please what, Ezra. Please don't make a that what you were gonna say? Well, if you don't like it then just go wait in the fucking car!”
“Mr. Jacobson, please watch your language,” Coburn said, amazed at the change in the man walking beside him.
“Or what? You'll ask me to leave. Jesus, that's just what I want anyway...”
“Dr. Coburn, please leave Mr. Jacobson alone,” Sheppard said.
“Yeah, Coburn, do as the little weasel says and leave Mr. Jacobson alone,” Larabee laughed.
Jesus, Chris, I'm glad I know this is all an act,’ Standish thought as he walked meekly beside his ‘brother’.
“Chris,” James began, but was cut off by an icy glare from the blond.
“Look, Doc, you're just along for the ride! So why don't you just do your job and analyze the situation!” Larabee laughed at his choice of words, not caring that only Sheppard joined him. As he walked beside the institution's representatives his eyes expertly took in everything around him. He spotted Vin Tanner wheeling a patient toward a strand of rose bushes, but hid any sign of recognition.
“Mr. Jacobson, the gardens as you can see are well maintained and a lot of it is done by the...”
“Inmates,” Larabee interrupted. “That's a good way to save money, Sheppard.”
“It's not done because of money,” Coburn interrupted. “It's done so the patients have something to feel proud of; they've accomplished a great deal when they see the flowers begin to bloom.”
“Oh what a thrill,” Larabee spat.
“It's part of their therapy, Mr. Jacobson,” the psychiatrist told him.
“Therapy?” the blond laughed. “Just what we need a bunch of therapeutic gardeners who don't know their ass from a hole in the ground!”
“That's enough, Chris!” Susan James warned. “These people just need help and if they get some enjoyment out of gardening then it's well worth training them.”
“Sure, Doc,” Larabee laughed sarcastically. “On with the tour, Sheppard!”
“Certainly, Mr. Jacobson. As you can see the gardens and landscape are immaculate and again it is all done by the patients,” the smaller man advised.
Ezra hung back with Susan James, watching as Larabee put on a performance worthy of an Oscar.
“The gazebo over in the corner and the benches were done by former patients as well. Most of the crafts you see in here were provided by the hands of our clients,” Sheppard explained.
“Cheap labor,” Larabee chuckled obnoxiously. “All right, I've had enough of communing with nature. Show me where my money will be spent.”
This way,” Sheppard said. “We'll start with the kitchen and cafeteria.” He led them through a set of reinforced glass doors and into a spacious common area. One wall was completely covered by a bright mural depicting a seascape, with seagulls, white clouds, and the sun peeking up over the horizon, spreading a warm glow across the whole scene. “This is where the patients come to mingle and get to know each other. They get to spend most of their free time here if that's their desire. There are plenty of books in the library.”
“They can read? What kind of books...those little golden ones?” Larabee laughed at his own private joke.
“Mr. Jacobson, we can all see you have a very intense dislike for our patients, but could you please refrain from the callous remarks while you're here?” Coburn warned.
“Chris, show some tact for a change.”
“Hell, Dr. James, you've always said I don't have any tact!”
“Chris, the faster we get through the tour, the quicker we get out of here,” Standish explained.
“Shit, never thought of that, Ezra. All right, Sheppard, show me the rest of this place.”
“As you can see, there are orderlies and nurses present at all times. They make sure everyone is occupied and enjoying themselves,” Coburn took over the tour. “We encourage the patients to wear street clothes in order to maintain as normal an atmosphere as possible.”
“Where are the problem patients kept?” Larabee asked, pretending interest for a change.
“We don't call them problem patients, Mr. Jacobson,” Coburn explained.
“I don't care what you call them, but these patients are too calm. I'm sure you have violent ones in here. So where are they and do they get any freedom?”
“There is a separate section for the patients who require more care. They have to earn the right to use the common area,” the psychiatrist explained.
“Show me,” Larabee ordered.
“Mr. Jacobson, I don't really think you need to go in there,” Sheppard said.
“Do you want my money, Sheppard?”
“We...why yes...of course,” the man stammered.
“Then show me where you keep the ones you don't want your investors to see.”
“Chris, I don't think that's such a good idea,” Standish said, letting a hint of fear show in his voice.
“I don't give a damn what you think, Ezra. I want to see what they'll be spending my money on!” Larabee snarled, his face inches from the gambler's. Out of the corner of his eyes he spotted a familiar figure pushing a broom. He kept his eyes diverted from Wilmington, not wanting to bring attention to the cleaner.
Larabee whirled on the female psychiatrist and his gaze hardened as he saw the flicker of fear cross her face. ‘Good one, Doc,’ he thought. “Dr. James, if you and Ezra don't want to see the darker side of this place then go read one of these inmates a story. I want to see everything I'm paying for. So, Sheppard, are you ready to show me where you'll be spending my hard earned money?”
“I...I d...don't think that's a wise i...idea...”
“Ezra, Dr. James, let's get out of here!” Larabee ordered, turning toward the door.
“Please, Mr. Jacobson....”
“What, Sheppard?” the blond asked.
“I'm sure Dr. Coburn will be only too happy to show you the ward as soon as we're finished with the regular...”
“I'm not interested in the regular tour! I don't need to see the inmates making tea and reading books or painting! If you want my donation then you'll do as I say!”
“Follow me, Mr. Jacobson,” Coburn said.
“That's better. Ezra, you and Dr. James can take the regular tour with the little weasel there!”
“Chris!” James said, disgust evident on her face.
“Come on, Dr, Coburn, take me on the grand tour!” Larabee ordered and followed the psychiatrist toward a door beside the wall with the mural. He could feel four sets of eyes watching him and knew Wilmington was still there.
“This way,” Coburn said as he opened the door and held it for Larabee. He closed the door behind him and leaned heavily against the door.
“Chris, that was some performance,” he said when he was sure they were alone.
“Thanks, Doc, and I'm sorry for being so damned obnoxious.”
“It's part of your undercover persona, Chris, so please don't worry about it. This idea of yours to take a tour of the isolation ward was perfect.”
“At least this way I get some idea of what I'm in for.”
“Chris I'm really sorry for...”
“There's nothing you can do about that, Doc. I know what I'm in for when we go to your office.”
“I know you do, but it's still gonna be a shock to you when it happens. Try not to fight too hard.”
“If I don't put up a struggle they'll know something is wrong,” Larabee said.
“Shit! I wish there was some other way to do this!” the psychiatrist said regretfully as he led Larabee toward another door. “The second building is isolated from this one and has a lot more security. I think Buck will be assigned there as part of the cleaning crew within the next few days.”
“That's good. It'll be nice to see a friendly face while I'm in there,” Larabee said as they strode across the lawn and followed a well-kept path deeper into the property.
“Vin will also be given a rotation here starting next week.”
“How's JD working out?”
“He's in the offices and so far he's doing very well. One of the older ladies has taken him under her wing and is showing him the way things work in here.”
“JD does have a way about him,” Larabee said, his pride in the younger man showing in his words. They were nearly at the second building where violent patients were housed and he quickly resumed his role, but felt Coburn's hand on his arm and stopped.
“Chris, I...”
“It's too late for anything else, Doc,” Larabee explained.
“Damn it!”
“I know. Let's just get on with it.”
“All right,” the psychiatrist said, resigned to the plan they'd come up with to get inside the sanatorium. They walked up to the gate, where a uniformed man waited inside a small gatehouse.
“Afternoon, Doc, what can I do for you?”
“Afternoon, Henry. This is Mr. Jacobson. He's thinking about investing in Shady Acres, but wants to make sure the facilities are up to standards,” Coburn explained to the grey haired man.
“I'll have to check with the office to make sure it's okay,” Henry told him.
“Well hurry it up, Henry!” Larabee snapped. “Otherwise you might just be looking for another job!”
“Pardon me?” the older man asked.
“Never mind, Henry, just check with the office…tell them it's Chris Jacobson and Daniel Coburn.”
“Sure, Doc,” Henry said, casting a suspicious gaze in Larabee's direction, before stepping back into the small gatehouse.
Chris paced back and forth in front of the wrought iron barrier. “What the hell's taking him so long?” he snarled, knowing the guard could hear him.
“He has to make sure it's okay for us to go in. This is a secure area, Mr. Jacobson. How would it look if we could just walk in?”
“Dr. Coburn, you can go on in. Dr. Kent will meet you at the front desk with your passes,” Henry said, opening the gate for the two men.
“Jesus, it's about time!” the blond snapped as he strode through the gate. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of the contempt on the guard's face.
“Mr. Jacobson, slow down!” Coburn ordered and hurried to intercept the blond. Once they were out of earshot of the guard, the doctor breathed a sigh of relief.
“Kent is one of the ones we're investigating,” Larabee said as they walked side by side toward a dark grey building.
“Yes, I'm pretty certain he's involved in all of this,” Coburn explained. “He's dangerous, Chris, so please try to stay out of his way.”
“That'll be hard to do if he's assigned as my psychiatrist,” the blond said.
“I know, I wish you were being admitted to the regular residence instead of the secure facility.”
“Nathan and Buck can handle the residence, but we needed to find out what's going on in here. You said yourself that the six people who died should not have been in the secure area, so something had to have caused them to be transferred there.” He searched the grounds, watching as a few men walked around the area. The landscape in this area was immaculately kept as well, and he noticed several men and women tending the flower gardens under the watchful eye of two burly guards. He knew the layout of the grounds from the maps Coburn supplied them with. The fence was well over ten feet high and the only way out was the gate they just came through. He felt Coburn stop beside him and turned to hear what the man had to say.
“Chris, promise me you'll be careful. Orin would never forgive me if something happened to you or one of the others.”
“I'm not going to do anything to draw attention to myself,” Larabee told him. “At least not if I can help it. So where do we meet Kent?”
“Just inside here,” the psychiatrist explained, opening the door and letting the blond enter before him.
Chris was amazed at the difference between this building and the one he'd entered earlier. There were several doors leading out of the front office, all of them controlled by security cards. A large desk stood against one wall, and several monitors showed different areas of the buildings and grounds. Two men were seated behind the desk, both dressed in the blue grey uniform of the security guards. There were no pictures on the walls, nothing to give the place any kind of atmosphere. No chairs for guests to sit on, no carpet covering the drab tiles on the floor. Taking a deep breath he turned his attention to the man in the white lab coat speaking with one of the security guards.
The man had jet-black hair, a thick moustache, and small goatee. His six foot two inch frame was lean, but heavily muscled, under the blue satin shirt he wore. His eyes were a steel blue and held Larabee's gaze once he finished his talk with the guard.
“Dr. Raymond Kent,” Coburn said before Larabee could say a word. “This is Chris Jacobson.”
“Ah, Mr. Jacobson, so nice to meet you,” Kent said, his hand automatically reaching out to shake Larabee's.
The blond ignored the proffered hand and moved around the doctors looking at the monitors covering the back wall.
“Cut the niceties, Kent! Let's get this over with so I can get the hell out of here.”
The two psychiatrists exchanged glances and Coburn had the distinct impression Kent couldn't wait to teach the blond some manners. He prayed once Larabee was admitted things would go smoothly between them.
“All right, Mr. Jacobson. First you need a guest pass,” Kent explained, accepting the pass from one of the security guards. “Let me just pin it...”
Larabee grabbed the pass and glared at the psychiatrist. “I can do it myself!”
“I can see that,” the dark haired man agreed. “If you'll follow me I'll show you the kitchen area. The patients here help with meals and clean up.”
“Makes me wonder why you need my money. You're certainly not spending much for labor,” Larabee said as they walked toward one of the doors and Kent placed his card into the slot. The man's hands flew over the numbered and lettered buttons until Chris heard the distinct sound of the lock disengaging.
“So tell me how you keep the inmates from escaping,” Larabee ordered when Coburn fell into step behind him. They walked down a well-lit hallway toward another open area.
“All our doors are security coded. Staff members are given a card and a personal number that matches the card. The doors will not open unless the card and code match. There are cameras set up on each floor, and also in the common area, labs, and individual rooms. Curfew is at ten pm and all patients must be in their room at that time.”
“What do you do if an inmate is not in his room by curfew?” the blond asked.
“Their privileges are revoked for a period of time.”
“Yes, privileges. A patient earns the right to use the library, or the exercise gym, or having visitors on family day. If a patient defies authority he or she loses those rights, until such time that they can show they can be trusted to obey the regulations,” Kent said as he slid the card into another slot beside the only door.
Larabee exchanged a quick glance with Coburn, knowing the doctor was already nervous about what they were doing.
“This way, Mr. Jacobson,” Kent indicated the now open door and Larabee could hear people talking as he entered the secured area. “This is what we call the common area, where patients can visit and read, watch TV, or just mingle with each other...”
Larabee laughed as he faced the dark haired man. “Mingle? Jesus, you sound like you're talking about a church social instead of a mental hospital.”
“We don't call it a mental hospital, Mr. Jacobson. This is a secure facility where people in need of therapy...”
“Cut the crap, Doc! I don't give a damn what you call it. Just show me around the place and I'll make up my mind just how much money this place is worth!”
“As you wish,” Kent said, moving into the common area. “The library is well stocked with many famous authors such as...”
“Dr. Seuss?” the blond said, smiling at his own joke.
“Are you always so condescending, Mr. Jacobson?” Coburn spoke for the first time since they left the outer office.
“I call it as I see it,” Larabee grinned cockily as he looked around the area. Two male orderlies, dressed in white, stood watching the patients, their eyes constantly on the move. There were several patients, male and female sitting at the tables. Some were reading, some doing puzzles; others just seemed to be staring straight ahead. Chris had the feeling that most of them seemed a little too calm for patients who were supposed to be under high security. One man sat off by himself, a well-worn book in his hand. There was something about the large man that caught and held Larabee's attention, but he was jerked from his thoughts as Kent called his name.
“What?” he snapped.
“As you can see we provide many of the things needed to keep our patients occupied. The kitchen is through this door,” he said as they walked past the table and placed his card in the slot.
“What're those doors for?” the blond asked, pointing to two doors on the opposite wall. One was open and he could actually hear laughter from inside, the other was closed and locked.
“The open door leads to the Game Room. There's a small pool table, ping pong table, a couple of video games and shuffleboard,” Kent answered.
“Oh great, I'm on The Love Boat! Where are Gopher and Julie?”
“Mr. Jacobson, the patients here are human and deserve to have some form of recreation!” Coburn exclaimed angrily.
“Sure...sure...that's just fine!” Larabee stated and turned to the dark haired man. “Okay, Kent, what's the locked door for?”
“That leads to the patients' rooms. It's locked at night and cannot be opened except by special cards. We pride ourselves on our security system. No one has escaped from the secure area of Shady Acres in over ten years,” the psychiatrist explained. “This way,” he ordered holding the door for Larabee to enter as he switched on the double row of florescent lights.
Chris was amazed at the high tech kitchen before him. Four large convection ovens and grills were cleaned to shimmering perfection. The counter tops glistened as if the Formica were scrubbed to a polished shine by many hands. Pots and pans hung from hooks over three center islands. Row upon row of well-stocked shelves were placed wherever a space could be found. A locked cabinet containing carving and chef's knives stood on one wall. The black and white checked tiles were done in a high gloss shine that reflected the white walls back at them, creating a sterile atmosphere usually preserved for operating rooms.
“What do you think, Mr. Jacobson?” Kent asked.
Larabee ran his fingers along the counter tops. “Not bad,” he said as he inspected the stoves and ovens.
Kent looked at Coburn as Larabee looked around the vast kitchen area.
“I take it you haven't told him yet?” Kent asked softly.
“Not yet, his brother and the family psychiatrist will spring it on him when we meet in my office,” Coburn answered.
“I'd love to be there to see his reaction,” Kent's eyes gleamed with malicious intent as he watched the man who would soon be a patient, and probably assigned to the secure area.
“All right, I've seen enough,” Larabee said, rejoining the two men.
“What would you like to see next?” Coburn asked.
“Where are the therapy sessions held?”
“There are several rooms available for each doctor. Sometimes we have one on one meetings with our patients. There are also regularly scheduled group therapy sessions and each patient is required to attend those.”
“What if they refuse?” Larabee asked as Kent opened the door leading into the common area.
“They cannot refuse, Mr. Jacobson. As I said it is required of all patients.”
“Show me the rooms!” the blond ordered.
“This way,” Kent said, leading Larabee and Coburn to the second locked door.
Chris looked toward the large man who still remained on his own. Something about the figure tugged at his conscience and he wondered why the man was such a loner.
“You like me don't you, Mister?”
Larabee turned to see a woman with shoulder length dull red hair. Her eyes were a glazed green, her face pockmarked with scars. Her hands reached for him and wrapped tightly around his waist. Chris felt sympathetic toward the woman, yet knew to show it would cast suspicions on his new persona.
“Get your hands off me!” he snarled as Kent signaled an orderly to join them.
Kent easily removed her weak grip from Larabee's waist and smiled at the woman. “Now, Melanie, why don't you go take care of your baby?” Kent said softly.
“My baby?” Melanie asked as the orderly took her hand and led her back to the table. “My baby,” she repeated as she picked up the tiny doll sitting on top of it.
Chris watched as she rocked the doll in her arms, her soft voice humming a song all parents knew. Rock-a-bye baby was one he'd hummed many times to his own son. He shook off the memories, knowing he couldn't show just how much this affected him.
“Is that what you call controlling your inmates?” he asked wiping his hands along his sides, as if warding off any diseases the woman might have.
“I'm sorry, Mr. Jacobson, but Melanie is harmless,” Kent said.
“Then why is she in here?” the blond snarled.
“She's been through a lot,” Coburn explained.
“Yeah, well, make sure she stays away from me!” Larabee spat as another patient strode toward him. “Coburn, I think I've seen enough.”
“What do you mean?” Kent asked.
“I mean I'm cutting this tour short before any of your other inmates touch me!” the blond said, hurrying toward the door he knew lead out of the facility.
“No buts, Kent. This place gives me the creeps. Let's go, Coburn!”
Kent slid his card into the slot and held the door for them to exit. He walked the two men to the outer door and watched as Larabee moved outside.
“I'm sorry you feel you needed to cut the tour short, Mr. Jacobson. Perhaps you'd like to return later?”
“Not fucking likely, Kent!” the blond said, walking alongside Coburn.
Oh, I can't wait to get you under my care, Jacobson,’ Kent thought, turning away and moving back into the facility he ran.
Ezra Standish and Susan James were alone in Coburn's office, waiting for Sheppard to return with the promised refreshments.
Shady Acres was a well maintained and highly organized institution and James was duly impressed by what she'd seen so far. She wished she'd been allowed to follow along with Larabee in the secured area, but didn't want to arouse suspicions. The staff nurses and psychiatrist seemed very competent in their care of the patients and she hoped things would run smoothly for all involved. She'd seen Vin working with a young man in a wheelchair, but didn't acknowledge him. She'd caught site of JD Dunne in one of the offices tapping away at the keyboard of a computer. She knew Jackson was starting the following day, an assignment that was supposedly set up two months prior to the actual starting date. She knew once Chris was admitted Josiah would be visiting at regular intervals as the family's spiritual advisor.
Ezra stood up and walked to the window. His stomach churned at the thought of the next phase of the operation and he knew he had to get his emotions under control. He was supposed to be cold and uncaring about his ‘brother’, yet even as an established conman this went beyond his abilities to stay neutral. Damn!’ he thought as he watched Larabee and Coburn walk toward the building. “They're coming back,” he said.
“It'll be okay, Ezra,” James assured him, turning toward the door as Sheppard returned pushing a cart before him.
“Dr. Kent called to say Dr. Coburn and your brother are on their way back, Mr. Jacobson,” Sheppard explained.
“Is everything ready for my dear brother?” Standish asked.
“Yes. Two orderlies have been notified in case Chris reacts as you seem to think,” the hospital administrator advised them.
“Oh, Chris will react as I told you. He's not going to agree to stay here on his own. I would advise you to remember that!” the gambler warned.
“Duly noted,” Sheppard said as the door opened and Larabee and Coburn stepped inside.
“Well, Doc, what did you think of this place?” Larabee asked disinterestedly.
“It's a very well maintained institution, Chris. The staff is competent and the facilities are high tech and modern,” James answered.
“What about you, Ezra? What are your impressions?”
“I agree with Dr. James. I believe this place would make a sound investment of our money...”
“Our money, Ezra,” Larabee's eyebrows rose as he strode toward his brother. “Don't you mean my money?”
“Y...yes, your money, Chris.”
“That's better. Now here's what I think. I don't give a fuck what you think, I'm not giving one Goddamned penny to this place...”
“But, Mr. Jacobson...”
“But what, Mr. Sheppard? But you need it to pay your bills? I don't think so. From what I saw you shouldn't have any bills! It looks like you're using the inmates to run the place and I bet they don't receive any wages! Find someone else to invest because I'm leaving. Coming, Brother?” Larabee asked as he strode toward the door.
“Chris, I think you'd better take a seat!” James ordered.
“What for, Doc? I already made up my mind and you know damn well once I do I don't change it! Now, let's get out of here before we catch something!”
“Chris!” Standish called from the window.
“What?” Larabee snarled.
“You're not leaving...”
“What the fuck do you mean I'm not leaving? I just told you I'm not giving them any money so there's no point in sticking around!” Larabee reached for the handle on the door and started to open it, only to have the door closed before he succeeded.
“You're staying here, Chris!” Standish snapped at the blond.
Larabee's eyes turned glacial, his hand reaching out to shove his brother as he heard Coburn's voice behind him.
“Send an orderly to my office right away!”
“What the hell's going on?” the blond snarled as he turned to face the three people in the room.
“Chris, we really need to get your temper under control,” Standish said, standing in front of the blond and blocking his exit.
“My temper!” Larabee screamed. “You want to see my temper, Ezra!” he asked, shoving the other man against the wall. “Now get the fuck outta my way before I show you just how bad my temper can be!” He turned as the door swung open and two orderlies hurried into the room. Jesus, Vin,’ he thought as the two men advanced on him.
“Chris, you really need to calm down!” James snapped as she knelt beside a dazed Standish.
“Get the fuck away from me!” the blond snapped, unable to meet the tracker's eyes, knowing they'd be filled with pain and sorrow. He struck out at the nearest man, his fist impacting with the strong chin as he sidestepped the two men in his bid for freedom. He nearly made it to the door, but was tackled from behind and landed heavily on his stomach. The air hissed from his lungs, but he continued to fight as a knee was placed at the center of his back and his arms were grabbed and pulled behind him. Something heavy lay across his legs, making it impossible for him to move.
“Calm down, Mr. Jacobson, or I‘ll be forced to have you sedated!” Coburn warned.
“Don't you fucking try it!” Larabee snarled, turning his head to the side as the weight on his back held him down. “Get off me you bastards!”
“I'll be right back!” Coburn said. He hurried from the room, the sounds of Larabee's struggles following him from his office. “Janina, I need the keys to the drug cabinet!” he snapped at one of the nurses at the desk.
“Here you go, Dr. Coburn!” Janina Faraday said as she took the keys from her belt and followed him to the locked room.
Coburn hurried to the cabinet housing the sedatives and quickly drew off the required dosage of Valium before hurrying out of the room. He entered his office to find Larabee still struggling against the two men holding him down.
“Mr. Jacobson, I'm going to give you a sedative to calm you down,” Coburn explained.
“Don't you touch me!” he snarled, lifting his head until he found his ‘brother’. “Ezra, call this off or I swear I'll kill you!”
“I can't, Chris, you need help before you hurt someone else!”
Vin kept his knee in the center of his best friend's back as the doctor pulled the patient's arm from his grasp. He swallowed as he listened to Larabee's tirade, knowing he couldn't show any emotions one way or the other. He felt Chris squirming beneath him and pressed a little harder.
“Hold him still!” Coburn ordered as he swabbed an area on Larabee's shoulder.
“No! Don't!” the prone man spat as he felt the sharp prick of the needle. He felt the medication enter his system and slowly take control. “ Kill...the...lit..tle prick!” Larabee wheezed as the fight went out of him.
“All right, you can release him now,” Coburn said when he was sure Larabee was under the calming effects of the Valium.
Ezra watched as Chris’ eyes glazed over with the administered drug. His fear heightened as he watched the sharpshooter ease his weight from the blond's back. Their eyes met and Standish knew Tanner was just as fearful of what would happen as he was, but it was too late to call it off now. He looked at the blond as the tracker and the other man lifted Larabee to his feet. God, Chris, don't do anything stupid in there!’ he thought.
“Put him on the sofa,” Coburn told them. He watched as the two men eased the sedated patient onto the couch and moved to check him. He shone a light into both eyes and knew the blond was totally under the drug's control.
“Is he always this violent?” Sheppard asked, his voice trembled as he looked at the young man moving toward the sofa.
“I'm afraid he is. Sometimes he's even worse,” Standish explained. “That's why Dr. James agreed he should be committed.”
“He'll get the care he needs at Shady Acres,” the administrator explained.
“Craig, go get a wheelchair and we'll get him to his room,” the psychiatrist ordered.
“Yes, Doctor,” the second orderly said.
“How is he, Dr. Coburn?” James asked.
“He's fine now.”
“Chris,” Standish said as he knelt in front of the blond. He waited until the head came up and the glassy eyes met his. “You're going to be just fine now. The doctors and nurses will take good care of you.”
Chris felt detached from his surroundings as the strong drug relaxed him. His eyelids were heavy, and continued to droop as gravity took control.
“N...need to g...go h...home...tired,” he mumbled, unable to control his thick tongue.
“Here you go, Dr. Coburn,” Craig Styles said as he returned with the wheelchair.
“Bring it over here. Chris we're going to move you into the wheelchair and take you to your room,” the psychiatrist said. “Vince, would you take his right arm?”
Tanner reached for the blond's arm and the two men pulled Larabee to his feet and eased him into the wheelchair.
“What room. Doc?” he asked as he secured the blond in the chair.
“Dr. Kent will tell you that when you get him into the secured area,” Coburn explained. God, I hope we're doing the right thing,’ he thought as Tanner moved Larabee out into the corridor.
“Can we see him once he's in his room?” Standish asked.
“I'm afraid not. Our policy is to give the patient a chance to get settled before allowing any contact with the outside world. Your brother will need that time to become acclimated with his new surroundings,” Coburn answered.
“When can I see him?” the gambler asked.
“Today is Wednesday. Call me on Friday and I'll update you and let you know if Dr. Kent has okayed visitors for your brother.”
“We need to finish signing the papers for your brother's care,” Sheppard told Standish.
“I have other patient's to see, Carl. Mr. Jacobson, Dr. James, try not to worry. Chris will be fine.”
“Thank you, Dr. Coburn,” Standish said.
“If you'll follow me to my office we can go over the paperwork and make sure everything is in order,” Sheppard said, leading the two clients from the doctor's office.
Oh, Orin, I hope and pray this was the right decision,’ Coburn thought as he picked up the file from his desk and hurried out of the office.
JD looked up from his desk at the sound of someone outside the office door. He saw the familiar form in the wheelchair and knew the case was officially underway. With Chris Larabee now a patient at Shady Acres they would have to be careful not to let anything slip. As Vin pushed the chair past the door the young man shuddered at the thought of what life would be like for the blond while he was a patient here. He turned back to the computer and again tried to access the files of the six deceased patients.
Buck looked up from dusting the table as Tanner pushed the wheelchair toward the rear exit. He fought back the instinct to grab Larabee and escape before the next phase of the operation began. Blue eyes met equally blue ones and both men knew the fears they shared would only grow worse. He watched until the two men disappeared through the door before turning his attention back to the job. I hope we don't live to regret this, Pard,’ he thought.
Vin pushed the chair out the door and onto the narrow path leading toward the locked facility. He stopped when he was out of sight of both buildings and put the locks on the chair. He knew if someone saw him he could say the straps came undone and he was making sure they were tight enough.
“Chris?” he called softly as he knelt before the blond.
Larabee heard the familiar drawl, but had a little trouble trying to grasp who it was. He opened his eyes and tried to focus his vision.
“Hey, Cowboy, how are you feeling?” the Texan asked.
“T...tired...w...what's going on,” he slurred.
Damn it!’ Tanner silently swore. “Chris, they gave you a sedative. Remember?”
“That's it. I'm calling this whole fuckin’ thing off. We'll find another way to get to the truth!” the sharpshooter snapped and went to move away. A hand clamped onto his arm and he looked into Larabee's eyes, surprised to see a moment of lucidity. “Chris?” he asked as a small smile formed on the handsome face.
“Gotcha,” Larabee laughed softly. “Sorry, Vin, just wanted to make sure I could fool the doctors. Figured if I could make you believe I was completely under the influence I could fool anybody.”
“Jesus, you deserve an Oscar for that performance,” the Texan said.
“Thanks, Vin. Coburn didn't give me a full dosage of the drug, but he told me last week how it would affect me. We'd better get moving before they send out a search party,” Larabee said.
Tanner met the glazed eyes once more and again wanted to take Larabee and bolt from the area.
“Vin, there's no other way. Besides it's too late.”
“No, it's not. We can leave right now...come up with a new plan...”
“We've been through this! There's no other way!” Larabee repeated, dropping his head as if he was sleeping. “Someone's coming,” he whispered and felt the tracker place his hands on the straps holding him in the chair.
“Is there a problem?”
Vin looked up to see Craig coming toward him and stood up. He didn't like the man's attitude toward the patients, but he couldn't do anything about it until the case was over. Once that happened he would report Styles to the board that ran Shady Acres. “He seemed to be slipping from the chair,” he explained.
“Is he still out of it?” the second orderly laughed as he placed his hand under Larabee's chin and lifted the blond head.
“Yeah, guess the doc gave him a strong drug to knock him out like this,” the sharpshooter laughed and grabbed the handles to hide his distaste of the other man. “Sure seems like it.”
“Wish they'd do this to all of ‘em. It'd make our jobs a hell of a lot easier,” Styles said, releasing his grip on Larabee's chin.
“Yeah, well, I'd better get him to Dr. Kent before he starts comin’ out of it,” the tracker said and pushed the chair past the orderly.
“Kent will make damn sure he behaves himself,” the man said as he hurried back toward the patient he'd been sent to help.
“Asshole!” Larabee spat when they were out of earshot.
“Yeah, gonna see if I can do somethin’ about him once this is over.”
“We both will,” Larabee said, lapsing into silence as the gate came into view.
“Just be careful around Kent. I've heard some things about him,” the tracker warned.
“Yeah, Coburn warned me about him at the last meeting.”
“Better play your role again, Chris,” Tanner said as they reached the gates.
“Who's this?” the guard asked.
“Got Dr. Kent's new patient here.”
“Chris Jacobson,” Tanner answered, his throat constricting as he realized this would be the last time he'd see Larabee until his scheduled rotation in the secure facility. He watched as the older man checked the logbook and picked up the phone. He heard him speaking with someone and the guard finally hung up the phone.
“Wait here. Dr. Kent and an orderly are on their way down.”
“Okay,” Tanner said, hiding his nervousness. He watched the guard move back inside the tiny gatehouse. He looked around at the high fence and shuddered inwardly at the thought of his best friend being a prisoner in the institution. A hand touched his and he looked down at the green eyes.
“I won't do anything to draw attention if I can avoid it, Vin,” Larabee whispered.
“Promise me that, Chris,” Tanner ordered softly.
“Can't do that, Cowboy, but I do promise to try. Looks like Kent's coming.”
“Damn it!”
“Stay frosty, Vin. It'll be alright,” Larabee assured his companion, and let his eyes close once more.
“Open the gate!” Kent ordered, hiding his smile at the thought of having the snide Jacobson under his care. He watched as the guard opened the gate and the young orderly wheeled the semi-conscious man toward him.
“Steven, please take control of the new patient. Vince, you know the rules. This is as far as you go, I'm sure Dr. Coburn has other duties for you,” Kent explained as Tanner relinquished control of his friend's life.
The sharpshooter moved outside the fence and fought the urge to race through the closing gate and grab the handle of the wheelchair. An icy chill of morbid fear ran down his spine as Chris Larabee was taken away from the freedom they all valued and cherished. Don't you fuckin’ die on me in there, Chris!’ he thought as he turned away.
Chris felt as if he'd been slammed in the gut when he heard the gate close and lock behind him. He forced his breathing to remain calm as he was wheeled further into his new home. Somehow he didn't think this was going to be as easy for him as he told Vin and the boys it would be. This would be a test of just how much control he had over his own life, and how much he was willing to give over to others. For now he was giving over complete control, but he would need to figure out ways to get around the locked doors and security. He smiled as he thought of the lessons in lock picking the gambler had provided each of them with. Maybe it wouldn't be so hard after all.
The blond kept his eyes closed as he was wheeled up to the building he'd visited earlier in the day. His head remained down on his chest as the doctor spoke to the orderly, placed his card into the small slot, and keyed in his numbers. His eyes moved as he tried to make out where they were taking him. Chris recognized the lobby and the desk with the monitors as he was wheeled toward the door they'd led him through earlier. He forced himself to remain calm as he was pushed through the now open door and into the common area.
“This way, Steven, we need to get Jacobson settled in his room.”
Chris heard Kent's voice and didn't like the underlying threat he thought he heard. He knew it could be the effects of the small amount of sedative Coburn had given him, but instinct told him this man took pleasure in his work. He continued to watch through slitted eyes as they wheeled him past door after door, deeper into the facility and away from his team. They turned into a second corridor and suddenly stopped. Larabee heard the unmistakable sound of elevator doors opening and again had to calm his breathing. Coburn told them the first few days were spent assessing a new patient and he was usually kept in isolation while they considered what meds he should be taking. The doctor assured them that Chris would be given oral medications unless he refused to take them. If that happened they would resort to injecting the sedatives into him. Larabee had no intention of having that happen, but he also knew it was important that he not take the pill form either. He needed his wits about him if he was going to do any investigating. The elevator ride was a short one and again he was wheeled out the doors and into a brightly lit corridor.
Larabee kept his head down as the chair came to a halt and he heard someone move around in front of him.
“Mr. Jacobson, can you hear me?” Kent asked.
“Hmm,” the blond mumbled incoherently.
“We're going to get you to your room and let you sleep for a while, okay?’
Larabee shook his head slowly, and pretended he was having trouble getting his eyes open. He licked his lips and met the doctor's hardened gaze. “ h...home,” he stammered, and frowned as he tried to move. “...let me o...out!” he snarled, but there was no energy in the words.
Kent watched as Larabee fought the effects of the drug he'd been given, and reached for the tiny light in his pocket. He shone it into the patient's eyes and shook his head. He stood up and looked towards the desk.
“Jenny, bring me an injection of Valium. About half the normal dose,” he smiled as he looked at the patient. “It seems Dr. Coburn is still under medicating new patients.”
Chris felt his heart pounding in his chest and knew things were not going to go as smoothly as they'd presumed. This man was about to take complete and utter control over his life and there was nothing he could do about it. He felt a hand on his knee and opened his eyes to look at the psychiatrist.
“Hello, Chris. I'm sure you understand why you're here.”
“B...bastard brother...” Larabee mumbled, trying to keep up his charade, yet feeling as if things were slipping away from him. He knew the man kneeling in front of him would be suspicious if he continued to remain calm. And the man's next words convinced him of that.
“You're a good actor, Chris, but I know how Dr. Coburn operates. He has always failed to sedate a new,” he smiled as he forced the patient to look into his eyes, “I'll use your term here...inmate, properly and according to procedure. I cannot in all conscience allow that to continue as too many people can be hurt if we are lax in our duties.”
“Here you go, Dr. Kent,” the nurse said as she handed him a syringe and a small alcohol pad. She watched as the patient began to fight the restraints holding him in the chair.
“Thank you, Jenny,” the older man said and swabbed the pad on Larabee's left shoulder
“ bastard....k...kill you all!” he cried out as strong hands clamped onto his shoulders and held him immobile in the chair.
“This should make you feel a little calmer, Chris.” He smiled as he shoved the needle into the unwilling flesh and administered the remainder of the medication. He handed the empty syringe to the nurse as the blond head sagged forward and dropped to the lean chest. He patted his patient's shoulder and spoke in soothing tones.
“That's much better, Chris. Now why don't we get you to your room and make you comfortable. Steven, Jenny, kindly accompany me,” he ordered as he took control of the handles and the man seated in the chair.
Vin stopped just out of sight of both the secure facility and the regular one and leaned heavily against a chair. His mind replayed the final few minutes before he turned his best friend over to Kent and the orderly. He knew this was going to be one of the hardest things Chris ever did. None of them liked relinquishing control, yet Chris was now in the hands of people who thought he was a violent patient with other problems mixed in. He heard a sound from the left and turned to see Wilmington walking toward him.
“Is he...”
“Yeah, they just took him inside. Jesus, Buck, we should've found another way.”
“Vin, we exhausted all possibilities. Chris knows how to handle himself.”
“Yeah, he also hates bein’ confined...and God only knows what they'll do if'n they find out he's not who he's supposed to be.”
“Yeah, but Chris is a damn good actor. He'll watch and wait until he's sure it's safe to look around.”
“That's another thing that worries me. If they catch him goin’ through the files they'll know he's not takin’ whatever meds they decide to give him. Jesus, I saw that happen in an old movie me and Chris watched a couple of weeks ago. The man palmed his pills or held them under his tongue ‘til they left then he'd spit them out...”
“Yeah, I saw the same damn movie. It didn't end well for that guy, but this is different. You'll be there, and me too. Hopefully Nathan will be able to do a rotation or two in there. Josiah and Ezra will also be able to visit and we can always have Susan James come in as his family psychiatrist to make sure everything is as it should be. We got his back, Vin. Nothing's gonna go wrong.”
“I hope yer right, Buck. Look I gotta get back before they get suspicious. When does yer shift in there start?” he asked, nodding in the direction of the secure compound.
“I haven't seen the new schedule, but it looks like it'll probably be the beginning of next week. JD's already trying to access some of the files.”
“The kid better be careful!” Tanner said.
“I already told him I'd lay a whoopin’ on him if he does anything stupid,” Wilmington told him. “I'd best get back to work. Try not to worry too much, Vin, it'll only make things harder.”
The tracker turned a steady gaze on his friend as he asked. “Are you worried, Buck?”
“Hell, yes, Vin, but we each got a job to do and Chris knew what he was getting into. I'll see you at the office tonight, okay?”
“Yeah, watch yer back, Buck.”
“You too, Pard,” the ladies man said as he continued toward the garbage containers situated near a couple of empty picnic tables.
Raymond Kent watched as Steven Barker removed the straps from the new patient. He smiled when he realized his patient was totally under now and would wake up to find himself in the pure white room. The bed was against the wall and illuminated by a single florescent light set in the ceiling and protected by wire mesh. There were no windows, except for an observation portal in the single door. Nothing hung in the room to break the monotony of the stark white paint. The four walls were cushioned in case a patient became violent and tried to hurt himself by throwing his body against them.
The bed itself was simple, with white sheets and leather straps, lined with sheepskin and a garishly large buckle at wrist and ankle. Secondary straps were available to go across the legs, stomach and chest.
“Doctor, do you want him in the restraints?” Jenny Lidstrum asked as she lifted the single white sheet over the well-tanned body resting comfortably on the bed. She'd worked with Kent for more than three years now, and enjoyed her work, in spite of the dark side of the institution.
Kent looked at the slack features of his patient and felt the familiar tingle he got every time someone new came under his care. No one knew of his need for control. They might have suspected, but he was careful to keep that side of himself hidden. Jacobson's attitude when he was touring the facility grated on his nerves and he wanted him to know who would be giving the orders. The orderly and the nurse had easily removed the new patient's street clothes and put him into the soft blue hospital issue pajamas.
“Yes, at least for now. Mr. Jacobson is to be considered a violent patient and as such should be treated that way. Wrist and ankle restraints are to be in effect for 24 hours. Once the sedative has worn off we will do a complete psyche evaluation to find out what meds he'll be given,” the psychiatrist explained. He leaned against the wall and watched as the nurse attached the leather restraints and turned away from the patient.
“Is there anything else, Doctor?” she asked.
“No, that'll be all, Jenny. Just make sure you keep a close watch on Mr. Jacobson and no one's allowed into the room without my consent. I will be in my office if you need to contact me,” Kent said as he held the door for the nurse and orderly to leave. He turned his gaze back to his patient and an imperceptible smile formed on his face. He wanted so much to see Jacobson's face when he opened his eyes and realized he was restrained, but that would only throw suspicions on him and that was something he could not afford.
“Dr. Bradley, I assume you know the rules of the institution,” Kent said as he shook the newcomer's hand.
“Yes, Dr. Kent. I read through the papers I was sent and went through them with Dr. Coburn. I must say I'm very impressed with what I've heard about this place,” Jackson said, hoping his words sounded genuine.
“I'm sure you'll be even more impressed when you see how well things run. I know security briefed you on your identity card and the code you'd be using to enter and exit the facility, but I must warn you that it is your responsibility to keep it with you at all times. If you lose it you need to notify security immediately so they can delete that code from the active ones. The card alone is of no use to the patients, but if the code was cracked there could be trouble. Make sure you don't share your code with anyone, not even me! Do I make myself clear?”
“Certainly, Doctor.”
“Good, now why don't I give you the grand tour? We'll start with the common room. This way Dr. Bradley.”
JD was frustrated by his lack of success in getting into certain files. He'd managed to hack into the personnel records and transferred the information to his computer at The Firm's office, but the ones he really needed were still hidden within the depths of the secured files. He made sure he didn't leave any evidence of his tampering as he shut down the files and logged off. The young man looked at the clock on the wall over his desk and knew it was time to leave. He stood up and grabbed his jacket from the hook beside the door and smiled at the woman at the next desk.
“Bye, Melissa.”
“Bye, JD, see you tomorrow,” Melissa Tandy said as she finished shutting down her station.
JD hurried out of the building and into the parking lot. He moved toward his motorcycle and lifted the helmet from the back seat. He smiled when he saw Buck Wilmington walking toward his Mustang, knowing the car was the scoundrel's pride and joy. ‘An investment in the ladies’ was what the older man deemed his purchase of a year ago. Without acknowledging the other man's presence, JD turned back to his bike, knowing they'd be meeting at the office in two hours. Two men would be missing from that meeting. Nathan Jackson was on evening rotation at the secure facility and would not be able to attend. Chris Larabee was a patient and would not be attending any of the meetings. For the coming weeks the blond would be confined to the institution's fenced area. He started the bike, moved toward the gate, and pulled in behind a PT Cruiser and waited his turn to sign out.
“Well, Dr. Bradley, what do you think of Shady Acres so far?” Kent asked, not really interested in the man's answer as they moved toward a locked door.
“I am impressed with the modern equipment and security really seems tight,” Jackson said walking beside the older man.
“Security needs to be tight here. We haven't had an inma...” he stopped as he realized what he'd been about to say, “A patient escape in over five years.”
“That's an amazing accomplishment,” Jackson told him.
“Yes it is and the staff here knows what they're doing in the case of an emergency. Everything is monitored and the nursing stations are manned 24/7. The one thing Shady Acres does have is a constant influx of money, which in turn insures we can pay for the best people available. The pay is higher than at government run facilities.”
“The staff does seem to know what they're doing.”
“They do!” Kent said as he slid his card into the slot and opened the door leading into the Maximum Security area. He held the door for Jackson to enter. “This is where we keep the new patients. They are kept isolated for 24 hours and then put through a psyche evaluation to determine the proper regimen of drugs and therapy. Family members are asked to stay away for a full 48 hours in order to allow the patient time to settle in.”
“Are there any new patients coming up for evaluation?” Jackson asked.
“As a matter of fact we have one new patient who was admitted earlier today. He's extremely violent and we needed to sedate him. Would you like to take a look at how we handle violent newcomers?” Kent asked, hoping the new doctor would give him the chance to check up on Jacobson. It was nearly seven hours since he administered the Valium and the man should be on the verge of waking up.
“Is that possible?” Jackson asked, feeling his stomach churn at the thought of what he might see.
“Of course it is. He's my patient and since you will be working with me' you need to know what's involved and what better way than to start at the beginning of Mr. Jacobson's stay with us. Follow me.” He led them toward an elevator and again used his card to access it.
Nathan tried to control his emotions at the thought of what he was about to see. Chris Larabee/Jacobson was a patient here and would need to go through the same routine the others did. He knew this would include private as well as group therapy sessions and he hoped Larabee would be able to handle it. His stomach continued to churn as the doors opened and they exited onto the second floor. He followed Kent to the nursing station where he signed in with security before being led toward a room at the end of a long hallway. His mind registered the pictures on the wall and knew they were bolted on so they could not be removed. The wonderful landscapes and seascapes were done on canvas and he knew a lot of money had been spent on them. Shady Acres was a very well sponsored sanatorium and he knew money was not an object here.
“This is Mr. Jacobson's room and it will give you an idea of how we protect not only the staff, but the patients themselves from harm,” Kent explained. He opened the portal and looked inside. The patient was on his back with a white sheet and thin blanket covering him to his shoulders. He closed the portal and used his key card to open the door.
“Come in, Dr. Bradley, he's restrained.”
The words cut through Jackson's thoughts when he realized this was the part he didn't want to see, yet there was no choice. He stepped through the door and fought the urge to remove the heavy straps that crossed over Larabee's body. Somehow he managed to control his emotions as he moved closer to the bed. The blond head was turned slightly to the left, the eyes closed, and the lips slack. He watched as his colleague placed a hand on the sleeping man's shoulder.
“Mr. Jacobson,” Kent called and smiled as the patient stirred under his touch.
Chris knew there was something he needed to remember as his mind fought through the layers of fog enshrouding it. His tongue seemed too thick as he tried to open his mouth.
“” he moaned, but didn't open his eyes.
“That's the sedative we gave him,” Kent explained as they watched the patient fighting to open his eyes. “Dr. Bradley, would you kindly ask one of the nurses to bring us a glass of water?”
“Certainly, Doctor,” Jackson said. He didn't want to leave Larabee alone, but there was no choice in the matter.
Chris finally won the battle with his heavy eyelids, but it took a few more minutes to get them to stay open. He focused on the man standing beside the bed, his eyes widening as he realized he couldn't move his body.
“What the hell!” he snapped as he fought the restraints. Memory returned slowly and he knew he was here as part of a case, but the details were still muddled. “Get these fucking things off me!”
“Calm down, Mr. Jacobson,” Kent said.
“Where the hell is my fucking brother!” the blond snapped as more memories escaped his cloudy mind. He knew he needed to keep up the charade in order to keep suspicions off the real reason he was here.
Jackson came into the room and moved to the opposite side of the bed. He held a Styrofoam glass with a straw in his hand and listened as Kent tried to calm his irate patient.
“Now, Mr. Jacobson, Dr. Bradley has some water for you. If you calm down he can give you some.”
Larabee turned toward the familiar man and felt his heart skip a beat as his eyes met the soft brown ones of Nathan Jackson. He knew he couldn't show any signs of recognition and scowled at his friend. “Get these things off me!” he strained at the straps, but was unable to move, except for his head.
“Mr. Jacobson, would you like some water?” Jackson asked.
“I want out of here!” Larabee snarled angrily.
“That's not going to happen, Mr. Jacobson, so you might as well relax...”
The blond turned a heated gaze on the doctor, his eyes glaring green daggers as he continued to fight the restraints. He bared his teeth in anger as he looked from one man to the other.
“You get that bastard back here and get me out of this or I'll sue the ass off whoever owns this fucking place! EZRA! You get your ungrateful ass in here right now!”
“Your brother is not here and won't be allowed to see you for several days,” Kent explained.
“You can't keep me here!” Larabee snarled.
“I'm afraid we can. Your brother and your family psychiatrist...”
“Psychiatrist my ass! She works for that ungrateful sonofabitch and I'm going to...”
“You're not in a position to do anything right now, Mr. Jacobson,” Kent explained, outwardly calm, yet inside his excitement mounted at the thought of his control over the angered man.
Chris tensed his body against the leather straps on his wrists, the corded muscles in his neck straining with the effort to free himself.
“Dr. Bradley, please tell Nurse Lidstrum I want Mr. Jacobson's scheduled dose of Valium!”
“Yes, Dr. Kent,” Jackson said, glancing quickly at Larabee before leaving the room.
“You bastard! You won't get away with this! You tell that brother of mine that I'll get him for this! He'll pay for putting me in here! Let me out of here!”
“Mr. Jacobson, I'm afraid you won't be getting out of here for some time. Dr. James...”
“That bitch...”
“Dr. James signed the commitment papers and it's gone through the courts. I'm afraid you'll be staying here until I'm satisfied we've got your anger under control.”
“You're all going to pay for this! I swear I'll get free and when I do...”
“You'll be much calmer...”
“No way in hell, you can make me take any of those fucking drugs you have!”
“Here you go, Dr. Kent,” Jenny Lidstrum said as she uncapped a syringe and opened an alcohol pad.
“Don't you give me that!” Larabee snarled as Kent handed the syringe to Jackson.
“Dr. Bradley, would you kindly administer the sedative?” the psychiatrist asked, ignoring the glare Larabee turned on him.
Chris knew how hard this was going to be on his friend, but he needed to keep up the charade. He turned a heated glare on the medic and snarled.
“Don't do it!”
Jackson swallowed and swiped the pad across Larabee's shoulder. He knew he had no choice in the matter as he felt Kent watching his every move. He gently pushed the tip of the needle into the blond's arm and delivered the strong sedative. ‘Shit, Chris, I'm sorry!’ he thought as he looked into the sea-green eyes. He was amazed at what he saw there just before the drug took control. Larabee was letting him know he understood what was happening.
“Well done, Dr. Bradley,” Kent said. “That should be enough to last him until tomorrow and we do his assessment. Will you be available to sit in on the consultation?”
“Yes, Dr. Kent.”
“Good, we'll go over some of the procedures at that meeting as well. The quicker we get Mr. Jacobson into a program the easier he'll be to handle,” the psychiatrist explained.
“Will that be all, Doctor,” Lidstrum asked.
“I think so, Jenny. Just keep an eye on him and let me know if there's any more violent behavior.”
“I will,” the nurse said as she left the room.
“Care to join me for a late dinner, Dr. Bradley? The food in the cafeteria is quite good.”
“I already ate dinner, but I could use a coffee,” Jackson answered. He took one last look at the patient before leaving. He hated what he'd just done, yet knew there was no choice in the matter. This case was already on his list of the worst ones he'd ever been involved in and it was only just beginning.
Buck reached for the coffee and sank into his seat as Sanchez, Dunne, Standish, and Tanner joined him. The gambler had stopped at their favorite coffee shop on the way to the office and picked up one for each of them. The conference table was full of papers as the five men settled in to discuss what they'd seen and heard at Shady Acres.
“Vin, how was Chris when you last saw him?” Sanchez asked.
Tanner sipped from his sweetened coffee before speaking. Taking a deep breath he turned to each of the men present. “Chris seemed amazingly calm considerin' what was happenin'. I had a few minutes ta talk ta him before Kent came ta the gate. He knew what was happenin' and was ready to play his part in all this. Dr. Coburn gave him a shot of Valium, but not a full dose, which means he's able to think pretty clearly. He's gonna have ta do a damn good actin’ job once they start him on their drug therapy program.”
“Chris can do a damn good job of acting, Vin. He'll be able to palm the pills and pretend he's taken them,” Wilmington assured the younger man.
“Ezra, I know this is hard on you...”
“I'm fine, Mr. Sanchez,” Standish interrupted, not wanting the focus on him. The truth was he hated his part in all of this, but again it was a necessary part of the ruse.
“I'm sure you are, son, but having to sign a friend into an institution such as Shady Acres has to be hard on you. Especially when it's someone you respect and care about. Chris knows what he's doing and he'll be careful.”
“I know he will. I just don't like the idea that I'm the one who put him there,” Standish blurted as he stood up and paced the floor. “I've seen what they do in some of the best sanatoriums around the world. Mother had a friend who was committed by her husband and they kept her sedated constantly. She didn't even recognize mother when we went there. She ended up in worse shape than when she went in.”
“Ez, Chris will have help if things get rough. All it takes is a phone call and he'll be released,” Wilmington tried to reassure the younger man.
“I hope you're right, Buck,” Standish said, standing and walking to the window. He'd spent the day wondering if they should have taken on this case. Seeing Chris Larabee immobilized and sedated plagued his conscience. He turned as he realized there was another man present who shared his memories of those moments. He knew they shared the same fears, especially after seeing and hearing what the undercover man would be put through.
“Yeah, Buck,” the kid answered.
“Were you able to access the files?”
“I got into the unprotected files, but not the password protected area. They've got a top of the line security system and it may take a while to hack into it,” Dunne explained.
“Did you send copies of the files you did access?” Sanchez asked.
“They should be stored on the computer,” Dunne explained as he booted up his laptop.
“When can you see Chris again, Ezra?” Sanchez asked as they waited for the Bostonian to retrieve the information.
“They won't let family see the patients until they're settled in and placed on a drug program. Probably be three or four days,” the gambler answered, a distinct coldness edging its way into his voice.
The ex-preacher turned to the other men seated at the table. “When do you two start your rotation in the secured area?”
“I don't know if I'll be assigned to that cleaning crew,” Wilmington answered. “What about you, Vin?”
“The orderlies are changed on a regular basis. The rotation begins on Mondays and ends the following Sunday. We're then given two days off and come back to work in another area of the institution. I should be assigned to the secure facility at the beginning of the next rotation.”
“So you're off Monday and Tuesday and should be in with Chris on Wednesday?” Sanchez asked.
“Yeah,” the tracker answered.
“That means we have to hope Nathan is able to see him over the weekend,” Dunne supplied as he keyed in his password.
“And that Chris doesn't do anything that'll get him in hot water until one of us is there to watch his back,” the ladies’ man offered.
“He won't. Chris Larabee knows what he's doing!” the ex-preacher assured them.
“Yes, but he's going to have to be careful disposing of the pills,” Standish said, dropping into the chair across from Tanner.
“He knows what he's doing. JD, how's it coming?”
“I'm bringing up the files now, Josiah. Mostly personnel files right now, patient access is a little trickier,” the Bostonian answered.
“I have the utmost confidence in you, Kid!” Wilmington smiled as he patted the younger man on the shoulder.
“Thanks, Buck,” Dunne said gratefully. He typed in a secondary password and a list of employees from Shady Acres appeared on the screen. “Done.”
“Alright, JD, print them out and we'll divide them into groups and see if we can come up with any leads,” Sanchez suggested.
“Sure, Josiah,” Dunne said and hooked up to the printer.
“What time is Nathan meeting us at Buck's Place?” Tanner asked.
“He should be there around 11 tonight,” the ex-preacher answered.
“That gives us two hours to get the files printed out,” Standish told them.
“Think you'll be done by then Kid?” the scoundrel asked.
“Yeah, should only take half an hour to print these off,” Dunne said as he finished connecting the computer. The small conference room was silent, except for the printer as the five men waited for the information they needed.
Nathan walked slowly toward his pride and joy, a 1995 silver Camaro. Anyone who saw the man would be able to tell he was not himself. His shoulders slouched, his hands were tucked into the pockets of his leather jacket, and his step lacked the surety it usually had. He took a small device from his pocket and pressed the button. The lights on the car blinked as the signal reached its destination and the locks were disabled. He opened the door, slid behind the steering wheel and slipped the key into the ignition. He sat back against the seat and closed his eyes, hoping he could ward off the headache before it became a full blown one that required medication. He knew the pain was a result of what he'd been forced to do to Chris Larabee, and would probably continue throughout this case. Taking a deep breath he turned on the car and drove toward the exit, leaving the blond alone in a world they knew little about.
“There's Nate,” Wilmington said as the medic entered the dimly lit bar. Their eyes met and Jackson hurried toward their table.
“Boys,” Jackson said as he dropped onto the chair beside Sanchez. He saw the files lying open before each man and knew they'd been working since their arrival.
“Are you all right, Nathan?” Sanchez asked.
“No, no I'm not,” the medic said, rubbing at the bridge of his nose.
“What happened?” Tanner asked.
“Chris?” Wilmington said softly and saw the dark head bob once.
“What happened?” Standish asked fearfully.
“Kent. The bastard knew Coburn didn't give Chris the full dose of Valium...”
“Fuck! What did he do?” the ladies’ man asked worriedly.
“What do you think he did, Buck?” Jackson snapped irritably, and shook his head at his own loss of temper. “Look, I'm sorry. Kent ordered a second shot as soon as Chris was taken up to his floor.”
“Did you see him?” Standish asked.
“Yeah, yeah, I did. Kent wanted me to see how new patients were handled at the institute. He was very pleased to show me Chris Jacobson.”
“Was Chris awake?” Sanchez asked, reading the underlying tension in the medic's voice.
“Oh, yes, he was awake when we went into his room,” Jackson answered.
“How was he?” Dunne asked.
“About as well as could be expected when you're restrained...”
“Restrained?” Tanner snapped.
“That's right, wrist and ankle restraints. Plus straps across his chest and hips. He was tied down and couldn't move.”
“Did he say anything?” the tracker's voice was soft, but the others heard the fury in the words.
“Yeah. He put on a good show of anger. Cursed Ezra and Dr. James. Said he'd get even with them and that's when Kent ordered...” The medic grew quiet as Sanchez slid a drink across the table to him. “Thanks,” he said, downing the shot and setting the empty glass back on the table.
“You're welcome. So what did Kent do?”
“He ordered another shot. That man seems to think drugs are the way to treat everything!” Jackson snapped and landed a heavy fist on the table.
“Easy, Brother,” Sanchez said, knowing there was something more bothering his friend.
“Nathan, it's not your fault,” Wilmington said as he watched the tense body lean back in the chair.
“You don't understand, Buck. Kent ordered the shot but I...I...”
“He made you give it to Chris,” Tanner finished.
“Yeah, and I did. Chris looked at me and God help me I did it and I knew by the look in his eyes Chris didn't blame me.”
“Of course not, Nathan, there was nothing else you could have done,” Standish told the distraught man.
“I could've refused...”
“And Kent would've given him the shot and you'd probably be dismissed, leaving Chris with no one to watch his back in there. No, Nathan, you did the right thing,” Wilmington said.
“I hate this,” Dunne said as he watched the worried faces. His own fears were evident on his face as he picked up another file.
“We all do Kid,” Tanner whispered as they settled down to study the papers on the table.
Josiah signaled for Inez to bring another round, already convinced they'd be taking taxis home tonight.
Katrina Morgan unlocked the door and entered the room of the newest patient. His chart said his name was Chris Jacobson and that he was to be restrained until further notice. She moved closer to the bed and listened to the steady breathing. She hated the restraints, but would not disobey orders. She studied the slack features and wondered how someone who looked so peaceful could become violent upon awakening. She touched his forehead, flicking back the soft blond hair, and heard him mumble in his sleep.
“What are you thinking about, Mr. Jacobson?” she asked as she watched his eyes move beneath the lids. She knew he'd sleep for hours yet, and turned away from the bed. She turned back and smiled as she heard his soft voice whisper once more.
“Love you, Sarah.”
Smiling she left the sleeping man to his dreams.
Vin walked through the front door of his ranch house, shutting it behind him and leaning heavily against it. He ran his hand across his stubbled chin and finally made his way toward the rustic kitchen. He moved to the double-sided refrigerator and reached for the lone bottle of beer sitting at the back of the top shelf. Twisting off the top he moved into the dining room and sat in his usual chair. He lifted the bottle, draining half of it before placing it on the table in front of him.
The beer tasted bitter to him and he knew it had more to do with the events of the last 24 hours than whether it was a bad batch or not. He placed his elbows on the table and placed his hands on his eyes, rubbing at the burning orbs. Dropping his hands from his face he stood up and walked to the shelf at the back of the simply decorated room. The picture was taken after they'd returned from Guam and Chris was still seated in the wheelchair. The injuries he'd received during the so-called vacation had placed him in the chair for nearly six months. Chris looked vulnerable in the shot, yet Vin knew his imprisonment in the chair was a lot easier than the imprisonment he now faced. At least in the chair he'd been able to move around his ranch, work at the office and anything else he wanted, but he would have no freedom at Shady Acres. His every move would be watched, monitored to ensure he did not escape.
“Damn it, Chris, I fuckin’ hate this!” he swore as he slammed the picture face down on the table. He picked up the beer and finished the last of it before heading for his room where he dropped onto his bed and curled onto his left side. Exhaustion quickly worked to overshadow his worries and he sank into a troubled sleep. Nightmares where the walls closed in on Chris Larabee, and he was shut off from the rest of them, with no hope of his friends rescuing him. He turned onto his back and his right hand came up to cover his eyes.
“, Chris,” he said to the images in his nightmares, yet the sound was clear in the darkened room.
Must've been some party,’ he thought as he tried to open his eyes. His head pounded and his tongue felt too thick for his arid mouth. He lay back against the pillow and panicked when he realized he couldn't move his arms and legs.
“What the hell!” he snapped and struggled against the bonds. Green eyes shot open and he groaned as the overhead light seemed to bounce off the too white walls.
Memory returned slowly and he let his eyes close once more as he calmed his breathing. Two faces flashed before his closed lids. Vin Tanner and Nathan Jackson, both men were given jobs to do and the impact of those jobs was clear in their eyes. The worst was Nathan, and Chris hoped he'd been able to allay some of the guilt the medic had shown when he was ordered to give him the shot. He hated what he'd been forced to do, but there'd been other cases where they'd all been forced to do things they later regretted.
“Mr. Jacobson.”
Chris heard the male voice and turned a steady glare at the man who was supposed to cure him of his anger. He struggled against the bonds, a violent storm raged in his sea green eyes as he looked at the man standing beside the bed.
“Get these things off me!” he ordered through gritted teeth.
“I see you still haven't realized who is in charge here, Mr. Jacobson,” Kent said as he moved to the bed.
“Sure as hell ain't you! Get that bastard brother of mine in here and I'll show you who's in charge!”
“Calm down, Mr. Jacobson, or I will be forced to have you sedated again!”
“You wouldn't dare!” Larabee sneered.
“Try me! Now I have a busy day planned for both of us and I'd rather not have it delayed again because of your inability to admit you have an anger management problem!”
“I don't have a problem with my anger!”
“Ah, you don't, but I'm afraid others do and they have a real fear of what you'll do if you don't get help. Your brother...”
“My brother is a cowardly sonofabitch and...”
“Mr. Jacobson...”
“Don't Mr. Jacobson me, Kent!” he spat as he struggled against the restraints. “Get these fucking things off me!”
“I had hoped we could move into the next phase of your therapy, but I see you're in need of a sedative...”
“There's really no choice...unless...”
“You calm down and we discuss what's expected of you. Now, are you willing to work with me and find out the best way to get rid of that anger?”
The blond stared at the man and knew he couldn't give in too easily. Kent seemed like the type of man who would be suspicious of a quick change. Chris knew he needed to be free to move around if he wanted to uncover any wrongdoings at Shady Acres. Taking a deep breath he glared up at the older man and saw something in the dark eyes. It sent a chill down his spine as he sensed that this man loved the control he had over his patients, and it did not bode well for Chris Larabee.
“Well, Mr. Jacobson, are you willing to work with me on a course of treatment that would enable you to control your anger?”
“I'd rather just get outta here!” the restrained man spat.
“Well, I'm afraid that won't happen for some time.”
“Look, damn it!” Larabee swore impatiently. “I'm not the one who needs to be in here...”
“That's not what Dr. James says in your commitment papers. She says your anger has grown steadily worse since the death of your...”
“She had no right to tell you about that!” Larabee spat. “That was supposed to be patient confidentiality.”
“Oh, she doesn't go into details and she didn't betray your confidence. Actually your brother was the one who supplied the information...”
“That bastard!” the blond snarled and again fought the restraints.
“I take it that means you don't wish to discuss your therapy?”
“I don't need therapy! I need to get my hands on that sonofabitch!” He watched as the doctor moved to the door and heard him call one of the nurses. ‘Shit, time to show a little restraint,’ he thought as Kent came back to the bed.
“I'm going to...”
“Look, shit, Doc...”
“Make sure the nurses...”
“I'm okay, Doc, I'm calm! See!” Larabee forced a smile to his face as a dark haired nurse stepped into the room.
“Keep me informed...”
“I don't need it...” the blond tried as Kent took the syringe from the nurse.
“No...look, Doc, I'll cooperate. Just don't give me any more of that shit! O...okay?”
Kent made a show of squirting a small amount of the liquid into the air and turned his attention back to his patient. “Mr. Jacobson, how do I know you won't get angry once we release you?”
Larabee glared at the older man for a few seconds, but quickly turned his gaze on the syringe. “I don't want any more of that shit, okay? Makes my head hurt. Just let me out of these and I'll do whatever you say.”
“Sheila, release Mr. Jacobson's wrists and ankles,” Kent said as he snapped the cap back on the medication.
“Yes, Doctor,” the woman said and did as she'd been told.
Chris rubbed his wrists and pushed the blankets away. He slid his legs over the edge as Kent handed the needle back to the nurse and she left.
“What now?” Larabee enquired.
“Well, the first thing you need to do is eat. I'm afraid you overslept and missed breakfast, but I'm sure the kitchen can provide something to tide you until lunch.”
“Not hungry,” the blond said.
“You need to eat, but if you'd rather wait until lunch then we'll get started on finding the best course of treatment for you. I will arrange to have a set of daytime clothing sent to you. See that you're dressed and ready for your assessment...”
“And if I'm not?”
“I have many sedatives at my disposal, Mr. Jacobson,” Kent warned, before he turned and left the room.
Chris sat on the edge of the bed and breathed a sigh of relief as the door was closed and he was left alone in the room. He knew there was a camera located somewhere, but he hadn't been able to spot it yet. His mind wandered over the events of the last 24 hours, and he knew he'd need to keep his wits about him if he was to succeed. He ran his fingers through his sweaty hair and thought of the look he'd seen in Kent's eyes. Something told him this psychiatrist held a bit of a cruel streak and he'd need to tiptoe around him until he found the information they needed.
It wasn't long before an orderly unlocked his door and entered the room. He held a small bundle in his arms and placed it on the bed beside the blond.
“Dr. Kent is waiting for you in Dr. Parker's office. See that you get changed and I'll be back for you in five minutes.”
“What happens if I'm not?” the patient asked, and saw a strange light in the other man's eyes.
“Then I come in here and help you, Jacobson!” with that threat he exited the door and left the newcomer to his thoughts.
Chris sat for a few seconds and briefly wondered if he really could go through with this. The thought of having his every move monitored, of being told what he could do, and when he could do it made his stomach crawl. He looked at the blue sweats on the bed beside him and took a deep breath. Realizing he didn't have a choice now that things really had progressed too far to turn back, he pulled the shirt from his body and picked up the short-sleeved garment. By the time he pulled on the hospital issue slippers the door opened and the orderly was back.
“Wise choice, Jacobson,” he said, leering at the blond's lean body. “Follow me!”
Chris stood up and followed the larger man out of the room he'd slept in. They made several twists and turns, with the agent noting every room and the signs placed on the heavy doors. They finally stopped outside a door and Chris watched as the man slipped a card inside and pressed his personal code. The lock mechanism released and the orderly motioned the blond forward. Chris stepped into another room and looked around. There were three doors against one wall and a heavy mahogany desk against another wall. A man sat at the desk, his fingers flying over the keyboard of a computer. Chris stood by the desk waiting for the man to finish.
“Hello, Brian,” the man said to the orderly.
“Hey, Mike. I've got Chris Jacobson for Dr. Parker and Dr. Kent,” Brian Newcomb told the male secretary.
“Hang on and I'll see if they're ready for him,” Michael Perkins ordered, sizing the newcomer up and down as he pressed the button on his phone.
“Yes, Mike?” a female voice came over the speaker.
“Brian is here with Mr. Jacobson.”
“Send him right in. Tell Brian to come back in an hour.”
“Yes, Dr. Parker. Mr. Jacobson, come with me. Brian, you heard.”
“Yeah, see you in an hour, Mike.”
“Okay,” the secretary said as he took Larabee's arm and led him toward the first door. He rapped softly and waited for the muffled ‘come in’ before opening it.
Chris moved through the doorway and into another room. This one was simply furnished with a round table, four chairs, several ocean lithographs on one wall and a single light over the table. The walls had been painted a soft green, and trimmed with a seascape border.
“Hello Chris, I'm Samantha Parker. I'm a psychiatrist and I work with Dr. Kent.”
Chris looked at the woman standing before him and placed her age somewhere in the mid to late thirties. Her sun-kissed blond hair was cut to frame her delicate features, yet he knew this woman was anything but delicate. Her eyes were a deep blue, her cheekbones high, and her mouth just a bit too large for her face. She came up to his shoulders, yet he sensed her reluctance to look up at him.
“Won't you have a seat?” Parker asked.
“Don't need to. Just tell me how to get out of here!” Larabee ordered, ignoring the empty seat between the two doctors.
“Chris, sit down!” Kent ordered. He watched the newcomer secretly hoping the man would make one wrong move.
Larabee watched the doctor, once more seeing something in the man's eyes. Reluctantly he pulled out the chair, pulling it as far away from the man and woman sitting at the table as he could, before sitting down. He knew they were watching his every move, gauging just how far he would go. He watched as the woman looked at the open file before her, and knew it was a false document supplied to the sanatorium by Susan James and his ‘brother’.
“Well, Chris, it appears you are in need of our help,” Parker said softly, watching the new patient for any reaction to her statement.
Larabee remained silent, refusing to even look at the woman.
“According to your file you've had a serious drinking problem compounded by your being unable to control your anger. I know these reactions are related to the death of your wi...”
Larabee stood up and grabbed the file off the table, throwing it across the room as he slammed his fist on the table. “Where the hell did you get that shit?”
“Chris! Sit down...” Parker said.
“Mike, send for an orderly...”
Parker held up her hand to Kent as she looked at the irate blond. “Cancel that. Mike!”
“I warned you about his anger, Samantha...” He knew Mike would've already summoned a couple of orderlies and a nurse would be arriving with a sedative as well. When they'd set up this meeting he'd told Parker about Larabee's very real, very nasty temper and she'd agreed to having them on alert. He also knew the panic button on the wall would bring enough people to make sure Larabee was unable to escape this room.
“Yes, you did,” she agreed as she watched Larabee pacing the room, his hands clenching and unclenching with each step he took. “Chris, you need to calm...”
“I am calm. That fucking brother of mine and his so-called doctor are gonna pay for this!” he snarled.
“Pay for what?” Parker asked calmly.
“They had no right telling you about my,” he said, tears brimming at the edge of his eyes. He knew the others hadn't wanted to use this as part of his past, a part that ended in the real tragedy that took his wife and son from him.
“They were trying to help you, Chris,” Parker explained.
“Yeah, right…my brother doesn't give a damn about me! He never did! All he wants is the money and I damn well won't let him have that! Now you people better let me out of here or I'll sue this fucking place for every cent it has and then I'll see to it you people never work...”
“Chris, you don't really want to do that,” the woman said.
“Don't I? They fucking put me in here and you people just took it for granted that I belonged here!” he said slamming his fist on the table in front of her.
“Don't you?”
“No! I fucking don't! Now give me the fucking papers and I'll sign myself out!” Larabee's eyes were deadly as he stopped in front of Kent.
“That's not going to happen, Chris, so you might as well sit down and listen to what we have to say!” the man ordered, again pointing to the chair.
“Fuck you!” the blond hissed, sending the empty chair across the floor.
“Mike, send in the orderlies!” Kent ordered, knowing the room was being monitored.
Parker watched the man as he stalked across the room like a caged animal. When the door opened the patient stood on the opposite side of the table, his eyes filled with glacial fire as two men entered the room. Larabee recognized the bigger one as the man named Mike who'd brought him to the office.
“Stay the hell away from me!” Larabee snarled as the two men advanced toward him.
“Wait!” Parker told the two men, before turning to the irate man once more. “Chris, if you calm down and take a seat I'll tell them to leave.”
“Tell them to keep away from me, Doc, or I'll...”
“Chris, they are just doing their job, just like Dr. Kent and I are. We're here to help you if you'll let us.”
“I told you how you could help me! Sign those fucking papers and let me out of here!”
“I can't do that, Chris. Your temper is out of control and we haven't even started talking about why yet!”
“Why? I'll fucking tell you why. That little shit of a brother of mine and his doctor lover! They won't get away with this!” He saw the two men getting closer, one man moved to the right and one to the left as they sought to cut him off.
“Stay the fuck away!” Larabee snarled. He could see Kent move to the door as a nurse handed him a capped syringe. Shit,’ he thought as he realized he'd gone a little too far, but couldn't see any way out of it now. Parker continued to talk to him, but he was too busy watching the two men to hear what she was saying. As the orderlies rounded the sides of the table he lunged forward, vaulting over the table to land on the opposite side as Kent turned toward him, blocking the only way out.
“Outta my way, Kent!” he snapped, but something heavy landed on his back and he was forcefully pushed to the floor. His head contacted the edge of the chair as he went down, but no one noticed the blood as Kent moved to quickly inject the sedative.
Chris struggled against the strong arms holding him, crying out as the needle was savagely pressed into his shoulder. He felt something trickle into his left eye, just as the pain from the wound registered in his mind.
“Now, Chris, we're going to get you on your feet and back to your room,” Parker explained as the two men lifted him to his feet.
“Shit, he's bleeding!” Kent said.
“Damn it, he must have hit his head on the chair when Mike and Ted brought him down,” Parker explained. “Put him in the chair. Cassandra, bring me some gloves and bandages!”
“Yes Doctor,” the woman said as she ran out of the room.
Parker knelt in front of the injured man and tried to get him to focus on her, but the combination of the blow to the head and the drug in his system made it impossible. The two men stood on either side of the injured man, holding his arms to keep him from slipping out of the chair. She waited for the nurse to come back with the bandages so she could treat the wound and see if it required sutures.
“Here you go, Doctor,” Cassandra Wilkes said as she ran back into the room.
“Thank you,” Parker said, pulling on the surgical gloves, before reaching for the sterile dressing tray. She watched as the nurse opened the bottle of saline and poured it into the container. Using the small forceps she cleaned the wound with gauze, wincing at the darkening bruise over Larabee's eye. A low groan from her patient made her look at his eyes and she knew he wouldn't be awake much longer.
“Chris, I'm just going to finish cleaning this and we'll get you back to your room,” she explained as she tried to control the bleeding by applying pressure. She knew head wounds bled more than others, and wasn't too alarmed by the amount of red staining his shirt.
“How is he?” Kent asked.
“He's going to need a couple of stitches. Cassandra, have Dr. Mercer paged to the examination room.”
“Right away, Dr. Parker.”
“Mike, go get a wheel chair or a stretcher. He's not going to be able to walk out of here!”
“Yes, Ma'am,” Mike said and hurried after the nurse.
Parker removed the gauze and checked the deep laceration. The bleeding had slowed to a small trickle, but she held the bandage in place a few seconds more, then took a clean one and taped it over the wound. She looked up as Mike returned with a gurney.
“Chris, we're going to put you on a stretcher and bring you down to see Dr. Mercer. He's probably going to need to put a few stitches in your head, okay?”
“...okay...” the blond's voice was slurred.
“Mike, Ted, help me get him up!” she ordered.
“I...I ca...can do...”
“No, Chris, just let us help you,” Parker told him.
Chris felt the two big men grab his arms and lift him up. The stretcher was lowered and he sat on the edge, frowning as he tried to remember what was happening. His head was reeling as he was forced to lie back and his legs were placed on the bed. A thin blanket soon covered him and he felt someone touch his right hand and wrap something around his wrist.
“Are those necessary, Ray?” Parker asked.
“He's a violent patient, Samantha, and we both know the rules.”
“Between the head wound and the sedative he won't be able to do anything...”
“It doesn't matter. He is to be restrained while being transported after a violent outburst,” Kent snapped, taking pleasure in tightening the leather straps. He reached across the patient's body and did the same to the straps covering Larabee's chest, hips, and legs.
“Okay, Mike, you and Ted, bring him to the examination room. I'll meet you in Jacobson's room when Mercer is finished with him. Make sure he's restrained at all times!” Kent ordered as the two men grabbed opposite ends of the gurney and left the room, the nurse following close behind.
“Well, Samantha, now that you've seen how violent Jacobson can be, what type of drug therapy do you recommend?”
Parker crossed the room and righted the chair the patient had tipped over. She then knelt to pick up the file papers, before answering Kent's question. “I think we should start with 5mgs Haldol and 2mgs Ativan. If we need to we can increase both drugs.”
“That's what I was thinking. I'll write up the new orders and we can start him on it when he's awake and lucid. Thank you, Samantha.”
“You're welcome, Ray. I want him in group therapy as soon as possible.”
“Well, if we get him started on the Haldol and Ativan he should be able to start attending sessions and taking part in activities on Monday. I'm going to grab some lunch before I check on Jacobson, would you care to join me?”
“Not right now, Ray, maybe another time.”
“Certainly…thanks for the consult.” Kent hurried out of the room, before she saw the smile on his face.
“Well, Chris, it looks like we've got a tough job ahead of us,” she thought as she closed the file and left the room.
Carl Sheppard lifted the receiver as the phone began ringing. He smiled as he heard the familiar voice and hurried to get the file in question.
“I've got it right here...Yes, he's worth millions...I'll find out what I can, but I think the brother... Ezra, could be in financial difficulty...Yes, I heard that part too. Chris kept alluding to gambling debts...I'll get Marcus on it right away....Yes, should take a week or so at the most...He was extremely violent when they brought him in....Really! How bad was it...Six stitches!...Okay, I'll let you know as soon as I hear from Marcus.”
Sheppard hung up the phone and dialed a new number. As soon as it rang a man's heavily accented voice answered.
“Marcus, it's Carl Sheppard.”
“Hi, Carl, what have you got for me?”
“I need you to find out all you can about two men. Chris and Ezra Jacobson of Jacobson Enterprises. Concentrate on Ezra...find out if he's in the hole and if so for how much and to whom.”
“Got it. Is this one of those special clients?”
“It could be. We may be looking at something in the millions this time...”
“Millions, haven't had one of those since...”
“I know. Look, just check it out and get back to me as soon as possible.”
“It could take a while, especially if Ezra Jacobson is in the hole to more than one person.”
“We have the time. Chris Jacobson has been committed to Shady Acres.”
“Excellent, at least you can keep an eye on him there.”
“Well, I can't but my contacts can. Call me.”
“I will, later,” the phone clicked as the man hung up and Sheppard eased back in his chair. He looked at the report before him and smiled as he realized this could be the one that would put him on easy street for the rest of his life.
Chris’ mind felt as if it was mired down in thick sludge and he tried to open his eyes. The bright overhead light stabbed at his skull and he tried to reach for the source of his discomfort, but suddenly realized his arms and legs were impossibly immobile and he could barely move. He tried calling out, but no one answered and it took a few minutes to calm down enough for rational thinking. Flashes of memory returned and he knew it was important he keep up the charade, but could not quite grasp what kind of charade.
Shady Acres,’ the two words brought everything crashing down and he renewed his efforts to get free, but no one answered his call. *Get a hold of yourself, Larabee, this is only the beginning. You knew what you signed on for and it's not as if you're in here for the rest of your life,’* Chris found solace in his thoughts and knew he could do this as long as he remembered it was a job, a tough one, but still just a job. He turned toward the door as it opened and a nurse entered carrying something in her hand, his stomach churned when he recognized the capped syringe.
“Good morning, Mr. Jacobson, my name is Ellen and I'm going to give you your meds by injection. Dr. Kent will be here shortly and he will decide whether to change the order to oral or continue with the injection form,” the nurse explained, smiling when she realized he seemed to be much calmer than the notes from the day before suggested.
“I don't need…”
“Well, for now that decision is not yours to make.”
Chris knew the feeling of helplessness that washed over him was only the beginning and felt the cold swab swiped across his upper arm before she injected the drugs. He licked at dry lips, closed his eyes and knew it wouldn't take long for the medications to take affect.
“I will be back in a few minutes with your breakfast and then we'll see about getting you washed and dressed before Dr. Kent gets here,” Ellen explained.
Chris heard her leave and kept swallowing as the medication began to influence his mind. He knew he had to try and hold on to reality, but it was getting harder and harder to think straight. He felt slightly detached from his surroundings as a hint of a smile formed on his face. Larabee lost track of time, but heard the door open and a nurse and orderly entered the room.
“Mr. Jacobson, I have your breakfast here and I must say the waffles this morning are delicious,” Ellen Morton explained and turned to the orderly. “Craig, release the restraints, but stand by in case he's not as out of it as he seems.”
“Just be careful, Miss Morton,” Styles warned and moved in. He watched the patient's face as he released his wrists and ankles and knew he was going to enjoy keeping tabs on Chris Jacobson. “All right, Chris, let's sit you up and get you into the chair.”
Chris frowned and turned to the left as he sat up, closing his eyes as the world seemed to spin in ever increasing concentric circles that threatened to land him on the floor, but the nurse touched his arm and smiled sympathetically at him. “Thanks…got up too fast.”
“Take it easy and let us know when you're ready to move to the chair,” Ellen explained.
“Craig brought it in before he released you,” the nurse answered, noting the confusion in his face and wondered if the drugs and head wound were the cause or a combination of both.
Chris found it increasingly difficult to focus, but he knew he had to keep as much of his faculties together as possible. He let the duo help him to the chair and chuckled softly when he nearly tripped them all up. “Sorry…clumsy…”
“That's okay…there you go,” Ellen said and removed the lid from the tray.
Chris looked at the waffles and searched the tray for something he could use to eat them with. It suddenly dawned on him that the waffles were done in such a way that they could be eaten like toast. He looked for a coffee cup, but the only thing present was a plastic glass filled with orange juice. “Fucking…bas…bastard…”
“Did you say something, Mr. Jacobson?” Ellen asked.
“Bro…brother's a bas…bastard,” Larabee repeated and picked up the waffle. He bit into it and could hear the nurse and orderly speaking behind him. He knew they were nervous of him and was certain the background was firmly in place. His anger and alcohol dependency were well known facts of Chris Jacobson's life. He ate the rest of his meal and drank the orange juice before pushing the table away and standing up.
“Mr. Jacobson, I'm going to bring in a basin of water and you can get washed before you change into day clothes,” Morton explained and turned to go.
“Tell K…Kent…”
“You can speak with Dr. Kent yourself shortly,” the nurse said and hurried from the room.
“Better watch yourself, Jacobson, because I'm not as easily fooled as some of the nurses,” Styles warned.
Chris could feel the underlying threat and knew Styles was someone he'd need to keep an eye on while he was here. Something about the orderly didn't sit right with him and Chris knew his instincts were rarely mistaken. He took a deep breath and made his way to the bed to wait for the nurse. Larabee hoped he'd see one of the guys today because he wanted them to look into Styles’ background.
Buck sat up and fumbled for the phone beside his bed and quickly placed the receiver to his ear. The line was in his name and would remain in place during this case. The others were also given a number and phone that would be part of their undercover personas. “This better be good…”
*“Buck, it's Phyllis Carrington from Shady Acres.”*
“Good morning, Pretty Lady, I'm hoping this is a social call because I know I'm not scheduled to work today,” Wilmington said. He'd flirted with several of the female coworkers during his shifts and Phyllis was no exception. The woman was in her late thirties and worked out several days a week. She was quite pretty with flaming red, shoulder length hair and hazel eyes.
*“You wish…sorry, Buck, I know this is your day off, but John called in sick and we really need you to come in and take his shift.”*
“Well, I did have plans for today, but I guess I could cancel them. Where do I report?”
*“You'll be working in the secure section so make sure you have your Card and ID with you.”*
“I will, Phyllis,” Wilmington said and hung up the phone.
“Who was that?” Dunne asked from the open doorway. The young man was dressed in a pair of boxers and a rumpled T-shirt and hadn't bothered combing his hair.
“Phyllis, my supervisor at Shady Acres,” Wilmington answered and stood up, stretching the kinks from his back. “One of the cleaners scheduled to work in the secure area called in sick and she wants me to take his place.”
“You might get to see Chris,” Dunne said.
“Hope so, Kid…look I need to grab a shower…would you make coffee and call Josiah and let him know what's happening,” Wilmington asked, making his way toward the bathroom before JD could answer. He knew he might not get to see Chris, but there was a chance, and that was something he was willing to take.
Samantha Parker looked at the file in front of her and knew the newest patient had serious problems that started when his wife and son were murdered. She knew she should look into the tragedy, but according to the report they had, Jacobson refused to speak of their deaths and would only say they died while vacationing in some little out of the way island in the South Pacific. She looked up when a knock sounded and hid her distaste when Ray Kent stuck his head inside.
“Good morning,” Kent greeted and smiled upon entering the office and making his way to the empty chair. “Is that Jacobson's file?”
“Yes, it is. I want to familiarize myself with his case before he attends Monday's group session,” Parker answered. “How is he doing?”
“According to the nurses he had a quiet night. I was just headed to his room if you'd like to join me.”
“As a matter of fact I would. Perhaps, if he's lucid enough we could let him spend some time in the common area and see how he interacts with the other patients.”
“Do you think that's wise after what we witnessed yesterday?” Kent asked.
“We could always assign an orderly to stay with him,” Parker said. “I think it's best that we get him involved as soon as possible.”
“You always were a soft heart where your patients are concerned, but I want to remind you that I am Jacobson's primary psychiatrist.”
“I know, but you asked me to be a part of his therapy and I'm simply giving you my insight. Jacobson's anger is not going to simply disappear just because he's started on the drug therapy you've initiated…”
“With your approval, Samantha,” Kent reminded her.
“Yes, I know,” Parker said, closing the file and standing up. She walked to the door and held it for Kent before exiting and locking it behind her. She spoke with her secretary and told her to hold all calls and that she'd be back in half an hour. They reached the small room where their patient had spent the night and waited for the nurse to use her key card and code to open the door.
“How was his night?” Parker asked.
“He slept straight through,” Ellen Morton answered.
“Did you give him his medications this morning?” Kent asked.
“Yes, Doctor, and he ate his breakfast, but he also cursed his brother while I was in the room,” Morton told them.
“That's normal considering his brother is the one who arranged for his stay here,” Kent explained and nodded for her to open the door. He stepped through and spotted his patient sitting on the edge of the bed.
Samantha Parker's first instincts had her checking the head wound and she could see the bruising that peeked out beneath the bandage. She moved forward and looked into the sea green eyes and noted the effects of the medication. “How do you feel, Chris?”
“Angry,” the blond answered softly.
“I expect you would be…does your head hurt?”
“A little? What happened…Ezra blindside me?”
“No, Ezra wasn't here when this happened,” Kent explained. “How would you like to spend some time in the common area?”
“With the crazies?” Chris asked, a hint of a smile on his face.
“No, with your fellow patients,” Parker told him, and there was no mistaking the distaste his words caused. “You really should watch what you say in here…”
“Why? I'm calm right now thanks to the shit you're pumping me full of,” Chris snapped.
“Chris, you need to realize that you're here for your own good and the faster you accept that the easier it will be,” Parker told him.
“No, Doc, the reason I'm in here is that bastard brother of mine and when I see him I'll rip his traitorous heart out and shove it down his throat!”
“You really do need to curb your anger, Chris,” Kent said, smiling inwardly at the thought of taking this man down a few pegs. “Perhaps you'd rather stay in here and meditate today…”
“No, that's all right. I'd like to mingle with the craz…with the patients,” Chris said snidely. “After all, it is part of the treatment…right, Doc?”
“Right,” Parker said, but her eyes told Chris she was seeing right through him, and he hoped it was only his undercover persona she was seeing through.
“Chris, if I feel you are doing anything you shouldn't be I will have you brought back here and placed in restraints again if necessary,” Kent warned.
“I hear you, Doc,” Chris said, amazed at how easy it seemed to play the part this morning. He wondered about the medications he was being given and whether or not someone was messing with his and making sure he got lower doses. He walked docilely between his two psychiatrists and memorized everything he saw before they stopped in front of an open doorway.
“Chris, don't do anything to upset the other patients,” Kent warned and stepped into the room. There were several patients present, two orderlies who kept back and allowed the patients to relax, and a cleaner who was busily sweeping the floor. Family and friends were allowed to visit for a few hours Saturday afternoons and the cleaners would be making sure everything was squeaky clean in case some of them wanted to see the facilities.
“Would you like to hold my baby?”
“Melanie, remember what we agreed to about your baby?” Parker asked and smiled at the woman standing in front of them.
“I shouldn't let strangers touch my baby…”
Chris watched the psychiatrist as she spoke to the patient and his admiration for her abilities grew. He recognized the patient as the one who'd tried to speak with him the day before and wished there'd been some other way, but his treatment of her went a long way toward showing his undercover ego. “Doc, can we get on with this?”
“Ray, why don't you introduce Chris to the others while I help Melanie with her baby,” Parker suggested and led Melanie away from the others.
Chris followed Kent around the room, listening to the muted conversations and hiding his recognition of the man holding the broom and acting as if he didn't have a care in the world. Buck didn't speak with the patients unless they spoke to him and even then he kept his answers short and crisp as if to keep his distance. Chris followed Kent toward a table where four men were playing some kind of board game and was able to cast a quick glance in Wilmington's direction. The few seconds their eyes connected was enough to tell Chris that Buck had noticed the bandage above his left eyes, but he shook his head imperceptibly to show he was okay.
“Chris, would you like to play?” Kent asked.
“Board games are for cra…kids,” the blond corrected and spotted a man sitting off on his own reading a book. It was the same man he'd noticed the day before and something about the slight smile made him think of a child. There was no mistaking the fact that he was a full grown adult and his size alone spoke of power, but a small laugh, barely recognizable as such made Chris want to reach out to him. Without a word Larabee made his way toward the big man and he turned his head slightly so he could read the title of the book. The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin glared out at him and Chris looked into the soft brown eyes that lit up with childish glee.
“Chris, leave him alone and come this way,” Kent ordered.
“Hey, Big Fella, I'm Chris,” Larabee said by way of introduction and smiled when the man's head came up and slanted a sideways glance in his direction. Chris was reminded of an actor he'd seen in a movie Josiah had brought along on one of their weekend retreats. The guy's nickname had been ‘Bear’ and Chris realized this guy was just that...a warm cuddly overstuffed Teddy Bear.
“He won't talk to you, Chris,” Kent explained and reached for Larabee's arm, only to have the blond pull away from him.
“Sure he will…right, Bear?” the blond asked, but saw a hint of fear in the soft brown eyes when Kent moved closer to him.
“Chris, I don't want you scaring the other patients…”
“I'm not scaring him, Doc, I'm just talking to him.”
“Chris, it's time to go!” Kent ordered and signaled the orderly to come forward.
“Damn it, Doc…I'm coming,” Larabee snapped and pulled away when the orderly latched onto his arm.
“Problems, Ray?” Parker asked upon rejoining the group.
“Nothing I can't handle,” Kent answered impatiently. “It's time Chris went back to his room.”
“All I did was talk to Bear,” Larabee explained, anger and impatience evident in his voice.
“Bear?” Parker asked.
“Him…he looks like a big bear, but not the grizzly kind…a Teddy Bear,” the blond told her.
“Makes sense…he does look like a Teddy Bear, but you have to realize some of the patients are fragile, Chris, and we have to be careful what we say or do around them. Brian may look like a Teddy Bear, but he killed three people with his bare hands,” Parker explained and motioned for the others to join her at a nearby table. She waited for their patient to sit down and could tell he was fighting for control.
“Chris, you need to leave Brian alone…”
“I wasn't doing anything to hurt him!” Larabee snapped. “Jesus, you'd think I was going to start a fucking fight with him!”
“Chris, calm down!” Kent ordered, looking around at the help that was available should Jacobson's anger get any worse.
“Calm, Kent, you haven't seen calm!” the blond swore and stood up, pushing his chair away as he caught sight of Wilmington standing to his right. He could see the fear in the steady gaze and sat back in the chair once more. “Look…I'm not angry…I just…”
“Anger is something you have a problem with, Chris,” Parker told him, shaking her head when the orderly moved toward him.
“I don't have a problem with anger, but Ezra will when I get my hands on the little bastard,” Larabee spat.
“Your brother is simply doing what he thinks is best for you,” Kent stated.
“Wrong…Ezra only does things that are good for Ezra. He's probably draining the bank accounts dry and running Jacobson Enterprises into the ground…”
“I don't think your brother…”
“Dr. Parker, you don't know my brother. Ezra's a conniving sonofabitch and he'll do anything to get his hands on the company's finances,” Larabee told her, slamming his fist on the table, before running his hands through his disheveled hair. “Jesus, I need a drink!”
Buck watched his friend while sweeping the floor nearby and was amazed at Chris Larabee's actions. The man was unbelievably good and even Buck felt as if he was watching a caged animal as Larabee stood up and paced the small area between the table and the space where he stood.
“What the fuck are you looking at?” Larabee spat, hands clenching and unclenching as if enraged.
“Buck, just move back, please,” Parker ordered, having read his name on the ID badge he wore.
“Sure, Doc…”
“Get the hell out of my way!” the blond snarled, but found two burly orderlies standing before him, effectively blocking his exit. He glared at the two men, something his men would have been proud of had they been there, but before he could look toward Buck, he was forced to the floor and held down by the orderlies with a knee pressing down on the middle of his back. He knew Wilmington was watching this, and prayed the man would do nothing to screw up the operation they'd put in place.
Buck held himself in check as the two orderlies forced his friend to the floor and secured him in position with a knee pressing down on his back. He leaned on his broom and held his own temper in check until Parker ordered him to leave the room. His last sight of Chris Larabee was one that stabbed at his heart as Kent swabbed an area on his upper arm and injected something into him. *God, Ol’ Son, what have we done?’*
Vin looked up as Buck entered the stable and knew something had happened at the institute that didn't sit well with him. He handed the older man a brush and moved back so that Buck could rub Pony down. He knew the other man's nerves were on edge and waited for him to speak.
“Vin, tell me we get Chris out of there by the end of the week whether we have the answers or not,” Wilmington stated.
“I'd rather pull him out now…what happened, Buck?”
“He was putting on a show for his doctors, but Jesus, Vin if I didn't know any better I'd swear he was a madman,” Wilmington explained. “There was so much rage and the way he said Ezra's name you'd swear he was talking about the vilest creature ever born.”
“Ya know this is harder on Ez then the rest of us…he's the one who signed the papers and had Chris put in that place,” Tanner told him. “I talked ta him this mornin’ and he's tryin’ ta hide it, but I know he's goin’ through hell.”
“I think Ez is going to need someone to lean on before this is over.”
“I think we all will,” the Texan agreed. He began putting away the items he'd used to clean the stable and watched his friend gently brush Pony's mane while he talked soothingly to the animal. This case was hard on all of them, but there were two men who suffered the worst affects. He vowed he would speak with Ezra before the gambler had to visit Chris at Shady Acres.
Carl Sheppard watched the man striding toward him and hoped Marcus Turner had something new for him. He wanted the dirt on Ezra and Chris Jacobson and was more than willing to pay for it. Jacobson Enterprises was worth millions, but it looked as if the older brother had controlling interest in it even though the younger brother was CEO. From what he'd been able to find out Chris Jacobson was about to have his brother thrown out of office, but he needed to know the reason this was happening before he spoke to his associate about implementing another ‘natural death’ at Shady Acres.
It was late Sunday afternoon and he'd gotten a call from Marcus Turner less than an hour ago to meet him here. “Tell me you have something, Marcus,” Sheppard declared.
“I have something, Carl, but it'll cost you,” Marcus told him and ordered a Scotch when the waitress asked if he wanted something to drink. He waited until she was out of earshot before continuing. “Jacobson Enterprises is worth close to fifty million, but it's been rocked by several major losses lately.”
“What kind of losses?” Sheppard asked interestedly.
“There have been three bad investments that cost the company a couple of million, but that's a drop in the bucket to the Jacobson fortune,” Marcus explained.
“That can't be all of it? Ezra and Chris Jacobson seem to be at war with each other.”
“They are, but it took some digging to find out exactly what's happening between the brothers,” Marcus explained, growing quiet when the waitress returned and placed the drink in front of him.
“Put it on my tab,” Sheppard ordered and waited for the woman to leave. “Tell me what you found out.”
“Chris Jacobson was put in charge of the family business when their parents were killed in a plane crash and he was supposed to allow Ezra a small dividend each month…small meaning ten grand,” Marcus explained. “Not such a small dividend when you consider everything else is paid for.”
“So how did Ezra end up as CEO?”
“Several years ago Chris Jacobson's family was killed while they were on vacation. He started drinking and ignoring his duty to the company and within six months Ezra had enough backing to have his brother voted out and he took over the position. Things ran smoothly…at least that's how it seemed until another loss shook the company and there was a scandal that shattered the image the board of directors wanted. Chris was seen drinking and totally out of it with several ladies of the evening and he started a rumor that Ezra was putting one over on the board because he was scamming the company and taking money from several areas before there was any record of a profit having been made.”
“Ezra was scamming his own company?” Sheppard asked, already counting the money that could be made from this deal.
“That's not all he was doing. Ezra Jacobson is a gambler…a very bad gambler and he's in debt up to his ears and then some,” Marcus explained. “There are several people who think Chris Jacobson was about to oust his brother and take control.”
“So they'd wind up with a drunk in place of a gambling thief,” Sheppard said with a hint of a smile.
“That's probably what prompted Ezra to have his brother committed,” Marcus suggested.
“If I was a betting man I'd say that psychiatrist had something to do with Ezra's decision to have his brother become a resident of Shady Acres.”
“From what I heard she's as much a gambler as he is, but she wins a few here and there,” Turner told him.
“Any idea how much Ezra owes and who he owes it to?”
“Well, he owes 2.4 million to Joseph Spalding…”
“The Joseph Spalding?”
“The one and only and Spalding is rumored to be out for blood if it isn't paid off in thirty days,” Marcus explained.
“Spalding has a reputation of cracking down hard on the people who owe him,” Sheppard said and signaled the waitress to bring another round. It seemed they did have a reason to celebrate and he was sure his partner would be very interested in what they now knew about the Jacobsons.
“Do I tell my informants they get a bonus?”
“If all goes well tell them they can expect a nice bonus,” Sheppard told him and took the drinks from the waitress. “To Ezra Jacobson whose luck is about to change.”
“Yeah, but is it better or worse than what it was?”
“That's the question of the day,” Sheppard said and drank the bourbon before ordering another one and sitting back to enjoy the new found feeling that only came when they had a new mark. Carl reached for his phone and dialed the familiar number, waiting anxiously for his partner to answer and smiling when the phone was picked up.
*“Tell me you have something.”*
“I have something…Chris and Ezra Jacobson are worth far more than we ever imagined and it should be easy to make a killing off them. Ezra Jacobson has several IOUs out there, but the one that gives us some leverage is Joseph Spalding…the casino owner.”
*“Spalding has one hell of a bad reputation…how much is Ezra into him for?”*
“2.4 million,” Sheppard answered and heard the shrill whistle from the other end of the line. “That's what I thought. I figure I could speak with Ezra Jacobson after he visits with his brother and ask him how badly he wants his brother out of the way. I'll do it in our usual manner and just maybe we can net ourselves a couple of hundred thousand to get this monkey off his back.”
*“You think too small, Carl, start him off at one million and tell him the longer it takes him to make up his mind the higher the price goes.”*
“I will…I'll call you later and let you know what's happening.” Sheppard hung up the phone wearing a Cheshire-like grin that did not bode well for the Jacobson Brothers.
Chris could feel the affects of the sedatives, but he also realized he could think a little more clearly and wondered if Coburn had arranged for his meds to be ‘fixed’. He knew he had to pretend that the drugs were affecting him as they were supposed to and fought to maintain control when the nurse and orderly entered his room.
“Good morning, Chris, it's time for your medication and then we'll see about getting you down to the cafeteria so you can eat with the others. How does that sound?”
“Sounds good,” Larabee told her and hid his surprise when she handed him two pills and a glass of water. He popped them into his mouth and held them under his tongue while draining the water.
“Let me see your hands,” the orderly said and nodded his head when he saw there was nothing in them.
“All right, Chris, now why don't you change into the day clothes and I'll be back for you in ten minutes,” Julie Robinson offered and left the room.
As soon as they were out of the room Chris pretended to cough, grabbed a tissue from the box on the bed and spit the pills into it. He knew he would have to find a way to get rid of the pills and hoped he'd be given the chance before anyone became suspicious. The orderly was smart, and Chris knew he was lucky the man hadn't made him open his mouth too.
Chris slowly dressed, placed the tissue into the pocket of the blue pants he now wore, reached for the shirt and pulled it on. He sat on the edge of the bed and pretended he was calm in spite of the way his stomach churned. He knew if he ran into Buck or Vin or one of the others he could find a way to give them the pills and hopefully they'd get them tested in case they were something other than what they were supposed to be. The door opened and the nurse stepped into the room and moved to sit beside him on the bed.
“Well, Chris, are you ready?”
“Guess so…my brother here?”
“Not yet…but I believe he's going to visit you this afternoon. I'm sure he'll be glad to see you're making progress,” Robinson offered.
“I don't think so,” Chris said, sighing tiredly before he stood and made his way toward the door. “I'm hungry…”
“Yes, I expect you are,” the nurse said and walked beside him. There were several orderlies in the hallway and she knew they would make sure nothing happened as she escorted her patient to the cafeteria.
Once they entered the busy room, Chris reached for a tray and joined the line-up leading to the hot plates and was somewhat surprised to find his stomach rumbling. He tried to remember the last time he'd eaten, but it was hard to think and he knew some of the medications had entered his blood stream. He looked at the scrambled eggs and bacon that was placed on his tray and reached for a tea biscuit before glancing around for a place to sit.
Chris spotted the man he'd nicknamed ‘Bear’ sitting on his own at a table near a big window and made his way toward him. “This seat taken?” When no answer was forthcoming, Chris sat down and began eating the eggs, amazed that they actually tasted like eggs and weren't rubbery. He glanced at the man and noticed he was still reading ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin’. “I love that book.” ‘Bear's’ head came up and Chris felt as if the man could see right through him, but the bald head quickly dropped down and he seemed to lose himself in the book again.
Chris knew the man had supposedly killed someone and wondered what it was about ‘Bear’ that made him feel protective. He knew the man's first name and hoped he could get a message to one of the guys and have them check into ‘Bear's’ background. If there were ‘shady’ things happening at Shady Acres then maybe some of the patients were not as guilty as their files showed. Maybe the man was so heavily sedated he couldn't make sense of what was happening to him and discovered a book to get lost in. *Is that it, Bear, are you innocent and just unable to understand what's happening to you?’* Larabee thought.
“Hey, dummy, you gonna finish that?”
Chris looked up into a face that had seen more than its share of fights and even now showed a fading bruise that covered the left side of his face. He stood up and faced the larger man and glared at him. “Leave him alone?”
“Who the hell do you think you are?”
“Doesn't matter who I am…just leave him alone.” Larabee said and sat down.
“What's the matter? You scared of me?”
“There's a couple of ladies I'm scared of, but you're not one of them,” the blond ground out and thought he saw a hint of a smile on ‘Bear's’ face.
“All right, Dugan, back off!” Craig Styles warned.
“He started it!”
“Well I'll finish it if you don't go back to your seat!” the orderly warned and watched the big man leave before he got in Larabee's face. “Watch yourself, Jacobson, because I'm not all that convinced you're what the others think you are.”
Chris just smiled and pretended to dig into what was left of his meal and sat back, pretending to scratch his leg as he retrieved the tissue holding the pills and placed it in his pocket in case he ran into one of the others. He wiped his mouth and placed it on his tray before making his way toward the rack and disposing of the garbage in the bin.
Chris made his way to the door and exited the cafeteria. He spotted a familiar figure sweeping the floor to the right of the cafeteria. He placed his hands in his pocket and walked slowly toward the common area, dropping the tissue in the pile of trash Wilmington had just swept up. He glanced sideways and tried to let the other man know he was all right and saw a slight nod of the dark head. He wanted to speak, and was relieved when Tanner strode toward him.
“All right, Jacobson, it's time to go back to your room,” the Texan said, relieved to see a hint of a smile on Larabee's face when the man pretended to stumble against him.
“Check out the big black guy…looks like ‘Bear’ from Armageddon…name's Brian,” Larabee managed before straightening and walking beside his friend. He knew they were being watched and remained quiet until they reached his room and he stepped inside. He moved to the bed and sat down, ignoring the fact that the camera above him caught his every move.
Nathan Jackson looked around at the patients who worked in the gardens and realized that there were some things about Shady Acres that he really admired. There was a lot of therapeutic value to giving people a chance to work at something they enjoyed and see their faces light up when they accomplished something as simple as seeing a flower they planted bloom. He turned away and entered through the main gate into the secure area of the private hospital and immediately spotted Vin Tanner working with several patients who seemed to enjoy listening to his instructions on how to plant several rose bushes.
Nathan knew Josiah and Ezra were supposed to visit Chris later in the afternoon and wondered how Standish would react to Larabee's portrayal of an angry brother. He knew Ezra was feeling lower than a snake's belly, but they needed to keep up the charade and hope things panned out soon.
“Good morning, Dr. Bradley,” Samantha Parker greeted him as he rounded the corner and made his way toward the main entrance.
“Good morning, Dr. Parker,” Jackson said and smiled as she fell into step beside him. “Please, call me Nathan since it looks like we'll be working together for a while.”
“Thank you, Nathan, but only if you do the same and call me Samantha or Sam,” Parker told him and used her key card to open the door and log in. She watched him do the same and the two made their way to the desk to check in before entering the main area. “Would you like to sit in on this morning's group therapy session?”
“That'd be great as long as Dr. Kent doesn't have other plans for me,” Nathan told her. “How many patients take part in the session?”
“There are usually six in total,” Parker answered. “There'll be an orderly present in case there's trouble, but he is not allowed to interfere with the session unless it gets out of hand and we lose control.”
“Does that happen often?”
“Not really, but it's nice to know there are safety features like the red button if we need it. If I'm unable to reach the button and summon help then it'll be up to you. That button is only used in extreme emergencies because it basically locks everything down and terrifies most of the patients. There's Dr. Kent…why don't we see if he needs you this morning or if I can use you in the session?”
Nathan walked over to the nurses’ station and listened as the two psychiatrists discussed their morning plans. He spotted several patients being escorted to the common area while nurses completed their morning rituals.
“Nathan, Dr. Kent has a meeting with the board of directors this morning so you're more than welcome to sit in on the session,” Parker explained and led the way toward the room where her group always met. The chairs were arranged in a semi-circle with a single chair facing the others.
Nathan quickly spotted the ‘panic’ button near the door as Parker handed him several typed notes on the participants of this morning's session. He quickly hid his surprise at seeing Chris’ name hand written at the bottom of the list. There were six male clients and he knew they would be brought in shortly. He read the reports on each patient which included a list of the medications being given; hiding his distaste at the idea that Larabee was being medicated with sedatives.
“Nathan, would you bring another chair and place it next to mine?”
“Sure, Samantha,” Jackson said and did as she asked. He glanced at the clock and realized the patients would soon be brought in, and he hoped Chris hadn't antagonized the staff too much.
Chris followed the other four to the group session chambers and took a seat at the end of the half circle. He spotted Nathan as soon as he entered, but never acknowledge the man who was busy going through some papers with Samantha Parker. He listened to the other patients and looked toward the door as the sixth patient entered and saw a hint of a smile that promised retribution for Chris’ interference earlier in the morning.
“Take a seat, Joseph,” Parker ordered, taking note of the look that passed between Jacobson and Dugan. She wondered what had transpired and knew she would get the story at some point in the session. She waited for the others to take their seat and watched Jacobson closely, wondering what was going on inside his head. “I'd like you all to say hello to Dr. Nathan Bradley who'll be sitting in on some of our sessions. Would each of you introduce yourselves and tell us a little about your life? Why don't you start, Joseph?”
“Name's Joseph Dugan and I'm here because I do drugs and my bitch of a wife said I hit her,” the big man snapped and slapped his hand on his leg as Parker turned to the man seated next to him.
“Go ahead, Danny,” the psychiatrist said.
“My name is Danny Baker and my mom put me in here after I wrecked the house and hurt my baby sister…I told her I was sorry, but she said I need help. When can I go home, Dr. Parker?”
“Do you think you're ready to go home, Danny?” Parker asked.
“I think so…maybe…I don't know…”
“Then it's best for you to stay here until you do know,” the woman said and turned to the third male. “Ryan, would you like to say hello to Dr. Bradley?”
“Not really…I'm Ryan Fieldgate and I don't know why the hell I'm here.”
“Ryan, watch your language,” Parker warned and turned to the next man. “Colin, how are you this morning?”
“I's fine, Doc…”
“If you're so fine why the hell are you in here?” Dugan snapped.
“Joseph, that's enough,” Parker warned and returned her attention to Colin Galt.
“My name is Colin Galt and I'm here because I can't take care of myself,” the small man answered and looked down when Parker turned to the fifth patient.
“My name is Evan Sprole and I'm here because I see dead people…they talk to me…”
“Dodododo dodododo,” Dugan said in a singsong voice that mocked the theme from The Twilight Zone.
“Jerk,” Larabee ground out and stared at the angry man seated at the other end of the group.
“Chris, before you're allowed to make comments you need to introduce yourself and tell us something about your life,” Parker warned.
“The name is Chris Jacobson and my bastard brother signed me in with the help of his psychiatric bitch,” Larabee stated and glared at the two staff members.
“I'm sure your brother did what he thought was best,” Jackson said.
“Not fucking likely…the bastard wants to control my company and he's not going to get away with it!”
“Looks like he already has…you're in here and he's out there spending your money!”
“Shut the hell up, Dugan!” Larabee snarled.
“You're not man enough to make me!” Dugan spat.
“Gentlemen, we're here to talk…not to start WWIII,” Parker told them. “Joseph, apologize…”
“Not fucking likely,” Dugan snapped.
“Joseph, if you keep talking like that you'll be sent to the meditation room and lose privileges for the rest of the day,” Parker warned.
“What about Jacobson?”
“I'm not talking about Chris, Joseph, I'm talking about you. Are you willing to apologize or do I take away your privileges?”
“Sorry,” Dugan spat and slammed his fists onto his legs. “What about him…you gonna make him apologize?”
“I don't have anything to apologize for,” Larabee told him and let a smirk form on his face. He knew he was pushing the other man, but there was something about Dugan that rubbed him the wrong way.
“What?” the blond snarled.
“Do you want to see your brother this afternoon?” Parker asked.
“The little weasel is coming here?” Larabee asked.
“Ezra and a man named Josiah Arnott…”
“Josiah's coming here…he'll listen,” the blond said.
“Chris, why are you so angry at your brother?” Jackson asked.
“The bastard had Susan bring me here under the pretext that we were going to invest in this dump…he'll see me invest my foot up his ass when I get Josiah to help me out,” Larabee stated.
“Are you sure Josiah will help you? What if he believes Ezra is right? You do have an anger problem and from what I've read in your file you have been drinking more than you should,” Parker said and watched as Jacobson's face filled with rage.
“You don't know anything about me. You read second hand trash that my brother probably wrote and think you can analyze me, but you don't know jack shit!” Larabee said and heard Dugan chuckling softly.
“You tell her, Jacobson!” Dugan said and made a whooping sound before making a show of clapping his hands.
“Shut the hell up, Dugan, I didn't ask for your help and I certainly don't need it!” Larabee snapped.
“Who the fuck do you think you are Jacobson? I…”
“All right, Gentlemen, that's enough, or should I have you both confined to quarters and your privileges revoked?” Parker warned and watched as both men grew quiet. She knew it was important to maintain control before things got out of hand and turned the session toward the other four participants. There was nothing further from Jacobson, but Dugan continued to be his obnoxious, self-centered self. “Well, I'm getting kind of hungry and I'm sure all of you would like to have lunch before your visitors arrive this afternoon. So please return to your rooms and I'll see you at tomorrow's session.”
“Are the sessions always so lively?” Jackson asked once the others had left.
“Whenever Dugan participates, things kind of get loud,” Parker said and finished making several notations on her files. “So, Nathan, would you like to join me for an early lunch?”
“I'd love to,” Jackson told her and followed her out of the room.
Josiah Sanchez studied the man seated beside him out of the corner of his eyes. Ezra was immaculately dressed in a dark Armani suit and highly polished black shoes. Ezra looked to be everything his persona claimed and Josiah knew it was the gambler's own experiences that made him the perfect man for this type of job. Anyone who met Ezra would think he was born to a position of money, but the truth was Maude Standish wasn't rich, not by a long shot, but she'd used her own charms and personality to keep up appearances. Some people accused Ezra of the same thing, but those who knew him understood how much he'd changed in the years since joining the agency and making six men his brothers.
Josiah knew how hard this particular case was on Ezra and wished there was something he could do to ease the younger man's troubled conscience, but that wouldn't happen until Chris Larabee was no longer a patient at Shady Acres. This was tough on the whole team, but it was par for the course when it involved their jobs. They'd all be undercover at some point in time and the guilt felt could be shared equally amongst each of them.
Josiah caught sight of Rafael watching them and knew the man could be trusted. That was one of the reasons they used Rafael whenever they needed someone to act as a chauffeur or any other part of an undercover operation where they needed an extra set of arms or legs. Chris had offered the man a full time position, but Rafael liked being able to play it by ear and take the jobs he wanted instead of those he was assigned to. Josiah turned and looked at Standish once more as they entered through the main gates of Shady Acres.
“Ezra, are you sure you're ready for this?” Sanchez asked while Rafael looked for a parking spot in the busy lot.
“I'm fine, Josiah…I'm not the one locked in there,” Standish said, his voice deceptively calm as he stared out the window.
“No, but you are the one who put him there, at least in a sense you are,” Sanchez told him. “You can't blame yourself for this one, Ezra. Chris knew what he was getting in to…and while we may not agree with his decision we should look at it from his point of view. The background story on Chris Jacobson has distinct parallels to Chris Larabee's life and he can draw on his own experiences to make this all the more realistic.”
“That's part of the problem with this whole scenario, Josiah, Chris has been through his family's death and acting the part of an angry survivor is going to bring it all back with a bang,” Standish said. “We all know what he went through…the pain…the withdrawal… the alcohol…it nearly killed him when we ganged up on him and stepped in…”
“Yes, it did, but the intervention was the right thing at the time and he survived and it made him…made all of us stronger. Just remember he is acting when you go in there and you'll both be fine,” the ex-preacher assured him as the car pulled to a stop near the back of the visitor's parking area. “Are you ready for this?”
“No, but let's get it done!” the gambler waited for Rafael to open the passenger door and exited the car, immediately straightening his suit and tie before walking toward the main entrance. He knew they would have to go through a rigorous check in and would allow Josiah to take care of the details. It didn't take long to go through the outer checkpoints, but once they reached the secure area it took several long minutes of explanations before they were allowed access to that section. They were assigned an escort who would stay with them until they left Shady Acres.
“Just remember these people are here for a reason and you'll do fine,” Tony Rocco explained as he led them along a path that wound through the flowerbeds and ended up in a courtyard that bordered the cafeteria. He knew Chris Jacobson would have already been informed of his visitors and should already be present.
“There's Chris,” Standish said and pointed to the man seated on a small bench near a spectacular rose bush that seemed to have thrived on the patient's attention. His heart felt like it was lodged in his throat when he saw the bandage over Larabee's left eye.
“It's okay, Ezra, you don't need to fear him now that he's on medications to help curb his anger,” Sanchez said, holding the Bible so that it was plainly visible for all to see. Around his neck was a gold chain and dangling from the end was a white gold crucifix, a birthday gift from the rest of the team. He knew their escort had overheard his words and knew word would get around that Ezra Jacobson was ‘afraid’ of visiting his brother. They reached the bench and Josiah was the first to speak. “Hello, Chris, I hope they are treating you well.”
“What the hell are you doing here, Preacher Man? Ezra got you under his control too?”
“You should know me by now, Chris…no one controls me,” Sanchez told him and sat beside the blond. “I came because I wanted to see how you were doing not because of anything Ezra did or said.”
“You tell him to stay the fuck away from me…”
“Chris, Ezra came all this way to see how you're adjusting to the changes…”
“Changes he arranged, Josiah…the little bastard signed the papers and had me committed, but I'm not staying here! I'm getting out of here and when I do I'm going to see to it that the board knows about his gambling and that he's been embezzling funds from the company since he took control,” Larabee said, his voice rising several octaves as he stared at his ‘brother’. “You hear me, Ezra, I know you've turned everyone against me…”
“Chris, you're delusional…”
“Like hell I am, Brother Dear! You, however, are delusional if you think you'll get away with this! I'm going to make sure you pay…pay dearly for putting me in here with the crazies!”
“Mr. Jacobson, you need to calm down,” the orderly scolded from nearby.
“I am calm! This bastard is not going to take my life from me!”
“Chris, Ezra isn't doing anything to hurt you…he's worried…”
“You side with him, Josiah, and you'll lose too!” Larabee ground out and stood up to face his ‘brother’. “I'm not stupid, Ezra, and it's time you realized who you're dealing with!”
“Get your hands off me, Preacher Man!” Larabee’ snarled and pulled away from the older man. He acted before anyone could stop him and landed a devastating blow to the left side of Ezra's face that staggered the gambler and nearly drove him to his knees. Chris soon found both his arms held tight as Sanchez reacted instinctively and grabbed him, keeping him away from Standish.
“We'll take him from here, Sir,” an orderly said and moved to Larabee's right.
Chris growled deep in his throat and lunged for his ‘brother’ as Vin and a second orderly grabbed his arms and forced him to the ground. “You won't get away with this, Ezra, I'll fucking kill you! Let go of me!”
“Calm down, Jacobson!” Tanner warned and felt the body beneath him ease up slightly. He looked up to see Kent hurrying toward him and prayed they could get Larabee to realize how much trouble he could be in if he didn't stop struggling.
Chris felt the change in the Texan and knew something had changed. He stopped struggling and glanced up to see Ezra wiping the blood from his face and realized he might have put a little too much power in the swing. There was nothing he could do about that as Tanner and the other orderly pulled him to his feet and turned him to face the newcomer.
“Well, Chris, I see I was right in thinking it was too early for you to have outside visitors. Do you have something to say to your brother before you're returned to your room for some quiet meditation?” Kent asked.
“Yes, I do,” Larabee told him and turned to Standish. “I'm sorry…”
“Very good…”
“Sorry I didn't knock you on your ass!”
“That's enough, Son…”
“Shut the fuck up, Preacher Man and save your sermon for someone who needs it!” Larabee spat as he was dragged toward the main doors.
“I'm sorry, Gentlemen, you'll have to leave,” Kent said and turned away before he revealed just how much he'd enjoyed Jacobson's display.
“Will he be all right?” Ezra asked, holding a cloth against his split lip.
“I assure you he'll be fine once he calms down and realizes what he did was wrong,” Kent explained. “Now if you'll excuse me I'll go speak with my patient and let him know what privileges he'll lose as a result of his actions.”
“Did we just make things worse for Chris?”
“I hope not, Ezra, but it was a necessary part of the ruse to make Chris’ actions believable,” Sanchez said, walking beside the younger man. “Did he break anything?”
“He may have loosened several teeth, but aside from the split lip and bruised ego I'm fine,” Standish assured him, but his voice lacked the certainty he'd tried to instill in his words.
“You did your job perfectly, Ezra, and Chris would be the first one to tell you that.”
“How long do you think it will take the guilty party to contact us?” Standish asked, effectively deflecting the attention away from himself.
“Well it depends on how long it takes for word to get around. Whoever is responsible for the murders has to be working closely with the patients in order to pick the ones most likely to give them the big payday,” Sanchez explained.
“He has one hell of a right cross,” Ezra said and moved his jaw from side to side. They exited the secure area and made their way toward the main gates, and Ezra looked around when he felt someone watching him. He spotted Carl Sheppard and a shudder ran down his spine at the way the other man seemed to be looking right through him. “I have a feeling we had an audience.”
“I believe you're right, Ezra,” Sanchez agreed, making a point of diverting his eyes from the man who stood watching them. “Do you know who he is?”
“I believe he's the financial advisor and I would hazard a guess that he's involved in the killings somehow,” Standish answered.
“Makes sense…he'd know which clients had enough money to make it worthwhile,” Sanchez agreed as they exited through the main gates.
“There has to be a mastermind behind this and somehow I don't believe Sheppard is that smart,” the gambler said and made his way toward the black Limo. He smiled at Cordova when the man winced sympathetically.
“You should let Nathan take a look at your mouth,” Sanchez suggested.
“I will when we meet at Vin's tonight,” Standish told him and reached for his laptop. He punched in his password and waited for the correct files to pop into place. “While we're waiting for the others I figured I'd do a little background check on Carl Sheppard…go a little deeper than what's in his records.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Sanchez said and reached for a bottle of Perrier water.
Chris struggled against the two men holding him and wished he could strike out at the second orderly who squeezed his right arm so tightly it would probably leave bruises. He let them drag him back inside, with just a token struggle and was soon placed in his room where he sat on the edge of the bed and waited for Kent to show up. The door was closed and locked and he stretched out on the bed with his hands locked behind his head, eyes staring straight up as someone entered the room.
“Well, Chris, that was quite the show. Do you feel better?”
“Hell yes!” Larabee snapped and sat up, easing his legs over the side of the bed. “It was more than worth it to smack that smug bastard in the face.”
“You do realize you've lost your special privileges for the next two days.”
“There's a big fucking surprise!”
“Chris, your temper is just going to keep getting you in trouble and…”
“My temper is my business…”
“Not while you're a patient here….”
“Then give me the papers and I'll sign myself out!” Larabee told him.
“You know that's not going to happen, Chris. You were signed in and your care is being paid for by your brother with your corporation's blessing I might add,” Kent said, leaning against the wall and watching his patient clearly. “Now you are going to be confined to your room for the next 24 hours and I want you to think about why you're here…”
“I don't need 24 hours, Doc, I know why I'm here and I'm going to make damn sure Ezra loses everything for signing those fucking papers.”
“Why do you blame your brother for what you brought on yourself?” Kent asked and knew he'd struck a chord as he felt Jacobson's anger.
“You don't know Jack shit about me, Doc, so quit the psycho babble and the analyzing bullshit and leave me the hell alone!”
“I'm afraid that's not going to happen, Chris,” Kent said when the door opened and a nurse and orderly entered. “Craig, would you make sure Chris does not try anything?”
“My pleasure, Dr. Kent,” Styles said and moved closer to the bed.
“What are you doing, Kent?” Larabee snapped.
“It seems we have to adjust your medications since it's obvious you're still showing signs of anger and paranoia,” Kent said and took the syringe from the nurse.
“I'm not paranoid…”
“I believe you are, Chris,” Kent said. “I have seen your reaction to your brother and to the other patients and I believe you have shown the classic signs of paranoia bordering on schizophrenia…”
“Like hell…get that fucking thing away from me!” Larabee snarled, but was quickly pinned to the bed by the orderly. He felt the cold swab against his arm and the sharp prick as the needle entered and the strong sedative was delivered. A sense of calm quickly washed over him and he licked his lips several times as his mouth was suddenly dry.
“How do you feel, Chris?” Kent asked.
“Tired,” was the slurred answer.
“You can let him go now, Craig…I doubt he'll give us any more trouble. Why don't you take a little nap and one of the nurses will come get you and take you to the common area shortly.”
“…k…” Larabee said and felt the blanket pulled up over him. His mind drifted and sleep reached out for him and he welcomed its promise of warm dreams.
“I don't think he'll give you any trouble now, but let him sleep for a while, Sandra, then bring him to the common area and make sure the orderlies watch him.”
“Yes, Doctor,” the nurse said and the trio left the blond to sleep in solitude.
Kent made his way to his office and closed the door behind him as he reached for his recorder and pressed the button before speaking into the small, hand held device. “Patient number 267 Chris Jacobson. Made an adjustment to his medications and will have to monitor him because of the large dose he seems to need to curb his anger. Patient is definitely showing signs of paranoid schizophrenia and is delusional. He blames his anger on his brother, Ezra, or anyone else he thinks has wronged him. He has a dependency on alcohol, and has asked for a drink on several occasions.” He pressed the stop button and thought about Chris Jacobson and the plans he had for the man, plans that just might be the turning point for him and mean more money for research.
JD prided himself on being able to access any file on any computer, but so far he'd been unable to crack the password protected files in the hospital's mainframe. He could check on the patients and see exactly what was being done for them, but there were several notations about files being moved. So far the ones that had been moved were patients that had died or been removed from the facility for one reason or another.
“JD, could you help me?”
“Sure, Melissa, what's wrong?” Dunne asked and closed down the program he'd been using before moving to help the woman seated at the next desk.
“I can't find the new patient files…I think I may have deleted them. God if I did I'll lose my job,” Melissa told him.
“Hold on…let me take a look,” Dunne said and took the seat she vacated. “What files are you looking for?”
“New patient info,” Melissa answered. “It's everything I've inputted over the last week and I destroyed the notes that were made.”
“Don't they keep paper files on the patients?”
“Yes, but I already sent them to storage and if I have to get them they'll know I screwed up again. I can't afford another black mark on my record because they'll fire me.”
“Just give me a minute to access the hard drive,” Dunne told her as his fingers tapped the keys and peeled back the layers of paper trail she'd left on her computer. One file in particular caught his attention and he memorized the password in hopes of accessing it from The Firm's computer when he left Shady Acres at the end of the shift. He knew with the single password there wasn't a lot he could do, but at least he'd know what was being written about Chris.
“Please tell me you found it,” Melissa asked when JD tapped several keys and brought up the document she'd been working on.
“Maybe,” Dunne told her and pushed away from the desk so she could see what was on the monitor. “Was that what you were working on?”
“That's it,” Melissa said and hugged her co-worker when he stood up. “Thank you so much. Dr. Kent is a tough man when it comes to making sure everything is filed properly.”
“You're welcome, Melissa,” Dunne said and moved back to his desk, armed with a new password he hoped would shed some light on what was happening at the institute. He sat down and typed in several key phrases and brought up the file he'd been gathering and added the password before sending the whole thing to his laptop. He deleted any record of sending the information from his hard drive and went back to work on his assigned duties.
Ezra looked up when his private line signaled that someone was calling him. Josiah also came to attention when the phone began to ring. Both men knew it could only be someone from Shady Acres or the possible perpetrator of the murders, meaning it could and probably was one and the same person. Ezra pressed the record button before answering
“Mr. Jacobson,” the voice sounded distorted with static creating strange inflections on the wrong syllables. “I believe you are in need of my help.”
“Who is this?”
“Who it is doesn't matter…what matters is I can help you get rid of one of your problems and make it possible for you to get your hands on the funds you need.”
Ezra nodded to Sanchez who held up a piece of paper that said simply to keep whoever it was talking. “I don't know what you're talking about.”
“Don't you, Mr. Jacobson? I know about the money and the embezzled funds and that your brother was going to take you down until you managed to have him committed. You know you won't be able to keep him in there indefinitely even with your money. Sooner or later someone will realize he's due for an assessment and if they stop giving him the heavy duty sedatives he'll be able to make someone listen to him. I can arrange to have those drugs stopped and he'll be able to tell everyone the real reason behind his illegal committal. Or I can arrange to keep him sedated and then you can make up your mind about whether or not you want to be rid of him forever. It's your call, but I'll warn you right now that the longer you wait the more it will cost you to get rid of your problem. Think about what I said and I'll contact you tomorrow morning…oh, I'd advise you to ice your jaw, because that must have been a devastating blow.”
Ezra hit the end button when the line went dead and turned to see Josiah watching him. “Did you get all that?”
“I did…and it appears we have a fish on the line and we just need to set the hook,” Sanchez told him.
“If only it was that simple,” Standish told him and unconsciously touched his hand against his mouth.
“Ezra…” Sanchez began, but he could tell Standish was not in the mood for small talk as he walked into Larabee's office and onto the balcony that overlooked the city of Billings. “Lord, give us all the strength to see this through and let us come out of it with our sanity intact.”
Ezra knew if he stayed where he was he'd lose control and that was something he would not allow. He needed to keep his wits about him and see this case through no matter how it affected him to see Larabee locked away. Chris was a strong man and had shown him what it was like to be part of a team and to have family, real family who cared about him. When Josiah said his name, Ezra knew how close to the edge he was and did not want Sanchez to see how badly this affected him.
Ezra made it to the balcony and stood looking out over the city that had become his home in spite of, or because of his mother's dislike of the lack of an ‘Upper Echelon’. He'd lost track of how many times his mother had tried to interfere in his life since he'd joined Larabee's team. Oh, he missed hobnobbing with the big wigs, but deep down he knew he could never go back to her lifestyle. The Armani suits, classy restaurants, and penthouse apartment were paid for by money he'd made before coming to work for The Firm. He'd managed to stockpile a nice portfolio and would be considered very well-off by most people, but he wanted to work, wanted to keep making a difference in the world and gambling no longer did that for him.
Ezra rubbed his arms, but the breeze wasn't the cause of the chill running down his spine, it had more to do with the thought of being locked away from everything you cared about. Chris Larabee was a man who enjoyed the outdoors, loved riding Pony through the back trails, enjoyed swimming in Sarah's special lake, but all of those were out of bounds for him for the duration. “The duration endures,” Standish muttered and turned to find Sanchez holding a glass of amber colored liquid out to him.
“I figured you could use this,” the older man advised.
Ezra nodded his thanks and drank half the liquid before turning his attention back to the streets below.
“I don't think you'll find any answers out there, son,” Sanchez told him.
“I know, but this is where Chris comes when he has some serious thinking to do…it's probably where he came up with the assignments for this job.”
“Probably…and Chris is rarely wrong when he makes a decision based on everything he knows about a case.”
“There are too many variables with this particular case. We don't even know who to trust at Shady Acres and he's already been injured,” Standish said.
“I know, but at least we know the others are there in case he needs to be pulled out,” Sanchez explained.
“Yes, but will he be lucid enough to tell the others it's time to pull the plug. I've seen what happens in those places and I wish I could say he'll be all right,” Standish said.
“That's the thing about our job, Ezra, we don't know what's going to happen, but we need to be ready for anything,” the ex-preacher told him.
Buck swept the floors of the common area, speaking with several patients as he passed and watching for any sign of Chris, Nathan, or Vin. He'd seen Tanner earlier, but there hadn't been any opportunity to talk, but he knew the Texan was worried, hell they all were. He heard someone approaching the main door and looked up, fighting hard to hide his anger when a nurse wheeled Larabee into the room and parked the chair at a table.
Chris looked like he was half stoned and had been through hell and Wilmington knew he was heavily sedated as the nurse reached for a bottle of juice and helped him drink several small sips. There was no doubt that something had happened since Ezra and Josiah had visited and Buck wanted to find out exactly what it was, but it would have to wait until his shift ended. He pretended to sweep the floor and closed the distance between himself and Larabee, but Chris made no sign that he recognized him.
“Would you like some more juice, Chris?” the nurse asked and when her patient gave a slight nod she allowed him to drink his fill before setting the bottle on the table. “Now I have to go check on my other patients, but if you need me just tell someone. Okay?”
Again Buck saw the slight dip of the blond head as he swept the floor. He moved closer and pretended to stumble striking a container of crayons and markers so they spilled at Larabee's feet. “Oops, sorry…I seem to be all thumbs today.”
“Always w…were subtle,” Larabee slurred.
“Chris…God you had me worried,” Wilmington said, but there was no further sign that his friend knew he was even there. He glanced into Larabee's eyes and recognized the glazed look from the days after Sarah and Adam were murdered and wished he could whisk the blond away before anything else happened, but this case was important. If patients were being murdered they needed to follow through on whatever leads they came across. He patted the man's leg before returning his attention to the crayons and turned when someone called his name. One of the patients had spilled a glass of water and he was needed to clean up the mess. Hiding his disappointment at being pulled away from his friend, Buck did his job as best he could.
Nathan sat at the picnic table listening as a female patient told him about her life and why she thought she was better off at Shady Acres. The woman looked as if she'd been through the wringer and Nathan guessed she'd been addicted to heavy duty drugs such as heroin or cocaine.
“I need help…I can't do it anymore and my Danny said he won't love me any more unless I get some help so he put me in here and the doctors are helping me, but sometimes I get real scared and I want to get out and find someone who'll give me…God, I wish…”
“Sheila, it's time to go back to your room and rest,” a nurse Nathan didn't recognize explained, smiling at the woman before helping her stand.
“Don't take the blue pills, Mister…they're poison,” she whispered in his ear before the nurse led her away.
Nathan sighed and looked up as footsteps sounded and Buck Wilmington took a seat at the next table. He had a tray with something that smelled somewhat enticing, but it was the look on the rogue's face that had him worried. Jackson glanced around, but there was no one else in earshot and he hoped they'd have a few minutes to themselves. “You okay?”
“No…no I'm not, Nate…I saw Chris and he's a mess,” the ladies’ man answered.
“I know…I think he's taking his role a little too far,” Jackson told him. “Hopefully Coburn was able to do something about the sedatives Kent ordered for Chris.”
“God, I hope so because he won't be able to function if they keep him doped up,” Wilmington snapped, pretending to eat the chicken casserole.
“Did you ever think maybe Chris is putting on a show for our benefit?”
“I thought about that, but his eyes tell me different…he looks like he's flying higher than a kite.”
“I'll be making rounds with Kent this evening before I leave so maybe I'll have a chance to check him out,” Jackson told him and stood up. “I'd better be going before they send someone to find me.”
“I'll see you at Josiah's place when you're done,” Wilmington said.
“I'll be there,” Jackson said and headed back inside the secure area.
Chris watched everyone around him and hoped his mind stayed clear as he tried to get a read on his fellow patients and the people who worked at Shady Acres. So far most patients kept to themselves, but on occasion one would look his way and speak, but he remained silent, pretending the drugs he'd been given were still affecting his mind. He knew Coburn must have found some way of keeping the dose at a minimum most of the time, but on occasion Kent slipped something heavier into his veins and he lost all sense of what was happening around him.
Chris knew the nurse would be returning for him shortly to take him back to his room and made sure he kept up the act as he watched the big guy seated in the corner by himself. Dugan was not around and everyone else stayed clear of the mysterious ‘Bear’. Chris wondered why he was drawn to the figure, but there was something about him that tugged at Chris’ soul. The man held tight to the same book, but Chris didn't think he was reading it.
Chris spotted the woman who'd spoken to him about her baby on a couple of occasions and wondered what her story was. There was a sadness to the way she clung to the doll that bespoke of a loss so tragic it was no wonder she was a patient. He caught her tilting her head to the side as if staring at some imaginary baby in her arms whenever she misplaced the doll.
“All right, Chris, why don't we get you back to your room so Dr. Kent doesn't have to come looking for you,” Katrina Morgan said as she took control of the handles. She thought about the patient she was caring for and let her thoughts turn to Daniel Coburn. They had been lovers for over a year now and he trusted her and she trusted him. He'd told her his suspicions about the deaths and asked for her help in getting to the bottom of it. She knew who the man in the wheelchair was and why he was pretending to be a patient and knew how important it was that she make sure his medications were ‘doctored’. So far she'd been able to do just that, because each patient had their own supplies delivered from a pharmaceutical company owned and operated by the board members of Shady Acres.
Chris kept his eyes downcast as she wheeled him toward his room, passing several other patients who were also being returned to their rooms in time for evening rounds. He caught sight of Vin Tanner, but in no way acknowledged the man's presence as they passed each other. Once inside the room he allowed the nurse to help him dress in the pajamas and then shifted from the wheelchair onto the bed where he sat with his arms at his sides. The nurse reached across him and made a show of pulling down the blankets so that her lips were mere inches from his right ear.
“I know why you're here…Daniel is a friend and I told him I'd do everything I could to help. Just keep pretending the drugs are working,” Morgan told him and moved back as the door opened.
“Hello, Chris, how are you feeling this evening?” Kent asked, holding the door for Jackson to enter. He watched for any reaction from the patient, pleased to see the man jerk slightly at the sound of his voice. “I'm hoping your afternoon went better than your morning did. Katrina, would you bring me Chris’ medications?”
“Yes, Dr. Kent,” Morgan said before exiting the room.
“Nathan, he looks a lot calmer now doesn't he?” Kent asked.
“Yes, he does, I guess the medications are working properly.”
“So it appears, but there may still need to be some adjustments,” the psychiatrist explained and sat beside the blond. “Look at me, Chris.”
Chris’ head tilted slightly to the side as if he didn't quite have the energy needed for such a simple command. He knew Kent would be watching him closely and hoped he could fool the man into thinking he was still under the influence of the sedatives.
“You do seem calmer, Chris, but are you putting on an act?” Kent asked, watching his patient's face for any telltale signs that the man was doing just that. The nurse returned with the medication and handed the syringe to Kent before wiping an alcohol pad across Chris's shoulder. Kent continued to watch Jacobson's face, pleased when there was no response to the needle except a slight twinge when the sharp point entered his arm.
“He seems really out of it,” Nathan commented.
“It is necessary to find the right combination and dosage,” Kent told him, hiding the scalding retort he wanted to give. “If you stay in this field you'll find that you have to find the right treatment for each patient because they are individuals and need individual assessments.”
“I'm sorry…I didn't mean to offend you, Dr. Kent, it's just that I want to know every aspect of our roles in a patient's treatment and recovery,” Jackson told him.
“Very commendable,” Kent said before returning his attention to his patient. “All right, Chris, why don't we leave you alone and let Katrina make you comfortable for the night. Dr. Parker has you scheduled for her group session at ten tomorrow morning. Coming, Nathan?”
Chris watched the two men leave and stretched out on the bed. He smiled at the nurse as she covered him with a blanket, but felt the effects of the medication and allowed his eyes to close. Chris knew she'd doctored the drug, but it was still enough to effect his thought processes and he wished Kent would start him on the pill form so he could palm them as he'd done on the first day. He sighed heavily and was soon drifting toward sleep, plagued with nightmares of being chained to his bed while Kent took pleasure in stabbing him with needles.
Nathan was the last to arrive at Josiah's home and he'd never been so glad to see the others. He glanced at Standish and studied the man, wincing at the bruise forming on the left side of his face. He knew it was the result of his visit with Larabee and wished there was some way to make this case easier on them all. He moved to sit at the table and accepted the strong cup of coffee Sanchez handed him, wishing it was something stronger, but not really wanting anything that would cloud his deductive reasoning until the case ended.
“Did you see Chris before you left?” Wilmington asked.
“I did…and I think we may have an ally inside the institute,” Jackson answered.
“Who?” Tanner asked.
“A nurse…I think her name is Katrina. She's on the night shift and if I'm not mistaken she's been doctoring Chris’ medication so he isn't being given the full dose Kent ordered. That bastard has to be the one behind those murders or he's involved with it,” Jackson vowed.
“What makes you think she's doctoring his meds?” Sanchez asked.
“Just something in Chris’ eyes…when he knew Kent wasn't looking. JD, see if you can access the institute's files and check her out,” Jackson said.
“No last name?” Dunne asked.
“Sorry…no there isn't,” Jackson said.
“While yer at it check out a patient by the name of Brian,” Tanner said. “I ain't got no idea what his last name is, but Chris said he reminded him of 'Bear' from the movie Armageddon.”
“It'd be a whole lot easier if you guys'd give me a last name to work with,” Dunne griped, but continued to work at accessing the institute's computer.
“That'd make things too damn easy for you, Kid,” Wilmington teased lightly.
“Find out ever'thin’ ya can ‘bout an orderly named Craig Styles,” Tanner said. “There's somethin’ ‘bout him that jest don't seem right.”
“Craig Styles…got it,” Dunne told them.
“Ezra, are you okay?” Jackson asked.
“No, but I will be once we have Chris out of there,” Standish told them, surprising his friends with his revealing answer. “I know that's something we all want.”
“Amen to that,” Sanchez readily agreed.
“Okay, there's only one Katrina in the files. Her full name is Katrina Anne Morgan and she's been at Shady Acres for four plus years. She's an RN who worked in the private sector for several years before accepting the position at the institute. Graduated top of her class and was on the Dean's honor role,” Dunne explained.
“I just hope I'm right and she is on our side in this,” Jackson said.
“Me too,” Dunne said and brought up the file on Craig Styles. “Vin, you could be right about Styles. He's got a shady…no pun intended…past and it looks like he was hired by Ray Kent two years ago. Most of his file is vague, but I've been able to access a hidden file set up by someone on the inside…could be Kent's handiwork. Styles shouldn't be employed at Shady Acres…he should be a patient. His file is incomplete, but I got into Kent's private files and it looks like Styles has a record a mile long.”
“What kind of record?” Standish asked.
“Everything from dealing drugs to assault with a deadly weapon,” Dunne answered.
“How the hell was Kent able to keep that out of his record?” Wilmington snarled.
“Probably because he's on the board and helps decide who should be hired. If he also does the background checks then it would be a simple matter of keeping this stuff out of Styles’ file, I'm guessing. Styles’ record goes way back, but it looks like Styles has been clean since he started working at Shady Acres,” Dunne told them.
“So if Kent hired Styles then maybe we should be concentrating on those two…especially when Kent seems damned intent on keeping Chris drugged out of his head,” Jackson offered.
“What was Styles selling before Kent hired him?” Sanchez asked.
“Cocaine, Heroin…PCP, and Marijuana,” Dunne answered.
“This guy is a drug factory in his own right,” the ex-preacher spat.
“This guy Brian…Brian Schneider…Vin, he's supposed to have killed three people, but that's all his file says. I'm trying to find out more, but there's nothing in here,” Dunne said.
“If he killed three people there has to be a record of it somewhere,” Standish observed.
“No shit!” the kid said, shaking his head when again and again the name Brian Schneider came up clean. “He was admitted to Shady Acres nearly two years ago.”
“Who signed him in or was it a court order?” Sanchez asked.
“Nothing from a court…but his sister signed him in and get this…she signed him in three months after their father's will left everything he owned to Brian.”
“Okay…something's definitely shady at Shady Acres,” Wilmington commented, but there was no humor in his voice.
“JD, I'd like you to run background checks on all the patients being held in the secure area of Shady Acres,” Sanchez ordered.
“I'll download the files now and see if there's anything missing,” Dunne said.
“Go ahead, JD…we'll keep battin’ ‘round names,” Tanner suggested. “Anyone else involved in Chris’ case we should know about, Nate?”
“There's the group therapy specialist…Samantha Parker,” Jackson told them. “I sat in on her session this morning and she's damn good at her job. There was a troublemaker named…”
“Chris Larabee,” Wilmington said with a hint of a smile.
“He was there,” Jackson agreed, hoping Wilmington's comment had eased the tension that seemed thick enough to cut with a knife. “This guy's name is Dugan…Joseph Dugan. He's a mean sonofabitch and doesn't give a damn what he says.”
“I'm downloading his file right now,” Dunne said. “He beat his wife so badly he put her in the hospital for a week.”
“Like I said he's a mean sonofabitch,” Jackson told them. “He seemed to have something against Chris, but it could be I'm just reading something into it. Chris wasn't too fond of him and was quick to shoot him down.”
“Great, another enemy…just what Chris doesn't need in there,” Wilmington spat.
“I think Chris can handle Dugan if he needs to, but I think the staff has things under control and are pretty quick to break things up before it gets too hot,” the medic assured them.
“That's part of the problem…Chris doesn't know when to back down,” the rogue told the others. “He'll keep pushing buttons until someone takes him down.”
“Buck, Chris knows what he's doing and he knows why he's in there. He won't lose sight of that…”
“Are you sure about that, Josiah? I mean he's being given some heavy duty sedatives and even if they are being ‘watered’ down he's still affected by them. I saw that when the nurse brought him into the common area,” Wilmington explained, running his hands through his already disheveled hair.
“If'n it comes right down to it we'll pull the plug and get him the hell out of there,” Tanner said.
“I just hope we're not too late,” Standish said, standing and striding away from the table, painfully aware that the others were watching him. He reached for the coffee pot and poured the last of it into his cup before realizing how badly his hands were shaking. Seeing Chris Larabee in his alternate persona had rocked him more than he realized, but he could not allow that to effect how he worked on this case. Chris’ life depended on his ability to keep a poker face whenever he was at the institute, God help him, but this was the hardest case he'd ever worked on.
“I'm okay, Buck,” Standish said, but one look at Wilmington's face told him the other man wasn't buying it for a minute.
“So am I, but I know damn well this doesn't sit well with you. Ezra, Chris knew what he was getting into when we took on this case and when it's over we're all going to rest a whole lot easier,” the rogue told him.
“I know…it's just seeing him in there and thinking he has some say over what's happening to him is wrong. It's deceptive control no matter how you look at it and Chris has always been a man in control,” Standish said.
“Actually I doubt any of us are in control in there, Ez. We have jobs to do and if we do anything stupid we could very well put Chris’ life in jeopardy. We need to keep working on everything from this side of it and hopefully find the answers we need.”
“I know…I received a call shortly after leaving the institute today,” Standish said and motioned for Wilmington to follow him back to the table where the others were still going over the paperwork from Shady Acres. They stopped and looked at the gambler when he retook his seat and began to speak. “I was contacted this morning about Chris and why he's at Shady Acres.”
“Who was it?” Jackson asked hopefully.
“The caller never identified himself, but suffice it to say he knew a lot about Chris and Ezra Jacobson including Ezra's embezzlement of corporation funds,” Sanchez told them.
“The caller hinted that he could easily stop Chris’ drugs so that he would be able to get someone to listen to him about the real reason he's at the institute,” Standish picked up the explanation. “He also said he could help me get rid of my problem permanently and he will call me tomorrow morning. If I wait too long the price will go up.”
“He also knew Chris hit Ezra and told him to ice his jaw,” Sanchez told the others.
“Well, I'm leaning more and more toward Kent as the killer, but something tells me he's not the one who does the dirty work. There has to be at least one other person involved,” Jackson told them.
“Probably…and there is someone who has access to patient records and would know what Jacobson Enterprises is worth,” Sanchez said.
“Sheppard?” Wilmington asked softly.
“Exactly,” the ex-preacher advised and turned to Dunne. “JD, get everything you can on Carl Sheppard.”
“On it, Josiah,” Dunne told him. He listened as the team continued to discuss the case as he tapped the keys and searched through the staff files for anything on Carl Sheppard. The man was far from clean, but there was nothing that made him out to be a murderer, yet JD knew from experience that appearances could be deceiving.
Chris awoke to the now familiar feeling that his mouth rivaled the desert for dryness and tried to find enough saliva to moisten his lips. His eyelids were heavy, but he managed to open them as the morning nurse and an orderly entered the room. He didn't recognize either of the newcomers and for a second panic reared its ugly head, but he managed to remain calm.
“Mr. Jacobson, my name is Salina and I have your medication,” Salina Forbes explained and reached into her pocket for a capped syringe.
“What if I don't want it?” Larabee asked softly.
“You really don't have a choice right now, but if you'd rather I can have you restrained so I can give you the shot. Frederick can hold you down if that's what's needed,” Forbes told him and waited for the patient to make up his mind. She smiled when he reluctantly held out his left arm. She swabbed his shoulder and injected the medication before pressing on the wound before capping the syringe and placing it back in her pocket. “Now why don't we get you dressed and get you some breakfast before you meet with Dr. Kent?”
“Not hungry…”
“Oh, but breakfast is the most important meal of the day and I hear today's special is pancakes and sausages. Now the staff here gets up mighty early and works very hard so that you have well-balanced meals throughout the day and you wouldn't want them thinking they were wasting their time, would you?”
“Guess not,” Larabee told her and found her smile infectious as he reached for the set of blue sweats she handed him.
“Do you need my help getting dressed?”
“No…I can handle it,” Larabee said and waited for the duo to leave. Once the door was closed and he was alone Chris rubbed his shoulder and sighed heavily. The shot was quickly taking effect and he needed to concentrate on keeping his sanity while the drug made it next to impossible to think straight. It took him nearly fifteen minutes to get dressed and the door opened once more, making him wonder if they were actually watching him through some kind of closed circuit television.
“Oh good you're ready,” Salina said and took his arm, helping him stand and allowing him time to steady himself before leading him out of the room.
Chris felt somewhat detached from his surroundings and knew it was the drugs in his system and hoped he could still function properly. He felt the nurse release his arm as they walked slowly toward the area where the patients ate their meals. He entered the room and looked around, frowning when someone pressed a tray into his hands and pointed him toward the people serving the meals. A plate of breakfast and a cup of coffee was placed on the tray and he turned to find the nurse had left him to find his own seat. He spotted several empty chairs, but made his way toward the last table, and smiled at the man seated there.
“Is this chair taken?” Larabee asked and wasn't sure if it was his imagination or if the bald head actually dipped once. He sat across from the large man, wondering why he was reminded of a kitten when the man looked more like a lion. “You don't mind if I call you Bear do you?” Again he was rewarded with a slight tilt of the head and soon found himself being scrutinized by a pair of soft brown eyes. Something told him Bear knew more about what was going on around him than he let on. It seemed the big man had chosen to be silent and Chris respected his wishes.
“Why're ya sittin’ with the big dummy, Jacobson?”
Chris recognized the voice, but didn't acknowledge the man's presence even after he sat down beside him. Chris saw the change in Bear and knew the man didn't like Dugan any more than he did. “The only dummy in here is you, Dugan….”
“What the fuck did you say?”
“You heard me, Dugan, now get out of my face!” Larabee spat.
“No one calls me a dummy…”
“Wrong…I just did,” Larabee said, but didn't even look at the man.
“All right, Dugan, go back ta yer table!”
“Dammit, Vince, things were about to get interesting,” Craig Styles swore.
“I'm new to this, Craig, and I really don't want to lose another job this fast,” Tanner told him, watching as Dugan did as he was told before turning his attention to Larabee. The blond looked like hell, but he seemed to have found a friend in Brian ‘Bear’ Schneider and something told Vin he was going to need a friend. He knew he couldn't say much, but a quick nod from Larabee told him he'd heard the conversation and would be on the lookout for the other orderly.
Ezra had no idea what time he'd fallen asleep, but he did know it was after the first streaks of dawn began to brighten the skyline. He'd spent the night in Josiah's spare room, but hadn't slept well in spite of the comfortable mattress and abundance of pillows. He sat on the edge of the bed and looked at his reflection in the mirror. His eyes were sunken and rimmed in dark circles, reminding him of someone who'd been on a drinking binge for weeks without a break. He glanced at the clock, frowning when he realized he'd slept a couple of hours at the most and finally made his way to the guest bathroom. It wasn't long before he'd stripped out of his briefs and stepped into the shower.
Ezra let the hot water run down over his body, hoping the massaging tempo would ease the ache in his neck, shoulders, and back. He reached for the shampoo and slowly massaged it into his hair. He lathered soap on his chest and taut stomach, down across his groin and finally his legs before stepping under the hot spray once more. The water rinsed the soap and shampoo from his body, but did nothing for the worry that plagued his mind.
Ezra stood in the tub letting the water cascade down over his head until it began to turn cold and he had no choice, but to turn it off. He stepped out onto the mat and reached for the thick bath sheet on the shelf and slowly toweled his body dry. By the time he dressed he could smell the coffee brewing and made his way to the kitchen where Josiah had a plate of biscuits and bacon ready for him.
“Good morning…did you get any sleep last night?” Sanchez asked worriedly.
“Not much,” Standish answered honestly.
“Coffee…it's strong?” Sanchez told him.
“The stronger the better…even Vin's coffee would be a welcome elixir this morn…” His voice trailed off when his phone began to play the familiar jingle and his hand shook as he reached for it. He watched as Sanchez pressed the button to record the conversation even as he hit the talk button on his cell phone. “Jacobson.”
*“Good morning, Mr. Jacobson, I do hope you've had enough time to consider my proposal.”*
“I have, but why should I trust you?”
*“You shouldn't, but do you really have a choice in this? I know Joseph Spalding is not happy with you right now and that he's already talking about putting a contract out on you.”*
“I don't owe…”
*“Oh really? In that case I'm sorry I wasted your time and mine. Be sure you tell Joseph hello when you see him…*”
*“What for? I thought you didn't owe Spalding anything?”*
“I'm not saying I do, but if I did how can you help me with my other problem?” Standish asked.
*“I can get rid of your brother without involving you…now I know there is no love lost between you and Chris and I'm sure he would gladly pay me to stop the drugs he's taking, but that would not get me as much money as I'm sure you're more than willing to pay.”*
“Just say I'm interested in your proposal…how much would this cost me?”
*“Well, with Jacobson Industries being a multi-national conglomerate and worth millions of dollars I figure a million would just be a drop in the bucket for you…”*
“A million dollars…I could hire a hitman to take him out for far less than that!”
*“Of course and that's an option, but think about the problems an assassination of that magnitude would cause. I'm sure the police would look at you as their first suspect and we both know you can't afford that kind of attention. Now I am willing to give you more time, but be advised that the more time you take means the higher the price goes. I will call you this evening and hopefully you'll come to a decision by then. Good bye, Mr. Jacobson.”*
Ezra took a deep breath and pressed the button, ending the call as abruptly as it had begun. They replayed the tape, but aside from it being a male voice there was nothing that stood out. There was something almost mechanical in his words that made the two men think of some kind of voice distortion. “Well, I guess the ball is in my court now…”
“Our court, Ezra, you're not in this alone,” Sanchez said.
“I know,” Standish told him and wondered how they were going to get through the rest of the day. It was going to be a hell of a long time before this team was able to deal with the consequences of this particular case.
Chris sat in the group therapy session without really listening to what was being said. He was thirsty again, and briefly wondered if there would ever come a time when he didn't crave something that would moisten the arid interior of his mouth. He spoke when Parker asked him a question, but the shot he'd been given earlier was making it hard to think, all he wanted was to lie down and go to sleep.
“Chris, Dr. Bradley would like to know if you want to return to your room or go to the common area?”
“Chris, are you okay?” Jackson asked, frowning when Larabee could barely keep his eyes open.
“I'm fine…just tired,” Larabee told him and suddenly realized he was alone with the two ‘doctors’. “Session's over already?”
“Yes, it is,” Parker told him and turned to Nathan. “Would you help Chris back to his room?”
“Of course,” Jackson said and helped Larabee to his feet. He turned to see Wilmington enter the room and knew the ladies’ man was assigned to cleaning the therapy room once the session was over and wished he could ease the other man's mind. He felt Larabee leaning on him and prayed at least some of it was an act for the benefit of the staff. Once in the hallway he made sure his face was turned away from the cameras as he spoke to his friend. “Chris, what's going on?”
“Don't know…feel like hell…tired,” Larabee managed, stumbling in spite of Jackson's supportive hand on his arm.
“Were you given anything today?”
“Shot…this morning…new…new nurse,” the blond answered, relieved when they reached his room. “Just want to lie down and sleep.”
“I don't know, Chris…look just sit down and I'll see if they've changed your meds,” Jackson told him.
“No…Nathan, not yet. Can't m…make them sus…picious,” the blond ground out.
“I'm fine, Nate…j…just let me rest,” Larabee said and lay back on his bed. He closed his eyes and drifted toward sleep as Jackson left the room, closing and locking the door behind him as was the institute's policy. His tongue snaked out and again he sought moisture, but sleep won out and his body relaxed on the bed.
Carl Sheppard looked at the papers strewn across his desk with a smile on his face. Jacobson Industries was worth far more than he'd first thought and it wouldn't be that hard for Ezra Jacobson to get the money and pay for his brother's untimely demise. He picked up the picture of Chris Jacobson and wondered if his anger could be used against him. Marcus Turner had already brought him several samples of the street drugs he'd need if and when the time came to put Chris Jacobson completely over the edge. He could use the PCP or cocaine or one of the newer drugs Styles supplied him with. The street strength drugs seemed to be the best bet if and when the time came for a ‘test’ run. He reached for the phone when he recognized the number and smiled as he spoke with his partner.
“Did you switch his medications as per our discussion?”
*“What do you think, Carl? I told you I can do anything where my patients are concerned. It is your job to make damn sure I get paid what is due me.”*
“Have I ever let you down?”
*“Not yet…just remember what will happen if you cross me.”*
“I won't. I should be talking to Ezra tonight and I'm pretty certain he's taken the bait. I've made him an offer he can't refuse,” Sheppard explained.
*“Good…if we do this right we'll have Jacobson on the hook for many years.”*
“We could retire on this payoff alone.”
*“Exactly…call me after you speak with Ezra Jacobson and I'll continue with Chris Jacobson so that we're ready to act when his brother makes his decision.”*
“How can you be sure Ezra will…”
*“I know his type, Carl. He's the weaker chink in the fence and he knows he's in trouble with Spalding. I have made a study of people like Ezra Jacobson and the stupid sonofabitch will soon realize we're his only hope.”*
“Are you going to speak to Spalding?”
*“If I have to, but something tells me it won't go that far. I need to go check on my patient, but you make damn sure you call me after you speak with Jacobson.”*
The line went dead in his hands and Sheppard leaned back in his chair thinking about his partner and how well they worked together. He was becoming a rich man off their joint ventures and could very well retire if this one went as he expected. He looked at the file before him and smiled at how easily they could manipulate the clientele when they found a weak spot in the powerful families.
Ray Kent watched his patient for any signs of the anger that was often present, but in sleep Chris Jacobson looked almost peaceful. He knew it could be easily explained by the medications he was prescribing and with therapy the man might someday return to a normal life. Someday…maybe…those words brought a smile to Kent's face, but it disappeared when he heard the door open. He turned to find Samantha Parker and Nathan Bradley entering the room.
“How is he, Ray?”
“Sleeping, Sam, he's fighting us at every step and we need to stay on top of things.”
“Are you over medicating him, Ray?”
“I don't know what you're talking about, Sam…he is being given the correct dosage considering his violent behavior,” Kent assured her.
“He could barely stay awake during group therapy.”
“Perhaps he didn't sleep well last night…or else he's still feeling the effects from the head wound,” Kent told them.
“I don't know…”
“Dr. Bradley, this man is my patient and you would be wise not to antagonize me while you're still on probation,” Kent warned.
“Nathan was just voicing our concerns for Chris, Ray…there's no need to threaten him,” Parker said.
“It wasn't a threat, Sam, it was a warning. I know what's best for my patients and Dr. Bradley needs to realize that.”
“I'm sorry, Dr. Kent, I didn't mean anything by it,” Jackson told him. There was something about Kent he didn't like, and the more he saw of the man the more convinced he became that Kent should be number one on their list of suspects in the murders.
“My patients are my problem and if I want another opinion I will ask for it,” Kent told them. “Now why don't we leave Chris alone and allow him to get the rest he needs?”
“As you wish, Ray, just make sure the nurses are aware that he's heavily medicated and should be checked every hour,” Parker suggested.
“I know what I'm doing, Sam,” Kent snapped and motioned for them to leave. He turned and looked back at his patient, a hint of a smile on his face at the thought of using PCP when the time came for Chris Jacobson to take a trip on the wild side.
Chris opened his eyes and took a steadying breath before sitting up and sliding his feet over the edge of his bed. It took several long minutes to come to grips with where he was, and he rubbed at his aching head in an effort to clear the cobwebs there. The sound of the door opening caught his attention and a tremor of fear raced down his spine at the thought of being given another shot, but the nurse who entered didn't have anything in her hands.
“Hello, Chris, I came to see if you'd like to take a walk in the garden before dinner,” Katrina Morgan said and sat beside him on the bed. “Do you feel up to it?”
“I think so….what time is it?”
“It's nearly five…according to your chart you've slept most of the day. I know you're due for your meds.” She spoke in low tones and kept her head turned away from the camera so no one would see her lips move. “I don't know what you were given earlier, but I managed to change the vial so that you're getting the lower dose again.”
“Thank God…I hate feeling like I'm punch drunk,” Larabee whispered and smiled thinly before standing.
“I have to give you your meds first,” the nurse told him and heard the heavy sigh before he sat back down and allowed her to inject the contents of the syringe.
Chris took a deep breath before standing up, relieved to find he wasn't out of it the way he'd been when given the earlier shots. He knew he had to act as if he was still doped up and let his shoulders sag as they reached the door and stepped out into the hallway. He spotted Tanner near the main desk and was somewhat surprised when the man walked toward them.
“Vince is going to accompany us in the garden, Chris,” Katrina told him.
“Okay,” Larabee said. He kept his head down as they passed the desk and made their way outside. There were other patients enjoying the sunshine and they made their way toward an open area where several empty chairs were set around a picnic table. It was far enough from other patients and hospital personnel to allow them a chance to talk openly. They reached the table and Chris sat down with a hint of a smile on his face as the nurse took the seat beside him.
“You two go ahead and talk…I'll keep an eye out for anyone coming this way,” Katrina told them.
“Thank you, Ma'am,” Tanner said and turned to study Chris Larabee. His face seemed gaunt and pale, but his eyes were alert and seemed to be watching everything around him before coming to settle on him. “You okay?”
“I'm better now that Katrina switched the medications. Did you boys find out anything new?”
“Not a whole lot. The man ya called Bear is Brian Schneider and he was admitted two years ago. He s'pposedly killed three people, but there's nothin’ in his back ground that points ta any kind of violence on his part. He was committed by his sister not long after Brian was named as the soul heir to his father's fortune.”
“Why have him committed and keep paying for his care when it would be a lot cheaper to arrange an accident?” Larabee asked.
“Well, JD uncovered a couple of int'restin’ facts ‘bout the will. If Brian was killed the money would go ta charity and his sister Nora would receive a small dividend each month. We know she has POA over Brian since he was committed and we're pretty certain she either forged his signature or had him sign the papers thinkin’ it was somethin’ else,” the Texan explained.
“She sounds like a real piece of work,” Larabee said.
“I agree. JD is goin’ ta see what else he can find out ‘bout her,” Tanner explained and continued to fill Larabee in about the information they'd found on the patients and staff of Shady Acres. “We're pretty sure Sheppard and Kent are the ones behind the murders, but we need ta find the evidence ta prove it in court.”
“I'll keep an eye on things from this end. Maybe Kent will slip up if he thinks I'm still full of those damned drugs he likes to shoot me up with,” Larabee told him.
“Ya best be damned careful, Cowboy, in here ya don't got no backup,” Tanner said seriously.
“Believe me I will be,” Larabee said as he noticed Craig Styles and another patient walking toward them just as Katrina gave them the heads up. Chris let his shoulders sag and stared down at the grass as the orderly joined them.
“Hope you guys don't mind us joining you. Melanie just wanted to look at the garden,” Styles told them.
“Hello, Melanie, how are you doing today?” Katrina asked.
“I'm okay…but my baby is sad,” the woman answered, holding tight to the doll she clasped against her chest.
“Why is she sad?” Katrina asked softly.
“She wants to go home…but she can't find anyone to take her. Will you take her home?”
“I'm sorry, Melanie, but I couldn't do that. You see a baby needs her mother and if I was to take her home then she would be even sadder than she is right now. Perhaps you could sing to her and show her that this could be her home until her mommy feels better,” the nurse said.
“I can keep her with me?”
“Of course you can…she's no trouble and everyone loves having both her and her mother around.”
“Thank you…would you like to hold her, Mister?” Melanie asked Chris.
“I don't think you should let a stranger hold your baby Melanie. She might be afraid.”
“I forgot,” the woman said and squeezed the doll tighter. “Dr. Kent said I should protect my baby from strangers. I'm sorry, Mister, but you can't touch my baby.”
“Craig, I think you need to bring Melanie back inside.”
“Yes, Miss Morgan,” the orderly said and took the woman by the arm. “Come on, Melanie.”
Chris waited for them to leave and sat back, wondering what had happened to the woman to bring her to this.
“She had a baby when she was eighteen, but the baby died in her arms. She did something a lot of parents do when the baby cries and everyone is tired and took the baby to bed with her. The child smothered, and Melanie blamed herself. She tried to take her own life and her husband had her committed. He doesn't come by anymore and has filed for divorce.”
“That's sad,” Tanner said.
“Yes, it is, but don't be upset with her husband. He visited her faithfully every second day and calls to check up on her. He's even taken her out of here on a day pass and she comes back with a smile on her face, but she's always looking for her baby. I've met him on several occasions and know he still loves his wife, but he can't continue hoping she'll come out of this,” Katrina explained.
“It's hard to lose someone you love,” Larabee observed, his voice laced with sorrow.
“Chris, I'm afraid we have to go back now…”
“Damn, I hate being in there,” the blond said softly, before standing and looking toward the path leading to the outer grounds.
“Chris, we can call a halt to this now…”
“Not yet, Vin…we have to see this through,” Larabee said and waited for the nurse to take his arm and lead him toward the building, unaware that he was being watched.
Carl Sheppard smiled at the way the nurse had to lead the patient toward the building. The man seemed docile and that would make his job so much easier. If all went well he should have an answer from Ezra Jacobson very soon, but for now it was time to send Chris Jacobson on a little trip and set the grounds for his death. Craig Styles worked for Raymond Kent, but he supplemented his income by selling drugs and would be paid triple the amount if he could slip some Dexedrine into his water or coffee. Dexedrine was a stimulant and when taken it could be highly abused and would eventually give the patient a letdown period of depression and fatigue. Yes, indeed, if all went well Chris Jacobson was in for the wildest ride of his life over the coming days.
Nathan Jackson stepped into the Firm's head office and reached for the fresh pot of coffee, before turning to look at JD. He was not due at the hospital for several hours and Dunne had headed straight here when he left Shady Acres. He knew the kid was working on something, but he hadn't disclosed anything yet. He pulled a chair over and waited for the youngest member of the team to acknowledge his presence.
“Nathan, I've got a password that lets me view some of the files that were removed from the regular system,” Dunne explained.
“Anything we should be worried about?” Jackson asked.
“It says Chris is on two medications…”
“Haldol and Ativan,” Jackson observed. “Don't worry Katrina is making sure the doses are pretty low and from what Vin told me Chris is pretty lucid.”
“I don't trust Kent, Nathan…he's got hidden files on all his patients and I thought the password I had would open them up for me, but there are some that are even deeper…”
“Including Chris’?”
“How did you know?”
“I don't trust Kent either, but we don't have enough on him to prove he's responsible for any of this,” Jackson told him and watched as Dunne continued to tap on the keys. “JD, you need to be careful…it won't do anyone any good if you get caught looking into files you're not supposed to.”
“I know what I'm doing, Nathan,” Dunne assured him, making sure he left no trace of what he'd been doing on the hospital's system.
Chris looked up from his tray as someone sat across from him, surprised to see Bear watching him through hooded eyes. He knew he had to appear docile and continued to play with the shapeless blob on his plate. A sudden movement to Bear's left caught his attention and he glanced sideways at the newcomer.
“Well looky here…Jacobson's taken to eating with the retard…”
“Shut up, Dugan,” Chris ground out, angered at the bully's treatment of the quiet man.
“What are you gonna do about it if I don't?” Dugan snapped and reached across Bear's tray and took the buttered roll.
“Put it back!” the blond ordered.
“Mind your own fucking business, Jacobson,” Dugan warned and took a bite of the roll before throwing it across the table, laughing when it struck his nemesis on the chest.
“Bastard!” Larabee snarled, eyes flashing green fire as he reached across the table and latched onto Dugan's shirt.
“Help…Jacobson's gone crazy!” Dugan spat, smiling when two orderlies moved to grab the irate blond.
Bear stood up and pushed back his chair as Styles and another orderly grabbed Chris. He moved to help his benefactor, but a nurse quickly moved in front of him and all he could do was shake his head and let the tears fall as his new friend was dragged from the dining area. He turned to see Dugan smiling and lashed out, striking the other man with a beefy fist that sent him flying over the other table.
“Brian, it's time to go to your room,” Katrina Morgan tried to soothe the angry man and wished she could communicate with him, but Brian remained silent as Dugan managed to get to his feet and wipe the blood from his lips.
“He's crazy!” Dugan said, but he was also led from the room.
Chris did not regret his anger, but he knew he would pay for it as Ray Kent came into his room and ordered him put in restraints. He fought against them, but Styles and the newcomer were too strong for him and his wrists and ankles were quickly wrapped in the strong Velcro and attached to the metal bars that ran the length of his bed.
“Sonofabitch!” Chris snapped.
“Chris, you really need to curb your anger,” Kent warned. He turned to the nurse and ordered the prescribed medications before turning back to his patient. “Now, I believe you were warned about that temper of yours, but it doesn't seem to be sinking in. You will have plenty of time to think about it while you lie here.”
Chris continued to struggle as the nurse returned with two syringes. He watched as she passed one to Kent and then used an alcohol swab to clean an area on his shoulder. He silently cursed as he felt the needle enter his arm and the liquid burned as it was injected into his body. The second needle was placed in the same area and Chris soon felt the world around him slipping away. His eyelids grew heavy and he sighed tiredly as someone took pity on him and covered him with a blanket.
“Dr. Kent, what about Joseph Dugan?” the nurse asked.
“Has he told anyone what set Jacobson off?” Kent asked.
“He said he was just making conversation and that Chris took offense to Brian sharing his meal with him,” Salina Forbes explained. “Brian is unable to verify the story, but he seemed angry about something.”
“Chris is not a good influence with Brian and I'd like you to keep them apart,” Kent ordered and turned to Styles. “Jacobson should sleep through the night, but as of tomorrow morning I want you to shadow him and make sure he doesn't start anything. Keep him away from both Dugan and Schneider.”
“Yes, Doctor,” Styles agreed, smiling at the thought of slipping a little of the new drug into Jacobson's drink. ‘Let the fun begin,’ he thought, looking at the sedated man before following the others out of the room.
“Salina, I'm going to adjust Chris’ medication and I want the new orders carried out immediately,” Kent said and walked to the main desk. He took the chart and wrote up the new orders before heading for his office. Chris Jacobson would soon find out that anger could and would get him in trouble.
Unable to sleep, Ezra paced across the floor of his Condo, his thoughts on the man residing in Shady Acres. Josiah had left for his home several hours ago and Ezra relished the time alone. He'd been undercover many times, but never in a position where control was so deceptive, and your life was in danger from the people who were supposed to save your life. The sound of the phone ringing rattled his jagged nerves and he strode across the room and picked up his cell.
“Jacobson,” Standish said tiredly.
“Hello, Mr. Jacobson, I'm sure you were anxiously awaiting my call. Have you reached a decision concerning your brother?”
“Are you sure I won't be implicated in any way?” Ezra asked.
“I guarantee there is no way his death will be associated with you or any other member of the Jacobson family. You have already given me the grounds for his death by having him committed.”
“Look, I just don't know if I can do it…”
“You don't have to do anything, Mr. Jacobson. That's the beauty of this…your brother has a nasty temper and even now has been sedated and put in restraints…”
Ezra heard the words and fought the panic that built in his gut. “What did he do?” he asked, amazed that the words held no hint of the anger he felt.
“I believe he was fighting with another patient, but I have no idea why. So, how would you like to proceed? Do I set this up or do you want to continue as you are and hope Spalding is more forgiving than your dear brother?”
“Do it, but I don't want him to suffer,” Standish said.
“I can't promise that, but I will do what I can. Now, as for the fee I would like small unmarked bills in a plain black briefcase. I will call you tomorrow with the details of where you should leave it.”
Ezra stood with the phone at his ear long after the line went dead. He knew he should call the others and reached for his regular cell and called Josiah.
“Josiah, it's Ezra, I just heard from him. I told him to make the arrangements,” Standish explained.
“Are you all right, Ezra?”
“No…no I'm not, Josiah. I just gave the okay to have Chris murdered,” the gambler said angrily.
“Easy, Ezra, we'll make sure it doesn't come down to that. We're going to visit Chris tomorrow and when we do we'll warn him to be extra cautious. I'll call the others and update them. Buck's on the midnight shift so he'll be able to keep an eye on things,” Sanchez told him.
“Is it enough, Josiah?”
“Ezra, you've been deep undercover before and you know what's involved. We do what needs to be done and we make sure there's someone watching our backs. If we see any sign that Chris needs to get out of there then we'll act on it no matter what he says,” Sanchez assured the younger man.
“I hope we're not too late for him,” Standish said softly.
“We won't be, Ezra, now get some sleep and I'll pick you up around nine.”
“I'll be waiting,” the gambler said and hung up the phone. He walked toward the open patio doors and stepped outside, relishing in the soft breeze that did little to cool his heated flesh. He reached for the glass of Chablis he'd left there earlier and downed the remains before dropping heavily onto the chair. He knew sleep would be a long time coming, but he slowly made his way to the bedroom and lay down. Ezra stared at the clock, willing the minutes to tick by even as his eyes finally closed and sleep beckoned to him.
Buck Wilmington worked most of his shift without seeing Chris Larabee, but he hadn't really expected to because patients were confined to their rooms at night. The call from Ezra had left him shaken and he knew things had just taken on an even deadlier caste, making it important that they find the evidence to convict whoever was behind the murders.
“Buck, I need you to clean the floor in room 210,” Karen Sullivan ordered from the main desk.
Wilmington hid his fear at being sent to Chris Larabee's room as his heart beat faster. Usually when called to a patient's room to clean the floor meant the poor soul had been sick and that scared the hell out of Buck. He made his way toward the room and took a deep breath before pushing open the door. He knew Larabee had been put in restraints, but had not been as prepared for the sight as he thought he was.
“Jesus, Chris,” he whispered and pushed the cart part way into the room. He used it to bar the door open, his nose itching at the smell of sour vomit.
“Excuse me, Buck,” Sullivan said as she brushed past him and moved to check on the patient. She used a cloth to wash his face and made sure the blankets covering him were not soiled.
Buck watched her care for his friend and fought the urge to pull the plug on the whole deal. The bitter taste in his mouth had nothing to do with the meal he'd eaten, it stemmed from seeing Chris tied down. It was something he knew the blond hated, yet there was not a damn thing he could do to help him.
“Buck, when you're done in here just let me know so I can lock the door,” Sullivan said before leaving him alone with his friend.
Damn, Chris, we need to find out who's behind this and fast,’ Wilmington thought. He cleaned up the mess from the floor, his eyes constantly straying to the sleeping man. He knew Kent had probably ordered Larabee sedated, and wished there was some way he could find out if it was the real thing or the doctored medication supplied by Daniel Coburn. He knew the camera was on and realized there was nothing more he could do as he reluctantly left the room and signaled the nurse that he was through.
Ray Kent knew what he planned was dangerous, but that had never stopped him before and wouldn't stop him now. He reached for the phone and hit speed dial, smiling when Craig Styles answered on the second ring. “Craig, it's Kent…”
“What can I do for you, Doc?” Styles asked.
“Do you still have your special contacts?”
“Of course…what are you looking for?”
“I want something that'll send Chris Jacobson on a wild ride…but not kill him,” Kent explained.
“I can do that, but it's going to cost you.”
“Money has never been a problem, but I want it to be out of his system fast so it doesn't show up in blood work…or else it's masked by the other drugs he's taking,” Kent explained.
“Oh, I think I can manage that, Doc…when do you want it done?”
“Anytime tomorrow…I'll make sure that you're assigned to Jacobson while his brother visits and maybe we'll get to put on a real good show,” Kent said.
“Sounds like tomorrow is going to be full of surprises,” Styles said.
“Yes, it does,” Kent said and hung up the phone. He sat back, folding his hands in front of his face as he thought about his dislike for people like Chris and Ezra Jacobson. Chris Jacobson was a hard man who had a temper and alcohol problem, but that was no excuse for being an obnoxious fool. Ezra Jacobson wasn't much better, but at least he wasn't loud and unruly like his brother. It was time to put his plans in motion and let Carl Sheppard deal with the aftermath.
“Good morning, Nathan,” Samantha Parker greeted the newest member of the staff as she searched for a place to sit down. “Would you mind some company?”
“Sure…have a seat,” Jackson told her. He picked up the cup of strong black coffee and took a sip as the woman sat across from him.
“What time did you get here?”
“About an hour ago,” Jackson answered. “I wanted to familiarize myself with some of the protocols and figured the best way to do that was from the inside.”
“Smart man…that's exactly what I did when I first started here,” Parker told him. “It's good to get to know the protocols and not step on any toes because of ignorance.”
“Ain't that the truth,” Jackson readily agreed. “What time is the next session?”
“At ten…but we'll be short a few participants since Chris Jacobson and Joseph Dugan are both confined to quarters for the day,” Parker said.
“What happened?” Jackson asked, fighting to control his emotions.
“From the nurse's report Chris attacked Dugan…Dugan says he wasn't doing anything wrong and that Chris attacked him for no reason,” Parker explained.
“Jacobson doesn't seem the type to attack someone he hardly knows…”
“I agree, Nathan, but Kent is in charge and he ordered both men be kept apart and Chris is heavily sedated.”
“Damn, I thought we were making some headway with Jacobson,” Jackson said, pushing away the unfinished plate of food in disgust.
“So did I, but with Kent pushing so hard we may not have a chance to help him,” Parker said.
“Isn't there anything we can do?”
“Jacobson is Kent's patient and unless we can prove he's doing something that's detrimental to Jacobson then there's nothing we can do.”
“What about bringing it before the hospital board?”
“This is a private hospital and doesn't run like most places, Nathan. Kent wields a lot of power here and to go against him would probably get us both kicked out on our asses,” Parker told him. “I wish we could make them assign Jacobson to us, but it's not going to happen so let's just hope he's allowed to attend the group sessions once Kent is satisfied he's got the drugs working properly.”
“I hate to say it, but I think Kent over medicates.”
“I agree, but without concrete proof it's our word against his and he's been here a long time,” Parker said and reached for the roll on her tray.
Nathan watched her eating and wished she had been assigned to Chris’ case, but there was nothing he could do to change that. He hoped Buck or Vin would have a chance to see Larabee, but something told him they wouldn't like what they saw. Rubbing his eyes he realized this case was taking a lot out of the whole team, especially Ezra Standish.
Craig Styles watched as the nurse helped Chris Jacobson get dressed, and hid the heady sense of control he had over the patients he was assigned to watch. Ray Kent had spoken to him about Jacobson and he'd managed to exchange the normal drugs Jacobson was given to something that was available on the street. It would be easy for Kent to replace the bottle he'd supplied once the nurse injected Jacobson and there'd be no sign of the drug once the nurses realized something was wrong.
“Chris, I'm going to give you your medications and then Craig is going to take you for breakfast and then a walk before you are brought back here,” Cynthia Hollister explained to the sedated patient before swabbing a small area on his shoulder and injecting the prescribed dosage.
Chris could hear her explaining things to him, but could not quite grasp what she was saying. He felt something cold on his arm and reached up to rub at the burning sensation he felt a few seconds later. He turned and stared into the newcomer's face and tried to make sense of where he was or why he was here.
“Craig, watch him closely,” Hollister said softly.
“I will, Cynthia,” Styles said and reached out to grab the patient's arm.
Chris blinked several times in an effort to bring the images into focus, but it felt as if reality was slipping away and the only thing keeping him on his feet was the hand on his arm. It hurt, but at least it kept him from kissing the floor. He turned his head slightly, staring blankly at the white clothed man and chuckled softly.
“What's funny, Jacobson?” Styles asked.
“You look like the man from Glad,” Larabee whispered, his voice sounded distorted and he frowned as he tried to figure out what was wrong. Everything sounded liked he was under water, muffled and unmistakably strange, yet funny too. He started to laugh as Styles led him from his room, along a corridor and stopped in front of the doors leading into the cafeteria.
Nathan lifted the tray and made his way toward the cart that held the morning's breakfast trays. Parker had left for an early meeting with Ray Kent while he finished reading several articles about the hospital and staff. He turned to leave, but halted when he saw the two men enter the cafeteria. “Chris,” he whispered as the orderly maneuvered Larabee into the line and pressed a tray into his hands.
“All right, Chris, what would you like?” Styles asked, watching as the patient slowly looked around the cafeteria. The drug was starting to work and Jacobson seemed to be having trouble concentrating as Ray Kent entered and hurried over to them.
“Hello, Chris, I hope you're feeling better and more cooperative this morning,” Kent said, unaware that Jackson was watching him closely.
“Who…where's Sarah?” Larabee managed, moaning as pain stabbed through his skull.
“Who's Sarah?” Kent asked.
“SARAH!” Larabee shouted and threw the tray to the floor. His vision blurred as everything seemed to take on a red caste, while he stared at Kent's moving lips. His head tilted slightly to the side as he tried to make sense of what was happening, of what he was seeing.
“Chris, you need to calm down,” Kent said, knowing the drug Styles supplied was inducing hallucinations in his patient.
“Get away from me!” Chris warned as Styles advanced on him. “SARAH!”
“Craig, get help!” Kent ordered as frightened patients tried to move away from the crazed man whose eyes were dark with rage.
“Yes, Sir,” Styles said, hating the thought of missing the action he'd instigated. He knew this was only the beginning and that the next phase would hopefully put Jacobson over the edge…both figuratively and literally. He pressed the panic button that would summon several orderlies and bring any medical staff within watching distance.
“Dr. Kent, perhaps we should just give him some space,” Nathan offered.
“Don't tell me my job, Dr. Bradley!” Kent snarled.
“I wasn't…I'm just trying to help…”
“Then stay out of my way!” Kent warned, watching his patient carefully as Jacobson picked up a butter knife and held it in front of him as a weapon. “Chris, you don't want to do this…”
“Fuck you!” Larabee spat, shifting the knife from hand to hand while backing away from the men who wanted to hurt him and stop him from finding Sarah. “Get out of my way!”
“Dr. Bradley, stay out of this…Chris is my patient and I'd appreciate it if you stopped interfering!” Kent warned and heard several sets of running feet. He knew help was here now and needed to get the situation back under control. “All right, Chris, it's time to get you back to your room…”
“Dr. Kent, Ezra Jacobson and Josiah Arnott are waiting to see Chris,” Katrina Morgan offered, staying back far enough so Kent had room to work.
“That's just what we don't need,” Kent told her.
“They insist on seeing Chris,” Morgan explained. “Maybe they can get him to calm down.”
“I doubt that very much, but it's worth a try…send them in, but warn them to stay back!”
“Yes, Doctor,” the woman agreed and hurried out of the cafeteria.
Nathan felt totally helpless as he watched the scene unfolding before him. Chris’ cry for Sarah had told him something was definitely wrong, but to interfere now would ruin everything they were working so hard for. He looked at the patients in the room, their faces blank or filled with fear, but one man stood as if unafraid and Nathan watched as he slowly made his way toward Larabee without saying a word.
Chris felt the air behind him shift and turned his head slightly when a hand touched his arm. He looked into the soft eyes of the man he'd called ‘Bear’ and choked when he tried to draw a breath as ‘Bear’ wrapped his hand around the blade of the butter knife.
“No…please…I need to find…find Sarah…they'll kill me,” Chris said, his voice low as he tried to watch the people who were stalking him.
Bear's fingers tightened and did not release the blade as he watched his friend, the only man who'd shown him any kind of respect since he'd been placed in Shady Acres. He took the knife from Chris’ hands and pulled him into a protective bear hug before turning and facing the others.
“Thank you, Brian, we can take it from here,” Kent offered and watched as the big man shook his head in denial “Brian, we need to help Chris like you did, but we can't if you won't let us near him.”
“What the hell is going on?” Ezra asked upon entering the cafeteria.
“We have the situation under control, Mr. Jacobson. Just stay back and everything will be fine,” Kent warned as two orderlies moved in behind Brian Schneider. He recognized Styles, but the second man he wasn't sure about and thought his name was Vince something or other. It didn't really matter as long as they got Jacobson under control.
“Ezra, we'd best leave this to the staff,” Josiah warned, watching as the con man's body reflected the horror of what he was seeing.
“I know, Josiah, but Chris…he's…”
“Easy, Son, Chris will be all right,” Sanchez assured him, nodding as Jackson joined them. The nursing staff had already cleared the cafeteria of patients and anyone who wasn't needed.
“Chris, we're going to help you,” Kent said, but Schneider wasn't letting anyone get close to his ‘friend’. Jacobson's anger seemed to have dissipated and he knew the drug hadn't been strong enough to suit his purposes, but he couldn't show his disappointment, not yet, not here with everyone watching.
Vin had barely controlled his anger when he'd entered the cafeteria, and had acted on instincts by moving in behind ‘Bear’. He knew Schneider would not harm Larabee, but something told him the big man could tear them limb from limb if he really wanted to. He hated that Styles was also there and worried what the man would do to gain control of the situation. Instincts told him he needed to calm the big man down before someone got hurt. “Hey, Bear, why don't you let me take him and I'll make sure no one hurts him,” Tanner tried and moved closer.
Bear heard the voice and turned slightly, holding the shivering man against his body. There was something about the man he trusted, but the other one was cruel and he didn't want him anywhere near his new friend. He shook his head slightly as Styles closed in on him.
“Let me handle it, Styles,” Tanner warned and looked at the doctor for confirmation.
“Stay back, Craig,” Kent ordered, silently cursing the newcomer's interference.
“Hey, Brian, look at me…I ain't gonna hurt ya…ain't gonna let anyone else hurt ya either, but we need ta help Chris,” Tanner tried, relieved when Styles moved back and Kent seemed to relinquish control to him. “I promise they are just gonna help Chris…okay?”
Brian's head tilted slightly to the left before dropping his gaze and looking into the glazed green eyes that seemed to be looking at him. He lifted his head and nodded slightly to the long haired orderly who stepped forward and took his friend away from him. Tears filled Brian's eyes as he watched the orderlies put his friend on a stretcher and place the restraints around his wrists, ankles, and chest.
“It's okay, Brian, they'll help him,” Parker said and gently took Schneider's arm, guiding him out of the cafeteria.
Ezra paced in front of the room that held Chris Larabee and silently cursed this case and what it was costing Chris Larabee. He felt Josiah watching him, but didn't trust himself to speak until the door opened and Ray Kent stepped out. “Dr. Kent, what happened to my brother?”
“We're not sure, Mr. Jacobson, but I assure you we will find out. As you know your brother has anger management issues and is a confirmed alcoholic. I believe those are contributing factors in the behavior we saw today.”
“What are you doing for him?” Sanchez asked.
“We're trying to regulate his medications, but it does take time,” Kent explained.
“I want to see him,” Ezra warned.
“I'm afraid that's…”
“Dr. Kent, I'm the one paying his bills and therefore I will see him with or without your permission,” Standish snapped, standing toe to toe with the doctor.
“As you wish, Mr. Jacobson, but he is heavily sedated and won't even know you're there,” Kent explained, fighting to keep his anger from showing.
Ezra brushed past the doctor and entered to find the nurse gently lift a blanket over Chris’ legs and tuck it in around his waist. He hated seeing the Velcro restraints fastened to each wrist, but there was nothing he could do about that. He moved to the bed as the nurse left the room and waited for Josiah to close the door and stand so that he blocked the camera. He sat on the edge of the bed and lost track of time as he watched Larabee's chest rise and fall as he slept. Several hours passed, with nurses coming in to check the blond's vitals but Chris showed no signs of waking up until now. “Chris…it's Ezra, can you hear me?”
Larabee heard the smooth Southern accent and fought against the fog enshrouding his mind. He knew there was something he should say, but as he turned his head he felt the restraints holding him in place. “What the fuck is going on, Ezra?”
“You were angry and they had to sedate you,” Standish explained, not surprised when Josiah moved back into position in front of the camera.
“Get these fucking things off me and I'll show you angry, Ezra!”
“Chris, you need to calm down before they decide you really are out of control,” Sanchez told his friend, relieved to see at least a hint of clarity in the glazed green eyes.
“Who the hell do you think you are, Preacher?” Larabee snarled, hoping his friends would understand it was an act in case they were being watched. The drugs were taking a heavy toll on his mind and body, but whatever he'd been given earlier seemed to have worked its way out of his system. He had no way of knowing how long he'd been out, but he was getting tired of being unable to control his own actions and the consequences.
“Easy, Son…”
“I'm not your son so don't give me any of that shit…get me out of here or I swear I'll fucking tear you apart!” the blond cursed, touching his fingers against Ezra's arm in hopes of letting his friend know he was all right.
“Chris, as long as you're acting crazy they'll keep you locked up,” Standish explained, relieved that Larabee seemed to be more alert to what was going on around him. “We think Kent might be behind the murders,” he whispered and saw the blond head dip once.
“Ezra, you bastard…you won't get away with this!”
“I already have, Brother Dear…enjoy your stay,” Standish said as the door opened and Kent stepped into the room.
“Are you feeling better, Mr. Jacobson?” the doctor asked. He'd spoken to Styles and knew whatever the drug was it hadn't been nearly as effective as he'd hoped. The problem was if he tried anything else it would draw suspicion on him and ruin the plans he had for his own future.
“How the hell do you think I feel, Doc?” Larabee snarled, drawing on the anger he'd felt when Sarah and Adam were murdered.
“I can see you're still angry…perhaps some quiet time is in order…”
“I'll give you quiet time, Doc…just let me out of these fucking things!”
“That's not going to happen…not when you're so out of control…”
“Control is a deceptive thing, Doc…just ask Ezra. He thinks he has control of Jacobson Enterprises…isn't that right, Brother Dear?” Larabee caught the look that crossed over the ex-preacher's face and prayed the man could ease the guilt he saw in Standish's eyes. He hated being the one causing it, but they had to keep everyone, especially Kent, from becoming suspicious.
“Chris, I'm doing this for your own good…”
“Like hell you are, Ezra! You're doing this because you want what doesn't belong to you!” Larabee snarled and heard Kent speaking with a nurse. “No! You tell them to stop this now, Ezra, or I swear I'll tear you apart when I get out of here!”
“Chris, that's not going to help get you released,” Sanchez said, arms folded across his chest.
“Go to hell, Preacher, and take him with you!” Larabee spat, nodding his head toward Standish.
“Mr. Jacobson, I believe it's time for you to leave,” Kent suggested.
“Perhaps you're right, Dr. Kent,” Standish said softly, his eyes locking with Larabee's before turning away.
“That's right, Ezra…run out on me just like you always do!” the blond snapped, staring pointedly at Sanchez and hoping he understood it was all an act. He saw the slight movement of Sanchez's hand and realized the man knew what was happening and would make sure Ezra didn't wallow in the guilt he saw eating him alive.
“Now, Chris, I believe you are due for a shot,” Kent said and reached for the syringe the nurse handed him. He knew it was the drug Styles had provided and he hoped the increased dosage would do the trick and give him the control he wanted. He quickly injected the drug before leaving the patient alone with the nurse.
Chris swallowed convulsively as the drug entered his system and looked at the nurse standing beside the bed. His tongue felt thick and he couldn't form the words as she reached out and touched his shoulder.
“I'm sorry, Chris, I couldn't change the medication. Just relax and sleep,” Katrina explained sadly.
Chris nodded and closed his eyes, wishing the helpless feeling of loss and resentment would ease, but there was nothing he could do as strange images flashed before his eyes. “God!” he ground out, nerves tingling as if he'd been zapped with some kind of electricity. His body arched on the bed and he cried out before dropping into a dark maw covered in razor sharp teeth that ripped at his body and tore at his mind.
Nathan walked along the pathway outside the main entrance to the secured area and spotted Vin Tanner seated at a picnic table. There was no one else around and he hurried over, hating the distraught look that crossed the Texan's face. “How is he, Nate?”
“How do you think, Vin?” Jackson snapped, apologizing immediately when he realized how it sounded. “Look, Vin, they are giving him sedatives because of his anger…anger we both know is an act, but if we interfere then all of this was for nothing. We need to give him a couple of days…”
“Will he survive a couple of days, Nate?” Tanner asked.
“He's stronger than we give him credit for sometimes, Vin. He put on an act in there with Ezra and Josiah that could have won him an Oscar,” Jackson observed.
“Is Ezra okay?”
“About as okay as the rest of us. I don't think anyone is going to rest until Chris is out of that place. The only good thing is Samantha Parker.”
“She's one of the psychiatrists on staff and runs the group sessions. She doesn't trust Kent any more than we do and I think she's going to be the one to help us when we do have the evidence we need.”
“Sounds like we need her on Chris’ case,” Tanner observed.
“We do…but there's no way she can interfere without putting her own job in jeopardy,” Jackson explained. “I need to meet with Parker in ten minutes, but I'll see you at Josiah's tonight.”
“I'll be there, Nate,” Tanner said and took a deep breath before heading back inside the secure area of Shady Acres.
Carl Sheppard reached for the phone and placed it against his ear when he recognized the number. “Sheppard.”
*“Did you call Jacobson?”*
“I called him last night and will call him with the specific instructions in a couple of minutes,” Sheppard answered.
*“So, Ezra agreed to let us take his brother out?”*
“Yes, he did, but he doesn't want him to suffer.”
*“Too bad…that's part of the deal.”*
“I know, but I told him I'd do what I could. Although it's always fun to watch the sick bastards die,” Sheppard said.
“That it is, but hopefully after this one we'll both be able to retire and leave them to someone else. I'll contact you later, but make sure you get the money and that it's untraceable.”*
“Have I ever let you down before?”
*“No, and you know what will happen if you do…I have a meeting in a few minutes so contact me as soon as the money is in your hands and I'll see that Chris Jacobson goes on the wildest ride of his life.”*
“Of course…I'll call his brother now and arrange the meeting,” Sheppard said and heard the line go dead in his hands.
JD listened to the two women talking, but his attention was caught up in the files he was accessing and he silently prayed they would continue with their discussion until he'd completed his task. He knew Buck often called him a tenacious little dog, and right now that term made him smile.
Since arriving at Shady Acres nearly three hours ago JD had managed to dig through several layers of password-protected records. He found a backdoor into Raymond Kent's private files and was slowly downloading them while trying to keep his activity unnoticed by the others in the office. It also required him to be careful he didn't leave any trace of his activity that would alert Kent to his files having been detected.
“JD, would you like to join us,” Melissa Tandy asked and frowned when the young man seemed to ignore her. “JD, did you hear me?”
“I'm sorry, Melissa, what did you say?” Dunne asked and made sure neither of his co-workers could see what he'd been doing.
“We're going to lunch and wanted to know if you'd like to join us?” Melissa answered.
“I wish I could, but there are several files I need to upload if I want to leave on time today,” Dunne said.
“Is there anything I can help you with?” Melissa asked.
“No, thanks, but I'd love a coffee,” the Bostonian said.
“I'll bring you back one…cream, no sugar right?”
“Right,” Dunne answered fighting to keep the excitement from showing as the two women left. JD turned back to the computer and began skim reading the files before sending copies to his own laptop. It looked like they were on the right track with Kent and he silently prayed they'd have enough evidence to call a halt to the undercover operation and get Chris out of harm's way before it was too late.
Ezra sat back in his chair and ran the fingers of his left hand through his hair before turning his attention to the papers in front of him. He knew there was no point in trying to make sense of them, but it was a way to keep his mind focused on anything but the call he was expecting. He knew Josiah was in the next room and giving him the space he needed, but nothing would help ease his torment until this case was over. Ezra picked up a file, but dropped it back on the table when his cell phone rang. He looked at the open doorway, not surprised to find Josiah watching him.
*“I do hope you've had time to put together my fee, Mr. Jacobson.”*
“I have the funds,” Ezra answered.
*“Excellent, then your troubles should be over in a couple of days. I just need to verify that the funds are untraceable, but I'm sure I won't be disappointed…”*
“You won't and I warn you not to cross me. You take Chris out or I will come after you.”
*“Idle threats, Mr. Jacobson, but don't worry. We have been doing this for a while now and your dear brother's death will simply look like another tragic loss at his own hands. Now, I do have a few things to take care of so please make the drop so that we can conclude our business dealings.”*
“Where do I leave the money?”
*“There's a rest stop a mile south of Shady Acres. There's a broken guardrail running along the east side and a small indentation just below the first wooden post. Place the briefcase there and leave the area immediately or the deal is off and your dear brother gets his life back and you have to deal with Joseph Spalding.”*
Ezra drew in a hitching breath as the line went dead in his hands and he felt a strong hand on his shoulder. He turned to look at Sanchez and nodded once before picking up the briefcase. “We need to make the delivery, Josiah.”
“Ezra, it's part of the plan…”
“God help me, Josiah…I know that, but I feel like I just signed Chris’ death warrant.”
“You didn't, Ezra, but by doing this we'll find out who's murdering the patients at Shady Acres and make damn sure they are punished.”
“I'll breathe a lot easier once this is over and Chris is out of there.”
“We all will, son,” Sanchez said and held the door for the younger man. He silently prayed that Chris Larabee survived this case, because if he didn't they'd be losing two members of the team.
Chris’ mind was awash with images that filled him with terror, but there was no escaping them. They changed so fast there was no way of knowing when one ended and another began. Sarah's smiling face was replaced by Ella's and then quickly became Adam and continued through faces of people he'd known through his life.
“Sarah…I can't….bastard brother…Ezra! Damn you!” The words were screamed until his voice was raw, but no one came to check on him as the nightmares continued and he spiraled toward a dark maw that opened far below him. His skin itched and burned, but he could not move his hands to reach the torment. Beads of perspiration formed on his face and ran down pale cheeks to pool on the flat pillow beneath his sweat soaked blond hair.
Raymond Kent looked at the close circuit screen and smiled at the sight that captivated his attention and gave him a heady sense of control. Chris Jacobson looked as if he was in hell, and he probably was if Styles had given him the right drug. If the grimace on Jacobson's face was any indication, then he was suffering from more than just nightmares.
Kent tapped his pen against his teeth and reached for the device on his desk. He pressed the button and began speaking as he watched his patient's misery. This record was solely for his own enjoyment and would serve as a reminder of this particular case and the control he had over his patients.
“Chris Jacobson still displays anger at the least hint of provocation and has been sedated on several occasions. The Haldol and Ativan do not seem to be working although he is on a strong dosage. Perhaps I am right in thinking someone is interfering with his medications and trying to sabotage my work. It is possible that one of the nurses has taken it upon herself to ignore my orders, but I am sure there is a bigger picture that I have not seen. I will continue with my aggressive treatment of Chris Jacobson until his anger is under control. The drug Styles supplies is working better than I anticipated and hopefully I will see more aggression thus facilitating the need to raise the dosage of Haldol and Ativan without anyone being the wiser.”
Kent turned the tiny machine off and reached for the unmarked vial Styles had given him during his last shift. Jacobson had been given a small amount on his last visit, but his next ‘trip’ would need to be even worse. He pocketed the vial and exited his office, but not before locking the recorder in his desk.
“Dr. Kent, I was just coming to get you.”
“Is something wrong, Salina?” Kent asked.
“I'm not sure, Sir, but Mr. Jacobson seems to be having some kind of reaction to his medications,” Salina Forbes explained.
“What kind of reaction?” Kent asked and hurried toward Jacobson's room showing more concern than he actually felt. He knew he couldn't show his true feelings as he entered the patient's room to find him struggling against the restraints while gritting his teeth. “Chris…”
“Bastard…kill you…Ezra…bastard brother…”
“Chris, listen to me…”
“Go to hell!” Larabee panted. “Get these fucking things off me!”
“That's not going to happen, Chris, but you need to calm down or…”
“Or what?” Larabee snarled as a woman appeared in the doorway.
“Ray, what's going on?”
“I'm not sure, Sam, but it appears I was right about needing to increase his dosage of Haldol and Ativan,” Kent told her.
“Do you really think that's necessary?” Parker asked. “Over medicating a patient isn't the way to help him.”
“You sound like Daniel now, Sam, and since this man is my patient I believe it is my call so stay out of my business!”
“Perhaps it's time to find another group therapist…one who will not question every decision I make. I will speak with the board when it convenes next week!”
“There's no need for that, Ray, I'll do as you wish,” Parker told him.
“We'll see, Sam,” Kent said as the nurse handed him a syringe and he quickly injected the drug into his patient's arm. He watched as the green eyes closed and the fight drained from the man's body before turning to his colleague. “That should help him rest, Sam, and hopefully he'll be able to attend your session tomorrow morning, but I'm warning you not to interfere with my patient's treatment or I'll make damn sure you're not allowed anywhere near any of my patients. Understood?”
“Perfectly, Ray,” Parker said and watched the man leave. She disliked the pompous ass, but he had so much pull at the hospital and it made her wonder exactly what it was he held over the board members.
“Sam, how is he?”
“Oh, Nathan, I didn't know you were there,” Parker said.
“I just got here. What happened?”
“I'm not sure, but Ray is making sure he has the last word on Chris’ care and medications. From what the nurse told me, Chris was having some kind of weird reaction to something only he was seeing.”
“Maybe, but only Chris can answer that,” Parker said exiting the room and spotting Kent at the main desk.
“Is it possible he's giving Chris medications he shouldn't be getting?” Jackson asked once he was sure they were out of earshot.
“I don't know, Nathan, but if he is there's not a damn thing I can do to prove it,” Parker answered.
“Dr. Bradley, I'm sure whatever Dr. Parker wants to say to you can wait until after we complete our rounds. Please follow me,” Kent ordered and closed the file before glaring at Parker and making his way toward another room.
Samantha Parker watched the men leave and felt the anger building inside her. She would not allow Kent to treat her like an underling and somehow she would make the board understand that this man was not who he appeared to be.
Katrina Morgan waited for her lover to join her in bed and snuggled against him with her head on his shoulder. She knew he was worried about what was happening at Shady Acres, but there was nothing either of them could do about that until there was evidence to bring the police into it.
“How did Chris seem today, Katrina?” Daniel Coburn asked softly.
“He's a damn good actor, Daniel, but Kent is good at spotting an act,” Morgan answered.
“Are you still able to switch the medications?”
“So far it hasn't been a problem, but I have to be careful and make sure the bottles are exactly the same or someone will get suspicious.”
“I wish there'd been some other way.”
“I know you do, Daniel, but there isn't. Whoever is behind the murders needs to be stopped and Chris and his team seem to know what they're doing. Did I tell you that Chris is actually getting through to Brian Schneider?”
“The big man who doesn't speak to anyone?”
“Yes, Chris even gave him a nickname. He calls him Bear and Brian seems to like it.”
“Hopefully that's a good sign,” Coburn said tiredly and looked into her eyes. “You need to be careful, Katrina, because I don't think I could handle it if anything happened to you.”
“I will, Daniel,” Katrina said and closed her eyes as Daniel's mouth met hers.
JD rushed into the office and was relieved to find Buck, Vin, Josiah, and Ezra already there. He wasn't sure what they'd been discussing, but from the looks on their faces he knew something had happened.
“You're late, Kid,” Wilmington said.
“Sorry, I needed to finish uploading some files. Did something happen?” Dunne asked.
“Ezra got a call and made the money drop,” Tanner answered.
“Damn is right, JD, tell me you found something,” Wilmington snapped.
“I got into Kent's private files and there's more than a few skeletons in his closet,” Dunne offered.
“Like what?” Sanchez asked.
“Kent's background is not as simple as his resume seems to be. Yes, he went to Yale on a full scholarship, but he never graduated.”
“What?” Wilmington spat.
“He never graduated,” Dunne repeated.
“Then how the hell did he get the position at Shady Acres?” Sanchez asked.
“He dummied up the documents he needed. The man is smart and the records I found showed he could have graduated and probably at the top of his class, but he dropped out a year before completing the required courses. I found his personal files where he keeps track of his own life and the lives of several patients…including Chris,” Dunne told them.
“What's he say about Chris?” Tanner asked softly.
“Not much…just says he's an interesting case and one he's looking forward to examining on more than just the surface problems of anger and alcohol,” Dunne answered.
“Is there any mention of the murdered patients?” Standish asked.
“Nothing much…a simple notation, but I'm pretty sure there was more, but he erased it,” the Bostonian observed.
“We should get Chris out of there before Kent tries anything,” Standish said.
“I wish we could, Ezra, but there's not enough evidence to charge Kent with the murders,” Wilmington offered.
“It's a start, Buck, and…”
“Buck's right, Ezra,” Tanner supplied. “Ain't no point in what we've done if'n we don't get the proof we need. Chris bein’ in there ain't my first choice, but it's the only one we got right now.”
“JD, what else did you find in Kent's files?” Sanchez asked.
“Just several deposits to accounts that are untraceable,” Dunne answered.
“Untraceable?” Wilmington asked.
“Okay, hard to trace, but it'll take some time to find out who owns them and whether they've been active lately,” the Bostonian told him. He listened while the others talked about what was happening at Shady Acres even as his fingers flew across the keyboard.
Carl Sheppard picked up the phone and placed it against his ear with a smile as the familiar voice spoke softly to him.
*“How did the drop go?”*
“It seems Mr. Jacobson is anxious to get rid of his brother. The money should be at the drop in time for me to pick it up on my way home.”
*“Make damn sure it's untraceable.”*
“Don't I always? I will contact you as soon as I run a check on the funds and make sure there are no tracking devices or that dye the police use. I'm sure Ezra Jacobson would not do anything as stupid as that, but I'm not one to take chances.”
*“It's your life if you make a mistake. Are the drugs in place?”*
“They are and Chris Jacobson should be taking a wild ride once I pick up the money,” Sheppard answered.
*“Good, contact me as soon as you're done.”*
“I will,” Sheppard said and hung up the phone. He knew it was time to leave and hoped things went well because he was already spending the money earned from Jacobson's death.
Sheppard had no trouble leaving the hospital and drove along the highway until he reached the rest stop. He left the car running as he hurried to check for the briefcase. He made sure there were no tracking devices and smiled when he turned on the jamming device, but there was no interference. He made his way back to the car and threw the case on the seat beside him, smiling as he made plans for how to spend his money.
Samantha Parker waited for Raymond Kent to finish making notations on the chart he'd been studying and wished she could wipe the smug smile off his face when he turned toward her.
“Now, Samantha, what can I do for you this morning?”
“I want your permission to have Chris Jacobson join the group therapy session this morning.”
“I don't think that's wise…not after his violent behavior yesterday,” Kent told her.
“Ray, we both know Chris Jacobson needs help and group therapy is a wonderful way to get him to open up. You've got him on some pretty heavy meds now and hopefully they'll make him easier to handle,” Parker explained.
“I will not consent to group therapy until after I see how the patient is this morning. Would you care to join me?” Kent asked.
“I've completed my rounds, so yes, I would like to check on Chris,” Parker answered.
“Very well, follow me,” Kent ordered and motioned for the orderly standing near the water cooler. Craig Styles had the day off and that meant he would need to assign someone else to Jacobson today.
“You wanted me, Sir?”
“Yes, Vincent, have you been assigned to anyone today?” Kent asked.
“No, Sir,” Tanner answered.
“Very well…come with me. If Chris is in a better frame of mind today then he will be your top priority and I want you to make sure he stays out of trouble.”
“Yes, Doctor,” Tanner said and hid the emotions that clouded his mind. His heart skipped a beat at the thought of seeing Larabee. In the staff lounge where most of the nursing staff ate, he'd overheard the night staff updating the day staff on the condition of the patients under their care. He'd sat against the back wall, inconspicuously tuning in to what was being said in hopes of getting some clue as to Larabee's condition or anything about the murders. Larabee had been heavily sedated and the nurse had said something about Kent, but Vin hadn't been able to hear exactly what was said. His dislike of the man increased with each step he took toward Chris’ room.
Chris became aware of two things at once and his eyes shot open, blinking rapidly in an effort to focus on something other than the fact that he was tied down. Panic ensued, but lasted less than a minute when he remembered where he was and why he was there. It also didn't take long to curse himself for taking this job, but he was never a man to back down once he started something.
Chris licked at his lips and wished he had something to drink, but he was alone for now and doubted that anyone would come to his aid until Kent made his morning rounds. Was it morning or had someone managed to adjust the dosage of his medication so that he wasn't as doped up? It didn't really matter because right now he needed to act the part in order to have the freedom needed to check out the staff and patients of Shady Acres. He kept leaning toward Kent as the main suspect, but deep down he knew that had more to do with his dislike for the man than any real evidence of his guilt.
Chris closed his eyes as a wave of nausea churned through his gut and swallowed convulsively until the sickly feeling eased. He turned his head as a sound alerted him and the door opened to reveal Raymond Kent wearing a hint of a smile that sent a chill down his spine. He closed his eyes as the man entered and soon felt Kent's hand on his shoulder.
“Good morning, Chris, I hope you had a restful sleep. How do you feel?”
“Tired,” Larabee answered honestly and slowly opened his eyes once more.
“Perhaps we should let you rest a while longer?” Kent suggested.
“No…need to go take care of things. Can you take these off?” Larabee asked, hating how weak his voice sounded. He spotted Vin Tanner standing to the left of the door and tried to assure the Texan he was fine, but the slight shake of the man's head told him he didn't believe it for a minute.
“Chris, I want you to understand something before I release you,” Kent said and sat on the edge of the bed. “Are you ready to admit you have an anger problem?”
“Will it get me released?” Larabee asked smoothly.
“It might, but not if I think it's just you placating me to get what you want,” Kent told him. “Now, do you admit to having anger management problems and are you willing to allow me to help you deal with them?”
“Sonofa…yes, hell, Doc, yes, if it means you'll take these things off I'll admit to anything!” Larabee snapped.
“See, that's a classic example of anger problems, Chris, but at least you didn't lash out this time,” Kent said and began releasing the restraints from the patient's arms while Parker did the same with those around his ankles. They eased the dazed man to a sitting position and allowed him time to shake off the dizziness movement caused.
“How do you feel, Chris?” Parker asked softly.
“Hung over,” Larabee answered and saw the smile form on the woman's face.
“I bet…do you feel like eating?”
“Rather have a shower,” the blond told her.
“I believe that can be arranged,” Kent said and looked at the orderly. “Chris, Vincent is going to stay with you today and make sure…”
“I don't kill someone,” Larabee finished.
“There is that,” the psychiatrist said.
“As long as my dear brother isn't around I can probably stop myself from harming anyone.”
“I wish I could take your word for that, but for now you still need your meds to help keep your anger in check,” Kent said and motioned for the nurse to come in.
“Damn,” Larabee said as Katrina Morgan handed the man a syringe.
“It's for your own good, Chris,” Kent said and swabbed an area on the patient's shoulder.
“Can't we do pills…I hate fucking needles?”
“Perhaps in a few days, but for now I'd rather stay with this form of medication,” Kent answered and handed the empty syringe back to the nurse. “Now, I believe you wanted a shower and then I want you to eat something before joining Dr. Parker in group therapy.”
“Oh joy,” Larabee said.
“Chris, you need group therapy to help you talk through your problems,” Parker told him.
“I know,” Larabee said and lowered his eyes to the floor, but not before seeing the worry on Tanner's face. He could feel the tension and anger emanating from the lean body and knew if his friend looked into his eyes he'd pull the plug on this case without giving any thought to the consequences.
“Vincent, see that Chris gets a shower and then make sure he eats and is present for Dr. Parker's group therapy,” Kent told him. Ray smiled inwardly as he left the room without a backward glance. He wasn't sure how long it would take for the new drug to kick in, but when it did Chris Jacobson would definitely be in for a wild ride and God help whoever was close to him. Meanwhile he had to take care of things where Parker was concerned and an emergency board meeting was the first item on the day's agenda.
“Chris, I'll leave you in Vincent's capable hands and see you in one hour in room four,” Parker said, patting Larabee's shoulder before leaving the room.
Chris took a deep breath before standing and shaking off the lethargy brought on by the injection he'd received. It took a few seconds to make sure his body wouldn't betray him and even smiled at the nurse who handed him a change of clothes once he left the room. He walked slightly ahead of Tanner until they reached the showers. He pushed the door open and stepped inside, relieved to find the room empty as the Texan followed him in and let the door close.
“Chris,” Tanner said softly.
“I'm okay,” Larabee answered and made his way to the stall furthest from the doorway and camera. He knew the sound of the shower would help muffle his voice if someone was listening in, but as far as he knew the showers were not under constant watch, especially when an orderly was present. He turned on the water and pulled across the privacy curtain before removing his clothing. He stepped under the hot spray and let it ease some of the tension from his body.
“Chris, are you all right? We can end this today.”
“I'm fine,” Larabee answered and knew the Texan was letting him know it was safe to talk. “We need to see this through.”
“I know, but at what cost?”
“Whatever it takes,” the blond said.
“Not if it means your life, Cowboy.”
“It won't come to that, Vin…”
“Damn right it won't. I don't trust Kent and if I think he's doin’ somethin’ ta hurt ya I'll pull the plug.”
“Fair enough,” Larabee said and reached for the shampoo. He poured some into his hand and washed his hair before grabbing a washcloth and soap. He winced when he ran the soft material over his right shoulder and wasn't surprised to see several small bruises caused by the needles. His aversion to needles was definitely growing into outright hatred.
“Better hurry, Jacobson, wouldn't want you to miss breakfast or Dr. Parker's group therapy session.”
Chris knew it was Vin's way of letting him know they were no longer alone and sighed as he let the water wash away the soap and remaining tension. It wasn't long before he'd dried off and dressed in the clean clothing supplied by the staff. He pulled back the curtain and spotted a grinning Joseph Dugan beginning to disrobe.
“Hey, Jacobson, I see you've got a shadow today. Maybe I'll go talk to that big dummy…”
“Stay the fuck away from him, Dugan!” Larabee snapped, hands fisting at his sides.
“Temper, temper…better be careful or they'll put you back in restraints and then who'll take care of that bastard…”
“Quiet, Dugan, or I'll talk to Dr. Parker and maybe you'll be the one in restraints,” Tanner warned.
“Come on, Vincent, don't tell me you feel sorry for Jacobson?”
“Don't feel sorry for no one, but I got a job ta do and right now that's making sure Jacobson stays out of trouble,” the Texan said and herded Larabee toward the door as Dugan stepped into the shower. “Come on, Jacobson, times wastin’.”
“That bastard needs to be brought down a peg or two,” Larabee ground out.
“I know, but now's not the time,” Tanner said.
Ezra silently cursed the bottle on his nightstand. It had been full when he carried it into his bedroom after Josiah left for his home. Now there was nothing left, but the memory of the fiery liquid burning its way down his throat and the bitter aftertaste that left his mouth feeling as if it was filled with lint.
Ezra sat up and glanced at the clock, noting that it was just after nine, and wondered if he should bother making coffee or just grab another bottle. He leaned his elbows on his knees and scrubbed at his face and eyes, jumping when the now hated sound of the cell phone reached his ears.
*“Mr. Jacobson, I wanted to thank you for keeping your part of the bargain and wish to assure you that your troubles will be over today…”*
“So soon?”
*“Don't tell me you're the sentimental type and wish to say goodbye to your brother?”*
“No, I assure you that is not the case. I just wish I could be there to see his face when he realizes he's lost,” Standish said and felt bitter bile rise in his throat.
*“Well, I can't give you a precise time line, but if you wish to visit him this afternoon I'm sure you won't be disappointed.”*
“I will be there,” Standish said and heard a soft chuckle just before the phone went dead in his hands. He grabbed the other phone and hit speed dial for Josiah and anxiously waited for him to answer while he grabbed clothing from his closet.
“Thank God, Josiah, we have to get to Shady Acres.”
*“Did something happen?”*
“I just got a call…he said my troubles would be over today,” Standish explained, his voice edged with unaccustomed fear.
*“Easy, Son, I'll pick you up in half an hour.”*
“I'll be ready,” the conman vowed and tossed the phone on the bed before hurrying into the bathroom. He glanced in the mirror and was taken aback by the unkempt face that stared back at him. He glanced at the shower and knew he had to keep up appearances or risk ruining their chance of catching Sheppard and whoever he was working with. He quickly disrobed and climbed into the shower, all the while fighting the images that flashed across his mind.
Buck Wilmington watched the patients in the common room and eased the near silent polisher across the floor. Most of the patients were in the morning therapy sessions, but there were a few present. There was a man sitting in a chair in the corner with a book in his hands and a hint of a smile on his face. That smile gave him a childlike quality as if he was reading something he didn't quite understand, but instinctively knew it was fun.
Buck understood why he reminded Chris of Bear in Armageddon and why he'd been drawn to the big fella. Chris had a tendency to protect people who could not protect themselves, hell they all did for that matter, and this man brought that out in Larabee. Buck slowly made his way toward the man and smiled when Bear dared to glance up from the large print he'd been engrossed in.
“Hey, I hear that's a good book,” Wilmington said, but received no answer from the quiet man. “Could you just move your feet a little so I can finish the job of cleaning the floor? I mean it's okay if you don't, but I'd hate to get in trouble with the staff when my job is such an easy one.”
Buck watched as the man moved his feet a little and then lifted them off the floor. It was a strange maneuver for the large man, but he made it look easy as he draped his legs over the right side of the armchair. “Thanks.”
“Buck, when you're through there I have another job for you?”
“Sure, Miss Morgan,” Wilmington said and made a show of polishing under the chair before putting the machine away and joining the nurse at the desk. “What can I do for you, Darlin’?”
“Rooms two and three are needed for a conference this afternoon and I'd like you to help Molly clean it up and set up the chairs around the table.”
“Sure…how many are we expecting?”
“At least half a dozen board members will be there. Dr. Kent ordered an emergency meeting,” Morgan answered when she was sure no one would be privy to their conversation.
“What's it about?” Wilmington asked and made a show of sweeping the floor in front of the desk.
“It has something to do with Dr. Parker, but Daniel will be able to tell you more once the meeting is over. I need to go check on a couple of patients. Be careful, Buck, I don't trust Kent and if he's set his sites on getting rid of Dr. Parker then we could lose a damn good therapist.”
“I hear you, Katrina,” Wilmington said and made his way toward the conference room. He spotted Chris and Vin walking toward him and hid his surprise at Larabee's appearance. The man looked like hell, but who could blame him considering where he was, and why they'd taken this cursed job.
Chris glanced toward Buck Wilmington, but didn't do anything to acknowledge the man as he walked beside Vin Tanner. They reached room four and he took a deep breath before stepping inside and had to grab the back of a chair as a wave of dizziness threatened to send him to the floor. He felt a hand on his arm and viciously shook it off in spite of the sense of familiarity the touch gave him.
“I'm okay,” Larabee said and swallowed convulsively as he moved toward the empty chair beside Joseph Dugan.
“Jesus, Jacobson, care to share whatever you're drinking?” Dugan asked with a grin.
“Go to hell!” Larabee snarled as Samantha Parker took her seat and placed her briefcase on the floor beside her.
“Chris, I want your word that you will not antagonize Joseph,” the therapist said.
“Tell the bastard to shut the hell up,” the blond said.
“Better shut that mouth or someone will shut it for you!” Dugan spat.
“Better men than you have tried, Dugan…I buried them where they'll never be found,” Larabee said with a crazed grin.
“Did you hear that, Doc? He's admitting to murder!” Dugan said.
“Joseph, I do believe Chris is pulling your wires,” Parker offered and watched the blond sit back in his chair and cross his right leg over his left.
“Hell, Doc, I don't want to be here if he's a murderer,” Ryan Fieldgate said.
“What's wrong, Ryan? You afraid you might be on his hit list?” Dugan asked.
“He might not be, but…” Larabee left the threat where it was and smiled when he saw just a hint of fear on Dugan's face.
“All right, Chris, that's enough,” Parker said and turned to the youngest member of the group.
Chris shifted slightly on the chair and blinked several times as things around him blurred in and out of focus. His arms suddenly felt leaden and dropped down to his sides, but he tried to make sense of the buzzing conversation around him. Several times someone called his name, but the best he could do was look in the direction of the voice.
“Vincent, perhaps you should take Chris back to his room,” Parker observed.
“Sure, Doc,” Tanner agreed. He'd been watching Larabee closely and felt at a loss when sweat broke out on the blond's forehead and he seemed to have difficulty lifting his arms. “Come on, Chris…”
“No, I'm okay,” Larabee said, but licked at lips that felt dryer than the dessert. “Jesus…”
“Chris, let Vincent take you back to your room,” Parker said.
“Rather go outside…need some air,” Larabee told her.
“Are you sure you feel up to it?” the therapist asked.
“Think so…just feel warm,” the blond answered.
“All right, but if you get dizzy or sick then Vincent will bring you back here,” Parker said. She looked toward the door as her colleague entered and smiled as Nathan joined her. “Good morning, Nathan.”
“Good morning, Sam, is he all right?” Jackson asked.
“I think so. He just needs some air…”
“Hey, Doc, I could use some air,” Dugan said.
“Me too,” Fieldgate added.
“Sorry, boys, but right now we have a session to finish,” Parker said and motioned for Nathan to take a seat.
It took every ounce of strength Chris had just to make it outside and he clung to the nearest wall for support as Tanner stayed beside him.
“I'm all right, Vin, just got a little warm in there. Probably whatever was in that shot Kent gave me. The bastard's real free with those needles,” Larabee told him.
“Kent's got some things he needs to answer for, but we need a bit more evidence before we can make anything stick,” the Texan said, relieved when Larabee stood up and started walking away from the building. He stayed beside him and explained what they'd found out about Kent and wished it was enough to pull the plug on this case.
“Keep on it, Vin, I think he's the one behind it. He shouldn't be allowed to keep his license,” Larabee said and sat at the picnic table. God, he felt like crap and the cramps in his gut were getting worse, but he did his best to keep that fact from the Texan.
“Chris, ya sure yer okay?”
Guess he wasn't doing such a good job after all. “No, but it's nothing I can't handle.”
“Ya look like crap.”
“I know…feel like it too, but the fresh air is good,” Larabee told him and watched as several more patients were led toward the garden area. “Keep at it, Vin, there's got to be something that'll nail Kent.”
“We will,” Tanner said, silently cursing as Kent spotted them and hurried toward their location.
“Chris, why are you out here?” Kent asked irritably.
“Dr. Parker thought he needed some air,” Tanner answered.
“He's supposed to be in group therapy,” Kent said.
“I don't need group therapy!” Larabee snapped and stood up, grabbing at the table as his heart trip-hammered in his chest. “Damn!”
“Vincent, bring him to his room. I'll join you in a few minutes,” Kent ordered.
“Dr. Parker said…”
“Dr. Parker is not in charge of your treatment, Chris, and if I have anything to say about it she won't be working here much longer anyway,” the psychiatrist said, a hint of a smile on his face. “Vincent, see that he goes directly to his room!”
“Yes, Dr. Kent,” Tanner said and did his best to hide the anger that stayed just below the surface. He felt the tension in Larabee as he stood and began to walk toward the building. “Chris…”
“Don't say it, Vin, we need to stay with this and make the case against Kent!” Larabee spat. Once inside they made their way toward his room and he paced across the short distance between the bed and the opposite wall. His anger increased with each step he took and his eyes shot open when Kent stepped into the room, Craig Styles following close behind him.
“Vincent, Nurse Morgan has your next assignment,” Kent said and waited for the man to leave before looking at his patient even as Styles closed the door. “Now, Chris, it's time you settled down and got with the program.”
“Another one? I thought I was already in every program you've got here!”
“Well, Chris, there are certain programs that are not on the agenda,” Kent said with a grin. He reached into his pocket and took out a capped syringe.
“What the hell is that?” Larabee snarled.
“It's your medication of course,” Kent said and heard a soft chuckle from the orderly standing behind him.
“I don't want it!”
“Do you really think that matters, Chris? You're in my playground now and I am in charge of your care. Craig will you please help me here?’
“Sure, Doc,” Styles said and moved in. He knew the patient's reaction time would be slow because of the heavy sedatives Kent had him on and it was easy to take Jacobson to the floor and pin him with a knee to the center of his back. He grinned as the doctor injected the ‘medication’ that was laced with a little known drug that would send Jacobson on a wild trip. It was a slow acting drug, and would be virtually impossible to detect once it took effect. Craig released his hold on the patient once Kent stood and recapped the empty syringe.
“Now, Chris, that should help you rest and perhaps this afternoon you'll be more agreeable to visiting with your brother,” Kent said snidely.
Chris felt Styles lift him onto the bed and moaned as his muscles cramped and his body jerked uncontrollably. He wasn't sure what had happened, but he was beginning to think maybe the others were right and it was time to pull the plug. His eyes closed and images, both beautiful and grotesque haunted his dreams as Kent watched him for several minutes before leaving the room.
Raymond Kent looked at the board members with barely disguised disgust as he folded his hands on the top of the mahogany table used in the conference room. He knew how to handle the men and women who made up the board of directors and waited until Samantha Parker took her seat across from him.
“Dr. Kent, Dr. Parker, thank you for joining us this afternoon and I hope we are able to come to an amicable decision regarding Dr. Parker's tenure here at Shady Acres,” William Lewis said and opened the file in front of him. “Dr. Parker, have you had time to go over the complaints Dr. Kent made against you?”
“I have and they are ludicrous to say the least.”
“So you deny interfering with his patients?” Lewis asked.
“I do. The only time I deal with Dr. Kent and his patients are during group therapy sessions,” Parker explained.
“Dr. Kent, is this true?” Joanna Rideout asked.
“To some extent, but there are instances where she questions every treatment I prescribe. For instance there is a new patient I have been treating and although I have agreed to let him attend her sessions…”
“Group therapy sessions are very therapeutic for the patients, Dr. Kent.”
“I agree, Dr. Rideout, but sometimes Dr. Parker gets a little too involved in her patient's lives,” Kent told them.
“Is this true, Dr. Parker?” Lewis asked.
“To a certain extent, but isn't that what makes us good at what we do?” Parker asked.
“Would you elaborate on that statement, Doctor?” Paula Brady asked. She'd been a nurse at Shady Acres for nearly ten years and was also a shareholder in the facility. She'd been given a seat on the board at the suggestion of Raymond Kent and owed him a great deal.
“We are doctors, but we are also human beings and as such we must deal with our patients with human emotions. We need to care for them in the same manner in which we would like to be cared for if our roles were reversed. Dr. Kent seems to think I'm interfering with his patient, but that is not true. I am simply doing my job as a group therapist and making sure the patients get the best possible treatment available. Dr. Kent seems to think that by over medicating a patient…”
“That's a very strong accusation, Dr. Parker,” Lewis said and saw the anger in Kent's eyes.
“Yes, it is,” Kent snapped and stood up, bracing his hands on the desk as he spoke. “I do not over medicate my patients Dr. Parker. I simply use what is available to us in order to help them get back the lives they deserve.”
“Dr. Parker, can you substantiate your accusations?” Brady asked.
“I believe the notations on the charts and the medications the patients are given should be enough for a board of enquiry,” Parker answered.
“This is absurd! You're angry because I brought you before the board and I refuse to listen to any more of this diatribe!” Kent snarled.
“What are you afraid of Raymond? Are you afraid the board will see exactly what I see?” Parker asked with a hint of a smile.
“There's nothing on those charts that point to me over medicating the patients!” Kent spat.
“Then you won't mind us going through them?” Daniel Coburn said. He'd been silent during the meeting, but there was no way he could let this go, not if it meant getting rid of the man he thought mistreated patients.
“Of course not…but…”
“Paula, have Dr. Kent's records brought to my office this afternoon,” Lewis ordered.
“Yes, Doctor,” Paula Brady said and swallowed convulsively as Kent glared in her direction.
“Now that we've addressed the question of Dr. Kent's patients I believe we should adjourn…”
“You can't be serious!” Kent snapped. “I won't let you get away with this. I asked for this board of enquiry to talk about Dr. Parker's interference with my patients.”
“Perhaps Dr. Parker's interference will help save patients from over medication at your hands,” Coburn said.
“Those charges have yet to be substantiated, Dr. Coburn,” Lewis reminded him and stood up. “Dr. Kent, we will adjourn this meeting until tomorrow at which time we shall address the concerns of Dr. Coburn and Dr. Parker. If we find those to be unsubstantiated then we will address the charges you have brought against Dr. Parker. Is everyone in agreement on this?”
“No, I am not in agreement!” Kent snapped and stood up as he placed both hands on the table in front of him. “I have been at Shady Acres longer than most of you and I will not stand by while you let this woman ruin my reputation...”
“Your reputation is not in question, Dr. Kent,” Lewis said.
“Isn't it?” Kent spat.
“Perhaps, but the answers are easy to find once we go through your patient files. Paula will assist myself and the other board members and that way you can allay the charges brought by Dr. Parker,” Lewis explained as the other filed out of the room. “Paula, make sure there is plenty of coffee and have Dr. Coburn and Dr. Rideout meet me there as soon as they are finished with afternoon rounds. Dr. Parker, see that you stay away from Dr. Kent's patients until this matter is cleared up.”
“What about group therapy sessions this afternoon and tomorrow morning?” Parker asked.
“For now Dr. Kent's patient will not attend those sessions,” Lewis explained and saw the anger on Raymond Kent's face as the man strode out of the room. “Sam, you need to be careful where he's concerned.”
“I'm always careful, William,” Parker said and walked out of the room. She made her way toward the cafeteria and found Nathan Bradley anxiously waiting for her.
“Sam, how did it go?” Nathan asked when she was seated across from him, and fought the urge to tell Parker the real reason he was at Shady Acres.
“Better than I least they haven't fired me and it looks like they'll be looking into Kent's patient files,” Parker explained.
“That's good you think Kent was stupid enough to document everything he's given his patients?”
“He's egotistical enough to do just that,” Parker offered. “Have you seen Chris since this morning's session?”
“No,” Jackson answered simply and watched as a red faced Raymond Kent strode toward them.
“Dr. Bradley, you were assigned to me, but it appears you prefer Dr. Parker's company and since I despise being talked about behind my back I find no reason for you to stay at Shady Acres.”
“Dr. Bradley was hired by the board, Ray, and since you're already under investigation I doubt they'll listen to your whining where Nathan is concerned.”
“I no longer need or want your services, Dr. Bradley, so find yourself another doctor to shadow,” Kent spat and turned away.
“Be careful, Nathan, he's not someone you want as an enemy, but he's even worse as a doctor,” Parker said. “Nathan, why don't you join me for this afternoons session and then we'll talk to the board about your tenure here?”
“Thanks, Sam, that sounds like a plan,” Jackson told her.
JD stared at the computer and rubbed his eyes tiredly. The files were hard to find, but he'd managed to get through several layers of password-protected records.
“JD, you're making the rest of us look bad,” Melissa Tandy said as she pushed back from her computer and reached for her purse. “Did you hear me, JD?”
“I'm sorry, Melissa, did you say something?”
“Yes, I said you're making the rest of us look bad.”
“What?” Dunne asked.
“You've been at your computer all morning and haven't taken a break. It's lunch time...”
“I need to finish these files.”
“They can wait until after you eat. Come on, I brought plenty and it would be a shame for it to go to waste. There's a table near the rose garden and I'm not taking no for an answer,” Tandy said.
JD knew there was no way he could keep making excuses and reluctantly shut down the files he'd been looking through. He stood up and smiled when Melissa showed him the picnic basket and he took it from her. “So, what are we having?”
“Ham and cheese with a tossed salad and raspberry vinaigrette dressing,” Tandy answered.
“Sounds great,” Dunne said as they left the office.
Josiah waited until Rafael pulled the Limo into a parking spot and exited the vehicle just as Ezra did the same from his side. He'd watched the younger man during the trip to Shady Acres and knew the conman was doing his best to keep his emotions in check.
“Ezra, you can wait here if...”
“No, I need to be there,” Standish said and straightened to his full height before striding toward the main gate. He waited for Sanchez to catch up to him and was soon being escorted toward the secure area of the institution. He spotted JD sitting with several others beneath a large Weeping Willow, but did not acknowledge his presence.
Josiah watched the younger man closely and again wished this case was over, but if anyone could pull this off it was Ezra Standish. He'd seen Dunne and knew the younger man had seen them, but there was no way to speak with him until they met at the office when the day was over. The sound of the gate opening caught his attention and he followed the conman through it.
The concept of time had become something new for Chris Larabee as he struggled to gain control of the pain running rampant through his body. It was no longer measured by seconds and minutes, but by what part of him cried out for attention. The spasms in his lower back soon joined the screaming pain that raced along ragged nerves and ended in stabbing agony in his skull. Nausea churned through his gut and his throat burned from the bitter bile that rose up from his stomach and seeped past tightly clenched teeth.
Breathing became a chore that he was barely able to complete as his lungs felt ready to explode. His hands were fisted on the bed while the muscles in his neck corded and he fought against the nightmare images clouding his mind. He fought against the restraints, but the movements caused only more pain as he struggled to free himself from his torment.
“God!” he screamed, but there was no answer except the grinding of his teeth as he sank toward the dark images that invaded his subconscious.
Raymond Kent's anger had simmered to a slow boil throughout the afternoon, but he was sure he'd covered his tracks where his patients were concerned. He spotted Craig Styles near the main desk nursing station and quickly made his way over to him.
“Craig, are you busy?”
“No, Dr. Kent, things have been quiet today,” Styles told him. “Is there something you wanted me to do?
“As a matter of fact there is. I want Jacobson taken outside for some air and then I want you to bring him to my office. See that he's given something to eat as well.”
“Yes, sir,” Styles said with a grin and followed the psychiatrist toward the patient's room. He felt a heady sense of control at the thought of making Chris Jacobson's life a living hell, and hoped the drug he'd supplied Kent with was working the way they expected.
“I want you to do something to make Jacobson angry while his brother is here and see that there's something around them he can get his hands on and use as a weapon!” Kent ordered when he was sure there was no one around to hear them.
“You want him dead?”
“Not yet, but I'd like to see him attack his brother. Do you think you can get him to do that?”
“Are you kidding? It wouldn't take much to put Jacobson over the edge. I'll make sure it happens...”
“Good and make sure Chris manages to escape your clutches. I need to make sure those drugs are out of his system in case that bitch Parker convinces the board to do blood tests on him.”
“Do you want me to take care of her?”
“Not yet...wait until the heat is off,” Kent said and unlocked the door to Jacobson's room.
Chris heard the door open and turned slowly toward it as footsteps neared his bed. He frowned and licked at dry lips, before trying to speak, only to have the words turn into a rasping cough.
“Well, Chris, I hope you're feeling more cooperative than you were earlier,” Kent said.
“Hell, Doc, look I've had enough of this shit and really need to get out of here.”
“I'm sure you do, but as I keep telling you it won't happen until you learn to control your temper. Now, your brother is waiting to see you, but I'm not sure it's a good idea,” the psychiatrist observed.
“Dr. Kent, I know Chris missed lunch and Dr. Parker thought it best if I brought him a light tray,” Katrina Morgan said.
“Very well,” Kent said, hiding his anger as he released his patient from the restraints. “Chris...”
“I'm not hungry,” Larabee said.
“Do you want to go outside?” Kent asked.
“I thought I lost my privileges?”
“You did, but I am feeling a little generous and am hopeful that you'll be more cooperative,” Kent said and knew the blond was still feeling the effects of the drug he'd been given. From what little he knew of the drug Styles supplied it would take some time to clear his system and would continue to cause pain and hallucinations right up until it was totally out of his blood stream. “Eat, and then Craig will take you outside.”
“I'm not hungry.”
“Then I guess you get to stay where you are,” Kent warned.
“Damn,” Larabee said, sitting up and rubbing at his temples when the room tilted on its axis.
“You need to eat, Chris,” Kent said and watched as Larabee reached for the glass of orange juice.
“I will...just not that hungry....stomach hurts,” Larabee told him.
“Then drink the juice and try the yogurt, but at least try to eat it. Craig, after he's done with his brother bring him to my office,” Kent ordered and left the room with Katrina Morgan.
“All right, Jacobson, finish up and we'll take a walk in the garden,” Styles said, smiling when the blond glared at him, but finished the juice and reached for the yogurt.
Buck looked up when he heard shuffling footsteps and was surprised to see Chris Larabee walking toward him with an orderly right beside him. He knew Vin was outside with several other patients and wished he could do something about the sonofabitch who was shadowing his friend. He kept sweeping the floor and tried to make eye contact with the blond, but Larabee seemed oblivious to his presence.
Buck spotted Nathan Jackson and Samantha Parker near the main desk and could see the worry in the medic's eyes as Larabee walked past him. There was nothing more he could do for now, but he was ready to end this thing before things got worse for his long time friend.
Buck glanced at the clock over the desk and knew it was time for his break. He motioned toward Jackson and hoped the man could take the time to meet him in the cafeteria. He put away his cleaning supplies and hurried toward the cafeteria where he grabbed a tray and spotted Jackson and Parker come in behind him.
“I'll see you later, Nathan,” Parker said and Buck was relieved when Jackson grabbed a tray and followed him outside to a table that was well away from the few people present.
“Nathan, did you see Chris?” Wilmington asked once the other man sat opposite him.
“I saw him...he looks like hell, but I'm hoping it's an act to keep Kent form doing anything else while the board goes over his patient files. Sam seems to think they'll find out he's been over medicating his patients.”
“Do you still think he's behind the murders?”
“Yeah, but what I think won't get him convicted. We need hard evidence.”
“What about telling the board that he's not a licensed psychiatrist?”
“That'll get him off the staff, but it won't help us get the evidence we need for a conviction,” the medic told him.
“Damn it, Nathan, we need to do something before Kent does anything else to Chris.”
“I know and believe me with Sam on our side we're that much closer to ending this case. Just hold on and maybe JD will come up with something more on those files.”
“I hope so...what about Ezra? He looked like he'd lost his best friend last night.”
“Do you blame him? He had to go along with the bastards and hope we can stop whatever they plan on doing to Chris. He and Josiah are supposed to visit Chris this afternoon.”
“Just hope Chris isn't so out of it that he blows his own cover. Then again if that happens then this case is over and we can all get the hell out of here,” Wilmington spat and toyed disinterestedly with the congealing stew on his plate.
“Just keep your eyes and ears open,” Jackson ordered.
“You too,” the ladies man said as the medic got up to leave.
Carl Sheppard leaned back with his hands clasped behind his head as he watched the grounds below his office window. He knew things were moving along and was already spending the money Ezra Jacobson had paid him. If Chris Jacobson drank the juice he would soon be on the wildest ride of his life, one that could possibly end in his death, but if it didn't then there was always tomorrow. Marcus Turner had given him several drugs that should be untraceable, but if they did show up in an autopsy then there were ways to keep the suspicions off him and his partner.
Carl was startled when the phone on his desk rang, but quickly picked it up and smiled when he heard the familiar voice. “Did everything go as planned?”
*“It did. This could be our last one for a while. We need to lie low until things settle down.”*
“I hear you and with this score I figure we might not need to kill anyone else,” Sheppard said.
*“I thought you enjoyed the control this gave us over the patients and their family?”*
“I do, but if we get greedy...”
*“If, Carl, I believe that's why we're doing this in the first place. Look, just make sure you keep the records straight and maybe we can put the blame for all this on someone else.”*
“Do you have someone in mind?”
*“Maybe, I'll let you know once we see what Jacobson does when he sees his brother.”*
“I'd love to be there to see it happen.”
*“So would I, but for now we need to back off. I will call you with further instructions if Jacobson survives this afternoon.”*
“Sounds good,” Sheppard said and returned his attention to the people walking along the path below his window. He knew his partner was right about backing off, but maybe they could bleed Ezra Jacobson for a little more as an added bonus. A smile formed on his face at the thought of extorting more money out of the self-righteous bastard without his partner knowing.
Chris walked slowly beside the orderly Kent had assigned him and tried to make sense of why he suddenly felt like he would spontaneously combust. He tugged at the neck of his shirt and blinked rapidly in an effort to clear his vision, and felt a hand latch onto his arm.
“What's the hell's the matter with you, Jacobson?”
“Dizzy,” Larabee managed, and tried to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.
“Maybe I should take you back inside,” Styles suggested with a hint of a smile as he looked around and made sure no one was close enough to hear him.
“Maybe...feel sick...head hurts...can't...”
“Here I thought you wanted to see that bastard brother of yours, but i guess I was wrong.”
“Brother?” Larabee whispered and his mind latched onto a name as the reason for his being here returned. “Ezra...kill the bastard.”
“I thought you wanted to go back inside?”
“I...don't know. Need...need to...”
“You need to show that miserable bastard who's in charge, Jacobson, or else you'll be stuck in here for the rest of your life while he spends your money. That weasel put you in here so he could take everything for himself. Are you going to let him away with that, Chris?”
“No, won't let hi...him,” Larabee mumbled as anger surged through his body while fire raged through his veins. He was sure there was something he needed to know, but all that mattered was taking back what belonged to him. Ezra was the reason he was here. Ezra was behind the agony twisting through his skull and the bitter taste of bile that burned in his throat. Ezra was the reason he was no longer free. Ezra was his brother...his Cain and he was damn well going to slay the miserable sonofabitch.
“How are you gonna stop him, Jacobson? How are you gonna make him pay for putting you in here?”
“Find a ...find a way,” Larabee said and shook with the force of the anger enshrouding his mind. He could hear Ezra's taunting voice telling him he wasn't leaving Shady Acres. He could feel the rage and shock when the needle was shoved into his arm. He could hear Ezra's laughter and his teasing word that cut him to the core. His brother...his bastard brother had done this to him.
“I can give you what you need, Chris. If you really want to make your bastard brother pay for putting you in here I can help you,” Styles told him and saw the rage in the green eyes. There was a madness to the way the man breathed through his nose, a promise of redemption against the man who'd put him in here and Styles knew he had him right where he wanted him.
“Why would you help me?” Larabee asked and fought the nauseating pain that had him in a vice like grip.
“I don't like you, Chris, but your brother is a self-righteous bastard and needs to be brought down a peg. Least that's how I see him, but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe you enjoy being in here and having someone else in control of your life. Telling you when to eat, when to sleep, forcing you to take those medications and telling you they'll help you, but we both know they're lying to you, Chris. We both know they're poisoning you...Ezra's paying them to do it so he can have all the money for himself. Are you gonna let him get away with it or do you want my help?”
Chris felt as if his head was ready to explode, and knew there was something he was missing, but the other man's words were making it hard for him to think past the need to see Ezra dead. It became the only thing that his body and mind required as he spotted the man seated so smugly at the picnic table across the garden.
“Did you hear me, Chris? Do you want to kill the bastard for what he did to you?” Styles said and knew the drug they'd given the man was controlling his thoughts and opening him up for suggestions.
“How? W...what can I use?” Larabee asked, his tongue sticking slightly out of his partially open mouth.
“I found these at the nurse's desk...think you can hide them until you're close enough. Imagine the surprise on the bastard's face when you use it. Come on, Jacobson, you won't have another chance,” Styles said and pressed the scissors into the outstretched hand. “I heard your brother talking to Kent and he's going to increase your medications again. I think he's trying to kill you, Chris...are you gonna let him away with it?”
“Hide it until you're close enough to use them, Jacobson, or you'll lose your chance and I guarantee you won't get another one,” Styles said as the patient hid the scissors in the waistband of his pants and covered it with his shirt. He saw madness when he looked into the man's eyes and almost felt sorry for his brother...almost.
Chris could feel the cold steel against his heated flesh as beads of sweat formed on his brow and slowly trailed down his cheeks. He walked slowly toward the two men at the picnic table and tried to make sense of what was happening. He knew there was something he needed to remember, but could only feel the deep seeded need to wipe the smug look off his 'brother's' face.
“Better not let on that you got a plan, Jacobson,” Styles said as they neared the visitors.
Chris nodded and lowered his head, fighting the waves of nauseating dizziness as he tried to place one foot in front of the other. His body shook and he found it hard to think as he neared the picnic table. The one thing that was clear in his mind was the need to show his 'brother' who was in control. There was nothing else except the cold instrument tucked inside the band of his pants. He lifted his head and stared at the two men as they stood to greet him.
“Hello, Chris, are you feeling okay?” Ezra asked.
“I'm fine, Brother Dear! Where's your bitch today or...”
“Chris, there's no need...”
“I wasn't talking to you, Preacher, I was talking to my leech of a brother. Did you lose more money at the crap tables, Ezra?”
“How many people did you cheat today?” Larabee asked, his eyes glazed as he stood toe to toe with the man who had suddenly become his worst enemy.
“I have never cheated...”
“You're a fucking liar, Ezra! You cheat everyone and you think you can control me just by putting me in here! Not fucking likely!”
“Craig, is there a problem?” Parker asked as she hurried toward the heated scene.
“Chris, you need to calm down,” Ezra tried and was shocked by the look that came over Larabee's face.
Chris could hear the damning words that had put him in this place, but he could not make sense of them. His head felt as if it would explode as pressure built inside his skull. He knew there was something he had to do as several voices spoke to him at once. The sound echoing and re-echoing through his skull in a surging tide that threatened to drown him. With a scream of rage and pain he pulled the scissors from the band of his pants and drove them into the chest of the man he thought was behind his loss of control.
Chris pulled back on the scissors, ready to drive them into the man's chest once more, but someone grabbed his wrist and twisted it until he lost his grip. Rage and pain were all he felt as he stared at the man who was both familiar and a stranger. He fought with everything he had and stared into the blue depths set in a face that terrified him. He bared his teeth and screamed when another set of hands tried t grab him.
Josiah had no idea what was wrong with Chris Larabee, but the man was like a raging tiger with the added strength of a gorilla and the rage of a rabid dog. He grabbed the flailing arms just as the orderly moved in, but Chris managed to pull away from him and duck under Styles arms and raced toward one of the buildings near the edge of the property.
Josiah wanted to go after Larabee, but one look at Ezra told him the man was losing more blood than he could afford and he quickly pulled open his jacket and ripped off part of his shirt as alarms began to sound. He pulled Standish's shirt open and pressed down on the wound.
“Who are you?” Sanchez asked.
“Samantha Parker...I'm a psychiatrist, but I can help and Dr. Mercer is in the building checking on several patients,” Parker explained and motioned to a second orderly standing nearby. “Get a gurney and...”
“We need an ambulance,” Sanchez said.
“We have a fully functional emergency room,” Parker assured him. “We need to get the bleeding stopped and then worry about moving him to a larger facility.”
Josiah looked to his right at the sound of running feet and recognized Vin Tanner, but did not show any sign that he knew him as Parker began giving orders. He knew the Texan wanted answers, but the case had to come first until they found out who was behind the murders or all this was for nothing. He returned his attention to the gambler as a nurse and orderly hurried toward them pushing a gurney.
“Jo...Josiah...Chris...find him,” Standish managed.
“We'll find your brother, Ezra, you just relax and let them help you,” Sanchez said, inwardly fighting the urge to go after Larabee.
“The hospital is in lock down right now. We'll find Chris and see that he gets the help he needs. Perhaps Dr. Kent was right in treating him aggressively,” Parker said as she moved back to allow the orderlies to lift the injured man onto a stretcher. She grabbed a side and raced along with them toward the main building.
“What the hell happened, Josiah?” Tanner asked angrily.
“I'm not sure, but something set Chris off...we need to find him.”
“Vincent, I need you to help contain the patients and make sure they go to their rooms,” Parker ordered.
“Go, Vin, I'll see what I can find out about Chris,” Sanchez said and knew how hard it was for the Texan to turn away.
Chris ran as if his life depended on it, but he couldn't figure out why he needed to run. His right hand held something cold, but it was the blood that covered his fingers that told him he'd done something terrible. There was some kind of noise, screeching at him like a flock of wild birds taking flight and squawking at him as if he'd stolen something from their nest.
He raced across the well-manicured lawn and spotted a small structure in the distance. He had no idea what it was, but it might offer him sanctuary until the fucking birds left. He heard someone behind him, and glanced over his shoulder, but what he saw sent a chill down his spine and gave him the strength he needed to go on. He reached the building, and tried the door, but found it locked. He struck out at it with the object in his right hand, and cursed when it remained closed.
Chris turned and lifted the scissors in an attacking motion, his eyes dark with fury as he stared at the being clothed in white. “Fuck...fucking kill you.”
“Easy, Jacobson, I'm going to help you,” Styles said, relieved that no one was within earshot. “You're in trouble, Jacobson, but I can help you. You want to hide until they get your brother out of here don't you?”
“Killed him...killed the bastard.”
“No, you didn't kill him, Jacobson, but I can make sure no one finds you.”
“Why me?” the blond asked, fighting the nauseating bile that rose in his throat.
“I don't like men like your brother. They're self-righteous bastards who think only of themselves. It wasn't your fault that he got what he deserved.”
“Deserved more...fuckin' cheat...never did him...”
“Let me open the door for you and I'll keep everyone away until I can help get you out of here,” Styles said, relieved when the other man lowered the scissors slightly. “That's it...just move back a little.”
Chris stared at the man as he moved away from the door, but kept the weapon ready in case he tried anything. He kept looking around, searching for anyone who might be carrying needles, but there seemed to be no one around except him and his benefactor.
“Go on in, Chris, and I'll come back to check on you in a little while,” Styles said.
Chris nodded and ducked inside the small shed. He moved deeper as the door closed and left him in total darkness. He leaned against the wall and edged his way along until he came to a corner. He sank to the floor and stretched his legs out in front of him with his hands on his lap. His head felt ready to explode and he turned to his right as noxious bile rose up in his throat. Again and again he vomited until there was nothing left but dry heaves.
Chris had no idea what was happening to him and could not think straight as he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. There was something he had to do, but for the life of him he couldn't put together a clear thought as he shuddered uncontrollably and drew his knees up so that he could wrap his arms around them. He rocked back and forth, eyes darting left and right as he made stabbing motions at things his mind conjured up.
JD looked up as the strange sound reached his ears and knew something bad had happened by the look on Melissa's face. “What is that?”
“That's the alarm from the secure area,” Melissa told him. “We need to get back to the office and make sure the security protocols are in place.”
“Isn't security done from their own office?”
“It is, but we have to make sure everything is logged so that the administration can prove they did everything by the book,” Melissa explained as she threw everything in the picnic basket and hurried toward the building.
JD swallowed several times and glanced over his shoulder before following the woman. He silently prayed the alarm had nothing to do with Chris or Ezra, but something told him trouble had come calling with a capital 'T'.
Raymond Kent had seen the gurney pushed through the main doors and smiled inwardly when he thought of the Jacobson brothers. He'd seen who the injured man was and knew Styles had managed to get Chris to attack his brother. Now he just needed to find Styles and figure out what to do with Jacobson.
“Dr. Kent, what's happening?” Jackson asked.
“There's some kind of emergency, Dr. Bradley. We need to make sure all the patients are accounted for and keep them calm until we find out exactly what's going on,” Kent explained.
“What do you want me to do?” Jackson asked. He wanted to check on Chris, but he needed to keep up appearances if they were going to continue the case.
“Come with me,” Kent said and led the man toward the patient rooms. “You check with the desk and see if there are any patients unaccounted for and help out if they need you. I'll meet you back here in an hour.”
“All right,” Jackson said, wishing someone would kill the alarm that was bordering on painful.
Kent hurried away from Bradley and made his way to the main door that led outside. He waited for the guard to open it and hurried through it as Craig Styles and Carl Sheppard strode toward him.
“Dr. Kent, tell me you know where Chris Jacobson is,” Sheppard said.
“He was supposed to be with Craig. Tell me the alarms are not because of something he did?” Kent snapped.
“He went nuts when he saw his brother. I tried to stop him, but he took off after he stabbed...”
“Stabbed who?” Kent asked.
“Craig said Chris stabbed Ezra before he took off. Security is searching for him, but they haven't found him yet,” Sheppard explained. “I need to go inside and see that no one else was hurt and make sure the family members who are visiting are escorted safely off the property.”
“Dr. Parker is with Jacobson and Dr. Mercer is on his way. Dr. Bradley is helping the nurses make sure the patients are in their rooms,” Kent said, and saw the hint of a smile on Styles' face. “Craig, did you see which way Jacobson went?”
“Yes, Sir,” Styles said.
“Show me where he went,” Kent said as Sheppard went into the building.
“I know where he is,” the orderly said.
“Good, I want you to keep him hidden until I'm ready for him,” Kent said and took a bottle of water from his pocket. “Can you get to him without anyone seeing you?”
“Think so,” Styles told him and slipped the bottle inside his coat.
“See that he drinks that.”
“What is it?”
“What the hell do you think it is?” Kent snapped.
“You planning on keeping him high?”
“Is that what you call it?” Kent asked. “I thought this stuff caused hallucinations?”
“It does...and it'll be hard for him to come down,” Styles explained.
“I don't think he'll live long enough to come down,” Kent said. “Make sure you give that to him and then help with the other patients.”
“Yes, Sir,” Styles said and hurried away.
Kent turned and went back inside the building where nurses and orderlies seemed to have taken control of the chaos. He spotted Daniel Coburn speaking with Katrina Morgan and walked toward them. “Have you heard what happened?”
“Carl told us Jacobson stabbed his brother,” Coburn answered.
“How is he?”
“Dr. Mercer and Dr. Parker are in with him now,” Coburn said. “There's an ambulance on the way because his injuries are too severe for Mercer to deal with.”
“Where's Chris? Have they found him yet?” Morgan asked.
“Not yet, but they're looking for him,” Kent answered. “I'm going to see if I can help calm the two should do the same.”
“We have been and most of them are secured in their rooms right now,” Coburn snapped.
“Then I guess we'll just have to hope security finds Jacobson and brings him back here for treatment. I knew his anger was worse than we thought and you under-medicating him only made things worse!” Kent said and strode away before either of them had a chance to say anything.
Ryan Mercer hurried into the room just as Parker was setting up an IV for the injured man. He didn't recognize the older man who seemed to be putting pressure on a wound in the man's chest. “Sam, what happened? Who is this man?”
“This is Ezra Jacobson. His brother is a patient here and he stabbed Ezra.”
“Who are you?” Mercer asked and shouldered Sanchez out of the way.
“My name is Josiah Arnott. I'm a close friend of the family,” the ex-preacher answered.
“Well, Josiah, I don't think you're needed here right now and this is an open wound so I'd rather keep the area as sterile as possible. Please wait outside and I'll update you as soon as I can,” Mercer ordered as a nurse entered the room and moved to help Parker.
“Go ahead, Josiah, there's nothing you can do for him right now,” Parker told the worried man.
“Okay, Sam, what do we have,” Mercer asked and listened while she rattled off the man's vitals. He knew what they were dealing with on the surface, but from the way the man's breath wheezed from his body he suspected they were dealing with a punctured lung. He could deal with it for now, but the sooner they transported him to the nearest trauma center the better.
“Nurse, get another IV started and run the fluids wide open. How long ago was the ambulance called?”
“About twenty minutes ago,” Parker answered and checked the injured man's blood pressure again.
Ezra could hear unfamiliar voices speaking around him, but it felt like a heavy weight was pressing down on his chest and it was getting harder to breathe. He opened his eyes, swallowed convulsively and tried to reach for the burning fire that had erupted in his upper body.
“Just be still, Ezra,” Parker ordered and gently pressed his hands back down.
“You were hurt, but you're going to be fine,” Parker said as Mercer used the stethoscope to listen to his chest.
“Har...hard to bre...breathe...”
“It sounds like his lung was punctured,” Mercer said and placed a hand on the patient's right shoulder as he spoke. “Ezra, I'm going to set up for a chest tube. Dr. Parker is going to give you something for pain and I'll freeze the area. Just try to relax and we'll get you taken care of.”
“Where...where's Chris?”
“Chris is fine, Ezra, it's you we're all worried about,” Parker said and injected the medication into the IV line.
Ezra suddenly found his throat had gone dry and tried to moisten his lips, but could not manage even that small task as he looked at the man beside his bed. His eyelids grew heavy and he felt something sharp enter his side as images formed and dissolved against an unfamiliar background.
“Go ahead and sleep, Ezra, everything's going to be fine.”
Ezra wasn't sure who said the words, but God, it sounded like the best advice he'd ever been given. The only problem was he knew there was something he needed to do. Someone he needed to talk to, someone who needed his help.
Chris shifted slightly, licking at the saliva that dribbled past his lips. He tried to think, but his head hurt too much and his heart seemed to beat so fast he was sure it would explode through his ribs. He heard something nearby and froze, his breathing harsh as the door opened and he lifted the only weapon he had. He managed to climb to his feet and keep the wall at his back when the door opened and he saw a dark form silhouetted by the late evening light.
“Easy, Big Guy, it's just me. I told you I'd come back to help you.”
“Wha...fuck do you want?” the blond snarled, teeth bared and eyes flashing dangerously as he kept the scissors pointed at the newcomer.
“I brought you something to drink and later I'll see about getting you some food,” Styles said and closed the door before turning on a flashlight and offering the bottle of tainted water. He motioned with it several times until the patient reached tentatively for it. “Go ahead, Chris, I know you must be thirsty.”
“Wa...water,” the blond said and snatched the bottle while keeping the scissors pointed in the man's direction. “Stay the fu...fuck away from”
“Sure, but I have to come back if I'm going to help you,” Styles told him and watched as the other man fumbled with the cap until he finally managed to get it off and then dropped it while tipping the bottle to his lips.
Chris had never tasted anything so good and downed half the bottle before taking the time to breathe. He wiped at his mouth, frowning when he saw the blood on his hands. “What the hell...need a show...shower.”
“I'll come get you when there's a free shower, but right now you need to rest. They're still looking for you.”
“Looking for me?” the blond asked and slowly slid back to the floor. He finished the water and let the bottle drop to the floor as he concentrated on the blood on his hands. “Killed my deser...deserved to die.”
“Yes, he did, Chris, now just rest until everything calms down and I'll be back for you,” Styles said and smiled when Jacobson moaned and grabbed his gut.
Chris dropped the scissors as he lay on his side and curled into a ball. The fire in his gut was far worse than it had been and he rocked back and forth in an effort to ease the torment. Nothing helped, but he heard the door open and was soon bathed in darkness as the other man left.
Chris tried to make sense of the images that flashed through his mind, but couldn't quite grasp what they meant. He saw blood, heard a cry of pain, saw the face of a man he trusted, yet he felt betrayed and couldn't figure out why. Who was this man and why had he felt compelled to kill him? Where were his friends and why didn't they come to help him? He closed his eyes as tiny beads of perspiration formed on his brow and heat built around him. It wasn't long before his body was wracked by convulsions and he ground his teeth together as the muscles in his neck corded and he twisted his body in an effort to get rid of the pain.
Carl Sheppard looked at the people gathered around the main nursing station as the alarm was finally silenced. The patients were all back in their rooms, except for Chris Jacobson and a thorough search was on the way for him. He knew his partner had given Jacobson the psychotic drug, but didn't think it was strong enough to kill him.
“Carl, security is still searching for Jacobson, but so far they've come up empty,” Coburn said and looked at the clipboard showing where each patient was.
“He can't have gone far. The alarm went off pretty fast and he would not have been able to get through the main gate,” Sheppard explained.
“He's in good shape and could have gone over the wall,” Morgan added.
“Maybe, but someone on the outer grounds would have seen him,” Sheppard said as Samantha Parker joined them. “How is Jacobson?”
“He suffered a punctured lung. Dr. Mercer put in a chest tube and the ambulance just arrived so they're getting him ready for transport,” Parker answered.
“What does Ryan have to say about his chances?” Coburn asked.
“He should be okay, but he'll be spending some time in the hospital,” Parker told them and spotted Nathan Bradley speaking with one of the cleaners at the end of the corridor. She'd seen the man before, but something about the way they looked at each other spoke of a familiarity that made her frown.
“Dr. Parker, were you present when all this took place?” Sheppard asked.
“I was there,” the woman answered.
“Perhaps I could have a word with you in private concerning possible lawsuits by Ezra Jacobson?”
“Of course,” Parker said and walked away from the group. She entered one of the rooms used for therapy and checked to make sure the cameras were turned off before speaking. “We need to find Jacobson before anyone else does.”
“We will, but we need to wait until things calm down,” Sheppard told her. “I knew he was dangerous, but you wanted to play your games with him.”
“It wasn't a game, Carl, it was a way to show his brother we could handle things,” Parker said and paced back and forth.
“We certainly made a mess of that. We should cut our losses and get the hell out of here.”
“That wouldn't help. If they investigate then we'd be at the top of their list of suspects. Look, I've laid the groundwork to make everyone suspicious of Ray, and just maybe this little fiasco is our way out without anyone being the wiser. We just need to keep our heads until Jacobson is found.”
“He'll be a mess with that drug you gave him.”
“Exactly and what better way to get rid of both problems at once. Security is searching for Jacobson so we just need to send them on a wild goose chase and go after Chris ourselves. We find him and convince him Kent is working with his brother. His anger and a little prodding from us will send his anger crashing down on Kent.”
“So many things could go wrong with that plan,” Sheppard told her.
“Could it possibly be any worse than what's happening now?” Parker snapped.
“I guess not, but how do we find Jacobson?”
“First we get security looking outside the secure area, then we offer Styles a little bonus to help us find him. He knows where a patient can hide better than anyone,” Parker answered.
“Styles works closely with Kent?”
“So what, Styles would sell out his own mother if there was money involved,” Parker told him.
“True, the man has no morals.”
“And we do?” Parker finished with a hint of a smile. “Look, see what you can do about getting security to search outside the grounds and I'll speak with Styles. If all goes well this little mess should be cleaned up by tomorrow.”
“I'll see what I can do,” Sheppard said and followed the woman out the door. Things seemed to have calmed down and it seemed as if things were returning to normal.
“What the hell are we going to do about Chris?” Wilmington asked Jackson when he was sure no one was within earshot. Tanner was also present and he knew the Texan felt the same way he did.
“Not sure there's anything we can do at this point, Buck. Josiah went in the ambulance with Ezra, and everything is still in place as far as the assignment goes. Security is searching for Chris and once they find him we can decide what to do about the case.”
“I say we pull the plug right now. Who knows what the hell was done to Chris, but you can be sure it's bad because there's no way in hell he would have stabbed Ezra if he was in his right mind,” Wilmington said.
“Nathan, can I speak with you for a minute?” Coburn asked when he noticed the two men standing away from the others.
“Have you heard anything about Chris?” Jackson asked.
“Someone spotted him on the outer grounds and the police have been called in. That's why I wanted to talk to you. I think it's time to call a halt to this before anyone else gets hurt. If the police believe we have an escaped patient who's considered armed and dangerous then they'll treat him that way and he could be hurt,” Coburn explained.
“I ain't gonna argue with ya 'bout that. It's time we started lookin' fer him,” Tanner said.
“You won't be able to until the lock down is called off,” Coburn told them.
“Ain't much of a lock down if'n Chris got out before anyone caught him,” the Texan advised.
“That's something we'll have to speak to the board about once this is over,” Coburn offered. “If it's any consolation I believe you boys were on the right track with Kent and once the board goes over his case files they'll probably order an investigation into his other patients.”
“It don't do Chris any good right now,” Tanner said.
“Maybe not, but at least it opens the door for a complete investigation into his activities,” Coburn said. “The other patients will stay in their rooms until we're sure there's no danger. Meanwhile I'd like your help in keeping everything under control here.”
“Nathan, we need to get word to Orin and find out what's happening with Ezra,” Wilmington said.
“I'll call Orin and fill him in,” Jackson assured them and wished he could ease the worry he saw in their eyes.
Chris cowered in fear of the creatures his mind conjured up and latched onto the hatred he felt toward his 'brother'. Ezra had put him in here; Ezra had signed the papers and made sure there was no way out for him. There were others involved...a preacher...and a woman named James.
Chris chuckled at the thought of a woman being called James, but groaned as his gut burned like an unquenchable inferno. He had no sense of time, but he needed to relieve himself and God, he was so damn thirsty. He tried to get to his feet, but his legs refused to hold him. He tried to crawl, but even that seemed an impossible task as pain shot through his joints.
“God damn you, Ezra!” Chris cried out, his voice rasping through tightly clenched teeth as he struggled to get past the pain. It was an impossible feat, and he blinked several times in an effort to orient himself with his surroundings. Where the hell was he? How the fuck was he going to escape if he couldn't even crawl? Where was the bastard who said he'd help him?
Chris rolled onto his back, but held tight to the scissors as if they were the key to his finding an escape from the hell around him.
JD knew things had gone wrong and was quickly sending things to his own computer at the office so that he could go over everything more carefully. News of the stabbing had reached them and that Chris Jacobson was behind it and had escaped the secure area had sent everyone into a panic. He'd been forced to remain where he was because there was nothing he could do until the police allowed access to the secure grounds.
Melissa Tandy was at her computer, but she was talking to someone on the phone rather than working and JD hoped she would not notice what he was doing. He silently wished he could contact the others, but for now he needed to keep up appearances.
The files he was downloading were ones that had been inaccessible until he found the right password. Now he'd be able to access Kent's files from The Firm's office. He knew that between him and Ezra they could easily get through the back door and find out exactly what Kent had been up to. He frowned when he noticed something he hadn't seen before and sent a link along with the rest of the files.
Craig Styles looked up when he heard someone call his name and smiled at the pretty woman walking toward him. Things had calmed down somewhat, and the search for Jacobson was no longer concentrated on the secure area of the facility. “What can I do for you, Dr. Parker?”
“We need to talk,” Parker said and motioned for him to follow her outside.
“What's going on?” Styles asked, confused by the woman's behavior.
“How would you like to make some extra cash?”
“I'm all for extra cash, Doc. What do you have in mind?”
“I know you work closely with Dr. Kent...”
“I just do my job.”
“Cut the crap, Styles and listen for a change. I've got a proposition that could net you a tidy sum as long as you're willing to do something without question.”
“Depends on what you want,” Styles told her.
“I want you to find Jacobson and make sure he stays hidden until I say so...”
“I heard he escaped.”
“You don't believe that any more than I do. Look, I'm willing to pay you five grand if you do this.”
“Make it ten and I'll not only find Jacobson I'll make sure he stays out of your way.”
“I don't want him to stay out of my way...I want him to help take care of another problem I have,” Parker explained.
“What problem is that?”
“Kent,” Parker said and saw the greed in the man's eyes. “I want Jacobson to take care of him for me. Do you think you can find Jacobson? If you can I just might be inclined to cut you in on other assignments.”
“I might be able to, but I don't work cheap, Doc,” Styles said, already counting the promised cash.
“I expect you to do what I say without question then,” Parker said. “Find Jacobson and make sure you come to me.”
“I don't need to.”
“What do you mean?” Parker asked.
“I already know where Jacobson is,” Styles told her.
“Where is he?”
“In the gardener's shed. Kent had me lace his water with a street drug that causes hallucinations.”
“How long ago was that?”
“About two...maybe three hours since I gave him the water,” Styles answered.
“Does he have anything he can use as a weapon?”
“He still has the scissors. Kent is supposed to let me know what he wants to do next,” Styles explained.
“Is there any way you can get Jacobson inside without anyone seeing him?”
“Maybe during the shift change. It's the best time and sometimes we can slip in through the back while the staff is leaving,” Styles told her. “What do you have in mind?”
“I want Kent dead...doesn't mater how, but if you can make it look like Jacobson killed him then there'll be a bonus in it for you.”
“I can get him inside and if I convince him that Kent is working for his brother then it'll be easy to get Jacobson to take the good doctor down. If not, I can always kill Kent and see that Jacobson takes the fall for it,” Styles explained.
“Just as long as you make sure Kent and Jacobson are taken care of.”
“That'll cost you extra,” Styles told her.
“I'll double my offer if you can get this done in the next two hours,” Parker said.
“That's not much time, but if you can make sure the back door is left open a little and the cameras in that area are shut down then I should be able to get Jacobson to Kent's office without much trouble,” Styles explained.
“You get this done right and I promise there'll be more money in it for you,” Parker assured him and saw the hint of a smile on the man's face. “Look, here's what I want you to do...bring Jacobson around the back and I'll meet you there with Kent and between us we can make sure neither man is capable of ruining what we have here.”
“All right, Doc, looks like you and me got a deal,” Styles said and watched her leave. He could do a lot with the money she was offering and wondered just how much he could milk her for once Kent was out of the way. He pushed his hands into his pockets and whistled softly as he hurried toward the gardener's shed.
Raymond Kent cursed as he searched through his files and tried to delete the ones that could cost him his position at Shady Acres. Someone had been digging through his files, but there was no way they could get to the ones he'd hidden with a series of passwords. He glanced toward the clock above his door and knew he'd have to meet Styles in order to deal with Chris Jacobson, but if someone had found a way into his secret files then he was in more trouble than he'd originally thought. Being fired for practicing without a license was the least of his problems.
Kent tapped several keys, but found access to his files blocked and cursed as he tried to make sense of what was happening. Everything seemed to be snowballing since Chris Jacobson had been committed to the facility. The sonofabitch was costing him everything he'd worked so hard for. A knock on his door made him jump and he cursed when Samantha Parker opened the door and stepped inside.
“It's common courtesy to wait for permission to enter, Dr. Parker,” he snapped impatiently.
“I'm sorry, Ray, am I interrupting something important?”
“As a matter of fact...”
“Sorry, but I thought you'd like to know that your patient is being brought in. I figured you'd like to see him before the police got hold of him. I know how concerned you are for his welfare and maybe you'll be able to talk him down,” Parker said.
“How do you know they found him?” Kent asked worriedly.
“I heard it from Vince and Dr. Bradley,” Parker told him. “I sent Craig to see if he can get to Chris before anyone makes it worse for him. He's your patient, Ray, and I thought we could call a truce so that he gets the treatment he needs, I do apologize if I'm wrong.”
“Do you know what way they're bringing him in?” Kent asked.
“Through the back door. Carl has arranged to have him brought in that way so that things are kept under wraps until we're sure Jacobson isn't a danger to anyone else,” Parker lied, turning away when Kent closed his laptop and made his way to the door.
“Are you coming?”
“I'd like to, Ray, because contrary to what you think I'm on your side,” Parker told him and stepped through the door with Kent directly behind her. She slid her hand inside the pocket of her lab coat and smiled when her fingers touched against the gun she'd carefully hidden there. One way or another her troubles would be over today.
Craig Styles quickly made his way to the shed and opened the door, grimacing in disgust at the smell of vomit that sickened his stomach. He shone the flashlight inside and spotted Jacobson curled into a ball in the corner. The man was making strange mewling sounds as he rocked slightly back and forth.
“Come on Chris, it's time to finish this.”
“Who...who the fuck a...are you?” the blond said, trying to get to his feet as the newcomer entered and bright light stabbed at his eyes.
“I'm your white knight, Jacobson. I'm going to take you to the man behind your torment. Dr. Kent wants to see you...”
“ more fuck....fucking needles,” Larabee spat and held the scissors in front of him as the other man came closer.
“No, we'll make sure he doesn't use any needles on you, stopped your brother and now you can stop Dr. Kent from taking what belongs to you,” Styles said. “Come on and I'll take you in the back way so we can surprise Kent.”
“Why?” Larabee asked.
“Why what?”
“Why...helping me?”
“Because I don't like what the bastard does to his patients and want to help put a stop to it. So tell you want to take Kent down?”
“Hard to w...walk...hurt...every...everywhere.”
“I'm sure it does, but once you take care of Kent the real doctors will help you and then you can take back what's yours,” Styles said and carefully helped the other man stand, disgusted by the smell of vomit and urine.
Josiah paced from one end of the waiting room to the other, glancing at the doorway each time he heard approaching footsteps. Two hours had passed since they'd taken Ezra to surgery to repair the internal damage cause by the scissors, and he'd updated Nathan as to what was going on.
“Josiah, has there been any word?” Orin Travis asked upon entering the SICU waiting room to find the other man wearing a groove in the floor.
“Not since I called you. Nathan says they're still looking for Chris and we're pretty certain Kent is behind the murders. JD was able to figure out a couple of passwords and sent the files to the computers at the office. We'll go through them as soon as we can,” Sanchez explained.
“What did Stacey have to say about Ezra?”
“Just what I told you, a punctured lung and some other damage that can only be repaired through surgery. Silverman was on call tonight so Ezra's got the best working on him.”
“Have you eaten?”
“Not yet,” Sanchez answered.
“It could be some time before there's news of Ezra so why don't you go grab something to eat. I'll stay here and call you if there's anything new,” Travis explained.
“Orin, this...”
“You don't need to say it, Josiah,” Travis said. “I'll call Daniel and tell him what we know and that we'll continue to search through Kent's files, but that the undercover part of the operation is officially over.”
“ A day late,” Sanchez said softly before leaving the room.
Buck, Nathan, and Vin had already spoken with the police and offered to help search for the missing man, but the officers were unfamiliar with them and denied them access to any information until they spoke with their supervisor. That wouldn't happen until they completed a search of the outer grounds.
Buck's phone rang and he reached inside, cursing when he realized who the call was from and that they'd forgotten all about the youngest member of the team. “JD, where are you?”
*“I'm still in the office, Buck, what the hell's going on in there?”*
“Look, Kid, I'm sorry I didn't call you earlier, but there's been trouble...”
*“No shit...the lock down and alarms didn't tip me off.”*
“JD, just be quiet and listen. Ezra's been hurt bad and they took him out of here in an ambulance. Josiah's gone with him, but there's no word on his condition except that he's critical.”
*“What the hell happened to him?”*
“We're not sure of the whole story, JD, but it looks like Chris stabbed him with a pair of scissors,” Wilmington explained.
*“No way in hell...”*
“That' s what we all said, but Josiah saw it happen, JD,” Wilmington said. “I'll call you as soon as I hear anything else.”
*“The police just said we can leave, but...”*
“Go to the hospital and stay with Josiah, Kid, there's nothing more you can do here right now,” Wilmington told him.
*“All right...but we need to go to the office and check out a few things.”*
“We soon as things here get straightened out,” the worried man said, purposefully leaving out the fact that Larabee was still missing.
*“ careful, Buck.”*
Buck placed his phone back in his pocket and rubbed at tired eyes. “We need to find Chris...”
“And just how do we do that?” Jackson asked.
“If the rumors are right and he left the secure area then...”
“I don't think he did,” Tanner said and looked at the two men. “Think about it...Chris was drugged by Kent and he wasn't thinking straight. Where the hell would he go especially when he thinks everyone is out to get him. I think he's close by and we need to find him before anything else happens ta him.”
“Where do you propose we start?”
“Start with the unused rooms and the offices. If he got inside he might have gone to ground until he felt it was safe to come out,” Tanner told them.
“At least we'll be doing something better than sitting here doing nothing,” Jackson said.
Chris struggled to stay on his feet and licked at dry lips as the man he leaned on reached for the door and pulled it open. His head hurt and his stomach lurched with each step he'd taken. The cold metal in his hand gave him the strength and confidence he needed, but there was something wrong with the blood that coated his hand.
Where had it come from? Had he hurt someone? Did the blood belong to someone he knew.
“All right, Jacobson, let's do this,” Styles said and held the door for the other man.
Chris tried to work up enough moisture to wet his lips, but there just didn't seem to be enough saliva to form words. He stepped inside and held his breath as the door closed behind him.
Styles could hear footsteps heading toward them and pulled Jacobson into a small recess. “That's Kent, Chris, are you ready to take care of him? I think he's got some needles with him.”
“ more needles,” Larabee said.
“There's only one way to stop the needles, Chris, you need to kill him...”
“Can't...can't kill unarmed man,” Chris said, tilting his head to the side as he tried to think past the pain that was a constant throughout his body.
Craig Styles silently cursed the fact that Jacobson no longer seemed to have the ability to stay on his own feet and released him. He watched as the drugged man sank to the floor and viciously kicked him before grabbing the scissors. “I should kill you right now.”
“What...” Larabee asked, surprised when he looked at his empty hand. “Where...”
Styles watched as Kent and Parker came around the corner and waited until they neared him before stepping out and driving the scissors into Kent's neck. He saw the surprise quickly change to horror as Kent reached up to stop the flow of blood, but there was no mistaking the way the blood shot from the man's veins that he'd cut through the carotid artery.
“What the hell? Where's Jacobson?” Parker asked angrily as Kent slid down the wall with a gurgling death rattle.
“He's right here, but between the drugs you gave him and the ones Kent gave him he's a mess,” Styles told her and moved aside so she could see the patient.
“Look, I need to get out of here before we're discovered. Take the gun and shoot Larabee...”
“Why the hell don't you do it?”
“I can't be seen here. Look, shoot Jacobson and make it look like he killed Kent. You'll be a hero for catching the crazy patient, and Ray will be a martyr.”
“Time's wasting, Craig, and I'm the one holding all the cards now that you took care of Kent. Kill Jacobson and I'll make damn sure you're on easy street for the rest of your life,” Parker said and hurried away.
Craig Styles turned toward Jacobson, surprised to find the man had managed to get to his feet and was leaning heavily against the wall. “All right, Jacobson, looks like it's time to clean up the mess you made.”
“What the...fuck,” Chris shook his head, setting off the fireworks that threatened to explode as a sound echoed around him just before pain erupted in his chest as a force shoved him backward. He suddenly realized there was moisture in his mouth just as the darkness beckoned to him.
Craig Styles quickly wiped the gun of his prints and placed it in Kent's fingers. He knew he had to work fast or chance being caught by anyone who'd been close enough to hear the sound of the shot. Kent had managed to pull the scissors free and dropped them on the floor while he tried to stem the flow of blood. As far as Styles could tell it looked like the perfect scenario and he hurried through the door he'd dragged Jacobson through.
Nathan saw the woman walking toward them just as a familiar sound rang out from the opposite direction, He saw Buck and Vin react instantly and knew they both recognized it for what it was, but the others just had a blank look on their face.
“That sounded like a gunshot,” Wilmington said.
“It was,” Tanner said and took off in the direction it came from with Wilmington and Jackson hot on his heels. They passed several individuals who backed out of their way as they rushed past.
Vin rounded a corner and spotted the man lying on the floor and knew by the amount of blood that he was dead. A pair of scissors was on the floor beside him, while a small caliber gun was clutched in his right hand. He looked at the closed door and moved toward a small alcove with his heart thumping rapidly in his chest.
A second body, this one recognizable in spite of the day's growth of beard and the unwashed body that was losing blood at an alarming rate. “Jesus, Chris...Nathan!”
“I'm here, Vin,” Jackson said and opened Larabee's shirt as the Texan pulled off his own and gave it to him. Nathan used it to press down on the wound while he spoke. “Vin, go tell Parker we need a gurney and tell her to see if Mercer's still around!”
“Nathan is...”
“He's alive...go, Vin!” Jackson ordered. “Buck, call for an ambulance!”
“Already on it,” Wilmington told him as Tanner hurried down the short corridor. “How bad?”
“Bad,” Jackson answered and pressed down on the wound in the upper right side of Larabee's chest. “He's lost a lot of blood and God know what kind of damage the bullet did.”
“Nathan, you should have waited for the police!” Samantha Parker said. She'd followed them once the shot was fired and ran into Tanner who would be returning with Ryan Mercer and a gurney. She made a show of checking Kent, but there was little doubt that the man was dead. “Did he...did he do that to Ray?”
“I don't know,” Jackson said and moved out of the way when Katrina Morgan and Ryan Mercer joined them. They'd brought a gurney and the equipment they'd need to treat the injured man.
“The police are on their way,” Tanner told Jackson and Wilmington.
“Keep pressure on that,” Mercer told Parker as Morgan set up for an IV. “Jesus, I thought this would be an easy shift when I signed in. Sam, there's no telling what kind of damage that bullet caused so we need to be careful.”
“There's no exit wound,” Parker told him as Mercer helped her attach the leads and wires from the mobile monitoring equipment. She silently cursed Styles for not making sure Jacobson was dead, but there was no doubt in her mind that she could find a way to finish the job. Sure, he needed medical treatment, but he was also a dangerous patient who'd already injured one man and killed another. She'd make sure he stayed at Shady Acres and get rid of him before anyone had a chance to question him.
“Isn't this the man the police are looking for?” Mercer asked.
“Yes, he is and he should be considered dangerous,” Parker answered.
“Dangerous?” Mercer asked, his eyebrows rising. “I don't think he's dangerous right now.”
“He's ain't dangerous, Doc,” Tanner said.
“Vince, I don't think you're a good judge of a patients state of mind. You are an orderly and should keep your opinions to yourself,” Parker snapped.
“He knows Chris, Sam, we all do,” Jackson told her. “His name's Chris Larabee and he's only dangerous to the bastards who hurt people who can't protect themselves.”
“You lied to me!” Parker snapped.
“Sam, we need to get him ready for transport,” Mercer told her.
“I know,” Parker said, fighting to keep the anger from showing. She helped Morgan set up a second IV and between them transferred the injured man to the gurney. She knew his chances of making it were slim, but if he'd heard what she said to Styles there was a chance that he would remember it once the drugs wore off...if they wore off.
Buck watched as Chris was loaded onto the gurney and felt Vin tense beside him as Parker and Mercer took control of the gurney and pushed it toward the main part of the building. He moved to the door and checked it, not surprised to find it opened at his touch.
“Nathan, stay with Chris cause somethin' ain't right here,” Tanner said and moved to Kent's body as Jackson hurried after the gurney. The gun was still in the dead man's hand, and Vin knew better than to touch it until the police arrived.
“Why would Kent be here and what the hell was Chris doing?” Wilmington spat.
“Kent probably had Chris so doped up he didn't know what the hell he was doing,” Jackson suggested as several police officers hurried toward them.
“Did you touch anything?” Charlie Donovan asked as a second officer checked Kent.
“No, the doc checked to make sure he was dead,” Wilmington answered.
“Not a good way to go,” Paul Appleton said. “Who are you and what are you doing here?”
“Buck Wilmington and Vin Tanner. We work for Orin Travis and we were asked to look into several suspicious deaths at Shady Acres. You can call Travis to verify our story,” Wilmington told him.
“I will, did either of you touch the door?” Donovan asked.
“I's not locked,” Wilmington answered.
“All two best get out of here before you mess up our crime scene. Just don't go anywhere,” Donovan told them.
Vin and Buck turned away from the scene and headed back toward the area used as an ER. They passed two more officers and a security guard before spotting Jackson talking with Daniel Coburn and Carl Sheppard. The latter looked at them in contempt and both men knew he'd been updated on the real reason for their presence.
“The next time you decide to bring in outside help, Dr. Coburn, you might want to discuss it with the people who sign your checks first,” Sheppard snapped and turned his attention to the two men. “Since you are here under false pretenses I want you off the property!”
“Sorry, can't do that until Chris is out of here and the police release us,” Wilmington told him angrily.
“Chris is a patient here and I don't give a damn if it is in an undercover role...he was given sedatives and other drugs prescribed by Dr. Kent and therefore he must be kept here until...”
“Ain't gonna happen,” Tanner said in a voice that was deceptively calm.
“Now see here...”
“You'd be well advised to leave it alone, Carl,” Coburn said.
“I don't think so, Dr. Coburn, I'm going to report you to the board members for taking things in your own hands and putting not only the hospital's reputation at risk, but the patients as well,” Sheppard warned.
“Dr. Coburn, the ambulance is outside,” a nurse called from the desk.
“That was fast,” Wilmington said.
“I'll let Dr. Mercer know,” Coburn said and moved to the closed door.
“Buck, I called Josiah to let him know what's happening,” Jackson advised.
“Anything new on Ezra?” Tanner asked.
“He's out of surgery. Silverman repaired the internal damage he found and he'll be spending the next few days in SICU,” the medic answered and looked up as Parker exited the room. “Sam...”
“Not right now, Nathan,” Parker told him and hurried to the nurses desk where she spoke to one of the nurses without looking back at him.
Nathan knew she was angry, but right now he was more worried about Chris' condition than about hurt feelings as he hurried toward the therapist. “Sam, how's Chris?”
“Dr. Mercer just finished intubating him, Nathan. He's got a bullet in his chest and he needs surgery. He's also stabbed one man and killed another and all of this could have been prevented if you'd just told me what was happening,” Parker snapped.
“We couldn't...not until we knew what was happening here,” Jackson said.
“In other words whatever you were investigating I was one of the suspects?”
“Everyone was,” Jackson answered.
“Look, Doc, I get that you're angry, but we did what was necessary,” Wilmington said.
“Angry is putting it mildly, Buck. Look a man is least tell me he was one of your suspects?” Parker said.
“He was and we're pretty sure he was behind it, but we need to look a little closer at his files,” Wilmington answered.
“You'll have to take that up with the board,” the psychiatrist told him. “I need to go help Ryan get Chris ready for transport.”
Nathan moved out of her way as she stepped past him and hurried back to the room that housed Chris Larabee. He understood her anger, but their job often left people that way until they realized it was a necessity in order to get the job done.
“One of us should go in with Chris,” Tanner told the two men.
“You go ahead, Vin, we'll stay here and see if we can smooth a few ruffled feathers,” Jackson said as the gurney carrying Chris Larabee was pushed from the room.
“I'll call as soon as there's any news,” the Texan assured them and hurried after the retreating figures.
Josiah entered the SICU and moved closer to the bed as a nurse finished making notations on the chart by the door. He smiled at her before checking the patient for himself. Ezra looked paler than the sheets he lay on, with nasal canulas in place and tubes running beneath the blanket that covered him to mid chest. There were several IV's running into his arms delivering much needed fluid and medications.
Josiah placed his hand on Ezra's right shoulder, closed his eyes and said a prayer before pulling a chair close to the bed and dropping wearily onto it. He knew Standish would be in and out of it over the next 24 hours, and ran his fingers through his hair as he thought about the man who'd put him there.
Nathan had called to update him on what had happened at Shady Acres. Larabee was on his way in with a bullet wound to his chest and whatever sedatives Kent had given him in his bloodstream. He hoped they were wrong about Kent, then again if they were then there was still a killer at the institute who now knew there'd been an investigation into the deaths. He turned when he heard someone enter the room.
“Josiah, I tried to call Maude, but she's unavailable right now,” Orin Travis said.
“Maude's not an easy woman to find unless she's in trouble,” Josiah told him.
“She's a hard woman and an even tougher taskmaster when it comes to her son. She's missed out on a lot because of her stubborn pride,” the former judge observed.
“She only has herself to blame for that,” Josiah agreed. “Ezra's changed...for the better since he found the guts to tell her she had no power over his life.”
“He's a good man,” Travis said.
“Yes, he is. Chris made the right choice.”
“I'd say he did that with everyone he chose for the agency.”
“Do you ever regret giving him carte blanche?”
“Not for a minute. He chose the team and every one of you has risen above my expectations. My only regret is putting you in situations like this one where your lives are in danger.”
“Someone has to do it or there'd be a lot more crime and a lot less sleep for those who believe in working for what they want,” Sanchez explained.
“How is he doing?”
“Silverman said surgery went well, but they're worried about infection and the blood loss. Simmons said he thought Ezra was trying to catch up to Chris and Vin in the novel length medical file category,” Sanchez answered.
“Has there been any word from the others?”
“Damn, sorry, Orin, I forgot you weren't here when Nathan called. Kent's dead and it looks like Chris killed him, but we won't know that until after the investigation. Chris is on his way in by ambulance because Kent shot him in the chest,” the ex-preacher answered and saw the anger on the other man's face as they settled in to watch over the injured gambler.
Samantha Parker knew there was nothing more she could do at Shady Acres and had been given permission to leave the institution. Sheppard had left over an hour ago and she would be meeting him at a restaurant near his home. Her anger at being kept out of the loop intensified, but she knew it was unrealistic for her to have expected to be told about the men who'd been sent in undercover.
Parker drove away from the facility and directly to the restaurant. She parked near the back and hurried toward the door, moving quickly inside and to the table where Carl Sheppard sat waiting for her.
“This is a real fuck up, Sam,” Sheppard said.
“What the hell do you expect, Carl?” Parker snapped. “You were supposed to be on top of everything that dealt with hospital funds and that included paying for someone to investigate what happens at Shady Acres. How the fuck did Coburn manage to hire someone without your knowledge?”
“Keep your voice down, Sam,” Sheppard warned. “Coburn went outside the hospital and didn't involve the board in his actions. With Kent dead there's no reason for them to stick long as you covered our tracks by putting as much blame as possible on Kent.”
“I did what I could. The board was already suspicious of him and I've made sure they'll find out the truth about Kent.”
“I can't believe that sonofabitch wasn't even a psychiatrist. How the hell did he manage to forge those certificates on his wall? They looked authentic to me,” Sheppard told her.
“I don't think anyone could have discovered it unless they dug into his background, but no one bothered to go all the way back,” Parker advised. “We just need to make sure we cover our asses.”
“What about Styles?” Sheppard asked.
“I don't trust him, Carl. He turned against Kent too easy and I'm pretty sure he'll turn on us at the first sign of trouble. You need to find some way of taking care of him,” Parker said.
“I'll talk to Turner...see if he can take care of Styles for us,” Sheppard offered.
“Just tell him to make it look like an accident,” Parker said.
“What happens when you think I'm no longer of any use to you, Sam?” Sheppard asked with a hint of a smile.
“Now, Carl, you and I have enough on each other that we're both safe. Ours is a sort of symbiotic relationship since there are fail safes in order should either of us die. After all, what is trust when it comes to money and murder?” Parker observed.
“Trust is such an underrated thing while murder is the final act. I think we should leave before someone we know sees us here together,” Sheppard offered and dropped money on the table before grabbing his jacket and heading for the door.
“Take care of our problem, Carl,” Parker ordered.
“Don't I always,” Sheppard said with a grin.
Samantha Parker watched her partner in crime leave and leaned back in the seat for several minutes. Carl Sheppard had proved to be a worthy partner, one who'd managed to cover his own ass in much the same way she'd done. No matter how she looked at it she was stuck with the sonofabitch until they were both ready to call it quits. Then again the time for her departure was drawing near and she had a nice little nest egg hidden for just that occasion.
“Can I get you anything,” a waitress asked, scooping up the bills Sheppard had dropped on the table.
“No, thank you, Annie, I was just leaving,” Parker said and grabbed her purse before leaving the restaurant and heading for her car.
The ambulance pulled into Saint Vincents and was met by an orderly, a nurse, and Dr. Stacey Midland. They helped pulled the gurney from the back and raced through the ER doors and into the nearest trauma room that had been set up for the new arrival. Stacey listened as the paramedic rattled off the vitals and the treatment Chris Larabee had been given during the trip from Shady Acres.
“Vin, you know the drill...go get the paperwork started and I'll come see you as soon as we find out what's going on,” Midland ordered.
“Go, Vin, I need to set thing in motion here!” Midland said and rattled off the things she wanted done as Brandon Silverman joined her.
“What is it with's not enough for one of his men to be here, but he's got to try and out do them. How bad, Stacey?” Silverman asked.
“Gunshot wound to the chest. X-ray is on the way, but he's lost a lot of blood and there are some heavy sedatives involved...”
“Sedatives? Who the hell gave him sedatives?”
“His team was undercover at a place called Shady Acres...”
“Ritzy place for high end patients,” Silverman observed.
“That's what I heard,” Midland agreed. “Get those samples to the lab and tell them we need the results stat!”
“Yes, Doctor,” Barbara Smith told her and hurried out of the room with the vials of blood samples.
Midland gently eased back on the bandage covering the wound to Larabee's chest and hoped the internal damage was not as bad as it could be. Bullets tended to rattle around in the chest cavity and things could be deadly if they didn't find it and remove it before things got worse.
“Dr. Midland, x-ray is here,” Smith said upon rejoining them.
“Tell them to give me another minute,” Silverman ordered and completed the task of intubating the patient in order to save time once they reached the OR.
“Brandon, I'm going to go speak with Vin,” Midland said.
“Tell him to go give some of that precious blood of his,” Silverman ordered. It was a well-known fact that Tanner and Larabee were the same rare blood type and it always seemed to be in short supply.
“Do you really think I need to tell him that,” Midland said.
“Probably not,” the surgeon told her.
Stacey hurried out of the room and spotted Tanner at the ER desk. The Texan's back was to her, but he turned before she reached him and she could see the worry and strain in his weary eyes.
“How's Chris?”
“He's still with us, Vin, and we're going to do everything we can to see that he stays that way. Brandon is in with him and then we're going to take some x-rays and pinpoint exactly where the bullet is. We're also waiting for the result of the blood work,” Midland explained. She reached out and placed a hand on his arm and felt the tension in the set of the man's shoulder. “He's strong, Vin, remember that.”
“I know,” Tanner said.
“Vin, you need to sign these papers,” Sandy said and smiled at the young man as he turned and took the pen from her hand.
“Vin, I need to get back to Chris, but...”
“Don't worry, Doc, I'll give blood,” Tanner told her and handed the pen back to the nurse.
“All right, Vin, remember to rest and eat after you donate,” Midland warned.
“I hear ya, Doc,” the Texan said tiredly.
“Vin, what's wrong?”
Tanner turned to see the elderly woman walking toward him. “Howdy, Miss Nettie.”
“Are you hurt...where's Chris?” Nettie Wells asked.
“Vin, I'll be back as soon as we know what we're going to do,” Midland said.
“Thanks, Doc,” Tanner said and returned his attention to the woman who reminded him so much of his own mother. “When did you get back?”
“I got in yesterday, but was exhausted and slept nearly 12 hours. Now why don't you tell me why you're here if you're not hurt or sick?”
“Let' go to the waiting room,” Tanner said, relieved when she walked beside him. Once inside he moved her toward a couple of empty chairs and took her hands in his. “We've been working on a case for about a week and it wasn't exactly one we wanted to take.”
“Are there any you really want to take, Vin?”
“No,” Tanner said with a slight smile. He started telling her about Shady Acres and the undercover assignment that wound up with Ezra stabbed and Chris shot.”
“My Stars, Vin, how bad?” Nettie asked.
“Ezra's got a punctured lung and he's in SICU. Josiah's with him right now...hell, I should go up there and fill him in on what's happening.”
Tanner looked up as the familiar nurse walked toward them. “Hi, Chris okay?”
“Yes, but they are taking him to the OR and Dr. Midland said you would be donating blood,” Sandy explained. “Hello, Mrs. Wells.”
“Hello, Sandy,” Nettie said. “Vin, you go with Sandy and I'll go tell Josiah what's happening.”
“Thanks, Nettie, try not ta worry,” Tanner said and hugged her gently.
“You need to practice what you preach, Vin,” Nettie said and walked out into the ER just as the gurney carrying Chris Larabee was pushed from the trauma room. She wanted to go after them, but there was nothing she could do for him now except make sure his friends were kept in the loop.
JD sat astride his motorcycle waiting for Nathan and Buck to join him. He parked his bike closer to the two cars that were parked in employee spaces near the back of the parking lot. Most of the employees that worked the day shift had already left, but there were still a few including Nathan and Buck who were still inside. He glanced at his watch and climbed off his bike when he saw two men heading toward him.
“Jesus, I was starting to get worried bout you two. What happened with the police?”
“We gave our statements, but for now it looks like Chris will be placed in custody until some things are cleared up,” Wilmington answered and leaned back against his Mustang.
“What? Why? I thought you said Kent shot Chris?”
“That's how it looks, JD, but the police need to investigate all angles and that includes the scissors in Kent's neck and the fact that we found Chris and Kent down,” Jackson advised.
“Is there any word on Chris and Ezra?”
“Ezra's holding his own and Josiah's with him. Chris is on his way to surgery and we need to get a move on. JD, were you able to access any more of Kent's files?” Wilmington asked.
“I got a couple of new passwords that should get me a way in, but it'll take a few days to get through the layers he built up,” Dunne answered.
“Good, look, I'm guessing we're all heading for the hospital so let's hash it out there,” Wilmington observed and pressed the button to unlock the car doors. He saw Jackson move to his car and JD climb on board his motorcycle before driving away from Shady Acres.
“Hell,” he said softly before doing the same.
Josiah glanced at the clock above the door, not really surprised to see only ten minutes had passed since he'd last glanced up from the paper he'd been reading. Ezra had not shown any sign of waking up, but he knew that had a lot to do with the anesthetic and medications he was getting.
Josiah ran his fingers through his hair and stretched the kinks from his back as he tried to return his attention to the paper. He gave up after reading the same paragraph four times and still not getting the drift of what the article was about. He glanced at the sleeping man and turned when he heard the sound of footsteps coming into the room. He smiled at the woman and hugged her before allowing her to see the injured man for herself.
“How is he, Josiah?”
“If he was awake and able to answer I think he'd say something like 'deplorable or atrocious',” Sanchez answered softly. “The doctors say he's going to be here for a while, but he should make a full recovery.”
“That's good news,” Nettie said and sat down on the chair Josiah had been using. “Chris is on his way to surgery and Vin's gone to give blood.”
“They'll be all right, Nettie,” Sanchez said and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“I hope so, Josiah,” Nettie said and placed her hand over his. A nurse entered and began checking the readouts on the monitors above Ezra's head.
“How do things look?” Sanchez asked.
“His vitals look good although he is running a slight temperature, but that's to be expected considering what he's been through,” the woman answered and smiled before adding. “You can be sure we'll keep on top of everything.”
“You always do,” Nettie told her and watched her leave.
“Ezra,” Sanchez said and watched as the gambler fought to regain consciousness against all odds. He looked at the monitors; worried about the way the younger man's heart rate seemed to be erratic.
“Chris...please...I'm sorry...should never....”
“Ezra, look at's Josiah. You're in Saint Vincents and you're going to be fine, but you need to listen to me,” Sanchez said as Stacey Midland entered the room followed by the nurse from earlier.
“Josiah, you and Mrs. Wells will have to wait outside,” Midland ordered and turned her full attention to her patient as he seemed to be in more distress.
“Please...don't...” Standish tried, his eyes shot open and he looked around as if searching frantically for something. “Please, Chris...where is he?”
“Ezra, look at me,” the physician ordered.
“ hurts...please, find Chris,” Standish said and weakly gripped her arm.
“Ezra, Danielle is going to give you something to help with the pain,” Midland said and nodded to the nurse who injected the prescribed medication into his IV line. She watched the monitors as his eyes closed, relieved to see his heart rate returning to normal as she adjusted the flow of oxygen.
“Doc, how is he?” Sanchez asked once Midland joined them outside the room.
“He's sleeping for now, Josiah,” Midland answered. “He won't be fully awake for some time with the medications he's on.”
“He's worried about Chris...we all are,” Sanchez offered.
“I know, and I wish I had better news for you, but he has the best working on him. Brandon will do everything he can,” the physician explained. “Now, I know there's not much point in telling you to go home and get some rest, but it will be some time before there's any word about Chris, so when Vin comes up here see that he eats.”
“We will, Stacey,” Nettie assured the younger woman.
“I'll be here for a few more hours and I'll come find you if there's any news on Chris,” Midland told them.
“Thanks, Doc,” Sanchez said and smiled thinly before she walked away.
Vin ate the package of cookies and drank the orange juice before tossing the packaging into the trash. He glanced at the clock and knew it would be another ten minutes before the nurse allowed him to leave. He looked at the couch in the corner and wanted to lie down, but he knew he wouldn't sleep, at least not until he knew how Chris was doing.
Vin reached for the well-read magazine and looked at the articles disinterestedly until the nurse who'd registered him motioned that he could leave with the usual warning that he should rest and eat. He smiled and walked slowly out of the lab before heading up to Ezra's room where Josiah and Nettie waited for him.
“My stars, Vin, you're whiter than a ghost. How much blood did they take?” Nettie asked of the pale-faced young man who stood in the doorway to the SICU.
“Same as always, Miss Nettie,” the Texan answered and smiled as she hugged him.
“You do know that makes you and Chris blood brothers in every sense of the word?” Sanchez said of the fact that Larabee and Tanner not only had the same rare blood type, but had also given each other blood on several occasions.
“Let's hope some of Vin's stubborn Texas streak rubs off on Chris,” Nettie said.
“Are you sure that'd be a good thing? I always thought Chris was a stubborn SOB in the first place,” Sanchez offered.
“So not just blood brothers but Missouri mules as well,” the elderly woman said with a grin. “Now according to Dr. Midland, Ezra will sleep for some time and Chris is in surgery and Vin needs to eat and...”
“Miss Nettie, I'm...”
“ and it's up to me and you, Josiah to see that he does just that,” Nettie said, pointedly ignoring the younger man.
“I had juice and cookies...”
“Vin, you might as well give it up. You and Chris never could win when it comes to Nettie...she wrote the book on stubborn,” Sanchez told him. “Nettie, why don't you take Vin to the surgical waiting room and I'll run next door to the deli and grab some coffee and sandwiches?”
“You heard him, Vin, let's go,” Nettie said and gently took his arm.
“Maybe someone should stay with Ezra,” Tanner tried.
“He's okay, Vin, and as soon as Josiah brings you something to eat one of us will come back here,” Nettie assured him.
Brandon Silverman removed the bloodied scrubs and dropped them into the laundry hamper outside the operating room. Chris Larabee was being moved directly to SICU and would probably spend the next 24 to 48 hours there. He took off the cap and tossed that after the scrubs before making his way to the waiting room. He entered to find six people anxiously waiting for him.
“Gentlemen, you look like hell!” Silverman told them.
“How's Chris, Doc?” Tanner asked. He'd dozed off several times, but had not given in to his body's need for rest as he waited for word on his friend.
“Surgery went well although there was some extensive internal damage caused by the bullet. The good news is it was repairable and barring any unforeseen complications he should be fine, but there are also the drugs that were found in his system to worry about.”
“Kent was giving him some pretty heavy sedatives,” Jackson advised.
“Yes, and we checked for those, but there are a couple that were not fact they resembled several street drugs,” Silverman told them. “We'll need to keep an eye on those results and make sure there are no adverse effects where Chris' recovery is concerned.”
“Can we see him?” Wilmington asked.
“Give them an hour or so to get him settled in his room and then check with the nurses. He is going to sleep for a while and I'd like you to keep visits to a minimum,” Silverman said, yet he understood these people would stay around until they were sure both Larabee and Standish were going to make it.
“Thanks, Doc,” Tanner said and sighed tiredly.
“Vin, you need to go home and rest,” Jackson said. Josiah had filled them all in on what had happened with Vin giving blood and refusing to leave until he saw Larabee.
“I soon as I see Chris,” Tanner told him.
“I'll hold you to that. Rain will finish her shift in about and hour and you can come spend what's left of the night in our guest room,” Jackson said. “No arguments.”
“Ain't gonna argue with ya, Nate,” the Texan assured him. “Someone should go update Orin.”
“I'll go,” Sanchez offered. The owner of The Firm had returned to the hospital when he'd called to let him know Chris had been injured. The older man had volunteered to stay with Ezra while the others made their way to the surgical waiting rooms.
Craig Styles stretched out on his bed with a bottle of beer in his hand as he stared at the TV. The news was filled with what had happened at Shady Acres and so far things seemed to be going the way he wanted. He knew he could milk this for more money than what Parker offered and drank the last of the beer before grabbing another one from the fridge and returning to his bed.
Craig thought about the psychiatrist and wondered what she was like in bed and knew if he really wanted to he could find out. He licked at his lips and a hint of a smile formed at the idea of having her in his bed, but if it came to that he knew he'd rather have the money.
He thought about Raymond Kent and felt no remorse at his part in the man's death. Kent was a mean sonofabitch, but he was free with his money. Parker had better be the same way or she'd find out just how resourceful he could be. He'd already started a file on her, as well as one on Carl Sheppard and several others who worked at the institution. Sheppard's file was the longest and he'd often seen him with Parker at a restaurant not far from Shady Acres.
Craig sat forward as a picture of Chris Jacobson appeared on the screen and was shocked to see the name below the picture. He quickly turned up the volume and sat forward as the announcer began talking.
“Chris Larabee was shot today and underwent emergency surgery at Saint Vincents where his doctors listed him in critical, but stable condition...”
“Larabee,” Styles whispered and smiled at the idea that he'd had the man under his care even if it was only for a short time. He felt an inner strength that he'd been able to hold Larabee down while Kent injected medications into his arm and better still was the fact that he'd supplied the street drugs that might just have pushed the bastard over the edge.
Styles thoughts returned to Parker and whether she now knew who Jacobson really was. If she wanted him dead, Styles knew many ways to do that. A small smile formed as he realized people didn't give him enough credit and he used that to his own advantage. Parker would soon find out the hard way that she'd just gotten herself and expensive partner.
Craig drank the rest of the beer, and thought about the money he could get from Parker and knew he would find a way to spend it on some vacation in the tropics while everyone else suffered the bitter cold and snow. Life was good...and was going to get a whole lot better.
Ezra was aware of the voices that talked softly and fought to stay in the welcoming blanket of oblivion, but he knew from experience that it wasn't going to happen. He felt someone touch his shoulder and finally managed to get his eyes open, but it seemed to take forever for his vision to clear. He licked at dry lips and shifted slightly causing pain to erupt in his chest.
“Easy, Ezra, you're okay. You're in the hospital and have a tube in your side. The nurse is giving you something to help with the pain and I want you to relax,” Stacey Midland explained.
“What...happened?” Standish managed once the fire in his side died to a dull roar.
“What do you remember?” the physician asked.
“New case...put Chris...where...where is he...where is Chris?” the injured man asked worriedly and tried to come off the bed only to have him gently pressed back against the pillows.
“Oh no you don't, Ezra, you pull that tube out and we'll just have to put it back in and tie you down!” Midland warned.
“Please, Dr. Midland,” Ezra wheezed as he tried to control the nausea churning through his gut. “Where is Chris?”
“He's here, Ezra,” the physician answered softly.
“Is he all right? Is...” Ezra's voice trailed off as he lost the fight to stay conscious.
Stacey Midland checked the monitors, relieved to see the numbers were well within the normal parameters and was glad at least one of Larabee's team shied away from complications. She turned to find Orin Travis standing in the doorway and motioned for him to come in.
“How is he, Stacey?” Travis asked.
“To be honest, Orin, he's better than I would have thought at this point. Oh, don't get me wrong he won't be released for at least a week, but if he continues to show improvement we should be moving him to a semi-private room tomorrow.”
“Why not a private room?” Travis asked.
“Well, I assumed once Chris is ready they'd want to be in the same room,” Midland said.
“Will that make it easier or harder on your staff?”
“That's a good question,” Midland answered.
“Speaking of is Chris?”
“Stable,” Midland answered. “Brandon is cautiously optimistic about his recovery. You know Chris never makes our lives easy when he's in here and it's even worse when he's in SICU. He's running a fever and his blood pressure is a little low.”
“Didn't Vin give blood?”
“Yes, he did and so did the rest of the team,” Midland answered and turned to walk out the door. She made her way toward a second unit and wasn't surprised to find Buck Wilmington seated on a chair next to the bed.
“Hey, Doc, how's Ezra?” Wilmington asked, pointedly ignoring the police officer outside Larabee's door. He knew the man was just doing his job, but the fact that Chris was considered a suspect in the 'wrongful' death of Raymond Kent fed his anger.
“Ezra's sleeping and I'm pretty sure I told you to go home and get some rest,” Midland told him and moved to check the injured blond.
“I'm just waiting for Josiah to come in,” Wilmington assured her. “Chris...”
“Chris isn't going anywhere, Buck, and as I said before he'll need you more when he's awake and that won't be for some time,” Midland said.
“I know, Doc,” Wilmington said and moved out of her way as a nurse joined her in the room.
“Buck, you do look like you're ready to fall over in a strong breeze,” Travis observed. “Why don't you go on home and I'll wait here for Josiah.”
“I am kind of tired,” Wilmington said and reluctantly left the room with a backward glance over his shoulder.
Daniel Coburn looked at the clipboard with the list of patients he needed to see today. With the loss of Raymond Kent it was up to him and the others to take up the slack until another psychiatrist was hired. He hated that it had taken two men being seriously injured to finally be rid of the man, but he hadn't wanted Kent's death.
The board had called a meeting for later in the day to decide exactly how they would proceed. He'd spoken with William Lewis and knew it had been a surprise to all of them that Raymond Kent had lied and falsified the documents that proclaimed his extensive education. The man had been a fraud and from the way things looked he was behind the murders at Shady Acres.
The police had already spoken to most of the staff and were going over the files, but had yet to break the code into the hidden files. JD Dunne was also working to crack the codes with the board's permission, but it looked like it would take some time. In the meantime they were checking into other problems, such as the case of Brian Schneider. There were several inconsistencies in his file, one being the fact that they could find no evidence of the murders he was supposed to have committed.
Coburn could see Samantha Parker speaking with a nurse and Craig Styles and shuddered at the thought of the orderly who could be cruel in his care of the patients. Parker seemed angry about something, and he wondered if he could count on her help in trying to get rid of the orderly. He picked up the clipboard as she walked toward him and he knew whatever Styles had said had indeed angered her.
“Daniel, I'm going to go ahead with this morning's session, but I'd like your input on a couple of things,” Parker said coldly.
“I'll help in any way I can, Sam,” Coburn told her.
“I've got several of Dr. Kent's patients already scheduled this morning, but Brian Schneider and Phyllis Carrington also need to be seen today, especially Phyllis because she doesn't handle sudden changes very well and with Kent gone she will be stressed.”
“I can see them both this morning,” Coburn told her and reached for her arm as she turned away. “Sam, I'm not sorry for what I did.”
“You could have gone to the board and told them of your suspicions. Your actions made us all look guilty,” Parker said.
“I'm sorry you feel that way, but I didn't know who could be trusted. For all I knew one of the board members could have been involved.”
“I understand why you did it, Daniel, but it hurts that you thought I could be involved. My patients are the most important thing in my life and just the thought of someone like Kent treating them...God, I can't believe he wasn't even licensed to practice,” Parker said.
“I know, but he's dead now and we can continue treating our patients the way we are supposed to,” Coburn told her.
“There are a lot of people on staff who think you betrayed our trust, Daniel,” Parker said.
“I know, but I'd do it again if it came down to the patients' lives.”
“Even if it means alienating yourself from your peers?”
“Yes,” Coburn answered honestly.
“I wish I could say I'd do the same thing, but I guess we'll never know unless I'm put in that position.”
“I hope you never have to find out,” Coburn said.
“Me too,” Parker agreed and reached for the files she'd placed on the desk. “I need to make sure everything's ready for today's sessions. I'll speak with you when I'm through...perhaps over coffee.”
“Sounds good, Sam, and I hope you understand that I did what I did because it was right,” Coburn said and watched her walk away. He turned to find several nurses looking in his direction and knew they were talking about him and his part in the police investigation now underway. It didn't bother him because he knew he'd done the right thing and in time the others would see it that way. It was only a matter of time.
JD stared at the files on the computer, going through page after page of damning evidence that would ensure the records on Raymond Kent were set straight. The man had not received a full scholarship to Yale, nor had he graduated from any known university. How he'd managed to falsify so many documents seemed an impossible feat, and JD could not help but be awed at the man's ability to manipulate the people around him and make them believe his bullshit.
JD was alone in the office, but Josiah and Nathan would be there shortly. Buck and Vin were at the hospital, but would join them later in the afternoon. He had visited Ezra and Chris, but neither man had been awake so he'd come straight to the office to work on the files. He knew there were still several layers of hidden passwords to be hacked, and it was going to take time to get through them all, but at least now he had the cooperation of the board of directors from Shady Acres.
JD reached for the coffee on his desk, grimacing in distaste when he discovered it was cold. He glanced at the coffee pot and sighed heavily before moving to set it up. He looked into the fridge and pulled out the sandwich he'd picked up on the way in and bit into it as Josiah and Nathan entered.
“Good morning, Son, you're here early,” Sanchez said.
“Couldn't sleep. I stopped in to see Chris and Ezra, but they were both sleeping so I figured I'd come in and work on Kent's files,” Dunne answered.
“Did you find anything?” Jackson asked.
“Kent knew what he was doing and he knew how to hide things. He's got so many layers in his files that no one would have seen it unless they knew what they were looking for,” Dunne answered and moved to his desk.
“Are you going to be able to get through them all?” Sanchez asked.
“Hell, yes, but it might take some time. I did find something that just might prove he was behind the deaths at Shady Acres,” Dunne told them as Jackson filled three cups with coffee.
“Show me what you have,” Sanchez said and watched as JD opened the file he'd been working on. The names were familiar and he waited for Dunne's explanation.
“These are the patients Coburn told us about, but there are a couple he didn't know about.”
“According to that list there are at least ten patients over the last year,” Jackson said from behind Sanchez.
“Exactly, and I haven't even gotten into the older files,” Dunne told them.
“Keep working on it, JD,” Sanchez said and moved to his own desk. There were several other cases that needed his attention and he wanted to keep on top of things until they were able to get actively involved with their clients once again.
Buck walked into the room where a nurse was fixing the blankets that covered Ezra Standish. The man looked paler than the sheets he lay on, but he was awake and that was something to be thankful for.
“Hey, Ez, you look like hell,” Wilmington said.
“White was never my color,” Standish told him, his voice weak as he tried to sit forward. He pressed the button on the side of the bed, but winced when the movement tugged at the tube leading into his side.
“Maybe you should just lie still, Ez,” the rogue suggested.
“Probably, but I need to know about Chris and no one will answer me,” Standish said.
“Ezra, they told you, but you've been so out of it you probably don't remember,” Wilmington said. “Chris is in the next room.”
“Why? What happened” the gambler asked worriedly, his face paling further at the thought of Chris Larabee needing to be in SICU.
“Kent shot him.”
“Kent...the doctor? Why?” Standish asked, trying unsuccessfully to make sense of his jumbled thoughts.
“We're pretty sure he was behind the deaths, and it looks like Chris stabbed him with a pair of scissors,” Wilmington realized his mistake as Ezra's hand went unconsciously to the wound in his chest. “Sorry, Ez, I didn't mean to remind you...”
“I assure you this is nothing,” Standish said.
“Really? Then why did they put in a chest tube? You could have died, Ezra.”
“What about Chris?” Standish asked, purposefully taking the attention off his own injuries.
“He had surgery to remove the bullet and repair the internal damage, but he hasn't been awake yet. Vin's waiting for the doctors to finish with him,” Wilmington said. He watched as the injured man's eyes closed and easily read the tension on the pale face. “Ezra, what's wrong?”
“What makes you think anything is wrong?”
“Your poker face just slipped so far south you're in danger of sunburn,” the ladies' man told him. “Spit it out, Ezra.”
“I do not spit,” Standish said, sighing tiredly as he shifted slightly and opened his eyes. “I...Buck, I put him in there.”
“No, Ezra, we put him in there. It was part of the job and Chris would be the first one to tell you he'd do it all again. It's what we do. We've all been undercover at one time or another...”
“Not like this.”
“I know this is hard, Ezra,” Wilmington said.
“You have no idea.”
“Maybe not...tell me why this one is any worse than when you went undercover in that hospital in Atlanta?”
“That wasn't a high end hospital that treated dangerous patients like Shady Acres,” Standish answered.
“No, but you were still an inpatient and you were a mess when we finally ended the case. You spent two days in the hospital because of the drugs you were given,” Wilmington said.
“Yes, but I was never tied down and I always had control,” Standish told him and closed his eyes. “I'm tired, Buck.”
“Go ahead and sleep, Ez, but don't let that guilt drag you down because it'll only take away the good you and Chris did with this case,” Wilmington said and leaned against the wall as Standish slipped toward sleep once more.
Vin stood outside the door to Chris Larabee's SICU and waited impatiently while Brandon Silverman and one of the day nurses checked the injured man. Buck was in with Ezra and he hoped their resident conman wasn't holding on to the guilt he'd seen ever since this case started. Vin leaned against the wall to the left of the door and watched as people came and went. He heard the door open and waited for Silverman to finish making notations in Larabee's chart.
“Hello, Vin, did you get any sleep?” Silverman asked.
“Slept's Chris?”
“Well, for a man who's just had surgery to remove a bullet and is struggling with unknown drugs he's much better than I would have thought at this point. I'm beginning to believe you boys really are as tough as nails and as stubborn as Missouri bulls,” Silverman answered.
“Heard that a time or two,” Tanner said with a grin. “Can I see him?”
“Yes, but he's still out of it and the drugs in his system are still messing with his head, so be prepared for...”
“I know the drill, Doc,” the Texan said and walked into the room where Larabee lay amidst a jumble of leads and tubes with monitors clicking and beeping around him. He smiled at the nurse who was checking the all too familiar collection container, and winced sympathetically before moving to the head of the bed. His gaze wavered momentarily on the Velcro straps encircling Larabee's wrists and he cursed.
“Is there a problem?” the nurse asked.
“Why are you using restraints on him?”
“Dr. Midland ordered them when he fought treatment during the night.”
“I'll make sure he don't fight...take 'em off.”
“I'm sorry but I can't do that,” the nurse told him. This was only her third rotation in the SICU and Shawna had never these men as patients before, but she'd heard stories from the regulars and hoped she could handle them as well as the senior staff members.
Vin knew there was no point in arguing and took a deep breath before returning his attention to the injured blond. Larabee had that washed out look that spoke of blood loss and serious injury. He watched Larabee's face closely and knew he was on the verge of waking up as his hands clenched tightly and the eyelids flickered and finally opened.
“Hey, Cowboy, ya look like hell,” Tanner said.
“Bas...bastard...ta...take off...kill...kill brother...”
“Easy, Chris, you're not in Shady Acres anymore. You're in Saint Vincents. Look around...ain't no one gonna hurt ya here,” the Texan explained.
Chris swallowed repeatedly as he tried to make sense of everything around him. He knew the man standing beside his bed, but something was wrong. Why was he talking like this? He was going to blow his cover if he didn't shut up. Where was Ezra? Why were they using restraints? Did he do something stupid to make Kent order him restrained?
“Chris, listen ta me,” Tanner tried when Larabee's eyes darted wildly around the room and he struggled against straps holding him down. “The case is over. Kent's dead and it looks like he was behind the deaths. Yer out of there and ya don't have ta go back so just relax and let the nurses look after ya.”
“No...” Larabee muttered, but his eyes closed of their own volition and sleep quickly took him.
Vin ran his fingers through his disheveled hair before gently easing the blanket up over Larabee's chest and silently cursing Raymond Kent. He left the room and found Buck waiting for him just outside the door. “How's Ez?”
“Feels like hell and blaming himself for what happened,” Wilmington answered and nodded at the cop seated next to Larabee's door. “How's Chris?”
“Still not himself, but he was awake fer a few minutes. Doc says the drugs are still affectin' him,” Tanner answered as they walked toward the elevators. There was nothing they could do here, but they could help make sure the patients who were in Shady Acres belonged there. The case of Brian Schneider was at the top of their list of priorities.
Craig Styles watched Parker working with two new patients and walked slowly toward her. Three days had passed since he'd killed Kent and shot Larabee, and things at Shady Acres were still uneasy. The investigation by the police was still an ongoing thing and played havoc with the patient's routines.
Parker seemed to be ignoring him and had not returned any of his calls. If that meant he'd have to confront her here, then so be it. What the hell difference did it make if the crazies heard him? They couldn't do anything and no one would believe their stories anyway. He walked up to the trio and waited for Parker to acknowledge his presence.
“Melanie, why don't you go back inside and take care of your baby?”
“My baby is hungry,” the woman said softly and walked slowly toward the door of the building.
“Hey, Doc, how are things?”
“What do you want, Craig?” Parker asked and checked to make sure they were alone.
“I just wanted to touch base with you and make sure we're on the same page. You have got a lot to lose if I decide to go to the police.”
“Cut the crap, Craig, you and I both know you won't go to the police. After all you're the one who killed Kent and shot Larabee.”
“True, but you're the one who told me to do it and that makes you my accomplice. You're facing jail time too, Doc, and you got a lot more to lose than I do,” Styles said with a smirk. “You'd best not try to ignore my calls anymore, Doc, or I will go to the police.”
“Don't threaten me, Craig!” Parker warned and tried to step past the orderly, but his hand clamped onto her arm and squeezed tightly. She tried to pull away, but the man was strong and held tight until several voices reached them and she pulled her arm free.
“Dr. Parker, I've been looking for you. Dr. Williams would like a word with you in his office,” Carl Sheppard told her and silently cursed the fact they'd been forced to bring Styles in on their plans. “Do we pay you to stand around while you're on the clock, Styles?”
“I was just talking with Dr. Parker.”
“We don't pay you to talk. I'm sure the nurses have need of your assistance,” Sheppard snapped and saw the anger in the man's eyes before he stormed off.
“Tell me your friend will take care of that bastard soon,” Parker spat.
“Marcus has everything set and if the timing is right Craig Styles will be out of the picture by tomorrow,” Sheppard told her.
“Good riddance,” the therapist said.
“Did you take care of Kent's files?”
“Don't worry, Carl, Kent pretty well nailed himself and it didn't take much to put the finishing touch on everything. If all goes well we should be free and clear by the end of the week.”
“What about the money from Jacob...from Larabee?”
“What about it?”
“What are we going to do with it?”
“We're going to hold onto it until the heat is off and then we'll simply retire to a warmer climate,” Parker said with a grin as she spotted Daniel Coburn and Katrina Morgan walking in the garden. “I'd love to do something about that sonofabitch too, but we're better off leaving him to his bimbo.”
“The board has elected to let him take Kent's role,” Sheppard said.
“That figures. Look, just hang tight for a little longer and once everything is cooled off I'll split the money and you can do whatever you want with your share,” Parker said and made her way toward the main door as Sheppard headed toward the path leading to the gate.
Ezra leaned back against the pillows and silently cursed when he moved the wrong way and felt the tug of the tube in his side. Silverman was supposed to be there early to let him know how much longer the damn thing would be in place, but so far his only visitor had been the perky lab tech who'd come to take his blood before the sun came up. He glanced at his watch and shifted impatiently, quieting when he spotted the surgeon and Stacey Midland headed toward his room.
“Good morning, Ezra,” Midland greeted.
“It is morning, but whether it is a good one remains to be seen,” Standish blustered and motioned toward his side. “Please tell me you are removing this atrocious accessory.”
“I think that could be arranged and then we'll be moving you out of SICU,” Midland told him.
“What about Chris?”
“Chris is running a fever right now, but rest assured he will be moved in with you once things settle down,” the woman said and saw the change in Standish as she placed a hand on his shoulder. “Ezra, you know Chris as well as I do and he never does things the easy way. We'll get his fever down and then he'll be glaring at you for using those five dollar words and giving him a...”
“Deplorable headache,” Standish finished with a ghost of a smile.
“Exactly,” Midland said, glad to see she'd been able to distract her patient while Silverman checked his wound.
“All right, Ezra, are you ready to get rid of this tube?” Silverman asked.
“Lord, yes,” the gambler answered.
“Very well,” the surgeon said and turned to his associate. “Stacey, I have several patients to see before I'm due in the OR so I'll see you at lunch.”
“What about the tube?” Standish asked.
“I'll take care of that, Ezra,” Midland said as a nurse joined them with a tray of supplies. She knew this procedure was very uncomfortable for the patient, but there was no easy way of removing the tube. “All right, Ezra, let's get this done. Are you ready?”
“No, but let's do it anyway,” the injured man grumbled.
“Take a deep breath now!” Midland ordered.
Ezra did as she told him and grabbed the bed rail as she pulled the tube from his chest. He cried out at the sickening feeling and felt bile rise in his throat, as Midland and the nurse eased him onto his side. He lost what little he had in his stomach and laid back against the pillows as a warm cloth was washed over his face.
“I know that's uncomfortable, Ezra, but it should ease in a minute. Carol just gave you something for nausea and pain and as soon as your room is ready the orderly will bring you down.”
“Can I see Chris first?”
“Ezra, you need to rest.”
“Please, Dr. Midland, I won't stay long, but I need to see him,” Standish tried.
“All right, but only for a minute,” Midland said. “Carol, can you bring a wheelchair.”
“Thank you,” the gambler said and lay back as Midland finished taking care of the puncture wound left by the tube. He felt the medication he'd been given take control of the pain and opened his eyes when Midland spoke to him.
“All right, Ezra, let's get you in the chair,” Midland said as the nurse unhooked the last of the leads.
Ezra nodded that he was ready, but found himself holding his breath as he sat up for the first time since his injury. He breathed through his nose, calming the waves of nausea until he felt hands on his arms helping him move to the wheelchair. A warm blanket was placed over his legs and the IV was hooked to the pole behind him before the doctor wheeled him from the room. He thought he was ready for this, but as they stopped before the door leading to Larabee's unit he found it hard to control his breathing.
“Are you sure you want to do this, Ezra?” Midland asked.
“Yes,” Standish answered softly. He could see a tuft of blond hair, but Larabee's face was turned away from him as the chair was wheeled closer to the bed. “Chris?”
Midland stood back and watched the pale-faced man seated beside Larabee's bed. She glanced at the monitors and noted the change in the blond's heart rate and watched the two men closely as Chris slowly turned toward his visitor. She knew about the case and hoped the last blood tests were right and that the street drugs were indeed out of his system. She watched as the sea green eyes opened and Larabee licked at his lips.
“Chris, I just wanted...wanted to tell you I'm sorry,” Standish managed.
“Sorry?” Larabee frowned and tried to make sense of what the other man was saying. He felt like crap, and Ezra looked as bad as he felt, but his memories were still unclear as to what had happened to them. Bits and pieces came together in a jumble of crazy jigsaw pieces that didn't quite match up. He shifted and tried to moved his hands, but they were still tied down and he looked longingly at the woman behind Standish. “Doc, can you take these things off?”
“How do you feel, Chris?” Midland asked.
“Tired...I just need these off,” Larabee told her, relieved when she moved to the side of the bed and released his hands. “Thanks, Doc.”
“You're welcome,” Midland said and moved back to allow the two men some privacy, yet staying close enough in case either of them needed her.
“Ezra, look at me,” Larabee ordered, his voice raspy. He waited until the other man looked him in the eyes before speaking. “I don't remember much about the last case, but I do know it was my choice to go in there.”
“We should have found another way.”
“Maybe, but we can't change what happened,” Larabee said and tried to get comfortable. He saw the nurse inject something in his IV line and knew he would soon be too sleepy to talk. “Look, Ezra, stop beating yourself up over something we can't change...hell we do what we have to just to make sure the bad guys don't win.”
“I for one am glad you guys are on the job,” Midland said and moved closer. “Now, Ezra, it's time to get you settled in your new room and if Chris behaves himself you just might have a roommate later today.”
“Go, Ez, I'm just going to sleep anyway,” Larabee told him and closed his eyes. He heard Midland leave and tried to make sense of the puzzle, but sleep beckoned and he gave into its call.
JD stared at the open file on his computer and tried to figure out what it was about it that bothered him. Kent was a smart man, but the last part of the puzzle seemed to have been too easy to decipher. It had taken three days to find everything in Kent's hidden files and he'd been shocked at the man's plans for Chris Larabee.
“JD, you ready to go?”
“Almost, Buck, just give me a minute to save the files,” Dunne answered and began closing down the laptop.
“Did you get anywhere with Kent's files?”
“Yeah...the man was crazy...not just a little either. You should see what he had planned for Chris,” the Bostonian told him and grabbed his jacket. “He was the one who gave Chris the street drugs.”
“Are you sure about that?” Wilmington asked.
“Yeah, and I think he got them through one of the orderlies who works at Shady Acres. I sent the information to Miller.”
“Let me guess...Craig Styles?”
“How did you know?”
“Vin told me about him. Mean bastard, but he didn't do anything where anyone could see it. Vin made a report through Coburn and he was going to the board to see about getting him fired,” the rogue answered.
“Hopefully he's already fired,” Dunne said. “Are Nathan and Josiah meeting us at the hospital?”
“Yeah, Vin's picking them up on his way in,” Wilmington said and locked up the office. “Ezra's been moved out of SICU and he got rid of that tube in his chest.”
“That's good...maybe we should stop off and get him one of those coffees he loves,” Dunne said.
“You buying?”
“Sure,” the younger man answered.
Chris opened his eyes and sighed heavily when he recognized the room he was in. His head ached and he felt hot as he pushed the blanket off his upper body. He reached for the button and raised the head of his bed as nausea churned through his gut. He swallowed convulsively as the nurse checked his IV and made a note of his vitals. He looked toward the door when he heard footsteps approaching and smiled weakly at the man who entered.
“Ya look like hell, Cowboy,” Tanner said.
“Feel like it too...someone should t...turn down the heat,” Larabee said.
“Think ya got a fever,” the Texan said.
“Probably,” the blond said and looked around. “Ez still here?”
“He's in his room,” Tanner told him.
“He was here...least I think he was,” Larabee observed.
“Yes, Ezra was here, but he's been moved to a regular room,” Donna Lawrence told them and readied Larabee's medications which included Tylenol to bring down his temperature. She helped him take the pills with a few sips of water and moved away to allow the two men some privacy.
“Ya never do things easy do ya?”
“Wish the hell I did,” Larabee told him.
“Any idea how long they'll keep ya in here?”
“I thought I heard something about being moved in with Ezra some time today,” Larabee answered.
“Even with the fever?” Tanner asked.
“They need these rooms for sick people,” the blond answered “Wish they'd send me home.”
“I don't think that'll happen fer a while,” Tanner said.
“Vin, what happened?” Larabee asked.
“Chris, we need to get you ready, so I need Vin to leave for now,” the nurse said.
“We'll talk about it when they get'cha settled,” the Texan told him and left the room.
“Chris, I'm going to take out one of your IV lines and the Foley,” Donna said.
“Thank God,” Larabee mumbled and remained still while she extracted the offending tubing. When she was finished she unhooked the monitoring equipment and soon felt the bed being moved. He kept his eyes closed and wished the nausea churning through his gut would ease. He knew he'd dozed off when he felt the bed hit up against the wall gently and managed to open his eyes as a new nurse moved into his line of vision.
“Hello, Mr. Larabee, my name is Jordan and I'm one of the nurses who'll be looking after you today. Now why don't we make you comfortable and then I'll let your friends visit for a while,” Jordan Hollowell said with a smile as she hooked up several leads and took a set of vitals before speaking to him again. “Now, your call button is right here on the rail so just press it if you need anything.”
“I will, thank you, Jordan,” Larabee said.
“You're welcome, Mr. Larabee.”
“Call me Chris,” the blond said and couldn't help, but notice the way her eyes lit up when she smiled.
“All right, Chris it is,” Jordan said and straightened the blanket before leaving the room.
Chris heard a commotion outside the door and wasn't surprised to see the rest of his team enter the room. He couldn't help the smile that formed, but it gave way to a frown as he spotted the man in the other bed. He struggled to make sense of everything now that he was awake enough to remember things, but it still wasn't clear. He raised the head of his bed and quickly put on his game face, the one he knew the others would recognize.
“All right, Boys, clue me in because my memory is fucked up,” Larabee told them.
“What do you remember, Chris,” Jackson asked and sat on the edge of Larabee's bed while the others moved to get comfortable while JD handed out the coffee.
“Not a hell of a lot,” Larabee answered and turned toward the other injured man. There was something he needed to do, something he needed to say. He remembered Ezra visiting him in the SICU and the gambler had made a point of apologizing. Why did he find it strange that the other man apologized when it should be the other way around? Then again, why did he suddenly feel the urge to apologize? What had happened after they'd gone in and why did guilt suddenly feel like it should weight more heavily on his own shoulders?
“Chris, are you okay?” Tanner asked.
“Sorry, I was just thinking,” Larabee told him and reached for the cup of ice water on the table that now rested over his lower body. He sipped from the straw, but it did nothing to alleviate the arid feeling inside his mouth. He couldn't tear his gaze away from the Ezra's as images flashed across his mind. “Ezra...”
“Chris, you need to...”
“I did...what did I...” Larabee felt as if his head was going to explode and bitter bile rose in his throat as he looked at the pale-faced gambler. He could see the fear and surprise in the green eyes and tried to figure out where it had come from. What had he done to put that fear in Ezra Standish?
“Chris, it's okay, just breathe,” Jackson ordered and tried to get through to the injured blond who seemed locked in some kind of nightmare only he could see.
“What the...hell,” Larabee managed and nodded that he was okay before closing his eyes and concentrating on getting enough air into his lungs. Once he was sure he wasn't going to pass out he opened them again and looked around the room.
“This can wait,” Wilmington said.
“No, it can't,” the blond said and stared at the conman. “Tell me what happened from the last time you came to visit, Ezra.”
“Chris, Ezra and I came to see you,” Sanchez answered.
“Ezra, talk to me,” Larabee ordered, pointedly ignoring the ex-preacher as Standish took a deep breath before speaking.
“What do you want me to say, Chris?” Standish asked softly.
“Tell me why you look like you lost your best friend,” the blond answered.
“This case,” Standish said and sighed tiredly. “I know we've done this numerous times, Chris, but this type of case always has an adverse affect on my psyche. I signed you in as a patient with anger and alcohol issues and the treatment for that was worse than the cause itself. Kent drugged you and tied you down and there wasn't a damn thing I could do to stop him. I wish...I wish we had never taken this case.”
“Ezra, there have been plenty of cases I wanted to turn down, but sometimes we really don't have a choice. Not when we know it's the right thing to do. You've been undercover more than the rest of us and you've seen the dregs of humanity on more than one occasion. Would you change what you did if it meant seeing an innocent person suffer?” Larabee asked.
“No, but that doesn't mean I don't have regrets, especially when it comes to giving up control of my life like you did, Chris,” the gambler answered.
“Sometimes what we think of as control is deceptive. I may have been the one on the inside, but you were put in a position where you had no control over your actions either,” Larabee told him.
“But I was on the outside, Chris, and that's the difference,” Standish whispered.
“Ezra, that's the way things go in our chosen field,” Sanchez told him. “We take our lives in our hands every time we take on a new case. You're damn good at what you do and I'm glad you're on our side or there'd be a hell of a lot more crime going unpunished.”
“Jesus, can you imagine going up against Ezra if he was running a con?” Tanner asked.
“We might as well turn and walk away,” Wilmington offered.
“I'm not that good,” Standish said.
“Trust are, Ezra,” Larabee vowed and felt the weariness creeping over him. “Well, Boys, I'm not much company right now and since Ezra needs his beauty sleep visiting hours are officially over.”
“Did he just kick us out?” Dunne asked.
“I believe he did,” Jackson said. “So come on...there's a beer with my name on it at The Saloon.”
“Ah, Nathan...”
“Come on, Nate, ya don't even know what Chris was gonna say,” Tanner said.
“Let me guess...can we go too? The answer is no,” Jackson said.
“Sorry, Cowboy, I tried,” the Texan observed and followed the others out of the room.
Ezra sighed heavily and turned his head toward the window, aware of Larabee staring at him, but unable to voice the words he wanted to say. He tried to find enough moisture to speak, and swallowed several times before turning to find his roommate's eyes closed and knew he was asleep.
Ezra closed his eyes and thought about the case and knew in his heart that they did what they started out to do. If Kent was indeed the killer then the deaths at Shady Acres would stop. He didn't want to think about the fact that if by some long shot he was innocent, that would mean what happened to Chris was for nothing. He didn't even think about his own injuries and the cause as sleep beckoned and he sank toward the waiting nightmares.
Craig Styles whistled softly as he pulled his car to a stop outside the apartment building he lived in. It wasn't much, and it was well known that several of his fellow residents dealt in drugs. He'd even bought some off the elderly couple on the fifth floor. They sold high quality goods and he'd never had a complaint, not even from Kent.
Craig exited his car and locked the doors before leaning against it and lighting a cigarette. He inhaled deeply before blowing the smoke up into the night sky. There was no doubt in his mind that he was in control and Samantha Parker would soon find out just where his tastes could lead them. He felt a tightening in his groin at the thought of having her beneath him, but first he would have to make sure she understood just how much she would lose if she denied him what he wanted.
A sound behind him made him turn toward the back of his car. The parking lot backed onto an old warehouse that had been shut down several years ago, but there was still life there, mostly those who bought drugs in the building, and partied through the night. He moved toward the area where the sound came from and looked around, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. He took another long draw on the cigarette and blew the smoke out through his nose before tossing the butt over his shoulder and turning his back on the empty lot.
Craig's thoughts returned to the woman whose body he wanted to possess and he missed the dark shape that stepped from behind the broken fencing. He whistled softly as he started toward the apartment building and dropped to his knees as something connected solidly with the back of his head. He struggled to get up, but was hit again, this time in the lower back and he hit the ground hard. He lifted his head just as a piece of two by four swung toward him and struck the left side of his face. He felt the bone crack and tried to crawl away, but several more blows landed on his unprotected body.
Blood flowed from several deep cuts on his head and dripped from his mouth as he tried to escape his attacker. Craig knew he was dying, but he had never been one to just lie down and die. His foe had moved in front of him and he reached for his leg to pull himself up, but his fingers were grabbed and bent back until he felt them snap. He cried out, the sound barely audible in the deserted parking lot as he lay on the ground, his breath coming in hitching gasps as his lifeblood flowed across the cracked pavement.
Vin leaned heavily against the corral fence as he watched Pony and Peso grazing on the grass. It was late in the evening and the sun had already sunk below the horizon. A soft breeze blew across the open field behind him as Buck joined him and passed him a bottle of beer.
“Did JD find out anything new on Bear?” Tanner asked. Dunne had been working on the files of several patients who were at Shady Acres and he knew if there was anything hidden there, JD would find it. So far they hadn't been able to prove that Bear's sister had him falsely committed.
“Nothing we can take to Miller, but you know JD...he's like a dog who lost a bone and he's not about to let go until he finds what he's looking for,” Wilmington answered.
“The kid knows how to get the answers,” Tanner said.
“Like I said...a dog worrying over a bone,” the ladies man observed. “Ezra is carrying a shitload of guilt over what happened.”
“I know...Chris'll get 'im ta open up,” the Texan told him.
“I hope so, but right now Chris is confused about most of it. I don't think he remembers stabbing Ezra with those scissors,” Wilmington offered.
“He don't...least he never said anythin' 'bout it. When he does he'll be shoulderin' his own guilt,” Tanner said and downed half the beer.
“The problem is they were just doing their job...hell, we all were.”
“Tell that to Ezra,” the Texan said.
“We did, but it looks like this whole team likes to shoulder the burden where those hair shirts are concerned,” Wilmington said. “Look, I brought pizza so we might as well eat and maybe JD will find the answers tomorrow.”
“Sounds good,” Tanner said and followed the ladies' man toward the house.
Ezra heard the nurse checking his roommate, and swallowed several times before turning and watching as she finished taking his vitals. Chris had been asleep since dinner and had eaten very little of the meal they'd brought him. Larabee was never a big eater and hospital food left a lot to be desired, yet tonight's fair had been better than he thought possible.
“Ezra, are you having trouble sleeping,” Karen Malone asked softly, smiling at the pale-faced man in the second bed.
“I had thought I was concealing my lack of sleep,” Standish said.
“I'm afraid I learned long ago how to read people and I know you are worried about your friend...”
“Has his fever abated?”
“No, I'm sorry,” Karen answered. “I have put in a call for Dr. Simmons and he should be here shortly.”
“Is it that bad?” the conman asked and raised the head of his bed, grimacing as the movement reminded him of his own injury.
“From what I've read on Chris Larabee, he tends to complicate pun intended,” she said, with a hint of a smile.
“Yes, he certainly knows how to make Buck age a decade overnight,” Standish told her.
“Is he the one always complaining about gray hairs even while he flirts with the nurses?”
“That's Buck,” the gambler said fondly as a familiar figure walked into the room and shook his head.
“I was going to ask if there was a problem, Karen, but after seeing the occupants of this room I already have my answer,” Roy Simmons said.
“I believe Chris was correct when he expressed the fact that you require more fiber in your diet,” Standish said.
“Watch it Standish or I'll have the kitchen make prunes part of your dietary every meal,” Simmons said and reached for Larabee's chart. “When was the Tylenol last given?”
“At eight,” Karen answered and knew it was too soon for more to be given.
“Has Dr. Silverman been in today?”
“He saw him this morning,” the nurse told him.
“Let's get a cooling blanket on him and run a blood series,” Simmons said and noted the specific tests he wanted done.
“Is he going to be all right?” Standish asked once the nurse left to carry out his orders.
“Larabee's as stubborn as they come and he loves to get into a pissing contest with me and I believe I'm one up on him in that department...”
“Don't fuckin' on it, Sim...Simmons,” Larabee said and licked at dry lips.
“See what I mean, Standish? I knew damn well he was sandbaggin' it,” Simmons said and checked the injured blond's eyes. “How do you feel?”
“Blinded...w...why do you always f...find it necessary to use that fuckin' thing? I wasn't shot in the eyes,” the blond groused.
“No, but you weren't shot in the butt either, yet you're still a pain in the ass,” the older man said. He enjoyed the verbal sparring with Larabee's team, but there was something about the sharp-witted blond that made him go toe to toe with him. “Now, back to my do you feel?”
“Hot,” Larabee answered.
“I'm sure the nurses think so too, but I meant...”
“No, Simmons, I mean why is it so fucking hot in here,” Larabee asked and brushed the man's hands away.
“You're running a fever, Larabee,” the physician answered. “Karen went to get a cooling blanket and hopefully between it, the Tylenol, and the antibiotics we'll be able to bring it down.”
“Hell,” the blond whispered as his eyes drifted closed.
Ezra watched as the nurse and an orderly returned and they soon had the cooling blanket set up. He ran his fingers through his disheveled hair as he clicked on the button that would deliver pain medication to his body. He heard footsteps near his bed and looked at Simmons.
“Karen says you're having trouble sleeping,” the physician said.
“I'm fine.”
“Contrary to Larabee and Tanner's opinion those two words are not magic and just because you say them doesn't make them true,” Simmons said. “I'm writing up an order for a mild sleeping pill, Standish, mainly for my own peace of mind. Take it and make things easier on all of us.”
“Take it, Ezra,” Larabee whispered before surrendering completely to the medications in his system.
“What do you say, Standish? Will you take a sleeping pill?”
“I guess so,” the conman answered and wasn't surprised when the nurse produced the prescribed medication and explained that he should put it under his tongue and let it dissolve. Ezra did as she said and soon heard Simmons and the nurse leave. He turned his head and watched the slow rise and fall of Chris Larabee's chest as guilt gnawed at his gut.
Josiah reached for the cup of strong black coffee and turned on the television before settling on the sofa to watch the early morning news. He'd called the hospital to check on Chris and Ezra and would stop in to see them on his way in to the office. He leaned back and put his feet up on the heavy wooden coffee table just as his cell phone rang.
*“Josiah, it's Nathan, have you seen the news?”*
“I just turned it on. What's wrong?”
*“Craig Styles...the orderly from Shady Acres was found dead this morning.”*
“From what Vin told us about him I won't shed a tear over his death. What happened to him?”
*“It looks like he was attacked by an unknown assailant outside his apartment building sometime last night. From what the reporter said the attack was pretty gruesome. They also reported that the building he lived in backed onto an abandoned warehouse that was well known for drugs and those Rave parties.”*
“Maybe he stiffed someone over a drug deal,” Sanchez offered.
*“Probably...wouldn't be the first time a drug deal ended badly. Are you going in to the office?”*
“Right after I stop by to see Chris and Ezra. Do you need a ride?”
*“Rain's going in to the hospital so I'll hitch a ride with her and wait for you there.”*
“Sounds good, Nate. I should be there around ten,” Sanchez said and hung up. He leaned back on the couch and closed his eyes as he thought about the events of the last few weeks. If Kent was indeed behind the deaths and Styles was working with him, then the trouble at Shady Acres should be over. God, he hoped it was that simple, because otherwise they still had a case to finish.
There was something cold and deadly in his hand, but he couldn't make sense of why he was holding them with such ferocity. Anger and frustration warred for dominance as he glanced around in the darkness, searching for the object of his hatred. He needed to find the sonofabitch who'd signed him in. He needed to thrust the scissors into the man's chest and watch as the life drained from his body. There was a coldness about him that was tied around his heart as if the warmth had leeched from his body in much the same way his brother had leeched the money from his company.
He knew who he sought, knew what he had to do, and no one would stop him from completing the ultimate revenge.
“Kill dear...”
The words were so soft he wasn't sure they were real until the words were repeated so close that he knew it was not his imagination. Ezra opened his eyes and tried to make sense of where he was and why his body felt weighted down. He blinked several times, unable to make sense of what he was seeing.
“Chris,” he whispered, not understanding the look on the other man's face, yet understanding that the raised right hand meant something.
“You won't get a...way with it, dear...”
“Chris, listen to me,” Standish tried, but there was no sign of recognition from the blond. He reached out to press the button, but something struck him in the chest and he cried out as pain erupted through his upper body.
Josiah walked slowly toward the room Chris and Ezra shared and pushed open the door. It surprised him to see the empty bed and he quickly took in the scene at the second bed. He moved forward, calling for help as he reached Larabee and grabbed him around the waist.
“Let me go! to die!”
“Chris, calm down...that's Ezra...”
“What's going on?” a nurse asked upon hurrying into the room and seeing a man holding one of her patients.
“Let me go!” Larabee said and continued to struggle while Sanchez held him.
“Check on Ezra,” Sanchez ordered, relieved when the nurse moved to the other patient. He returned his full attention to the man who'd suddenly gone limp in his arms and lifted him onto his bed. He looked at Larabee's face and realized the man had passed out as the nurse hit the call button and asked for help. “How is he?”
“I'm fine...Chris?” Standish managed as the nurse checked him over.
“He's out,” Sanchez answered as a second nurse hurried into the room followed quickly by Brandon Silverman who'd just started his morning rounds.
“What the hell happened here?” Silverman asked and moved to Larabee's bed.
“Chris must have been experiencing a nightmare and thought he was still at Shady Acres,” Standish answered.
“He's pulled out his IV,” Silverman said and turned to the second nurse. “Get a new set up and I want to take a look at his wound. Ezra...”
“I'm fine...”
“Don't give me that crap...just tell me what he did,” Silverman ordered.
“He struck me in the chest,” Standish answered.
“Jordan, is he bleeding?” the surgeon asked as he removed the bandaging from Larabee's wound.
“No,” the nurse told him.
“Good,” Silverman said, relieved that both patients seemed to be okay in spite of what had happened. “We're going to need restraints...”
“No, you can't do that to him!” Ezra said and pushed the nurse's hands aside.
“Ezra, stay put!” Sanchez ordered and moved to help the nurse with the injured conman.
“Josiah, you can't let them put Chris in restraints!” Standish said and grabbed Sanchez's arm. “It'll send him back to hell...I can't let that happen to him again.”
“We won't Ezra,” the ex-preacher vowed and turned to Silverman. “Doc, I'll stay with them and make sure Chris doesn't do anything he's not supposed to.”
“You're Sanchez right?” the surgeon asked.
“Yes, I am.”
“Are you sure you want to take on that responsibility?”
“Yes...we've done it before,” Sanchez answered.
“All right,” Silverman reluctantly agreed. He knew these men, maybe not as well as Midland or Simmons, but he understood that when they made up their minds about something, they usually got their way. “Jordan, we won't need the restraints for now, but if this happens again we won't have a choice.”
“Yes, Dr. Silverman,” the nurse said and expertly restarted Larabee's IV while the doctor finished checking the wound.
Silverman moved to the second patient and checked to make sure Larabee hadn't done any damage to Standish and was relieved to find only a hint of redness around the wound. “This looks good, Ezra, but I want you to let the nurse know if you develop any pain or signs of bleeding.”
“I will,” Standish assured him, turning his head slightly until he could see past the surgeon to Larabee. He heard the medical staff leave and felt a hand on his shoulder.
“He's okay, Son,” Sanchez said and watched as Standish's eyes closed. He knew when the younger man gave in to the sleep he needed and sat back to wait for Nathan to join him.
Samantha Parker looked at the patients in her group therapy and thought about their backgrounds and family. What would they do if these five people were to suddenly die of unknown causes? She'd killed for money, but now she wanted the thrill that the power of killing gave her. It didn't matter that her hands weren't the ones that actually caused the deaths, what mattered was that she controlled how and when they died.
“Dr. Parker, Carl Sheppard is waiting for you in your office,” Katrina Morgan said from the open doorway.
“Tell him I'll be right there,” Parker told her and turned to the patients. “You have all done very well today...”
“Does that mean I can go home?” Dugan snapped.
“No, Joseph, you still have a long way to go before I sign your release papers,” Parker vowed.
“You let Jacobson go and he was nuttier than a fruitcake...”
“Chris Jacobson is no longer a patient at Shady Acres, but that doesn't mean he was cured,” Parker said, anger simmering just below the surface.
“Then why'd ya let him go?”
“I don't need to explain my actions to you, Joseph,” the therapist snapped and grabbed the files from the table before leaving the room. She made her way to her office and closed the door as she moved to her desk. “Tell me Styles is taken care of.”
“Marcus assured me he's dead and he made it look like a drug deal gone bad,” Sheppard told her.
“Good, now maybe things will settle down and we can get on with our lives,” Parker said.
“Are we just going to let those bastards get away with fucking up what we had here?”
“I don't think we have a choice in the matter, Carl. If we go after them then it could very well put Shady Acres back under the microscope. I've done some digging into Larabee and the agency he works for. It's owned by a former judge named Orin Travis and has ties with the police department and the government. I couldn't access most of the files, but Larabee is a former member of the Special Forces including the Navy SEALs.”
“We should have checked into them more carefully,” Sheppard said.
“We did what we could with the information we had. The story they gave was believable and the background checks didn't turn up anything that should have sent off warning signals. They are good at what they do, Carl, and we should be glad Kent seems to have been the focus of their investigation. I just wish I could have had more time with Chris.”
“I wish we'd had more time to use the drugs Marcus gave me. It would have been fun watching him take a trip on the wild side,” Sheppard told her.
“We did manage to give him a look at his dark side,” Parker said with a smile as she leaned back in her chair. “Anyway, the money is ours and I have decided to hand in my resignation as of today.”
“You can't just up and leave. That will just cast suspicions on you if they focus on the recent deaths including Kent and Styles,” Sheppard told her.
“I know that, Carl, so I have given them a month's notice with the option to stay longer if they need more time to find a replacement.”
“What did you give as a reason for your resignation?”
“I want to start my own practice,” Parker answered and picked up a pencil. “I have more than enough money to do that, but I believe I'll just travel for several months and maybe settle down in another country until I decide whether I want to return to work. What about you, Carl, what are your plans?”
“I'll keep working until my contract ends next year and then I'll retire to a nice warm climate where there's nothing but fun in the sun,” Sheppard answered.
“Sounds like a good plan,” Parker told him and realized they'd both made some changes to the plans they had originally spoken of shortly after Kent's death. She reached into her desk and pulled out the bottle of brandy she kept there and poured them both a drink. “To retirement.”
“To the people who have lined our pockets,” Sheppard said with a grin and clinked glasses before swallowing the fiery liquid. “Well, I have to meet with a new client today so I'll talk to you later, Sam.”
“New money, Carl?”
“Of course, but not nearly enough to make us take a chance now that we have what we need and are in the clear,” Sheppard answered.
Parker waited for him to leave and reached for the file in her desk. She wanted to make Chris Larabee and Ezra Standish pay for what they cost her, but right now she could not take that chance. Cursing softly she threw it back in the drawer and slammed it shut before taking the papers off her desk and hurrying to meet with the board.
JD stared at the laptop screen in frustration, but he'd never been a quitter and was not gonna start now. He had all the information from Kent's files, but couldn't help feeling like there was something he was missing. He'd been through the hidden folder, found more than enough information to convict Kent if the man had lived to go to trial, but it all seemed too easy.
From what he'd uncovered so far, Raymond Kent was a genius. The man had falsified so many of his records and made it appear as if the credentials on his walls were hard earned. The hospital he supposedly worked at for more than 12 years had no record of Raymond Kent, at least not as a psychiatrist. What they did have was a record of him as a patient whose mind seemed to work too fast and left him with severe headaches, at least that was how JD interpreted what he'd read.
“JD, why don't you take a break?” Wilmington suggested.
“I'm okay, Buck.”
“No, Kid, you're not. You've been at that for three days straight and it's time to give it up and come back at it with fresh eyes. It's late and Nate called to say he wanted to meet us all at the hospital...”
“Are Chris and Ezra all right?” Dunn asked as Vin joined them.
“They're okay, but Chris had...I guess you could call it a flashback, but he thought he was still at Shady Acres and attacked Ezra. Silverman ordered restraints...”
“No fuckin' way!” Tanner snarled.
“Easy, Vin, Josiah talked them out of it, but it means one of us needs to be there in case it happens again,” Wilmington observed.
“What did he do?” Dunne asked and closed down the files he'd been working on.
“Chris attacked Ezra...hit him in the chest and called him a bastard. Josiah thinks Chris thought he was still at Shady Acres,” the ladies man answered.
“Damn, that could happen again,” Tanner said.
“Exactly, so let's close up shop and head over there,” the rogue told them and waited until Dunne shut down the laptop and headed for the door.
Chris knew the smells surrounding him and silently cursed that the pain in his head and the nausea in his gut weren't caused by too much drinking. He heard familiar voices and opened his eyes to find five men standing around his bed, but one man was conspicuously absent.
“Welcome back, Son,” Sanchez greeted softly.
“Where's Ezra?” Larabee asked and shot up in the bed as panic swept through him. He closed his eyes as vivid images of his hand clutching something sharp and driving it into a chest...but whose chest?
“Chris, hold on, Pard, you're okay,” Wilmington tried.
“God, Buck, I...I killed him!” the blond said as blood covered his hands and a look of surprised horror was quickly replaced by pain in Ezra's eyes.
“No, you didn't, Chris, Ezra's right over there,” Tanner said and waited for the injured man to turn his head. “He's just sleeping.”
“He's okay?” Larabee whispered.
“He's okay, Chris,” Jackson assured the blond.
“I remember...”
“What do you remember, Son?” Sanchez asked.
“I remember being at Shady Acres...remember being so pissed at Ezra that I stabbed him,” Larabee said and frowned as several more images flashed through his mind. He felt anger and rage and the need to make someone pay for his loss of control and someone urging him on.
“What else, Chris?” Jackson asked.
“The orderly...Styles...he gave me the scissors. Kept telling me my brother was behind everything and I couldn't think straight. I just felt rage and wanted to wipe the smug look off Ezra's face. God, I could have killed him,” Larabee said, his voice edged with pain.
“But you didn't, Chris, although I will need to put in for a new suit in the next expense report,” Standish said and turned to look at his roommate.
“If Travis won't pay for it...I will,” Larabee told him, guilt evident in his voice as he studied the conman. “Ezra...”
“Don't go there, Chris, someone slipped you some heavy duty drugs and that person is to blame for this,” Standish said.
“Didn't I tell you the same thing when we started this case? We all have to learn to live with our decisions and it was mine to take on this case. I nearly killed you, Ezra,” Larabee said and again closed his eyes as more images formed and this time he knew what he'd done could not be blamed on drugs. His stomach churned as he opened his eyes and looked at his hands and reached for the basin as bitter tasting bile rose in his throat. He heard Wilmington's worried voice, but saw nothing except his hands striking against Ezra's chest.
“Chris, it's okay,” Jackson tried as dry heaves attacked the blond.
“No...God...I wasn' drugs...thought...thought it was real,” Larabee managed and looked at his hands as if they were covered in blood.
“What was real, Chris?” Sanchez asked.
“I tried to kill wasn't drugs making me do it,” the blond spat and pulled away from Wilmington's touch.
“It wasn't you, Chris,” Tanner said.
“Don't patronize me, Vin...I know exactly what I did and I couldn't stop it!”
“Chris, you are not to blame!” Standish tried. “You were...”
“I was what, Ezra? Having a flashback? Hell, I know that, but it doesn't matter because it could happen again and then what? What if no one's around to stop me?”
“Chris, we've all done things in our lives and you're not the first one to have flashbacks, but as long as we don't let them rule our lives, we can deal with them. We have to or we stop being who we are. This team came together for a reason and we've all learned to lean on each other, so don't try to be strong on your own. Our strength is in our number and the team is only as strong as the man who leads it and by leading he has to trust his gut and lean on us,” Sanchez told him.
“Josiah's right, Chris, lean on us and we'll help you through this...we all will,” Wilmington vowed as Larabee lay back against the pillows and he covered his eyes with his arm. “Come on, Pard, you know you're not alone in this.”
“I know, Buck, but Jesus...”
“Jesus has nothing to do with this, Chris, but I'm betting he'll gladly add his shoulder if you want to lean a little harder,” Sanchez offered.
Chris knew the others were right, but guilt gnawed at his gut each time he looked at Ezra Standish. The conman's eyes were locked on his and he saw something in them that spoke of the same emotions he was feeling and Chris knew then that he was not alone. He took a deep breath, looked at each member of his team, and saw none of the blame he expected to see there.
“Gentlemen, I thought hospital policy was two visitors at a time,” Simmons said from his vantage point in the open doorway.
“Hell, Doc, ya know we ain't that good at keepin' ta the numbers,” Tanner said.
“You bunch aren't good at keepin' to hospital policies at all...the noise level was disturbing the other patients,” the gruff physician warned.
“Sorry, Doc, my fault,” Larabee said.
“Okay, where the hell are ya hiding the real Chris Larabee!” Simmons said and moved to check Larabee's vitals.
“Hell, Simmons, what did you do stick your hands in the fucking freezer?” Larabee cursed when the man's cold hand touched his arm.
“That I did, Larabee, just for you,” Simmons said with a grin as he listened to the blond's heartbeat.
“Sonofabitch...go check on Ezra” the blond ordered.
“Not until my hands warm up...after all Standish has a delicate countenance and we shouldn't exacerbate it...”
“I may not agree with what you said, Dr. Simmons, but I am impressed that you have studied something besides the comic strip in the morning paper,” Standish observed.
“I don't have time for the morning comics, Standish, I'm too busy adding new chapters to War and Peace and The least Vin and Buck aren't adding to my grief,” Simmons said and grew serious as he looked at the blond. “Chris, your temperature has come down...”
“So you'll sign me out...”
“Not by a long shot, Larabee, and don't you start, Standish!”
“What did I do?”
“You managed to get yourself a roommate named Larabee and I'm not gonna be signing any discharge papers for at least three days,” Simmons vowed. “Now, you bunch need to get out of here and let these two get some rest.”
“Simmons, why don't you...”
“Better think about what you're gonna say, Larabee, because that three days could be longer,” the physician said with a wicked grin.
“Do that and I'll make the nurses life a living hell and make sure they know it's because of you,” the blond warned.
“Touche, but do that and remember that proctological exam I told you about...well see that department might just have an pun intended,” Simmons said.
“Always knew you were an ass, Simmons,” Wilmington said and heard soft groans from the others.
“Buck's full of crap,” Dunne added and smiled in spite of the glares turned in his direction.
“The shit's really flying here today so I'm gonna leave you boys to clean it up,” Simmons said. “Larabee, and heal 'cause I need these beds for patients who appreciate my talents?”
“Comedic though they might be,” Tanner said and Simmons raised his eyebrows before leaving the room.
“I don't know about Ezra, but I think I'm going to do as Simmons says for a change and get some sleep,” Larabee said and yawned tiredly before pressing the button that would deliver the prescribed dose of pain medication before lowering the head of his bed.
“That sound like a plan, Chris,” Ezra said and did the same as his roommate.
“Rain's here until midnight,” Jackson said and knew the others understood he was volunteering to stay with Larabee and Standish until then. He heard them leave and nodded at Tanner when the Texan said he'd be back at midnight to relieve him.
The next three days passed in a blur for Chris Larabee, his fever continued to cause problems until it finally abated in a burst that left Chris worn out and sleeping deeply.
Ezra knew the other man was weak and while his own IV had been removed, Larabee's was still running steadily into his arm because of the danger of dehydration. He slid his legs over the edge of the bed and sat for a few minutes, unconsciously rubbing at the itch that signaled the wound was healing.
Ezra knew Simmons would be in shortly and hoped the gruff physician would sign his release papers. He was eating and drinking and the pain was manageable now with Tylenol #3s. He put on his slippers, made his way to the window, and stared down at the street below.
“Anything interesting down there, Standish or would you be interested in letting me take a look at you and maybe giving you your walking papers...or should that be shuffling papers,” Simmons said and drew the curtains to allow them some privacy.
“I do not shuffle.”
“Today, you do,” Simmons told him. “Now take off your shirt and lets see about getting you out of here.”
Ezra took off the pajama top he was wearing and sat on the edge of his bed as Simmons gently pulled the bandage away from the wound. The older man was thorough in his examination of the area surrounding the wound, but finally picked up the chart and made several notations before dropping it back on the table and sitting on the edge of the bed.
“How do you feel, Standish, and none of Larabee's 'I'm fine' crap,” Simmons ordered.
“Now there's a novel thought,” the physician said with a grin.
“I'm tired and sore and when I get home I'm going to climb into bed and stay there for a week...”
“Deal, I'll have the papers drawn up for you to sign. A week in bed sounds just about right,” Simmons said.
“What about Chris? When will you release him?”
“Well, Chris is living up to his reputation when it comes to complications,” Simmons answered and stood up. “Although his temperature is down and he seems to be sleeping soundly right now and that's a good thing. I'll talk with Dr. Silverman later today and if everything stays as it is I'll probably sign his release papers tomorrow morning.”
“I'll hold you to that, Simmons.” Larabee's voice sounded weak, but there was no mistaking his intent as Simmons pulled back the curtain and moved to his bed.
“You look like death warmed over, Larabee,” the gruff physician observed.
“After what you people have put me through, I'll take that as a compliment,” the blond grumbled and pressed the button to raise the head of his bed. “So, Ez, you're getting out of here.”
“That's what the man said,” Standish agreed.
“Well, I have other patients to see so I'll leave you two to it. Standish, make sure you rest, take your meds, and keep your appointments with Dr. Silverman and Stacey,” Simmons said and turned his attention to the second man. “As for you, Larabee, don't go trying to slip out with Standish!”
“And miss your sunny personality,” Larabee said with a grin.
“Real funny. I'll see you tomorrow morning,” Simmons told him and left the two men alone.
“Who are you going to call to drive you home?” Larabee asked.
“I believe Vin said he would be in around noon so if you don't mind the company I'll wait for him,” Standish said and walked slowly to the closet where the clothing Josiah brought him were hanging. He brought them to his bed and sat down before looking at the blond. “Chris, I was thinking.”
“Bad thing to do in here, Ezra,” Larabee said, waiting for the other man to continue.
“When you get out of here why don't you stay at my penthouse for a while. I mean it would make things easier for the guys considering they will be overly protective...”
“You mean they'll be in mother hen mode?”
“Precisely...and it would simply benefit everyone if we were staying in one place.”
“Thanks, Ezra, that sounds like a plan,” Larabee told him. “I'll have Vin grab some things from the ranch and drop them at your place. You did lay in a good supply of your special blend?”
“Of course,” Standish answered and closed the curtains while he dressed.
Chris laid his head back against the pillow and closed his eyes as he listened to his roommate get dressed. He envied Standish being allowed to leave, but at least if things continued then he'd be leaving this place himself the next morning. He glanced at the doorway as footsteps neared and wasn't surprised to find Orin Travis standing there.
“Come in, Orin,” Larabee said when the older man seemed unsure whether he should enter or not.
“How are you feeling, Chris?” the former judge asked.
“Better, Orin, according to Simmons I can go home tomorrow,” the blond answered as Standish drew back the curtain.
“Good morning, Orin,” Standish greeted.
“Good morning, Ezra, I'm guessing by your attire that you're getting out of here today,” Travis observed.
“Simmons seems to think I am sufficiently recovered and can recuperate just as well at home,” the gambler told him.
“Nice to know your injuries haven't affected your vocabulary,” Travis offered and pulled a chair closer to Larabee's bed.
“What's going on, Orin?” the blond asked.
“I spoke with Daniel today about Kent and Styles,” Travis said.
“The board has turned all his files over to the police and the board is cooperating with the authorities. For all intents and purposes it looks like Kent really was behind the murders and Styles helped him by supplying the drugs he used on you, Chris.”
“At least they won't be costing the taxpayers anything,” Larabee observed.
“JD's still working on the files he sent to the office from Shady Acres. He says he's found some discrepancies in Kent's hidden agenda, but he hasn't been able to figure out why it's bothering him,” Travis said.
“If JD thinks something's not right then he's probably correct and I would allow him the necessary time to find what he's searching for,” Standish said.
“Believe me, I agree. I've learned over the years to trust each of you and if your instincts tell you something then I'd put money on the outcome,” the former judge observed.
“Thanks, Orin,” Larabee said.
“You're welcome, now stop worrying about Shady Acres and any other cases and concentrate on healing,” Travis said.
“How are Mary and Billy?” Larabee asked of Travis' daughter-in-law and her son.
“They're fine. Billy is doing very well in school and has joined the baseball team. They're coming back for a visit next month since Gerard is supposed to be going to England on business,” Travis answered. At one point he'd been half expecting Chris and Mary to get together, but that had not happened and Mary had fallen in love with Gerard and they'd been married six months ago. Gerard was good for Mary and treated Billy like his own and for that, Orin was grateful, but it was still somewhat of a disappointment.
“That's good to hear. Let me know when they get here and maybe we'll have a BBQ at the ranch,” the blond said and sighed tiredly.
“I will, Chris, and on that note I'll let you rest. Now, Ezra, don't let me catch you anywhere near the office until I hear from Stacey,” Travis ordered before leaving the two men alone.
Chris watched as Ezra finished packing, but soon found his mind drifting as sleep beckoned to him and he gave in to its call. He didn't see the worry or guilt that crossed Standish's face, yet his mind was filled with his own version of guilt as it followed him into his dreams.
JD looked at the files on his desk and cursed that he needed to update them before concentrating on Raymond Kent's hidden agenda. There was no doubt that the man was crazy and had tried to kill Chris, but there was more to it than what was seen with the naked eye. He'd been able to uncover several other inconsistencies where Kent was concerned, but again they didn't help prove conclusively that he was behind the deaths at Shady Acres.
JD took the top file and sighed heavily as he opened it and began reading what he'd put in there. The Johansson case was a done deal with Robert Johansson finally complying with everything that had been set forth by the lawyer or Mildred Dawson. The elderly woman had been taken for a ride by the enigmatic conman, but he hadn't been able to fool Josiah when they'd confronted him with Mrs. Dawson's approval. JD signed off on the case and put the file in the pile that would need Wilmington's approval before being sent to Travis.
JD read through several more files before realizing he really wasn't concentrating on the task at hand and that wasn't fair to the agency's clients. He pushed the files away, pulled the laptop closer, and tapped several keys to bring up Kent's file.
“JD, are you back at it?” Wilmington asked and knew by the look on Dunne's face he'd been enthralled with whatever he'd been working on.
“Oh, hi, Buck, what time is it?”
“Nearly four...did you get the Johansson and Dawson files finished?”
“Yeah, they're on that stack. I'll get to the rest tomorrow,” Dunne told him.
“JD, son, I know you think you're missing something with Kent, but there's not much more we can do for now. It's time to take care of the other clients,” Wilmington observed.
“I know...I just have the feeling there's something important we're missing.”
“You're not the only one who feels that way, Kid, but right now all we have are questions and the answers will have to wait. I'm going to go see Mrs. Dawson and update her on everything. Why don't you shut that down and come with me. You know how she loves it when young blood pays attention to her,” the ladies man said, relieved when the Bostonian did as he suggested and headed for the door.
“Fuck...fucking kill you.” “Easy, Jacobson, I'm going to help you. You're in trouble, Jacobson, but I can help you. You want to hide until they get your brother out of here don't you?” “Killed him...killed the bastard.” “No, you didn't kill him, Jacobson, but I can make sure no one finds you.” “Why me?” “I don't like men like your brother. They're self-righteous bastards who think only of themselves. It wasn't your fault that he got what he deserved.” “Deserved more...fuckin' cheat...never did him...”
The words all ran together until they became a long jangled sentence spoken in two voices that could not be separated. There was no one in the room to see the misery that shone in the sea green eyes that were open and staring at the ceiling as if they bore witness to the pain he'd caused. Chris turned on his side and drifted back into the nightmarish images as two new voices invaded his dreams.
“What the hell? Where's Jacobson?” “He's right here, but between the drugs you gave him and the ones Kent gave him he's a mess.” “Look, I need to get out of here before we're discovered. Take the gun and shoot Larabee...” “Why the hell don't you do it?” “I can't be seen here. Look, shoot Jacobson and make it look like he killed Kent. You'll be a hero for catching the crazy patient, and Ray will be a martyr.” “I...” “Time's wasting, Craig, and I'm the one holding all the cards now that you took care of Kent. Kill Jacobson and I'll make damn sure you're on easy street for the rest of your life.”
“No,” Larabee's voice was soft in the darkened room with no one to hear his cries as he sank deeper into the nightmare. The voices were strangely familiar and distinctly female at some point, but who was she and why did she want him dead.
Ezra lay back on his bed and closed his eyes as he let the familiarity of his home soothe away the aches and pains and emotional turmoil that plagued him. He could hear the television in the living room and knew Vin was probably watching reruns on the channel that showed the sitcoms from the eighties. The Texan seemed to enjoy shows like Gilligan's Island and The Jeffersons.
Ezra glanced at the bedside clock and rubbed at the wound in his chest before sitting up. He was hungry, but he wasn't sure what he wanted. He tucked his feet into his slippers and grabbed the soft robe from the back of the chair before making his way to the living room.
“Hey, Ez, ya look better'n ya did this morning,” Tanner observed.
“Thank is amazing what a couple of hours...”
“A couple of hours...try six,” the Texan said with a grin. “Ya hungry?”
“I'm guessing that's a yes,” Tanner said. “Come on...I made stewed chicken and vegetables.”
“Surprisingly that sounds quite appetizing,” Standish said as his stomach rumbled loudly.
“We'd best feed that beast before it bites us,” the Texan said and led the way into the kitchen. He waited for Ezra to sit down at the breakfast nook and served him a bowl of the savory chicken stew and a biscuit.
“Thank you, Vin,” Standish said and took a tentative spoonful, relishing the taste as his stomach once more rumbled appreciatively. “Is there anything new at Shady Acres?”
“Not much. The board was ready ta fire Styles, but somebody took care of that decision fer 'em.”
“Has JD gotten anywhere with Kent's files?”
“No, he's still trying to break through Kent's secure passwords, but so far he's hit a brick wall,” Tanner answered.
“Perhaps I could...”
“Oh, no ya can't. Travis said ta remind ya that ya ain't allowed near the office until the docs clear ya.”
“JD could bring...”
“Ain't gonna happen, Ez, so suck it up and put a sock in it,” Tanner warned.
“Vin, what if Kent wasn't behind the killings? What if whoever is out there decides that Chris is a liability he or she can't afford?”
“We've all thought of that, Ez, and it means ya could be in danger too,” the Texan said.
“I'm no threat.”
“Maybe not, but if Kent didn't do it then you could know somethin' and not even know ya know it.”
“Somehow that actually made sense,” Standish said and looked into his bowl, amazed that he'd actually finished the whole thing. He picked up the biscuit and broke off a piece. “Vin...”
“Ez, it ain't up fer debate,” Tanner told him.
“I was simply going to ask who is picking Chris up tomorrow?”
“Sure ya were,” the Texan said and raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “Buck's picking Chris up and he'll bring him here. Mighty nice of ya ta let 'im stay in yer guest room.”
“It seemed like a favorable idea considering the alternative would be needing two of you in different places,” Standish said and finished the biscuit. He reached for a napkin and cleaned up the crumbs while watching as Vin put the dishes in the dishwasher.
“Are ya headin' back ta bed or would ya like ta watch somethin'?”
“I believe I could stomach an episode of Gilligan's Island,” Standish said.
“Yer a closet Gilligan fan,” Tanner said with a grin.
“No, I prefer being a Ginger fan, but you may have Gilligan if that's...”
“Gilligan don't float my boat, Ezra, now Mary Ann is mighty fine,” Tanner said as they made their way into the living room.
Chris had never been a patient man and waiting for Simmons was not one of his favorite pass times, not by a long shot. He slapped the mattress and sat up on the edge of the bed. He stood up and reached for the IV pole before making his way to the bathroom where he took care of business and glanced at his reflection in the mirror.
“Ya look like shit, Larabee,” he mumbled of the pale face and dark half circles under his eyes. He knew the reason was more than just his wound; it was also due to the nightmares and lack of sleep. He reached for the cloth and used it to wash his face before leaving the room and making his way to the chair beside the window.
Chris leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes, snapping them open when he heard voices outside the door. There was no mistaking the gruff sound he associated with Simmons and Chris readied himself for the argument he knew was inevitable with the older man. He was ready when Simmons and Midland stepped into the room, or at least he thought he was.
“Good morning, Chris,” Midland said with a smile.
“It was until you let him in,” Larabee groused.
“Aren't you just a ray of sunshine on an otherwise dreary morning,” Simmons said and dropped the chart onto the table.
“You could have sent me home yesterday and made us both happy,” Larabee said.
“Now, Chris, Brandon has last say on whether you are ready to be released,” Midland said.
“Where is he?” the blond asked.
“He's in surgery,” the woman answered.
“Damn it, Doc, I want out of here.”
“There's a big surprise,” Simmons said with a grin. “Look, Larabee, Brandon signed your release papers because your numbers are better...”
“Why the hell didn't you say so?” Larabee snapped.
“It was too much fun listening to you gripe about what you wanted,” Simmons said.
“Chris, Brandon left orders for follow up appointments with him and I want to see you in my office in one week,” Midland told him.
“Done, now if you two would excuse me I'd like to get the hell out of here before the vampires show up for more of my blood...”
“Actually, it's not all yours anymore...I'm more inclined to say you're borrowing it for short time,” Simmons teased.
“Hell, Doc, you're a real barrel of laughs this morning, but my advice is...don't give up your day job,” Larabee said.
“I wouldn't think of it,” the gruff physician said with a grin. “Besides if I did who would I have to irritate...or irrigate where you're concerned.”
“Real funny,” Larabee said and turned to Midland who seemed to be enjoying the banter more than he was. “Doc, are we done?”
“I think so,” Midland said and passed Larabee several sheets of paper. “Those are your follow up appointments and your scripts. Make sure you finish the antibiotics, Chris, or you could end up back in here and we all know how much you detest hospitals.”
“Then why does he have frequent flier miles on the gurneys?” Simmons said with a toothy grin before leaving Midland alone with Larabee.
“Doc, why did you take him on?” Larabee asked.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time and he certainly knows how to handle all of you,” Midland said. “He's good at his job, Chris, and he knows what he's doing...I trust him.”
“That's good to know, Doc,” Larabee sighed as he looked toward the door to find Buck standing there.
“Simmons said you're like a grizzly with a burr up your ass this morning...oh, hi, Doc.”
“Good morning, Buck, make sure you pick up his scripts and don't let him anywhere near the office until I clear him,” Midland said and left the two men alone.
“You ready to blow this Popsicle stand?”
“Hell, yes, did you bring my clothes?”
“Of course...not that you wouldn't cut a fine figure walking out of here in your birthday suit and bandages,” Wilmington teased.
“Real funny, Buck, make yourself useful and go find a nurse to take this thing out before they decide to do more tests,” Larabee groused. It wasn't long before the nurse removed the IV and Chris dressed in loose fitting jeans and a t-shirt settled into the wheelchair and was pushed out of the room. By the time they reached Buck's Mustang, Chris felt as weak as a newborn calf and was grateful for the ladies' man's help getting his seat belt secured.
Vin heard the door open and walked out of the kitchen to find Wilmington hovering behind a pale-faced Larabee. He quickly assessed the blond and felt a small amount of relief when Larabee met his eyes before making his way toward the living room.
“How's Ezra?'” Larabee asked once he was seated on the black leather sofa.
“He's resting. Are ya hungry?” Tanner asked.
“A little,” Larabee answered.
“Nathan brought over a pot of chicken soup...Rain made it last night,” the Texan offered.
“Sounds good,” Larabee said as he leaned back and closed his eyes. He could her Vin and Buck talking softly, but he couldn't quite make out what they were saying. He opened his eyes and frowned as Ezra slowly made his way toward him and sat in the matching leather recliner.
“Welcome to my humble abode.”
“Ezra, there's nothing humble about your home,” Larabee said. “You have all the modern conveniences and your taste in decor is well suited to who you are.”
“Thank you...I will take that as a compliment.”
“Good. Are you okay?”
“I think so. Tired all the time, but at least the pain level is dropping,” Standish said.
“Good,” Larabee said and turned to find Vin and Buck carrying a tray each. Vin set one on the coffee table in front of him, while Buck placed the second one on Ezra's lap.
“Eat,” Wilmington ordered.
“Yes, Pa,” Larabee said.
“I guess that makes Vin, Ma,” the rogue teased.
“Not a chance, Buck, Ezra's the one who looks good in a dress,” Tanner said with a grin.
“Purple really brought out the color of his eyes,” Wilmington added.
“You can always kick them out, Ezra,” Larabee said.
“Now that idea has merit,” Standish observed.
“And who would look after you two?” Wilmington asked.
“I believe we would manage very well on our own,” the gambler answered and turned to Larabee. “I know we would probably sleep better.”
“Ezra's right...go home you two...better yet, go to work. I have a feeling there are plenty of files that require your attention,” Larabee ordered, but his words fell on deaf ears as Wilmington and Tanner ignored him and sat down on the floor.
“Nope, we'd rather leave them to you...make you feel all important so's ya know we missed ya,” Tanner told him.
“Hell,” the blond said and looked at the bowl of steaming soup. Leave it to Vin Tanner to come up with a roundabout answer. It was good to be here and he knew they'd heal with the help of their friends.
Two weeks passed before Chris and Ezra were allowed to put in an appearance at the agency's office. The others were already there and a stack of files had been placed on Larabee's desk. He looked at the five men in disgust before making his way into his office and sitting down.
Chris knew he would not be allowed to work outside the office, but at least he could update these files and grumble about it later. He reached for the first one and opened it to find Nathan's concise handwriting and that it was signed in all the right places, leaving a spot for his own signature. He signed off on it and smiled when he reached for the next one and found it to was complete and simply required his signature.
Chris unconsciously rubbed at the healing wound and looked up to find his team watching him. He didn't have to say a word and knew they understood how grateful he was that they'd cleared the backlog of files to make his return easier. “I owe you boys a drink.”
“True, Brother, but it'll have to wait until you and Ezra are able to join us,” Sanchez offered.
“Deal,” Larabee said and noticed JD had returned to his desk. “What's JD working on?”
“He's still working on Kent's hidden files,” Wilmington answered.
“I believe I'll offer my skills and perhaps between us we will decipher whatever encryption Kent put on his files,” Standish said and moved to join Dunne at his desk.
“Were you able to find anything about Bear?” Larabee asked, dropping his pen on the desk before leaning back in his chair.
“Josiah and I found several patient files that seem to have been doctored. Brian Schneider's is one of them and if we're right his sister is behind his commitment. Do you remember us telling you any of this?” Jackson asked.
“Not really,” Larabee answered.
“Well, Orin is working with the judge who signed the commitment papers and Brian should be released in a couple of weeks. Sooner if we're able to prove he doesn't need the drugs they're using on him. Coburn is already looking into it from his end,” Sanchez offered.
“Coburn knows what to look for and he's ready to back us up with the judge,” Tanner added. “There are at least four other cases that seem ta be fucked up.”
“Any idea whether any Shady Acres employees are involved in this?” Larabee asked.
“Sheppard, but that's just because there's something about the bastard that doesn't feel right,” Sanchez observed. “I've been checking into his background, but so far he's squeaky clean.”
“Keep at it, Josiah, he did seem to covet the Jacobson money,” Larabee told him.
“I think we're all in agreement about that. I wonder if he was involved with Kent?” Wilmington suggested.
“Maybe, but until we get into Kent's hidden files we can't prove anything,” the blond said tiredly.
JD had never been so frustrated in all his life, but he'd never been a quitter and was not about to start now. Too many lives depended on him being able to decipher Kent's files and notations and although he and Ezra had been able to extract most of the hidden information, there were still several files they had yet to unlock.
Ezra and Chris had been back at work, but were under orders not to overdo things. JD smiled at the thought because, none of the team had ever listened to those words of wisdom. He was alone in the office this morning, but was due at the courthouse in two hours to give testimony on a case that had finally come to trial a month ago. Hopefully, his and Josiah's testimony would see Angel Murtaugh sent to prison for the rest of her life.
JD tapped several keys and frowned when something new showed up in the corner of one file, something that hadn't been there before and opened a new path into Kent's files.
“Gotcha!” he said and looked around sheepishly when he realized he was alone. It would take time, but just maybe when Chris and Ezra got back from Shady Acres he might have the final piece of the puzzle.
Samantha Parker watched as Daniel Coburn walked toward her table, but her eyes were on the man standing next to him. There were a lot of changes in the man who had pretended to be a patient and she couldn't help, but admire the way he walked with a purposeful stride toward her. The man had cost her a sweet deal, but he'd also managed to give her a way out, not that she would ever be able to acknowledge that.
“Sam, Chris wanted to speak with you,” Coburn said once they reached her.
“Hello, Chris, I'm pleased to see you're recovering from your ordeal. Are you having any trouble dealing with flashbacks?”
“Sometimes,” Larabee answered honestly and thought he saw something in the slight smile she wore, but it was gone as quickly as it formed.
“If there's anything I can do to help please don't hesitate to ask,” Parker told him.
“Thanks, Doc, I just wanted to apologize for the way I acted and hope I didn't cause you any problems,” Larabee told her.
“Nothing we can't deal with and you even managed to help at least one patient. Brian....or as you so aptly nicknamed him, Bear, is responding to therapy and if everything continues as they are he should be...”
“He shouldn't be in here at all,” Larabee told her and turned as Coburn's pager went off.
“I need to take this. Sam, Chris wants to visit Brian...”
“I'll take him,” Parker offered. “Brian is working in the gardens outside.”
“Chris, tell Orin I'll call him later,” Coburn said and hurried away.
“How are you feeling, Chris?” Parker asked and placed her tray on the cart.
“Better,” Larabee answered honestly. In the four weeks since he'd been injured, his wound had healed and both he and Ezra were well on the way to getting back to work full time. “I hear you're leaving Shady Acres.”
“Yes, I think it's time I moved on. Why don't we go out the back way...Brian is working on the flowers near the supply shed?”
“Mister, would you help me find my baby?”
Larabee turned and smiled at the young woman who looked at him with sadness in her eyes.
“Melanie, why don't we get one of the nurses to help you find your baby?” Parker suggested.
“It's okay, Doc, I think I see Melanie's baby,” Larabee said and walked toward a table near the back of the cafeteria. He picked the doll up and cradled it carefully as he adjusted the tattered blanket around it and rejoined the doctor and patient. “Is this your baby, Melanie?”
“Yes,” the young woman said and tears spilled from her eyes. “I didn't mean to lose her, Mister, I miss her so much.”
“I know you do,” Larabee said as he transferred the doll to her arms and Parker signaled for a nurse.
“Melanie, I want you to go with Katrina and she'll make sure you and your baby are okay,” Parker said.
“Thank you, Mister,” Melanie said and followed the nurse.
“She's been through so much,” Parker said. “Thank you for being so gentle with her.”
“I'm just glad I didn't...”
“Well looky here...Jacobson's back. You come to rub it in, Jacobson?”
Chris turned to see Joseph Dugan leaning against a table and fought back the urge to wipe the smug smile off his face.
“Joseph, I believe you have an appointment with Dr. Miller,” Parker got between the two men and waited until Dugan backed down. The man was a blowhard and at times she wanted to see someone like Larabee put him down, but now was not the time or place for it. She could feel Larabee behind her, sensed the strength that emanated from him even if he wasn't at full strength and refused to show any fear where Dugan was concerned.
“Hell, Doc...”
“You've just lost your privileges for the day! Would you like to go for more?” Parker asked, relieved when the man backed down and turned away from them.
“You handled him well,” Larabee said.
“He's strong when he believes he's in control, but in here control is a deceptive thing at best,” Parker said and took the lead. “How is is Ezra?”
“He's fine. He's talking to several members of your board about what happened,” Larabee said.
“Please tell me he's being diplomatic.”
“Ezra wrote the book on diplomacy...that's why I let him handle them,” the blond said, frowning when they turned down a corridor and walked silently toward the door that led outside. There was something familiar about this area and he swallowed several times as if there was no moisture left to be found.
“Chris, are you all right?” Parker asked.
“I'm...I...” a frown formed and again and again he swallowed as he tried to make sense of what was happening, of what he was seeing...whether it was real or just something his mind made up while he'd been under the influence of Kent's drugs. A wave of dizziness washed over him and he grabbed for the wall as nausea churned through his gut. He felt a hand on his arm and tried to pull away, but couldn't quite manage it as a deafening roar sounded in his ears.
“What the hell happened?” Carl Sheppard asked as Parker pulled a syringe from her pocket and uncapped it with one hand. He had no idea where she'd gotten it, but glanced around as she drove it into Larabee's shoulder.
“I don't me get him outside before someone sees us...”
Chris could hear the voices, and felt something sharp enter his shoulder, but he couldn't quite make sense of what was being said. He fought to clear his vision and grasp the elusive memories that seemed to be making him sick.
“What the hell? Where's Jacobson?” ~ “He's right here, but between the drugs you gave him and the ones Kent gave him he's a mess.” ~ “ Look, I need to get out of here before we're discovered. Take the gun and shoot Larabee...” ~ “Why the hell don't you do it?” ~ “I can't be seen here. Look, shoot Jacobson and make it look like he killed Kent. You'll be a hero for catching the crazy patient, and Ray will be a martyr.”
The words were jumbled together, but they were also very distinct and the damning words came from the woman grasping his arm. He tried to pull away and felt something connect with the newly healed wound and pain flared briefly as he struggled to pull away. Chris knew he had to call for help, but for some reason he couldn't comprehend he couldn't form the syllables let alone the words.
“We need to get him out of sight!” Parker said of the now semi-conscious blond supported between them.
“What did you give him?”
“A sedative...I ordered it for the patient I had just before lunch and didn't need it.”
“Good thing,” Sheppard told her. “Let's put him in the supply shed for now, but we need to figure out a way out of this.”
“I have an idea. Dugan has had it out for this bastard from the start...maybe it's time he paid him a visit,” Parker said and waited for Sheppard to unlock the door before shoving Larabee inside and closing it. “You stay here and make sure no one goes in here. I'll send Dugan out here. As soon as he's out of the building I'll hit the panic button and put this place in lock down. That should give Dugan enough time to take care of Larabee.”
Sheppard nodded and watched as she hurried back toward the main building. He just hoped they could deal with both Larabee and Dugan without casting suspicion upon themselves.
JD glanced at his watch and knew he didn't have much time before he was due in court, but he wanted to finish inputting the last of the data before leaving. He frowned when he saw the hidden pathway that led back to the original system and the name that had created the puzzle. He grabbed his cell phone and quickly hit speed dial for Chris Larabee, but it went to voice mail. He hung up and dialled Ezra's number, impatiently tapping his fingers on the desk.
*“Good morn...”*
“Ezra, listen to me. Is Chris with you?”
*“No, he's in the secure area visiting Brian. Is something amiss?”*
“You could say that...hey, what's that noise?”
*“It sounds as if someone hit the panic button and the alarm is sounding. It appears that Chris will be on his own until this is...”*
“Shit! Listen, Ezra, I managed to break through the last of the passwords and Kent wasn't behind the murders.”
*“He wasn't?”*
“No, it's Parker, but I doubt she's doing it alone,” Dunne explained and glanced at his watch. “Look, Ezra, I gotta be in court in half an hour...”
*“Go, JD, I'll find Chris and get the police out here.”*
“Okay...I'll call Buck and fill him in,” Dunne said and hung up. He hurried out of the office as he hit the speed dial on his cell phone.
Joseph Dugan had always been a man who used his fists, but he admitted to himself that he preferred his targets to be weaker than he was. The fact that Parker was letting him have some fun with Larabee was a plus, but even better was that the man was sedated and probably unable to fight.
Dugan heard the alarm and hurried toward the supply shed, adrenalin making him excitedly anxious to get the job done before they discovered he was missing. He passed a short man who looked vaguely familiar, but when the man didn't try to stop him he continued toward the small building at the edge of the property.
Dugan pushed open the door and the bright sunlight spilled inside, revealing his nemesis lying on the floor. He stepped forward and reached down, grabbing a fistful of shirt as he lifted the man to a sitting position. He pulled him up until he was standing, but the blond seemed totally unaware of what was happening. He could deal with just made this that much easier.
Dugan held onto the blond with one hand and drew back the other before driving it forward into Larabee's midsection. He heard a soft hiss of air, but otherwise got no reaction from the sedated man. He struck him several more times before releasing the man and kicking his several times in the upper body.
He reached down and grabbed Larabee, throwing him toward the open door and smiling when his upper body collided with the frame before falling on the paved walkway. He followed him outside and continued to hit the sedated blond several times until a crazed roar reached his ears.
Brian Schneider stood near the white roses that bloomed along the back of Shady Acres, unaware of the sound of the alarm. He'd seen a man, a miserable lowlife who prayed on those who could not protect themselves, striding toward the supply shed. He started to walk toward the area, surprised when he saw someone stumble from inside and fall heavily to the ground just before the man he knew as Dugan stepped out and kicked the other man.
Brian screamed as he raced toward the two men, unaware of a third man watching them. He recognized the downed man as one who had helped him and called him Bear and he would not allow Dugan to continue beating him. He grabbed Dugan before the smaller man could escape and quickly struck him several times while Dugan tried unsuccessfully to land blows of his own.
Chris struggled to open his eyes, but whatever she'd given him made it impossible to concentrate on anything. He could hear someone nearby, but it sounded like fighting and he couldn't quite understand who they were or why he was so concerned when his own body was on fire with pain. He fought down the nausea as he struggled to gain his feet, but was unable to make his body respond to his orders. There was a thunderous roar inside his head, but he managed to get his eyes open, at least he thought they were, but he couldn't make sense of what he was seeing or hearing.
Two men seemed to be fighting, but who they were or why they were fighting was lost to him even as the bigger man threw the other one against the wall of a nearby building. Chris looked up into the big man's brown eyes and saw unbridled trust in them. He felt the man's strong arms lift him and cradle his battered body in his arms.
“Safe now...Bear will keep you safe,” Brian whispered and searched for a place to keep his friend safe from harm. He knew he couldn't go inside the building, not while the alarm continued to vibrate off the walls and fences. Something bad was happening in there, and he had to keep his friend safe. He gently held the man as he raced toward a strand of small trees that he considered a safe harbor and found the indentation in the low brush that had been his salvation during many storms. He sank to the ground and held tight to his charge, a gentle beast tthat would bare his claws to protect his cub.
“I'm sorry, but no one is allowed inside until the grounds and buildings are secure and the patients are in their rooms,” the guard said.
“Then get me someone who will allow me access!” Standish snapped.
“I am sorry, but I can't do that! You'll simply have to wait until the alarm is shut down!”
“Get me Dr. Coburn!” the gambler ordered and reached for his cell phone as the familiar tone started. “Standish.”
*“Ezra, it's Buck, have you been able to get through to Chris?”*
“No, he's not answering his phone and I can't get into the secure area while the alarm is in effect!”
*“Nathan, Vin, and I are on the way, but it'll be an hour before we reach you. Do you know why the alarm was set off?”*
“No, but I'm pretty sure I can hazard a guess as to why Chris is not answering his phone.”
*“You think Parker is on to us?”*
“Exactly, and if he remembered something, then Parker would have to act fast. The secure area is for dangerous patients, Buck, and if she wanted to get rid of Chris there are plenty of people she can use. They trust her to help them and God knows what she can do with the medications she has at her disposal. Look, I'm going to try Coburn's number and see if he can do something about Parker from inside. I'll call you back when I have some answers.”
“I've got Dr. Coburn on line one,” the guard said and moved so that the angered man could speak into the microphone.
“Dr. Coburn, it's Ezra Standish, please tell me you know where Chris Larabee is?”
*“I'm sorry, Ezra, but things are a little crazy in here right now. We have several missing patients and need to...”*
“Dr. Coburn, please listen to me,” Standish impatiently interrupted the man. “Do you know where Dr. Parker is?”
*“I saw her a while ago with Chris. He wanted to see Brian Schneider and she was...”*
“Good Lord, look, I don't have time to explain, but Dr. Kent was not behind the murders at Shady Acres...Dr. Parker was.”
*“What? How can that be? Dr. Kent's files...”*
“Were tampered with and JD uncovered a lead that pointed him in Parker's direction. You need to find Chris before she does something to him...better yet, tell your guard to let me in!”
*“I'll be right there, Ezra, and I'll have the staff search for Parker and Larabee.”*
“Thank you, Dr. Coburn,” Standish said and breathed a sigh of relief at the thought of being allowed access to the secure area. At least inside he'd be able to search for Larabee whose disappearance seemed to coincide with the discovery that Samantha Parker was a cold blooded killer.
Samantha Parker looked up as Carl Sheppard hurried toward her. She'd managed to stay out of sight while the others searched for missing patients and knew something was wrong by the look on her partner's face.
“We need to get out of here!” Sheppard snapped once he made sure they were alone at the side of the building.
“What's wrong? Didn't Dugan do his job?”
“No, that big bastard showed up and...”
“What big bastard?”
“The one the nurses are calling Bear...the one that helped Larabee the last time. He knocked Dugan out and took Larabee with him.”
“Took him where?” Parker asked, feeling the noose tightening as she searched the area.
“How the hell should I know? I wasn't about to stop him...not after what he did to Dugan,” Sheppard told her.
“I should have killed Larabee myself when I had the chance!” Parker snarled.
“How do we get out of here?”
“I don't know...have you got your key card?”
“Of course.”
“Good, as far as everyone is concerned we can use a cover story and hope Bear keeps Larabee hidden until we escape. We should be allowed to leave soon and that's when we get out of here. I've already made plans to leave the country so it's just a matter of setting things in'd be wise to leave without a backward glance too.”
“Are we just going to let the bastards ruin everything for us?”
“What choice do we have, Carl? It's already fucked up,” Parker said and began to walk back to the entrance to the building. Her mind raced at the thought of being caught in this mess and going to prison. She knew she could put the blame on Sheppard, but she needed to make sure Larabee could not testify to what he saw. In order for her to clear up this mess, Chris Larabee would have to die. The rest of it could be taken care of as easily as slipping Sheppard and Dugan the drugs she'd bought to use on Chris Larabee in the first place.
Daniel Coburn knew he needed to get some help and glanced around the area. He spotted Katrina Morgan and several other nurses checking patient whereabouts as he hurried out the main door. He made his way along the walkway toward the gate leading to the outer grounds and saw the relief on Ezra's face when he neared the gate.
“Dr. Coburn, this is against regulations,” the guard said.
“I know and I'll take full responsibility for it. Now open the gate and make sure no one leaves or enters until the police arrive,” Coburn warned, relieved when the gate opened and Standish joined him.
“Where's Parker?” Standish asked.
“I haven't seen her since I left her with Chris,” Coburn answered and hurried toward the main building. “There are several patients still unaccounted for.”
“Are they dangerous?”
“Ezra, this section of the facility is set up for dangerous inmates,” Coburn answered.
“Do we know who we're looking for?”
“Dugan is one of them. He's a mean sonofabitch who likes to hurt anyone who can't defend themselves. Chris had a couple of run ins with him.”
“Anyone else we should be concerned about?” Standish asked worriedly.
“Brian Schneider and no one has seen Carl Sheppard since before the alarm. He was supposed to meet with the board of directors, but that was canceled when the alarm sounded.”
“Could he have left before it happened?”
“No, he would have had to sign out,” Coburn answered as they reached the main door and he entered using his coded key card.
Brian could hear people near the place where he was hiding and kept his arms wrapped around the semi-conscious man. Deep down he knew he should let someone know where he was, but he had to protect Chris, had to defend the man who'd stood up for him when others shied away. He heard a soft gasp from the man who was his champion and wished he had something to wipe the blood from around his mouth and head.
Dugan had done a job on his friend, but he'd returned the favor and now Dugan was unable to hurt anyone else for a while. Brian tilted his head to the side when he heard someone call his name, but he remained silent in an effort to protect his injured friend. Brian used his hand to brush aside the sticky blond hair from Chris' forehead and spoke softly when the man began to tremble in his arms.
“It's okay, Chris. I won't let him hurt you any more. You called me Bear and I like that and I'll protect you from people who want to hurt you,” Schneider vowed as footsteps drew closer and he rocked gently back and forth while keeping his touch light.
Daniel Coburn and Ezra Standish helped in the search for the missing patients and Chris Larabee, but so far they hadn't found any of them. The police had arrived and were being given access to the secure area with orders that they leave the care of the patients to the staff.
There was still no sign of Carl Sheppard or Samantha Parker, but they hadn't finished searching every room in the secure area. Coburn moved to the main desk and spoke to Katrina Morgan, leaving Ezra standing near the entrance to the common area.
Ezra felt the nauseating guilt return, but fought against it as he concentrated on what was happening around him. He spotted a familiar figure enter the area from the opposite door and hurried toward her. He didn't want to cause a scene and put the staff at risk and forced a smile to his face as he called out to her.
“Dr. Parker, could I have a word with you?”
“Mr. Standish isn't it?”
“Yes, Doctor, it is good to see you again,” Standish said as the alarms were finally silenced.
“I'm sorry, but I have to help settle the patients and make sure they don't panic,” Parker explained.
“Sam, have you seen Joseph Dugan or Brian Schneider?” Coburn asked.
“No, I haven't. I left Chris with Brian near the roses,” Parker told her.
“How long ago?” Standish asked.
“About half an hour ago,” Parker said and hoped Sheppard took her advice and left the enclosure before the police arrived to help search for the missing patients. She knew Dugan would be discovered at any time and hoped Sheppard was right about Schneider messing him up.
“Would you mind showing me where you left them?”
“Please, Doctor, I'm sure Dr. Coburn wouldn't mind taking care of your patients for a few minutes,” Standish said, relieved when several police officers entered through the main doors and strode toward them.
“I have to go,” Parker tried, but found her arm caught in Standish's strong grip.
“I don't think so,” Standish said as two officers stopped in front of them.
“Dr. Parker, we have a warrant for your arrest,” Steven Proust said and took out a set of handcuffs.
“What's this all about?” Parker snapped.
“We know Kent didn't kill those patients, Sam,” Coburn answered. “These people trusted you...I trusted you.”
“I don't know what you're talking about, Daniel,” Parker said as the officer cuffed her arms behind her back.
“Where's Chris, Dr. Parker?” Standish asked and saw the true depth of her coldness in her eyes as she spoke.
“Dead...the bastard deserves what Dugan did to him!” Parker snarled as the officers pulled her away from the desk.
“Brian was outside when Chris arrived. Maybe we should take a look out there,” Coburn suggested.
“Hey, Doc!” an orderly called from the other end of the hallway. “We found Dugan unconscious out by the supply shed.”
“Did you move him?” Coburn asked.
“No, Sir, we know better than that,” the man said.
“Is someone out there with him now?”
“Yes, Dr. Miller was at the picnic area and he's looking after Dugan. He sent me in to get a gurney.”
“You go ahead, Dr. Coburn, just show me where Brian should have been,” Standish said.
“I can't let you go out there alone, Ezra, but the supply shed is close to where I last saw Brian so you might as well come along with me,” Coburn told him and grabbed an end of the gurney as the orderly pushed past him.
Ezra followed behind and grabbed his cell as it vibrated against his chest. “Standish.”
*“Ezra, it's Vin, we're right outside, but we're not making much headway in getting in to the secure section. Did you find Chris?”*
“Not yet, but the police have taken Parker into custody and Vin...”
“She said Chris was dead.”
*“Do you believe her?”*
“Not for a minute,” Standish answered. “Look, I'm going outside to search for Brian...Coburn said Chris wanted to see him. I'll contact you if I find either of them.”
*“All right...we'll come find you a soon as we're allowed in.”*
Ezra placed the phone back inside his pocket and hurried after the doctor, catching him just as they stepped through the door leading toward the supply shed. He glanced around, but saw no sign of Chris Larabee or Brian Schneider.
Brian knew he had to keep his friend safe from the people who could hurt him, but something had changed in Chris. The man he held was trembling uncontrollably, as if cold, but the sun was still high in the sky and it wasn't that cool in the shade. He frowned as he tried to make sense of what had happened and knew he had to find someone who would help his friend. He tried to ease away, but it seemed Chris had other ideas and clung to his arm.
“Brian, are you out here? We're worried about you, Brian, and we need to make sure you're safe.”
He knew that voice, it was one he trusted and his heart beat faster as he lifted Chris into his arms and carried him out of their hiding place. He spotted the woman not far from his hiding place and called to her softly.
“I'm here.”
“Brian, thank God,” Katrina Morgan called and quickly assessed the situation. She knew better than to startle him, although the way he held Chris Larabee's body was like a man protecting his family.
“Chris is hurt...he needs help, but the bad people are watching. Will you help me hide him?”
“Brian, do you trust me...”
“Ezra, stay back!” the nurse ordered when she saw the change in Brian Schneider.
“Don't let him hurt Chris.”
“I won't, Brian. Ezra is Chris' friend...”
“No...he put...he put him in here and let Dr. Kent hurt him.”
“No, Brian, that's not what happened and I promise no one will hurt you or Chris,” Katrina vowed. “Ezra, go tell Dr. Miller we need him and ask Daniel to bring another gurney, but tell him to keep everyone else back for now.”
“Are you sure?”
“I'm sure. Brian and I are going to make sure Chris is all right until Daniel arrives. Brian knows I won't hurt either of them...right, Brian?”
“You're always nice...never hurt...always feel better,” Brian said and allowed the nurse to walk closer.
“What happened to Chris, Brian?” the nurse asked softly.
“I saw Dugan kicking him and he wasn't moving and he needed my help...Chris helped me and I want to help him. He's hurt and he started shaking like he was cold, but the sun is hot and he shouldn't be cold like that.”
“I know, Brian, and Dr. Miller will help him.”
“Will I be locked in my room because I hurt Dugan?” Brian asked, eyes downcast as if ashamed that he had hurt someone.
“No, Brian, I don't think so. You did what was right and you may have saved Chris' life.”
“Katrina, is everything all right?” Daniel Coburn asked softly.
“I think so, Daniel, did Ezra find you?”
“Yes, and Dr. Miller will be right over with a gurney. Brian, are you all right?”
“I'm okay, Dr. Coburn, but Chris...Chris is hurt...Dugan was kicking him and I had to make him stop.”
“You did the right thing, Brian,” Coburn said as Miller and Standish pushed a gurney toward them. “Brian, we need to help Chris so would you put him on the bed so we can take him inside and Dr. Miller can see what's wrong with him?”
“Okay,” Brian said and reluctantly placed the unconscious blond on the bed as the nurse took his arm.
“Daniel, I'm going to take Brian inside so he can get cleaned up. I'll make sure he's okay.”
“Okay, Katrina,” Coburn said and smiled at the large man standing beside the woman he loved. “You did good, Brian, now we'll make sure Chris is all right.”
Ezra watched as Brian Schneider glanced at Chris Larabee before allowing Katrina Morgan to guide him toward the building. He turned his attention to the man on the gurney and silently cursed the fact that he had agreed to speak with Shady Acres board of directors instead of going inside with the blond.
“We need to get him inside so I can get a better look at him,” Miller said and began maneuvering the gurney toward the buildings.
Chris slowly became aware that the warmth was gone and that he was lying flat on his back on a moving object. He fought to open his eyes and felt nausea churn through his gut. He felt someone help him turn on his side and wretched several times before lying back on the pillow and looking around.
“Welcome back,” Standish said and placed his hand on Larabee's shoulder.
“Did I go...go somewhere?” Larabee asked, frowning when he realized Standish was not the only one with him.
“Pretty damn close, but...”
“Hell, Ezra!” Larabee said and tried to sit up.
“Stay still, Chris!” Coburn warned and tried to keep Larabee from coming off the gurney.
“Ez, where are they?” Larabee asked pointedly glaring at Coburn.
“Who?” Standish asked, once the gurney was pushed inside the building.
“Parker and Sheppard...they're behind the murders,” Larabee said and dropped back on the gurney as pain lanced through his body and mind.
“Parker's in custody...I'll let the police know about Sheppard,” Standish said and stayed back as Miller and Coburn pushed the gurney into the examination room.
“Ezra, where's Chris?”
Standish turned to find Buck, Vin, and Nathan hurrying toward him and knew it was Wilmington who'd voiced the question. “He's in with Dr. Miller and Dr. Coburn.”
“What happened?” Tanner asked.
“I don't know the full story, but it appears that Chris had a run in with some guy named Dugan.”
“I know the bastard. Chris never took ta him,” Tanner observed.
“Where's Dugan?” Jackson asked.
“I don't know, but I need to let the police know they should detain Carl Sheppard. Chris says he's involved in the murders,” Standish explained.
“I saw him a few minutes ago. He was trying to leave, but the police are not letting anyone out until they verify that all the patients are present and accounted for,” Wilmington explained.
“I'll go make sure the police keep him for questioning,” Jackson said and hurried toward the door he'd just came through where an officer stood guard.
“How bad, Ezra?” Tanner asked softly.
“I don't know, Vin, but he's covered in bruises,” Standish answered and moved back when a nurse brushed past and entered the examination room. He felt the weight of the world settle on his shoulders once more as the guilt threatened to renew itself.
“Ezra, don't go there,” Wilmington said.
“I have no idea what you're talking about,” Standish said.
“This isn't your fault...none of it is so wipe the guilt off your face and let's make sure the guilty parties go to jail,” the rogue told him and leaned back against the wall to wait for news on his friend.
Chris knew there was no point in arguing with the doctors who seemed hell bent on checking him over from head to foot. The trip from Shady Acres to Saint Vincents was a blur, but he was awake now and wanted nothing more than to go home and curl up in his own bed. Simmons and Midland had their own ideas that did not bode well for him.
“Now, Chris, we all know how much you love hospitals...”
“Yeah right,” Larabee griped and glared at Simmons whose arms were folded across his chest.
“Okay, maybe love is a little strong, but I'm beginning to think the hospital would do well to put in a revolving door and save ourselves the time and trouble.”
“You know, Simmons, you're a barrel of laughs today...”
“Actually, it's night,” Midland said. “You've been only marginally conscious over the last six hours and I'm not signing any discharge papers until you can keep your eyes open for more than an hour...”
“I've been awake more than an hour, Doc,” Larabee protested.
“She means keeping them open and actually being aware of your surroundings,” Simmons said. “Your room should be ready for you by now and I'm sure the nurses on the third floor have been warned of your arrival.”
“Give us a couple of days to make sure there's nothing we missed, Chris, you'll be glad you're in here when you realize just how much damage Dugan inflicted on you,” Midland explained.
“I think I already know, Doc,” the blond said and reluctantly lay back against the pillows with a heavy sigh.
“I'll have the nurse bring you something for pain before they take you upstairs,” Midland told him and patted his shoulder. “If you feel up to it I'll tell Vin, Buck, and Ezra your room number and they can visit you for a few minutes, but then I want you resting.”
“It's a hospital, Doc, I never rest in here,” Larabee groused.
“Oh, I don't know about've certainly been out of it today,” Simmons said before following Midland out of the room.
Chris closed his eyes and felt the aches and pains running rampant through his body. He remembered Midland and Simmons telling him the full extent of his injuries, but right now it felt like one massive wound that had festered to encompass both mind and body. He felt someone at his IV and opened his eyes just as the nurse injected the medication into the juncture closest to his hand.
“That should help, Chris,” the woman said and turned to find the orderly who would take Larabee to his room.
“Thanks, Donna,” Larabee said. He felt the bed moving and closed his eyes, opening them again when he was asked to shift onto the other bed. He felt the nurse taking his vitals before she left the room, but soon heard soft footsteps approaching his bed and opened his eyes to find three worried men watching him closely.
“Chris, you look...”
“Don't say it, Buck,” Larabee interrupted tiredly.
“I was just going to...”
“I know what you were going to say and right now five miles of bad road doesn't cut it,” Larabee said with a hint of a smile as he looked toward Ezra Standish. “Did they get Parker and Sheppard?”
“Indeed they did. Both miscreants are residing in jail until further notice,” the conman answered.
“Good, I'd ask you for details, but you'd just have to repeat them when I'm more coherent,” Larabee told them. “Look, go home and get some rest. I'll be looking for a ride home in the morning.”
“Only if the doc signs the discharge papers,” Wilmington warned.
Chris gave the man a half-hearted smile and raised both eyebrows before turning slightly on his side and wincing as the move tugged on batter ribs before closing his eyes and listening as the others left the room. With Parker and Sheppard behind bars, he felt as if he could sleep for a week.
Chris relaxed in the chair that seemed to have molded to his body and waited for the others to take their places around the conference table. His team were seated in their usual spots, but Orin Travis and Daniel Coburn were also present. Three months had passed since they'd agreed to take the case at Shady Acres, and things were finally settling into a routine for both the staff and patients. There were several files open on the desk in front of each man and they'd taken the time to read through them before Travis and Coburn arrived.
“Chris, Daniel asked to sit in on this meeting and I didn't think you boys would mind,” Travis said.
“Not at all, Orin,” Larabee said and waited for Coburn to speak
“Gentlemen, on behalf of the staff, patients, and board of directors of Shady Acres I'd like to express our thanks for what you've done. The families of those patients who were murdered are being compensated and although we cannot hope to make up for their deaths at least they now have some closure. I am sorry that Chris and Ezra were injured...”
“No need to apologize for something beyond your control,” Larabee interrupted. “It's par for the course in our line of work...right Ez?”
“Affirmative,” Standish readily agreed. It was hard, but he'd finally managed to put the guilt behind him and now that both of them were back to work it was easier to see the good in what they'd done.
“Be that as it may, we at shady Acres are in your debt,” Coburn said. “I brought someone with me and if it's all right I'd like to have him brought in.”
“Who is it?” Larabee asked and smiled as the big man entered through the main door. He owed Brian Schneider his life and was glad to see him outside Shady Acres. He stood up and shook the man's hand gratefully. “It's good to see you, Brian. How are things going?”
“Much better now that I no longer take the medications. Some things are still messed up, but I remember most of it. My sister thought she should have been put in charge of everything and was angry when our father's will named me as executor. Dr. Coburn and my lawyer told me she bribed a doctor and a lawyer and forged the documents claiming I was out of control and had killed three people. I would never hurt anyone...unless they were hurting someone else.”
“Like Dugan was hurting Chris,” Coburn explained.
“I saw him kicking Chris and I had to stop him and I didn't know who I could trust. I didn't know you were Chris' friend, Ezra...I thought you were his brother and put him in there. I'm sorry.”
“There's nothing for you to be sorry for, saved my life and I owe you.”
“You gave me back my life, Chris, and you befriended me when everyone else wanted nothing to do with me. I will never forget that,” Brian told him.
“I'm glad you got your life back, Bear,” Larabee said with a grin.
“I like that too,” Brian said of the nickname. “I have a meeting with my lawyer this afternoon, but I wanted to stop by and see you. I hope you'll let me buy all of you dinner.”
“Sounds good, Brian, but I'll buy the champagne,” the blond said.
“I too, must leave, but I'll let you all know what happens with the other patients we are reviewing,” Coburn said before leaving Orin Travis with the team who'd worked damned hard to find out what had happened to the patients at Shady Acres.
Chris sat back and listened while the others discussed the new case that had come up that morning, but his mind was not quite on their conversations. He was thinking about Samantha Parker and Carl Sheppard and the evidence JD had uncovered which included a drug dealer named Marcus Turner who had also been arrested. All three had been denied bail and would stay in jail until their trial date. Parker and Sheppard had turned on each other and Chris knew there wouldn't be much of a trial once the date arrived. There was no doubt in his mind that all three were facing long prison sentences and that was something he was grateful for.
“Chris, I'll call you later and let you know when Mary and Billy are in town. Keep me up- to-date on pending cases,” Travis said before leaving Larabee and his team alone.
“All right, Boys, tell me about the Leary case and where we are and exactly what we're dealing with,” Larabee said and settled down to the latest case Orin had asked them to look in to.
The End