An Innocent Man

by Angie

This is a long, and complicated story. Having never been to Denver, I thought I would take the boys to see a little more of the country. No offense to the people of Tennessee, I’ve never been there except to drive through. Fasten your seatbelt; it’s a long and convoluted road.

Size: Approx. 535K

Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 6
Page 7 | Page 8 | Page 9 | Page 10 | Page 11 | Page 12

JD laced his fingers together and tucked them tightly between his knees to still the nervous fidgeting. To his left sat Buck, his shoulders were stooped and his hands clenched the edge of the old oak bench. The kid would have almost bet that if you looked under the bench, you would find the indents left by Wilmington’s fingertips.

To Buck’s left sat Vin. The young Texan looked drawn, the past few weeks had been hard on him. Next to Tanner sat Josiah. The older man had his right arm around the back of the bench ready to comfort the younger man if he should need it or to hold him back if necessary.

Next to Josiah sat Nathan. The dark face was a mask of control. He and Sanchez had been struggling to control the younger members of the team. To Jackson’s left sat Mary Travis. In her hands she clasped a small notebook. She was taking notes so she could call in a report to the newspaper where she worked. At the end of the bench sat Ezra. The southerner was using all of his undercover ability to keep his face from betraying the fear he felt coursing thru the room.

At the table in front of them sat Chris. The leader of team seven looked weary. He hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in several days and his face showed it clearly. Although clean-shaven, his hazel eyes were dull and his expression one of resignation. To his left sat Judge Travis and to his right one of the best high-power attorneys money could buy.

The jury filed into the room. An older man in soft faded jeans and a well-worn flannel shirt remained standing. Judge Hornbeck looked at the man.

“Has the jury reached a verdict?”

“We have, your Honor.” The man licked his lips and looked nervously around the room.

“The defendant will rise.”

On the right side of the small courtroom, ten people stood. The judge narrowed his eyes and raked the group. Except for the woman, the men were nearly identically dressed in dark suits and crisp, white shirts. Hornbeck turned his attention back to the jury.

“What say you?”

The man glanced around the room again, his gaze flicking over the powerful presence on the other side of the small room. He licked his lips again before opening the paper he held in his sweaty hand.

“We the jury find Christopher Larabee guilty of the murder of Wynsome Lightner.”

Chris’s shoulders dropped suddenly and he clung to the edge of the table as his knees started to fold. His attorney, Charles Wayman, grabbed his arm and leaned in close.

“It isn’t over. We can appeal. I’ll get a change of venue next time. Don’t give up hope!” Three Weeks Earlier

It started as a hiking trip thru the mountains of Eastern Tennessee. Vin had found the place on line and booked a weeklong stay. He and Chris had flown in and rented a car for the six-hour drive to the small lodge where the hike would begin.

As Chris drove along the little two-lane blacktop road, he could almost feel the tension of the past few weeks seeping out of his pores. Although the speed limit said 50 miles per hour, he was content to do 35 and enjoy the scenery as it rolled by.

The team had just come off of an assignment that ended badly. The shipment of illegal cigarettes they had been trying to intercept had gotten away from them and the team ended up with egg on their faces. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault but Chris had taken the hit personally as he was the one who had to explain to Judge Travis how they had lost an entire semi truck.

All the undercover work and investigation that the team had done went down the drain in one spectacular flush as they raided the overnight parking lot where they thought the truck was stored, only to find that it had been switched out with another one. The suspects had started a fight in the restaurant next to the lot; diverting the attention of the ATF agents long enough to make their get away.

“Chris? Are you listening?” Vin’s voice intruded on his trail of thought.

“I’m sorry, Vin did you say something?”

“I was just wondering if we’re going to make the lodge tonight or if you want to stop at this next town up here and spend the night.”

The road sign announced the name of the tiny town of Spencer with a population of 139 according to the last census or the last time the sign was changed. It was truly a one-horse town. A single gas station, a general store, a couple of boarded up buildings and a small motel made up the main part of the town. There were a couple of little streets that went off of the blacktop that were dotted with small frame houses.

Chris turned the car onto the parking lot of the motel and parked. Vin jumped from the car immediately and began to stretch his lanky frame. The rental car was a Dodge Neon and it didn’t have a lot of room inside. Larabee also took a minute to stretch and felt the pull in his lower back left by the unfamiliar car seat.

They arranged for a single room with a pair of full sized beds and carried in their bags. The room smelled of air freshener and cleaning supplies. Vin dropped his bag and flopped on the bed nearest the door. Chris raised an eyebrow and dropped his own bag next to the other bed.

“Do you want to see if this tiny town has a bar or some place to get something to eat?”

The Texan rubbed his stomach enthusiastically and rolled off of the bed. Chris glanced around the little room again before following his younger friend. The man at the motel desk gave them directions to a bar a few miles farther up the highway. Vin scowled when the car keys were pressed into his hand.

“I thought you were driving.”

“I drove all the way here, you drive for a couple of minutes!”

The man at the motel was right, you couldn’t miss the place. It was the only place with lights along the road at this hour of the evening. A couple of older model Ford trucks were parked near the door and a few other cars were parked along the edge of the road ditch. Vin pulled the Neon up next to one of the trucks and they got out.

Country music blared from the jukebox in the corner and the air was filled with a gray haze from the cigarettes dangling from every lip in the place. There were ten or twelve guys in the medium sized room. A pair of pool tables monopolized a large area across from the bar and both had games in progress.

A woman passed by them and looked them up and down with a lusty smile. The man behind the bar called out to them.

“What can I get you?”

“What ever you have on tap is fine.” Chris answered as he dropped a ten on the bar.

Two mugs were filled and set on the bar. Both men took up stools and picked up the beers. They were keenly aware of the scrutiny of the other men in the bar and Chris pressed his elbow against the gun in his shoulder holster. Vin’s attention was drawn to the pool tables.

Johnny dropped the eight ball and snatched the money off of the side of the table. Willy laughed as he drained the last of the beer from his mug before wiping his face on his sleeve. He noticed the longhaired man watching him and glared. The man was wearing an expensive looking leather jacket and jeans.

“You want to play? Ten dollars a game.”

Vin eased off of the stool and nodded. He pulled his wallet from his pocket and tossed a bill on the table. Walking to the rack on the wall, he selected a pool cue and chalked the end. Willy racked the balls and nodded to the stranger.

“You break.”

Moving the white ball slightly right of the center of the table, Vin firmly slid the cue across his hand and watched as the balls scattered. The red ball teetered on the edge of the side pocket before falling.

Several minutes into the game, Vin began to wish that he could remove his jacket but the gun under his arm was sure to create a disturbance so he suffered in silence. Willy was down to three balls on the table to Tanner’s two. It took only a few minutes for the other man to sink the three balls and call the eight in the side.

Vin only smiled as the ball dropped neatly into the pocket.

“Good game, thanks.” Tanner offered his hand to the man.

Chris watched the pool game as he drained his mug and handed it back to the bartender who filled it again. Thru the haze of smoke he saw a young woman standing at the jukebox. Something stirred in his stomach and he shifted on his stool. She was wearing skin-tight hip huggers and a sweater. Her cowboy boots had silver tips on the toes and they caught the light of the jukebox as she tapped her foot in time with the music.

Wynsome looked up and noticed that the stranger at the bar was watching her. She made her way around the pool tables and approached the man. His hazel eyes had a far away look, as if he was seeing someone else as she indicated the stool next to him.

“Is someone sitting there?”

“Not at the moment. Have a seat.”

As the woman settled on the bar stool she studied the man. He was blond and clean cut. His leather jacket spoke of good taste. She noticed that he didn’t have a wedding ring or the telltale sign of having removed one. He had returned his gaze to the pool game between Willy and his friend.

“My name’s Wynsome.”

“That’s an interesting name.”

“My mom read it in a book one time and it stuck in her head.”

“My name’s Chris.” He offered her his hand and she shook it hesitantly.

His hand trembled as he looked at her more closely. A sweet pain flared in his chest as he studied her. He took in every line of her face. The way her hair hung around her cheeks in spite of her tucking it behind her ears made him ache to reach out and caress her face.

“What?” She asked with a puzzled look in her eyes.

“Hmm?” He couldn’t remember if she’d said anything before that.

“You’re looking at me like I remind you of someone.”

If he told her who she reminded him of he knew she would drift away. He wanted to spend time with her. Even if it wasn’t the real thing, she looked so much like Sarah that it almost hurt to breathe while looking at her.

“No, but you are the prettiest thing I’ve seen today.”

A smile and blush lit her face as she giggled.

Vin had put another bill on the table and was playing another game of pool with Willy. He noticed the woman as she took a seat next to Chris and smiled to himself. She was a little young but it wouldn’t hurt for him to spend a while dancing and drinking with her. He watched the break and then directed his attention back to the table.

“Want to dance?” Wyn had leaned close to Chris to make herself heard over the jukebox. He drained his mug before nodding and taking her hand.

He molded his body to her as they danced. After the several mugs of beer, he was feeling pleasantly buzzed and she felt good in his arms. When she began to nuzzle against his ear and her hand slid into his back pocket, he let himself go. He was lost in the memory of another time and place when he’d held the woman he loved and she had clung to him. If only for the next few hours, she was his Sarah.

Willy caught Vin by the arm as he was moving around the table.

“Your friend might want to be careful. That’s the deputy sheriff’s girl he’s dancing with and he don’t take kindly to sloppy seconds.”

“They’re just dancing. No harm in that, is there?”

“As long as he don’t get caught. I’m just saying, your friend might want to be careful.”

Vin won the next game and lost the third. It was nearly one in the morning and he figured they better get back to the motel and try to get some sleep. He thanked Willy again for the game and made his way across the room to gather Chris.

“Hey cowboy, it’s time to go.”

Larabee was cuddled up in a corner booth with the girl and didn’t take kindly to being interrupted. Wyn had been teasing him with her hands and lips until he thought he would loose his mind. Desire and passion had melded into a need so strong he couldn’t control it any more.

“I don’t want to go.”

“Come on, Chris. It’s late and we need to get some sleep. Come on. I’ll drive.”

Nuzzling into Wyn’s ear he whispered, “I’ll drop him off and come back for you.”

Slowly disengaging himself from the girl, Chris got to his feet and left the bar. The cool air cleared his mind a little and he reached for the car keys.

“I said I would drive, Chris! You’ve had too much to drink. Get in.”

When they arrived at the motel, Larabee reached across and took the keys from the ignition. He slid from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat in spite of Vin’s protest.

“I’ll be back in a couple of hours, Vin. Get some sleep.”

The Texan glared hard at the taillights of the Neon as it pulled off the lot and went back up the road. He hoped Chris would be all right. Letting himself into the room, Vin took a shower to get rid of the smoky smell that permeated his body before dropping into the bed, exhausted.

Wyn gave him directions to a deserted little place where they could park. They ended up in the back seat of the small car as he yielded to the need that she had stirred. The car windows were foggy and they were both glistening with sweat when the desire was finally sated. She lay against his chest with his jacket draped across her bare back.

+ + + + + + +

Vin heard the sirens and bolted upright in bed. The bed across the way was empty and showed no sign of having been used. He grabbed his bag and yanked clean clothes from it as quickly as he could. When he jerked the door open, there was a law officer coming toward him. Before the Texan could even open his mouth he was pulled out of the doorway and slammed into the wall. His hands were roughly twisted behind his back and placed into handcuffs.

“Hey! What are you doing?” Tanner protested when he finally found his voice. The man groped him and slammed him tighter against the wall after finding the gun under his coat.

“What have we here? I hope you have a permit for this, son. We don’t take kindly to people carrying illegal weapons in our town.”

“In my front left pocket, my ID and badge.” Vin growled as he was ground against the brick wall and the air was driven from his lungs.

Spinning his prisoner around, Sheriff Wilhelm patted the pockets of the jacket and pulled the leather wallet with the ATF ID and badge and studied it for a moment. He shoved the wallet into his own jacket pocket and dragged Vin to the police cruiser sitting only a few feet away. Opening the door, he guided the man into the back seat and closed the door.

As soon as the car entered the roadway, Vin began to ask questions.

“Can you at least tell me what it is you think I done? Where are you taking me?”

“Just sit back and be quiet. You’ll get all your answers in a few minutes.”

The cruiser passed the bar where they had stopped last night and then turned onto a little gravel road. The road was badly rutted and the car bounced roughly thru the potholes tossing Vin around in the back seat. As they came over a hill, Tanner saw the other police car and what looked like a hearse. His stomach tightened as fear charged his body.

Sheriff Wilhelm dragged the man from the cruiser and led him across the crime scene.

“Do you recognize that car?”

“It’s our rental car.”


“Me and Chris Larabee. We rented the car at the airport.”

Dragging the prisoner, Wilhelm led him to the other cruiser.

“That your friend Larabee?”

Vin’s eyes widened. Chris was half naked and handcuffed in the back of the car. The Texan began to struggle to get to his friend only to be roughly jerked away. He continued to struggle until he was thrown against the side of the other car.

A hand gripped his hair and drew his head up before a menacing voice growled in his ear.

“You better settle down, boy, or you’ll get what he got. We don’t take kindly to cold blooded killers in our town either.”

As he was jerked away from the car and shoved back into the back seat, Vin realized what the sheriff had just said.

“Killer? Who was killed? What happened to Chris? Please, you have to tell me!”

The only answer he got was the car door slammed in his face. Vin watched as a man took pictures of something in the trunk of the Neon. Two other men approached the car with a stretcher and a body bag. Tanner felt his heart sink as he saw them lift the nude, lifeless body of the young woman from the bar out of the trunk. Denver, Colorado Later that morning

Buck sat down at his desk and sipped at the scalding coffee in his cup. He powered up the computer and waited for it to prompt him for his password. He glanced over the headlines on the newspaper while he waited. The office was too quiet with both Chris and Vin gone.

JD read over his E-mail while he waited for the others to show up for work. Nathan was in the break room making more coffee and Josiah was at his desk reading the paper. The elevator doors opened and Ezra strode in, carrying a latte and the Wall Street Journal under his arm. The second elevator opened and Judge Travis bolted out, nearly running over the undercover agent in his agitation.

“Judge Travis? Has something happened? You have the distinct look of a man with bad news to impart.”

“Just gather everyone in the conference room!”

Scarcely five minutes later, all five of the remaining members of Team 7 were seated nervously around the conference room table waiting for the bad news.

“I got a call about an hour ago from Agent Tanner. It seems that there was trouble in the town they stopped in overnight. Agent Larabee in being held in jail accused of murder.”

Five matching expressions of shock crossed the faces of the men before they began to voice their protests.

“You know Chris would never …”

“They can’t be serious …”

“What are we going to do …”

“It has to be a mistake …”

“We have to get there …”

The judge held up his hand. “Okay, okay, calm down! He’s to be arraigned this afternoon. Agent Tanner was released once they ascertained that he was at the motel when the murder occurred. I have made a few phone calls and have arranged for legal representation for him. The details I have are sketchy. It seems that Larabee picked up some local woman at a bar. He’d had a lot to drink and they went for a drive. When the girl didn’t show up at home, they started looking. They found her body in the trunk of the rental car and Chris passed out in the back seat. She had been strangled.”

The silence in the small room was broken only by the sound of the air handler in the ceiling as the men considered what they had just heard. The squeak of a chair brought all eyes back to the judge.

“You have leave to go down there and investigate. I want this straightened out as soon as possible. You’ll need to keep control of Tanner, from what I got from the sheriff, they think he’s a hot head and they want to lock him up along with Larabee. You’ll also want to be careful about your side arms, this is a one-horse town and the sheriff has an ax to grind about weapons in his jurisdiction. Be careful and control yourselves!”

A chorus of ‘Yes sirs’ went around the table before the men bolted from the room. Earlier that morning

Sheriff Wilhelm pulled Vin out of the cruiser and dragged him across the parking lot. The jail was a little cinder-block building with bars on all the windows. He unlocked the steel door and pushed the handcuffed man inside. Opening one of the two cells, he led Tanner in and locked the door behind him.

“Turn around and I’ll take the cuffs off.”

Vin turned and backed up to the bars. He felt the cuffs unlocked and pulled away. As he rubbed his wrists, he looked at the sheriff.

“I want to make a phone call.”

“Later. Sit down and shut up!”

The door opened again and Chris was shoved roughly into the jail. The deputy, a tall, wiry man named Perry Davis, jerked his handcuffed prisoner and shoved him toward the other cell.

“Not in there, Perry. Put him in the interrogation room. I don’t want them talking until we have a statement from each of them.”

Chris looked up and saw for the first time that Vin was in one of the jail cells. He tried to get to the bars; he needed to be closer to his friend. A foot slipped out and tripped him, causing him to fall on his right shoulder. Rough hands jerked him to his feet and the cuffs cut into his wrists. The Larabee glare caused the deputy to step back for a minute.

“Vin, are you all right?”

“Chris, what in the hell happened?”

“That’s enough! Get him in the interrogation room! NOW!” Sheriff Wilhelm bellowed.

Deputy Davis grabbed the prisoner and dragged him into the small room with the one-way mirror. The room was only six feet by eight feet and held a small table and two chairs. Set in the top of the table was a steel eyebolt. The table was bolted to the floor. Davis guided Chris into one of the chairs and left the room.

His head felt like he had gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. He had been rudely awakened by being jerked out of the back seat of the car and slammed to the ground. The red and blue flashing lights of the police cruiser had been somewhat hypnotic as he tried to figure out what was happening.

The man looked like Smokey the Bear as he leaned over and began to shout his questions. Chris had squinted at the man before trying to get up from the ground. He pulled his pants up from around his ankles and searched for his shirt. The man continued to question him before finally grabbing him and slamming a fist into his jaw. Larabee had lurched away from the blow only to fall and strike his head on the side of the car.

Stars mixed with the hypnotic light as he tried to regain his feet. The man was shouting at him again, asking him why he had done it. ‘Done what?’ His confused mind asked. He saw his shirt lying on the ground and reached for it. ‘Why can’t I remember?’

Davis allowed the man to put on his shirt before trying to handcuff him. He was so hung over that he could barely stand up. He hadn’t even asked about the girl. Carefully controlling his anger, the deputy grabbed the man and pinned him up against the car. As soon as he felt the first handcuff close on his wrist, some survival instinct kicked in because the man began to struggle. Using his knee to keep the suspect off balance, Perry levered the other hand into the cuff and stepped back quickly. The man turned on him and glared. Cold hazel eyes drilled into him before the man sank to his knees. The deputy managed to get him into the cruiser before the coroner and the sheriff arrived.

Chris sat on the chair as he struggled to piece together the previous night.

Sheriff Wilhelm sat down outside of the cell and addressed the longhaired man pacing nervously in the confined space.

“I need to ask you some questions, son. Can you sit down for a minute?”

“I need to make a phone call and I want to see my friend. Something is wrong with him, I can feel it. You have to let me talk to him!”

“Your friend was found unconscious in the car with a dead body in the trunk. He isn’t talking to anyone until he gives a statement.”

“He’s a federal agent! You can’t question him without an attorney present! Just let me make a phone call. Our boss will get him an attorney! Please, just let me make a phone call!”

“I’ll come back when you’ve calmed down.” Sheriff Wilhelm came to his feet and walked away.

The door to the interrogation room opened and two men walked in and stood over the prisoner. His head came up from his chest and he blinked in confusion at them.

“Where am I?”

“What do you remember, Mr. Larabee?”

“Where’s Vin?”

“Your friend is fine. Will you talk to us about what happened last night?”

“Can you take these handcuffs off? I can’t feel my fingers.”

The sheriff nodded to the deputy and he moved around behind the blond man. Releasing only the right hand, he quickly drew the left arm around to the tabletop and secured it to the eyebolt. The man jerked at the handcuff and glared at the sheriff as if he had been tricked somehow.

“Now, will you tell us what happened last night, Mr. Larabee?”

“I don’t remember.”

“What is the last thing you do remember?”

“Drinking at some little tavern. I want to talk to Vin.”

“You can talk to your friend as soon as you both give a statement. What happened after the tavern? Did you leave with anyone?”

“I left with Vin. He drove us to the hotel. I need to make a phone call. I have the right to make a phone call. I want a lawyer.”

The men exchanged a look and the sheriff sighed.

“Okay, Mr. Larabee. We’ll see about getting you a lawyer.”

“I need to go to the bathroom and I want to make a phone call.”

“Take him to the bathroom and bring him back in here. I’ll go talk to the other one.”

The deputy warily approached the blond man. He could see that whatever fog had been in his head before was clearing and knowing that he was some kind of government agent, he suspected that he could be dangerous when crossed.

“Just don’t make any trouble for me, okay?”

The handcuff was removed from the eyebolt and placed on his right hand again in front of his body. Chris was pulled to his feet and guided to the bathroom next to the interrogation room. When he finished in the bathroom, he was returned to the small room and secured to the table again.

“Where is my weapon? You’re supposed to give me a receipt for anything you take.”

“We didn’t find a weapon on you or in the car.”

The sheriff sat down again outside of the cell. The ATF agent was pacing like an animal, back and forth in the confined area.

“You want to give a statement?”

“What do you want me to tell you? I was at the motel alone all night. I don’t know what happened. I do know that you can’t use anything he said because you haven’t let him talk to a lawyer. You haven’t read me my rights! I demand to make a phone call!”

Sheriff Wilhelm unlocked the cell and stepped inside. The young man stepped back and watched him warily. The two men stared each other down for a couple of minutes before Wilhelm blinked.

“I’ll let you make a phone call but you can’t talk to your friend. He’ll be arraigned later this afternoon on murder charges. We contacted the public defender’s office, they’ll send someone over to represent him.” Mid-afternoon, Denver Airport

Each man had packed only what he needed for a few days stay, they didn’t expect to be gone any longer than that. Buck had gone to Chris and Vin’s places and gotten clothes suitable for a court appearance. Judge Travis had arranged for their flight and a rental at the other end of the flight. They were a somber group as they waited to board the plane. Each man tormented with his own laundry list of what-ifs.

The plane was announced and they filed on. JD vibrated with nervous energy as they waited for the plane to take off. Josiah and Nathan appeared calm but looks could be deceiving. Ezra also appeared calm but he had been staring at the same section of the newspaper for over an hour. Buck was filled with rage. The stewardesses wouldn’t even speak to him because of the knot of tension he projected.

When they landed, they quickly made their way to the rental car counter. The judge had wisely arranged for a suburban for them, hoping that they would need the extra room when they returned to the airport for the flight home. To everyone’s considerable surprise, Ezra offered to drive.

It would have been a pleasant drive if it were not for the ominous reason for the trip. Vin called to say that he had been released from the jail but that he had not been allowed to see Chris. He was also fuming that the sheriff had refused to return his weapon. Josiah assured him that they would be there in a few hours and they would straighten things out.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was tired of sitting on the hard, wooden chair staring at his reflection in the mirror. They had released Vin a couple of hours ago but they wouldn’t let them talk. At least the others would know what had happened and contact Judge Travis. His stomach growled and his head swam slightly as he realized it had been more than twelve hours since he had eaten.

The door opened and the deputy stepped inside.

“I’m going to move you to a cell and you can have lunch. I’m going to cuff your hands behind you this time. Okay?”

The hazel eyes burned into him but the blond man made no response. Davis unlocked the cuff from the table and brought the man to his feet. As he reached for the right arm, the prisoner tried to pull him off balance. Kicking the chair out of the way, the deputy slammed the man into the wall and pulled up sharply on the handcuffs drawing a groan of pain.

“I’ll break your arm for you unless you relax, Agent Larabee. And no one will think anything of it because you are resisting. It’s only eight or ten steps to the cell and then I’ll take them off. Okay?”

He felt the coil of tension ease slightly and he reached again for the right hand. Guiding the hand into the cuff, he stepped back and gestured toward the door. He opened the door and followed Larabee to the cell. Opening the door, he waived him inside and locked it behind him. Reaching thru the bars, Davis removed the cuffs and quickly moved away from the bars.

The cell was not much larger than the interrogation room. Chris sat on the bunk and rested his elbows on his knees. He still had a splitting headache and he doubted they would be inclined to give him anything to ease it. He looked up when the outside door opened and the sheriff carried in bags of take out food.

“He give you any trouble?”

The deputy looked at the man in the cell and lied. “No, no trouble. Which is his?”

Lunch was a hamburger and fries from some little place nearby. It was warm, filling and good. Davis brought him a soda and a packet of Tylenol. Chris nodded his thanks to the man at the sight of the painkiller. After washing the tablets down, he collapsed on the bunk and went to sleep.

Vin paced in the motel room. He couldn’t remember ever feeling so helpless and frustrated. The judge had told him that he would send a lawyer for Chris and that the others were on their way. He had spoken to Josiah but he was still very much alone in this strange and hostile place. Hunger had driven him to seek out the town’s only diner. He immediately felt the eyes of the people looking at him, judging him, condemning him. He placed his order to go so that he could eat in the privacy of the motel room.

“If only I had let him drive straight thru this never would have happened.”

A couple of hours later a man entered the jail.

“Mr. Larabee? My name is Joseph Smalls, I’m your court appointed attorney. Can we talk for a few minutes?”

Chris glared at the man.

“The only thing I have to say to you is that I didn’t do what ever it is they said I did. I have not been read my rights and I have been denied the right to make a phone call. Although, by now I’m sure that Vin has called Judge Travis and a real lawyer will be here to represent me very soon.”

“That may very well be, Mr. Larabee, but I have been appointed to represent you at your arraignment in an hour. Unless your friend’s lawyer gets here by then, I need to know as much as possible about the situation so I can represent you there.”

“You just tell them that I didn’t do it. That’s all I’m going to say as long as they deny me my rights.”

The man sighed and looked over his shoulder at the sheriff. “Very well, Mr. Larabee. I will enter a plea of not guilty. I will see you in an hour or so. Good day.”

Chris watched the man leave the jail before he tried to sit up. As soon as his head was higher than his stomach, he became ill. Rolling off of the bunk, he crawled to the toilet in the cell and threw up. When his stomach finally stopped heaving, he crawled back to the bunk, trembling and shaking.

A half an hour later, the deputy came to the door of the cell.

“We need to head over to the courthouse, come on, get up.”

Rolling off the bunk, Chris swayed unsteadily on his feet. He turned his back and allowed Davis to put the cuffs on his wrists. They were not as tight this time and he stepped away from the bars so the door could be opened. The deputy guided him out of the jail and into a cruiser parked right at the door.

It was only a short drive to the courthouse. Davis parked the car and pulled Chris from the back. They went in thru a separate door from the one the rest of the population used. They were directed to courtroom #2. The deputy steered him into a chair behind the defense table and removed the handcuff from his right wrist, securing it to the eyebolt in the side of the table.

There was a pitcher of water on the table. Chris reached for it to get a drink only to have it removed by the courtroom security guard. After a generous dose of the Larabee glare, the guard poured some of the water into a plastic cup and set it within his reach. It was then that he realized the man had removed the glass drinking glasses from the table.

Joseph Smalls came into the courtroom and approached the table. He set his briefcase on the table and opened it, pulling out a file. Black and white pictures spilled from the folder and slid across the table. The first one was of the Neon rental car. The next was a picture of the trunk. The third was a picture of Wyn’s nude body in the trunk. Chris’s hand closed on the picture and he picked it up from the table.

“Oh my God! They think I killed her? Is that what this is all about? They think I did that to her? Oh no, that isn’t possible!”

Smalls pulled the picture from his hand and slid it back into the folder.

“You really didn’t know?” The words held a tinge of disbelief.

Just then the court reporter stood and began to call the court to order. The judge, Preston J. Cross, stepped up to the bench and everyone took their seat.

“I see we are here to arraign one Christopher Larabee on the charge of murder in the first degree. Judging from the photos in the file I will find that there is sufficient evidence to hold him for trial. Motions? None? Very well. Bail?”

The prosecutor cleared his throat and stood. “Your honor, given the nature of the crime, the people request remand. The accused is not a resident of the state and has no ties to the community.”

Smalls stood. “Your honor, the accused is an agent of the ATF. Certainly he is entitled to bail. I don’t think he would flee the country and we should be able to arrange for his return to the jurisdiction of the court for trial.”

“Your honor, are you going to let him walk free just because he is an ATF agent? If anyone were to be considered a flight risk, he would certainly be that person. He brutally raped and murdered a young woman while in a drunken rage.”

“Enough, gentlemen. I’m going to order him held until trial. Set date three weeks from now. We’re adjourned.”

As the people came to their feet, Chris stared up at the lawyer with a dazed look on his face. He couldn’t fathom that he had been denied bail, that he was going to be held in that tiny cell for three weeks until the trial. Such was his state of shock that he didn’t ever realize it when the deputy replaced the handcuffs and led him from the courtroom.

+ + + + + + +

The sun was just starting to go down when Ezra pulled into the motel parking lot. He did a poor job of containing his disdain for the appearance of the place.

“It would appear that we are to be housed in a hovel until such time as we liberate Mr. Larabee from his wrongful incarceration.”

As soon as the first door of the suburban closed, Vin dashed out to greet them. He slammed into Josiah’s chest with a soft sob. The older man felt the deep shudder that ran thru the sharpshooter. He leaned back against the vehicle and looked at Nathan. They both realized that the young man had been alone all day worrying himself into a fit state.

The others carried their bags into the room Vin had come out of and Buck went to arrange for another room for them to share. Josiah pushed Tanner back and stared into his eyes for a minute.

“We’ll get him out of here. You have to believe that, Vin.”

“But, it’s my fault! If I had let him drive thru, we never would have stopped in this little God forsaken hole.”

“No place is God forsaken, Vin. You have to have faith that right will prevail. We’ll straighten this mess out and you and Chris can go on your vacation when it’s all over.”

“I’m sorry, Josiah. I didn’t mean that the way it came out. I’m so worried about Chris! They wouldn’t let me see him or talk to him at all!”

After calming Vin as much as he could, the team gathered in his room to discuss the situation. Judge Travis called to tell them that he had arranged for a lawyer to arrive in the morning and that they would get all the information on the situation then. He had also flexed some muscle and arranged for special carry permits for all of them with a superior court judge for that jurisdiction. The sheriff would have to return Vin’s gun as soon as they had the papers in hand.

They settled into the rooms to sleep. Buck and JD stayed with Vin in his room. The kid did his very best to cheer Tanner without much success. Both men were wakened during the night by the Texan thrashing and calling for Chris in his sleep.

When everyone had awakened in the morning, Ezra asked the obvious question.

“Does this charming little hamlet have any place to get a hot meal or will we be forced to drive out to a larger metropolitan area to acquire sustenance?”

JD and Vin looked at Josiah with identical puzzled expressions.

“Did he just ask what’s for breakfast?” When Josiah nodded, Vin turned to the southerner. “There is a diner in town but they don’t like me down there.”

“What possible reason can they have not to like you?” Ezra’s voice was tinged with anger.

“I guess because of what they think Chris did. I went down there for lunch yesterday and they glared at me until my head hurt. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll just wait here and you can bring me something back.”

Josiah put his arm across the bowed shoulders of the sharpshooter and pulled him close. It must have been bad for Vin being alone in the town with all those people thinking his friend murdered that innocent young woman.

“We go together or not at all. We will not allow these people to see us divided. Mr. Larabee would want us to stay together.”

And together they went to the diner. The place was not at all crowded and they pushed a couple of tables together and rearranged a few of the chairs. Vin was seated so that he could see only friendly faces no matter which way he looked around the tables.

The waitress brought a carafe of coffee to the table. She left a stack of menus and bustled on about her business. Several minutes later, she came back to take their orders. If she had any opinion about the newcomers, she kept them to herself. Unfortunately, some of the other patrons were not quite as forgiving.

“I guess they think they’ll just blow in here and overpower us small-town yokels.”

“Yeah, but they haven’t run into Judge Cross. He won’t let that bastard get away with it! He’ll see that the fed pig gets what he deserves!”

Vin’s hands clenched into fists and his eyes dropped to his lap. They could shelter him from the dirty looks but they could not protect him from the hurtful words. Josiah stood and moved slowly across the diner. He draped one arm around each of the antagonists and let his jacket fall open revealing the big gun resting under his arm.

“Gentlemen, your voices carry too well in this small room. Perhaps you would be so kind as to lower them so that you do not create offense. This is still America and our friend will be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Is that clear?”

The men swallowed hard before nodding slowly. Josiah slapped them both soundly on the back and returned to his seat. The waitress arrived with their food as he was sitting down.

“Don’t pay any attention to them. I heard about the hard time they gave your friend last night. Not everyone here is as narrow minded as they are, they’re just more vocal about it.”

The food was delightful and the waitress seemed to be going to great pains to try to make it up to Vin. She quickly picked up on his sweet tooth and brought him something special from the kitchen. The warm baked apples were sweet naturally and the cinnamon topping only added to their flavor. Josiah flashed the older woman a smile of gratitude at her kindness. While the team was finishing their meal, the deputy came in to order food for the prisoner.

“I’ll be right with you there, Perry, have a seat.”

The waitress bustled around the counter and came back around to the table where the team sat. She refilled their coffee cups and took away dirty plates. She leaned in close to Vin.

“Is there anything in particular your friend likes to eat? Do you know how he likes his eggs? What does he take in his coffee?”

Tears welled in Vin’s eyes at the woman’s kindness and his voice left him. Josiah rested his arm across the shoulders again.

“Thank you, Ma’am. He takes his eggs over easy and his coffee strong and black. If you have any more of that apple dish, I’m sure he would appreciate it.”

She smiled again and backed away. A couple of minutes later, she handed the deputy a bag of food and a thermos of coffee. Josiah made eye contact with the man and nodded a greeting. Perry nodded back at the graying man and quickly left the diner.

Ezra collected the bill and went to the register to pay for their meal. He offered the woman a tip and she drew back her hand as if burned.

“You don’t have to do that, son.”

He pressed the money into her hand. “Your kindness has not gone unnoticed. Please, allow us to show our gratitude for your grace in an awkward situation.”

She allowed him to press the money into her hand and wiped back a tear.

“The ruffians are usually gone after six if you all want to come back for supper. I’m making fried chicken. It’s the best you’ll find in the county.”

Ezra flashed her a bright smile and promised that they would come back after six.

Page 1 | Next | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 6
Page 7 | Page 8 | Page 9 | Page 10 | Page 11 | Page 12