Main Characters: Chris, Vin
Disclaimer: I don't own the copyright to the Mag7 characters, or the MCAT AU and the MCAT characters; and I don't make any profit from this story.
Author's note: This story is written as a birthday story for Sherry. She requested a story in the wonderful MCAT AU she created, where the seven have moved on to having families and are part of a new Task Force Unit, MCAT (Major Crimes and Acts of Terrorism), with Orin Travis as the Director. One of the assets of MCAT is the computer system CASSIE (Collaborative Analysis System for Sensitive Information Engineering). MCAT has its own offices in the Denver Mountains and there is a base down at the ranch, Larabee 7, as well, called Camp Larabee.
This story takes place a few months after the last story in the founding
series of this AU, 'Turbulant Transition'
(http://www.blackraptor.net/MCAT/Gen/index.htm), ended. Chris is divorced
from his wife, Linda and has two children, Grace and Cody plus a full-time
live-in caretaker, Dottie Morris, to help him take care of them. Vin is married
to Kelli, who turned out to be Chris' daughter from a brief affair when he
was still very young. Vin and Kelli have twin baby sons besides their adopted
children Jason and Andi. During the day Max takes care of them. She is married
to Walter Andrews, head of security for the ranch Larabee 7. For all information
about MCAT, its agents and the families of the 'boys', I can only say: visit
Sherry's amazing website:
There is a summary of it all on
Acknowledgements: The main plot of this story is NOT my own, but taken from the episode 'De zaak Vledder' from the Dutch crime series 'Baantjer'. Sherry requested a story where Chris is psychologically hurt and when I saw this episode I thought it would do wonderfully. Alas, law enforcement in the Netherlands is NOT the same as in the US, so the irony of this story is that while it is written for Sherry as a birthday gift, she herself made it a lot better thanks to her suggestions and explanations of the law enforcement world in the USA. Without her input this story would not have become what it now is, so thank you for that, Sherry!
The sun was barely up and not strong enough yet to burn the haziness out of the air. Rick yawned, trying to stay alert while he drove himself and his wife down the mountains to their jobs in Denver. He yawned again, partly out of boredom, when suddenly he saw something lie across the small mountain road, blocking it completely.
Immediately he stepped on the brakes, causing Sylvia to fly forward. She groaned when the seatbelt caught her. Rick ignored her. Muttering an oath he squinted to better make out whatever was obstructing his road. If he wanted to go on, he would have to drive right over it and he didn't think he wanted to do that.
"Oh, my God," Sylvia said beside him. "Oh God, it's a man! There's a man lying there, Ricky."
He blinked and stared again. It really was a man, lying on his back, head turned away from them, one arm flung out, one leg slightly bent at the knee. He couldn't drive his truck over a man; he was stuck.
Finally Sylvia whispered "He's not moving, Ricky. He's not moving at all. What do we do now?"
"I guess I better check what's wrong with him," Rick decided nervously. "You call 911." He didn't like the idea, in fact, it scared him. Why would anyone be lying on this road leading to nothing but him and his neighbors? But if he wanted to get to work he had no choice, he had to get out of the truck and investigate.
He approached slowly, too scared to go any faster, until he was right next to the man. He took in the square face, the slightly open mouth, the short blond hair falling over closed eyes. The man looked peaceful, except for the enormous red stain covering his shirt.
Keeping his eyes away from the scary stain, Rick knelt down beside the man. "Mister?" he asked hesitantly. Then he asked more forcefully, "Mister?"
He swallowed and found the courage to push against the shoulder closest to him. Still no response. Suddenly frantic to wake the man up, because, dear God, he really had to wake up, he gave some fast slaps to the cheeks.
"Mister? Mister, please, you can't stay here!"
Nothing, nothing at all. Except footsteps coming near. Not from behind, from his truck, but in front of him. Thankful for some help, any help, he looked up.
Straight into the barrel of a gun, held by a lean, blond man dressed all in black, long black duster swirling around his legs.
Vaguely he heard his wife scream behind him.
The police was literally all over the place, Vin noticed as he jumped out of his truck and ran toward the crime scene, Buck and Kelli in close pursuit. Captain Bob Frisco, head of the homicide division of Denver PD, gave them a curt wave before walking up to them. Behind him the body could be seen, the coroner already bent over it.
"Where is he?" Vin asked. The only read he could get from Chris over their mind link was faint at best, hazy and difficult to pin down. It frightened him, because it reminded him too much of a time he much rather forgot.
Chris? he tried again. Come on, Cowboy, talk to me.
No answer, except from Frisco. "He's in the ambulance over there, acting weird, out of it. He's been vomiting a lot, but I think he's better now."
"I want our own chief medical examiner have a look at that body," Vin said, already turning to go to the ambulance. "He and his team are on their way."
"Oh no, Tanner. I know MCAT has first jurisdiction, but this time one of your own is involved. He's the main suspect and frankly I didn't even have to call you guys in yet."
Vin turned back, all his pent up frustration suddenly boiling over. "That's Captain Tanner to you, and I'm tellin' you right now..." Before he could lash out further Kelli was beside him, grabbing his hand and squeezing it. He looked at his wife and saw the worry in her eyes. On his other side Buck stepped forward.
"We know, Bob, and we really appreciate you called us anyway. It's just that Doctor Metfield is about the best in the business. To tell you the truth, we're a little worried here. Denver PD's own forensic team hates Larabee's guts ever since he had the chief medical examiner almost arrested. So would you mind if ours takes a look as well?"
"Are you trying to accuse these people of something, Buck? Because if you are, why don't you take it to court?"
"Hey!" Buck quickly put his hands up in a gesture of peace. "I'm not accusing anyone of anything. But you do know how these things go. We are talking about a man's life here, a damn good man."
Frisco sighed and nodded. "Yeah, I know, and believe me, I can understand your concern. Even so, you have to see I can't allow it, not this time. It's our investigation and that's how it stays until I hear different from my boss, so you better call your men and tell them it's a waste of time."
"No," Vin broke in, trying to keep a reign on his emotions. He knew part of his anger was caused by a hellish night of searching high and low for Chris, worried sick. And part by his need to understand what had happened to find Chris here, at a crime scene, miles away from the ranch and the MCAT buildings. He took a deep breath to try and calm himself, this time managing to stay completely civilized when he told the captain, "Like you said, we have jurisdiction over you. Doctor Metfield and his team will take the case, your men can assist."
"Captain Tanner...." Frisco started, but Vin wasn't going into a debate over this.
"I do see your point and I promise they won't be in your way, but they'll be allowed to work. Now, you got a job to do same as us, so I'll go see Commander Larabee and then I'm out of your hair."
"Captain, you have to see that you and MCAT can't take over investigating your own Commander. As for seeing him, yes, off course, why do you think I called? I like Larabee. The man has guts and has done a lot of good, same as the rest of you. It didn't seem right to leave you in the dark. So, Buck, if you feel the need to wander around, talk to some old buddies, I won't interfere. That, however, is the extend of my cooperation, I can't give you anything more."
Vin shot a look at Buck, who nodded back grimly.
"Kel, you go with Buck, let me see Chris first." He knew she was anxious about her father, but he wanted to see what condition Chris was in before she did.
Staring at the ambulance, Kelli was clearly torn and for a moment Vin thought she was going to defy him. To his relief she gave a terse nod.
"Go, Tanner. I see what I can find out."
He hurried to the ambulance and clambered inside, flashing his badge. Chris was laying on the gurney, swatted in blankets, paper bags on his hands. There was a confused and a bit glazy look in those normally so vibrant green eyes.
"Hey, Cowboy," he said out loud. "What happened to you?"
"Vin?" The eyes seemed to try and focus on him. "What h... happened?"
"That's what I asked you. You've been arrested."
"Arrested? No, not arrested. I do the... the arresting," his friend mumbled a bit groggily. "Th... thirsty. So damn... thirsty." His eyes closed.
"What's wrong with him?" Vin asked the paramedics.
"We don't know, Sir. He's nauseous and dizzy. Vomited a lot at first and had trouble breathing, but that's better now. Still complains about dizziness and blurred vision."
Vin shivered. So he probably had seen it right when he thought Chris' pupils looked dilated. The way Chris was acting didn't sit well with him at all. He knew how difficult it had been for his friend to get completely drugs free after he had been kidnapped by his brother and been shot full of the nasty stuff for a whole week. He hadn't forgotten how it had been even harder for Chris, for all of them, when the stubborn man had gone undercover a few months later, only to have a relapse.
He didn't want to think about that right now. He needed to focus on the case at hand.
"Chris? Chris, are you still with me?" Once more he tried to reach his friend through their bond, but he couldn't penetrate the foggy haze he met there.
"Mmmm?" Chris opened his eyes again. Yes, his pupils definitely were too big and Vin knew that glazed look too well after all the trouble with pills before. He swallowed and put his hand on Chris' shoulder, needing the solid contact for a moment.
"Hey, Larabee, you have a daughter out there who's worried sick about you. And Buck too, who's prowlin' around, menacin' everybody. So just tell me what's goin' on and we can leave this whole fuckin' mess behind us, right?"
"Don't... don't know what you're talking 'bout. D... dizzy." The eyes closed again and Vin sighed. He squeezed the shoulder one more time in resignation, knowing he wouldn't get anything coherent out of Chris right now.
"Don't worry, Cowboy," he whispered. "We'll find out." Addressing the two medics with a hard glare he said. "You take good care of him."
When he left the ambulance, Kelli was standing outside. She didn't wait for what he would say, but hastily took his place in the ambulance. Vin could hear one of the paramedic's voices protesting and Kelli's sharp "I'm his daughter, I have a right to see him!" He sighed. Stubborn woman, she sure as hell was a Larabee. He hadn't wanted her to see Chris like this and he was pretty sure Chris wouldn't have wanted it either. It was too late though, when Kelli made up her mind, it was made up.
Buck walked up to him. "And?" he asked. "How's Chris? What did he say? They're treating him as the main suspect here."
"He doesn't remember, at least not now."
"Why's he in an ambulance? What's wrong with him?"
"They don't rightly know. He's been nauseous, dizzy, had a blackout and some difficulty breathin', but they don't know what's caused it. They'll look into it at the hospital. Meanwhile we better try and find out what we can here."
"I don't think so," a cool voice behind him said. Buck's head snapped up and Vin saw a look of revulsion cross his face. Quickly he turned around, finding himself eye to eye with two men in dark suits.
"Why's that?" he asked, frowning at them.
"Because this is officially my case," the man closest to him said. He looked at Vin with steely grey eyes under grey hair that was combed back neatly. The mouth above the almost square chin formed a thin line.
"And before you flash those MCAT ID's, here, read this."
The stranger held out a letter. "From the U.S. Attorney General's office, making it very clear this falls under an internal investigation, like every other case involving an agent under suspicion of a crime. It doesn't matter that MCAT itself no longer falls under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General's office, if one of you commit a crime, you still have to answer for it. And since this concerns one of your own, you are off limits here. Is that clear?"
Vin looked at the letter with disgust. "Crystal," he managed to answer, in the mean time wondering just who this asshole had found to write this crap up for him and how the hell he got here so fast. But he would bide his time and talk to Travis before he made waves.
Beside him Buck stiffened. "Vin, you can't let that imbecile take over, you just can't."
"He doesn't have a choice." A smile played around the thin lips while the man looked at Buck. "Any questions about it you can take up with your supervisor, Director Orin Travis."
Pretending to still look at the letter, Vin surreptitiously studied the unknown agent. Something wasn't right; the man enjoyed himself way too much.
"Well, I ain't gonna sit idle and let you handle this, Summerton", Buck fumed. "You've had it in for Chris for a long time now and I aim to let the people who sent you know that."
"You can try, Wilmington. In the mean time I have a job to do, so if you'll excuse me?" Summerton started to walk away, but stopped after only a few paces. His face wore a satisfied smirk when he added, "Please leave, before I have you all arrested for obstruction of justice."
The agent who had accompanied Summerton stayed, his eyes focused on them. The message was clear and reluctantly Vin took a swearing Buck by the arm to steer him away, back to the truck.
"Damn it, Vin, are you going to let him get away with this? We have to do something!"
"We will Buck, when the time is right. Besides, Kelli's still there, he didn't see her. Look, she's just left the ambulance."
Vin took out his cell and rang her." Kel, listen, this is what I need you to do..." Soon all was set. Kelli would stay and work discreetly with Bones' forensic team to see what they could discover.
"They'll at least comb this area out after the police leaves," he told Buck. "If there's anythin' to find, they'll find it."
Chris had been taken to a different hospital than he normally went to, one where the doctors and staff didn't know him and consequently he hadn't been in there for long. Vaguely he remembered some blood had been taken, but he hadn't been dizzy anymore and thank God the nausea had died down as well. Immediately after the tests were finished, he had been escorted to the police station, to be booked for murder despite the fact he was still groggy.
It had been one hell of a sobering experience to have his fingerprints and his photograph taken. As a law enforcer his fingerprints were on file, so he had protested, but Summerton had merely laughed and told him it was only fair that as a murderer he should be treated as one.
Bastard! How in hell had he gotten this case? Called in a lot of favors, probably. The idiot had called him a murderer... and now he was here, in an interrogation room at the wrong side of the table. It was a strange feeling... damn strange.
With a growl he pushed himself up and started pacing, wondering how long Summerton would make him wait. All part of the game, he knew, but it still got to him. Especially since he had two little kids waiting for him at home, who hadn't seen him since yesterday morning.
Shit, shit, shit.
Pushing a hand through his unruly hair, he looked in the mirror, knowing that on the other side someone was probably watching him right now.
Let them. That wasn't what worried him at the moment. What really ate at him was the fact he couldn't remember what had happened. Not a thing. Not one single thing.
Chris was back in his chair when the door finally opened. Summerton came inside, followed by a young man. While Summerton took a place across from him and activated the recorder, the young man kept standing right beside the door, his hands on his back and an unreadable look on his face.
"How about a phone call?" Chris asked sarcastically. "Lawyer?"
"This is no game, Larabee. You know as well as I do I can question you first as part of my investigation." A photo was thrown on the table in front of him.
"Who is he?" Summerton asked.
Chris frowned. He had never seen the man in his entire life.
"Well, who is he?" Summerton demanded again.
Chris shook his head, still staring.
"We found this man with two bullets inside his chest and you at the scene with your service weapon missing bullets. I'm willing to bet that as soon as I get it, the ballistics' report will tell me your gun was fired. And when the ME gets the bullets out of the deceased I'm equally sure they will match your weapon. For crying out loud, the agents answering the call found you standing over the victim, holding your gun on two innocent people who happened to pass by. We also found your truck at the scene of the crime, with hair that matches the victim's plus some blood in the back. Do you still claim you don't know him?"
"I don't," Chris said, shaken by what Summerton told him. Not good, not good at all. If only he could remember something....
"What happened, Larabee? Why did you kill this man? Did he have something on you? Or say something you didn't like? Why did you do it?"
"No," was all he could say. No, this just wasn't true.
"No? No what? Tell me what happened, Larabee!"
"I don't remember," he whispered.
"What? What did you say?"
Chris looked up at the man who had given him so much trouble in the past and who was still as loathsome now as he had been then. "I don't remember," he repeated, louder.
Summerton laughed, shaking his head. "Why am I not surprised? Don't remember. Very convenient how you suddenly don't remember a thing, isn't it?" He jumped up and leaned on the table with both hands, his face an ugly mask.
"Very, very convenient, isn't it, Larabee?" he asked. "It keeps amazing me how all those rapists, murderers and drugs dealers can forget so conveniently what happened as soon as they are caught. Bashed in that guy's head? Don't remember." He leaned forward. "Plunged my knife into the belly of that woman? Don't remember. Pulled the entrails right out of her through the wound? Plain forgotten about that. Stand over the body with the gun still in my hand, the bullets from that gun inside the body's heart? Nope, can't remember a thing!" He yelled the last, pushing himself upright.
"What the hell do you remember?"
"Nothing!" Chris yelled back. "I don't remember a thing! Nothing at all!"
The smile flickering for a second over Summerton's face looked strangely triumphant. It gave Chris the chills.
"Like I said, Larabee, very convenient."
Chris didn't react. What could he say? He dropped his eyes to the picture on the table, the picture of a total stranger. Why would he kill this man if he didn't even know him? It didn't make any sense.
"Is there anything you can tell us?"
"Yeah. Drop dead."
"We found your prints on the gun, Larabee."
Chris shot Summerton a disgusted look. "Imagine that, on my own gun?"
"There were only your fingerprints, Larabee, no one else's. Oh, and then there's the little fact we found powder residues on your hand and sleeve. You fired that gun, Chris Larabee, plain and clear. Still want to tell me you don't remember?"
"Yes." Their eyes met and held, but it was Summerton who looked away first.
"Suit yourself. Only, you know as well as I do people have been convicted on less." He turned and walked to the door, intention to leave clear.
"Wait." Chris stood up, holding the picture up. "At least tell me who this is."
"You say I killed him, but I don't even know his name. What kind of work did he do? Was he married? What kind of man was he?"
"Why would I tell you when you claim you didn't kill him? You want to know all that? You admit you murdered him and I'll tell you, otherwise no dice. So, ready to confess?"
"Go to hell."
"Not me, Larabee, not me."
Chris gave it up, he wasn't going to get anywhere with Summerton. "Just get me a phone, so I can make my call and then leave me the hell alone."
"Ready to confess?" Summerton asked again.
"What? We went over that, just give me a phone."
"After you confess we can move on to other things. Until then you are mine and talk only to me."
"You can't do that! Damn it, I do know my rights and I haven't given up any fucking one of them. I've got two small kids; I need to know they're all right! I need to...."
"You need to come clean or you have no rights at all as far as I'm concerned. Your so-called agents already know what happened to you, so there's no need for that call. In fact, I consider the illegal conversation two of them had with you at the crime scene enough to fit the bill. So, do you have anything to say? No? Then this conversation is over." Summerton turned and left, followed by his agent.
"Bastard," Chris whispered after the door had shut behind them with a bang. He looked at the picture again, wondering about the man in it. One of the purposes of leaving it with him was making him think about the victim, he knew. With a sigh he fell back into his chair, staring.
He really couldn't remember the man or anything else. Not since... since late afternoon of the day before.
Summerton was right though, people were convicted on less than what they seemed to have on him.
With a groan he put his elbows on the table and let his throbbing head fall into his hands. An image of Grace and Cody sprang up in his mind. What would they be doing now? Who would be with them? He didn't even know what time it was, there was no clock here and his watch had been taken. No way of knowing if they were still with Dottie, or if someone from the family had taken over. Would Grace be playing somewhere right now, driving everyone to distraction with her stunts? And Cody, would he be sleeping? Or would someone be feeding him and have those intense blue-green eyes stare up at them all the time, eyes that almost seemed to talk? God, he loved to gaze into those wonderful eyes, or in Grace's mischievous green ones.
Would they miss him right now and wonder where their father was?
Thinking about his little daughter and baby son, he started to shiver. When would he see them again, be with them again? Who would take care of them, if...? He knew he could trust his friends, his family, but God... would he ever be able to see them grow up?
Or would he be behind bars?
No... not that! He wanted to raise them himself, be there for them as he hadn't been able to be there for Kelli or Adam when it mattered most. Would he fail his youngest children as well?
Oh God, what if there was more going on than these murder charges? He didn't even know if this was all that was going on, didn't know if his family was safe.
He jumped up, hurling his chair backwards in the process and ran to the door, thumping on it with all his might.
"Give me a phone! I have the right to make a call! Give me a phone you bastards, I need to know how my kids are! Damn you! Damn you all to hell! Give me a phone!"
No one answered and finally he gave up, sliding slowly down the door until he sat on the ground.
He just had to believe Grace and Cody, his family, his friends, were all safe and weren't caught up in this in any way, he had to.
Vin? Vin, where are you? Please let me know something.
His silent plea didn't help. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't concentrate on that elusive bond he shared with his best friend.
MCAT's War Room was filled with a dedicated team of agents, pouring over the data they had extricated from everywhere. Kelli had brought the findings from Bones' team with her and was staring at a picture of some car tracks. Josiah was looking through a file on the victim, courtesy of CASSIE, while Vin and Ezra were busy with the police reports they had obtained the same way.
None of them liked the facts they were looking at.
"The victim's body was laying across a small mountain road going to some remote houses and cabins. Chris was found holding his gun, with three bullets missing, his truck parked nearby," Ezra summarized. "Hopefully when we obtain the autopsy and ballistics' reports we will discover the projectiles were not released from Chris' weapon and have an ending to this sordid debacle. Unfortunately that will take some time."
"Anyone could have fired his gun and somehow gotten it back to him," Buck said. "Hell, they can't even prove Chris' gun was fired yet."
Vin sighed and put down the report he was holding. "There was gunpowder on his hand and sleeve, Buck. Frankly, I fear for the outcome of the ballistics' reports."
"We have to find a lead. No way in hell will I let Chris go down for this bullshit!"
"None of us will, Buck, we are only just beginning this investigation," Josiah said. "Now, this is what we know about the victim. James Best was a small time crook; he had a couple of convictions for drugs dealings and two minor assault charges. He was thirty-one years old, lived with his girlfriend Natalie Thompson and apparently did not work steadily."
They all looked at the table between them where, right in the middle, a worn, brown leather wallet was lying, surrounded by money, a small picture of a dark haired woman, credit cards, a driver's license and some scraps of paper. Buck had been able to nick it from the scene of the crime before he and Vin had been ordered away, not feeling any compunction about taking it. Once they knew the name of the victim, it hadn't been difficult for JD's team to find the files on the man.
Vin took one of the small pieces of paper, this one containing a number. He sighed, put it back on the table and took the small picture instead. He stared at the woman in it. "Natalie Thompson... guess that's the best place to start," he decided. "Buck, Kelli, y'all go talk with her when we finish here." They nodded their agreement.
"Josiah, JD, get as much information as you can on her and see if you can't find more on the victim. If he wasn't workin' he had to have money coming in from some other source." Two more nods.
"Ezra, you and I...." Before he could finish the door opened and Nathan hurried inside. "Nate! Did you get a change to see Chris at the hospital? How's he doin'?"
"No, Vin, sorry. They brought him to Saint Mercy's instead of Denver Memorial and he was already released into police custody when I arrived."
"Fuck," Buck said softly. "Chris in jail, he will hate that." No one else said anything, but faces were grim.
"Do they at least know what was wrong with him?" Vin asked, mentally kicking himself for not having had someone follow the ambulance to the hospital.
"No, not yet. Chris was doing well once he arrived and their medical exam showed there were no problems with his health; so since they didn't know him, they let the police take him in without question. His blood is still being tested, mainly on drugs. Chris was indeed drugged, as you suspected, but they don't know what kind of drug yet."
They looked at each other, thinking about Chris and drugs... a very dangerous combination; something most people in the War room were aware of. They knew how hard Chris had struggled to get free of them, after his brother had forced enough on him to get him addicted and how he had had a relapse some months later. But he had been clean well over a year now, never even touching as much as a painkiller since he became clean the second time.
"Jesus," Buck muttered. "Nate, Vin said Chris didn't remember what happened when he saw him in the ambulance. Is there any chance his memory will come back?"
"I don't know, it depends on the drug. Lots of times those memories are gone for good."
"Then it's up to us to find out what happened," Vin said. "I for one ain't plannin' on letting Chris down and I don't think any of you are." The determination on everyone's faces told him enough, they were all with him on this. "Nate, when Chris' blood is tested, can you get the results?"
Nathan grinned. "Can horses eat grass? You'll have it, Vin."
"Good. People, we have a case to solve, let's get to it."
Kelli stood up first. "Vin? Can I talk to you for a moment?" she asked.
He nodded and preceded her to his office. With a sigh he fell into the chair behind his desk, rubbing his face, wishing he could rub his exhaustion away at the same time. He needed to stay alert, despite a grueling night without sleep. This day didn't promise to be any better.
No, that wasn't true; it was a damn sight better already. At least now they knew where Chris was and that he wasn't hurt, was even relatively safe for the time being.
When he opened his eyes, he saw Kelli was standing in front of the window, staring outside. Something about her stiff posture warned him.
"What's wrong, Honey?"
"Maybe I should sit this one out, stay home with the kids and my little brother and sister until we know more. Grace was so upset last night and this morning. She misses her Dad very much."
"I know she does. But Dottie has her and Cody covered like always, and we're there too. We'll keep them safe for Chris 'til he's back." He stood up and walked over to her.
"That's not what's really botherin' you, is it? Talk to me, Kel," he said softly, putting his hands on her shoulders, trying to massage some of the stiffness away.
"You saw Chris in the ambulance, and Nathan just confirmed that he was drugged. Don't tell me it doesn't worry you, the fact that Chris has drugs in his system, again."
"Of course it does. But we don't know what happened yet."
"What if he had another relapse? I love him, Vin, and I know how hard he fought to get rid of the damn stuff the first time. That still didn't stop him from taking them again! Not even with a wife and a newborn. How do we know?"
"I would've sensed it. I'm tellin' you there was nothing, no indication at all he had started using again. So, until we know different I think we owe him the benefit of the doubt here. Especially since he worked so damn hard to get well again, once he saw drugs would always be a danger to him. Stop borrowin' trouble. Grace and Cody will be fine regardless, we'll see to that. Right now it's the thought of Chris back on drugs that's scarin' you. Hell, it scares me too, but I'm not buying it yet."
He kissed the top of her head. "Go on with Buck, and lets all do our jobs, that's the only way we'll get any answers."
"I hope you're right, Vin, I sure hope you're right, because frankly, I can't take it a third time." She left, yelling for Buck as she headed out the door.
Vin took her place before the window, staring outside without really seeing anything.
I hope I'm right as well, Kelli, because I don't know if I can take all that hell again either. One thing's for sure though, those kids will stay safe.
Deciding to keep his mind on the here and now he exited his office, gesturing for Ezra to follow him. He wanted to see Chris and see him fast.
+ + + + + + +
"It seems you had visitors, Larabee."
Chris looked up from where he sat huddled on the bunk in the cell he had been brought to, after he refused to sign any damn declarations. Summerton had had eight pages of documents he insisted Larabee had to sign and had gotten very nasty when Chris had told him where he could stuff them.
Now he was in a cell, looking through bars and unable to leave.
Imprisoned. It was a frightening experience to be here and not know how it had happened. With his tormentor once again standing before him it was even worse, but Chris refused to show it to the man.
"Well? Don't you want to know who tried to visit you, Larabee?"
"Charge me or let me go."
"I can hold you for seventy-two hours before I have to do either one. By then I'll have all the proof I need to see you convicted for murder."
Summerton wasn't looking at him while he spoke; he was looking at Chris' tiny cell. His eyes rested last on the toilet bowl in the back corner. He smirked, seeing it.
"How's it feel to sit on that right in front of everyone?" he asked.
Bastard. Chris ignored the remark and opted to stare at the ceiling. He would just pretend Summerton wasn't there.
"Those fellows across from you can look right into your cell and see it all."
Shit! The man obviously wasn't going to leave until he had had his fun. So Chris decided he'd better try and move this conversation along after all. Anything to get rid of him.
"Why don't you get to the point?"
Summerton smiled. "Oh, yes, the reason why I came, your visitors. A Vin Tanner came to the police station, demanding to see you. One of your men, isn't he? He had someone else with him, hmm..., what was his name again? Anyway, this man claimed to be a lawyer, only he turned out to be one of your agents as well. Of course they didn't get to see you."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Oh, I just wanted you to know your two men did me a huge favor. Trying to barge in here, using some kind of made up authority, had the federal attorneys worry about the case. Especially since Tanner already tried to take over the crime scene this morning. So now I have the authority to go and search MCAT for anything they have on this, make sure they stop their investigation for good."
"No one gets to search MCAT! Certainly not slime like you."
"We'll see about that, Commander Larabee. In the mean time, enjoy your night."
Summerton was leaving and with him his last chance to get a phone. The cops of the Denver PD might not like it, but when it came to him they were under Summerton's orders. Desperately he jumped up and grabbed the bars to make one final plea. It made his stomach crawl, but he needed to find out how Grace and Cody were doing.
"Summerton, please, just let me call my kids, hear if they're all right. They're just babies, for God's sake."
"You should have thought about your children before you decided to murder someone. Or are you ready to talk?"
"You can't do this indefinitely!"
"I know, but I will do it as long as possible. I've been able to convince them you are a very dangerous man, Larabee, with too much power to be given any slack at all. You need to be kept from any agent of yours if we are to have a chance of convicting you."
Giving him a last smirk, Summerton walked away. Before exiting the prisons hall, he turned around and yelled, "I will nail you for this, Larabee. This time no one will be able to help you out of the mess you're in." Then the man was gone.
Chris sighed and fell back on the small bunk that passed for a bed. He put his hands on his face for a second, before pushing them up and backwards through his hair.
No use, whatever drug had been in his bloodstream still wasn't entirely gone and was scrambling his thoughts too much.
Drugs, it scared him he had been found drugged. He didn't remember taking any, but then he didn't remember anything since the afternoon of the day before, up and until he found himself on a small mountain road this morning, seeing a man handling a body. He also didn't remember any high rush though, only nausea, dizziness, and an unquenchable thirst. Damn, why couldn't he remember?
"Hey, hey you! Handsome!"
Finally the calls caught his attention. The three cells opposite his were all occupied. One man was snoring softly on his bunk; the other two were staring at him.
"So, you're a cop," one of them said with a nasty grin, as soon as he saw he finally had Chris' attention.
Chris gave him one of his own nasty grins. "What of it?"
"And now you killed someone. ... been a bad boy, have you? Going to jail, are you? With all those other bad boys who would love to make a cop pay."
Fuck Summerton for not hiding what he was. Chris was damn sure the man had done it on purpose, for the same reason he held him in the jail at Denver Police Headquarters instead of taking him to a federal facility. Payback, humiliate him the same way....hell, it didn't matter...jail was jail.
The other man chimed in. "I think I know just what they'll do to you, pretty boy. I'm gonna ask to be in the same prison as you, so I can be a part of it." The leer on his face and his suggestive moves made Chris feel sick. Disgusted he turned away.
"You can turn your back on us all you want," the first man yelled. "You're one of us now, the scum of the earth! Enjoy!"
"Hey, how about we tell you some of the funs to be had in prison?"
"You two! You say one more word and I'll make sure your mouths will be shut for you." One of the guards came through the hallway, angry eyes on the two inmates trying to bait Chris.
"We're just having some fun, no harm done."
"I'm warning you, Doyle. You keep up this fun and I'll make you pay. Leave him alone."
Muttering, the two inmates backed down. The guard turned to Chris and smiled ruefully at him. "Sorry," he said. "We'll try and keep them in check."
"Thanks." He decided to try his luck with this man, he seemed friendly enough.
"Could you get me a phone, so I can call home? I really need to know how my kids are."
The guard shook his head, regret clear in his eyes. "I'm sorry, we're under strict orders. It sucks, but there's nothing we can do."
"Yeah, well, thanks anyway."
"Sorry," the guard repeated. "And don't worry; we'll keep an eye on those two."
He wasn't gone for long though, before the whispers started.
"Hey cop, you know how your nights in prison will be?"
"Yeah, let's tell you some juicy details 'bout that."
Rolling up in his blanket, head under the thin pillow, Chris tried to shut the malicious whispers out. When he closed his eyes, what he saw were the sweet, laughing faces of Grace and Cody.
He missed them fiercely, missed the fun they always had during their evenings together. Diner, with Grace trying to do it all herself and making a mess; and Cody in his baby chair on the table, little hands going everywhere, a smile almost splitting his face in two as soon as he saw his father approach with his bottle. Bathing them afterwards, Cody secure in his arms while he held an eye out on Grace, who would be talking enthusiastically in her own unique language as she splashed water over all three of them.
The peaceful moments in their bedrooms before his two angels went to sleep.
"And you know what they'll do to you after that?"
God, it was going to be a long night.
"We didn't get to talk to the girlfriend," Buck reported, disgust evident in his voice.
Kelli nodded. "When we arrived, Summerton was standing at her door. I think he was just deliverin' the news of her boyfriend's death, because she looked very upset."
"Trouble is, he saw us too." Buck threw himself in one of the chairs, looking at the papers and files scattered over the big, round table standing in the middle of the War room.
"Damn!" Vin swore, stretching muscles aching from standing bowed over the files for too long. "We need somethin' quick, or Chris is in serious trouble."
"If only one of us could talk to Chris, hear what he does remember," Josiah said.
"They won't let us near him." Vin told them. "Me and Ezra tried everythin', but no dice. Until I can talk to Travis, or Ezra can get a court order, our hands are tied."
He knew his anger showed, but at the moment he didn't care. It just wasn't fair how Chris was treated. Not after all he had done for Denver, hell, for law and order in the whole damn country and even beyond if you also counted his SEALs days.
"Can't you... you know?" Buck asked, tapping the side of his head.
"Nah. Been tryin', but all I get is confused emotions. I think there are still some drugs in his system. The only thing I can get now and then that makes sense, is his worry 'bout Grace and Cody."
"He knows we'll take good care of them," Kelli spoke up.
Ezra put down the file he had been reading, a frown on his forehead. "Kelli, if he could be sure everything was all right with us and nothing else was going on besides the murder charges, certainly he would know that, but...we could not get near him and what's worse, Chris is not even allowed a phone. All the contact he has had ever since waking up in this whole sordid mess is with Summerton and somehow I do not think this man has reassured him about anything. I am not counting the brief meeting you and Vin had with him this morning, since he clearly was in no condition to really talk with you two."
JD was aghast. "You mean all this time Chris hasn't been able to check on Grace and Cody? That's cruel!"
Vin nodded. "The local cops weren't too pleased about it either. Said it wasn't right."
"Who is this Summerton character anyway?" Ezra asked Buck. "Why is he so desperate to have Chris charged with this murder and to make him as uncomfortable as possible in the process?"
"The bastard blames Chris for wrecking his career."
"Really?" Ezra frowned and shook his head in obvious puzzlement. "Yet here he is conducting a highly sensitive investigation. It seems to me his career has not suffered from any alleged wrongdoing on Chris' part."
Vin looked at Buck, wanting some answers as well. "He sure crawled into the spotlight somehow, and he's clearly havin' it in for Chris."
"What happened?" JD asked.
Buck leaned back in his chair, his hands behind his head. He stared at the ceiling for a few seconds, then he sighed.
"There was this bust, back in our first days with the Denver PD. We were only on the job for less then half a year, still rookies. Summerton had the lead and he took Chris as back up. He told Chris to wait out front, while he and his partner went inside. Chris did as he was ordered, he waited outside, ready, when Summerton suddenly came running out. There was a shot inside and Chris went in. He found Summerton's partner, Michael Whitfield, dead. Whitfield was a good cop who always tried to make us feel comfortable from the moment we started. He and Chris had hit it off immediately and I think he was the one who requested Chris for extra back up. I wasn't even on duty."
Now bitterness could be heard in Buck's voice. "I had a day off, celebrating something with a girl I had this thing for and wasn't even there for him when he found his friend dead. Next day I came back, trouble was in the air. As if things weren't bad enough already, Summerton had stated Whitfield's death was Chris' fault. He accused Chris of having chickened out, of not following Whitfield inside the building to give the back up that was needed. Chris was furious and of course told his side of the story. Said Summerton was the one who abandoned his partner."
"Ugly," Josiah said.
"Yeah, it was. Summerton had been there for over three years; we were the new guys. Of course I knew Chris would never have chickened out, hell, even with the things we had to do as SEALs, he never lost it. Y'all know that, I know it, only the homicide cops back then, they didn't. Things looked real bad for Chris for a while there, although I wasn't the only one who believed him, until they arrested the suspect who'd fired the fatal shot. And he confirmed Chris' story."
He fell silent, again staring at the ceiling.
"Come on, Buck! What happened next?"
"Hmmm? Oh, they covered it all up, JD, but they did get rid of Summerton. He was sent to the most remote area they could find as some kind of constable or something. I never expected to see the bastard again."
There was a knock on the door and Raphael stuck his head in, followed by Mark's.
"Anything?" Raphael asked.
Vin waved the two men inside, knowing they were as worried as the rest of them. Since they were working undercover at the moment, they hadn't been able to help on Chris' case.
"Nothin' much," he told them. "We know the bastard who's leadin' the investigation probably has it in for Chris and we know who the victim is, but that's about it. How's the biker case comin' along? Y'all have anythin' new to report?"
"Not much," Mark said. "We still haven't made contact with them. I sure hope I didn't have my ear pierced for nothing."
"Damn. We better go to my office then, see what the next step is." Vin stood up. So did Kelli.
"Vin? Do you think you'll go home tonight?"
"Nah, I don't think so, Kel. You wanna go and be with the kids?"
"Yes. We might've kept it a secret about Chris, but I think Jason picked up on something this mornin' and you know how bad Grace reacted yesterday when Chris wasn't there to tuck her in and tell her a bedtime story . I just want to be there for them."
Vin nodded. "You go try and explain. I'll phone before they go to bed."
"I stay as well to hold the fort," Buck said.
"Me too," Josiah volunteered.
"And me. I wanna work CASSIE some more, see if I can get into the hospital records."
"JD, that's shaky ground."
"I know, Vin, but if it would give us access to what was wrong with Chris...."
Nathan shook his head. "No, I'll get those, JD. I'm with Vin. Medical records are very private; we have no right to get into those until we exhaust all other avenues of investigation, and you would have to, trying to locate Chris' records. Maybe it'll take a little longer, but I will get that data."
"No," Vin interrupted him. "I know Chris has told you the same thing before. Some things you just don't do right out of the shoot, JD. This is one of 'em." But deep down inside he knew he would authorize it if it was the only way to obtain the information they needed. "However...I do think you should make some discreet searches into what Summerton's been doin' since he left Denver PD."
He waved Raphael and Mark out of the War room. "Ezra? Nathan? Justin?"
The three men went after Raphael and Mark. They were working on the same case as well. The others followed to take a brief break, arguing about getting pizzas or Thai food.
They didn't get further than the bull pen. Travis was standing between the empty desks, looking far from pleased and Vin's instincts immediately kicked in.
"Sir? If you want an update on Chris' case, we haven't made much progress yet. But we will."
"That's not what I'm here for, Vin. I am here to inform you that you are prohibited from interfering in any way with the investigation on Chris and to collect everything you have so far."
"What?" Buck exploded. "You can't expect us to stand by and let Summerton take Chris down without giving him a fair chance!"
Travis' face grew hard. "I can expect everything, Captain Wilmington. Don't you dare take that tone of voice with me. We are going to let the Attorney Generals office complete their investigation without our interference."
"We can't," Buck yelled. "Summerton's got it in for Chris! He won't do a fair investigation."
"That is a heavy accusation and unless you have proof I do not want to hear those kinds of wild allegations."
Buck mumbled something incoherent and Vin hastily put a hand on his arm.
"I'll show you what we got, Sir. It's in the War room."
Soon both men were standing in the War room, looking at the files scattered around. Travis shook his head. "You've really dug into this, haven't you?" Before Vin could answer, he held up his hand. "Don't, Vin. Chris was found under very incriminating circumstances. As I understand it he also appeared to be drugged? You know how important it is to keep MCAT on a low profile. Although I don't like it anymore than you do, I am going to agree to let the AG's office run their investigation. We cannot have them snooping around in our records and asking questions we do not want to answer."
"Sir, we don't know that Chris is on drugs again, the blood work isn't in yet."
Travis shook his head sadly. "Addicts can hide their addiction pretty well, until it gets too bad. You know that, Vin."
Something in the tone of voice of their director made Vin turn completely to Travis, the papers he was putting together in one neat pile forgotten. He let his eyes bore into the man before him. "I would've known if Chris had started takin' pills again."
Travis scowled. "Vin.... if you find out you're wrong... enough is enough. I gave Chris a second chance; I cannot give him a third one."
He looked at all the paperwork again and shook his head. "Better hand it all over, hopefully it will satisfy Summerton. What's that? A wallet... damn, is that the wallet from the deceased? How did you get it?"
"Found it," Vin mumbled.
"I've never known you to lie to me, Tanner so don't start now. Although I agree some things are better left in the dark." Suddenly Travis grinned.
"Summerton is going to throw a fit over this. Actually, I can hardly wait to see it, because the man is an asshole. Listen, you and the rest of the team go do your jobs. You have one difficult case as it is trying to nail these biker gangs that are terrorizing so many small towns, but... if you run a shadow case, I see no harm in that, as long as we do not have to admit involvement. Handle it as you would one of our special assignments, only we will get no favors from Pennsylvania Avenue on this one. Understood?"
"Thanks. I knew I could count on you, Sir."
"I saw Raphael and Mark out there. Are they getting any closer to being noticed and maybe taken in by the biker group roaming the Denver Mountains?"
"No, Sir. Chris was thinkin' about having them thrown in jail for something, maybe for fightin' or nickin' liquor in a liquor store. Nothing major, just some hell raisin', to make them more noticeable."
"Sounds like a plan to me. Well, let me know if you need anything."
"Will do. Here's the last of the files." He put his head out of the door and bellowed for Alex to come and carry everything for their Director.
Before he left, Travis gave them all a long, hard look. "Don't make me come over here again. I don't like having my ass chewed by some lackey of the IA."
When Travis had left, the others immediately crowded Vin.
"What'd he say? Why's he taking all our stuff?" Buck asked.
"Said we're very officially ordered off Chris' case."
"He also said we could consider this one a special assignment," Vin grinned.
"I deduce this means we will have to be far more discreet?"
"Yeah, Ezra, but damned if I know how to go about it yet, because one of our priorities right now is talkin' to Chris."
"How do you propose we get past the watchdogs Summerton has set? We failed today and I will be unable to obtain a court order until sometime late tomorrow. And maybe not even then if Summerton uses the 72 hours rule."
"It's not your fault, Ezra. Until they officially charge him it would be tough to see him anyway." Vin's eyes fell on Raphael and Mark, hovering around as anxiously as the rest.
Chris was thinking of having them thrown in jail for something....
Thrown in jail... like Chris was himself. Hell, that was even better than trying to get past Summerton the official way, which would alert the man immediately.
Kelli's nod in his ribs brought him back out of his musings. "What are you thinking, Vin? I can see your eyes light up. Better not be something dangerous, or Travis is the least of your worries."
"I was just thinkin' we might wanna approach Chris from a whole different direction. Raphael, Mark, we need to talk. Buck, you still know plenty of people in the Denver PD, you're gonna be needed on this one as well."
"Do I even wanna know?" Buck asked wearily.
"It's just something Chris and I were talkin' about a few days ago, but we didn't have time to pass it by the rest of you. We thought it might help speed things along if Mark and Raphael went to jail over somethin'. Nothing major, just somethin' that lands you inside for a one night lockup."
Grins appeared on the faces around him. Kelli shook her head and then she laughed.
"All proper work on the biker case. But Vin, I don't think y'all need me to set it up, so if you don't mind I rather leave now and still have some time to spend with the kids."
"You do that, Baby."
"See you tomorrow, then."
Taking her in his arms, Vin gave her a lingering goodbye kiss. "Give Jason, Andi and Grace my love and give the twins and Cody a big hug from me. As I said I'll call before Andi and Jason go to bed to say goodnight."
She kissed him back and nodded. "I will." When his beautiful redhead was out of the door, Vin smiled ruefully.
"What y'all standin' around for? We have work to do to set this up. Buck?"
"You still know plenty of cops in the Denver PD. How can we be sure Raphael or Mark will be put in the jail right next to Chris? We can't endanger their covers."
Buck stroked his chin. "It all depends who's on guard duty at the jail tonight. Let me check that out first."
A few minutes later he was back. "Tonight's' not a good time . Charlie's on watch duty right now and he says Hesterton will be coming in soon. He's a prick and won't help us. But Charlie's got night duty tomorrow and is very willing to assist. He doesn't like what Summerton's pulling and he was real mad about Chris not even being allowed to check on his kids, so it's all set."
Vin nodded and beckoned to Raphael and Mark.
"It seems you two are in on this case after all. I'll give you the facts, so you know what you have to ask Chris tomorrow night and then let's make a plan on how you're goin' to get arrested. JD, get us new copies of those damn files I had to give to Travis."
Soon the War room was full of papers again, while they all worked out a plan. Gunny kept them supplied with fresh coffee and ordered a meal to be brought in for the weary men. Vin had only asked her once if she didn't prefer to go home, after she had provided the meal. She had looked at him in disbelief and told him pointedly she had work to do.
Vin knew how fond she was of Chris and had secretly been very amused by the way she tried to mother their Commander ever since Linda had walked out on him. He didn't ask her if she wanted to leave again, glad of the background support she offered them all.
+ + + + + + +
The main lights had gone out hours ago, but that didn't mean it was dark in Chris' cell. The night lamps were still shedding their light over the inmates. To Chris' relief the others were asleep by now, because it meant he was finally left alone.
He couldn't sleep himself, he was too wound up. If only he could remember what had happened last night; what he had done.
Why couldn't he remember? What was up with the fact he had probably been drugged? When had that happened, and how? He really needed to know how.
With a sigh Chris sat up and stared around the tiny cell. Through the bars he could see the other prisoners lying on their bunks and he shivered slightly when he remembered some of their threats about what happened to cops in prison.
Still, that wasn't what had kept him so wide awake. What got to him about the whole situation and about the very real chance he might end up in prison with Summerton handling his investigation, was the fact he would lose his family... again. Because if he was convicted of murder Grace, Cody, the twins, Jason, Andi and all his other nieces and nephews would be long grown by the time he came out, if he ever got out.
He closed his eyes and conjured up the images of Grace and Cody. This had been the second evening he hadn't been able to sit by Cody's bed, watching his eyes suddenly close, his little thumb slide out of his mouth and his lips stay partly open while little puffs of air escaped them. The second evening he hadn't had Grace in his lap, listening happily to one of his stories, her warm body snuggled close against him.
Hastily he bowed his head and squeezed his eyes shut to stop the tears from falling. He had to keep it together; no way was he going to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing him crumble. He knew the cells were monitored and he had the unpleasant feeling Summerton was sitting in front of those monitors right now watching him, grinning, enjoying every moment of this.
God, now he was getting paranoid.
That damn bastard should have been the one who had been shot all those years ago, not his partner. A good man, a friend had died that day, all because Summerton had lost it and ran.
Chris still resented the fact Summerton had gotten off so light. Banishment, to a very remote area, but he had still been a law enforcer. It had rankled for years and truth to tell, it still did. Seeing this man, who should have been investigated himself all those years ago, now leading a case for special investigations made him feel sick. Summerton should have been thrown out of law enforcement permanently.
He pushed the palm of his hand against his forehead, between his eyes, hard, then started to make slow circles in the hope it would diminish his raging headache. He hated this, hated being held in a cage where he was watched constantly, away from his family. And for what? What had he done? What had happened? How could he have been standing over a dead body with his gun in his hand and not even know how he got there?
What if he... if he had done it? Had murdered that man?
He didn't even know his name, didn't know if he was married, maybe had kids....
No! He couldn't have done it, he just couldn't have.
But how could he be sure of that when he didn't remember a thing? What if it had been drugs that made him do it? He knew first hand how drugs altered his perceptions, his way of behaving.
That's what it came down to, didn't it, if he had taken drugs again. He couldn't believe he had, he hadn't for over a year. But how could he be sure if he didn't remember anything?
He squeezed his eyes shut while a sense of utter despair filled him. Because if he couldn't remember what had happened, how could he ever defend himself?
Kelli was furious when she entered MCAT's bull pen the next morning. "Bastards," she ranted, not even responding to Vin's attempt to kiss her. Her eyes were flashing. "You should've seen the ranch. I went over there with Dottie to get some things for Grace and Cody, since she and Max had decided to spend the day together and it was just as well we didn't bring the kids. They've trashed the place! I don't even want to think how Grace would have reacted to that."
She threw a crumpled up search warrant on one of the desks. "Walter couldn't stop them, because that's what they had with them. And he couldn't even supervise them, since it wasn't his house. I'm just glad Dottie decided to come with the kids and spend the night with us as well, or she would've had a hell of a time in the disaster these morons left."
"What's she talking about?" Ezra asked, trying to mask a huge yawn.
"They've searched Chris' house and made one helluva mess," Vin explained, having already heard the furious description this morning through the phone. He tried to straighten the search warrant out, so it would be readable again. It looked depressingly genuine.
"Yes! And I can tell you, I already contacted Summerton to give him hell over it. I told him we would send him the bill, but he only laughed and said in his opinion it was a thorough, but neat search, all according to the books. The gall of that man!"
"We'll get him, Kelli, I promise. Did you sleep well?" Vin didn't like seeing how tired his wife looked. Kelli scowled at him in an almost perfect imitation of her father; his question obviously didn't put her in a better mood.
"Let's just say four babies cryin' through the night is not my idea of a nice time," she grumbled. "Grace would start, and then Cody, and then our boys would chime in their two cents worth. Dottie and I would get 'em all calmed down and then it would start again."
"I should've been there."
"Oh, Vin, I'm sorry, it's just that I had so little sleep and Grace was crying all mornin' as well. She wants her dad and she doesn't understand any of this. Luckily Dottie was there to help and Max came over as well, or I don't know what I'd have done. And Jason and Andi were real sweet, tryin' to help also. Since Grace and Cody can't go back to the ranch for now, Rain, Mallory and Casey all offered to take them come night, but I just...."
She sighed and Vin took her in his arms.
"I know, Kel. They're your brother and sister and you want to be with them. Maybe you were right and you should stay home."
"No, that's okay. I just need some coffee."
By the time Kelli had gotten a hold on some much needed caffeine and had joined the rest of the team in the War room, Vin was ready to delegate the tasks. Nathan would go to the hospital to see if he could find out more about Chris' blood tests. Josiah and Justin were going to take James Best's life apart; JD, Pam and Mallory would stay behind CASSIE to see if they could find more information and Buck, Kelli and Ezra were all set to see the girlfriend and talk to her neighbors.
When everyone had their tasks, Vin locked himself in his office with Raphael and Mark.
"After tonight you'll be a helluva lot more in the picture and you better not come here anymore", he told them. "Let's check all the details and then go over the lines of communication once again. I want one last contact before it goes down tonight, in case somethin' more comes up today you need to ask Chris."
Both agents nodded.
"Good. Let's get to it."
+ + + + + + +
This time Natalie Thompson was alone when Buck and Kelli rang the doorbell. Ezra was on his way to another door, his first in his task to interview the neighbors.
Natalie was not amused. "I've already talked to the police," she told them, waving a cigarette and pushing an irate strand of black hair behind her ear that had escaped her high ponytail. "I've told them everything I know and I don't see why I should tell it all again to you."
"We only want to find the person who killed your friend," Kelli said a bit irritated. "I would think if you loved him, you'd wanna help us with that."
"Is this a joke?" Natalie asked. "I know they have the killer, that other cop told me. They caught the bastard red-handed and locked him up. Good riddance I'd say."
Buck was warned by the dangerously narrowing of Kelli's eyes. He decided it was time for his best smile, before things deteriorated further between the two women. With practiced ease he moved himself between them.
"Miss Thompson, I can understand your distress, but please hear us out. We won't take long, I promise. Otherwise we will have to come back with a search warrant and things will go a lot less smoothly, I'm afraid," he bluffed.
With a frown she gave in. "All right, if it's not too long, why not."
"I see why Vin decided you should do this interview," Kelli whispered, flashing him a grin Buck didn't trust for one minute, before following the woman inside.
Natalie led them to a small, cramped sitting room and once there simply stared at them. Buck cleared his throat and again put on his warmest smile. "Miss Thompson, we are very certain the man they arrested didn't do this and therefore we are trying to find out as much as we can."
"The other cop told me you'd say that. He told me you'd be coming and would say the killer is innocent. Well, my Jamie didn't deserve to die and I don't care if his murderer is a multi-decorated cop, he still should pay for what he did. Now, please leave, I have nothing to say to you."
Kelli was anxiously hopping from one foot to the other by the time Natalie ended her tirade. Buck raised an eyebrow at her, asking her silently what she was doing. She blithely ignored him.
"Excuse me...," she said, looking highly embarrassed, "do you mind if I use your bathroom? Please?"
"Oh, go ahead." Natalie waved her towards the stairs in the narrow hallway. "Upstairs, then straight ahead, you'll walk right into the door you need."
"Thanks, thanks a lot," Kelli sighed in relief and quickly ran up the steep stairs. Buck bit his lower lip. He wasn't fooled for an instance. Again putting on his most winning smile he went in full distraction mode, trying to coax as much information about the murder victim out of the woman as possible. Soon they were sitting side by side on an immense couch, Natalie spilling her grievances about life to him. Unfortunately it didn't contain anything he could use. All he could hope for was that Kelli would have more luck.
Natalie started looking at her watch, bringing Buck back to his own task, keeping the woman distracted. Damn, he thought he'd had her; he wasn't losing his touch because he was married, was he?
"Do you expect someone?" he finally asked when she looked at her watch once more.
"No, no. Just that I have to be somewhere and I really need to rush. Your partner sure takes her time, doesn't she?"
"Uh... well, you know, that time of month?"
She actually grinned. "Hey, I'm from the half of the species who does know."
To his immense relief footsteps saved Buck from having to answer that one. Kelli came running down the stairs, looking very smug and he jumped up with a better feeling about it all. "Well then, we'd better go. We shouldn't keep you from your appointment. Thanks for your time."
"That's all right," she answered indifferently. "For cops you ain't so bad. Better then the guy who was here yesterday. Man, what an uptight asshole."
Buck and Kelli smirked and hastily beat a retreat. When they left the small house, they saw Ezra already leaning against the truck.
"What have you got?" Buck asked Kelli as soon as they reached him. Kelli grinned. "I tried to find some type of drug they could have used on Chris, but there was nothing. I did find a jacket though that wasn't hers, it was a man's. And...." Triumphantly she pulled a cell phone out of her pocket.
Ezra choked. "A cell phone? You stole a cell phone?"
"It's from the victim, Ezra," Kelli told him in a tone as if she was explaining the facts of life to him. "We can trace the calls he has made in the last couple of days before he got killed. It could give us a lead."
"That might be, but it is highly inadmissible in court."
"Screw the court, we need a lead," Kelli said with heat.
"All right, all right," Buck soothed. "Calm down. I for one like it. Ezra? You come up with something?"
Before Ezra could answer a sleek, dark blue beauty of a car came down the street and started to stop in front of Natalie Thompson's house. Then the driver saw them, his eyes boring in Buck's for a second before he hit the gas and drove on. When the car passed them, Buck took a good look at the angry face underneath wild strands of brown hair. From beside the man the passenger leaned forward to look at them as well. All Buck really noticed of the second man was the orange hair, clipped short, like a military cut. His eyes went back to the beauty passing him and he couldn't help a low whistle of appreciation. Beside him Ezra was practically drooling.
"Wow," was all Standish said.
"Nice," Kelli commented. "Those devils are fast, aren't they?"
"Nice?" Ezra choked. "Nice? Kelli, you have just feasted your eyes on a genuine Chevrolet Corvette! After seeing this beauty on wheels, this dream of speed, all you can say is 'nice'? You, young lady, have just insulted what I believe is no other than the Grand Sport 1964."
"Yeah...," was all Buck could say.
"Oh, shut your mouth, Buck," Kelli told him irritably. "It's not something you can ever drive and you know it. At least I looked at the license plate and wrote down the number while you two drooled. Ez, you found out anything of interest?"
"EzRA," the agent answered automatically, still watching where the dream on wheels had disappeared around a corner. "And yes, I did find out a tidbit of information. The neighbors had some interesting stories about fighting between Natalie Thompson and her beloved departed. It is known that she has been beaten on occasion. Only, someone always came over afterwards and sometimes even during the fights and it would be James Best who sported the bruises and black eyes."
"Really?" Buck asked. "Damn, so they weren't that happy after all, but the lady has a protector."
"It does appear that way," Ezra agreed. "And it also appears, judging from what I was told, that he drove a very fancy sports car, metallic dark blue, beautiful, unlike any other car the people of this poor neighborhood had ever seen. By the way, Kelli, I did notice the number plate and made sure I memorized it. Not all of us need a piece of paper right away, some of us have brains."
While Kelli tried to swat Ezra, who was fending her off with some nice moves of his own, Buck had narrowed his eyes and was looking at the firmly closed door of Natalie Thompson's house.
"Seems to me we'd better find out more about our grieving Miss Thompson," he told his partners. "Come on, let's get back to headquarters, we've got leads to follow."