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Inmate 78 — The Firm

by Winnie AKA Poohbear

Alternate Universe: The Firm

Comments:This fic does mention prostitution and, human trafficking of Male and female victims. There is no sexual content.

Dedication: This story was started when Marti DeRuvo was still with us. It has taken me a long time to get back to it because I miss her so much. I'd also like to dedicate it to the fans from mediawest we have lost over the years. PJs, Marti, LaraMee are just 3 of them. It's hard to say goodbye to them.


Chris Larabee sat at the bar; his hands wrapped around the soothing shot of whiskey. He was alone tonight, alone with his thoughts, ones that led him down a path he didn't want to travel anymore. He sighed heavily and slugged back the whiskey. How many times had he felt like this over the last few years? How many nights did he want to drink himself into oblivion and forget how cruel the world really was? It never worked; all it did was make him miserable when he woke to the exploding head syndrome of a hangover. He knew if he continued to drink, he'd be in no shape for work the next morning. His thoughts ran through the memories of why he was here, seated at the bar, alone, thinking, and feeling as if the weight of the world was on his shoulder.

Buck, Vin,' he thought. ‘Where are you guys tonight?'  He swallowed deeply and signalled for another shot from Inez.

Chris Larabee sat at the bar; his hands wrapped around the soothing shot of whiskey. He was alone tonight, alone with his thoughts, ones that led him down a path he didn't want to travel anymore. He sighed heavily and slugged back the whiskey. How many times had he felt like this over the last few years? How many nights did he want to drink himself into oblivion and forget how cruel the world really was? It never worked; all it did was make him miserable when he woke to the exploding head syndrome of a hangover. He knew if he continued to drink, he'd be in no shape for work the next morning. His thoughts ran through the memories of why he was here, seated at the bar, alone, thinking, and feeling as if the weight of the world was on his shoulder.

Buck, Vin,' he thought. ‘Where are you guys tonight?'  He swallowed deeply and signalled for another shot from Inez.

"Why don't you let me call you a cab, Senor?" Inez asked as she took the dirty glass from her customer. She was used to Larabee and his friends. They usually showed up at Buck's place two to three times a week. Usually, the seven members of The Firm ended up there at the same time, but tonight, Chris Larabee was alone and seemed to be drinking his way into oblivion. She knew some of his background. She knew about the deaths of his wife and son three years before and did a mental calculation of the date. The anniversary of their deaths was still four months away, but she knew Sarah and Adam Larabee were never out of this man's memories.

"Just give me another whiskey, Inez!" Larabee snapped and apologized immediately. He watched the amber fluid slowly fill the clean glass she placed in front of him. He sighed again and knew tonight he was really alone; he'd finally managed to alienate everyone who cared about him. Through his actions several members of his team were injured. He left the hospital once he knew Buck and Vin would both be alright. He walked for hours, not calling anyone, not willing to face his own shortcomings. Now he held the one thing that could make him forget, if only for a few hours.

His team, his family meant more to him than life itself, yet he'd managed to piss them off with his behavior, his insistence that he could handle things on his own. Again, his mind wandered back over the last few months and the consequences of his actions.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Chris, are you all right?" Buck Wilmington asked from the open doorway of Larabee's office. The blond had seemed distant and worried lately and Buck wondered if he'd ever really understand his long-time friend.

"I'm okay, Buck," Larabee lied, and didn't meet the other man's gaze. Over the last few days, he'd been digging into a ghost from the past, his past…one that could be deadly if given the chance. Chris knew Rodrigo Vargas would do anything, kill anyone if he thought they were closing in on his territory. Vargas had been running drugs when Chris had been a rookie with the DEA, but the evidence Larabee uncovered disappeared before he had a chance to catalog it. Chris' partner at the time had been a man named Steven Wallace, a man Chris had looked up to. The night the evidence had disappeared there'd been a shooting, Steven was killed, and Chris had been wounded so badly he'd been hospitalized for more than a month before he'd finally tendered his resignation. Since that time Chris had been keeping tabs on Vargas and his cohorts and he knew he was close to getting the evidence he needed against one of Vargas' players.

"Why don't you put that away and let me buy you a coffee?"

"Make it a coffee with a whiskey chaser and you're on," Larabee said, closing the folder and looking at his long-time friend. The others had already left the office and were probably at Buck's Bar and Grill, a place affectionately known amongst the team as ‘The Saloon'. It was run by a pretty woman named Inez Recillos and Buck had been trying to get a date with her since they'd discovered the place, thanks to Jake Taylor.

"You're on," Wilmington said, relieved that his friend would be leaving the office at a decent hour for the first time in weeks.

"Give me…"

"Two minutes, Pard, that's all the time you get!"

Chris nodded and unlocked the top drawer of his desk. He placed the folder inside before closing and locking it. He stood up, rubbing at his temples when he felt the beginnings of a migraine. He wanted to keep checking the files, but knew Wilmington was right and that it was time to leave it alone for a while. He could come back to it with fresh eyes and hopefully find something he'd missed the last two hundred times he'd read through it. He stared at the drawer without even realizing he was doing so until Wilmington's voice cut through his thoughts.

"Two minutes are up, Pard!" Wilmington shot from the doorway and tossed Larabee his black denim jacket. "Get the lead out or you're buying!"

"Fucking cheapskate," Larabee shot back and donned his jacket before grabbing the keys to his truck and turning out the lights. He patted Wilmington on the back and flashed past him, leaving the ladies man to lock up the main office while he pressed the button for the elevator.

"Better watch out who you're calling cheapskate, Pard, or I'll have Inez serve you that rotgut she uses to clean the toilets. You know that lovely bottle that should have the skull and crossbones on it?"

"It doesn't?" Larabee quipped.

"No…honestly I think it's the same imported crap Ezra pays top dollar for," Wilmington said, stepping into the elevator when the doors opened, and pressing the button for the garage.

"Don't let him hear you say that…you know how Ez gets when you insult his taste in fine wines and liquors," the blond said.

"Hell of it is he thinks he's right."

"Most of the time he is," Larabee said.

"True, but I'm not going to tell him that," the rogue said and exited the elevator into the well-lit garage. "Why don't you leave the truck here and come with me?"

"I don't know, Buck…"

"Chris, you're not thinking about coming back here tonight?" Wilmington snapped. Larabee had spent more than his share of late nights at the office, and it was beginning to show in the sea green eyes. Over the last month he'd seen changes in his friend but had not been able to put his finger on what it was that bothered him. "Look, whatever's eating at you can wait until Monday. I'll even come in early to help you figure it out."

"Thanks, Buck, but there's not much you can do right now," Larabee said.

"Well, if you're going to have more than one coffee with a whiskey chaser then you need to leave the truck where it is. JD's not drinking tonight so he's the designated driver and yes, I'm giving him the keys to ‘The Green Machine'…that should tell you how serious I am about taking things easy tonight."

"All right…where is he?" Larabee asked seriously and began frantically searching the darker recesses of the garage.

"What the hell are you doing, Chris?"

"I'm looking for Buck Wilmington. Now where did you put him and how did you get in here?"

"Shit, Chris, I'm not that bad!" the ladies' man said with a grin.

"You're not? Hell, I never thought I'd see the day that you'd hand JD the keys to your Mustang."

"Well, he had to pass several very trying tests before I'd agree to it, but I'll be right there through the whole ordeal," Wilmington chuckled and unlocked the door to the car. The roof was up because of the threat of rain, and he patted the top affectionately. "Me and this girl have been through a lot…seen more than a few ladies with their panties…"

"Oh, hell, Buck, cut the crap," Larabee said and slipped into the passenger seat. Buck had always been at ease around women and sometimes Chris envied him that ability, but there were very few times when he felt like dating. The headache came back, and he rubbed at his temples while Buck pulled out of the parking spot.

"You sure you're okay, Chris?"

"Yeah…nothing a good stiff drink and something to eat won't cure," Larabee answered.

"Do you have one of those headaches coming on?"

"It's not so bad right now," the blond answered.

"Maybe not, but if you'd rather I drive you home and maybe have that coffee and whiskey as a night…"

"I'm okay, Buck," Larabee lied.

"Chris, I can call the others…do you have your pills with you?"

"Think so," the blond said and reached into his pocket, fishing out the bottle of prescription strength pain meds Stacey Midland had prescribed for his migraines.

"There's a bottle of water in the cooler behind your seat…take the pills and just maybe they'll be working by the time we reach the ranch. We could grab some soup from Delvecchio's?" Wilmington offered.

"Sounds good, Buck," Larabee said and fumbled to get the bottle of pills open. He tapped two into his hand and opened the Evian water. He swallowed the pills and the water, turned his head to the side and closed his eyes. "Thanks, Buck."

"You betcha, Pard," Wilmington said. He drove to Delvecchio's and parked near the entrance. "I'll be right back."

"Okay," Larabee muttered tiredly.

Buck pulled out his cell phone and dialled Tanner's number. The Texan answered on the second ring and Buck could barely hear him over the loud music. He quickly explained the change in plans and tried to relieve the younger man's worries before hanging up the phone. He purchased two bowls of chicken rice soup from the young cashier, hung up the phone and hurried back to the car. Larabee wasn't sleeping, but Buck knew the raging headache made it necessary to keep noise and light to a minimum.  Wilmington drove out of the city, leaving the radio off, and glancing at his friend every now and then.

By the time they reached the ranch, Larabee was ready to crawl into bed and let the headache die an early death, but he knew that would not happen. The pain was unrelenting and even the meds had little effect. It felt as if every nerve in his body had been fired and the agony was now centered in his head. Every bump the car hit, no matter how small sent daggers through his skull. Even the sound of the wheels crunching in the gravel of his driveway sounded like thunder in his ears. A soft moan escaped tightly clenched lips when the car drew to a shuddering halt near his front door.

"Easy, Pard, let's get you inside," the rogue offered and eased the blond out of the passenger seat. "Where are your keys, ol' Son?"

"Jack…jacket," Larabee answered, even his own voice was enough to set the pain raging. They reached the door and Buck fumbled with the keys, but finally managed to get the right one into the lock. He took a deep breath and calmed his nerves before pushing it open and helping Larabee inside. He managed to get his friend into his bedroom and eased him onto the bed. Next, Buck pulled off his shoes and covered him with the afghan Nettie Wells had crocheted for him.

Larabee didn't say a word but managed to open his eyes and sent his gratitude to the other man with that simple gesture.

"Do you need anything, Pard?"

"No…just going t…to sleep," the blond said and reached out to touch Wilmington's arm. "Go home, Buck, I'm okay."

"I don't think so, Chris," the ladies' man said. He'd seen Larabee through several migraine attacks and this one promised to be a bad one. "I'll stick around…use the guest room."

"Buck…"

"Go to sleep, Chris," the rogue ordered, keeping his voice soft before closing the drapes and making sure the room was in total darkness. He heard a heavy sigh from his friend and knew Larabee had given up the argument. He closed the door behind him and made his way outside to bring in the soup and lock the car doors. Chris would probably sleep for several hours so he placed the soup in the fridge and made his way back to the living room, grabbing the phone when it began to ring.

"Buck, how's Chris?"

"He's sleeping, Nathan," Wilmington answered.

"That doesn't answer my question…"

"I know it doesn't…sorry, he's sleeping right now. He took a couple of those pills Midland gave him for migraines and I figured it would be best if I took him home," Wilmington said.

"Are you staying with him?"

"I figured I'd spend the night."

"All right…but if those pills don't help, take him to the hospital," Jackson ordered.

"I will, Nathan," the rogue vowed. "Tell Vin everything's okay and there's no need of him coming out here. Tell him to have a few drinks and use my bed tonight…I even changed the sheets twice this year."

"Oh, that's going to make it an offer he can't refuse. Look, Buck, if you need me to come out there…"

"I don't, Nathan…oh, tell Inez I know she misses me, but duty calls," Wilmington said, chuckling softly when Jackson told him he was hopeless. "Mark my words, Nate, one of these days Inez will see me for the man I am."

"And she'll run like hell for the hills," Jackson said, relieved that Larabee was taken care of. "Call if you need me to come out, Buck."

"You know I will…stop worrying, Nathan," Buck said and hung up the phone. He flipped through the channels on the television and stopped on an old western, one he recognized as soon as Yul Brenner rode into town on his horse. The team had garnered the nickname ‘The Magnificent Seven' because several clients had likened them to the seven men from the old movie. He kept the volume low, listening in case Larabee needed him and worried about the fact that the migraines were coming back.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris opened his eyes and was amazed that the partial stream of sunlight shining through the closed drapes didn't set off the daggers in his skull. That fact alone was enough to bring a smile to his face and he rubbed the stubble on his chin before sitting up. He vaguely remembered waking sometime during the predawn hours, popping two pills into his mouth, and removing most of his clothing before crawling back under the blankets. A knock on the door made him frown, but the voice was unmistakable.

"Feeling better, Pard?" Wilmington asked, entering the room, and handing the blond a cup of fresh, hot coffee. "It's not Ezra's special blend, but it's drinkable."

"Thanks, Buck," Larabee said and ran his fingers through his hair.

"Nice do," the rogue said with a grin.

"What time is it?"

"Nearly eleven," Wilmington answered. "Why don't you get a shower while I make breakfast?"

"Sounds like a plan," Larabee readily agreed, standing, and stretching the kinks from his back before heading for the bathroom. There was still a slight ache behind his eyes, but it was nothing like the debilitating pain from the night before. A hot shower was just what the doctor ordered or would have had he seen the way the blond hair stuck up in all directions.

"You want bacon?"

"Just toast," Larabee answered and removed the remainder of his clothes. He adjusted the hot spray and finally stepped into the shower. He leaned against the tiled wall and let the water wash away the aches and pains that remained. Chris knew where the headache came from and knew there'd be plenty more before he finished with Vargas, but that was something he would do on his own time, away from the office. He needed to end things before he could put Steven's ghost to rest.

The hot water did more to ease the tension in his body than the sleep or pills had done, and he reached for the bottle of shampoo. He poured a generous amount into his palm and began massaging it into his scalp. Again, he placed his head under the water and waited. He finally lathered the soap onto his body. The water felt so good that he stayed where he was for several long minutes, letting the water and soap slide down his lean body. Feeling better than he had the night before, Chris stepped onto the thick bathmat and reached for a towel from the shelf. He wrapped it around his waist and took another one to dry his hair.

"Better hurry, Pard, breakfast awaits," Wilmington called from the open bedroom door.

"I'll be out in a minute," Larabee answered and again rubbed at his stubble-covered chin. The five o'clock shadow of the night before had become a midday monster, and Chris reached for his electric razor. It didn't take long to shave, and he splashed a small amount of Boss Selection after shave and rubbed it onto his freshly shaved skin. It had been a joke from the guys on his birthday, but he'd loved the scent and had since bought a second bottle. Reaching for the comb he quickly ran it through his damp hair and walked out of the bathroom, through his bedroom, grabbing his robe before joining Wilmington on the patio.

"Well, I must say you look a hell of a lot better than you did last night," Wilmington said and poured a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice for his friend.

"Thanks…I think," Larabee said, downing the glass of juice before reaching for the rye toast.

"Are you going to tell me what brought on the migraine?"

"You really need to ask that with our jobs?" the blond asked but didn't quite meet the other man's eyes.

"Chris, how long have we known each other?"

"Sometimes I think too long," Larabee quipped. "Look, Buck, it's not something you need be concerned about, but I promise if the time comes when I do need your help I'll be banging on your door."

"You better, Chris…you keep telling everyone to lose the lone wolf attitude, so it's damn time you practice what you preach," Wilmington reminded the blond. The remainder of the meal was eaten in silence and Buck offered to drive Larabee into the office to pick up his truck.

"Sounds good," Larabee said and turned to walk inside and get dressed.

"That doesn't mean you need to go up to the office, Pard, just pick up the truck and maybe we could go for that drink I owe you?"

"Sorry, Buck, but I'd rather not drink anything after taking those pills or I'll be flat on my back for a week," Larabee told him and hurried into the house.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris pulled the truck to a stop in front of his home and exited the vehicle before leaning against the door. Buck had dropped him off at the office and he'd given his word that he wouldn't go upstairs, he didn't really need to because he'd sent copies of all the files and reports to his home computer. He didn't want to involve anyone else in his private little war against Vargas and Goodwin. It was time he concentrated on bringing the men and their organization down. The problem was the kingpin; the only man Vargas answered to, was a well-known figure in Billings' upper echelon, Goodwin.

Chris made his way into the house, bypassing the kitchen and headed straight for his office. He booted up the computer and opened the locked drawer of his desk. Larabee knew he was delving into dangerous territory, but too many people had died to let this go now. He had complete files on Rodrigo Vargas, but the main file, marked in red was centered on Charles Edward Goodwin. The man had hidden his duplicity well and Chris knew it would take a lot more than the papers he held to convict Goodwin, but it was a start.

The thing that grated on Larabee's nerves was that he'd known Goodwin for many years. They'd drifted apart and gone their own ways until he'd met Goodwin at a social gathering after he'd married Sarah Connolly. Chris enjoyed speaking with the politician and had even dined with him on several occasions. The man was an excellent debater and had given him a run for his money on many key topics, including organized crime and the need to come down hard on the men running the show. The man had a chip on his shoulder about a gang that was muscling in on the lower west side and vowed to do everything in his power to bring them down. Goodwin had won the election by a landslide and managed to do exactly what he vowed, the problem was he had help from outside influences, ones that were not exactly on the up and up.

Chris opened the file he'd taken from the drawer and looked at the first page. On it he'd drawn a grid showing times, places, transactions, and anything else that could tie Vargas and Goodwin together, but so far it was extremely vague. The next six pages were simply notes he'd taken from stories he'd found on the computer. Again, there was nothing much he could use, but tied together it painted a very telling story; at least it did to his eyes. The problem was he'd need a lot more than his notes to bring Goodwin in front of a Grand Jury and get an indictment. Closing the file, he took the second folder from the drawer.

This one was thicker and held information on Rodrigo Vargas and his organization. The man was dirty, there was no doubt of that, but he was a small fish in a tight school of sharks. If Chris' information was right Vargas was into money laundering, illegal weapons, drugs, and white slavery. Again, the problem was Chris had no solid proof, just numbers on a grid and several pictures of Vargas meeting with people who seemed out of place.

Chris placed the pictures of the two men side by side and silently cursed them for the lives they'd ruined. During his rookie years he'd saved an 18-year-old woman who'd been dragged toward a van by two men. She'd fought incredibly hard, and Chris was amazed at her strength. She'd agreed to testify against the men, but like so many others, Fallon Johnson died before the case came to trial. Her death had been ruled a suicide, but Chris had never believed that despite all the evidence, including a note written by her hand.

Larabee reached for a third file and opened this one as well. There were pictures of victims who had minor skirmishes with Vargas and wound-up dead. Men and woman alike, whose deaths were ruled suicide or accidental, yet Chris knew there was more to it than what met the eye.

The blond leaned back and rubbed at his strained eyes. He glanced at the clock on the opposite wall and was surprised to note nearly three hours had passed since he sat at his desk. His stomach grumbled loudly, a reminder that he hadn't eaten since Buck had made breakfast, and that he needed to eat something now if he intended to continue working.

Chris reluctantly stood up; leaving the papers scattered across his desk and made his way toward the kitchen. He opened the door to the fridge and searched for anything he could fix in a hurry. There were several containers with leftovers, and he grabbed a bowl he recognized from Delvecchio's. Smiling he warmed up the soup and reached for a sleeve of soda crackers. The sun was still shining, and he made his way to the patio, hoping that some time away from the desk would give him a new perspective on the files.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Vin pulled his jeep to a stop in front of Larabee's house and reached for the case of beer he'd picked up on the way home. He knew something had been bothering Chris for some time, but the blond refused to talk to anyone about it. He hoped a few brews would loosen Larabee's unusually somber tongue, although the truth was, Larabee wasn't much of a talker on a good day. He tried the door and wasn't surprised to find it open. He stepped inside and found the temperature a lot more comfortable than the outside air.

"Chris!" Tanner called but received no answer. He made his way inside and thought he heard Larabee in the room he'd converted into an office the year before. Vin made his way to the open door and peered inside, frowning when he noted the stack of papers strewn across the top of the usually clutter free desk. He stepped forward, but hesitated in case this was private material, but there were two pictures that seemed to jump out at him.

The Texan lifted them from the top of the pile and silently cursed when he recognized both men. He'd seen Larabee reading stories centered on Goodwin or Vargas and tried to find out why they held his interest. The Firm was a well-known detective agency, but what a lot of people didn't realize was they were sometimes called on to do black ops for the government. The local police were also grateful for their help on several key cases, but what Larabee was digging into now had already been put to rest and he'd been warned to stay away from the politician.

"What the hell are you doing, Tanner?" Larabee snapped from the open doorway.

"What is all this shit, Chris?" the Texan asked softly.

"None of your fucking business!" the blond snarled and grabbed the pictures. He shoved everything back into the drawer and turned to face the irate sharpshooter.

"It is my business if'n it interferes with our job!" Tanner told him. "Look, Chris, we went through all of this. There's nothin' ta tie Goodwin ta the Vargas organization!"

"Nothing we've found," Larabee told him. "At least not yet, but it's there, Vin, and I'm going to find it."

"Goodwin threatened ta get a restrainin' order the last time, Cowboy, and I don't think it was an idle threat."

"I'll just make damn sure he doesn't know I'm still looking," the blond said.

"Guess this explains that headache," Tanner stated and sat on the edge of the desk. "Chris, I know ya don't think much of Goodwin, hell yer not the only one, but he's not worth yer losin' ever'thin' ya own."

"Vin…"

"Chris, give it a rest…if'n Goodwin is dirty he'll fall."

"Not if…when," Larabee stated. "That bastard is going to make a mistake and when he does, he's going to find me snapping the cuffs around his wrists!"

"I hope yer right, Cowboy, but until then jest don't fuck with him," the Texan tried.

"He fucked with me, Vin," the blond snapped.

"Ya never told me why yer so hell bent on bringin' Goodwin down…what did he do ta ya?"

"Better you stay out of it, Vin. What you don't know won't come back to haunt you," Larabee told him.

"It will, if ya get in trouble, Cowboy," Tanner vowed.

"Then I'll make damn sure I stay out of trouble…forget it, Vin, I'm not getting anyone else involved in this!"

Tanner could see there was no point in arguing with his friend and sighed tiredly. Whatever Goodwin had done he'd made an enemy of Chris Larabee and Vin wondered who he should feel sorry for. Larabee could be a dangerous man when crossed, but if Goodwin was really involved with Vargas, then Chris' life was in danger.

"Want something to eat?" Larabee asked.

"Got anything sweet…preferably chocolate?"

"Your teeth are going to rot," the blond said with a grin. The Texan had a sweet tooth and sometimes he wondered how the man remained cavity free.

"Not a damn thing wrong with my teeth," Tanner said and grinned to show his pearly whites. "I brought beer if you got chocolate."

"I just might have a chocolate bar or two stashed in the kitchen," Larabee answered, closing the door, and following the sharpshooter into the kitchen. It was as if Tanner had a nose for sweets when he made a beeline for the cupboard over the coffee maker. He dug behind the jar of coffee and found what he was looking for.

"Hershey's…nothin' but the best, hey, Cowboy?"

"Where the hell's the beer?"

"Hold your damn horses…this is the important part," Tanner said, sniffing the wrapper before gently peeling it away from the sweet morsel hidden beneath. "Ez says ya gotta let it breathe and…"

"Ezra was talking about wine, Vin, not chocolate," Larabee chuckled softly. Leave it to the Texan to make even eating chocolate seem like a big deal.

"Beer's in the hall…better get it before it gets warm!"

"Jesus," Larabee cursed softly, enjoying the friendship he had with this man. Tanner was always there and had never balked at doing anything that might cross over the line, but this time Chris did not want to chance burying anyone else in his own personal vendetta. That's how he saw what he was doing now. Too many people had died because of Vargas and Goodwin. He planned to bring them both down even if it meant bending, and sometimes breaking the rules.

"Man could die of thirst," Tanner said, interrupting Larabee's train of thought. He moved past the blond, quickly retrieved the case of beer, and brought it into the kitchen. "So, what else do ya got ta eat?"

"There's a bowl of chicken soup from Delvecchio's in the fridge," Larabee answered.

"Now Mama D makes great soup, but I need somethin' that's gonna put some meat on my ribs."

"I thought that was what the chocolate was for," the blond said.

"Nope, that's jest ta give me the strength ta find somethin' sub…stan…tial," Tanner drew out the word and smiled as he opened the freezer. "Oh…Josiah's chili…"

"You eat it you're going home tonight," Larabee warned.

"Come on, Chris, I'm not that bad."

"Like hell you're not. I believe the campground in Yellowstone is still uninhabitable after you and Buck got through with the chili and beer party."

"That was Buck…"

"Not all of it…Jesus, Vin, the rest of us had to sleep upwind from you two. At least if it had been skunks, we could have doused you both with tomato juice. There was nothing that could neutralize you and Buck," the blond snapped and closed the freezer door. "Make yourself a sandwich, but you're not getting the chili!"

"Spoil sport!"

"No, just a smart man…"

"Are ya sure yer a smart fella or was that a fart smella…"

Larabee shook his head, chuckling softly before opening two bottles of beer and heading for the patio. "Bring that bag of potato chips when you're done."

Vin stood watching his friend and frowned when a tremor ran down his spine. Something didn't feel right, but there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it until Larabee let him in. He quickly made two ham and cheese sandwiches before joining the blond on the patio.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Monday morning found the seven members of The Firm seated around the conference table while Orin Travis handed out identical files to each man. He knew the case he was giving them would need everyone on their toes if they were to see it through. He waited until they opened the file and glanced at the first page of photos.

"Gentlemen, I want this done right and I want everyone involved brought to trial and prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

"Who are these people, Orin?" Larabee asked, tapping his pencil on the first two pictures. It was still early, but he'd had a call from a young woman who often gave him little tidbits of information, but the meet was set for noon near an old warehouse on the south side. Right now, though, this case was his top priority and he concentrated on the information set before him.

"Gary and Shirley Browner," Travis explained. "Gary Browner and my son Steven grew up together and up until Steven died, they kept in contact. Steven was best man at their wedding and was there for the birth of their twins."

"Are these the twins?" Wilmington asked of the second picture.

"Yes, Peter and Elizabeth would be five now, but I lost touch with the family after Steven died. It was hard because they reminded me too much of my own loss," the former judge explained and took a deep breath. "Gary called me yesterday and asked for my help…our help."

"Help with what, Orin?" Larabee asked.

"Please tell me this is not a divorce problem where one or the other asks us to find the goods on the other," Standish stated.

"No, as far as I know the Browner's marriage is a happy one," the former judge explained.

"So, this has to do with the kids?" Sanchez asked.

"Yes," Travis answered tiredly and handed Larabee a note wrapped in plastic. "Shirley found this taped to the children's playroom early this morning."

Chris stared at the words clipped from a newspaper and glued to the sheet in order to form a crude note. He read it through several times before handing the note to Sanchez. "I take it they came to you because they don't want police involvement?"

"They don't want to take any chances, Chris," Travis said while the note was passed from one man to another. "Shirley didn't want anyone involved, but Gary convinced her there was no way they could do this alone. They need our help, Chris."

"JD, get whatever you need to set up a trace on the calls and make sure you set it up to record everything that's said," Larabee ordered.

"On it," Dunne said and hurried out of the room.

"Ezra, get your friend in forensics to take a look at the note and see if she can come up with any legible fingerprints," Larabee said. "Josiah, you, and Nathan need to find out everything you can about the Browners; including anyone who has a personal vendetta against them. Don't disregard anyone because this might not even involve money. Buck, you, and Vin are with me."

"Chris, be careful…I don't want anything to happen to those kids and if the kidnappers get wind that the Browners asked us for help they won't hesitate to kill them," Travis said.

"You do realize there's a damn good chance they've already been killed?" the blond asked.

"I know, but maybe this time the good guys will win for a change. Bring them home, Chris," the former judge softly ordered.

"We'll do our best, Orin," Larabee vowed and gathered everything in the file.

"Their address is on the outside of the folder, Chris. I'll call them to let them know you're on the way," Travis explained. He knew this team of men and knew if anyone could find Peter and Elizabeth, it was these seven men. He prayed the twins were alive and would remain that way.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris, Buck, and Vin drove along the highway toward the stately homes along the north side of Billings. The houses here were worth millions with well-manicured lawns and hedges. Flowers lined the driveways, and a guardhouse was maintained at the gate. Chris pulled the truck to a stop and spoke to the guard.

"Name?" the burly man asked.

"Chris Larabee…Mr. Browner is expecting us," the blond answered and waited for the man to check his log. He watched the guard pick up the phone and knew he was calling the house. It didn't take long for him to return, and he pressed the button to open the gates.

"You can go on up to the main house. Just follow the driveway all the way to the end," the guard explained and moved away.

"Thank you," Larabee said and continued along the driveway until they came to the house that stood alone on a hill overlooking a small lake that bordered two other properties. "Buck, I want a map of this place and I want to know who lives in the other houses."

"I'll get on it as soon as I get back to the office," Wilmington agreed, whistling at the sight of the mansion, and grabbing the equipment Dunne had given him before they'd left the office. Everything he needed to set up a wiretap was in the black case he carried and once connected JD could monitor it from the office. "Nice place."

"Must be hard havin' all that money yet ya gotta live like a prisoner in yer own home," Tanner observed of the security around the house.

Chris agreed with his friend's observation…the house and grounds were beautiful, but the high fence and guard at the gate spoke of a lack of freedom. Wealth came with its own price; sometimes that price was so high it cost people the happiness they craved. He hit the doorbell, while looking around and was struck by the solitude he felt.

"Mr. Larabee?" a young woman dressed in a white tailor-made suit answered the door.

Chris knew this had to be one of the servants and nodded before speaking. "I believe Mr. and Mrs. Browner are expecting us."

"Yes, they are. Follow me," the woman ordered and led them into a large foyer. One wall was taken up by a walk-in closet for coats, umbrellas, boots, and anything else guests brought with them. A five-foot palm tree stood in one corner and soaked up the sun from an overhead skylight. They walked along the corridor and were shown into a living room where the Browners were waiting for them.

"Juliet, please see that we're not disturbed," Gary Browner ordered.

"Yes, Mr. Browner," the pretty woman agreed and left the room, closing the door behind her.

"Mr. Browner, Orin Travis asked us to help you," Larabee said. "I'm Chris Larabee and this is Buck Wilmington and Vin Tanner."

"Please, call me Gary and this is my wife, Shirley. I'm not sure how much Orin told you about us."

"He told us your children were kidnapped and showed us the ransom note," the blond answered. "I'd like to see exactly where you found it."

"Of course," Gary said. "Please follow me."

"How many people work for you on any given day?" Wilmington asked, already running down a list of possible suspects, starting with the guard and the woman who'd let them in.

"There are four full time staff members including the guard at the gate, Juliet, Sandra, and Barry," Shirley explained, her voice filled with a roughness that spoke of hours of crying. She stopped in front of a closed door and pointed to the small piece of paper that remained attached to the door. She'd ripped the note off and left the tape where it was.

"I'd like a rundown on everyone who had the opportunity to kidnap the children," the rogue said softly.

"I can show you the dossiers we have on each member of the staff," Gary offered.

"That'd be a big help," Larabee said and turned to see him holding his wife when she broke down and tears flowed from her eyes.

"Please, Mr. Larabee…please bring my babies' home...don't let anyone hurt them!"

"We're going to do everything we can, Mrs. Browner," Larabee answered.

"What security system do ya use?" Tanner asked.

"ADT, but there was no alarm," Gary Browner explained.

"How many people know the code to your system?" Larabee asked.

"Myself, Shirley, Juliet and Mark," Browner answered. "Paul, the guard at the gate, also knows it in case of emergencies."

"Are you thinking it could be an inside job, Chris?" Wilmington asked.

"It looks that way," the blond answered. "Gary, if it's all right with you, Buck is going to set up a tap on your phone so we can record whoever makes the call."

"Okay," the distraught man agreed and led them back to the living room to show Wilmington where he could set things up.

Chris knew Buck could handle the tap and knew there were other things that needed to be done. He wanted to be sure they had all the bases covered, but he was also anxious to meet with a snitch who had information he wanted.

"Chris, I'm gonna take a look around outside," Tanner said.

"All right," Larabee agreed and glanced at his watch and sighed. There was no way he'd make that meeting and no way for him to contact his snitch.

"Gary, what if they are right about it being an inside job? Whoever is behind this could already be telling his partners that we brought in outsiders," Shirley said from her seat near a large fireplace.

"Honey, we went through all of this. There's no way we could do this on our own…at least with these men we have a chance of getting Peter and Elizabeth back," Gary tried and sat down beside his wife while the men Orin Travis sent, went to work.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Carlina Morgan tucked her hands into the pockets of her worn jeans. She'd been living on the streets of Billings for nearly two years, making her money off the johns who wanted nothing more than a quickie before they returned to their lives. At 19 she'd seen more than her share of hardships, yet she did not blame anyone, but herself for her life, or lack of life. She survived on the streets by selling her body and sometimes information she'd gathered by listening to her ‘clients' when they thought she was sleeping. Last night she'd been picked up by one of her ‘regulars' and he'd gotten a call from someone whose name was well known on the streets. She knew Chris Larabee would pay for the information she'd overheard and had given him a little tidbit over the phone to make sure he showed up.

Carlina glanced around the corner of the building, but there was still no sign of Chris Larabee, and she began to worry that he might not show up at all. She reached into her jacket pocket, pulled out a half-smoked cigarette, and popped it between her lips, lighting it with a battered lighter she'd found the day before. Taking a deep draw, she coughed harshly when the smoke hit her lungs.

"So, Carly, did you really think I'd just let this go?"

"Robbie, what are you doing here?" Morgan asked, her voice filled with fear when the man who acted as her pimp moved closer.

"I came as soon as I heard one of my girls was going to sell out one of my clients," Robert Johansson told her and motioned for two of his men to grab her.

"No, please, Robbie, I wasn't going to say anything!" Carlina cried and turned to run, but there was no escape.

"Who were you meeting, Carly?" Robbie asked and latched onto her arm with bruising strength.

"You're hurting me, Robbie!" she cried, searching for an avenue of escape, but seeing none when Johansson's men caught her arms.

"Who were you meeting, Carly? Don't make me mess up that pretty face of yours!" A soft whimper escaped her tightly clenched lips when he drew back his fist. He struck her face and then delivered a blow to her abdomen that left her gasping for air while suspended between the two men.

"P…please…I was…wasn't…"

"Don't lie to me!" Johansson warned cupping her chin with his left hand. "Who were you meeting, Carly?"

"No one…" She would have screamed, but a hand clamped over her mouth before the sound escaped. Blow after blow rained down on her body while Robbie continued to ask the same question over and over again until she could no longer fight it. She whispered the name through bloodied lips and was relieved when the beating stopped.

"What did you say, Carly?"

"C…Chrissss…Lar…lar…bee," she managed and felt her body dropped to the ground.

"Let this be a lesson to you, Carly!" Johansson warned and aimed several vicious kicks to her unprotected abdomen.

"What do we do with her?" one of the men asked while his boss cleaned his hands.

"Leave her where she is…she's as good as dead," Robbie answered and walked back to his car. He had a name now and just maybe his life would be worth something if he could get the information to his supplier. He punched in a number on his cell phone and waited for someone to answer, when they did, he asked to speak with Rodrigo Vargas and was told he was in a meeting and could not be disturbed.

"Listen, this is important, and I promise you'll be in more trouble if you don't let me speak to him!" Robbie tapped his fingers on the roof of the car and flinched when he heard the irate voice on the other end.

"Robbie, this better be damned good or…"

"Please, Mr. Vargas, it's important. It's about the little bitch who was with Mr. Goodwin…"

"Did you find her?"

"Yes, Sir, and I took care of her. She won't be talking to anyone," Robbie assured the drug runner.

"Is that all?"

"No, Sir, I got a name…She was waiting to meet Chris Larabee!"

"Damn, Charlie's going to be angry when he hears that. Did she already meet with Larabee or was she waiting for him?"

"Larabee wasn't there, and I don't think she talked to him, or she wouldn't have been standing behind the warehouse."

"Is she dead?"

"Yeah," Robbie answered, glancing at the misshapen form that was barely recognizable as a woman. "She won't be telling no tales."

"Good, I'll remember this, Robbie…you've just earned yourself a few points with all of us."

"Thank you, Sir," Robbie said, hanging up when the line went dead.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Rodrigo Vargas smiled when he entered the den to find several men waiting on him. The man seated to his left was a liaison between him and Charles Goodwin. He knew the news he was about to impart would get back to his silent partner within an hour and that's just how he wanted it. Larabee had been digging into Goodwin's background and lately he'd become a nuisance. There were a lot of variables in his business, but the one thing they didn't need right now, was a man like Larabee who seemed hell bent on bringing Goodwin down. He went over the news he'd just been given and made sure Goodwin's representative would make sure he got the message.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris knew they'd done all they could until the call came in from the kidnappers with the ransom demand. He glanced at his watch and knew there was no way he could make his meeting with his snitch. He knew where she hung out and would try to catch up with her later in the day. Buck and Vin were both walking the perimeter of the property in search of anything that might give them a clue while he waited with the Browners.

They'd sent dossiers of the staff to Dunne's office computer and with Ezra's help they were delving into their backgrounds. If there was anything to be found out about them, JD and Ezra would find it. Gary and Shirley Browner had earned their lifestyle with hard work and diligence and there was no doubt as to the validity of their fears. The couple was terrified they'd lose the most precious gift they had, but Chris knew his team would do everything in its power to make sure that didn't happen.

"Chris, would you like something to drink?" Gary asked.

"Just some water," Larabee answered, but the ringing of the phone stopped everything else from happening. Chris hit the button and nodded that it was safe for Browner to pick up the receiver. The ransom note stated that the children's father should be the one to answer the phone.

"Hello…"

"Mr. Browner, I presume you received our missive?" The voice was decidedly male, but whoever it was had some kind of voice distortion going on.

"Please, my children…where are they?"

"They are safe for now and will remain that way as long as you do as instructed."

"I'll do anything you want, but please they are only children, and they are probably scared."

"Yes, they are. Now I know you're probably trying to trace this call, but I won't be on the line long enough for that. I want two million in small, unmarked bills or the children will suffocate. Don't do anything stupid like putting anything on the bills that shows up under certain conditions like ultraviolet light!"

"It will take a while…"

"You have two hours…that's when I call back!"

The phone went dead in his hands and Gary Browner dropped it back on the cradle before looking at the blond. "Was it long enough to get a trace?"

"I don't think so, but JD and Ezra will do their best to narrow it down. You have to realize they could be using a payphone anywhere in the city. They may not be anywhere near where they are holding the children."

"Oh, God, they must be so scared," Shirley whispered.

"Peter and Elizabeth are smart, Honey. They don't scare easy, and we've taught them what to do if they get lost…"

"But they're not lost, Gary…they've been kidnapped and we're sitting here doing nothing!"

"No, we're not. I'm going to call the bank and get the money we need! Then we're going to make the drop and get Peter and Elizabeth back!"

"The next time they call I want you to give them an ultimatum," Larabee said.

"What kind of ultimatum?" Shirley asked incredulously.

"Right now, all we know is they were taken…we don't know who's behind it and we don't know if they are a…"

"They're alive!" the woman snapped. "I can feel them in my heart, and I know damn well they are not dead!"

"I hope you're right, Mrs. Browner, but it's important that you talk to the children and let them know you're doing everything you can to bring them home," Larabee explained and turned to the husband. "Tell whoever calls that you have the money, but you're not going to hand it over without speaking to your children. It might give us the extra time we need to trace it and it will put your mind at ease."

"He's right, Shirley, we need to make sure they are alive," Gary said and drew his wife into a tight embrace.

Chris could hear the couple talking, but his mind kept going over the words the kidnapper used. The children would suffocate…that could mean several things and Chris hoped his own morbid thoughts of being buried alive were not an indication of how the children were being held. He moved to the open door when Vin and Buck motioned for him to join them.

"Did you find anything?" Larabee asked.

"Nothing," Wilmington answered. "Whoever did this had to have inside help, Chris. The fence goes all the way around the property. There's no way they could have taken the children out except through the front gate."

"That means the guard had to have seen something," Larabee stated.

"Or he was in on it," the Texan added.

"Chris, here are the dossiers on every member of our staff," Gary Browner said, handing the blond several files.

"Thank you," Larabee said. He knew these were complete and hopefully, with the ones they already had, they'd find out who was behind the kidnapping of the Browner children. "Do you have a fax machine?"

"Yes, it's in my office. It's on a separate line from the one in the main house," Gary explained.

"Would you show Buck where it is so he can fax these to our office?" the blond asked, glancing at his watch, and silently cursing the fact that he'd missed his meeting with Carlina Morgan.

"Chris, are ya okay?" Tanner asked when they were alone in the hallway.

"I'm fine, Vin," Larabee answered.

"Ya seem like yer mind's somewhere else."

"No…it's not," the blond assured him and knew he had to forget about the missed meeting and concentrate on the case they were working now.

"Good…'cause right now them two kids need ya thinkin' clear," Tanner stated.

"Would you gentlemen like some coffee?" Juliet asked.

"Thank you," Larabee said and accepted a cup of coffee.

"Cream or sugar?"

"No thanks," Larabee said, smiling when the Texan added four sugar cubes to his. "They got a call from the kidnappers."

"What do they want?" Tanner asked.

"Two million in small, unmarked bills," the blond answered. "Gary has already talked to the bank and there should be no problem getting the money together. I need to call Josiah and have him pick it up and escort the bank manager here."

"Are they gonna pay it?"

"Probably…I know I would, but I'd find some way to get the kids away first," Larabee said.

"What about getting JD to mark the bills with…"

"These guys are smart and I'm beginning to hate shows like CSI. They know about ultraviolet light and marking the bills. They'll be calling."

"Damn," Tanner said and took a seat near the window. There wasn't much they could do now except wait for the kidnappers to call back.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

JD and Ezra looked at the papers that had been faxed from the Browner residence and they took two names each. They worked quickly, going through the police and government databases, searching for anything that would point to any of the four having a reason for being involved with the kidnapping. The Browners had done a thorough job of checking into the backgrounds, but there was always the possibility they'd missed something.

JD had tried to trace the phone call, but true to his word the kidnapper had not stayed on the line long enough to get anything but a vague area to search. He'd finally given up and went back to work on the files and hoped they'd find something they could use.

Ezra dug through several layers before he found various inconsistencies in Mark Sampson's file. The man was supposed to have worked for a reputable company in Los Angeles, but when he checked with the agency, there was no record of Mark Sampson ever being employed by them.

"JD, I may have a lead," Standish said.

"Which one?" Dunne asked but continued to backtrack Juliet Champlain.

"Mark Sampson…the Browner's guard, it seems he lied about working for Bryant Security." Standish continued reading the file, frowning when he found himself locked out of several areas. "I do believe Sampson is not what he appears to be."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, there are key areas in his file that I cannot access," the gambler said and tried several more tricks to find out what was hidden from him. He heard Dunne leave his desk and felt the younger man looking over his shoulder. "I have only seen this twice before and both times I was unable to access that area of his past."

"I saw it too…it usually means they were granted asylum from something, or they were operatives with one of the military agencies."

"That's what I was thinking, and it appears that interesting tidbit was left out of the application he gave the Browners."

"I've been going over Juliet Champlain's past…she's the children's nanny and also works as a maid at the Browner's home…her file seems pretty cut and dry," Dunne said.

"That leaves Sandra Cleary and Barry Goss," Standish said and looked at Goss' file while Dunne returned to his desk. Cleary was a full-time chef who'd worked for the family for three years. Goss was the groundskeeper, chauffeur, and also took care of maintenance. They still had a lot of ground to cover and prayed they'd locate the children before it was too late.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Josiah and Nathan drove to the bank and picked up the manager. They knew who he was and had met with him on several occasions for personal banking as well as Agency affairs. He knew what he was doing, and they trusted him to keep a lid on everything until he was told otherwise.

Brian Ludlow had known Gary and Shirley Browner for nearly 12 years and vowed to do anything he could to help the family. He had no idea why they needed the money, but something told him time was of the essence. The suitcase he held had two million dollars and his nerves were on edge when he sat in the car. The Browner's and Orin Travis, two of the bank's biggest customers, had told him that the two men could be trusted and that they'd be able to protect the banks' interest. He knew he was taking a chance, but again he relied on the word of his clients.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Jerry Malone knew what he was seeing was real, but he wanted so badly to close his eyes and forget the image ever existed. There was no chance of that happening and he pulled his cell phone from his pocket, calling 911 even as he walked over to the battered body. When the operator answered his call, he quickly explained what he'd found and touched his hand to her neck, jumping back when he felt the telltale flutter beneath his fingertips.

"She's alive, but she's hurt bad," Malone exclaimed and knew he shouldn't move the injured woman. He could hear the sound of sirens in the distance and prayed the victim would still be alive when help arrived. The 911 operator continued to ask him questions and kept him from panicking and for that he was grateful. He was still kneeling on the ground when the police and ambulance arrived and took control of the situation.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris accepted the money from Brian Ludlow with the assurance that he would be given the complete story once everything was settled. He knew the bank manager had spoken with Orin Travis and that the bank would not be held responsible if anything went wrong and the money was lost. Ludlow didn't like it; he had no choice, but to leave the money and let Sanchez and Jackson drive him back to the bank.

The Browners had been nervous wrecks while waiting for the phone call, but the steadying influence of Travis' team eased some of the tension. The sound of the phone ringing brought everyone to their feet and Buck moved to turn on the recording equipment that would signal JD to start the trace.

Gary waited for Chris' signal and finally picked up the receiver. "Hello."

"Mr. Browner, you've been a very bad boy…you brought outsiders into our deal. That changes everything…"

"No, please, we did nothing wrong, and we have the money!"

"I know you have the money, but there are also several people in your home who do not belong there."

"I'll get rid of them!"

"Actually, I do believe it would benefit both of us if one of your guests delivered the ransom money…let me speak with Larabee!"

Chris took the phone and held it to his ear. "This is Larabee."

"So nice of you to become our errand boy, Larabee. Now here's what I want you to do. There is a phone booth at the edge of the east side parking lot of Rimrock Mall. You have fifteen minutes to get there and please don't fuck with me…you come alone, or the kids die."

"How do I know they're still alive?"

"You don't!"

"Let me talk to them!"

"Not a chance in hell of that happening, Larabee…get moving or you'll never make it! Time's wasting!" The line went dead, and Chris grabbed the briefcase full of money and reached into his pocket for the keys to the truck.

"Chris, what did he say?" Tanner asked.

"I'm to make the delivery…"

"No way in hell…"

"I don't have time to argue, Buck! I need to get moving. Gary, I'll bring your kids home!" With those words, Chris raced out of the house before the Browners had a chance to realize what was happening. He reached the truck and pulled open the door as Buck and Vin followed close behind.

"Chris, you can't…"

"Do this alone!" Tanner finished for Wilmington.

"No choice…he'll kill the kids!" Larabee said and stabbed the keys into the ignition. "I'll call you on my cell phone!"

"Chris!" the rogue called angrily, but his protest died when Larabee backed the truck out of the driveway. The gate opened quickly, as if the guard was waiting for him, and Buck frowned, thinking they needed to have a talk with the man.

"Gary, did ya call ahead ta the guard at the gate?" Tanner asked.

"No," Browner answered, holding his weeping wife close to him. "We thought we had to leave the phone line open."

"Vin…"

"The guard may have had somethin' ta do with the kidnappin'," Tanner said and reached for his cell phone as it began to ring. "Tanner!"

"Vin, it's Ezra. We've been looking into the backgrounds, and it looks like Mark Sampson is not what he appears to be."

"Buck, keep an eye on Sampson!" Tanner ordered and returned his attention to the phone. "What did ya find out?"

"His past is buried so deep we haven't been able to get into it, but there are a couple of inconsistencies with the people he's supposed to have worked for. Bryant Security has no record of him ever having worked for them. There is no record of him having filed taxes until he started working for Gary and Shirley Browner…JD and I were thinking black ops or some other military background that he was granted anonymity from."

"What about the other employees?"

"They all seem to be clean although Juliet Champlain seems to be heavily in debt. There's nothing to tie her to Sampson except they both work for the Browners. Look, Ezra, and I are going to check out a couple of more leads and see if we can't come up with something concrete."

"All right, Ez, call me if ya get anythin'," the Texan said and hung up before looking at the worried couple standing behind him. He quickly explained what Dunne and Standish had found out, but until they heard from Larabee there wasn't much they could do.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris drove toward Rimrock Mall and knew he should call Wilmington, but right now he had to concentrate on getting to the meeting point before time ran out. With just under three minutes before the expected call he pulled into the east side parking lot and drove toward the phone booth. He pulled the truck to a stop and cursed when he saw a young male step into the booth. With no time for niceties, Chris tore open the door and grabbed the receiver before pulling the kid out and hanging up.

"What the fuck's your problem?"

"I need the phone!" Larabee snapped and lifted the receiver to his ear before the sound of ringing ended. "I'm here!"

"I was here first asshole!"

"I told you to come alone, Larabee!"

"I did…"

"Who's that talking?"

"A kid was using the phone. Where are the Browner children?"

"Fucking bastard! I'm getting a cop!"

Chris heard the young man racing away, turned to see him kick out at the truck, and knew there'd be a dent in the driver's door. Right now, that was the least of his worries.

"You need to take Central Avenue west to 64th. Go north until you reach Grand Avenue. Take that until you reach 88th. There's a phone booth at the southeast corner of Grand Avenue and 88th. You have forty minutes, Larabee, or the kids die!"

"I'll be there!" Larabee said and raced back to his truck, ignoring the police officer who was yelling for him to stop. Chris tore out of the parking lot and was soon speeding along Central Avenue. He knew he had plenty of time to make it, but sometimes traffic could be heavy at this time of day.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Buck watched the guard at the gate and fought the urge to question the man. He knew it would be a mistake to try anything until they were sure the kids were safe. He cursed the fact that Larabee had yet to call and turned to see the Texan hurrying toward him.

"Any word from Chris?"

"Not a damn thing," Wilmington explained and hit the speed dial on his phone while Vin watched the gatehouse.

"Larabee."

"Where the hell are you, Chris?" the rogue spat.

"Central Avenue…this guy knows what he's doing, Buck. He's sending me to another phone booth. Call Miller and tell him to keep his men off my tail…tell him we'll explain everything when this is over."

"All right," Wilmington reluctantly agreed.

"Look, I can't talk, but I'll call when I know where I'm going!"

"Jesus, Chris, be careful!" Wilmington ordered. He quickly dialled Robert Miller's number and told him as much as he could and asked the captain to keep his officers off Larabee's trail. He knew Miller would do everything he could to help and finally placed his phone back in his pocket.

"Where is he?" Tanner asked.

"Central Avenue. The kidnappers seem to be keeping him busy," Wilmington explained.

"Damn it…one of us should be with him!"

"I know, Vin, but there wasn't time and if one of the Browner's employees is involved it would get those kids killed." Wilmington could read the worry in Tanner's eyes and wished there was some way to ease that tension, but right now his own nerves were on fire. "Did Ezra and JD come up with anything?"

"Sampson never worked for Bryant Security and his background seems to be missin' a lot of information," Tanner explained. "Ezra and JD are diggin' deeper."

"If there's anything there, they'll find it. What about the others?"

"So far they've checked out," Tanner explained, and saw the guard reach for the phone. He wished he could hear what the man was saying, but from the look on his face it was not good news.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Josiah and Nathan dropped Brian Ludlow at the bank before heading to the office. There wasn't much they could do at the Browner home, but they could both handle computers and just maybe they could help find a lead on who the kidnappers were. Too many times it turned out to be a family member or an employee with a grudge. Knowing Dunne and Standish probably hadn't taken the time to eat, they stopped long enough to grab coffee and sandwiches. The two agents entered the office to find Ezra and JD deep in their work.

"Anything new?" Jackson asked.

"Not much…however, JD and I feel Sampson and Champlain are most likely involved in the kidnapping. Sampson's background was very hard to get to, but we did manage to find several discrepancies in his past."

"The man's been in prison, but not in the states. He spent some time in jail down in Mexico…but somehow it got buried," the easterner explained. He'd called Buck and told him everything they had so far and was shocked to find out Chris was delivering the money to the kidnappers.

"What was he in jail for?" Sanchez asked.

"Kidnapping," Dunne answered.

"Damn…how the hell did he manage to get that covered up?" Jackson inquired.

"Something to do with his working for several agencies that are not supposed to exist," Standish told them. "The interesting part in all this is that he's a married man but is living single. Guess who his wife…"

"Juliet Champlain," Sanchez answered.

"Give the man his prize," Standish observed.

"We need to let Chris…"

"Chris is a little busy right now, but we were going to call Buck," Dunne explained.

"Chris is busy?" Jackson asked.

"The kidnappers demanded that he be the one to deliver the ransom," Standish told them.

"Sonofabitch! How the hell did they…shit!" the medic said and realized they had to be on the right track. It had to be an inside job if the kidnappers knew they were involved.

"Chris knows what he's doing, Brother," Sanchez assured his friend and handed out the coffee and sandwiches. The two men didn't stop working, but they managed to eat while they tapped at the keyboard. It didn't take them long to give Jackson and Sanchez up-to-date information and put them to work on the files.

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Chris pulled up to the phone booth, tires screeching when he heard the sound of the phone. He grabbed the receiver and spoke sharply.

"I'm here!"

"You just made it, Larabee. I'm beginning to think you're getting too old for this shit!"

"I don't give a fuck what you think. Where to now?" the blond cursed.

"Take 88th south until you reach Lipp Road. Go west until you hit Buffalo Trail Road. Follow it northwest to Pleasant Valley Trail. Park your truck on the northeast corner and if we are sure you're alone my people will pick you up. Do I need to remind you what happens to the children if you deviate from my instructions?"

"No… but know this if you hurt either of them, I'll tear you apart with my bare hands!"

"I'm sure you'd love to try, but I'm afraid that is not about to happen. Make sure you have the money in your hands when you exit the truck. Oh, you will be searched so please get rid of any weapons and cell phones since you won't be needing them."

"How do I know you won't kill the children anyway?"

"You don't, but you can be sure I will kill them if you don't do as I tell you! Get moving, Larabee, you're on the clock you know?"

Chris heard the phone go dead and climbed into his truck once more. He reached for his cell and hit Tanner's cell number, relieved when the agent answered immediately.

"Tanner."

"Vin, I just talked with the bastard and I'm on my way to a meeting point at Buffalo and Pleasant Valley Trail. He's sending some of his people to meet me there…"

"We're on the way!"

"No, by the time you get there I'll be gone. Look, keep working on this from your end…"

"You can't do it alone!"

"I don't have a fucking choice right now, Vin. The bastard will kill those kids if he sees anything suspicious. Trust me on this…I'm not going to do anything that could put those kids in danger!"

"I know you're not, Chris. Look, we think the guard at the gatehouse could be involved. His background's all fucked up, but JD and Ez are getting through the pages. He's been involved in a kidnapping before, but we don't have the whole story yet. Nathan and Josiah are helping. Buck and I are staying with the Browners."

"Tell them I'll call as soon as I can."

"I will…watch your back, Cowboy!"

"That's your job," Larabee said and hung up. He placed the phone on his seat and turned onto Lipp Road, relieved to see very little traffic in the area.

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Vin knew there was no way he could get to Pleasant Valley Trail before the kidnappers picked Larabee up, but there was no way in hell he could sit by and let things hang. His instincts told him Mark Sampson and Juliet Champlain were involved, and now it was time to get the answers to some questions that bothered him.

"Vin, I think one of us should follow Miss Champlain," Wilmington advised, racing toward him from the house.

"Where is she?"

"She's leaving in 15 minutes. I spoke with Gary, and he said we can take his car, but I wanted something less flashy. Nathan and Josiah should be here in five minutes…they're bringing both rigs," the rogue explained.

"One of us needs ta stay here," Tanner said.

"I'll stay, but you better bring them back, Vin!" Wilmington ordered.

"Did JD and Ezra find out anythin' new about the employees?"

"They've dug up more shit on both Sampson and Champlain. Sampson's been in trouble on several occasions and from what they found it looks like Juliet got heavily into gambling after she met him. It could be that Sampson blackmailed her into helping him get to the children…or…"

"She's involved because she needs the money…or both," Tanner said. "Sampson is supposed to be on the gate until seven, but my gut says he's gonna leave before then. Call Josiah and have him watch Sampson. If the bastard leaves, we need ta know where he goes!"

"Already did," Wilmington said, watching the man at the gate from their hidden vantage point.

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Chris pulled the truck onto the unpaved shoulder of the road and quickly locked his gun and cell phone in the dash compartment. He spotted the small tape recorder and pulled it out, praying he'd get a chance to use it. He knew Tanner or one of the others would drive out here to pick up his truck and he would be sure he locked the doors before he left. The Texan had a spare key, and he was glad he didn't have to leave his vehicle unlocked.

Chris held tight to the briefcase and leaned against the door of his truck. He knew he had to keep his mind on the job at hand, but his missed meeting with Carlina Morgan kept hindering his thoughts. He knew he should have met with her, but right now two children's lives were at stake, and he would explain that to her when she called him again. He just hoped she wasn't scared off by his not showing up. Chris stayed where he was when a white utility van drove past him and turned around. He hit the record button and quickly described the vehicle and the license plate number, dropping it on the seat, closing and locking the door just as the van backed up to the truck and stopped while another man opened the back door.

"Come on, Larabee, we don't have all day!"

Chris walked over and took note of the man's height and weight but could see nothing of his face because of the balaclava that covered his head.

"Get in!" the big man ordered and waited for Larabee to climb into the back of the van. "Drop the case and put your hands out in front of you."

"Where are the kids?"

"You'll be seeing them soon enough if you'd just shut up and do as you're told!"

Chris had no choice and soon felt a set of handcuffs wrapped around his wrists. Next his head was covered with a dark hood that blocked out even the faintest light. He struggled against the panic that nearly overwhelmed him and was soon forced to sit on the floor as memories of being in a dark place swept through his mind. He thought the coffin would be his final resting place, but the guys had found him and rescued him from a horrific death.

"Now, Larabee, relax and you'll see the kids shortly…as long as you don't try to take that hood off. See we have no desire to kill those children and it'll stay that way if you and the kids can't see our faces. Understood?"

"Yes," the blond said and was soon sitting with his legs out straight and his back against the side of the van. He felt the vehicle move out onto the road and tried to get a read on the twists and turns they made.

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Vin climbed into the passenger seat of Jackson's 2002 blue Chevy Camaro. Knowing Wilmington would tell Sanchez everything he needed to know, Tanner quickly told Nathan where they were headed and tried to calm his stomach. Since last speaking with the blond his insides had been in a knot and he hoped things were not going to hell too fast.

"Damn fool!"

"Did ya say somethin', Nate?" Tanner asked.

"I said he's a damn fool for going off on his own!"

"He didn't have a choice…I would'a done the same thing and so would the rest of ya," the Texan explained. "The sonofabitch didn't give Chris a choice."

"I know…it just pisses me off when we're in the dark while Chris is out there with some bastard who doesn't give a damn about anything except money!"

"You need to turn here," Tanner said, holding the dash when the medic made a sharp turn. They were both silent during the rest of the drive until Nathan pulled up behind Larabee's truck. Vin opened the door and got out, hurrying to the driver's side. He spotted the small tape recorder and using his spare key to Chris' truck, unlocked the door and reached in for the recorder.

"What have you got?" Jackson asked.

"Maybe nothin', but we'll see," Tanner said and rewound the tape. He listened as Chris clearly described the van and gave the license plate before another man's voice could be heard. Orders were given and the sound of squealing tires signalled the vehicle had moved away. He pulled out his cell and called the main office, impatiently tapping his fingers on the roof of the truck while waiting for someone to answer his call. He gave Dunne the license plate number, and knew it was probably useless because the van was probably stolen, but at least they had something to go on.

"Vin, I'm going to head back to the office and see if I can help JD and Ezra," Jackson said, but stopped when his cell phone beeped. "Jackson!"

"Nathan, how soon can you get back to the Browner home?"

"I'll take Chris' truck and head for The Browners and check in with Josiah," Tanner said, getting into the truck and putting the spare key in the ignition.

"Vin's on the way now," Jackson answered and saw the nod from the Texan. "I'm headed back to the office."

"All right…tell Vin to move it because Sampson is getting ready to leave. I'll stall him as long as I can!"

"Vin, Sampson's leaving…Buck's going to try and keep him there," Jackson said.

"Tell him I'll floor it!" Tanner said and drove away from Jackson's Camaro.

"He's on his way…call if you hear from Chris!"

"I will, Nathan," Wilmington vowed.

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"Gary, you should have gone with him."

"I couldn't, Honey. The kidnappers wanted Larabee to go alone."

"But what if he does something they don't like…"

"Chris knows what he's doing. He'll bring your children back," Wilmington vowed and wondered how much longer they'd be able to keep Sampson at the gate. The Browners had called Sampson's replacement and asked him to delay his arrival by at least 15 minutes. The time was nearly up, and he knew once the night guard arrived there was nothing they could do to keep Sampson from leaving.

"How can you know that?" Shirley asked, tears in her eyes.

"If anyone can bring them home it's Chris. He knows what he's doing, and he'll make sure the kids are protected," Wilmington vowed and reached for his cell when it began to ring. "Wilmington!"

"Buck, I'm parked north of the estate…I can see the main gate. Ask Gary what Sampson drives."

"What kind of car does Sampson have?"

"A green Ford Aero Star," Gary answered.

"Did you get that?" Wilmington asked.

 "I got it. Any word from Chris?"

"Not a damn thing."

"He left a message on his personal tape deck giving us the make, color, and license plate of the van that picked him up. JD and Ezra are running it through the DMV."

"Smart man," Wilmington said of his long-time friend.

"Looks like Sampson's relief is here. Look, I'll keep in touch."

"Watch your back, Tanner!" the rogue ordered and sighed tiredly when the line went dead.

"What's going on?" Gary asked.

"Well, Chris left a message describing the van that picked him up…JD and Ezra are working on that lead. Josiah is following Miss Champlain. Vin is tailing Sampson, and it looks like we're the ones who have to wait on the sidelines." Wilmington reached for the cold cup of coffee and swallowed the last of the dregs before turning away from the couple. Shirley Browner was weeping on her husband's shoulder and there was nothing more he could do until the children were returned unharmed.

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Sanchez stayed several cars behind the blue Mazda driven by Juliet Champlain. The woman had pulled out of the Browner estate shortly after Tanner and Jackson left and Josiah had pulled out onto the street but stayed far enough away to avoid suspicion. The woman had made several twists and turns but had yet to show any sign that she knew she was being tailed. Buck had called him and updated him on everything that was happening, and he hoped this woman would lead him to the children.

Champlain turned onto Lipp Road and again Josiah stayed back long enough to make her believe she wasn't being tailed. He reached for his cell phone and hoped Jackson was still in the area, blinking several times when he spotted the familiar Camaro pass him going east. He hit speed dial and was glad when Jackson answered on the first ring.

"Nathan, I'm following Juliet Champlain west on Lipp Road…"

"Thought that was you. What do you want me to do?"

"Turn around and come back this way…I don't think she's suspicious yet, but I don't want to take any chances."

"I'm turning around now and should be coming up on your six in a couple of minutes."

"We're almost at Buffalo Trail Road…I'll let you know if she goes north or south," Sanchez said, watching the cars ahead of him.

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Chris shifted on the floor of the van and tried to ease the ache in his lower back. They'd been driving around for some time, with very few stops leading him to believe they were outside the city limits. Whether they were north, south, east, or west of Billings he had no idea, but he was relieved when the van stopped, and the engine was shut off.

"Okay, Larabee, you've been a real good boy so far so don't fuck it up now! Keep the hood over your head and don't try to get free. I'm going to take you to the kids and then we'll leave and call the Browners and tell them where they can find you. Understood?"

"Understood," Larabee answered and was pulled roughly to his feet and pushed out of the van.

"Don't try to be a hero and just maybe you will be!"

Chris felt someone lock onto his hands and lead him forward. He stumbled several times, but never went down.

"Three steps up," the voice ordered.

Larabee lifted his foot and made his way up the three steps and was soon lead through a door. He had no idea where he was or how far outside the city they were, but he soon heard the unmistakable sound of a trap door being lifted and he was unceremoniously pushed inside.

"Bastards!" Larabee spat and heard soft sobs on his left. "Peter…Elizabeth?"

"Who…who are you?" a soft voice asked.

"My name is Chris…your mom and dad sent me to bring you home. Are you hurt?" Chris asked and tried to move toward the children. "Can you see anything?"

"No…they put something over our heads when they took us from the house. We just want to go home."

"I know you do, Elizabeth, and I'm going to make sure you do." Larabee said and began working on the cuffs. During his years as a SEAL, he'd learned many tricks including how to remove his hands from cuffs with nothing but his own spit and determination. He stopped when he heard muffled sounds from above his head and the heavy trap door was lifted once more.

"Okay, Larabee, it looks like things are working out perfectly and the money is all there, so I guess this is goodbye. I'm sure someone will find you, but don't worry I'll call someone and get you released before long."

"Let the kids go…"

"Not a chance, Larabee. You'll just have to keep them entertained until help arrives. I don't wish you any ill will, but I'm not taking any chances either."

Chris cursed when he heard laughter and the slamming of the trap door. The sound of soft crying reached his ears and he crawled toward it and soon felt two sets of arms clinging to him. He was glad the children hadn't been tied up and wondered how frightened they had to be to have left their faces covered.

"I'm scared…"

"Me too," Peter added.

"I'll tell you both a secret if you promise not to tell anyone."

"I promise," Elizabeth whispered.

"So do I," Peter hiccupped.

"I'm scared too," Larabee told them and returned his attention to getting rid of the cuffs.

"But you're a grownup…grownups don't get scared," the little girl said.

"Yes, we do and that's why I'm going to need you both to be brave for me. I'm going to need all the help I can get to get out of here and I do want to get out of here."

"Me too…it smells bad," Elizabeth told him.

"What do you want us to do?" Peter asked, his voice low and filled with fear.

"I'm going to try and get the cuffs off my wrists and then I'm going to check upstairs and make sure they're really gone, but that means you're both going to have to be really quiet and keep those blindfolds on. They won't hurt you as long as you don't see their faces."

"What about you? Won't they hurt you if you see them?" Elizabeth asked.

"Not if I can surprise them," Larabee answered, grimacing as the tight cuff began to slip down over his hand.

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Juliet Champlain drove into the motel parking lot and quickly exited the car. She knew she was supposed to wait until she was contacted, and the money safely divided up, but she didn't trust the others and she wanted her share. God, she hated her part in the kidnapping, but she needed the money and had been told the children would not be harmed. It had been a bit of an act to make the Browners believe that she was as worried as they were, but she thought she'd done a good job of it.

Mark Sampson had called her with the idea, and they'd arranged to meet at this motel after the money had been delivered. She'd been separated from him for months and cursed the day she'd agreed to marry him. She'd been so caught up in the romance promised by the city of Las Vegas. She'd only met the other couple involved once, through Sampson, and she didn't trust them to keep their end of the bargain. She hurried up to the door and knocked, turning, and searching the area around her while she waited for someone to answer her knock. When the door was pulled open someone latched onto her arm and pulled her inside.

"What the fuck are you doing here?"

"I need the money…"

"We all do, or we wouldn't have taken those kids, but you weren't supposed to come out here until later tonight! Where the hell is Mark?"

"He was still at work when I left. Look just give me my cut and you won't ever see me again!"

"I should kill you for deviating from the plan…what if you were followed?"

"I wasn't. I kept checking and there was no one behind me…I took the long way around. Besides the Browners don't have a clue I'm involved."

"You better hope no one knows you were in on this, because I'm the only one who knows where those kids are, and I swear I'll leave them to starve to death if we're caught!"

"No! You can't do that! They're just children!"

"You should have thought of that before you changed the plans!" Paul Winfield spat and turned to see his freshly showered wife exit the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her body.

"What is she doing here?"

"Miss Champlain decided she couldn't wait for her cut, Sharon," the man explained. "I was just telling her that if her impulsive mistake gets us caught the kids will die a slow death!"

"We warned you what would happen if you messed this deal up," Sharon snapped. "Was she followed?"

"No, I made sure there was no one following me. Look, just give me my money and I'll get out of here!"

"No, I don't think so. I think you should forfeit your cut because…"

"You can't do that! I'm the one who showed you how to get the children out of the house without setting off the alarms. I'm the one who took all the chances and could lose my job over this…"

"I guess you should have thought about that before you came out here!" Paul told her.

"Get out of here!" Sharon ordered.

"Not without my money!" Champlain snarled, anger making her braver than she had any right to be. She stood toe to toe with the other woman and knew her life depended on not showing any weakness in front of these people. The money was to be her salvation and there was no way in hell she would give it up. She watched Sharon closely, turning when the woman made her way to the bed where the black case lay. She knew it had to be the money and took a step toward it, affording Paul Winfield the chance to act. She felt something collide with her head and fell heavily to the floor; blood flowing from the gash Winfield had opened up on her scalp.

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Vin stayed back and hoped he wouldn't lose Sampson in the heavy traffic, but he couldn't take a chance on being spotted. Jackson had called him to let him know he was tailing the Champlain woman, and that Sanchez was driving parallel to him on the next street. They were working together to keep track of the woman and were now headed west out of the city. Somehow, he knew Sampson was also headed in that direction.

His cell phone rang, and he reached for it, placing the receiver over his ear, and watching Sampson weave in and out between the other vehicles. "Tanner."

"Vin, it's Nathan. Champlain stopped at that seedy little motel on Canyon Creek Road. She went into room 12 and hasn't come out yet. Josiah is on the way, but I don't think the kids are in there."

"I'll be there in 15 minutes, Nate…my gut says that's where Sampson is headed now," Tanner said and hung up the phone. He was tempted to call Miller and get reinforcements but couldn't take the chance that something would go wrong and the kids…and Chris Larabee would pay the price. He didn't bother watching Sampson, but drove onto Buffalo Trail Road and knew trouble, with a capital T, was probably waiting there.

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Josiah spotted Nathan's Camaro and pulled into an empty parking spot near the front of the motel. He quickly exited his vehicle and hurried over to Jackson. He sat in the empty passenger seat and looked toward the room the medic pointed out.

"She's still in there," Jackson explained.

"Have you seen anyone else?"

"The curtain moved aside a while ago, but I couldn't see who it was. It's probably her partner in the kidnapping. Vin's on his way and should be here in about ten minutes."

"Is he still tailing Sampson?"

"No…figured if he's in on it, then he's headed this way too," Jackson explained. "I don't think the kids are in there, Josiah."

"What makes you think that?" Sanchez asked.

"Just a feeling. I doubt they'd have a meeting place set up too close to the kids. Have you heard anything from Buck?"

"Not a damn thing. The kidnappers have yet to contact them about the children's release."

"Let's not forget they have Chris too!"

"I'm not forgetting…I'm thinking he's the one thing we have on our side in all of this."

"I wish there was some way we could get in there and have a look around," the medic stated.

"Perhaps there is," Sanchez said and smiled at his friend. "I do believe it's time to get downright drunk and bawdy."

"Now that just might work," Jackson said, knowing Champlain had not seen Josiah and therefore would not be suspicious of him.

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Chris continued to work on the cuffs and knew the wetness he felt was a combination of sweat and blood. The area on his wrist was rubbed raw and would need to be treated, but first he had to make good his escape or they might end up spending a lot longer in this little hellhole. The children had grown quiet, but they continued to cling to him, and he knew he had to get them back to their parents if it was the last thing he did. There'd been no sounds from above since the kidnapper had made his threat and retreated and Chris wondered if the man had meant for this to be their final resting place. Shaking off the morbid thoughts he returned his attention to escaping the cuffs and hopefully getting the kids out of this mess.

"I'm hungry," Peter said softly.

"I know you are and when we get out of here, I'm going to get a big burger from Mickey D's…"

"Can we have chicken nuggets…it's Elizabeth's favorite."

"Happy Meal?"

"With the prize?" the young girl asked.

"Sure…and root beer, but first we need to get you home to your mom and dad, so they won't have to worry anymore," Larabee assured them.

"Maybe they could come too!" Peter suggested.

"That sounds like a plan to me," Chris grunted and felt the cuff slip over his knuckles and free of his hand. "I'm going to check and see if they've gone…"

"Don't leave us," the boy cried and clung to Larabee's body.

"I won't…I'm just going to check the door and see if anyone's up there."

"They said they'd kill us if we tried to see their faces or escape," Elizabeth told him.

"You just keep your eyes covered until I check things out…I'm not going anywhere without you," Larabee vowed and felt the arms release him. He hugged the kids close before releasing them and feeling his way around the basement. It wasn't a real basement, and he couldn't stand up completely, so Chris felt around until he found a short set of stairs that led up to the trapdoor. Wherever they were being held it had to be in an older section of town with homes that had root cellars instead of basements.

Wiping the sweat from his face, Chris reached up and found the small door and began pushing upward, silently cursing when the barrier remained firm. He touched the edge and found the hinges and hoped the older joints had not been replaced. If they were as old as he thought, then he should be able to find the release mechanism and open the trapdoor backwards. He listened for several minutes and still heard nothing from above. Pushing against the inner part of the hinge, Chris smiled when he felt the weakened bolts ease away from the rotted boards. It took less than a minute for him to push upward and he couldn't quite hold onto it as momentum slammed the door onto the floor. He searched the shadows, but there was no sign of the kidnappers, and he turned back to the darkness where the children waited.

"I think they're gone, but I want you to keep those blindfolds on until I make sure," Larabee told them.

"Don't leave us here," Elizabeth said.

"I'm not going to. I'm going to lift you both out and then I'll look around. If they're really gone then you'll be able to take those off and we'll head for home. Okay?"

"Okay," the girl said.

Chris did as promised and lifted the two children out of their prison and onto the debris-strewn floor. He moved them to the cleanest area and told them to stay put while he made a quick search of the house. Chris checked the rooms on the main floor and realized where they were being held. This was an abandoned building once used by the railroad to store items before they were shipped elsewhere. They were nearly seven or eight miles west of Billings and would have to walk back along the old trail.

There didn't seem to be anyone else around and Chris went back inside to find the children standing where he'd left them.

"Chris?" Elizabeth asked softly, her voice laced with fear.

"I'm right here, Honey. It looks like they're gone," Larabee assured her. "I'm going to take off your blindfolds and then we're going to have to walk out of here."

"Okay," Peter agreed, blinking several times before keeping his eyes open. He looked at his sister and was glad to see she was okay before he turned his attention to their rescuer. The man was covered in dirt and the boy realized that he and his sister were covered in the same stuff.

"I guess we all need a bath," Larabee said, smiling at the children.

"I missed mine last night," Elizabeth told him.

"That's okay…I bet your mom and dad will let you get away with one night," Chris told them and stood up.

"Your hands are bleeding…does it hurt?" Peter observed.

"It's not too bad," Larabee said. "Now it's going to start getting dark soon, so I'm going to need you both to be brave and help me."

"Help you? How?" Elizabeth asked.

"Well, I know adults are not supposed to be afraid of the dark, but sometimes we are and it's going to be really dark in the trees, so I'll need you both to help us stay on the trail," Larabee explained and knew his words had the desired effect when the children lifted their heads and wiped away the tears that had threatened to fall. "We're a team now and a team works together."

"Team!" Peter and Elizabeth said with a tentative smile before each took one of Larabee's hands. The trio walked out the door and started along the road toward Billings.

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Buck hated being the one left behind, but someone had to stay with the Browners. The couple were dangerously close to the edge, but they were doing their best to hide it from him. He'd called Dunne and found out they'd been unable to get any further with Mark Sampson's background, but they would continue to work on it. His second call had been to Jackson, and he'd been quickly brought up to date on everything that was happening at the motel.

Buck watched the couple who seemed at their wits end, and he had no way of easing their minds. The loss of a child was hard and, in this case, doubly so, but at least there was still a chance they'd be found alive. If Chris was with them, and he suspected he was, the kid's chances of survival had just gotten a whole lot better. Sighing heavily, the rogue tried to will the phone to ring.

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Vin parked the truck out of sight of anyone entering the motel's parking lot. He quickly joined Josiah and Nathan at the Camaro and was brought up to date on what was happening. He knew they had to make a move soon, but he didn't want to chance anything happening to the children. So far there'd been no sign of them or Larabee and he was beginning to worry that the kidnappers had gone back on their word.

"We need to find out what's going on in there," Tanner said.

"I was just thinking about that," Sanchez said. "I do believe it's time I went on a bender."

"Like that time with Emma Dubonnet?" Jackson asked with a grin.

"Exactly, my friend," the ex-preacher agreed and scrubbed at the heavy stubble on his chin. "I think with a little dirt on my face and a brown paper bag with a bottle in it, will make me fit in perfectly here. All I need to do is act drunk and stumble up to the door…try a key and…"

"Hope they don't shoot first and ask questions later," the medic said.

"I doubt they'll do anything that'll draw attention to themselves," Sanchez said and exited the car. He made his way toward the trunk and waited for Jackson to open it. Inside he found several water bottles and a wrinkled paper bag that would do the trick, but he needed something stronger than water if he was going to pull this off.

"What's wrong?" Tanner asked.

"I need cheap whiskey or something that'll fool them for a few minutes," Sanchez answered.

There were several rooms that were occupied, but Vin knew checking them would take time. This place was the quintessential seedy motel, and he had a feeling the owner was probably a beer bellied man who'd sell his soul for a bottle of booze. "I'm gonna go check with the office…maybe I can get him ta sell me a bottle of whatever he's drinkin' taday."

"Just make sure it's not some cheap aftershave," the older man ordered. He'd seen men so low on the ladder that they'd taken to drinking aftershave for the alcohol content, assuring themselves of an early grave. He took off his jacket and ripped the shirt in several places before reaching down and grabbing a handful of dirt and rubbing it into his neck, arms, and face. By the time the Texan returned with a cheap bottle of skunk water, Josiah actually felt and looked the part of a drunk. He rinsed his mouth with the foul-tasting liquid and doused his shirt in it.

"Jesus, Josiah, talk about gettin' inta the part," Tanner said, waving his hand in front of his face as if to ward off the stench.

"He does smell ripe," Jackson agreed, and grew serious once more. "Be careful, Josiah. Anyone who'd kidnap children wouldn't think twice about shooting a drunk!"

"I'll be careful…you boys watch out for Sampson and make damn sure he doesn't mess this up," Sanchez warned.

"We'll stop him if he shows up," Jackson vowed.

Josiah took a deep breath and made his way toward the motel room where they'd seen Juliet Champlain disappear and hoped he could pull off this ruse.

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"What are we going to do about her, Paul?" Sharon asked of the woman who was now tied up and gagged and lying on the bed.

"We could leave her here and take the money…all of it."

"And leave her and Mark to face the charges of kidnapping," Sharon said with a grin.

"Exactly," Winfield said, pulling his wife into his arms and kissing her supple lips. "Damn, Woman, you make me so hot."

"Someone's at the door," the woman said, pushing her husband's hands away. She could hear slurred singing and then the sound of a key scraping against the lock. "Paul…"

Winfield held up his hand and lifted the stained curtain just far enough for him to see who was at the door. The lights had come on and the shadows deepened, but he could see the hunched over form of a large man. Their unwelcome guest seemed to be trying to open the door, while the other hand was lifting a battered paper bag to his mouth.

"Who is it?"

"Some drunk…I doubt he even knows where he is," Paul said and placed his hand on the doorknob.

"Get rid of him!" Sharon ordered.

Paul pulled the door open sharply and would have laughed if things hadn't been so serious right now. The lumbering drunk had been leaning against the door while trying to get his key into the hole and stumbled backwards into the room. The man's legs seemed unable to hold him upright and he fell between the two double beds, blinking his eyes and shaking his head.

"What a fushing rrrrrrrrush!" Sanchez slurred and laughed bawdily, while taking in the three people in the room. One was subdued on the bed, another was racing toward the nightstand, while the man who'd opened the door was reaching for a weapon, he kept in a shoulder holster. Josiah dove for the woman who was reaching for a gun, and saw Tanner tackle the man out of the corner of his eyes.

"Get off me you bastard!"

Josiah squeezed the woman's hand until she dropped the gun and smiled when she cursed a blue streak. He held both arms and watched Vin take care of the man who'd been about to shoot him. There was no sign of Nathan, but there was a commotion outside the door.

"Josiah…Vin…you boys all right?" Jackson shouted.

"It's secure, Nate," the Texan said, having procured the other man's weapon. "Josiah, call Miller and have him send a couple of squad cars."

"You got no right to burst in here…we have rights," Sharon Winfield snarled and tried to bite the man holding her arms.

"Better watch it, Josiah, her fangs are showin'!" Tanner said and motioned for his prisoner to sit on the floor.

"You need a warrant," Paul tried.

"We're not the police," the Texan told him while Sanchez shoved the woman to the floor and dialed the familiar number before turning his attention to the prisoners. "Where are the children?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Sharon spat, cursing when another man shoved Mark Sampson into the room. "This fucking place is worse than Grand Central Station!"

"Miller's sending a couple of cars," the ex-preacher advised, whistling when he looked into the open case and saw all the money. "Looks like you won't be spending any of this…make things easy on yourself and tell us where the children are."

"I don't know what you're talking about!" Sharon snarled, nostrils flaring in anger.

"It's over, Sharon, just tell them where the kids are," Sampson ordered.

"No…they can die for all I care…Larabee right along with them!"

Jackson moved to check the unconscious woman, relieved that she was breathing normally. There was nothing he could do to help her and right now he was too pissed off to feel anything but anger at the woman.

"Sharon, you can't…"

"Don't you tell them a fucking thing, Paul!"

"But they're only kids…"

"I don't give a damn what they are. The Browners were warned what would happen if they brought in outside help and now those two brats will pay the price. Larabee won't be able to save them, and neither will you people. They'll die…real slow!"

"You bitch!" Tanner snarled.

"Sharon!"

"Shut up, Paul! Stop letting everyone push you around! If we do this right, we can get out of here with the money!"

"Not a chance," Sanchez vowed, wishing he could have a few minutes alone with the man named Paul. He knew who the weak link was and just maybe they could get the answers they needed.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris walked along the edge of the trail and hoped they'd come to the main road before long. The children were exhausted, and he alternated between carrying them at 15-minute intervals. His own body ached, but he'd learned long ago how to deal with pain and shove it out of his mind until he had time to deal with it. Right now, his priority was the children, and he knew he'd have to stay on his toes to get them home. If he was right about the abandoned warehouse being part of the old railroad system, then they were at least seven miles outside Billings. On his own he could make it in a couple of hours, but with two small, weary children it would take a lot longer.

The night noises had scared the children at first, but he made a game of having them distinguish one sound from another. The children were amazed at the different bird calls and the chirping of the crickets in the deeper grass. The first part of the journey had been something of an adventure for them, but as time went by, they began to tire, and it became harder to keep them walking and talking.

The moon was high overhead, and the sky was a blanket of twinkling stars that lit their path and gave them hope. He knew they'd have to rest soon, but he hated the idea of the children's parents worrying when they didn't have to. Forcing his mind to ignore what his body was screaming, Chris kept putting one foot in front of the other in hopes that they would make it to the main road and have a chance of being picked up.

Chris looked at the child who walked beside him, the small hand engulfed in his own. Peter and Elizabeth Browner were small for their age, but they'd shown a bravery he openly admired. The boy would glance up at him every few minutes and Chris would squeeze his hand gently in an effort to give the child some confidence.

"How much more?" Peter asked softly.

"I'm not sure, Peter…I know you're tired…"

"I'm okay…let Elizabeth sleep," the boy said firmly.

"I'm not sleeping, Peter," the girl said and lifted her head from Larabee's shoulder. Tears shone in her eyes, but she quickly wiped them away while Chris lowered her to the ground and knelt in front of them.

"You guys are doing great," the blond told them and ruffled their hair. "I'm going to tell your mom and dad how brave you are."

"I'm not brave, Chris…I'm afraid," Peter told him and reached out to hold his sister when he heard a soft sob escape her throat.

"Peter, you can be afraid and still be brave," Larabee said.

"You can?" Elizabeth asked doubtfully.

"Of course, you can. Everyone has something they're afraid of…"

"What are you afraid of?" Peter asked.

"Spiders," the blond answered honestly. "The trick to being brave is not to let what you're afraid of scare you too much. What are you afraid of?"

"The dark," Peter answered.

"Being alone," Elizabeth whispered.

"Ah, so right now Elizabeth is not afraid because she's not alone…right?"

"I…maybe," the child answered.

"What about the dark?"

"What scares you about the dark, Peter?"

"Monsters…"

"Ah, but how do you know there are monsters?" Larabee asked.

"Monsters always come out in the dark," the boy answered.

"How do you know the monsters are there if it's dark? You can't see them so how do you know they're there? I used to think there were monsters in the dark until my dad took me camping and showed me that even when it's dark there's nothing there that you can't see in the daytime. If I had a flashlight I could show you," the blond said and then smiled.

"It still scares me, Chris," Peter told him.

"Can you see me?"

"Yes," both children answered.

"Then it's not completely dark. The moon and stars are shining, and we can see each other so there should be nothing here to scare either of us," Larabee assured them.

"What about spiders?" Elizabeth asked. "Are you still afraid of them?"

"Yes, but with you two here I can face my fears. You will help me, won't you?" the blond asked hopefully and smiled when the children took his hand and began to lead him down the trail. He knew they were still scared, but they thought they were helping him and that kept their minds off their own fears.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Buck paced the living room of the Browner home and wished there was something more they could do. Josiah, Vin, and Nathan were back at the office after coming up with squat from Paul and Sharon Winfield. The woman had kowtowed her husband and he'd clammed up tight when she'd called him a coward. Gary Browner was sitting with his wife who'd finally cried herself to sleep sometime after midnight, leaving him to wonder where Chris Larabee and the children were.

Robert Miller knew the full story behind the kidnapping and the police officers on duty were keeping an eye out for the missing trio. Buck reached for his cell phone and willed it to ring, but no matter how hard he stared nothing happened. The phone, like everything else in the house was quiet. It was a silent reminder that the home was empty without the children to bring laughter and joy into it.

Buck moved to the window and looked out over the well-lit lawn and sighed tiredly. The Browners had showed him a guest room he could use, but right now sleep was the furthest thing from his mind.

"Come on, Pard, bring them home," Wilmington whispered into the darkness. With the Winfields refusing to tell them where they were holding Larabee and the children there was nothing they could do except go back over every call that was made and hope they could triangulate the signals and get a starting point.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris could see the telltale signs of dawn making her presence known. The sky was lightening, and, in the distance, he could see the lights of the city, yet it felt like they were still a hundred miles from home. They'd stepped onto the pavement and hadn't even noticed it until Peter pointed out that he could hear their footsteps. Chris now carried the boy, while Elizabeth stumbled along beside him. He knew she could not keep going much longer and began to search for a good place to sit and rest.

"What's that?" Elizabeth asked softly.

"What's what?" Larabee asked, frowning when a new sound reached his ears. It took a couple of seconds to recognize it and a smile formed on his face when he spotted headlights topping the rise ahead.

"What if it's them?" Peter asked and watched the car coming closer.

"It's not…it looks like a police car," the blond answered with a smile. The car was indeed a patrol car and Chris recognized the driver who stepped out of the vehicle when it came to a stop next to him.

"Damn, Chris, you're a sight for sore eyes."

"Thanks, Ray, any chance you could give us a lift back to town?"

"Sure thing," Raymond Stryker answered and opened the door for the bone-weary man. He moved to help with the children, but both clung to Larabee as if afraid he would leave them alone.

"I got it, Ray," Larabee said and helped Peter into the car. Elizabeth climbed into his arms, making it awkward for Chris to get in, but he managed until finally he was sitting between the children and made sure they were seat belted. Peter and Elizabeth moved as close as they could to him, and he sighed tiredly as he wrapped an arm around each child. In less than a minute the twins were sleeping, and Chris heard the cop speaking with his station.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

The sun was still below the horizon when Buck noticed the patrol car pull up next to the house. There was no mistaking the big cop who exited the car and moved to the back door. Once he opened it a smile was born on Wilmington's face, and he knew the Browners were amongst the lucky few who got their children back. The couple had finally fallen asleep somewhere around dawn, but he knew waking them now would be a pleasure. Moving to the front door, Buck opened it and smiled at the man standing there. Chris looked like hell, but the smile on his face shaved years off the weary look.

"I'll wake Gary and Shirley. You go in the living room and sit down!" Wilmington said and saw the blond head nod once. He knew better than to offer to take the children, right now they slept soundly in Larabee's arms, and he held them like the precious gems they were.

Chris made it to the couch but didn't sit down; afraid that he'd fall asleep where he sat. The Browners needed time alone with their children and did not need a stranger sleeping on their sofa. He heard running footsteps and turned to see Gary and Shirley stop in their tracks and gently placed the children on the couch before moving out of the way.

"Oh, God!" The worried mother cried as she raced to her children, the anxious father close on her heels.

Chris watched the family reunion for a couple of minutes and motioned for Buck to follow him out. He didn't want to intrude on the emotional homecoming and knew there'd be plenty of time for filling them in on what happened later. Right now, the Browners needed each other, and he needed to get some rest. The police would want a statement, but that would have to wait until he got some shuteye. They were at the door when a woman's soft voice stopped them, and Chris turned just as Shirley Browner wrapped her arms around him and kissed his cheek.

"Thank you so much for bringing them home, Chris. If there's ever anything we can do for you consider it done."

"You're welcome, Shirley," Larabee said and saw the trail of happy tears on her cheeks. This was not the movies and Shirley Browner looked like she'd been through hell, but the smile on her face eased the lines of pain and fear that had been so visible with her children's kidnapping.

"You look like you need to sleep…we have a guest room…"

"Thank you, Shirley, but I'm going to crash at Buck's place for a while. You go take care of your children...they need you," Larabee said.

"I will…we will," the woman said, kissing him again before hurrying back into the living room where her husband held both kids.

Chris smiled at Buck and left the house when the ladies' man held the door for him. By the time they reached Buck's Mustang, Chris felt completely drained and wondered how the hell he'd get to a bed when his legs were ready to give out on him. Without a word he pulled open the door and got into the passenger seat, rubbing at tired eyes while Buck closed the door and moved to the driver's side. Chris kept his head up, blinking several times as he tried to stay awake. Buck's words brought a smile to his face, and he realized this truly was a happy ending for the Browner family.

"You done good, Pard, now let's get you home," Wilmington told the exhausted blond.

"Thanks, Buck! God, I can't remember ever being this tired."

"I bet. You just rest and let ol' Buck get you home," the rogue said.

"I need to check in with Carly," Larabee whispered.

"Who's Carly?"

"A snitch…was supposed to meet with her…news on Goodwin…"

"Hell, Chris, you're not still after him…"

"He's dirty, Buck," Larabee said and gave in to his body's need for sleep.

"That may be, Chris, but you're becoming obsessed and that…" Wilmington stopped when he realized his friend was sleeping. Nodding at the guard in the gatehouse, Buck drove toward his apartment building. He'd call the others from there and let them in on the happy ending, unaware of the dangerous and deadly events to come.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Chris, come on, Pard, you'll be more comfortable in a bed," Wilmington said, trying to wake the sleeping man. How many times had he done this in the past when Larabee was on a drinking binge and didn't give a damn whether he lived or died? Those times were in the past now, and for that, Buck was grateful.

"Leave me right here," Larabee grumbled and turned away.

"No way in hell, Chris. You're a bear when you sleep on the couch…can't imagine what you're like when you sleep sitting up in a car," the rogue said and shook his friend's shoulder.

"Fuck off!" the blond snarled.

"Chris, come on and we'll get you in the bed…"

"In your dreams, Stud," Larabee teased, eyes flickering as a small smile formed on his face.

"Right now, I'd say it would be more like a fucking nightmare. You look like ten miles of bad road, Larabee. I called JD and the guest room should be ready for you."

"Did you have it fumigated after Miss Grunge slept there?" the blond asked and released his seat belt, chuckling softly when he opened the door.

"Miss Grunge was a wildcat in bed, Pard, hell she could teach you a thing or two," Wilmington said and walked beside the weary man.

"She just needed someone to tell her a shower is needed daily, not yearly," Larabee said tiredly. By the time they reached Wilmington and Dunne's apartment, Chris' depleted energy was gone, and he was glad for the strong arm that steadied him.

"Chris, thank God you're okay! Buck called to tell me, and I made up the bed in the guest room. I called the others and let them know you were okay…"

"Easy, JD, I doubt he hears you right now," Wilmington said and maneuvered the blond toward the guest room.

"Chris, a call came for…"

"Tell him later, Kid," the rogue said, smiling when Larabee sat on the edge of the bed, eyes closed, and breathing softly. The man was asleep before his head hit the pillow and Buck began removing his clothes, all the while thinking that Larabee was in need of a shower.

"Buck, is he okay?" Dunne asked.

"He's just tired, JD," Wilmington answered and eased the blankets up over the sleeping blond. He left the room and closed the door, hoping his long-time friend would sleep the clock around.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"That bitch is not dead, Rodrigo!"

Rodrigo Vargas smiled at the man who was his silent partner in so many things. The man was influential in politics and had a ready flow of cash when needed. Goodwin had fallen into his trap years ago when he was first getting into the political race and now Vargas owned him. Goodwin was born and raised in Billings, a real down-home boy, at least until they'd met. Once Vargas saw the man's potential, he knew just how to use him and that's exactly what he'd done.

"Did you hear me?"

"I heard you, but you worry too much. The girl will be taken care of, and you can go back to enjoying the young ladies I send your way," Vargas said and offered his partner more wine. He filled both glasses before sitting in the comfortable leather chair.

"She heard me setting up that deal with you…if Larabee talks to her…"

"He won't…she's as good as dead and probably won't even regain consciousness. Poor kid won't know what hit her. I have several people at Saint Vincents, and they are loyal to me. Stop worrying about Carlina Morgan and enjoy the wine and the company," Vargas said, smiling when two young women entered the room. "Joannie and Felicia are here to entertain us."

Charles Edward Goodwin smiled at the newcomers, his grin feral and hungry for the ripe breasts and supple lips. He motioned for the raven-haired beauty to come to him and smiled when she looked at her friend and received a nod of encouragement.

"Felicia is very new to the game, Charles, but she had a good teacher in Joannie."

Goodwin pulled the woman onto his lap and smiled when she tried to pull away. "I love it when you play hard to get."

"Remember she's new to the game, Charles," Vargas warned and began kissing the blonde woman who ground her hips against his body.

"Is my room ready, Rodrigo?"

"It's all set up for you, my friend. Just don't permanently disfigure her," the drug kingpin warned.

"I like it rough…and you know I'm in a mood right now," Goodwin said and dragged the woman toward the back of the country home owned by his silent partner.

"You should be glad he goes for the dark-haired ones, Joannie," Vargas said.

"I am, Rodrigo…besides you know I only want to be with you." Joannie pulled him to his feet and led the way toward his bedroom. She cringed when she passed the guest room and heard the sound of flesh hitting flesh and Felicia's cry of pain.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris turned over on the bed and looked at the clock on the nightstand. He licked at dry lips and sat up, rubbing his eyes before running his fingers through his hair. He reached for the robe hanging over the back of a chair and pulled it on. He made his way to the bathroom across the hall and looked longingly at the shower. Discarding the clothing he quickly stepped inside and let the hot water soothe away the aches and pains before drying off and putting the robe back on and stepped out of the bathroom.

"Hey, Pard, you look better than you did this morning," Wilmington said.

"I feel better...why didn't you wake me earlier," Larabee asked, moving to the bedroom where he kept a spare change of clothes.

"Figured you needed the rest," the rogue answered. "Are you hungry?"

"Depends on who did the cooking," Larabee told him, while pulling on the clean jeans and a white shirt.

"You wound me, Chris…"

"Better I wound you than you give me food poisoning," the blond chuckled when he heard Wilmington's disgruntled exclamation.

"There's leftover Chinese food in the fridge," the ladies' man said.

"Beer?"

"I think we might have a couple," Wilmington answered. The two men entered the kitchen and Chris took one of the empty chairs at the small table.

"Thanks," Larabee said and twisted the cap off the bottle of Budweiser. He took a long drink of the beer and watched his friend place several cardboard cartons in the microwave. "Where's JD?"

"He took Casey to see Pirates of the Caribbean…she loves Johnny Depp. You know I bet I could have been a damned good pirate," Wilmington said teasing the ends of his moustache while smiling at the blond.

"Give it up, Buck, swashbuckling is not exactly in our portfolio," Larabee said and remembered something Dunne had said before he'd fallen asleep but didn't get the chance to say anything when the phone rang, and Wilmington picked it up.

"Yes, he's here…hold on," the rogue said and handed Larabee the phone.

"Larabee," the blond said.

"Chris, it's John Reardon from the Billings Police Department."

"Hi, John, I'll be in shortly to give my statement about the Browner kidnapping."

"That's not why I'm calling. There's a Jane Doe at the hospital and the only thing she had on her when they brought her in was a piece of paper with your name and number on it. I was hoping you could come down and maybe ID her for me?"

"Where is she?" Larabee asked.

"Saint Vincents…how long before you can be here?"

"I'm on my way."

"I'll be waiting by the main visitor's entrance."

"I'll be there," the blond said and hung up. He knew his instincts could be wrong, but something told him the Jane Doe was the snitch he was supposed to have met the day before.

"Chris, where are you going?" Wilmington asked.

"I have to meet John Reardon at Saint Vincents…they brought a Jane Doe in there yesterday," Larabee answered softly.

"Chris…don't jump to conclusions…"

"I was supposed to meet her yesterday, Buck. If it's her then I'm partially to blame for not keeping the meeting," the blond said.

"Now wait a minute, Chris. You had good reason for not meeting her! You saved those kids yesterday…"

"I arranged to meet with her…she's in there because I didn't show up!" Larabee spat.

"You don't even know if it's her!"

"I have to go, Buck…"

"I'll drive you," Wilmington offered and saw Larabee nod once. He hoped and prayed the Jane Doe wasn't his friend's snitch, because if it was Larabee would blame himself and would work even harder to bring Charles Goodwin down.

The drive to the hospital was a quietly subdued one with Chris staring tight-lipped out the window. By the time they pulled into the hospital parking lot, Chris was on edge and in danger of losing his patience with the unusually heavy traffic. He spotted John Reardon standing near the door and hurried toward him before Wilmington had a chance to park the car.

"Thanks for coming, Chris," Reardon said.

"Where is she?" Larabee asked.

"She's in ICU. The doctors are concerned because of the magnitude of her injuries, but she's been calling for you," the officer explained.

"Did you get a name yet?"

"No, but that just means she may not be in the database," Reardon explained and led the way to the third floor ICU. The two men made their way to a unit located next to the nursing station and were given permission to enter the room.

Chris stepped inside and took a steadying breath when he looked at the nearly unrecognizable body that lay amidst tubes, leads, and IV lines. The hair had been shaved along the right side, revealing a wound stitched closed, yet it still looked raw. There were bandages covering much of her upper body, her cheekbone had been laid open and Chris silently cursed himself for not making the meeting. He made his way to the bed and began to speak to the battered young woman.

"I'm sorry, Carly, I should have been there," Larabee said.

"Chris, from what I hear you had no choice, but to miss the meeting. I take it you know her?" Reardon asked.

"Yes, she came to me a few months ago…said she had some information to sell. She had no one and wouldn't tell me where she was from or why she came to Billings. Her name is Carlina Morgan…at least that's the name she gave me," Larabee explained and watched the officer make several notations in his book.

"I'll call this in and see if there are any aliases associated with her," Reardon said and left Larabee alone with the unconscious woman.

"Carly, I know it hurts, but you need to…you need to wake up and tell me why you called me," the blond said and watched the eyes move behind the blackened lids. He reached out and touched her hand and spoke softly, encouraging her to wake up despite the severity of her injuries. Too many people had died because of Goodwin and Vargas, and he prayed he would get a lead on the duo and bring them down for good. It surprised him when he heard a soft moan and the eyes opened under the dark lids.

"H…hurts…"

"I know it does, Carly, but I need to know who did this to you. I need to make sure he pays for everything he's done," Larabee said and leaned in closer when she tried to speak.

"Rob…bie…be…beat me…should...shouldn't te…tell a…bout Win…Win…oh, God, it h…hurts…"

"I'm afraid you'll have to leave," the nurse ordered when the woman's body arched up on the bed and alarms sounded at the nurses' station.

Chris moved to the door and knew in his heart she'd been trying to say Goodwin, but right now it was just his word. He moved outside the cubical and felt Wilmington place a hand on his shoulder.

"Is that her?"

"Yes…Goodwin did this…"

"Did she tell you that?" Wilmington asked hopefully.

"She was trying to, but she couldn't get the whole name out. I know he had something to do with this, Buck!"

"It doesn't make a difference what you know, Chris. What matters is that she didn't say it and until she does there's not a damn thing you can do about it."

"I can make damn sure Goodwin doesn't hurt anyone else!"

"Chris, you go fucking around with Goodwin without any evidence and you're going to get burned!" Wilmington warned.

"I won't let the bastard get away with murder again, Buck," Larabee vowed and pressed his hands against the glass partition that separated him from the medical personnel working on Carlina Morgan. He watched as several doctors and nurses worked to restart her heart, only to have the screen show a flat line.

"Chris…"

"Sonofabitch!" Larabee spat when he heard the doctor call it. He didn't see the concern on Wilmington's face, nor did he hear the man speaking to him. All he heard was the promise he'd made to Carlina Morgan and so many others. Drugs and prostitution were a part of his world because men like Goodwin and Vargas kept killing people he cared about. One way or the other he was going to bring the bastards down and face the consequences of his actions after the fact.

"Chris, where are you going?" Wilmington asked and looked at the cop who stared after Larabee's fleeing figure.

"Where's he going, Buck?" Reardon asked.

"He needs some time to cool off, John," Wilmington answered.

"Cool off? Why?"

"Carlina Morgan just died, and he feels responsible." Wilmington said and softly added. "He always feels responsible."

"Don't we all," Reardon said, turning his head toward the room where the monitoring equipment was being turned off. It was all so final and a sign that another life, this one too young, had been taken.

"Listen, John, I need to go after Chris. If you need him for anything else just call the office," Wilmington said.

"I will, Buck," Reardon vowed and checked his notes. There was still a lot of work to do, but his main concern now would be notifying the next of kin, if the victim had any.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris raced out of the hospital and crossed the street to the park. He passed several people but didn't really see their faces or hear their words as he pushed his hands into his pockets and walked along the edge of the path. He'd seen so many people die over the years that he should have been immune to the pain a loss such as this caused, but he wasn't. Not by a long shot. Over and over the nameless faces flashed across his mind and his hands clenched into fists with each step he took.

Carlina Morgan…Steven Wallace…Brian Germaine…Sherry Clark…Janet Sullivan…Paul and Maria Santiago…Daryl Cummings…God, the list was endless and somehow Chris knew it would keep getting longer if Goodwin and Vargas were allowed to continue.

Larabee continued his long strides as the darkness that mirrored his soul drove away the final remnants of a day that should have been for celebration. How could he celebrate when a young woman who had barely lived her life would soon be lying on a cold slab in the morgue? How could he think of anything, but the life that could have been had things gone in a different direction? How many times would young people die because the bastards of this world knew how to work the system for their own rewards?

This time would be different. He would bring Goodwin and Vargas down if it killed him, and it just might come to that if he wasn't careful. Taking a deep breath, Chris made his way to a bench that was shadowed by the trees and sank down heavily onto it. He rubbed at tired eyes and knew he should call Buck Wilmington, but right now he needed time to think…and plan.

The moon was high in the sky by the time he stood up and reached into his pocket. There were several missed calls, most from Wilmington and he pressed the button that would automatically call his number.

"Where the hell have you been?"

"I took a walk to clear my head, Buck," Larabee answered.

"Did it work? Tell me you didn't go after Goodwin!"

"No…and no, I didn't go after Goodwin."

"Where are you? I'll come get you and you can spend the night in the guest room."

"Look, Buck, I'm okay, but I need some time to think. I'll see you at the office tomorrow, okay?"

"Chris, you don't need to do this alone. I know you're upset about Carlina Morgan…"

"Upset? No, Buck, I'm not upset. I'm mad as hell…she would be alive if I'd met with her yesterday!"

"Maybe…but if you had Peter and Elizabeth would be dead. Think about that before you go taking on the blame for her death. You can't be in two places at once, Chris, and it's time you realized that."

"I know, Buck, but I just can't get past the fact that I let her down…"

"That's what makes you human, Chris…you care about people no matter who they are or where they come from. It's hard…especially when the death is a senseless one and especially someone so young…"

"She didn't deserve to die like that…no one does. I don't even know if that was her real name."

"It was, Chris. John Reardon called me to let me know that her parents were coming out to claim her body."

"Where were they when she needed them?" Larabee spat. "Why couldn't they see what they were doing to her?"

"Chris, don't condemn the Morgans when you don't know the whole story."

"I don't need to, Buck, they weren't there for their child when he…when she needed them most…"

"This isn't about Adam, Pard…you can't compare it unless you know the circumstances."

"I know it's not about Adam!" Larabee snapped and realized that was only partially true. In some ways he was blaming the Morgans because of his own inability to save his son. Adam had died with his mother while he'd been working on another case, and he would never fully forgive himself for not being there.

"Did you hear me, Chris?"

"I need to go, Buck. I'll see you tomorrow," Larabee said and hung up the phone before sitting on the park bench once more. A soft wind blew through the trees, rustling the leaves and picking up small pieces of debris left by the park visitors during the day. Chris sat where he was, thinking about the people in the buildings surrounding him and wondered how many had lost someone who'd meant more to them than life itself. Sarah and Adam were gone from him now and Ella Gaines was still out there somewhere. Someday he would find her and choke the evil life from the body it inhabited, but right now he had other demons to slay. Ones that were flesh and blood but deserved to burn in hell for what they did to others.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris spent a restless night on the sofa in his office and opened his eyes when he heard movement in the outer office. He stood up and moved to the door, leaning against the frame when he spotted Tanner at the coffee maker.

"Morning, Cowboy, did ya sleep here all night?"

"If you can call it sleep…is that going to be a liquid or a solid?"

"Wimp," Tanner said and used the proper measurement for the twelve-cup coffee maker. He added a little extra, but it would still be weak compared to what he usually drank. He turned and really looked at his best friend and wondered just how much sleep Chris had gotten the night before. He'd spoken with Wilmington and knew about the woman's death and understood why it affected Larabee so badly.

"We need to go over the Carlyle case today," the blond said and motioned to the conference room where he'd already set out the files for today's meeting. Vin and Ezra had been undercover in Carlyle Industries for several weeks and things were about to come to a head if they could just pin down the meeting between Gwen Carlyle and Samuel Rutherford. The duo was trading inside information in the industry and had made a sizable profit according to Gwen Carlyle's brother, Thomas.

"Ezra's found out a few things that might help prove the inside tradin'," Tanner told him.

"Good, I'd like to see this one finished as soon as possible," Larabee told the younger man. So far, the two undercover agents had been able to keep anyone from finding out who they were, but Chris knew from experience how fast things could change. A single mistake could get you killed especially when dealing with the kind of money Carlyle Industries stood to lose because of Gwen Carlyle's greed.

"It should only take a couple of more days at the most, Chris," Tanner assured the man who so often carried the weight of the world on his shoulders.

"Good morning, gentlemen," Ezra Standish said, entering the office with Nathan and Josiah close behind him.

"Ez, Vin says you have some new information on the Carlyle case," Larabee said.

"Indeed, I do, but please let's not be uncivilized…I prefer to indulge in at least one cup of coffee before discussing the particulars of a case," Standish explained.

"Vin made the coffee," Larabee said.

"Then I shall take mine with a knife and fork," the gambler quipped.

"Yer a real fuckin' comedian, Ez," the Texan said, looking toward the door when he heard the bickering that usually announced Buck and JD's arrival.

"So nice of you to join us, Mr. and Mrs. Bickerson," Jackson said with a grin.

"Good morning to you too, Nate," Wilmington said, but his gaze locked on Larabee's as if trying to read what he was feeling.

"Well, since the gang's all here and I have an appointment in two hours I'd suggest we adjourn to the conference room," Larabee said. He grabbed the pot of coffee and poured seven cups before reaching for his monogrammed one and walking into the room they used for meetings. He took his seat at the head of the table and sat down while waiting for the others to do the same.

"Chris, Gary Browner called this morning to ask if you'd stop by today and speak with the children. It seems you promised them a dinner at Mickey D's," Wilmington advised, hoping a meeting with the children would relieve some of the guilt Larabee felt over Carlina Morgan's death.

"Mickey D's does not constitute a dinner," Jackson advised. "It doesn't even qualify as a part of the food group!"

"That's because it's in a class all its own," Dunne stated and high fived the man seated next to him.

"Ya got that right, JD," Tanner said.

"Well, the whole class failed," Wilmington said.

"All right, Boys, we can debate Mickey D's class, or we can get on with this case," Sanchez said.

"The way I see it Mickey D's…"

"Vin, cut it out!" Larabee said but couldn't quite keep the grin off his face. He turned his attention to the gambler who was shuffling several pages in the open file. "Ezra, Vin said you've come up with something new dealing with the inside trading going on at Carlyle Industries."

"Yes, indeed. It seems that the lovely Miss Carlyle has been rather sloppy in some of her business dealings. She gave inside information to one Samuel Rutherford and helped him pay for the shares in a small business that proved profitable for both of them. Unfortunately, Rutherford was greedy and wanted more and when she refused, he decided to buy her out with the funds she provided. Miss Carlyle has effectively sold several shares of Carlyle Industries, that she owns I might add, and is unable to prove any wrongdoing without coming clean about the insider trading of Lexington Pharmaceuticals."

"Ezra, it's too early to make sense of anything you just said. Any chance you can put it in simple terms?" Wilmington asked.

"To put it simply, Gwen Carlyle undersold her brother by giving several shares to Rutherford for pennies…mind you she provided the money, but it came from their joint business account."

"Wait a minute," Sanchez said. "Are you saying Gwen Carlyle swindled her brother using their shared funds and undercut her brother by selling out to Rutherford before the shares were even put on Wall Street?"

"That's exactly what I'm saying, and the proof is in the numbers, although it took some digging to find the common thread," Standish assured them.

"How long before you can wrap this up and present it to Thomas Carlyle?" Larabee asked.

"Well, if I can access their computer while Vin and I are there tonight I should be able to pull up the final piece of the puzzle and present it to Thomas tomorrow at the board meeting," the gambler assured him.

"Get it done," Larabee said and was relieved to see there was nothing pressing on the agenda for the rest of the day. He wanted to see Peter and Elizabeth Browner before he went to the afternoon news conference at the courthouse. "Well, if no one else has anything they need input on there are a couple of children I'd like to visit."

"Nothing pressing that I can see," Sanchez observed.

"Good, then I'll see you guys this afternoon," Larabee told them.

"Chris, will you be back in time to meet with Orin and me?" Jackson asked.

"I should be, Nathan, but if I'm not there on time get the meeting started and I'll get there as soon as I can," the blond answered. He nodded to the others and grabbed his light jacket before leaving the office. He called the Browners and asked if it was okay for him to visit the children and was told they were anxiously waiting for him. He promised to pick up the food and be at the Browners by lunchtime.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Gary and Shirley Browner were glad Chris Larabee would be coming to the house instead of them going out. Right now, even their home did not feel safe and the thought of going outside their house sent chills through them. Somehow, they would have to deal with all of that, but right now things were too new, and the events of the last 48 hours were too fresh in their minds.

The children were never left alone, and it had been decided that Shirley Browner would not be returning to her job. She'd always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but her job had been too good to give up, now it didn't matter about jobs, all that mattered was the children. Maybe when things were back to normal, they would think about another nanny, but Shirley would only consider it if she found a job that allowed her to work from her home.

Shirley watched her children playing in the backyard and wondered how long it would take for them to feel secure in their home. They'd bought the Cedar Jungle Gym when the twins were four and had been able to upgrade it each year if needed. There were three swings, a ten-foot box tower, a funnel tunnel, rascal ramp, rascal rails, and a fort fence. The kids often had their friends over to play, but today they didn't want anyone else around, except their parents and the man who'd rescued them.

"Shirley, Chris Larabee is here," Gary told his wife.

"Ask him to join us out here."

"I will…I just thought you'd like to let the children know."

"Good idea," Shirley agreed. The children had only seen Larabee in the dark or while they were half asleep, and she didn't want them to be afraid when a relative stranger entered their space. She waited for her husband to go back inside and called the children to her. "Peter, Elizabeth, Chris is here."

"Where?" Elizabeth asked, searching for the man who'd been their safe harbor during and after the ordeal.

"Your father is going to bring him out here. I thought it would be fun to eat lunch outside. Chris is bringing Mickey D's," Shirley explained and saw the smile form on both faces. They were still pale, but that was to be expected after everything they'd been through. They turned at the sound of voices and footsteps and Chris Larabee walked into the playground area. Both kid's eyes were filled with fear until recognition dawned and Elizabeth raced forward as tears streamed down her face.

"Hey, Kiddo," Larabee said and scooped the child into his arms. She clung to him even as he passed the McDonald's bag to their father and reached down to pick up Peter. He felt his heart ache for the twins, but knew they had the best thing to get them through their ordeal…a mother and father who loved them more than life itself.

"Okay, you two, the food's getting cold," Shirley said and smiled when Larabee reluctantly released her children. She suddenly took it on herself and wrapped her arms around the man standing before her. "Thank you for bringing our children back to us."

"You're welcome, Shirley, but it wasn't just me. I think everyone involved, including Peter and Elizabeth had a hand in the three of us coming home. You should be proud of them because they were very brave considering what was happening to them."

"We are, Chris," Gary assured the man. He smiled when Larabee sat down, and the twins took up position on either side of him. The children seemed drawn to the blond and he knew this man had to have children of his own, but he wasn't going to bring it up right now. If Larabee wanted to befriend his family, he would welcome him, but if he decided it was a one-time thing, then he would respect that decision as well.

"Chris, where's your house?" Peter asked around a mouthful of fries.

"Peter, don't talk with your mouth full," Shirley lightly chastised.

"Sorry, Mommy," the boy said, his eyes slightly downcast.

"My house is outside Billings. I own a small ranch…"

"A ranch!" Elizabeth said excitedly. "Do you have horses?"

"Elizabeth has always had a fondness for horses," Gary explained.

"I own one horse right now, but I do plan on buying at least two more," Larabee answered.

"What's your horse's name?" Peter inquired.

"His name is Pony…"

"Pony? That's a silly name…isn't that what a baby horse is called?"

"Elizabeth!"

"It's okay, Shirley," Larabee chuckled softly. "My son, Adam, named him Pony and he is very special to me."

"Why didn't you bring Adam? How old is he?" Peter asked.

"Adam and his mom are…well, they're…"

"Chris, you don't have to talk about them if you don't want to," Shirley said.

"It's okay. Sometimes it's hard to talk about them, because Adam and his mom are in Heaven," Larabee answered softly.

"I'm sorry, Chris," the woman said and placed a comforting hand on her guest's shoulder.

"Mommy, maybe Adam is playing with Uncle Timmy," Peter said, frowning as he looked at the sad faces.

"Timmy was my younger brother," Shirley explained. "He died when he was seven, but my children found pictures of him, and they consider him their guardian angel. They think whenever another child passes away their Uncle Timmy is there to play with them."

Larabee smiled and looked at the two special children. He knew if Adam was alive, they would have been friends despite the age difference. He felt the familiar pang of sadness at the thought of his wife, son, and unborn baby girl but understood that sooner or later they would be reunited.

"Chris, are you alright?" Shirley asked.

"I'm fine," Larabee said with a weak smile. He glanced at his watch and realized he'd have to leave if he was going to make the television interview. "I'm afraid I need to get going, but I'd like to come see the children again if that's okay with you?"

"That would be fine, Chris," Gary assured him.

"Can we come see your Pony?"

"Elizabeth!" Gary warned lightly.

"It's okay, Gary," Larabee said, smiling at the precocious child. "I'd love for all of you to come out to the ranch…maybe the rest of the team could come over. I think we could make it a big BBQ and maybe play some baseball…"

"Or soccer?" Peter asked.

"Or soccer," the blond agreed. He gave both kids a hug and then followed Gary Browner to the door.

"Chris, I want you to know if there's ever anything I can do all you have to do is ask," Browner vowed.

"Thanks, Gary, but right now you need to concentrate on those two children…they're special," Larabee said, shaking hands with the man before hurrying toward his truck. He glanced at his watch and knew he would just barely make the news conference and hoped he would not miss the main speaker.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Edward Goodwin smiled at the gathering of men and women outside the Billings' Courthouse. This news conference was called so that he could update his constituents on the fight against organized crime. He wondered what these people would think if they had any idea he was involved in drug trafficking and prostitution amongst other things. He waited for two other councilmen to make their speeches before stepping up to the podium and holding up his hands for quiet.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, if you'd keep your questions until I've finished going over the numbers then we can all be home before dinner," Goodwin offered and again smiled at the reporters. "I'd like to take a minute to thank the police officers who lay their lives on the line to keep Billings a safe place to raise our children. If this means pouring more funds into the Police Department or Fire Department then so be it. I promise each and every one of you that I will come down hard on anyone who breaks the law in our city…"

"Carlina Morgan…"

A collective sound went up from the reporters when the name seemed to give Goodwin pause.

"Steven Wallace…Brian Germaine…"

"Who is that?" Goodwin called, searching the gathering in hopes of stopping whoever it was.

"Sherry Clark…Janet Sullivan…Paul and Maria Santiago…Daryl Cummings…the list goes on…"

"Hey, that's Chris Larabee!" One reporter called and several members of the group turned to see why Larabee was interrupting the conference.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, if you'd please calm down, I'm sure security will get rid of this nuisance," Goodwin shouted once he realized he was quickly losing the reporter's attention.

"Mr. Larabee, can you tell us why you're here?" a reporter shouted.

"Who are the people you named?" another asked.

"They were people who got in Charlie's way," Larabee said, using the name he knew would grate on the politician's nerves.

"Where are they?" came from the front of the mass of reporters as cameras flashed.

"Dead…murdered…"

"How..."

"Ask Charlie…he knows exactly how and why they died!" Larabee stated.

Charles Goodwin cursed the interference from a man he'd once called friend. Larabee was becoming more and more of a problem, and it was time he did something about it. The blond was too high profile to kill, but there were other ways of dealing with people who crossed the line, and it was time to start getting rid of this particular problem, once and for all.

"Chris is simply angry and jealous, and I assure you I am not going to tolerate his interference any longer," Goodwin shouted and soon had the reporters turning back in his direction.

"What are you going to do, Mr. Goodwin?" a female reporter asked.

"I'm going to speak with my lawyers…"

"Is there anything to what Larabee is saying?"

"Do you have information about the murdered people?" The questions came fast and furious and Charles Goodwin knew it was time to end it before he was forced to answer questions, he wasn't ready to deal with.

Chris moved through the parting reporters until he stood face to face with his nemesis. He smiled when the man unconsciously took a step backward before composing himself once more. The blond knew he was treading on dangerous ground, but if he was going to bring the bastards down, he would have to get in this man's face.

"Why don't you tell them who you really are, Charlie?" Larabee snarled, ignoring the flashing of cameras and the continued questions fired at them.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Chris. I honestly believe you've let your job get to you and it's fried whatever brain cells you had! I am here to show my support for a bill that would see heavier fines and sentences on those who break the law. You'd be wise to watch how far you go, Chris, because you're coming dangerously close to harassment!" Goodwin snapped.

"You haven't seen anything yet, Charlie!" Larabee said. "I'm going to make sure everyone knows what you've done with the misplaced trust the people of this city put in you."

"What evidence do you have that Charles Goodwin had anything to do with the deaths of those people?"

"I don't have anything specific, but…"

"That's just it, he doesn't have any because there is none and I believe it's time to ignore people like Chris Larabee who become vindictive when they see someone else succeed where they fail!"

"Is he right, Larabee? Are you vindictive?"

"No, he's not," Larabee said and took note of the tiny beads of sweat that dotted Goodwin's forehead and neck. "I am going to dig into the closed files and find out everything I can about Charlie and his run of good fortune…"

"I'll have your job for this, Chris. You'll lose everything if you persist in this unwarranted attack on me," Goodwin warned.

"We'll see, Charlie," Larabee said, turning his back on the man and striding away even as several questions were tossed in his direction. He climbed into his truck and drove toward the office, feeling as if he'd just declared war on the organized crime that hid behind people like Charles Goodwin. In truth…he had and damn the consequences.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Orin Travis paced his office as anger raged within him. He trusted and respected Chris Larabee, but there were times when the man could be too pigheaded for his own good. He'd been warned on several occasions about taking his personal views and airing them in public. That Larabee disliked Charles Goodwin was evident, that he could be so stupid as to confront the man at a publicity conference was nothing short of idiocy. He knew the other members of the team had seen the news report and seen the confrontation between their leader and a very well-liked public figure.

Orin pressed the button on his desk and waited for his secretary to answer it before snapping. "Is Larabee back yet?"

"No, Sir, I left messages that he was to report to your office as soon as he returned."

"Make damn sure…"

"Chris Larabee is here now, Mr. Travis."

"Send him in!" the older man snapped and looked toward the door when the object of his anger pushed it open. "Just what the hell did you think…scrap that because it's obvious you weren't thinking! What could possibly possess you to confront Charles Goodwin at his own press conference?"

"It's personal, Orin…you wouldn't understand," Larabee snapped and closed the office door.

"You're damn right I don't understand, Chris! I know you dislike Goodwin, but that was a stupid thing to do! Goodwin is…"

"Scum and belongs behind bars…I know that sonofabitch is behind those murders and I'm going to make damn sure he's brought before the grand jury if it's the last thing I do!"

"It just might be the last thing you do! Jesus, Chris, men like Goodwin can make or break a career…"

"I'm not worried about my career, Orin. I'm talking about people's lives here. I was supposed to meet Carlina Morgan the day you asked us to look into the Browner kidnapping and if I'd…"

"If you'd what? Met with her? Well, hell, Son, if you'd met with her, you wouldn't have been there to help Peter and Elizabeth and they would probably have died in that cellar. I know there are times when you think you can save the world, Chris, but that's an illusion, even for you! Carlina Morgan is dead and it's a tragedy when it's someone so young, but those children are alive because of what you did. So don't go selling your actions short and for God's sake think before you act!"

"I did it on my own time…"

"Chris, you're head of an agency that answers not only to me, but to the government and that means you have to stay within certain guidelines…"

"If you think I'm overstepping those guidelines then fire me, Orin, because I'm not giving up on Goodwin…not by a long shot!"

"I'm not talking about giving up on Goodwin, Chris, what I'm saying is that you need to watch how you go about it. I'm not going to take any action right now, but if there's a repeat of what I saw today I will take action to protect this agency!"

"You do what you have to do, Orin, and I'll do what I have to do! If it comes down to it, I won't hesitate to quit!"

"Over someone like Goodwin? Jesus, Chris, talk sense here. You and your team have brought down a lot of people who thought they owned this city, and to quit because of that bastard would be a crime in itself. Start thinking with your head instead of your heart," Travis warned.

"I'm not backing down on this one, Orin," Larabee vowed.

"I'm not asking you to, Son, what I'm asking is for you to be a little more discreet in how you tackle this," the older man explained and took his seat behind the tidy desk. "I'm asking that you think before you jump in with both feet and wind up behind bars. Believe me Goodwin wouldn't think twice about pressing charges."

"He doesn't have a leg to stand on, Orin, I simply…"

"Charged him with murder in front of his constituents…most of them were reporters who wouldn't think twice about stirring the pot…especially with an election scheduled early in the fall," Travis said and saw the anger in Larabee's face. "Look, Son, I know you think Goodwin is dirty…"

"I don't think it, Orin, I know it," the blond told him.

"What proof do you have, Chris. Not gut instincts, but real proof that could be given to the DA and maybe make a case for the grand jury?"

"Nothing…it's all circumstantial, but when it's put together it's easy to see the man's guilty as sin. He's killed or had killed anyone who's tried to bring him down," Larabee stated, accepting a glass of whiskey from his employer.

"Then you need to leave it alone until you can prove it, Chris. I can't keep making excuses…"

"Nobody's asking you to," Larabee told him, anger evident in the biting words. "I've always fought my own battles…"

"What about the rest of your team, Chris? What happens if Goodwin decides you're too damn close and he needs to make an example of you?"

"I can handle myself."

"I never said you couldn't, but Goodwin's smart and he's not going to go after you…he'll go after the people you care about the most."

"If that's the case then I need to keep them out of the loop."

"Do you honestly think that's possible, Son? I'm sure they saw the conference and I doubt if they'll think much of the way you handled that particular confrontation."

"Maybe not, but it's my business…"

"Not when it involves this agency," Travis snapped impatiently.

"It doesn't! I'm not going to stop working on this, Orin. I'll do it on my own time and use my own resources, but I'm not going to stop. Not until that sonofabitch pays for what he's done."

"Chris, this is bordering on harassment…"

"That's what Goodwin told the reporters, but I really don't give a damn what he thinks! I'm…"

"Obsessed and that's dangerous in this line of work, Chris. For God's sake don't do anything…"

"I won't involve you or the agency, Orin, you have my word on that," Larabee said, downing the last of the whiskey before standing and walking to the door.

"Chris," Travis called and saw Larabee's hand pause at the door. "Just be careful, Son, I really don't want to see anything happen to you."

"I'll be careful, Orin," the blond vowed, opening the door, and leaving before Travis could say anything else. He knew the older man was right and what he'd done today was reckless, but there came a time in a man's life when he didn't have a choice…he had to act to protect his family and the innocent people who did not see what was right before their eyes.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Buck, did you see Chris on the news?" Dunne asked, hurrying into the living room where Wilmington was watching the baseball game. The rogue had left the office early when he felt stomach sick.

"Chris was on TV?"

"Hell, Buck, you must have really been sick," Dunne snapped and tuned the TV to the local channel. "It's been all over the news…Goodwin's news conference…"

"Sonofabitch! Tell me he didn't do anything stupid!"

"I wish I could, Buck…here it comes now," Dunne said as a picture of Chris Larabee appeared at the left of the television screen while Charles Goodwin's was put in the right corner. The news conference had made several channels and had been repeated periodically since the live broadcast.

"Jesus, is he fucking stupid or what?" Wilmington snarled, reaching for the phone even as the door opened and Larabee stepped inside. "You stupid bastard...he'll have your ass for this!"

"Can it, Buck, I already got the riot act from Orin," Larabee said, walking across the living room to the bar set against the wall. He took out the bottle of whiskey, a single glass and poured the amber liquid into it before downing the fiery alcohol.

"Well, that's good, Pard, but did it do any good or are you just going to do what you want to?"

"Buck, my business is my own…I don't need anyone telling me what I should be doing!"

"Don't you? You just went on national television and told one of Billings' most popular candidate for the senate office that you're going to take him down! Goodwin is not some idiot, Chris…he's got backing and those people are not going to let you screw with their golden boy!"

"He's dirty…I know he's tied in with the Vargas organization."

"You've been saying that for as long as I can remember, Chris, but saying it and proving it are two different things. Just think about it for a minute," Wilmington said, watching as his long-time friend filled the glass a second time and walked out onto the balcony. He stood up, motioned for JD to stay put and joined Larabee. "Think with your head instead of your heart, Pard, and you'll see I'm right."

"I know you're right, Buck, but I can't stand by and watch more people die because of that bastard. He's using Vargas' money to get ahead and that alone tells me he's dirty. I know I don't have any proof except my own gut instincts, but too many people have already been hurt."

"Look, Chris, I trust your instincts and so does the rest of the team. Jesus, we'd follow you to hell and back on less than instincts, but what you're doing now is dangerous and putting everything we worked for in danger. You need to back off and let Goodwin make a mistake, before you make one that'll get you suspended, or worse yet, locked up."

"I need to do this, Buck…"

"I know you do, Pard, but you don't have to let everyone else in on it. Keep a low profile and maybe we'll be able…"

"We?" Larabee asked with a slight smile.

"Yes, damn it…we. There's no way in hell any of us would sit by and watch you go after Goodwin."

"Sorry, Buck but I'm not involving the team in this one," the blond warned.

"Suit yourself…but you have to realize, Chris…going lone wolf means you're alone in a den of them and we both know how dangerous rabid wolves can be."

"I'll handle it, Buck," Larabee said.

"Chris…"

"No, Buck, I don't want your help until I find something concrete," the blond said, finishing the whiskey that was left in his glass before moving past the rogue and back into the apartment. He nodded to Dunne and made his way to the door before Wilmington had a chance to change his mind. The ladies' man was a damn good friend and one Chris respected, but there were times when a man had to handle things on his own and this was one of those times. Wilmington's voice stopped his hand just before he reached the door.

"Look, Chris, I know there's no point in arguing with you over this…"

"No, there's not, Buck, so just let it go," Larabee said and opened the door. He knew Wilmington well enough to know this was not the last thing he'd have to say on the subject, but for now he escaped before the rogue could continue the confrontation.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Vin loved working around his ranch and often found he did his best thinking when he was alone and doing repairs. He'd seen the press conference and knew Chris was making a mistake in going after Goodwin publicly, but he also understood Larabee's motivation. He'd gone after a bail jumper once because the sonofabitch was guilty of rape and murder, but no one seemed to believe it. Vin had been like a rabid dog on a scent until he brought the man in and claimed the reward. He hadn't kept it…instead he'd given it to the victim's family and even now kept in touch with them. He heard footsteps behind him and knew instinctively who it was.

"Got anything cold in the fridge?"

"Imagine so…might be a soda or two…"

"Beer, Vin and I don't mean root beer."

"Beggars can't be choosers, Cowboy," Tanner said and turned to see the blond leaning against the door. Larabee's eyes were hooded, but the Texan knew the man had come to talk and hopefully to listen, but he wouldn't hold his breath on the latter. "Come on and I'll find somethin' a little stronger."

"Just beer, Vin, I need to keep a clear head and that means nothing stronger than beer."

"Smells like you've already had a couple," the sharpshooter observed.

"I did…I took a taxi out here so I'm going to be looking for a ride to the office in the morning," Larabee explained and walked toward Tanner's home. The ranch had been purchased at the same time Chris bought the neighboring spread and Larabee glanced to the area where the Texan had planted a deformed tree that had come to symbolize their friendship. Without a word, they reached the house and walked inside.

The two men didn't need words to express what they were feeling, and Vin made his way into the kitchen and grabbed two bottles of Corona and added a slice of lime to each one before finding Larabee staring at a picture hanging over the fireplace. It was a shot taken during a time when he thought he'd lost the man's friendship and it stood for everything they'd fought to keep.

"What's goin' on, Chris?"

"Nothing new, Vin, I just needed to get away from the office and I'm betting there are several reporters at my place," Larabee answered.

"'Cause of the damn broadcast?"

"I take it you saw it?"

"Hell, I'd say ever'one's seen it by now. Ya took a dangerous chance, Chris…be lucky if'n it don't come back and bite yer ass," Tanner observed.

"Tell me about it…look, Vin, I know you guys think I'm wrong…"

"Never said ya was wrong…just sayin' yer goin' ‘bout it all wrong," the Texan interrupted. "There's a right way and a wrong way ta catch a wounded grizzly, Chris."

"I know…but right now I don't see any other way," Larabee vowed.

"Yer willin' ta lose ever'thin' ya worked fer over that bastard?"

"No, but I'm not going to back down either," the blond answered.

"Ya know he's gonna make good on his threat."

"I figured as much."

"What if he goes after the team, Chris? What if after ever'thin' is done the bastard takes out Buck or JD or one of the others?"

"I'm not going to let that happen, Vin, that's why I'm going to keep you out of the loop…"

"Like hell ya are. I ain't backed away from a fight yet, and I ain't ‘bout ta do it now. If yer dead set on gettin' Goodwin, then ya need ta let us help ya…"

"No," Larabee said and placed the untouched beer on the end table. "I'm…"

"Yer what? Gonna be the Lone Ranger…well hell, Pard, even he had Tonto so don't try ridin' off on a white horse…"

"I need to go, Vin. Look, I'm not making any promises right now, but there may come a time when I don't have a choice, but to bring in the team…"

"The time is now…"

"No…no it's not," Larabee stated and saw the hurt in the emotive blue eyes. "Thanks for the beer, Vin, but this is something I need to do on my own."

Vin watched the other man as he strode out of the living room and knew there'd be no reasoning with Larabee, but that didn't mean they would let him stay out on his own. Perhaps it was time they all got involved in the Goodwin case, but they'd have to do it without Larabee knowing what they were up to.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Monday morning dawned bright and sunny, and Chris felt better when Vin picked him up at his ranch. The Texan didn't bring up their conversation from the night before and that was just how Larabee wanted it. They drove into the city, the silence between them normal and unstrained. Tanner pulled into his parking spot and exited the jeep, locking the doors once Larabee joined him at the front of the vehicle.

"Are we still on for tonight?" Tanner asked of the plans made the week before. The team was to meet at Larabee's ranch for a BBQ and then to watch the baseball game. It had become a bit of a tradition whenever there was a game between the Mets and the Yankees with the team divided on who cheered for what team.

"Hell yes…just hope we can keep Buck and Josiah from killing each other," Larabee quipped.

"Ya'd best lock up the breakables," Tanner said when they reached the main doors. Both men turned when a car pulled up behind them and a police officer exited the car.

"Chris Larabee?"

"You know who I am, Carl," Larabee said and reached for the papers the cop held out to him.

"Yes, I do, Chris, and I hate having to be the one to serve you, but I don't have a choice in this."

"What is it?" Tanner asked, looking suspiciously at the paperwork in Larabee's hands.

"It's a restraining order against Chris. You're not to come within 500 feet of Charles Edward Goodwin. If you do you can be charged with harassment and sent to jail," Carl Lockhart warned.

"So, Charlie is getting scared, is he?" Larabee asked with a grin.

"This ain't funny, Chris. Ya go fuckin' around with a restrainin' order and some judge'll throw ya in jail without hearin' yer side!" the Texan warned.

"I guess I'll just have to be more discreet," the blond told him.

"I don't want to hear this," the police officer said. "Look, Chris, I want to make sure you understand that if you break the restraining order…"

"I can go to jail," Larabee finished. "I know what it means, Carl, and I'll do my best to stay away from the bastard, but no promises."

"Chris!" Tanner called after the fleeing blond.

"Vin, keep him from fucking this up," Carl warned.

"I will," Tanner said and chased Larabee toward the elevators. "Chris, did ya hear anythin' we said?"

"I heard you, Vin, and all I can say is I'll do my best," Larabee said, tucking the papers into his jacket pocket and stepping into the elevator. "Are you coming?"

"Jesus…yer a fuckin' bastard, Larabee!"

"Thank you…guess it takes one to know one," the blond said with a cocky smile as he hit the button for the seventh floor.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin grabbed the phone and spoke sharply when he recognized the voice. It didn't matter that it was only seven AM; he knew exactly who was calling him. "Rodrigo, tell me you've made the arrangements?"

"Have I ever let you down, Amigo? It's all as it should be, Charles."

"When?"

"Sometime tomorrow…whenever Antonio can arrange it. Don't you worry about Chris Larabee, Charles; he's going to be preoccupied with other matters by noon today."

"Good, the bastard needs to be taken down a peg or two."

"Did you get the restraining order?"

"Yes…it's probably being served as we speak. I asked to have it served by a cop so that Larabee knows I mean business."

"Do you really think it'll make a difference? Larabee just doesn't seem like the type to give a damn whether there's a restraining order or not."

"He'll have no choice because I'm dead serious about charging him with harassment if he violates the order."

"Don't do anything to draw attention to yourself, Amigo. I'd hate to see everything we've worked for go down the drain because we gave him ammunition against us. Stay calm and let nature or in this case Murphy's Law take its course."

"I'm not going to fuck with him, but if he gets in my face, he'll find himself in more shit than a dung beetle!"

"Nice…keep watching the news, Amigo, and just maybe you'll be the one smiling. I have a meeting to attend, but I'll call you later…just maybe we'll have a couple of ladies for the evening."

"Not Felicia…she's too damn whiny," Goodwin said and smiled when the other man chuckled before signing off. The whore had been good with her mouth, but she'd been unwilling to do some of the things he required of her. The end result was he got what he wanted, and the prostitute would not be able to sit for a week. He looked at his knuckles; glad he'd slipped on his gloves before messing up her face. He grew hard thinking about what his brother in crime would offer him tonight.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

JD reached into his pocket and pulled out the keys to his 2001 Chevrolet Prizm but stopped next to his motorcycle. He'd sold his Daytona 500 to a collector for three times the price he'd paid for it and bought the FLHT Electra Glide. He loved the sleek black motorcycle because it reminded him of a black panther and even purred like a kitten. The bike was parked between his car and Buck's Mustang, and he had never had a problem with anyone touching it. He ran his hands over the seat, before moving to his car and opening the door.

JD slid in behind the steering wheel and placed the keys in the ignition before starting the car. He drove out of the underground garage and into the street. The roads were still wet from the torrential downpour earlier this morning and Dunne took all of that into consideration. He called the office and told them he'd be a few minutes late because he was picking up Casey from her friend's house and dropping her at the hospital.

He drove toward the apartment building turning off the main street and onto the recently paved parking area outside the new building that had only recently been ready for people to move in to. He pushed open the passenger door and smiled at the pretty woman who took the seat.

"How's Janet enjoying her new place?" Dunne asked.

"She loves it. You should see her apartment, JD…it's so fresh and different from the usual layouts. She has a solarium and a fully equipped gym on the main floor. They even have a heated pool with a lifeguard," Casey answered excitedly.

"Sounds like it's perfect for her," the young man said with a smile. He drove along the street, passing Rimrock Mall and heading toward the street that would eventually take him to Saint Vincents.

"It is…someday I'd like to get my own place there."

"I thought you liked living in the country?"

"I do, but sometimes a woman likes to change her mind." Casey said and chuckled softly until she spotted the car bearing down on them. It had turned into oncoming traffic and was weaving dangerously as if the driver had been drinking. "JD!"

"Hang on!" Dunne said and veered away from the speeding car. He knew there was no way to avoid being hit, but he tried to minimize the damage by turning the car away from the other vehicle. The bigger car caught the back bumper with enough force to drive both cars toward the embankment at the edge of the road. JD could hear Casey screaming, but he concentrated on the defensive driving techniques he'd been taught when he joined The Firm. His mind latched onto the warning Larabee had given him when he'd protested the need to get it right. 

Now as he tried to straighten the wheels it was all too frighteningly real. The squeal of the tires, the screech of the brakes, and the screams emanating from the woman seated beside him, drove home the fact that they were not going to be able to stop. The car careened toward the edge of the street, glancing along the guardrail before breaking through and sliding down the embankment. The ground was slippery because of the heavy rainfall, but JD managed to keep the car upright until it slid into the trees at the bottom. The airbags deployed, slamming both bodies back against the seats and JD's last thoughts before unconsciousness overtook him was that he should have let Casey call a taxi like she planned.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Buck looked up from his desk and frowned at the raised voices coming from the outer hallway. He recognized them immediately and wondered what had happened to cause such friction at this hour of the morning. He turned to see Nathan and Josiah watching the main door as well.

"Look, Chris, I ain't gonna stand back and let ya fuck up yer life!"

"It's my life, Vin…"

"Sounds like the shit's hit the fan!" Wilmington said when the two men entered the office.

"Ya could say that, Buck…Chris was jest served with a restrainin' order," Tanner explained and saw the anger on Larabee's face.

"Vin…"

"Jesus, Chris, how did he get it so fucking fast?" the rogue asked.

"Goodwin knows what he's doing, Buck," Larabee said.

"You do realize you've just painted a big target sign on your back, right?" Sanchez asked.

"I guess so…means I'll just have to stay out of his sights," the blond answered and headed toward his office.

"This isn't a joke, Chris! This is real and if you violate that restraining order, he won't think twice about having you arrested and charged," Wilmington snapped and moved to intercept his long-time friend.

"I can handle myself, Buck," Larabee stated.

"Can you? Well, it doesn't look like you're handling this situation very well, does it? I mean you get in Goodwin's face and virtually throw down a fucking gauntlet and you expect him to sit back and let you…"

"I don't expect anything, Buck…I'm doing what I have to do…"

"And everyone else be damned," Jackson snapped.

"I didn't say that, Nathan, but I'm not going to back down and let Goodwin and Vargas keep on killing innocent kids…not when I can do something about it," Larabee told them. "Look, it's over and done! The matter is closed as of now!"

"Like hell it is!" Tanner spat.

"Jesus, Vin, we already had this discussion," the blond said.

"There was no discussion, Chris, ya didn't listen ta anythin' any of us had ta say!" the sharpshooter said.

"Look, this is my business and I'm not going to involve any of you in it. I don't want to give anyone ammunition they can use against this team. If the time comes when Orin has to come down on someone then it's going to be me…and me alone! If that means you boys are going to be pissed at me then so be it! I have work to do and so do the rest of you. Where the hell are Ezra and JD?"

"JD called to say he'd be a few minutes late because he's dropping Casey off at the hospital," Wilmington answered and knew Larabee had simply shut them out by deflecting their attention from himself.

"I'm meetin' Ezra at Carlyle Industries in half an hour," Tanner explained.

"Is everything set up for the sting operation?" Larabee asked.

"Yes, Thomas has called a meetin' of the board…Ez and me are gonna be surprise guests. Miss Carlyle is in fer one hell of a shock when we bring up Samuel Rutherford and Lexington Pharmaceuticals," the Texan answered.

"Just be careful when you confront her," the team leader warned. "From what I hear she sharpens her claws for every meeting no matter how important."

"She's a hellcat accordin' ta her brother," Tanner said. "Chris, we need ta talk about Goodwin and the restrainin' order…"

"I told you that discussion is closed. Get moving before you leave Ezra holding the bag!" Larabee warned and moved into his office, closing the door quickly before anyone followed him inside. Chris walked toward the balcony and heard the sound of sirens in the distance but paid it no more attention than a single thought before entering his office and reaching for the file he'd compiled on Charles Edward Goodwin.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Buck glanced at his watch and felt his stomach rumbling. He'd skipped breakfast and grabbed a coffee at the donut shop on the corner and now he was paying for it.

"You better feed that beast before it escapes," Jackson quipped, tossing the rogue a package of Dad's oatmeal cookies from his desk.

"Thanks…missed breakfast this morning," Wilmington said, tearing open the package. He bit into one of the cookies and reached for his phone when it began to ring. "Wilmington…yes, he's my roommate… What...when…I'll be right there!"

"Buck, what's wrong?" Sanchez asked, noting the fear in the man's stance.

"JD's been in a car accident…him and Casey were taken to Saint Vincents," the rogue said and looked up to see Larabee grabbing his keys.

"Come on, Buck, I'll drive," the blond said and turned to Jackson and Sanchez. "Someone needs to be here when Vin and Ezra call…"

"You go on…Nathan and I will hold down the fort and meet you there as soon as we hear from Vin and Ezra," Sanchez offered.

Chris led the way out of the office. As worried as he was about JD, he knew Wilmington was even worse. The young Bostonian had become an integral part of Buck's life from the very beginning, and they'd become roommates shortly after JD joined the team. They reached the elevators and Wilmington slapped at the button impatiently until the door finally opened.

"What did they tell you, Buck?" Larabee asked.

"Not much. Just that JD and Casey were at Saint Vincents and that the car went over the embankment," Wilmington explained. "Jesus, Chris, he's…they've got to be okay."

"They're young and they're strong, Buck," the blond said holding the door while Wilmington exited. They raced toward Larabee's truck and quickly climbed inside. The drive to the hospital found Buck unusually quiet and Chris knew his friend was worried about the youngest member of the team. They reached the hospital in record time and were met at the desk by Roy Simmons.

"Doc, how are they?" Wilmington asked.

"Well, hello to you too," the gruff physician shot back.

"Jesus, Doc…JD and Casey…how are they…where are they?"

"Easy, Buck," Larabee said, as he turned to face the older man. "Look, Doc, Buck has power of attorney for JD. Has anyone called Nettie Wells?"

"Mrs. Wells was in the hospital already. She's one of the hospital's volunteers, and she's with Casey in her room," Simmons explained.

"Is Casey okay?" Larabee asked.

"She should be fine, but she's pretty banged up and will spend at least the next 24 hours under observation," Simmons told him.

"JD?" Wilmington asked, worried that the doctor was not giving him much information.

"JD struck his head on the driver's side door and has a serious concussion. He's also got bruises and contusions on his chest from the seat belt, but between that and the air bag it probably saved him from a trip through the windshield," Simmons explained.

"Is he going to be okay?" the rogue asked.

"Well, he should be, but I'd suggest he picks a better opponent the next time. Cars tend to be pissed when they're mistreated like that," the physician answered.

"I'll make sure he gets that message…can he go home?"

"Not today. I want to keep an eye on the head injury and with the bruises on his chest I'd like to send him for an MRI and possibly an abdominal ultrasound. I really don't like surprises."

"Can we see him?" Larabee asked.

"Can't see why not, but you two make damn sure he stays put and tell him that Mrs. Wells is staying with her niece, and she doesn't need him falling all over her because he's dizzy," Simmons warned.

"I'll make sure he stays put," Wilmington vowed.

"Good, he's in three and Miss Wells is in five," the physician explained.

"Buck, you go see JD," Larabee said as they walked toward the rooms. "I'll make sure Nettie and Casey are okay before I come in."

"Thanks, Chris…they're going to be okay?"

"Yes, they are," Larabee said and patted the other man's shoulder. "Go…he's probably wondering where you are."

Buck nodded and pushed open the door to the treatment room. A nurse was checking the flow of the IV leading into Dunne's left hand, and she smiled when she spotted him. He moved to the bed and winced sympathetically at the colorful bruise that covered the left side of JD's head. His chest was covered in a colourful array of bruises, mostly in the area where a seat belt would have crossed his body.

"How is he?" Wilmington asked softly and wasn't surprised when Dunne's head turned slightly, and his eyes opened.

"Buck?"

"Yeah, Kid, it's me. How do you feel?"

"Feel better if there was j…just one of you and you'd stop moving a…around so dang much," Dunne answered.

"There's just one of me, Son…don't think the world can handle more than that," Wilmington lightly teased and smiled at the nurse as she left the room.

"Have you seen, Casey? Is she okay? They won't tell me anything," Dunne said, groaning when his head threatened to explode.

"Simmons said Casey was going to be okay except for a headache and some cuts and bruises…pretty much the same thing he said about you. Chris has gone to check on Casey…Nettie's staying with her."

"Good…Jesus, Buck, what happened?"

"What do you remember?"

"Casey needed a ride, and I picked her up at Janet's new place…We were on our way here…I think…I don't k…know…"

"That's okay, Kid, you just rest easy, and it'll come back to you," Wilmington said and settled onto the chair beside the easterner's bed. He watched the lids close over the glazed eyes and breathed a sigh of relief that Dunne would make a complete recovery.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin looked up when his secretary opened the door to his office. He'd told her he didn't want to be disturbed, and he glared at her.

"I'm sorry, Sir, but you have a call on your personal line, and I thought it was…"

"Just get out!" Goodwin snapped and picked up the receiver. "Rodrigo, is that you?"

"Who else has this number, Amigo?"

"Is it done?"

"Of course. I'm sure Larabee is busy with insurance paperwork now…"

"Did you kill him?"

"No…killing Dunne would only turn Larabee and his team into a pack of rabid dogs. I gave orders that they were just to rattle his cage, but there is an added bonus to Dunne's mishap."

"What bonus?"

"A Miss Casey Wells was in the car with him…they are both being cared for at Saint Vincents."

"Hmm, I do believe I'd like to see Larabee's face. Perhaps it's time I had this awful cough checked out. It would also give me an excuse to remind Larabee of the restraining order."

"You are a devious man, Amigo. You're a real card…"

"Yes, a wild card," Goodwin said and heard the other man chuckle before he hung up the phone. He told his secretary that he wanted his car brought around front and felt at ease for the first time in a long time. Today, Chris Larabee would find out he wasn't going to sit back and let the bastard get away with fucking around in his business.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris knocked gently and pushed open the door when he heard Nettie's soft voice telling him to come in. He entered and found the elderly woman sitting beside her niece's bed and quickly moved to her. Nettie was stronger than anyone he'd ever met, and he quickly hugged her close.

"How is she?" Larabee asked when Nettie pulled away.

"She's going to be sore for a while and they want to keep her for observation, but she's got her mother's will and she's going to be fine before you know it."

"She's got a lot of you in her, Nettie, and that means she's stronger than most," the blond said. "Has she been awake?"

"For a few minutes, but she's pretty groggy with the medications they are giving her. Have you seen JD?"

"No, Buck's in with him right now and I told him I'd check on Casey first."

"My Lord, I never even thought to let him know…I'm so sorry…"

"Nettie, you can't be in two places at once. You stay here and take care of Casey. I'll bring you something for dinner," Larabee assured her, knowing the woman would not be leaving the hospital until visiting hours were over.

"Thank you, Chris," Nettie said and kissed his cheek before turning her attention back to her niece.

Chris left the room and made his way to unit three. He pushed open the door and nodded to Wilmington who placed a finger to his lips in an effort to warn Larabee to be quiet. Chris nodded and moved closer to the bed, not surprised to see a pair of hooded hazel eyes watching him. If there was one thing the whole damn team had in common, it was their stubborn streaks. No matter how badly hurt they were, they did not stay down for long.

"Hey, Kid, you look like hell," Larabee said with a slight smile.

"Did you see Casey?"

"I did, but she was sleeping, and like you she's battered and bruised. Nettie is with her, JD, and you know she'll get nothing but the best with her there," the blond answered.

"She's okay?" Dunne asked.

"She will be and so will you as long as you do as they tell you," Larabee warned. "Buck…"

"I'm staying, Chris," Wilmington said.

"I know…I'm going to call Nathan and Josiah and give them an update. I need to check on a few things this evening, but I'll bring you back some dinner when I'm done," Larabee told him. He patted Dunne on the shoulder before leaving the room. He spotted a familiar figure standing at the ER desk and frowned when the man turned toward him.

"You're not allowed to be this close, Larabee!"

"I'm here…"

"Call security and have him removed!" Goodwin told the nurse he'd been speaking with.

"Scared, Charlie?" Larabee asked when the man seemed to shrink back even further.

"The restraining order says you're not allowed within 500 feet and…"

"I didn't come here because of you!"

"It doesn't matter why you're here! You leave now or I'll have you charged with violation of…"

"Listen, you bastard…I have an injured friend," Larabee said and frowned before continuing. "If I find out you had anything to do with what happened to JD and Casey, no restraining order on earth will keep me from bringing you down!"

"Are you threatening me?"

"No, it's not a threat, Charlie, it's a promise!" Larabee vowed and heard footsteps behind him.

"Chris…you need to go," Wilmington warned. Dunne had been taken for a scan and Buck was going to get a coffee when he saw the two would be combatants standing almost nose-to-nose.

"I was just leaving," the blond said. "Remember what I told you, Charlie."

"You make me sick…"

"Good, I hope I continue to do so," Larabee said and left the hospital.

"You need to keep your dog on a leash, Wilmington," Goodwin warned.

"The only dog I see is a jackal…the kind that steals from the weak, but I warn you, Charlie, we're not weak," Buck said and walked away from the enraged politician. He'd caught the tail end of the conversation between Larabee and Goodwin and knew a simple restraining order would not be enough to keep Larabee from going after the other man.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

The confrontation with Chris Larabee had gone much better than he thought, but he hadn't been prepared for Wilmington's remarks. He considered himself a panther and the very fact that the other man had compared him to something so degrading pissed him off. He silently vowed to make Wilmington pay for his audacity.

Once Wilmington was out of sight, Goodwin turned away from the desk and ignored the nurse who called to him. There was no point in sticking around now, not once he'd seen the look on Larabee's face. The man was so easy to read, and he knew the stories of Larabee's team were true. That alone could easily be the agent's downfall, and Goodwin vowed to use every one of them to bring the arrogant blond to his knees.

Exiting the hospital, he glanced around until he spotted his car and waved the driver forward. The big chauffeur opened the back door for him and closed it once he was seated inside. He reached for the bottle of Irish whiskey and poured himself a stiff shot before sealing off the space between himself and the driver. He reached for the phone, dialed the familiar number, and waited for his cohort to answer the phone.

"Rodrigo, it's Charles."

"Si, Amigo, I figured I'd be hearing from you about now. How did it go with Larabee?"

"You were right about his reaction," Goodwin said, smiling contentedly as he sat back against the seat. "I confronted him in the ER and told him he was in violation of the restraining order and that he had to leave, or the police would be called."

"Sweet…so how did he react?"

"He threatened me…"

"In front of witnesses…it seems Larabee is losing it."

"He's not the only one who lost it…Wilmington also said a few choice words. I think you have the right idea about how to get to Larabee. Taking his men out of the equation is absolutely brilliant," Goodwin said.

"Did you really think otherwise, Amigo? You should remember who you're talking to…"

"Yes, I guess I should…who are you going after next?"

"Now that would take the element of surprise out of this wouldn't it? Look, Amigo, I have an appointment with a new client, and it could open up a whole new territory for our products."

"New territory…drugs or prostitution?"

"Both…and an added supply of weapons. There are some militant organizations that don't want to go through ordinary channels, and I figure we can cash in on their needs before anyone else gets news of them. I'll call you as soon as arrangements are made for the first shipment…we're going to get rich off this one…"

"I thought we already were. Keep me updated on the new products and delivery. Oh, and I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with next for the Larabee gang."

"You'll see, Amigo, and believe me it will make everyone stand up and listen. I'll see you at the usual place for some sweet cheeks and I don't mean the ones on your face."

"Sounds like a plan," Goodwin chuckled and released his grip on the phone. He poured himself another shot and relaxed as they drove toward the courthouse. Before exiting the car, he picked up the phone and placed another call.

"Orin Travis…"

"Mr. Travis, this is Charles Goodwin. I'm a…"

"I know who you are…what do you want?"

"I would advise you to keep your dog Larabee on a short leash or I will be forced to have him arrested."

"Just what has Chris done now that's pissed you off?"

"He violated the restraining order…"

"When?"

"Not half an hour ago and he threatened me in front of several witnesses. Now I know your agency does a lot of good work, but perhaps the stress is proving to be too much for Larabee."

"Where did this supposed violation happen?"

"At the hospital…"

"Chris had a legitimate reason for being there…"

"Not once I was present! You better believe me when I say I'll come down on him and your agency if he doesn't cease and desist!"

"Why were you at the hospital? Were you there to…"

"I haven't been feeling very well and my physician sent me there. Don't try reading something into this that isn't there. I have a…"

"Yes, I know a legitimate reason for being there. Well so did my agent."

"Just keep him out of my face and I…" the phone went dead in his hand, but Goodwin smiled and hung up. He'd rattled Travis' cage and just maybe Larabee would get a reprimand.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Ezra and Vin hurried into the office and were surprised to find Chris Larabee drinking coffee at Dunne's desk. Both men had expected to find Sanchez and Jackson waiting for them while Larabee and Wilmington were at the hospital.

"Before you ask…JD and Casey are going to be fine. Simmons said they'll be kept for a night or two but should be released sometime tomorrow. JD is on sick leave as of now which means we have to take up the slack," the blond explained.

"They're goin' ta be okay?" Tanner asked.

"Yes, they are," Larabee assured the duo. "Now I know you two want to go see JD, but I need a rundown on the Carlyle case."

"Gwen Carlyle confessed to insider trading and several other charges," Standish explained.

"It seems she folded once she saw the evidence Ezra dug up," Tanner added.

"We dug up," the conman corrected. "Anyway, Thomas Carlyle has convinced the board that what his sister did was not only unethical, but illegal as well. She's looking at spending some time behind bars especially once Rutherford decided to cave in as well. Lexington Pharmaceuticals is also being investigated and there are charges pending against Maxwell and Lewis."

"They are willin' ta testify against Gwen Carlyle and Samuel Rutherford in exchange fer…"

"Leniency," Standish added.

"That's up to the DA. Okay, I know you both want to visit JD, but I'd like to have the files updated so I can hand them over to Orin at tomorrow's meeting," Larabee said and looked up when a light knock sounded on the door. "Come in, Orin. Vin and Ezra were just updating me on the Carlyle Case."

"How is it going?" Travis asked.

"I am pleased to inform you that Vin and I have succeeded in our…"

"We got her, Orin," Tanner interrupted and grinned at the flabbergasted conman.

"I believe that is exactly what I was about to convey…"

"Don't doubt it fer a minute, but it was takin' ya so damn long Chris' goin grey," the Texan observed.

"All right, Boys, get the reports done and get out of here," Larabee ordered.

"Chris, I need to talk to you," Travis said.

"What's going on, Orin?" the blond asked.

"I just had a call from Charles Goodwin…"

"What does that sonofabitch want now?" Larabee asked.

"He said he was at the hospital and that you violated the restraining order…"

"Some violation, Orin, I was there checking on JD and Casey…that bastard walked in afterward."

"That may be, Chris, but once he showed up you had to leave the premises or risk being charged with violating a court order."

"Don't you think I know that Orin?" Larabee snapped. "I had a legitimate reason for being there and I left as soon as that bastard showed up!"

"Did you…according to Goodwin, you threatened his life."

"I warned him that if I find out he had anything to do with what happened to JD and Casey I'd make damn sure he didn't hurt anyone else…"

"Jesus, Chris, do you know how that sounds?" Travis interrupted. "If anyone overheard you and Goodwin decides to press charges there's not a damn thing we could do to keep you out of jail!"

"Charlie…"

"Chris…you use that name with such disdain that anyone could tell you think very little of Charles Goodwin," the former judge snapped and looked at the two men who'd remained silent during the exchange. "Do you realize who you're dealing with?"

"I know he's a weasel and he's hiding behind his office, but sooner or later he'll make a mistake and I'll be there…"

"No, you won't! Goodwin has made it clear that if you keep harassing him, he's going to bring charges not only against you, but against this agency as well. That means we're all libel for everything you do including violating a restraining order!"

"The bastard is going to pay, Orin…if it's that last thing I do!" Larabee vowed.

"It just might come down to that, Chris. I need your word that you'll stay away from Charles Goodwin," Travis said softly. "I don't want to make it an order, Son, but I will if you force me too."

"I'll stay away from him…but I'm not backing down, Orin. Charles Goodwin and Rodrigo Vargas are working together, and I'll find a way to prove it."

"Chris, is he worth it?" Tanner asked.

"Worth what, Vin? Is he worth taking down…hell yes and then some? I've been after the bastard for so fucking long…"

"Perhaps that is where the problem lies, Chris," Standish suggested. "Conceivably you have become blinded by the need for…"

"For what, Ez…for revenge? You're damn right I want revenge…for the people they've murdered with the drugs and weapons and prostitution. Isn't that our job, Orin, or has that changed without my knowledge?"

"No, it hasn't, but there are ways of going about it without landing you in jail and this agency on the front page of every damn paper in the world. I…we've worked too hard to allow that to happen. I'm asking you to back down, Chris, but I won't hesitate to make it an order if you force my hand!"

"I thought you understood, Orin…how many times did you see bastards like Goodwin go free on a technicality?"

"Too often, Son, and that's why I want to make sure you do things right. If that means backing off and letting Goodwin think he's won, then so be it…at least he won't be targeting this agency and the people I care about," Travis answered.

"So, it's okay to let him target others as long as he leaves us alone?" Larabee asked, and knew he'd overstepped his bounds by the look that crossed the older man's face.

"That's not what I meant, and you know it," Travis snapped. "I'm a firm advocate of bringing those who break the law to justice, but I believe in doing it by the book."

"Sometimes it seems the book was written for men like Goodwin," Larabee whispered and reached for his jacket. "I need some air."

"Chris, stay away from Goodwin and Vargas!" Travis warned, shaking his head when the blond simply walked away.

Chris knew Orin and the others were probably right, but he could not get rid of the feeling in his gut. Goodwin and Vargas would continue to hurt people until they were finally brought down. If that meant he had to go out on a limb, then so be it. Hopefully if that limb was cut down it would only be him standing on it. He walked out of the building and along the street for several blocks before stopping near a school. He watched as several teenagers huddled as if they didn't have a care in the world, yet there were scavengers out there waiting to pounce.

Those same men who worked to establish a territory to sell their drugs and other paraphernalia sat in their homes and raked in the cash they leeched from the children. How many of the young people he now watched would end up hooked on Crack or Methamphetamines and wind up on a slab in some morgue? Faceless and nameless…battered and degraded because they took that first free hit.

Chris sat on the park bench, watched several people pass him by, and wondered how many of them were actually clean and followed the law. He hoped and prayed that most were, but there came a time when you had to admit that the evil invading this city had been here a long time and was not going to go away overnight.

Chris shifted slightly on the seat and looked up when he heard someone stop next to the bench. He knew who it was and lifted his head until he looked into the blue eyes that so often mirrored his own soul. He moved a little further and felt the Texan sit beside him, but neither said a word for several minutes.

"Chris, maybe Orin is right…maybe yer too close ta this one."

"I am close, Vin, closer than you think. I'm not going to back down on this."

"Why? What is it about Goodwin that's gotcha ready ta give up ever'thin' ya've worked yer ass off for?"

"I'm not ready to give up everything I've worked for, Vin, but I'm not willing to let that bastard keep hurting innocent people. Look at those kids…how many of them are already fucked up with street drugs?"

"I'd like ta say none, but we both know how easy it is ta get drugs."

"Easier than getting a bottle of liquor, yet the drugs are just as bad…worse considering how addictive they are. I've seen too many kids die from designer drugs…"

"We all have but stickin' yer neck out ain't gonna make things any better. Ya need ta stand back and see what's happenin' around ya."

"Been there…done that and I don't like what I'm seeing," Larabee said and stood up. He pointed toward the man dressed like a teenager who'd just joined the kids at the back of the schoolyard. "Look at that bastard over there."

"Ya think he's dealin'?" Tanner asked.

"Damn right he is. I've been here for half an hour, and he's been watching them. I'm going to…"

"Chris, ya go in there all spit and vinegar and someone's gonna get hurt."

"I'm not letting him sell drugs…"

"All right," Tanner said and placed his hand on Larabee's arm. "We need a plan."

"I have one. I'm going to ram that shit down his fucking throat!"

"Jesus, Chris, just hold up!" the Texan said and reached for his cell phone. "Let me call this in…"

Chris nodded and turned his attention to the group of teenagers and the drug dealer while Tanner moved away and placed a call to the police department. ‘Sonofabitch!' Larabee thought when he saw the small packet change hands. He didn't wait for Tanner but jumped over the low fence and raced toward the area where the teens were busily laughing and joking. He was within forty feet when the newcomer realized they weren't alone any longer.

"STAY WHERE YOU ARE!" Larabee shouted, cursing when the man took off running toward the open gate near the front of the school. He heard Tanner calling him but didn't take the time to look over his shoulder. He dodged around several bushes and jumped over the flowerbed while watching the runner moving faster than he ever thought possible.

Chris knew he was in good shape and thanked Sarah for getting him started on not only an exercise regimen, but for also getting him interested in jogging. He made time for a good run every morning and never failed to complete it whether rain, snow or sunshine. He shoved the gate open and spotted the other man racing toward the next intersection and knew he could not let up. If the dealer made it there, he could easily disappear into the abandoned apartment building.

Chris watched the young male jump over the trunk of a parked car and race out into the busy intersection, and blindly followed him. He ignored the irate voices and blaring horns while he kept up the chase. He reached the opposite side in time to see his target push several bystanders out of the way before he jumped a turned over garbage can and raced toward the back alley. Chris never wavered and continued to pursue the drug dealer. He had no idea how long the chase had gone on so far, but his lungs were beginning to protest the exertion. The younger man ducked behind a garbage can and Chris lost track of him for several seconds.

Chris raced into the alley and ducked under a busted ladder hidden by the garbage can. He glanced up when he heard footsteps on the battered rungs and without thinking grabbed onto the rickety fire escape and began to climb.

"Chris! Be careful!"

Larabee heard the Texan's warning but did not take the time to acknowledge him as it would take his attention off the man he pursued. The building was five stories high and was scheduled to be demolished within the next week, but Chris wasn't ready to let that stop him. He hated drug dealers and everything they stood for. He took the stairs two at a time and heard the other man slowing as he neared the roof of the structure. Smiling in spite of the fatigue, Chris made it to the top just as his nemesis pulled open the door and entered the building.

"Sonofabitch!" the blond groaned and reached the dilapidated barrier. He tore it open and cautiously moved inside. He calmed his own breathing and listened for the other man's movements. Chris could hear labored breathing and slowly made his way toward the sound. "Come out now and we can both be home in time for dinner!"

Chris moved forward and heard the sound of a body shuffling his feet and briefly wondered what was taking Tanner so long. He moved deeper into the shadowy stairwell and looked beyond the broken door at the empty, debris-strewn hallway. From the sound of the breathing, he knew the dealer had to be hiding in the apartment on his left. Methodically, Chris moved further into the hallway and tried to ignore the tingling sensation, his body poised for any and all contingencies.

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Tanner had followed Larabee, but the man had a fair head start while he'd been placing the call to the police. He'd spotted the blond when he ducked into the alley between the abandoned building and the structure next door. He reached the fire escape and began to climb, but years of abuse from both tenants and nature had weakened the stairs. He heard and felt the stairs giving way beneath him and silently cursed when he landed flat on his back. He managed to get to his feet and ignored the ache in his lower back as he looked up at the broken fire escape.

There was no way he could reach it now without a boost and he quickly looked around for anything he could use to hoist himself up. There were several things he could use and ignoring the danger to himself, began piling several battered crates on top of each other. Vin scrambled upward, wincing at the pull on his lower back and prayed the rungs would hold him.

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Paul Caine was a two-bit thief who'd gotten lucky when he met one of Vargas' thugs and agreed to deal drugs to the school age kids who were easy pickings to someone with his experience. He'd been lucky since taking over this area, but that luck had run out when the blond bastard spotted him. He knew he should get rid of the drugs, but he didn't want to face Vargas if he did escape. Reaching into his boot, Caine pulled out a pocketknife and hit the button to release the blade. He listened to the approaching footsteps and bided his time until he was sure of his strike.

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Chris tilted his head to the side, listening to the sounds of the building like a blind man. He heard sounds behind him and realized Tanner must have caught up to them. He took another tentative step, cursing when the rotten board let out a protesting screech. The element of surprise was no longer his and he moved forward, jumping back when a stream of light flashed off a sickeningly sharp blade. He felt it bite into the top of his left forearm before he was able to grab his foe's arm and twist it sharply.

"Bastard…kill ya!"

"I'm su…sure you'd like to try!" Larabee spat, grunting when the man snapped his head forward and caught him on the chin. "Drop the fucking knife!"

"Fuck you!"

"Not my type!" the blond snapped and heard someone approaching. He silently prayed it was Tanner as he snapped his nemesis' wrist across his bent knee and was rewarded with an undignified grunt as he flipped the man onto his stomach and placed his knee at the center of his back.

"You can't do this!"

"Watch me!" Larabee said and kicked the knife out of reach.

"Havin' fun, Cowboy?" Tanner asked.

"Fucking A!" the blond said. "Where the hell are the cops?"

"If they're smart, they're waitin' downstairs," the Texan answered. "This place ain't exactly The Ritz!"

"This place isn't even The Palisades," Larabee quipped of the run-down motel they'd stayed in during an assignment in Mexico. He bent low to the captive's ear and spoke clearly and sharply. "Now, listen real close…I am going to take my knee out of your back, but you are going to stay put until I give you permission to move. You even breathe wrong, and I swear I'll tie you up, gag you, and leave you right here until the building comes down and buries you with it. Got that?"

"I g…got it!" Caine spat.

"Good," the blond said and quickly ran his hands down the man's body. It didn't take long to find the concealed gun and he silently thanked God the man hadn't used that instead of the knife. He handed the 38 to Tanner and continued his search. "Do you have a license to carry a gun?"

"Yeah, man, it's home on my dresser," the drug dealer snarled.

"I suppose you're also a doctor and these are prescription drugs!" Larabee snapped, passing the packets to his partner.

"You got no right to touch me without a warrant!"

"Sorry, pal, it doesn't work that way," the blond said and hauled the man to his feet. "Give me a reason and I'll put you out of both of our miseries!"

"I have rights!"

"And so do I! As a private citizen I have the right to use whatever force is necessary to hold you until the police arrive," Larabee said. "It's up to you whether we wait in here or go outside, but I warn you the police are not going to be happy about entering a building that's slated to be torn down in a few days."

"Outside," Caine spat in defeat.

"Good choice!" Larabee said and shoved the man toward the door, smiling at the Texan when he walked past. Once outside he took a deep breath of the fresh air and grabbed Caine's arm before leading him to the fire escape.

"That thing ain't safe!" Caine warned.

"No shit, Sherlock!" Tanner quipped and started down. He would wait on each landing for Larabee and their captive to reach him. By the time they reached the bottom a patrol car was parked at the edge of the alley and two officers were walking toward them.

"Well, well, well…fancy seeing you again, Caine," John Whelan said after nodding to Chris and Vin.

"I want to press charges!" Paul Caine snapped.

"I bet you do…Chris, you're bleeding," Whelan observed while his partner placed cuffs on the prisoner's wrists and read him his rights.

"Damn, I didn't notice," Larabee said, pulling his arm away when the Texan tried to look at the wound. He accepted a pressure bandage from the officer and pressed it against his arm before turning his attention to the cops. "He had a gun and several packets of drugs on him…I saw him selling to the kids at the school."

"Damn, Caine, I thought you told the judge you were going to clean up your act?" Whelan said and opened the patrol car's back door while his partner helped the prisoner inside.

"Hard ta get a job when ya got a record!" Caine stated, glaring at Larabee even after the door was closed.

"Thanks, Chris…Vin, I'll make sure the paperwork is ready when you get to the station," Whelan assured them.

"We'll be right behind you," the blond said.

"You'd better get that arm looked at first. Captain Miller doesn't take kindly to anyone bleeding all over his station," the officer said with a grin.

"How bad?" Tanner asked.

"Flesh wound," was the automatic answer.

"Really…let me take a look," the Texan growled, wincing when his partner lifted the pressure bandage to reveal a deep laceration on his left forearm. "Jesus, Chris, that's gonna need stitches."

"I know…all right, let's get this over with," Larabee said and realized neither one of them had a car handy.

"Come on…I'll wave down a taxi," Tanner said and led the blond out of the alley.

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Chris looked up when he heard the door to the suture room open and sighed heavily. The man standing there was shaking his head and didn't seem all that pleased to see him.

"What is it with you, Larabee? I'm beginning to think you're after more than my medical expertise!"

"I don't know what you're talking about, Simmons," Larabee snapped.

"Well, you keep coming in here and I doubt it's because of your own sunny disposition. Are you interested in me…'cause if that's the case I assure you I'm straight…"

"In your dreams, Doc," the blond said.

"No, believe me that would be a nightmare," Simmons said and pulled a stool closer to the bed. "Let's see what you've done now!"

"It's just a…"

"Let me guess…flesh wound? Well, this flesh wound will probably take five or six stitches to close. How long since your last tetanus shot? Oh wait…I believe it was last month when you got stuck in the ass by a rusty nail!"

"It wasn't my ass…it was my hip," Larabee snapped.

"Hip…ass…same area…and with you it's hard to tell sometimes," the gruff physician said with a grin and began loading a syringe.

"What the hell is that for?" Larabee asked.

"In spite of, or because of your macho image, I need to freeze the area before I stitch the wound," Simmons answered. The nurse had cleaned the laceration and although it hadn't cut anything major, it did look raw and slightly red. "I'm going to give you some antibiotic cream to put on this and I want to know if there's any swelling or discharge."

"Whatever you say, Doc," the blond agreed.

"I'm not kidding here, Chris, this is a serious wound, and that knife was probably loaded with germs and bacteria. I'd hate to see you back here in a couple of days because you neglected this, and it became infected and forced me to order IV antibiotics."

"I hear you," Larabee said seriously and watched the physician inject the medication into his arm. It stung, but otherwise there was no discomfort and he listened while Simmons explained to the nurse what he wanted her to do.

"Okay, Larabee let's get you sewn up so the hospital can use this room for patients who appreciate our work." Simmons slipped on protective gloves before checking the injury and picking up the items he would need.

"I appreciate your work, Doc, it's your attitude I don't…"

"Ah, but my attitude is free…"

"Good thing, because no one would pay to listen to your crap," Larabee stated and smiled when Simmons raised his eyebrows.

"Crap? I always thought it was sound medical advice," the physician said and methodically put in a neat row of stitches. "Janet, put a dressing on that."

"Yes, Doctor," the nurse answered and set about binding the wound.

"Remember what I said, Larabee, and keep that clean. I'll see you at the office in a week to remove the stitches."

"Sure, Doc," the blond said, taking the prescription from the physician.

"I know you probably won't use the pain meds, but make sure you use the cream twice a day and…"

"Call you if I see any discharge," Larabee finished, shaking hands with the gruff doctor he'd learned to respect in spite of his manner.

"One week, Larabee!" Simmons said and hurried from the room while the nurse finished bandaging the wound.

Chris thanked the nurse and left the room, nodding to Tanner who'd waited for him. The two men knew they'd have to go to the police station and give their statements, but it was also a given that the dealer was already out on bail. The justice system was overworked, and the jails overcrowded, and it seemed all too easy for people like Vargas to get their people out with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

"JD's in room 302," Tanner offered and knew they were taking a detour before heading to the police station.

"Is Buck still with him?"

"Yeah," the Texan answered.

"Damn, I was supposed to bring him something to eat."

"He'll understand…how's the arm?"

"Still frozen…took eight stitches," Larabee said when they stepped into the empty elevator.

"Damn, that's gotta hurt!"

"Not yet…like I said it's still frozen," the blond answered. They reached Dunne's room in time to hear the youngest member of the team arguing with the resident rogue.

"Look, Buck, I'm okay…"

"Uh oh, sounds like the kid's been hangin' ‘round ya too long, Larabee," Tanner teased upon entering the room.

"Chris, talk some sense into this hard head, will you?"

"What's wrong, JD?" the blond asked.

"I want to go see Casey and Buck won't get out of my way!" Dunne snapped indignantly.

"Have you looked in a mirror?" Larabee asked.

"No…why?"

"Well, let's just say you're not your usual handsome self, Kid. Your left eye is black and swollen, there's a laceration on your cheek and you're paler than the sheets you're supposed to be lying on. Now I'm sure Casey would love to see you too, but right now you're open at the back and while I'm sure the nurses would appreciate your better side, we need to get something to cover you up with," the team leader explained.

"Shit!" Dunne said and sat on the edge of the bed.

"Buck, go ask at the desk for a robe of some kind and a pair of slippers," Larabee told his friend.

"I can go see her?" the youngest member of the team asked hopefully.

"Of course…but not until you're presentable," the blond assured him.

"Thanks, Chris…what happened to your arm?"

"Had a run in with a miserable bastard who didn't appreciate my interference," Larabee answered. They waited for Buck's return and helped Dunne into the robe and slippers before helping him stand. "Casey is just down the hall in 309."

"JD, you get tired you let me know and I'll get a wheelchair," Wilmington ordered.

"I'm okay, Buck," the Bostonian said and realized he felt better now that he was going to see Casey Wells. It took several minutes for them to reach the semi-private room and they entered to find Casey and Nettie talking softly.

"JD!" Casey said, tears in her eyes when she looked at the man who meant so much to her. "Are you…"

"I'm okay, Casey…a little banged up, but I'll heal."

"JD, sit down!" Nettie ordered and moved aside to let Dunne have her seat. She folded her arms across her chest when he started to protest and raised her eyebrows expectantly.

"Better listen to her, JD, Nettie's not one to back down," Larabee said and smiled when the woman turned her gaze on him. He hugged her and kissed her cheek before smiling at Casey, glad to see she looked better than when he'd seen her in the ER.

"Why don't we go get coffee and leave the young people alone," Nettie suggested.

"Nah, think I'll stay here and chaperone…or give them advice," Wilmington teased, jumping when Nettie swatted his arm.

"They are in no shape for your kind of advice, Buck…out!" the elderly woman said with a grin.

"Yes, Ma'am," the rogue said and puckered his lips toward Dunne. "Just remember everything I taught you and you'll…"

"Buck!" Dunne said and breathed a sigh of relief when he was finally alone with Casey. He moved to the bed and sat on the edge, drawing her upward and wrapping his arms around her. Soft sobs wracked her body, and he knew she was crying. JD held her until she lifted her head and looked into his eyes.

"I thought I was going to lose you, JD," Casey explained.

"I'm here, Casey…I'm not going anywhere," Dunne vowed and gently touched the bruise on her right cheek. "Are you really okay?"

"A bit bruised and sore, but I'm okay. Dr. Simmons said I should be able to go home tomorrow."

"Me too, but he won't clear me to go back to work."

"Good…you need to rest and heal."

"Yes, Dr. Casey," Dunne said with a grin, smiling inwardly as she chuckled softly. He loved the sound of her laughter and knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, but now was not the time to propose. He held her close and remained that way until Casey fell asleep on his shoulder. He eased her back on her pillow, groaning softly from being in one position too long and allowing his muscles to tense up. By the time the others returned he knew it was time to go back to his own room and get the rest his body craved.

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Chris knew there was nothing he could do about Paul Caine when he'd gone to the station and given his statement. Caine was already out on the street and probably dealing drugs to another group of teens who didn't understand how drugs could and would impact their lives. Vin had ridden Peso over before dark and the horse was settled in the barn with Pony. They'd enjoyed a light dinner of Macaroni and Cheese casserole before watching the Yankee's game. The Texan would probably spend the night and they'd head into town, together, around seven.

Chris sipped from the glass of brandy and let his mind turn to Charles Goodwin and Rodrigo Vargas. There had to be a way for him to get more information and dig deeper into their backgrounds, but he had come up against a brick wall during his internet investigation. He thought about asking JD or Ezra to help him but did not want to bring the two men into this mess.

"Hey, Cowboy, what's got that damn vein throbbin'," the Texan asked.

"Just thinking," Larabee answered and placed the empty glass on the counter.

"About Goodwin?"

"Am I that easy to read?"

"When it comes to that bastard…yeah, ya are," Tanner told him. "Look, Chris, maybe Orin's right and it's time ta back off…"

"I wish I could, but something tells me Goodwin is going to force a confrontation between us…"

"Is he…or are ya gonna be the one ta force the issue?"

"I don't know...I just can't see letting him keep expanding his business," Larabee stated. "I've never backed down from a fight, Vin…"

"What if he leaves ya no choice?" Tanner asked. "What if he's behind what happened ta JD and Casey? The driver of the other rig was killed, Chris, but they found a large amount of cash on the seat b'side ‘im."

"Damn it, Vin, this has gone on too long. Goodwin is hiding behind his office and getting away with murder!"

"I believe ya, Chris, but there ain't no proof right now," Tanner told him and handed the blond a file he'd brought with him.

"What's this?" Larabee enquired.

"A new case Travis handed me before I left the office."

"Why would he give it to you?" the blond asked, slightly irritated with Travis going behind his back. It had happened a few times before, but usually it was while Chris was on medical leave and light duties. This felt like a slap in the face, yet he knew it wasn't the sharpshooter's fault.

"Ya'd already left, Chris, and I told him I'd bring it out for this evenin'…don't go readin' anythin' else inta it," Tanner answered.

"What's the case about?" Larabee asked, irritated that he would have to go through the file before he could turn his attention to Goodwin and Vargas.

"I didn't look at it, but Travis did say it was a priority," the Texan told him.

"I'll look it over tomorrow morning before heading in," the blond said and placed the file on the table before glancing at the clock. It wasn't late, but he knew if he wanted to work on the file before going into the office, he'd have to get up early.

"Well, it's been a long day," Tanner said and rubbed at tired eyes.

"That it has," Larabee agreed. Without another word the two men began turning out the lights and locking up the house before making their way toward the bedrooms.

"What time are we headin' in?"

"Around seven," Larabee answered and closed his bedroom door. He slowly undressed; glancing at the file he'd brought in earlier and felt the anger raging within at the pictures he knew were inside. Pictures of victims who could be tied to Goodwin and/or Vargas, but he'd need more evidence if he was to make anything stick. Reaching for the file, Chris sat at the desk near the window and slowly took each picture and the notations that went with them and spread them over the surface of his bed. Times, dates, and reasons were all listed, but nothing concrete could be found and that was something he had to correct if he wanted to bring the two men down.

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Rodrigo Vargas looked at the man who now wore a satisfied look on his face while sipping a glass of the finest brandy money could buy. The man looked as if he'd finally been able to take out some of his anger, and Vargas knew he would have to find a way to get rid of the body that lay battered and beaten in the back bedroom.

"You need to be more careful with our property, Amigo. I know you enjoy it rough, but you keep killing them and we're going to run out of merchandise for our regular clientele,' Vargas said.

"I doubt you'll let that happen, Rodrigo. There are lots of young women coming to the big city for excitement. Who cares if they disappear…not the parents…"

"That's for damn sure. Their folks are just glad to be rid of the little whores. By the way I've had a call from several people who are interested in seeing us expand our prostitution trade to include a couple of young men."

"Young men…now that's sick."

"No, Amigo, it's not. Have you ever had a male whore? There's just something about having one at your beck and call. It's not much different than taking a woman," Vargas said and refilled both glasses.

"You've slept with…"

"Slept would be the right word, but I'm sure you're not that naïve. I've got a couple of new recruits we picked up outside of town. They were thumbing their way east and accepted a ride from one of my guys. They'll be ready to send south in about a week, but if you'd like a shot at them, I'm sure it can be arranged."

"I just might take you up on that offer, my friend," Goodwin said, feeling the heat rush to his groin.

"Just don't kill them until I have enough to stock the bordello. It gets hard to explain to Senora Maria when I don't send back her workers."

"I can't help it if they're weaklings," the politician said with a grin.

"You know…this Larabee is a little old for the trade, but damn he's got quite the body. I bet he works out," Vargas said and tossed several photos to his partner.

"I never thought about that, but I can just imagine," Goodwin said, but could not quite wipe the smug look off his face at the thought of having his nemesis quivering beneath him.

"He's just a little too high profile right now, but who knows what tomorrow will bring," Vargas said.

"So, who are you going after next?" Goodwin asked.

"Like I said…I'd rather it be a surprise. Just keep watching the news," Vargas told him. He knew the other man was anxious to get Larabee off his back, but they had to do it in such a way that Goodwin was not under suspicion. He knew what he had planned was risky and if his, or Goodwin's involvement was ever found out there'd be no escaping the angered citizens. People tended to turn a blind eye when crime didn't touch them, but mess with their church and family and things tended to get messy.

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JD opened his eyes and smiled at the nurse who checked his IV and made sure he was comfortable. He'd been given pain medication earlier, but it was quickly wearing off and a more pressing matter was demanding his attention.

"JD, can I get you something for pain?"

"I don't…"

"There's just you and me here…no need to hide anything," Sylvia Chandler told her patient. At 46 she'd prided herself on dealing with patients and could easily read this young man's face.

"I need to…" his voice trailed off and he couldn't quite look at the older woman until a soft chuckle reached his ears.

"I tell you what, JD…you take care of business while I get your meds."

"Thanks, Sylvia," Dunne said and waited for her to leave the room. He eased his aching body upward on the bed and slid his legs over the side. He'd been thinking about the accident and the more he thought about it, the more convinced he was that it was anything but an accident. The other vehicle had been too deliberate in its unwavering path. He slowly made his way to the washroom, took care of his needs, and made his way back to the bed just as the nurse returned.

"Feel better?" Chandler asked, smiling slightly before tucking the young man in.

"Yes…I need to make a call," Dunne said, glancing hopefully at the phone.

"It's after four AM, JD, so unless it's an emergency I'd rather you wait until after you've had some rest." The nurse slowly injected the medication and disposed of the syringe before looking at the Bostonian.

"I guess it can wait," Dunne said. He slid back on the bed and closed his eyes, but sleep eluded him as he thought about the accident, and his anger intensified at the thought of how close he'd come to losing Casey. His job was dangerous, and it was something he was used to, but Casey was an innocent and her being injured didn't set well with him. He turned on his side and stared at the phone, yet he knew the switchboard was closed for the night. His eyes closed as the medication took affect and he drifted off to sleep, where his dreams were as troubling as his thoughts.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

The lone figure moved along the darkened side of the church and didn't give any thought of being hell bound for what he was about to do. The money he'd been given was too good to turn down and Vargas was not a man to double cross. He knew the priest slept inside the smaller building and that the church itself was deserted at this time of the night, but again he didn't give a damn whether anyone was hurt or not.

He stood still and leaned back into the shadows when a dog barked nearby, but the owner soon had it under control, and he continued along the edge of the building. The bag he held wasn't very big, but it contained enough explosives to do the damage Vargas wanted. His job was to set it under the small building and activate it before he made his escape. Vargas would detonate the bomb from a remote location and there would be no tie to anyone. He made it to the front of the building and placed the briefcase beneath the flower box. He pressed the buttons in the sequence Vargas had given him and then slipped away, hiding in the darkness until he reached his car, which was parked half a mile from the church.

The man had no qualms about what he was doing and quickly climbed into his car. He put the key in the ignition, straightened up, and gasped when an arm was wrapped around his head and light flashed across a blade just before it sliced through his jugular. Blood spurted across the steering wheel as gurgling sounds escaped the dying man's throat. By the time the arm released him, Anthony Marcos was no longer amongst the living and had crossed into the hell he'd earned during his life of crime.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Josiah Sanchez had worked with Father Thomas O'Neill for more years than he could remember and today he hoped to finally finish the repairs to the rectory. The church itself was over sixty years old and could use more work, but the money just wasn't there. Lately the people who belonged to the parish had taken it upon themselves to use their skills to fix the church.

"Josiah, have you had breakfast?" Miranda Jarvis asked. She was in her late fifties and was both maid and cook when needed. She refused any money for her efforts and enjoyed her time at the church.

"I have, but if that's oatmeal muffins I smell then I can make room for one or two," Sanchez said and followed her inside where he said good morning to the priest who had become a close friend through the years.

"It certainly is…so come inside and help yourself to coffee and muffins. I need to change the linens."

"Miranda, you don't need to do that…"

"I know I don't, Father Thomas, but I enjoy working and I believe there's an old saying about idle hands and…"

"I don't think your hands are ever idle," Sanchez told her. He moved to the sink and began scrubbing the dirt from his hands and admired the flowers growing in the box outside the window. "The Petunias are certainly growing, Miranda."

"I knew they'd take well to the flowerpot," Jarvis said and reached for the watering can. "I need to water them."

Josiah reached for the towel on the rack and quickly dried his hands before pouring a cup of coffee and moving to the table. He reached for a muffin and glanced at the window just as the woman lifted something from beneath the window box. Years of instinct kicked in and Josiah shoved back the chair with enough force to topple it.

"Josiah, what's wrong?" Father Thomas asked.

"Throw it away!" Sanchez screamed. He would never know if the woman heard him or not as the air became heated and was suddenly filled with deadly projectiles. The force of the explosion took out the front of the rectory and sent him flying over the table before slamming him into the antique cabinet. He barely had time to register that there was a second body lying next to him as debris rained down on him while flames began eating at the building. Darkness reached for him, and Josiah Sanchez could not fight the power of its call.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

The fire department reached the Church at the same time as several police cars pulled to a stop outside the main gates. The fire was quickly destroying everything in its path, but until they knew whether anyone was inside it would be handled as a possible rescue effort.

Stanley Copperfield, a firefighter with over 15 years behind him began issuing orders and moved to help with the water hoses. It didn't take long before they had several firemen, wearing protective clothing and masks, inside the small rectory and a search began for anyone who might have been trapped by the fire.

"I have two bodies," Joseph Metcalf called and sprayed the water on the flames that were eating their way toward the victims. He had no idea how badly the two men were hurt, but the fire posed a danger that could not be ignored. The flames caught the edge of one victim's shirt, and he quickly put them out before they burned the skin. He turned to the second firefighter and knew there was no choice, but to move if they wanted to get the men out before it was too late. The roof was going to collapse at any time, and he regretted the fact that they didn't have time to wait for backboards. He lifted the heavier man and got him in a fireman's hold before making his way toward the nearest exit.

Timothy Parker took the second victim while several more firefighters used the hoses to beat back the flames. He had no time to dwell on the fact that he could be doing more damage to this man, because a screeching sound overhead told him the roof was about to come down on them. He walked ahead of the others and made it outside just as a sickening screech sounded from inside. The roof caved in, sending debris, dust, and sparks into the air, and he silently prayed there was no one else inside. He handed the unconscious man to the paramedics who quickly had him on a backboard and lying next to the other victim.

"God, help…over here! There's a body…I think it's a woman!" a man called from the side of the church, turning away and vomiting as he stared at what had once been a human being.

Several firefighters and a paramedic rushed to the scene, but it didn't take a professional to see she was beyond help. The force of the explosion had thrown her away from the house, but it had resulted in major trauma to her upper body. The paramedic checked for a pulse, but the raw wounds to her throat and abdomen told him this one was beyond help. He hurried back to his partners as a firefighter covered the dead woman with a blanket and made the sign of the cross before returning his attention to the fire itself.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

At the same time the explosion ripped through the church's rectory, Chris Larabee stepped out of the shower and stretched the kinks from his back. He dried off and looked in the mirror and knew he was showing signs of lack of sleep. The dark circles were just as telling as the bloodshot eyes, but there was very little he could do about that now. Once he reached the office and took care of the early morning meeting, he'd find time to catch a few minutes of sleep before working on the new case Travis had placed in his lap.

"Chris, ya want breakfast ya'd best get yer ass out here," Tanner called.

"Just coffee," Larabee told him. He'd never been big on breakfast and could never understand the Texan's need to put away so much food at one sitting. Yet the man's metabolism worked wonders and he never seemed to gain an ounce. Buck had once labeled him a ‘lean, mean, eating machine' and it suited the sharpshooter perfectly.

"Ya ain't gonna make me eat all them eggs and bacon are ya, Chris, cause ya know I ain't one ta let it go ta waste?"

"There's nothing going to waste with you around…just coffee," Larabee said. He finished toweling off and walked out of the bathroom, grabbing a clean pair of jeans and a white shirt. Travis wasn't big on making them wear suits and ties, but he did keep a suit at the office in case it was needed. He walked out of the bedroom frowning when he heard Tanner calling to him. The Texan was standing in front of the TV and seemed engrossed in whatever it was he was watching.

"This is Samantha Noseworthy with KTVQ-2 news. We're coming to you live from Saint Joseph's Catholic Church where an explosion rocked the neighborhood early this morning. Behind me you can still see the firefighters trying to get the blaze under control. There are unconfirmed reports of one fatality and two others injured. The victims are on their way to Saint Vincents…"

"Wasn't Josiah…"

"Yes, he was," Larabee said and grabbed the phone. He hit speed dial and listened to the dial tone but was quickly informed that the client was unavailable. He hung up and went to hit Jackson's number, but the phone rang, and he answered it quickly. "Larabee."

"Chris, it's Nathan, have you seen this morning's news?"

"I'm watching it now…did Josiah go over there this morning?"

"As far as I know. I've tried calling his cell but keep getting the message that he's unavailable. I'm on my way to the hospital now."

"We'll meet you there…I'll call Buck, Ezra, and Orin…you call me as soon as you find out anything," Larabee said and hung up. "Come on…"

"Just let me turn off the coffee pot," Tanner said. He hurried into the kitchen and quickly made sure everything was turned off before grabbing his jacket and hurrying out to the jeep. He climbed into the driver's side and turned to look at his friend. Larabee was tense as he tried to contact several people, but so far had been unable to find out anything about the injured people or the fatality. He knew the blond well enough to know that his gut was churning with worry.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Nathan pulled into the visitor's parking slot and opened the door. Rain was already at the hospital and would be meeting him in the ER. Hopefully, she would already have information on who the injured people were, and he prayed it wasn't anything serious. He raced through the sliding doors, apologizing when he nearly ran into a cleaning lady before making his way to the main desk. The ER was a hubbub of activity with personnel hurrying to take care of patients and he had to wait several minutes before someone finally had time to answer his questions.

"Nathan, come with me," Rain ordered and waited for the medic to follow her. She'd finally found out who the injured men were and knew Jackson would be worried about his long-time friend.

"Rain, did you find out anything? Was Josiah there? Is he all right?"

"Hold on, Nathan," Rain said and pulled him into the waiting room. "Josiah and Father Thomas were both injured in the explosion and are being treated as we speak. I'm afraid that's all I can tell you right now."

"Damn it! What the hell happened?"

"I don't know, but I'm sure the police and fire department will find out," Goines assured him and hugged him before gazing into his worried eyes. "Look, Nathan, I have a couple of patients I need to look in on and then I'll come back here. Try not to worry too much."

"Don't tell the others, but I'm not a patient man…"

"You're kidding, right?" Goines said, chuckling softly before hurrying from the waiting room.

Nathan pulled the phone from his pocket and hit the speed dial for Chris' cell phone.

"Larabee."

"Chris, it's Nathan. I'm at the hospital. Josiah and Father Thomas were both injured, but that's all I know right now," Jackson explained.

"We should be there in about half an hour. I called Buck and Ezra, and they should be there any time."

"I think I hear them now," Jackson said. "I'll call if anything happens before you get here."

"Try not to worry, Nathan…Josiah's a strong man."

"I know…thanks, Chris," Jackson said and hung up. He hurried out to meet Buck and Ezra at the main desk and brought them up to date on what little he knew. He held POA on Josiah and quickly began filling out the papers the hospital required. By the time he finished David Marshall was stepping out of a trauma room and the trio hurried toward him.

"Doc, was that Josiah?" Wilmington asked.

"Hold it…you know the policy…"

"Doc, I have POA for Josiah Sanchez," Jackson said. "I just finished completing the paperwork."

"Good, come with me," Marshall told him and knew there was no point in telling the others to stay put, because Wilmington and Standish would simply follow him into the lounge. Once inside he closed the door and looked at the worried men. "Josiah was brought in with multiple injuries from the explosion. He's also suffering from smoke inhalation and has several first degree burns on his chest and arms that are being treated by Dr. Nichols from the burn unit. He has internal injuries and lost a lot of blood and is on his way to the OR as soon as we get him stabilized. It's going to be some time before I can tell you anything definite, but you guys have always said he's tough and a fighter."

"He is, Doc," Jackson said.

"Good, then hold on to that," Marshall told them.

"Can you tell us anything about Father Thomas?" Wilmington asked.

"No, I'm afraid I haven't seen him. I believe Tom Parker is with him," Marshall answered and stood up. "Look, I have to get back to my patient…"

"Can I see him?" Jackson asked.

"I'm afraid that's not possible right now. There wouldn't be any point anyway since he's unconscious and hooked up to a ventilator," Marshall explained. "Look, I'm going to do everything in my power to help him, but it wouldn't hurt to say a few prayers while you're waiting."

"We will, Dr. Marshall, thank you," Wilmington said, and the trio followed the surgeon back to the ER. It wasn't long before Chris and Vin showed up and the five men moved toward the trauma room that housed Josiah Sanchez. Nathan quickly updated the two men on the older man's condition and turned to see a priest hurry into the ER. They heard him ask about Father Thomas O'Neill and the nurse telling him that the doctor was still with him.

Chris recognized the elderly priest and hurried over to meet him. He shook hands with the man and asked if it would be possible to say a few words of prayer for the injured men and the deceased in the chapel.

"Yes, Chris, that is something I planned to do as soon as I have word on Thomas," Jonathon Harper answered. "I had heard someone else was with Thomas…was it Josiah?"

"Yes, Father, Dr. Marshall is with him, and they'll be taking him to surgery as soon as he's stable. Is there any word on the deceased?"

"Not yet," Harper answered. "Is that Dr. Parker?"

"Yes, it is," Larabee answered and accompanied the elderly priest toward the second trauma room.

"Dr. Parker, I am Father Jonathon Harper…Father Thomas is a close friend, and I would like to know how he is doing?"

"Father O'Neill is listed as critical and will be moved to the ICU as soon as they are ready for him. He has a broken tibia and dislocated his right shoulder. There's also severe bruising along his lower back and a possibility of spinal involvement. We're going to be testing for that, but until he regains consciousness there's no way of knowing for sure," Parker explained, turning as Sanchez was wheeled from trauma one.

"Excuse me, Doc, I need to be…I need to check on Josiah," Larabee said and heard the priest ask if he could see Father O'Neill. Chris walked beside the stretcher as the staff rushed Sanchez toward the elevator. He knew the surgical waiting room was on the third floor and stood with Jackson, Standish, Tanner, and Wilmington while the doors closed.

"I need to go tell JD before someone else does. I'll see you upstairs," Wilmington said and hurried toward the stairs.

"Chris, would you gentlemen like to come to the chapel with me?" Harper asked, having been refused admittance to the trauma room.

"Sounds good, Father," Larabee said and followed the man to the chapel near the main visitor's entrance.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

JD took a deep breath and leaned back on the pillows. He ached all over but was hoping to make an early escape from the hospital, but so far, the doctors had not been in to see him. Dunne needed to talk to Chris about the car accident and go over the reasons he thought it wasn't an accident. He sat forward, hoping that was about to change when he heard footsteps approaching his room.

"It's about time," Dunne said, dropping his legs over the side of the bed when he spotted Wilmington.

"Nice to see you too, Kid," the rogue said and forced a smile to his face.

"What are you doing here so early?"

"JD, there was an explosion at St Joseph's Church…Josiah and Father Thomas were hurt…"

"Oh, God…how bad?"

"Josiah's in surgery…internal injuries and burns. Father Thomas is bad, and they are taking him to the ICU," Wilmington answered.

"Do they know what caused the explosion?"

"I don't know. I came right here when Chris called. I'm sure Captain Miller will let us know as soon as the investigation is over."

"We should go to the…"

"You're not going anywhere until the doctor discharges you," Wilmington warned.

"Buck…"

"Don't even try it, Kid. Look, I came here so that you wouldn't find out from anyone else. Chris will come up if anything happens before the doctor gets here…"

"The doctor is here, Wilmington. What brought you here so early?" Simmons asked.

"Josiah was hurt in an explosion this morning."

"Damn…how bad?" the gruff, but caring physician asked.

"They just took him up to surgery. Internal injuries and burns…not sure what else," the rogue answered.

"I'm sorry to hear that. I hope it's not as bad as you make it sound," Simmons said and turned his attention to his patient. "Well, Son, I'm sure you want to be with the rest of the team, so let's take a look at you."

Wilmington moved to the window and looked out over the city that was coming to life around them and found his mind wondering about the explosion. They knew someone had died but had no idea who it was yet and whether whoever it was had anything to do with the blast. He stood, leaning wearily against the wall, and listened as Simmons gave Dunne his discharge orders.

"Now, JD, don't go pulling a Larabee and overdoing things. You need to go home and rest and if the headaches get worse, I want you back here. You're on sick leave until further notice," Simmons said.

"I'll make sure he does what he's supposed to, Doc," Wilmington said.

"Is that supposed to make me feel better about discharging him?" the physician asked, a half smile on his face as he left the room.

"He has your number, Buck," Dunne said. "We should go tell Casey…she'll be worried."

"All right, Kid, but then I'm taking you home…"

"I'm not going anywhere until we know how Josiah's doing," Dunne told him.

"JD, do I have to remind you of what Simmons just said?"

"Buck…I'm not going to rest until I know."

"JD…"

"Would you go home, Buck? Tell the truth!"

"No…no, I'd probably be just as stubborn as you are. All right…we go see Casey and then we'll head up to the surgical waiting room and you'll lie down there or so help me I'll hog tie and gag you if I have to. You hear me?"

"I hear you, Buck, but I'd just outrun you if you tried any of that shit," Dunne told him. He knew he had to talk to the others about his suspicions concerning his accident, but right now they had to see Casey and then meet the others upstairs.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

It was a solemn group waiting for word on both Josiah Sanchez and Father O'Neill. Nearly four hours had passed since Sanchez was taken to surgery and word had spread about the explosion. Police officers, firefighters, and friends stopped in for updates, but so far there was no news on the ex-preacher.

Chris had called Orin Travis to postpone the morning's meetings and keep him abreast of what was happening. JD was lying on the sofa near the window, his head resting on a pillow and his lower body covered by a warm blanket Nathan had gotten from somewhere. Nettie and Casey had stopped in to see them, but Casey was in no shape to stick around, and Chris promised both women he would call as soon as they knew anything.

"Nathan," Marshall's voice brought them all out of their thoughts and Jackson nodded for the surgeon to fill them in on what was happening. Everyone belonging to Larabee's team gathered near the window in hopes of letting Dunne sleep, but the young man's eyes were open, and he listened intently.

"Doc, how is he?" Jackson asked.

"Well, he's doing better than I expected at this point in time and he's being settled in the SICU. He's critical, but stable at the moment and will be on a ventilator for a couple of days because of the smoke inhalation. There was also damage to his spleen and we removed it and repaired damage to his liver. He's going to be sore, and the burns will need to be watched closely. There are several broken ribs, and his right arm is broken between the wrist and elbow. I'm afraid he's looking at a long recovery period," Marshall explained.

"Can we see him?" Larabee asked.

"Not yet. I told the nurses you'd be in the SICU waiting rooms and they'll come let you know when you can see him," the surgeon answered. "Now I know JD has been a patient here the last day or two and I'd advise one of you to take him home so he can sleep in a proper…"

"I'm okay, Doc," Dunne said, sitting up and wincing as his battered body reminded him he was far from okay.

"Sure, you are, Kid," Wilmington said and turned to Larabee. "Chris, I'm going to take JD home…will you call if anything happens?"

"I will, Buck," Larabee vowed and smiled as Dunne continued to protest his need to rest in a real bed. "Nathan, I'm going to check in with Captain Miller and see if there's anything new on the explosion. I'll find you when I'm done."

"All right, Chris," Jackson said.

Leaving Vin, Ezra, and Nathan to wait for the nurse to tell them Sanchez was ready for visitors, Chris walked to the stairs and hurried down to the first floor where he exited into the back garden. He quickly dialed Miller's number and waited for the man to answer. Miller was a good cop and a close friend and because of the Firm's background and work for the government, the man would be willing to share information.

"Miller…"

"Bob, it's Chris Larabee. I was just wondering if you had anything new on the explosion this morning."

"Sorry, Chris, there's not much to tell, but it does look like it was deliberately set."

"Damn…any ID on the dead woman?"

"Pretty sure it was Miranda Jarvis. She's worked for Father O'Neill for several years and we've confirmed that she was there this morning. Several neighbors saw her watering the flowers just before the explosion. One witness said she'd picked up a case of some kind and then all hell broke loose. How is Josiah?"

"He's being moved to SICU right now. They've listed him as critical, but stable. He's pretty beat up and they had to do surgery to repair internal damage," Larabee answered.

"Several of my men have been asking about visiting, but I'll tell them to hold off for now."

"Thanks, Bob, I'll let you know when he's ready for visitors, but it could be a few days."

"I'll try and keep you in the loop when we find out more about the explosion."

"I'd appreciate that." Larabee said goodbye and placed his cell back in his pocket. He took a deep breath and moved to one of the empty benches and sat down. Things just didn't add up with JD's accident and now Josiah being injured in an explosion. There was no real reason to tie the two incidents together, but his mind was in overdrive and two names seemed to leap out at him. Goodwin and Vargas…but until he found more evidence there was nothing he could do…at least not on an official basis. That didn't mean he had to sit back and watch his team be taken apart. With that thought in mind, Chris knew he'd have to keep his team from knowing what he was up to.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin stared at the television, amazed at the total destruction surrounding the rectory at St. Joseph's church. The reporters were still on hand but were being kept away from the rectory. He'd seen the ambulances and the firemen who'd carried two people from the ruined structure but did not recognize who they were. Now the reporters were updating their viewers with the names of the injured men. He picked up the phone and dialed the number with a slight smile on his face.

"Do you think that got his attention, Amigo?"

"Sanchez isn't dead."

"No, and that's a good thing because with Sanchez in the hospital, Larabee will spend his time worrying about whether the man will live or die. A dead Sanchez would have meant a Larabee who was hell bent on finding out who had the balls to kill one of his men. This way he should stay off our ass long enough to complete the deal with the Bradford brothers."

"What time is the meet set?"

"Tomorrow night at nine down near the old warehouse on the south side. Do you want to be there?"

"I would, but I think it's important that I show up at the mayor's dinner party."

"Oh, I'm sure you'll enjoy that…all those stuffed shirts and cheap perfumes. I do not envy you, Amigo."

"Believe me I'd rather be at the meet. Are the Bradford brothers the ones interested in weapons?"

"Yes, they are. I have several items to show them before they decide, but I think the assault rifles and explosives we confiscated should convince them we're big-time players."

"I hope so, Rodrigo, because the sooner we get rid of those the better. If Larabee gets wind of their location, we might as well kiss our asses goodbye."

"Then we keep him away from the weapons."

"How? Even with Sanchez down he'll still come after me. He knows more than he lets on and I'd be a fool if I said I wasn't worried."

"You're not a fool, Amigo, but you worry too much. Sooner or later that sonofabitch will have to back down…or I'll simply arrange to have his whole team taken care of."

"I thought you already had," Goodwin said, smiling when he heard his friend's raucous laughter.

"No, Amigo, I'm only just getting started."

"I'm glad you're on my side."

"No shit…look, I need to make sure everything is set for tomorrow…enjoy your dinner."

Goodwin replaced the phone and settled back in the recliner. Larabee would soon find out he'd chosen the wrong man to cross. Vargas would see to that and once everything was settled with Larabee, then he would hire someone to take care of the bastard. The man was holding too much over his head and if he wanted to get into the Senate, he'd have to cut all ties with people like Vargas. Right now, the drug dealer was simply a means to an end…Larabee's end.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris moved into the SICU and looked at the man who was more than just a friend. Whether Josiah realized it or not he was a stabilizing influence on the whole team, and his mentor. Chris could listen to Sanchez speak for hours and never tire of that strong voice that could shake the rafters if he wanted to. The man had an ability to make people listen and more often than not he got through to the people who needed him most. That was what made this so hard…to see this strong man laid flat because someone decided to blow up a church rectory of all things. He placed a hand on Sanchez's bare shoulder, carefully avoiding the ointment that had been spread over the burns and whispered a silent prayer.

"Stay strong, Josiah, God knows we need you." Larabee took a deep breath and smiled at the nurse who continued to care for her patient even when there were others in the room. Nathan, Ezra, and Vin had already visited with Josiah, and he knew there were plenty of people from the parish who had come by for both Josiah and Father Thomas.

"Mr. Larabee, I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to leave," the nurse said and saw the slight nod of the blond head.

"We'll find the bastards who did this, Josiah, so you just let these people take care of you or I'll kick…I'll be back, Josiah," Larabee vowed, stuffing his hands into his pocket, and hurrying from the room.

"Chris, I'm going to stay with Josiah," Jackson said.

"All right, Nathan," Larabee said and turned to the remaining members of his team. "I'm heading over to the church to see if there's anything new. You boys want to come along?"

"Of course," Standish answered.

"Good, Nathan, call if anything changes," Larabee ordered.

"I will," Jackson said and turned his attention to the cubical where Sanchez was housed. The curtains were closed, and he knew the nurse had done that to give Sanchez a modicum of dignity while she performed the more ‘intimate' details of her job. He leaned against the wall and watched the trio leave, hoping and praying this was the last time he'd stand in the SICU waiting for a friend to wake up.

"Chris, did Miller tell ya anythin' ‘bout the explosion?" Tanner asked.

"It was deliberately set," Larabee answered.

"Is there any word on the identity of the third victim?" Standish asked, pressing the elevator button.

"Miller said the neighbors saw Miranda Jarvis pick up a case of some kind just before the explosion."

"Mrs. Jarvis has been at the church a long time," the Texan said sadly. He remembered the robust woman from the times he'd helped Sanchez with his ‘penance'. She'd been friendly and kind and he'd often sat on the porch step while drinking lemonade and listening to her tales of her experiences in the parish.

"The lady could certainly bake," Standish added softly.

"Yes, she could. She'll be sorely missed," Larabee agreed, stepping into the elevator as the doors opened. The trip down was made in silence as the trio thought about the death and destruction that had rained down on St. Joseph's Church.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin knew what he was about to do was stupid, but he couldn't help rubbing Larabee's nose in things. He knew the man would put everything into investigating the explosion that had injured one of his men. Vargas had taken care of the bomber, and nothing could tie him in to the explosion, but the chance to rattle Larabee's cage was too much for him to ignore. He reached for one of the untraceable cell phones and smiled as he clicked it on. He glanced at the television and thought he spotted a familiar figure at the site of the explosion.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Ezra climbed into the back seat of Tanner's jeep while Chris took the front passenger seat. The Texan got in on the driver's side and pulled out of the parking lot. The drive to St. Joseph's church was a solemn one, with the trio thinking about the explosion and the resulting death of a woman who'd been part of their lives, even if it was only on the sidelines.

They reached the church and pulled to a stop near Miller's car and exited to find the man hurrying toward them. Something about his demeanour told them he had news, and they hoped it wasn't another tragedy.

"Gentlemen, this is still an open investigation so please stay back of the yellow line," Miller warned, yet he was glad to see the trio. Larabee's team had been helpful on numerous cases, and it helped that they had the mayor's office backing them as well.

"We will, Bob, just wanted to check in with you and see if there's anything new," Larabee said, leaning against the jeep as he watched the reporters who seemed determined to get the best interview while their camera people tried for the most telling shots. He knew they were just doing their jobs, reporting events for the people who wanted them, but sometimes they were like vultures circling in for the kill.

"Nothing new here. John is leading the investigation into the fire, and it does appear that the briefcase was the bomb," Miller answered and turned to watch his men reminding a reporter to stay back of the line or risk being arrested. "There is another element to the explosion. Tim O'Leary and his partner found a dead man in a car about half a mile south of here. His throat was slit, and the coroner put his death at around the same time as the explosion. He could be our bomber."

"Any idea who he is?" Tanner asked.

"Not yet, but we're running his fingerprints through the database," Miller answered. "If this guy is involved with the explosion, then we know he wasn't working alone and whoever killed him is trying to cover his tracks."

"Let me know when you get a name on this guy. I'll have Ezra put him through our files and see what he can come up with," Larabee offered.

"Thanks, Chris, I know you guys can dig deeper than we can and any help you give us is appreciated."

"We're on the same side, Bob," Larabee told him and moved away when his phone began to ring. "Larabee."

"Hello, Chris…"

"What the fuck do you want, Charlie?"

"I just thought I'd call and ask how your man is doing. I hear he was caught in the explosion…that's too bad…he could have died…"

"You bastard…I'm going to make you pay for this!"

"For what? Asking about a constituent's well-being? You're getting paranoid, Chris."

"You don't give a damn about Josiah and I'm warning you right now that I'll find a way to bring you down!"

"Is that a threat, Chris? Do you realize how you sound? It's a good thing I'm taping this because I'd hate to have you charged with something as petty as verbal assault."

"Verbal assault is the least of your worries, Charlie!" Larabee snarled and cursed when the line went dead.

"Problems, Cowboy?"

"That bastard is involved in this, Vin!"

"What bastard?" Tanner asked.

"Goodwin…that was him…"

"Did he say anythin' ta make ya think that?"

"Nothing that'll hold up in court, but I'm going to shove it right up his smug ass when we find anything remotely incriminating!" Larabee snapped.

"Chris, I know ya don't like Goodwin, but ya can't go anywhere near him without bein' thrown in jail," Tanner reminded him.

"I know, Vin, but that doesn't mean I can't do some background checks into his affairs," the blond said.

"Chris, if there is anything I can do to help…"

"Thanks, Ezra, but right now I don't want the team involved. I'm going to make sure he knows I'm after him, but I also want it clear that the team wasn't involved."

"Chris, if'n yer involved then the team is…"

"No, Vin, not this time. Not until I have the evidence that'll put that sonofabitch behind bars for good. Look, I'm going to…"

"End up locked up while Goodwin and Vargas sit back and watch," Standish told him. "Chris, I know how much you dislike people like…"

"Dislike is not exactly how I feel, Ezra, and that's why I want you guys out of the loop on this one." Larabee told them seriously and then forced a weak smile to his face. "Besides, if I go down, I'm going to need you guys to find me a loophole or two."

"Chris…"

"No, Vin, you heard me," Larabee said and moved back toward Miller when the man motioned for his attention. "What have you got, Bob?"

"We have an ID on the dead man in the car. His name is Anthony Marcos. He's a small-time thief and I doubt if he had anything to do with the bombing, but we're going to check him for priors just in case."

"I'll have Ezra run him through our files as well and let you know if we find anything," Larabee said and shook hands with the police officer.

"Thanks, Chris, keep me updated on Josiah," Miller said and shook hands with the trio before moving back toward the firefighters who were packing up their equipment.

"Chris…"

"You heard me, Vin, stay out of it!"

"No, Larabee, not when it could cost you everything!"

"Cost me! That's right, Vin, and that's the way I want it to stay! I don't give a damn if Goodwin and Vargas come after me, but they don't fuck with my family!"

"We can handle ourselves," Standish said.

"I know…but right now I'd rather be the one hung out to dry should I fuck this up," Larabee told them and held the door of the jeep so Ezra could climb into the back seat. He stood looking at the destruction and knew there was no way he could involve the team in what had become a personal vendetta where Charles Edward Goodwin was concerned.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris sat in his office and turned his attention to the file he'd pulled up on his computer. These were password protected for his own use, yet he knew JD or Ezra could easily find the data he had accumulated on Goodwin and Vargas so far. He compared times and dates and found there was both motive and opportunity for the two men to meet in clandestine places.

"Chris, me and Ez are headed fer his place ta grab a bite ta eat…wanna come along?"

"No thanks, Vin, I've got a couple of things to catch up on and then I'll probably stop at the hospital to see Josiah before I crash at Buck and JD's place for the night," Larabee answered.

"Chris, ya gotta let it go fer now," Tanner tried.

"I will…I'm just going to finish the file on the Browner case so I can turn it in to Orin at tomorrow's meeting," the blond lied and made sure the Texan could not see the front of his monitor.

"I hope that's all it is, Cowboy, because yer gettin' a mite obsessed with Goodwin and Vargas…"

"Obsessed, Vin, no I don't think so. I think a better word would be determined. I'm going to find something that'll link the bastards and then I'm going to tie them into the drug cartels in this city," Larabee snapped. "Look. Get out of here and I'll see you guys tomorrow morning."

"All right," Tanner said and left the office.

Chris listened to the two men leave and turned his attention back to the files he'd been perusing. This one dealt with Goodwin's financial situation including credit card records and bank accounts. He knew that what he was doing was illegal, but right now he didn't give a damn as long as he found something to help him bring the man to his knees.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin stared at the man seated across from him and realized that Larabee was damn close to finding the hidden financial records. Vargas had contacted him as soon as he'd been told that someone tapped into Goodwin's account through a backdoor program. They'd arranged to meet at Vargas' home outside Billings.

"What the hell do we have to do to stop that bastard?"

"We need to keep our heads, Amigo," Vargas said and slid several papers across the desk.

"What's this?"

"Evidence?"

"Of what?" Goodwin asked.

"Of Larabee's continued harassment of a high ranking official. If you look closely, you'll see where Larabee has been digging into your personal information and has doctored the records, so it looks like you've been on the take. If you present these to the mayor at tomorrow night's dinner party, you just might get Larabee off your ass…and mine, for good."

"Won't this bring too much attention to our activities?"

"No, it should take it off us and put it on Larabee. He might even do jail time for fucking with government documents," Vargas explained.

"What happens if it doesn't?"

"Then we get down and dirty and shut the sonofabitch up for good," the drug runner answered.

"Now that sounds like a plan," Goodwin said and read several paragraphs that pointed to Larabee and his illegal activities to appropriate files and documents that had obviously been doctored by a professional. "These are good."

"You should know I only hire the best," Vargas said. "Now timing is of the essence here and that's why I chose tomorrow night as a perfect way to fuck with Larabee on the number side…after all we can always get rid of his team and leave him holding the bag."

"I like the way you think, Rodrigo," Goodwin said and tapped his glass against his partner's before drinking the red wine and feeling a little more at ease.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Buck poured himself a cup of strong coffee and walked out of the kitchen. It was nearly ten PM and JD was still resting. Whether the kid realized it or not, his body was telling him to rest and heal. He'd made several calls to Jackson and Larabee and knew there was no change in either Sanchez or Father Thomas. He wanted to go to the hospital, but right now he was needed here. A knock on the door brought him out of his thoughts and he opened it to find a tired Chris Larabee standing there.

"Jesus, Chris, come in before they put you out of your misery," Wilmington teased lightly. "Coffee?'

"Got anything stronger?" Larabee asked hopefully.

"Coffee with a whiskey chaser?"

"Just whiskey," the blond told him and sank tiredly onto the couch.

"Want me to make up the spare bed?"

"Wouldn't mind," Larabee assured him, accepting the glass of amber liquid from his long-time friend. He took a mouthful and swallowed, relaxing as it burned a fiery trail down his throat. "How's JD?"

"He's okay…sleeping since I brought him home, but I've been checking on him every hour," Wilmington answered.

"When did we become a family, Buck?"

"What are you talking about Chris?"

"Me and you…we always said we'd be alone all our lives and wouldn't give a damn about anything except having a good time…when did that change?"

"Probably the day we joined the TEAMs," Wilmington answered. "What's got you in this mood, Pard?"

"It seems like we grew up and found a family, and sometimes we see them hurting and can't do a fucking thing about it. Life seemed a lot easier when we didn't give a damn about anything except where the next thrill came from."

"I know what you mean, but would you want to go back to that, Chris? Would you want to go back to living without Vin or JD or the others in your life?"

"No…guess not, but there are times when life would be a whole lot simpler without them," Larabee said, downing the last of the whiskey and leaning back against the couch. His eyes closed and he felt Wilmington take the empty glass from his hand. "A whole lot simpler and a whole lot lonelier."

"That's for damn sure…come on, Chris, let's get you into bed…"

"In your dreams, Buck," Larabee said, his voice slurring with a combination of fatigue and alcohol.

"Only if there's women involved, Stud," Wilmington said and realized Larabee had dropped off to sleep. He reached for a pillow and eased the weary man down before grabbing a blanket and covering him with it. ‘You really do need to let it go, Chris,' he thought before moving to check on JD.

Dunne was asleep on his side facing toward him and the light from the hallway illuminated the bruises on his bare chest and cheek. Buck silently cursed the driver of the other car for nearly costing him the younger man's friendship. He gently closed the door and returned to the living room where he sat down in the chair near the open doorway, a silent sentry watching over his friends.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Orin Travis looked up as his office door opened and wasn't surprised to find a dejected Chris Larabee walk into the room. He reached into the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a bottle of scotch and two glasses. As Larabee sat down he poured a shot into each glass and slid one across the table.

"Thanks, Orin," Larabee said and stared at the amber colored liquid before placing it back on the desk.

"Were you at the hospital already?"

"I went there, but there's no change, Orin. Josiah's in bad shape and they are keeping him in the ICU. Father Thomas is going to be okay, but he's in for a long recovery."

"I spoke with David Marshall…Josiah is strong, Chris, and he's as stubborn as the rest of your team. He's going to be okay."

"I hope so," Larabee said and used his fingers to tip the glass slightly before releasing it again. "I know you all think I'm wrong about Goodwin, but I'm not Orin. He's dirty and he's behind the attacks on JD and Josiah. I can't stop thinking about the people he's hurt."

"I know, Son, and I wish to God there was something I could do to take the bastard down, but right now we need to step back before someone else is hurt."

"I know you're right, but if I do, he wins, and we all lose."

"Chris, I know you and I respect your opinion, but there comes a time when you have to step back and look at things from a different angle. If Goodwin is dirty…"

"He is…"

"I know you believe that and because you do, I am giving you the benefit of the doubt."

"Thanks…he needs to be taken down!"

"Okay, but not at the cost of your team and not at the cost of everything you believe in. I am not telling you to give up, but I am asking you to tread lightly and let the chips fall where they may. We will get the evidence we need..."

"What if it's too late?"

"It won't be. I need to go home and get ready for the mayor's dinner party tonight and he asked me to bring you along."

"I don't know, Orin. I'm not in the mood for…"

"You won't have to do anything except relax and try to enjoy yourself."

"That's an oxymoron Orin," Larabee said with a hint of a smile.

"True, but it will get your mind off Goodwin and Vargas for a couple of hours. Ryan and Diane said to tell you they got a new shipment of the New Zealand wine you like," Travis told him.

"I don't have anything…"

"Nothing fancy, Chris, just wear the ready suit you have in your closet. He's also invited Buck, Ezra and Nathan. Not sure if they will be there, so I'd like at least one of The Firm to be there. That leaves you…Evie said you can come with us."

"I guess I can't say no to Evie," Larabee said with a soft chuckle. Evie Travis had taken the team under her wing the first time she'd met them, and he could not disappoint the woman any more than he could disappoint Nettie Wells.

"Good, be ready for six," Travis said.

"I will," Larabee said and stood up to leave. He looked at the untouched glass of whiskey and left it where it was before leaving the office.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Nathan looked at the man on the bed and sighed tiredly. It had been a long night, and the day was shaping up to be the same. It was just past noon and the nurses and doctors had been in and out of the room. So far, the news remained the same in that Josiah was holding his own.

Jackson watched as the nurse made several notations on his friend's chart, only slightly relieved when she smiled at him. The staff knew he could read the monitors and didn't try to sugar coat things for his benefit. They answered his questions honestly and that was something he was grateful for.

"Nathan, why don't you go get a coffee."

"That time again?"

"I'm afraid so," Gillian Smith told him as she readied the items she would need to suction the tube.

"I'll be back in half an hour," he said and said a soft prayer before leaving the room. He wasn't surprised to find Rain standing there and hugged her.

"Let me but you a coffee," Rain told him.

"Sounds like a plan," Jackson said as she led him toward the doctor's lounge. "There really are benefits to dating a doctor."

"I figured you would appreciate the quiet."

"I do," Jackson said and opened the door, holding it for the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. The lounge was empty, but the smell of freshly brewed coffee made his mouth water.

"Sit down," Rain ordered and smiled when he didn't argue with her. "I made sandwiches…"

"I'm…"

"I don't want to hear that you're not hungry. It's been a long night and you're exhausted. I…"

"I was going to say I'm starving."

"Sure, you were."

"I really was."

"Good. Two sandwiches it is," Rain said as he sat on the worn, but comfortable sofa.

"Rain, what did I ever do to deserve you?" Jackson said and pulled her down beside him.

"I don't know, but I'm glad you feel that way. I love you, Nathan Jackson."

"I love you too, Rain Goines," Jackson said and kissed her gently.

"We need to stop before someone walks in on us and you need to eat," the pretty woman said and reluctantly stood up. "I know you want to stay with Josiah, but you need to take care of yourself too. I am done with my shift in an hour, and I'll come get you. We will both go home and get some sleep. No argument!"

"You won't get any from me," Jackson said and took the plate holding two sandwiches. "Where's yours?"

"Right here,' she said and sat beside him.

"Thank you,"

"For what?"

"For being you and for knowing what I need," Jackson answered.

"You would do the same for me."

"Yes…yes I would," the medic answered and smiled despite his worries. He knew no matter what happened this woman would always be by his side. He didn't know why he had been so lucky, but he wasn't going to waste anymore time. He already had the ring, now he just needed to pop the question and pray she gave him the answer he wanted to hear.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Ezra knew what he was doing could get him into trouble, but he trusted Chris Larabee and wanted to find out anything he could to help him. If that meant digging into Goodwin and Vargas on his own time, then so be it.

So far, he'd been unable to find much on Goodwin. The man knew how to use people and hide his involvement, but Ezra knew how to read between the lines. Everything he uncovered, no matter how big or small went into a protected folder that he would keep until he had the evidence to bring to Chris and the others.

With JD still down it meant he had to do the searches himself, but JD had taught him several ways to circumvent the security Goodwin had in place. It would just take a little time. Time was something they had plenty of with the team on stand down while Chris was under scrutiny and meant the team was down three key members.

He'd taken the time to stop at Buck's and see how JD was doing. The ‘kid' was doing better, but the headaches would keep him down for some time. He'd brought pizza and soda with him and stayed long enough to eat. While he was there, they'd called to check on Josiah and found out his condition hadn't changed.

Ezra sat back in his chair and poured a glass of wine before sighing and stretching his back. He was beyond tired, but there were things he needed to do before retiring to his bed. A soft laugh escaped as he thought of how much he'd changed since meeting Chris Larabee and accepting these men as his family. Back then he would have climbed under his satin sheets and covered himself in the luxury of his overly expensive bedclothes. Thankfully, his tastes had changed, and he no longer wanted the loneliness of looking for the next con.

"Mothah would be appalled," he whispered to the empty room. He finished his wine and walked toward the balcony. He stood there for several minutes, whispering a silent prayer that they would find what they needed on Goodwin and Vargas. More importantly he wished a complete recovery for Josiah and JD.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Evie Travis smiled at her husband as Chris Larabee opened the door for her. They'd picked him up at the office and she hoped they could get his mind off the problems he faced. This man and his team were more than just employees, they'd become family and she hated when her family hurt.

"Thank you, Chris," she said when he offered his hand and helped her from the car.

"You're welcome," Larabee said and wished there was some way of getting out of the evening. Orin would understand if he left, but the man wanted him to do this, and it was such a simple thing.

"Chris, thank you for agreeing to come. Ryan was glad to hear you accepted his invitation."

"I thought it was from you," Larabee said and smiled at the chagrinned look on the older man's face.

"It could be from both of us. You know Ryan respects you and your team. You've done more for his office than any man I know.'

"Ryan's a good man," Larabee said as they walked up the stairs and knocked on the door. It was opened almost immediately by an older woman dressed in a black skirt, white shirt, and tie.

"Good evening, Mr. and Mrs., Travis. Mayor Collins is expecting you. They are on the back patio," the woman said and took their coats before leading them toward the back of the house.

Chris took a deep breath as he walked behind Orin and Evie Travis and heard laughter from outside. He stepped out onto the well-lit patio and accepted a glass of wine from one of the servers.

"Orin, Evie, so glad you could join us. It's good to see you too, Chris," Ryan Collins said as his wife joined them. They shook hands and made their way toward the table set up near the BBQ.

"Thanks for inviting me," Larabee said.

"You're always welcome here, Chris," Diane told him and turned to speak with several other high-profile guests.

"How are Josiah and JD?" the mayor asked.

"JD is at home…still has headaches, but Buck's with him. Josiah's in ICU. He's in critical condition, but the doctors are hopeful he'll make a complete recovery," Larabee answered.

"I will say a special healing prayer for your men tonight," the mayor said.

"Thank you. I know they will appreciate it," Larabee said.

"I need to speak with Daniel and Collette, so enjoy yourselves and let me know if you need anything,' Collins told them.

"Chris, there's someone I'd like you to meet," Evie Travis said and motioned for him to follow her. "Susan Marlow, I'd like you to meet Chris Larabee. You two have a lot in common…"

"He can't be here!"

Larabee turned at the familiar voice that was laced with anger and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Evie, but I have to go."

"Chris…"

"Leave now or I will call the police!" Goodwin warned.

"What's going on?" Ryan Collins asked as he joined the group.

"Charlie has a restraining order against me, and I am not supposed to be within 500 feet of him," Larabee explained.

"Chris, maybe you should leave," Orin said with a hint of anger as he stared at Charles Goodwin.

"Hold on a minute, Orin. Chris is a guest and was invited to join us. I'm sorry, Charles, but this man has every right to be here."

"Not once I arrived," Goodwin snapped.

"I'm leaving," Larabee said.

"No, Chris, you're not. Charles, I will see you at the office in the morning. Call my secretary and she'll give you a time," Collins told him.

"You're letting him stay after everything he's done to me!"

"I didn't do anything to you, Charlie…"

"Chris, let's go get a drink," Orin ordered.

"He is breaking the law Judge Travis!"

"No, he's not," Collins said. "He is here by invite…"

"So am I!"

"That may be, but I don't like people telling me what I have to do in my home and that includes you, Charles. Leave now and make an appointment for tomorrow afternoon."

"I can't believe you're choosing someone who breaks the law! He has been harassing me for months and now you're taking his side!"

"Charles, I am not taking sides, but I am choosing who I want in my home!"

"It's okay, Ryan, I'll leave."

"You do that, Chris!"

"No, he won't," Diane Collins said as she joined the group near the patio doors. "Chris was invited, Charles, and since this is our house, we can choose who stays and who leaves. Leave now and there won't be any problem."

"Ryan, you need to look at the papers I brought with me. They will prove what I've been saying all along. I have proof that Chris has been investigating me and using his position at The Firm to dig into my private affairs," Goodwin snapped.

"Is there something you don't want him to find, Charles?" the mayor asked.

"No, he's setting me up and it's not right that you're letting him away with it."

"Leave, Charles," Diane said and took a deep breath as she felt her other guests watching her. She had known Charles Goodwin for more than a decade. They'd even dated for several months, but there'd been something about the man that grated on her nerves and left a fowl taste in her mouth.

"I'll leave, Diane, but I warn you not to let him dictate how you act. He is jealous…"

"Of you? I don't think so," Evie Travis said and took Chris by the arm. "Come on, Chris, I need a glass of wine."

"Thank you, Evie," Larabee said and heard Daniel and Collette Martin talking to Goodwin as they escorted him away form the gathering.

"That man gives me the creeps," Evie said.

"He's dangerous," Larabee told her.

"I agree, but until you have more proof you need to stay away from him," Orin said as he joined them near the bar.

"I know, Orin, it's just hard to see him so smug."

"He's not so smug now. I'd say he's angry and that could be his downfall. Anger breeds mistakes and that's why we need you to think about how you're going to catch him," Orin told him.

"Chris, I apologize for what just happened," Ryan Collins said with a heavy sigh. "I have some idea of what's happening between you and Charles, but I had no idea he'd gone so far as to get a restraining order."

"You have nothing to apologize, Ryan. Actually, I should apologize to you and Diane. I shouldn't have come," Larabee said.

"You were invited and so was Charles, but he is the one that caused a scene," Diane said and linked her arm through his. "Come, Chris, I have someone I want you to meet."

"I…"

"Go, Chris, or I won't hear the end of it," Ryan said and watched his wife lead the reluctant man toward a group of people near the doors. He didn't know Larabee well, but he knew his wife and she was in match making mode.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin had never been so angry in all his life. How the hell had Larabee managed to get him kicked out of a dinner party that would have benefitted him. Why had the mayor and his wife and everyone else chosen to deny him the chance to show his evidence?

"This isn't over, Chris," he whispered and drove toward Rodrigo Vargas' home outside the city. He'd called him as soon as he left the dinner party and was relieved to hear there was a new shipment at the house that would be leaving at first light.

Goodwin forced himself to stay at the speed limit as he left the city limits behind him. It had taken him by surprise to see Larabee at the dinner and his anger had nearly gotten the better of him. Now it was a matter of taking deep breaths and taking his anger out on one of Vargas' whores.

An hour after leaving the dinner party he pulled into the driveway and made his way up to the house. He knocked hard several times and wasn't surprised when Vargas opened the door.

"You look like hell, Amigo!"

"I feel like it. Tell me you have something special! I really need to take out my frustrations right now."

"Well, I think I have someone who fits the bill,' Vargas said and lead him toward the room that housed his merchandise. "I know you are not into males, but this one just might…"

"I am not interested in…"

"Don't say anything else until you see what I have to offer. I don't think I've stared you wrong yet."

"No, you haven't," Goodwin said as Vargas opened the door to the basement and flipped on the light. There were several doors, and he knew there were young men and women behind each one. The door at the far end usually held those Vargas thought would make him the most money from his clients.

"I know you are angry and that you need to take it out on someone. This new acquisition just might be what you need, and I have a feeling he might not make it through the night, but it is what you need right now."

"I doubt it," Goodwin said as Vargas opened the door, and a bright light illuminated the lone occupant who sat up on the edge of the bed in the corner. The small, but sturdy chain rattled as he looked at the newcomers. "This is Peter, and he is yours for the night or as long as you need him."

"Please, let me go."

"Not a chance," Vargas said. "Enjoy, Charles. I have a couple waiting for me upstairs so ring the bell when you need anything."

"I will," Goodwin said and couldn't help the smile that formed. The fear filled eyes of the young man were the same shade of green as Chris Larabee's, but the similarities didn't stop there. Blond hair hung low over his forehead and his lean body proved that he worked out. The fact that he was devoid of clothes made his heart beat faster and his hands fisted at the thought of taking out his anger in this way.

"Why are you doing this?"

"Because I can," Goodwin answered.

"Please don't."

"I love it when your kind begs," Goodwin said and reached for the gloves that had been placed on the table. "I must say Rodrigo always seems to know what I need when I need it!"

Goodwin snapped the clasps closed over his wrists so that the gloves would not come free until he was ready to discard them. His mouth was dry, but it was the excitement and not because he was nervous. He knew he could simply kill this young man, but he wanted to take out his anger and this creature was just what he needed.

His fist landed against the man's cheek, and he felt the controlled shudder run through his body. It was easy to imagine this was Chris Larabee and he relished the thought of beating him to a bloody pulp. He pulled back his right arm and sent another blow to the man's face. Blood spilled from Peter's split lip as another blow landed against his face.

"Stand up, Chris!" Goodwin ordered.

"I'm not Chr…Chris!"

"No, but you'll do until I get my fucking hands on him. He'll beg for death just like you will before I'm done!"

"Pl…please stop," Peter begged as several blows landed against his face and chest.

"Stand up!"

"I ca…can't!"

"Then you'll die on your back like a whore!" Goodwin snarled and struck the young man again before dragging him to his feet. His fist landed several times before the young man crumbled to the floor. "You're a coward, Chris Larabee! Stand up you miserable bastard!"

"N…not…"

Goodwin no longer heard the protests as he kicked at the body. Again and again, he lashed out, ignoring the cries of pain as if they were non-existent. He delivered a kick that landed against the bloodied blond head and bent forward with his hands on his knees as he fought to catch his breath.

He stared at the battered body for several minutes before straightening and removing the gloves and throwing them on the battered young man. He didn't check to see if he was alive and knew Vargas would take care of it for him. It was how they protected themselves and he made his way to the door. He opened it and stepped outside just as Vargas called to him.

"Was he satisfactory, Amigo?"

"He was…I swear he could have been Larabee."

"I wish I could have given you, Larabee, but I figured this one was a good choice. Would you like a brandy?"

"I would and one of your females, but first I'd like to have a shower and a change of clothes," Goodwin told him.

"Done," Vargas said and led him up the stairs. "Just do me a favor and let this one live. I can't afford to let you kill any more of my merchandise."

"He might be still alive."

"If he is it would probably be a waste of resources to heal him," Vargas said and knew this wasn't far from the truth. It was time Goodwin realized he couldn't keep killing off the merchandize no matter how angry he was.

"I need you to make Larabee pay for what he did to me tonight," Goodwin said.

"Done…sometime tomorrow there will be a story on the front page."

"Make sure it happens while I'm with the mayor. If Larabee insists I'm involved the mayor might just be on our side."

"I will arrange the next accident," Vargas said as Goodwin entered the guestroom shower. He closed the door and smiled at the thought of the new evidence he had on his associate. It would come in handy if the law ever came after him.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris took a deep breath as he made his way toward the SICU room that would be home to Josiah Sanchez for several days. Simmons and Marshall were both hopeful the man would recover, but they were also worried about the severe burns. He knew Nathan was already there and that Buck would be staying at home with JD.

Before heading for the hospital, he'd stopped off at Delvecchio's and ordered breakfast sandwiches and coffee. He'd stopped at Buck's and been offered a cup of coffee but had seen the relief on Buck's face when JD had joined them. He'd left the two men their breakfast and headed for Saint Vincents.

Chris looked into the room and smiled thinly when Nathan noticed him. He stepped inside and passed the man a cup of hot coffee. "Any change?"

"Nothing, but the doctors are cautiously optimistic," Jackson answered. "Did you see Buck and JD?"

"I just came from there. JD is pale, but he sems a little better. Ezra and Vin are on their way. You and Ezra have that meeting with Judge Mercer this morning, so I'll stay here until I meet with Travis and Gary Browner."

"How are the Browners?"

"Shirley is a bit of a wreck, but kids are resilient, and I think they'll be fine. It's going to take some time, but I think Gary and Shirley know what they are doing."

"I heard you had a run in with Goodwin last night."

"I did…he showed up at the mayor's dinner and told me I had to leave."

"But you didn't?"

"No, Ryan and Diane insisted I stay and told him to leave."

"He's dangerous, Chris. If he's behind what happened to JD and Josiah, then you might have to back off and let someone else take the lead on this.

"I wish it was that simple, Nathan, but nothing ever is. I can't let the sonofabitch get away with murder."

"Even if it means the people you care about end up hurt."

"That's not what I mean, Nathan, but it's why I don't want the team involved this time. I need to handle this myself."

"How many times have you told us no one needs to go lone wolf?"

"Too many, but this time it's different," Larabee told him and turned at the sound of footsteps nearing the room. "Vin and Ezra are here."

"Chris…"

"We'll talk about this later, Nathan. Let me know what happens with Mercer," Larabee said in an effort to shut down any further arguments. He stepped out of the room with Nathan close on his heels.

"Hey, Chris…Nate…how is he?" Tanner asked.

"No change, but we all know how stubborn Josiah is," Jackson offered.

"I believe you and I should leave if we want to make our meeting with Judge Mercer," Standish observed.

"We have time…"

"Go, Nathan. We all know the judge's reputation and he doesn't like to be kept waiting," Larabee said.

"I'll stay with Josiah," Tanner said and stepped into the room. He hadn't missed the tension between Larabee and Jackson, but now was not the time to get into it.

"Thanks, Vin," Jackson said and followed Standish toward the elevators. He glanced back at Larabee and hoped his friend didn't do anything stupid. Charles Goodwin was dangerous, but he was also smart and would not sit by and let them ruin his life.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Judge, Nathan Jackson and Ezra Standish are here," Sandra McMillan said and motioned the two men inside when Mercer acknowledged her.

"Good morning, Judge," Jackson greeted the man who sat behind a large mahogany desk covered in files.

"It's morning…whether it's a good one or not remains to be seen," the older man said and turned his attention to the second man. "Ezra, how is your mother?"

"Mothah is very well. She is in Rio and enjoying the company of…"

"Please tell me she is not dating one of those drug runners."

"Mothah would be appalled if she knew you thought so little of her distinguished taste."

"She certainly has a discerning taste when it comes to the people she dates," the man said. "Give her my best when you talk to her."

"She certainly does," Standish said.

"How are Sanchez and Dunne?" Mercer asked.

"JD is recovering at home. Josiah is in critical condition, but the doctors are cautiously optimistic that he will recover," Jackson answered.

"I hope so…you men do a lot for this city and sometimes I forget that given what's happening with Larabee and Charles Goodwin. Doesn't he realize he's trying to take down a good man?"

"According to Chris he's not a good man," Jackson told him.

"Chris hasn't always been a good judge of character."

"Perhaps not, but something tells me this time he is correct," Standish said.

"What do you think, Ezra? Is Larabee right about Goodwin or is he jealous of how far the man has come?"

"He's not jealous and I don't think he's wrong. My instincts are telling me he's right, but he's going about it the wrong way."

"Exactly, but that's not why we are here is it? I want an update on the investigation into Tobias Landry. You two worked that case and I don't want to have any surprises," Mercer said.

"Tobias was right about his brother-in-law, and we have the proof that should bring him down," Jackson advised. "We spoke to the DA and showed him what we have on Marcus Alexander. He said it was good enough to bring charges."

"Very well…now show me the evidence," Mercer ordered and cleared an area on his desk. "I want this taken care of ASAP."

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris knew what he was doing would not sit well with Travis or his team, but too many people had lost their lives because of Goodwin. He had to keep his friends as far away from this as he could, but he was not going to let it go. Vin had given him the third degree when he'd left the SICU, but Chris had managed to leave before he gave anything away.

Larabee watched as Goodwin exited the office building that housed the mayor's office and knew whatever the man had on him was falsified. He had been looking into Goodwin's actions, but he hadn't doctored anything he'd found.

Chris watched as the man got into the back of a car and waited for the car to pull out into traffic. It wasn't busy, but he stayed back in hopes that Goodwin wouldn't notice him. He made notes of everywhere his nemesis went, but so far it was a dead end.

Chris glanced at his phone and frowned at the unknown number that was shown on the handsfree screen. "Larabee."

"Hello, Chris, I thought you had better things to do than follow me around."

"What do you want, Charlie?"

"I just wanted to give you my condolences on the loss of your team. I'm sure the others will be angry at you for going after me. Don't bother saying anything since I know better than to say anything on an open connection."

"You're behind what happened to JD, Casey, and Josiah and I swear I will stop you, Charlie!"

"Oh, Chris, you really should stop threatening an innocent man…"

"You're not innocent, Charlie, and you will end up behind bars before I'm through."

"It's a good thing I'm keeping record of this conversation. I'm sure once the mayor reads the files I just gave him he'll see you for who you really are. Good luck, Chris, you…and your team are going to need it."

Chris slammed his hands on the steering wheel as the line went dead. Goodwin had succeeded in getting to him, but it didn't matter. Sooner or later, he would make a mistake and Chris would be there to take him down for good. He turned on the next street and headed toward the office.

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Ezra glanced at the man in the passenger seat and knew Jackson understood just how bad things were with Josiah Sanchez and Father Thomas. His training as an EMT gave him an understanding of medical terminology the rest of them didn't have.

"Nathan, I know you are worried about Josiah, but he is strong," Standish said and drove toward his favourite coffee shop. It was the only one that kept his favourite coffee beans and they'd called to tell him his order was ready for pickup.

"I know, Ez, but sometimes knowing what I do makes it that much harder," Jackson offered and smiled slightly when he recognized the area they were in. "I take it you're on a personal mission here."

"Carlos called me this morning to say it is ready," Standish said.

"Good to hear and I'll be expecting a fresh cup tomorrow morning," Jackson said when they pulled to a stop.

"Done," Standish said and opened his door. "I won't be long."

"No worries," Jackson said and closed his eyes. God, he was tired, but sleep was a commodity that was hard to find right now. Too many things clouded his mind as soon as he closed his eyes. A sound near the door made him jump and he stared into a pair of dark sunken eyes.

"This ain't your fuckin' car!" the man snarled as he pulled the door open.

"Whatcha got here, Miguel?"

"Black man sitting in this fancy rig! Bastard probably stole it from some working man! Get out of the fucking car!"

"Maybe we should drag him out!" the second man said and grabbed Nathan's arm.

"The car belongs to my friend and he's…"

"Don't believe you!" Miguel Cristo snapped and helped drag Jackson from the car.

Nathan took a deep breath and faced the two men. "Look…"

"Shut the fuck up!" Miguel cursed and smiled when he saw the bat in his partner's hands as he moved behind the other man. "Get him!"

Nathan tried to sidestep, but something connected with the side of his right knee. He fought to stay on his feet as the bigger man grabbed him in a bear hug. The pain in his leg became secondary as the man tightened his grip and a blow landed against his lower back.

"Let him go!" Ezra shouted and dropped the package on the ground. He raced toward the combatants and cried out when something struck his left arm, sending tremors of pain from wrist to shoulder.

"The police are on the way!" a man called from the café doors.

Ezra knew they could not do much as his arm hung uselessly at his side, but he couldn't let that stop him. He grabbed the wooden bat with his right arm and tried to get the other man off balance. A fist connected with his head, and he felt something wet above his right eye. He caught sight of Nathan and knew he had to help him as the sound of sirens reached their ears. The man holding Nathan in a bear hug released him just as Ezra pulled the bat free and fell to the ground. He grabbed onto his right arm as the two men raced behind the café and disappeared down an alley.

"Nathan, are you all right?" Ezra asked and hoped the man was okay.

"No…not re…really," Jackson managed as two police cars pulled in behind the corvette. His knee was numb, but he knew it would soon come back to life as the swelling pressed against his pants.

"What happened?" Rodney Silverton asked as he made his way to the inured men.

"They were attacked by two men holding that bat!" the café owner explained. "I've called for an ambulance. I can also give you access to my camera feed."

"That's great news," the second officer said and grabbed the first aid kit form his patrol car. He opened a package of gauze and pressed it against the wound above standish's right eye. "Hold that there and try not to move your arm."

"I don't think I could if I wanted to," Standish told him.

"Nathan, I'm not going to touch your leg," Silverton said as a third officer joined them. "Did you catch them?"

"No, they must know their way around here," the second man answered as the ambulance pulled up to the café. Two paramedics hurried toward them, and the officers moved to speak with the café owner.

"Nathan, I'm going to have to cut your pants to check your knee," the first paramedic said as his partner moved to check on Ezra Standish.

"One of them had that bat and he hit Ezra with it. I didn't see what happened to Mr. Jackson," the owner said.

"I'm going to give you something for pain and then I'll immobilize your arm, Ezra," the second paramedic said. They were familiar with these men, and knew they were part of Orin Travis' elite team.

"Thank you," Standish said as the man injected something into his right arm.

"Let me check your head."

Standish removed the gauze and heard the other paramedic telling Nathan he was going to give him a shot of morphine before taking them both to Saint Vincents.

"We'll follow you in and get your statements at the hospital," an officer told them as Jackson was helped on a stretcher and Ezra stubbornly refused to be placed on one and stepped inside the ambulance. He closed his eyes and held tightly to his left arm as the ambulance pulled away from the café.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7  

"Where are you, Amigo?"

"Just on my way home. Why?"

"Well, how is that cough of yours?"

"What cough?"

"The one that sent you to the hospital the last time. You sound like you should get it checked again."

"What's going on, Rodrigo?"

"Let's just say Larabee is down two more and he'll probably be there. It would be a great opportunity for you to show everyone just how crazy Chris Larabee is."

"Who did you take out of the equation this time?" Goodwin asked with a grin.

"You're better off not knowing. That way you will look like you know nothing about this. I will talk to you a little later."

"Sounds like a plan to me," Goodwin said as the other man hung up. He opened the glass barrier and coughed as he spoke to the driver. "I need to go to Saint Vincents before we go to the office."

"Yes, Sir," the chauffeur said as the barrier closed once more. He turned down a secondary street and took the main road that would bypass the heavier traffic.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7  

"Easy, Chris," Roy Simmons ordered as the irate man entered the emergency department.

"Where are they? Are they going to be okay? Did they say who did this?"

"They are in the treatment area. No, they don't know who the men were. Now if you'll just go start the paperwork, I'll check on Nathan and Ezra and come see you," Simmons vowed before moving toward the treatment area.

Chris ran trembling fingers through his hair as he made his way to the desk. He waited for the nurse to finish what she was doing and took the clipboard she handed him. "Thanks, Sandy."

"You're welcome, Chris…they are in good hands."

"I know…just don't tell Simmons I said that," Larabee told her as a familiar voice sounded near the entrance.

"Get him out of here before I call the police! Did you follow me here, Chris?"

"That's funny, Charlie…I was thinking the same thing!"

"You need to leave!"

"No, I don't," Larabee snarled as people turned to watch what was happening. "I'm here because two of my men were hurt and if I find out you had anything to do with it…"

"I had no idea your men were hurt…well except for Sanchez and Dunne. Who got hurt this time and if I was a betting man, I'd say it had something to do with you! You really should take better care where your team is concerned!"

"If I find out you had anything…"

"You already said that Chris…people are going to think you're going senile," Goodwin spat. "Now, since I need to see a doctor, you have to leave!"

"I'm not leaving, Charlie," Larabee snarled as Orin Travis came through the emergency doors.

"Chris, come with me!" Travis ordered.

"You better get your lapdog out of here before the police arrive or I will press charges since this is much closer than 500 feet. Perhaps his men would benefit from his absence since he seems to be the cause…"

Chris saw red as Goodwin continued to goad him. The last few weeks with the injuries to his men fueled the fire that raged within, and he tried to grab his nemesis. Orin was relieved when Jake Taylor appeared and stepped between the two men.

"Jake, take Chris to the waiting room!" Travis ordered, painfully aware of the people watching them.

"He needs to leave!" Goodwin snarled.

"No, he doesn't. He is going to the waiting room, and you want to be seen by a doctor. That gives you more than 500 feet and that satisfies your egotistical need for power. He won't be anywhere near you!"

"Are you letting him speak for you, Chris?"

"Yes," Larabee answered as he turned away. He could feel Jake beside him and trusted the man to keep him in check if Goodwin continued his verbal tirade.

"He really is an ass," Taylor offered.

"That's a compliment where he's concerned," Larabee said and entered the crowded waiting room. He sat down and looked at the chart in his hands as Taylor went to the vending machine and got two cups of strong black coffee.

"Do you really think he had something to do with what happened to Ezra and Nathan?"

"Yes, I do, but the bastard is good at hiding behind people like Vargas. I think he had something to do with JD, Casey, and Josiah being hurt too," Larabee answered.

"You know I have contacts, Chris. Let me know if you need me to look into anything."

"I don't want anyone else involved…"

"Sorry, but if you're right then your team is already involved, and you need all the help you can get."

"I'll keep that in mind, but for now I'm not going to do anything that will get anyone else hurt," Larabee said.

"That is good to hear," Orin Travis had entered the waiting room and overheard the conversation between the two men. "Just remember he's smart and he's got backing right now. Don't go looking for confrontations."

"I won't, but I'm not backing away from one either," Larabee vowed.

"No one wants you to do that, but we want you to be smart about it," Travis said. "I don't want to see anyone else hurt because…"

"Of me," Larabee said.

"I never said that."

"I know, Orin, and I understand what you're saying, but I am not backing down on this!"

"Not even if it means Goodwin and Vargas go after the people you care about?"

"Maybe I just walk away from all of you."

"That's not a solution and just leaves you out in the cold."

"I've been there before," Larabee whispered.

"Not since you formed this team. They are your family, Son…we all are," Travis said as Simmons entered the waiting room.

"Doc, how are they?" Larabee asked.

"Well, Dr. Frost has ordered x-rays and a CT scan for Standish, but we all know there's too many words locked up in his brain for the scan to show as normal. His left arm will need to be set and again, Dr. Frost will take care of that as soon as he has the test results."

"What about Nathan?" Larabee asked.

"His knee is messed up and will probably need surgery, but Dr. Frost is hoping he can do physio before making that decision."

"Can I see them?" the worried blond asked hopefully.

"Chris, Goodwin is back there, and you can't go anywhere near him," Travis warned.

"Sonofabitch!" Larabee spat and slammed the clipboard down before standing and striding to the window.

"Chris!"

"I can't do this, Orin. I can't let that sonofabitch dictate where and when I see the people I care about!"

"Right now, you don't have a choice. He won't hesitate to have you arrested," Travis warned and placed a hand on the younger man's right shoulder. "Chris, I'll go back there and check on them…"

"Oh, God, does Rain know!" Larabee asked.

"Relax, Larabee…she's in there with Nathan," Simmons answered. "Look, Larabee, I wish I could take you back, but it sounds like it would cause more problems…"

"I can deal with Goodwin."

"I don't doubt it for a minute, but this hospital doesn't need that kind of problem. Goodwin has friends on the hospital board, and he doesn't seem the kind to let things go. He'll go after what he wants no matter what the cost. Do you trust me, Chris?" Simmons asked.

"I do," Larabee said.

"Then let me do my job and make sure your friends are okay. If I need you for anything I know where to find you. Go see Josiah and let Vin know what's happening," Simmons said.

"Jesus, I forgot about Vin," Larabee said. "I need to call Buck and tell him as well."

"I'll call Buck," Travis told him. "I'll come up and tell you what the doctor's say about Nathan and Ezra."

"Thanks, Orin," Larabee said and stood up. "Doc, take care of them."

"You know I will," Simmons vowed and watched as Larabee dejectedly walked away.

Chris could feel them watching him until the door closed behind him. He leaned against the wall as his emotions nearly took over his mind and body. He wanted nothing more than to ignore the restraining order and check on his men himself but turned toward the main hallway before he could give in to the need inside him.

He made his way up to the SICU and spotted Vin standing outside the room. He knew it meant the nursing staff were in the room and hoped Josiah would recover.

"Chris, Jenny just told me Ezra and Nathan were in the ER. What happened?"

"They were attacked outside a that café Ezra gets his coffee from."

"Attacked by who?"

"I'm not sure. All I know right now is that there were two men with a baseball bat. Ezra's left arm is broken, and he's got a cut above his eye. Nate's got damage to his knee and who knows what else," Larabee answered.

"I can see them wheels turning, Larabee. What are ya thinkin'?"

"Not…"

"I know you, Chris, and I know damn well…"

"Look, Vin, you're better off not knowing what I'm thinking."

"Don't be so sure. You think Goodwin has something to do with everything that's happening."

"I don't think it…I know it. The bastard is behind all of this and I'm going to make damn sure he pays."

"Chris…"

"You know he's in the ER again? He has a knack for showing up whenever I'm there."

"Some people might think yer bein' paranoid."

"They'd be wrong. He was there when JD was brought in and again today when Ezra and Nathan were brought in. He seems to…"

"Didn't he have to see a doctor?"

"I don't know, but he didn't seem sick to me," Larabee spat.

"Chris, ya ain't got no proof!"

"Not yet but he's going to make a mistake and when he does, I'm going to be there when they slap the cuffs on him and lock him up for good!"

"I hope you're right and it ain't the other way around. It's jest dangerous to go poking around a rabid bear when ya ain't got no weapons," Tanner told him.

"I can handle myself," Larabee told him.

"Don't doubt it fer a minute, but if yer right then he ain't goin' after ya…he's after the people ya care about!"

"Then I'll stay away from all of you until I get what I need."

"This about what's right or about revenge?"

"Some of both," the blond whispered.

"Let us help," Tanner said.

"Not yet…not until I get the evidence I need."

"Chris…"

"Look, Vin, I need to go. Are you okay to stay here with Josiah?"

"Depends on where you are going," Tanner offered.

"I'm just going to the chapel…maybe ask for some of Josiah's Divine intervention,' Larabee said.

"Just stay away from Goodwin!"

"I hear you," the blond said and made his way toward the elevators. He could feel the Texan watching him but couldn't think of anything else to say. He knew what he was doing was dangerous, but people like Goodwin and Vargas thought they were above the law. Somehow, he would find a way to bring them down without anyone else getting hurt.

Chris looked at the elevator but made his way toward the stairs instead and made his way down to the main floor. He exited through the fire door and walked toward the ER desk as Simmons finished speaking with the nurse. "How are they, Doc?"

"They are both gone for X-rays," Simmons told him. "Look, Chris, I don't know what happened between you and Goodwin…"

"It's a long story."

"Well, one of these days I'll buy a bottle of that good scotch Ezra drinks and we'll sit down and talk…for now don't go back there because he's still telling everyone that you're paranoid."

"I won't…think I'll go stay with JD and let Buck come down here."

"Sounds like a good idea," Simmons said and signed a chart one of the nurses handed him.

"Is Goodwin really sick?"

"I…"

"You don't need to answer that, Simmons. I don't believe he's sick. I do believe he had something to do with what happened to Ezra, Nathan, JD, and Josiah and I will prove it."

"Just be careful, Son, I'd hate to see anything else happen."

"Me too, but I can't let him get away with what he's done…not just to the people I care about, but everyone he's had hurt or killed," Larabee said.

"Excuse me, Mr. Larabee, my name is Melanie Lawrence and I'm a reporter with the…"

"Sorry, no comment!"

"I'm giving you a chance to talk about Charles Goodwin…"

"Chris, you need to go," Simmons said as a familiar figure exited the treatment area.

"I want him arrested now!" Goodwin ordered as two officers escorted a cuffed man into the ER.

"Chris was just asking about his team!" Simmons said as one of the officers joined them.

"He knew I was here and is in violation of a restraining order. He's done it several times and I want him arrested right now!"

"Chris, you need to go now!" Peter Langley said.

"I was just leaving,' Larabee said.

"I said I want him arrested. Right here! Right now!"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Goodwin, but I have a prisoner already in my care," Langley said.

"Listen to me, Officer. You have no idea who you're talking to, and I will press charges against you if you don't arrest him.'

"Mr. Goodwin, you have been cleared to leave the hospital by a doctor so stop making a scene and leave. That way there won't be any need of arresting anyone," Simmons said.

"That appears to be a quick fix, Mr. Goodwin."

"Who are you?"

"Melanie Lawrence with the Billings Chronical. Dr. Simmons gave you a way to de-escalate the situation and as a politician I figure you should know when it's best to walk away from a confrontation."

"Larabee is breaking the law."

"That may be, but it wasn't by choice. I saw him come out of the stairwell and you were nowhere around, so you actually violated your own restraining order by coming over here. Officer Langley could arrest you for putting Mr. Larabee in this situation," the reporter said.

"I…I…"

"Chris, would you like me to arrest him?" Langley asked.

"Leave, Charlie," Larabee said with a slight grin.

"This isn't over, Chris!" Goodwin vowed as he strode toward the door.

"You just dodged a bullet thanks to Miss Lawrence," Langley said, relieved that he didn't have to arrest this man.

"Thank you, Miss Lawrence," Larabee said softly.

"You could thank me by giving me your side of the story. What is it about Charles Goodwin that rubs you the wrong way?"

"Let's just say he has a way of hiding behind people and people tend to die around him," Larabee said.

"Can I quote you on that?"

"Not yet. Give me time and I will tell you the whole story once he's behind bars where he belongs."

"You know I could write this up…we didn't have an agreement that it was off the record."

"Yes, you could, but you don't strike me as that kind of reporter and I'm usually pretty good at reading people."

"Then I will try to stay on your good side. I look forward to the interview when the time is right," the reporter told him and smiled before leaving the hospital.

"I've got to go help my partner. Glad it worked out today."

"Me too…and thanks," Larabee said and turned to Simmons.

"You dodged a bullet," Simmons said softly.

"I know…can I see Ezra and Nathan?"

"As I said they are gone for X-Rays, but you can go to the waiting room and I'll send the nurse for you as soon as they are back," Simmons answered.

"Thanks, Simmons!"

"Try not to worry too much," the gruff physician said.

"Easier said than done," Larabee said and walked toward the closed door. He stepped inside and made his way toward a chair by the window and sat down as his thoughts turned to his team and what they meant to him.

When had these men become family? Why was it so hard to distance himself when one or more of them was hurting. How many times since forming this team had he been forced to watch them hurting? Maybe it was time to back down, but that would mean men like Goodwin and Vargas would take over. That was something he could not let happen and if it meant digging deeper and keeping his team away then so be it. God help Goodwin and Vargas if he found proof that they were involved in what had happened to his men…his friends…his brothers.

"Chris, Ezra is back," Sandra Wallace told the weary man.

"Thanks, Sandy," Larabee said and followed her out of the waiting room and into the treatment area. She pulled back the curtain so he could step through and left him alone.

Chris looked at the pale man on the bed. His arm was immobilized, and a bandage covered the area above his right eye. There seemed to be a dark bruise forming around the edges of the white bandage and Chris knew he would probably suffer from headaches for some time to come. He moved closer to the bed as a soft moan escaped from the injured man.

"Easy, Ez, probably be better if you just laid there," Larabee said when the other man tried to sit up.

"I do believe you are correct," Standish said, relieved when Larabee turned the lighting down. "How is Nathan?"

"Still in x-ray," the blond answered. "I won't ask how you're feeling, but I will tell you to listen to whatever the doctors tell you."

"That sounds like something Nathan's said to you a few…"

"Dozen times," Larabee finished with a hint of a smile.

"Indubitably," Standish said and closed his eyes when the nurse entered and turned the light on.

"I am so sorry, Mr. Standish, but I need to check your vitals," the woman told him. "Mr. Larabee, would you mind waiting outside?"

"I'll be back as soon as there's word on Nathan," Larabee told the injured man.

"Okay," Standish said and turned slightly on his right side.

Larabee exited the examination room to find Simmons speaking with Travis and hurried toward the two men. He wasn't surprised to find Buck and JD were there. "Hey, Kid, how are you feeling?"

"Better…"

"Damn, Larabee, you really are a bad influence on your team," Simmons observed. "I don't believe JD anymore than I do you. Now, I need to speak with Ezra and tell him he will be spending the next 24 hours under our care.'

"He is going to love that," Dunne said softly.

"You should be home in bed," Simmons observed of the pale young man.

"That's all I've been doing," Dunne spat.

"Easy, Kid," Wilmington warned.

"Sorry, just tired of being down," the youngest member whispered and rubbed at his head.

"I can see that, but right now being down is exactly what you, Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra are going to have to deal with. Head injuries are not something you fool around with…especially with you bunch," the gruff physician warned as a gurney was wheeled out of the elevator and pushed toward an examination room. "The only one with a lick of sense is Nathan and even he can't talk sense into you lot so I'm not even going to try."

"Think that's a first," Wilmington observed.

"Might be, but do me a favour, Wilmington."

"Depends on the favor."

"You and Tanner are the only ones that haven't been in my ER in the last two weeks as patients, so I'd like to keep it that way," Simmons told him.

"What about Chris?" Dunne asked.

"You forget he had to get stitched up. That reminds me, Larabee. Are you taking care of that wound?"

"If I wasn't Nathan would have my head," Larabee told him.

"Good to hear, but I still want to see you in my office in two days," the physician said.

"I'll see that he keeps the appointment," Wilmington vowed.

"Bring Dunne in with you. Now, I need to go check on Nathan and Ezra and warn the staff they have two more of Larabee's bunch as patients. I may have to offer incentive pay to keep my staff," Simmons said, shaking his head as he walked away.

"You okay, JD?" Larabee asked softly.

"I am…"

"No, he's not, but we wanted to be here. Have you seen them, Chris?"

"Just saw Ezra. Probably has a concussion and hurt his arm. Nathan's knee took the brunt of his injuries, but we need to wait until Frost sees them. I have a feeling they'll both be spending at least a night," Larabee told them.

"Where's Vin?" Wilmington asked.

"With Josiah," Larabee answered.

"Anything new with him?" the rogue asked.

"No," the blond said softly, guilt evident in his soft tones.

"None of this is your fault, Chris."

"I'm glad you think so, Buck, because I'm not going to stop going after that bastard."

"I know, but I want you to be smart about it. Why don't we go to the waiting room?" Wilmington said and led the two men into the empty room that seemed to be their second home lately.

"Goodwin seems to know when I'm here," Larabee told them.

"Chris…"

"Hear me out, Buck," the team leader said and ran his fingers through his hair as he paced back and forth in front of the window.

"We're listening," Dunne said.

"When JD and Casey were brought in, he showed up out of the blue. Tonight, he was here when Ezra and Nathan were brought in."

"Could be a coincidence," Wilmington observed.

"There are no coincidences in our line of work, and you know it, Buck. He's involved in what's been happening and I am damn well going to make sure he pays."

"I know you believe you're right, Chris, and God help me I believe you, but until we get proof there's not a fucking thing we can do about it. You being here once Goodwin shows up just makes you look guilty. You need to be smarter…we all do. We need to be more vigilant about our surroundings and make sure we over our own asses until this is over and Goodwin is behind bars."

"I don't want you boys involved…"

"Too late," Dunne vowed. "We're all involved now, and you need to let us help you."

"Thanks, JD, but right now we're four men down and I don't want to me responsible for anything else that happens," Larabee said as Simmons and Frost entered the waiting room. "How are they?"

"Ezra is showing signs of a concussion, and I am going to set his arm. The break is clean, but he will be on light duties for at least a month," Frost answered.

"Nathan?" Wilmington asked.

"Nathan is probably going to need surgery on his knee, but I won't know for sure until I do a few more tests. They will both be admitted for observation, but if everything is okay then they will be released sometime tomorrow," Frost explained and took a deep breath as he looked at each man. "I need to arrange a few things before I speak with Ezra and Nathan again, so I'll let Roy keep you updated on the plans."

"Thanks, Doc," Wilmington said and shook the man's hand.

"Thank me by making sure they get the rest they need. That goes for JD as well," Frost said before leaving the waiting room with Simmons.

"They are going to be okay, Chris," Wilmington said.

"I hope so, Buck," Larabee said tiredly. "I'm going to update Vin and…"

"Come spend the night at our place," Dunne said.

"I was going to say go to the office, but your place sounds even better," the blond said.

"We'll check on Nathan and Ezra and wait for you and Vin at the main entrance," Wilmington said.

"Thanks, Boys," Larabee said and sighed tiredly. God, help him, but he was torn between going after Goodwin and Vargas or dropping it before anyone else got hurt or died because of his need for vengeance. He hated the thought, but it was vengeance he was after and sometimes that's where trouble caught you.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Vin and Chris walked side by side as they made their way to the main entrance of the hospital. Jake and Rafael had arrived and told them Travis had hired them as private security for Josiah, Ezra, and Nathan. The three men were in good hands and that meant there was no excuse for any of Larabee's team to stay at the hospital.

"You okay, Chris?"

"I'm fine, Vin," Larabee answered tiredly.

"You don't look like it. Tell me yer not going home."

"I'm not and neither are you. We're both staying with JD and Buck."

"Sounds good. Maybe we can grab a couple of pizzas and a case of beer," Tanner said.

"That's just what the doctor ordered."

"Good, my treat."

"Even better, but not that fancy place Ezra likes. I'd rather not have anchovies killing the taste of everything else," Larabee said as they exited the building and found Buck and JD waiting in Wilmington's Mustang.

"Pizza…Vin's buying," Larabee said as he climbed into the passenger seat while Vin got in back with JD.

"Sounds like a plan…got a case of beer already in the fridge," the ladies' man told them and drove away from the hospital.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin took a deep breath as he placed the glass of alcohol on his desk before lifting the phone and answering the call from Ryan Collins. "Hello, Ryan, did you have a chance to go over the files I brought you?"

"That's why I'm calling, Charles. I went over the files with a fine-tooth comb and there are some discrepancies in them."

"What kind of discrepancies?"

"There are times and dates that just don't match up. I had a secret meeting with Orin Travis and Chris Larabee on at least two of the dates you have in here. There is no way Larabee could have assaulted anyone when he was in a closed meeting."

"Maybe my informant got the date wrong," Goodwin said.

"It's more than just one date. There are also discrepancies in how and why some investigations were conducted and Chris wasn't involved in those. I am beginning to believe you really are trying to discredit Chris and his team."

"Don't tell me you're falling for Larabee's tales of woe? The man has been after me for months and I show you proof…"

"Your proof is lacking. I need more before I bring anything like this to Orin and the board."

"What else can you possibly need…my dead body?"

"I never said that, but you really do need to leave Chris alone and stay out of his sights. He's not a man who will back down."

"Neither am I," Goodwin said. "I will get you more proof and when I do, I will expect an apology from you."

"That goes both ways, Old Friend."

"Old friends don't screw each other over, Ryan. They make sure they are on the right side, and I promise you mine is the right side and Larabee needs to go to jail for spreading the lies…"

"As I said being me real proof."

"I will," Goodwin said and realized Collins was no longer on the line. He cursed the man who was causing him so much and threw the glass of cherry brandy across the room. He stood up and grabbed the bottle from the cabinet and made his way to the window as he took a long drink of the strong liquid.

"God Damn you, Larabee! I swear you will pay for everything you've done to me!" he spat and knew it was time to make a killing. One of Larabee's team had to die, but it was something he had to clear through Vargas.

Vargas was a thorn in his side, but he was a welcome one for now. Eventually the man would have to go, but for now he was useful and easy to handle. Once Larabee was out of the way, then Vargas would be dealt with accordingly.

Goodwin made his way back to his desk and sat down. He took several deep, calming breaths before reaching into the secret drawer and taking out the phone he used for private calls to Vargas. There was only one number saved to the phone and he clicked on it before taking a drink form the bottle.

"Are you okay, Amigo?"

"No, Rodrigo, I'm not."

"So, the two men I took down wasn't sufficient?"

"No, and the mayor seems to be on Larabee's side."

"Even with the evidence you brought to him."

"Yes, he says that some of the evidence was wrong because Chris was elsewhere and could not be involved. I am tired of fighting for my life when I should be getting ready for political office."

"You will get there. I have another surprise set for Larabee and this one will not end well for someone on his team."

"The only way to stop him is to kill one of the bastards."

"Or two of them. It will be set up shortly and once that happens perhaps it will be enough."

"If it's not?"

"Then we take Larabee out of the equation once and for all. Take it easy, Amigo, I got your back, and I will make sure you get what you want."

"I know you will. Thank you, Rodrigo."

"Anytime. Now why don't you come out to the main house and sample some of the new ‘product'?"

"I wish I could, but I need to take care of a few things. Perhaps tomorrow evening if that's okay?"

"Tomorrow would be perfect and perhaps you will sample some of the new male…"

"I might take you up on that. Thank you for doing this for me...for us," Goodwin said.

"Anytime, Amigo."

Goodwin breathed deeply and felt some of the tension leave his body. He had no idea what Vargas had planned, but he knew someone on Larabee's team would be dead before long. It didn't matter to him who Vargas took out as long as he would eventually take care of Larabee as well.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris laid his head back on the couch and closed his eyes. The half-eaten pizza was sitting on the coffee table surrounded by several empty beer bottles. Buck had offered him whiskey, but he'd refused because he wasn't ready for the lack of cohesive thoughts the hard liquor offered. He'd called the hospital to check on his friends and was told both Nathan and Ezra were resting and that there was no change in Josiah's condition.

"Chris, why don't you go to bed. I'll take the couch," Tanner offered.

"I'm good," Larabee said and stretched the kinks from his back as Buck placed a beer in front of him. "Thanks, Buck."

"You're welcome, but once you finish that one then it's off to the guest room with you. I already put fresh sheets on it. Vin and I have to go talk to Orin about the McBride case first thing in the morning so I was hoping you could stay with JD until we got back."

"Don't need no babysitter, Buck," Dunne snapped.

"I know you don't, Kid, but Casey would kill me if she thought I left you home alone while you're hurting."

"I'm not hurting…"

"Then why did you take the pills Midland prescribed?"

"Easy, JD, I'll stay and make you breakfast," Larabee said.

"Western omelets?"

"Done."

"Maybe I'll stay…"

"Sorry, Vin, not enough eggs or ham," Wilmington said and shrugged. "I need to hit the grocery store on the way home tomorrow. Maybe I'll get some steaks and we can bake some potatoes."

"Sounds like a plan," Tanner agreed and walked toward the balcony. He knew Larabee was thinking about Goodwin, hell, they all were, but he knew things were going to get worse if he continued to go down that road. The problem was Larabee was right, but he was going about it the wrong way and if he wasn't careful, he could end up behind bars. 

"You okay, Vin?"

"I'm fine, Buck."

"You worried about what's happening with Chris and Goodwin?"

"Ain't you?"

"Hell, yes, but dwelling on it isn't going to help. Chris will do what Chris wants to do and…"

"Damn the consequences."

"Not always, but I think this got personal when Carlina Morgan was murdered. I wish we had proof it was Vargas and Goodwin, but until we do, we're going to have to watch out for Chris," Wilmington said and watched through the open door as Larabee made his way toward the guest bedroom. "Chris has always been a stubborn cuss…especially when he knows he's right."

"Do you think he's right?"

"I don't think it…I know it. Chris' always relied on his intuition and right now he's like a dog with a bone. I just hope we can find the evidence before anything else happens."

"Me too," Tanner said and took a deep breath before yawning tiredly. "Guess it's time to call it a night. What time is our meeting with Travis?"

"Eight…figure we'll grab coffee and sandwiches from Delvecchio's before we head in," Wilmington told him.

"And a couple of Mama's red velvet cupcakes with extra cream cheese icing," Tanner said with a grin.

"You and your sweet tooth," Wilmington said and shook his head before heading back inside. "You know where the blankets are."

"I do," Tanner said and sighed tiredly. ‘God, let this all be over soon,' he thought before heading inside.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Chris, JD's still sleeping," Wilmington said as Larabee joined them in the dining room.

"I'll make sure he's okay, Buck," Larabee said and glared at Vin Tanner when the Texan brushed his disheveled hair.

"Nice do, Larabee."

"You're looking to get shot, Tanner," the blond said with a grin.

"You can't…you don't have your gun," Tanner quipped and followed Wilmington out the door.

"We'll be back this afternoon, but JD's pills are in his room if he needs them," the rogue told him.

"I got this, Buck," Larabee said. He reached for the pot of coffee and poured it into a cup before moving to the living room and sitting on the couch. He turned on the television but kept the volume low so it wouldn't wake the youngest member of his team.

"Are you sure you're okay, Chris?"

"I'm fine, Buck. Just make damn sure Travis has everything he needs on Jeff McBride and his wife. I don't want them getting off on a technicality."

"Trust me...they won't," Wilmington said and grabbed his jacket. "Tell JD Casey called, and she'll be here in an hour. Nettie is coming with her."

"Okay," Larabee said, his thoughts turning to what he would do once Nettie arrived. He heard the door close and smiled when he heard the keys in the locking mechanism. It was something they all did no matter who was home and had saved their lives on countless occasions.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Nathan, just give me 24 hours. You and Ezra are not going anywhere right now. You need to rest and if you argue with me, I'm going to have Rain sit on you," Midland said and turned to the man in the second bed. "How are you feeling, Ezra?"

"In Vin's words I feel like I was rode hard and put away wet," Standish told her and reached up to touch his head.

"Leave that alone, Ezra," Midland warned. "So, are you both staying, or do I call in the cavalry to sit on you?"

"24 hours," Jackson said.

"You're as bad as the rest of Chris' team, Nathan," Midland said with a hint of a smile. "Now, I am going to have Sherry bring you both something for pain and then I want you resting. I'm sure the others will be here before long."

"Doc, how is Josiah and Father Thomas? Jackson asked.

"Father Thomas is doing better, but he has a long recovery ahead of him."

"Josiah?" Standish asked.

"No change. He's as much a fighter as the rest of you so keep the Faith is what I believe he would say."

"Yes, it is," Jacson said and sighed tiredly as the woman adjusted the pillow supporting his injured leg.

"You really should have let the nurses know you were in pain, Nathan. As a paramedic you know there's no reason to be in pain when we have medication to keep you comfortable," Midland lightly scolded.

"Any chance we can see…"

"Not today. Give it time and I'm sure you'll all be at Buck's Bar and Grill before you know it?"

"Suicide wings sound heavenly right now," Standish whispered.

"Not for the next week or so," the physician said.

"I hear you…"

"So do I," Jackson said and watched the woman leave the room.

"How's your knee?" Standish asked.

"Hurting, but I'll…"

"Deny that if I tell the nurse," Jackson observed as the nurse came into the room.

"I have meds for both of you," the woman said and quickly hooked up the prescribed medication for both. "That should kick in pretty fast so don't fight it."

"Wouldn't think of it," Jackson said and took a deep breath. He knew it wouldn't take long for the morphine kicked in and he closed his eyes to wait for sleep to take hold.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Buck and Vin smiled at Jane Malone as she ushered them into Travis' office. The older man was seated at his desk and held up his hand so they would be silent while he finished his call.

"I understand, Daniel, and I'll keep you up to date on what is going on," Travis said before placing the phone back on the cradle and turning his attention to the two men. "All right, Boys, tell me we have a lock on the McBride case?"

"We do, but it came at a cost," Wilmington said.

"That doesn't sound good," Travis said.

"It's not as bad as it could have been. Jeff McBride rolled over on his wife yesterday and she is pissed," Tanner explained.

"That's a good thing," the former judge said.

"Not really," Tanner said. "I think McBride is responsible for the meth lab, but since he's the first one to talk the DA is giving him the deal."

"Are you sure?"

"Don't got no proof, but my gut tells me he's as bad as she is. They should both be charged and serve the same sentence," Tanner answered.

"The one thing I've learned with you boys is to trust your instincts. Have Ezra check into it when he's feeling up to it. Is there any word on him and Nathan?"

"I think they'll be released this afternoon," Wilmington said. "Josiah's been upgraded, but he still hasn't regained consciousness."

"I spoke to Simmons, and he said Josiah should be okay as long as they can keep him infection free." Travis told them. "He's concerned about the burns, but they will stay on top of it. Josiah is strong and stubborn just like the rest of you. Midland is planning to keep Ezra and Nathan for another 24 hours. Now, what about JD? How is he doing?"

"He still gets headaches and dizziness. Chris is with him, and Nettie is bringing Casey over so they can stop worrying about each other," Wilmington answered and hoped the two young people would be okay.

"Okay, let's take a look at what we have on the McBride's and maybe we can find something that will take them both down without having the DA put in a tight spot," Travis said and opened the file on his desk.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris opened the door and smiled at Nettie and Casey Wells. He took the package Nettie carried and lead them into the kitchen where JD was eating a western omelet. The younger man's face lit up and colored slightly as Casey gently hugged him.

"Are you okay, JD?" Casey asked.

"I am now," Dunne said and motioned for her to sit next to him.

"Aunt Nettie made some muffins," Casey told him as Chris poured two cups of coffee and placed them on the table.

"They smell great," Larabee said.

"Chris, why don't you sit down, and I'll get plates," the older woman suggested.

"I'll get the plates, Nettie, you sit down," the blond told her and moved to the cupboard. "How are you feeling, Casey?"

"Better…not great, but better," the young woman answered as she sat next to JD.

"You should both be resting," Nettie lightly scolded.

"That's all we've been doing," Dunne observed and looked at Larabee when his phone rang.

"I need to get this," Larabee said and walked away form the trio. He made it out on the balcony and closed the door before answering. "What do you want, Charlie?"

"It's Mr. Goodwin to you…"

"Not likely, Charlie. What do you want?"

"I'm just being a friend and enquiring about your team. How are they doing?"

"None of your fucking business, Charlie. What do you want?"

"Nothing really…just wanted to mess with you and make sure you know that you are at fault for everything that happens to your men. How is Mrs. Wells…is the old biddy all right?"

"Listen, Charlie, you go anywhere near my family again and I'll make sure you can't hurt anyone ever again."

"Is that a threat? Perhaps I should have recorded this conversation."

"Go right ahead…you're the only one incriminating yourself. How do you know I haven't recorded our conversations, Charlie?"

"You…"

"Fuck you, Charlie…you and Vargas will pay for everything you've done," Larabee said.

"Why don't you join me at the debate today in front of City Hall. I am going to make a major push for office."

"You're a fool if you think people will vote for scum like you."

"You're the fool, Chris. I wonder if…"

"Bye, Charlie," Larabee said and hung up. He knew he shouldn't let Goodwin goad him into doing something stupid, but he was tired of the man getting away with so much shit. Today he would make damn sure people saw the bastard for what he was. Chris went back into the apartment and wasn't surprised when the others looked at him.

"Everything okay, Chris?" Nettie asked.

"Yeah, everything's fine. I just need to go into the office for a couple of hours. Can you and Casey stay with JD?"

"Of course," Nettie said and took a deep breath as she studied his face.

"I really am fine, Nettie."

"Just don't do anything stupid!"

"Me?"

"Yes, you!" she said and walked him to the door. "Please, Chris, be smart okay. There's enough people hurt already without you ending up a victim as well."

"He's not after me, Nettie," Larabee assured her, but deep down he knew there would be a showdown between him and Charles Goodwin.

"Yes, he is, but he's going through your friends to get to you first. Sooner or later, he is going to go too far…"

"He already has," Larabee said and kissed her cheek before hurrying out of the apartment. He headed for the stairs and knew she stood watching him until he disappeared. He knew she was correct about Goodwin, but right now he needed to face the bastard head on before one of his men died.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris had no idea where he was going as he stood in the center of the parking lot at City Hall. He wanted to tear Goodwin to pieces but understood that was not the way to bring the bastard down. Goodwin was smart, but he was also dependant on Vargas. Somehow, he had to find a way to tie the two men together. If he could do that then he could show his team that he wasn't losing it. He had to show them he was doing what he needed to do in order to bring the two men to justice.

Chris knew he should turn away, and finally managed to do just that as a siren sounded in the distance. Billings was growing by leaps and bounds and it mean crime would also grow, especially if Goodwin and Vargas were allowed to operate however, they wanted. He got into his truck and drove toward the one place where he could talk and not worry about having his conversation overheard. He pulled into the parking area and sighed heavily before opening the door and exiting the vehicle. He leaned against the door and watched as a couple stood holding each other and wondered how much heartache they had suffered.

Chris took a deep breath and slowly walked along the treelined pathway he knew so well. He knew the reasons he was here and understood that some people would think he was crazy to visit his families' graves so often. It didn't bother him because they were his family and had been the reason for so much happiness in his life. Ella Gaines has taken them from him and threatened everyone else he cared about, but she was dead now and her soul was rotting in hell where she belonged.

Chris made his way to the familiar markers and took a deep breath as he knelt in front of the large tombstone. He ran his fingers along each letter of each name as tears silently fell from his eyes and he looked toward the clear blue sky that should have brought joy to his heart. Sarah had loved this time of year just as much as she loved Christmas. The warmth of the sun kissed his cheeks and he let a hint of a smile form as he spoke to his family.

"I miss you all so much, Sarah. God knows I would trade places with all of you if it meant you could find the joy in this world. I don't know where I find the strength to go on without you, but I think it's because God sent me six angels who know how to keep me on the straight and narrow. Goodwin and Vargas deserve to go to jail…they deserve to go to hell, but I know I may not be the one to make that happen. At least not on my own," Larabee said softly. "I don't deserve them, Sarah, but they stay by me anyway…just like you. I love you, Baby…I love Adam and Baby Rose and I know there will come a time when we are together again."

Chris felt the touch of a breeze and the hint of Lilac and felt a warmth rush through him. He knew people would say it was his imagination, but for him it meant that Sarah was near him, if not in body, then in spirit and that made him feel better with each breath he took.

"Thank you, Love," Larabee whispered and placed a kiss on each name before standing and walking back toward the parking lot. He climbed into his truck and leaned back, closing his eyes as he thought about what he needed to do. Could he walk away from Goodwin and the past or did he need to take the bastard down? He knew where Goodwin was and he could confront the bastard now, but he needed to get his head on straight before anyone else was hurt.

"Your time will come, Charlie," he vowed and headed toward his ranch.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Vin knew it was getting late and reached for his phone as Wilmington closed his laptop. "You ready to go home?"

"Yeah, I just talked to Nettie, and she made dinner for us so guess where you're spending the night. She said to tell you there's an apple crisp in the over with your name on it."

"What the hell are we waiting for? Is Chris still there."

"No, why don't I turn off the coffee pot and you check in with him," Wilmington said and watched as Tanner's gaze went to the television monitor as a familiar voice began to speak.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, please take your seats and Charles Goodwin will be right with you."

"What's this bastard up to now?" Wilmington asked angrily as the would-be politician stepped up to the podium. "God help me Chris better not be there!"

"He ain't. I'm talking to him now. He's on his way out to his place, and he's listening to the broadcast on the radio."

"Thank God," the gentle rogue said and shook his head as Goodwin began to speak to the gathering.

"All right, Cowboy, see you in the morning. I'm spending the night at Buck and JD's place. You could turn around and come back if you want some apple crisp…ok…get some sleep."

"You sure he's headed for the ranch?" Wilmington asked.

"Yeah, he sounds tired…think maybe he went to the cemetery," Tanner said and grew quiet as Goodwin raised his hands for silence.

"I know you have questions, but please let me finish my announcement before I open it up for questions. I am throwing my name into the ring and hope I can count on your votes in the next election…"

"Not if they're smart," Wilmington whispered and sat on the edge of Tanner's desk. He looked around the office and knew without a doubt that Larabee was right about Goodwin, but he needed to be smart about going after him. Too many members of the team had already been injured, not to mention the innocent lives Goodwin and Vargas had already destroyed.

"Some people ain't smart enough ta see what's starin' right at ‘em," Tanner said and took a deep breath as Goodwin continued to speak to his captive audience.

"I will do everything to make sure Billings remains one of the safest cities in the country to raise your children. There will be no drug cartels or weapons dealers working from our…"

"What about the accusations made by Chris Larabee?' a male voice sounded from the back.

"What about the victims he mentioned like Carlina Morgan and Darryl Cummings…"

"Are you involved with the cartels operating in this city?"

"Are you working with Rodrigo Vargas?"

"Why…"

"If those accusations were real wouldn't Chris Larabee be here? He's a coward and staying away is proof that he has no evidence to tie me to any of the things he is saying. Perhaps he is trying to keep the truth from you."

"What truth is that?" someone asked.

"Maybe he's the one behind the drugs and weapons in our city. Has anyone really investigated him. Perhaps that will be the first thing on the docket when I'm in office."

"Charlie, you'll never be elected…not if these people ae as smart as I think they are…"

"Sonofabitch!" Wilmington cursed as a familiar figure strode toward the front of the crowd.

"Nothing we can do about it now," Tanner said. Deep down he admired Chris for going after the bastard, but the man needed to put his anger in check. He looked at Wilmington as several reporters turned their attention to his best friend and knew the gentle rogue was about to go ballistic.

"He's going to get himself arrested."

"Nothing we can do about it now," Tanner said tiredly.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris stood in front of the podium and knew he was going against everything he'd promised the others, but hearing Goodwin was talking to reporters about running for office was too much. He'd turned the truck around and headed back into town but stopped for several seconds near city hall. He'd spoken to Vin and promised he was no where near Goodwin, but that changed once the man started speaking. He could not let the sonofabitch away with it.

"Chris, you know the restraining order says you have to stay 500 feet away from me…I can have you arrested."

"Going after my team makes a restraining order worthless right now, Charlie. I will find the evidence to prove…"

"You mean you'll manufacture evidence…

"I don't need to manufacture evidence," Larabee said with a grin as more questions were fired in his direction.

"Mr. Larabee, is this a personal vendetta or do you really believe he's guilty?"

"He's guilty and I will prove it."

"Do you really believe he's behind what happened to you men?"

"Yes, I do, and it's only a matter of time before Charlie is locked up for the rest of his life."

"Officer, would you please arrest him and get him out of here?" Goodwin called to the officers at the back of the crowd.

"Why have him arrested when he is one of your constituents and is just asking questions?" a female reporter asked.

"Because he is breaking the laws that he is supposed to uphold!" Goodwin said and realized he was quickly losing control of the situation.

"Am I, Charlie?' You got a restraining order by spitting the same crap you always did. It won.t be long before you see the inside of a prison and this time there won't be anyone to bail you out…not even your friend Rodrigo Vargas!"

"I don't know who you're talking about…perhaps Vargas actually works for you. Are you the one behind all those kids overdosing in drugs." Goodwin said and saw the smirk form on Larabee's face as two cops reached him.

"Sorry, Mr. Larabee, but we don't have a choice, but to take you in," Roger Kilbride said softly.

"He doesn't deserve your pity, Officer. Arrest him and put the cuffs on him," Goodin ordered, his face red with rage at his one-time friend.

"I don't think we need the cuffs…"

"You will put the cuffs on him and get him out of here!"

"Mr. Goodwin, do you think it's necessary to make a show of arresting one of the most respected men in the state?"

"He is partaking in criminal behavior and as such…"

"Mr. Larabee, come with me," Kilbride said, relieved when the man smiled and walked away form the angry politician.

"By, Charlie," Larabee said and walked beside the officer.

"We won't be able to do this again," Kilbride said.

"I know and I'm sorry I put you in that situation," the blond said and walked toward his truck.

"I have to take you down to the station and get your statement," the officer said and motioned for his partner to follow them. "I wish I didn't have to…"

"You're just doing your job, Roger," Larabee told him when they reached the police car.

"I'll give you a ride back to your car when we are done," the older officer said and motioned for the other man to get into the front of the car.

"I assure you I will come down hard on criminals like Chris Larabee and hold the police accountable once I'm elected…"

"The man really is full of shit," Kilbride said with a grin before driving away from the crowd who seemed to grow even more rowdy now that Goodwin stood alone at the podium.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Sonofabitch," Wilmington cursed when Chris got into the police car. He took a deep breath and released it slowly as Goodwin seemed to smile at the crowd.

"Chris ain't doin' himself no favors," Tanner observed.

"Maybe we should go down to the cop shop and see if we can get him out of there," the ladies' man suggested.

"Or let him stew until…"

"You really think he deserves to go it alone?"

"No, but he needs to learn that Goodwin could make sure he goes to jail!"

"He knows that, but…God Dammit, Vin, why does he do stupid shit like this?"

"Because he cares about us…about the people Goodwin and Vargas hurt," Tanner told him and turned off the television. "Let's go get him and kick his ass all the way back to your place."

"Sounds like a good idea," Wilmington said and looked up as the elevator near their main office opened.

"Sounds like we got visitors," the Texan said and made his way toward the main door as something rolled in front of the door. "BUCK! GET DOWN!"

Wilmington reacted on instinct, but knew it was too late as the explosive flared to life and fire erupted in the hallway. He felt himself thrown through the air and landed against the counter. He felt something run down his face and turned in time to see Tanner's body thrown backwards into his own desk. There was no mistaking the shard of glass protruding from the Texan's left side.

"V…Vin," he whispered and reached for the other man as alarms sounded throughout the building. He fought to stay conscious as blood trickled into his eyes and darkness claimed him.

Vin breathed past the pain and choked as smoke reached the inner office. He knew Wilmington was alive, but had no idea how badly injured he was. "B…Buck."

There was no answer from the other man as Vin's eyes began to close. He coughed several times as smoke and debris rained down on him. Consciousness left him as voices sounded from the hallway and he knew help was on the way.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris breathed a sigh of relief when Robert Miller shook his hand. The man had been there on many occasions and even asked for their help in several cases. There'd been times when Miller had even disobeyed direct orders to help the team and he knew he owed him a debt that could never be repaid.

"Chris, you know you're going about this all wrong?"

"Probably, but they need to be taken down."

"You still need more proof before the grand jury will even think about pressing charges against Goodwin."

"I know, but I just don't think we have time to find the evidence before it's too late. He's taken down most of my team with Vargas' help."

"Again, you need real proof, not just your gut…believe me I do trust your gut, but that only goes so far. I'm afraid if you keep violating the bastards restraining order, you're the one who will end up behind bars. I don't want to see that happen."

"I don't want that either, but sometimes we need to push the bar just a little harder to get to the ones hiding behind criminals like Vargas."

"Do you really think Goodwin is working with Vargas?"

"I don't just think it…I know it," Larabee finished as Roger Kilbride knocked on the closed door. The man looked white a as ghost as he opened the door and stepped inside.

"What's going on?" Miller asked.

"There's been an explosion…"

"Terrorists?" Miller asked. Since the attacks over the years, it seemed the first place his mind went.

"I don't know, Captain, but it looks like it's Travis' office building…"

"I need to go!" Larabee stated.

"Chris, we need to finish this," Miller warned.

"Then come with me! Any idea where the explosion occurred?" Larabee asked as Miller grabbed his jacket.

"No, just that the fire department is already there, and the explosion took out most of a floor."

"Goodwin!"  Larabee spat and prayed his team had already left for the day.

"You don't know that, Chris," Miller said, yet believed Larabee was right. He'd seen men like Goodwin turn bad and when that happened, they had to dig deep to find the evidence they needed.

"Damn, left my truck…"

"I'll drive," Miller told him as they hurried out of the building.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"JD, you should be resting," Nettie said as she took the apple crisp from the oven and placed it on a cooling tray.

"That's all I seem to do lately," Dunne told her.

"It's what you need. Where are your pills?"

"I don't…"

"Really, then why are you rubbing your head? You do know you're as stubborn as the others?"

"I'll take that…"

"It's not meant as a compliment, Young Man. Now where are your pills?"

"On my dresser," Dunne answered and sat on the recliner as the woman went to get them. Casey was sleeping on the sofa, and he smiled at the thought of how deep his love for her was. It had taken him a long time to realize how he was feeling and now he knew he loved her more than life itself.

"Here you go," Nettie said and handed him two pills and a glass of water.

"Thank you, Nettie," Dunne said as Casey opened her eyes.

"Are you okay, JD?"

"I'm fine or I will be once the pills kick in. How are you feeling?"

"Better. Aunt Nettie was right, and I needed to rest."

"She's always right," Dunne observed and picked up the remote. He tuned the television to the news channel and sat forward when he recognized the building with several firetrucks, police cars and ambulances parked in front of it.

"My Lord, what now?" Nettie asked.

"Turn it up, JD," Casey ordered.

"Here, I need to call Buck," Dunne said and reached for his cell phone. He could feel Nettie and Casey watching him but shook his head when there was no answer.

"I'll try Vin," Nettie told them and hit speed dial and kept her eyes on the television as a reporter began speaking to a camera beyond the police tape.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"This is the scene in front of the office building owned by Orin Travis. The explosion seems to have taken place on the 7th floor," a reporter said and suddenly rushed toward a car that pulled up nearby. "Excuse me, Mr. Larabee, but…"

"I don't have time for this!" Larabee spat and shouldered his way through the crowd of reporter who had hurried toward them. He made it to the first firetruck and took a deep breath. He knew they wouldn't allow him inside the building, but at least he was close enough to see what was happening.

"Excuse me, but you need to stay back."

"Anyone hurt?"

"We don't know yet. We are still trying to get up to the 7th floor. The stairwells are full of smoke," the firefighter answered as he handed a piece of equipment to his partner.

"Are you sure it's on the 7th floor?" Larabee asked.

"Yes, there are several windows blown out in one of the offices…"

"Chris!"

Larabee turned to see Orin Travis hurrying toward him. "Orin, were you inside when it happened?"

"I left just before the explosion and was in my car. Have you heard from Buck and Vin?"

"No, please tell me they weren't in there?"

"I wish I could, but I don't know for sure. We had a meeting about the McBride case, and they were finishing up the files. They didn't think it would take long so hopefully they already left."

"I need to get in there!

"Not right now, Chris. Let the fire department do what they have to. They'll let us know if anyone is in there. They'll get them out if they are inside," Travis vowed as more sirens sounded in the distance.

"Goodwin's behind this," Larabee whispered and missed the look that crossed his boss' face.

"You don't know that!"

"Yes, I do," the blond said.

"Not in a way that you can prove it, Son. Do yourself a favor and wait until the Fire Marshall gives his report."

"That could take weeks," Larabee said and waved to a man near the police tape at the corner. "Ryan, over here."

"Mr. Larabee, I'm glad you weren't in there."

"Me too…do you know if anyone was in our office?"

"No, Sir, but I think…"

"What?" Larabee asked worriedly.

"They signed in, but not out, but that's not unusual. If they got called out…"

"They would have called me," Larabee said and reached for his cell phone when the familiar Magnificent Seven score sounded. It was something Ezra had found and put on all their phones as an inside joke. "It's JD."

Travis watched as the younger man answered the phone and wished they had news to impart, but so far there'd been no news from inside the building.

"Hey, Kid."

"Chris, are you watching the news?"

"I'm at the building…"

"Were you inside?"

"No…tell me Buck and Vin are with you?"

"No, they're not. Buck told me he and Vin were finishing up a report for Orin and then coming here. They are not answering their phones. I'm coming down."

"Look, JD, stay put. There's nothing you can do here. I'll call as soon as I know anything." 

"Should I call Nathan?"

"No, call Rain. Let her know what's going on. Hopefully, she's with Nathan and Ezra and will make sure they stay put."

"All right, Chris, but call me as soon as you know anything,"

"I will, Kid, try not to worry. Buck and Vin are probably on their way home already," Larabee said, and sighed tiredly when Dunne hung up.

"Is he okay?" Travis asked.

"He's worried," the blond said as he noticed a lot of activity near the building's entrance. He tried to get past the firefighter but was stopped and held back by his boss.

"Wait!" Travis ordered sharply enough for the younger man to stop in his tracks.

"Something's wrong!"

"There's nothing you can do until…"

"Orin, it could be…"

"Yes, it could, but you'll just get in the way. If someone's hurt, they need the paramedics, not you!"

"Orin…"

"You know I'm right, Son. Just stay here and let them do what needs to be done."

"I know…it's just…"

"You need to let go of the guilt and stop going after Goodwin. If this was targeted because of your vendetta…"

"Not a vendetta, Orin."

"Call it what you will, Chris. You have too much to lose by going after Goodwin…actually you've already lost enough. If this was orchestrated by Goodwin and Vargas, then it…"

"My fault…don't you think I know that, Orin? I'm trying…"

"Not hard enough!" Travis spat. "You have to let it go," Travis warned.

"I'm trying, but sometimes people…"

"Like Goodwin and Vargas seem to be above the law. They are not, Chris, and neither are you. Miller told me you were at Goodwins…"

"I was there, Orin…"

"You need to stop!"

"I know, but the sonofabitch needs to pay for the people he's hurt."

"He will…"

"Sonofabitch…that's Buck!" Larabee said and refused to be held back as the unconscious man was placed on a stretcher.

"I'll call JD," Travis said.

"Okay!" Larabee said and hurried past the police tape when Miller told them not to stop the blond. He could see blood on the man's face and upper body and took a deep steadying breath when he reached the unconscious man.

"Sir, stay out of their way!" a firefighter ordered.

"How is he?" Larabee asked as the paramedic began working on the ladies' man.

"I don't know yet. Please stay back," the man said as his partner reached for a neck brace and backboard.

"Dammit, Buck!" Larabee said and looked up as two firefighters carried Vin out of the building. Like Wilmington, Tanner was placed on a backboard and a brace was placed around his neck. His face and abdomen seemed to be covered in more blood than should have been possible, but at lease he was breathing.  

"I need to get a line in him," the paramedic working on Vin said as his partner checked the wounds.

"Chris, let's move out of the way!" Travis said upon joining the younger man.

"This is my fault," Larabee whispered.

"Maybe, but we don't know Goodwin or Vargas had anything to do with this."

"Maybe you don't, but…"

"Chris, look at them…your whole team is down, and you need to stop putting the people you care about in danger. You need to forget about Goodwin and Vargas and make sure no one else gets hurt," Travis snapped, anger evident in his voice.

"Orin!"

"Don't make this worse! JD wanted to come down here, but I told him there's no point, so Nettie is driving him and Casey to Saint Vincents! I told them we'll meet them there!"

"I'm riding with them!"

"Not this time. You're coming with me. No arguments," Travis warned.

"Tell me no one was hurt!"

Larabee whirled to glare at the hated man who stood on the other side of the stairs leading into the building. "You're going to pay for this, Charlie!"

"Control your mutt, Orin!"

"That's Judge Travis to you, Goodwin! Now get the hell out of here."

"This is public…"

"No, this is private property owned by me so get the hell off my property before I have Captain Miller arrest you for trespassing!"

"Captain Miller, why is Larabee here? He should be in jail for violating…"

"You will be arrested for criminal trespass if you don't leave," Travis warned.

"Is that a threat?"

"No, that's a promise!" Travis vowed and saw the anger on the man's face.

"I'll leave," Goodwin said and turned his attention to his nemesis. "Well, Chris, I hope you're happy. You may have cost your team their lives. Not your best…"

"Fuck you, Charlie!" Larabee said and swung at the other man, only to have Travis get between him and the object of his anger.

"Keep your mutt in line, Orin…"

"Judge…now get out of here!" Travis warned, relieved when the other man walked away. "Chris, let's get to the hospital."

"Sorry, Judge, but I can't let him go. Goodwin wants him arrested and right now I don't have a choice," Miller warned. "Come on, Chris."

"I need to go to the hospital," Larabee spat.

"Go with him, Chris. I'll call in a favor and have you released ASAP," Travis assured him.

‘Orin…"

"Go, Chris," Travis ordered and knew he was asking more of the blond than he should have had to. "I'll make sure they get the best possible care."

"I know…I just…"

"You need to stop going after Goodwin before someone you care about dies!" Travis snapped.

"I…I know," Larabee stammered and took a deep breath before looking at his men. He wanted to stay with them but understood there was no way he could do that until he got things straightened up at the police station. He placed both hands in the pockets of his black jeans and walked slowly beside Miller.

"Chris, I'm sorry about this. I really wish I could just let you go, but Goodwin is a powerful man…"

"Not for long," Larabee vowed.

"You need to back off until we find the evidence to put him away for good," Miller said. "Did you know he brought the news team with him, and they filmed everything between you two. They'll play it up so that you look like the bad guy and that's not what you need right now."

"He's as bad as Vargas and I'm going to take them both down."

"At what cost and is it worth it. You're the only member of the agency that is not under a doctor's care…although I'm pretty sure that wound on your arm is still not healed."

"Arm's fine," Larabee lied and got into the passenger seat of the police car. He felt the mounting headache and understood where it was coming from as he turned to see Buck and Vin loaded into ambulances.

"Chris, I'll make this as fast as I can, but I don't have a choice in this. You really need to back off until…"

"Until he kills someone I do care about. No, Robert, I can't let this go. Charlie has gotten away with too much shit for too fucking long. I know none of you believe what I'm saying…"

"I wouldn't say that, Chris. You'd be surprised at how many people distrust the bastard and not just because he's a politician," Miller said and drove away from the office building. "You're not alone."

"I wish I could believe that, Robert, but it seems like everyone thinks Charlie is a do-gooder…"

"You have more people on your side than you think and I'm one of them," Miller said.

"Thanks," Larabee said tiredly.

"I never liked the bastard."

"He was a friend at one time. God, was that a mistake."

"We all make them. I really am sorry I have to do this…makes my job that much harder."

"I don't blame you."

"Thanks," Miller said and glanced sideways at the younger man who had closed his eyes. The deep lines on his forehead spoke of the anger and lack of sleep Larabee was suffering form and he knew they'd only get deeper until Goodwin and Vargas were behind bars.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

JD exited the car and hurried into the emergency department just as two ambulances pulled into the bay reserved for emergency vehicles. He knew Nettie was parking the car and Casey had stayed with her. He stood outside the open doors and felt his heart skip a beat when Buck was removed from the first ambulance, quickly followed by Vin in the second one.

"Oh, God," he thought as they rushed past him and were greeted by medical staff including Stacey Midland and Roy Simmons. He frowned when he didn't see Chris Larabee and wondered where the man was as Travis came toward him.

"JD, you look like hell," Travis observed.

"Where's Chris?" Dunne asked.

"At the police station. He'll be here as soon as he can. Come inside and sit down before you fall down."

"I'm okay, Orin, but Buck and Vin look like they…"

"They were in the office when the explosion occurred," Travis explained.

"Explosion? A bomb?"

"I can't say for sure. The Fire Marshall is investigating, but the office will need a remodel when it's cleared. For now, the agency will operate out of the secondary office on the third floor. It may take time, but with all of you out for the duration it can be done fairly quickly."

"Orin, is there any word?" Nettie wells asked as they joined Travis and Dunne in the waiting room.

"They were just brought in. Stacey and Roy are with them," the former judge answered.

"Where's Chris," Nettie asked.

"He was charged with violating the restraining order, so Robert had to take him in."

"How did he violate the order?"

"He showed up at the press conference Goodwin was holding. Goodwin showed up at the office and they had a confrontation that ended with Chris having to go down to the station."

"This is all his fault!" Dunne snarled.

"I agree, but Goodwin is beyond our…"

"I don't mean Goodwin!" Dunne snapped. "I mean Chris. Him going after Goodwin is what got us all hurt."

"You can't mean that, JD," Nettie lightly scolded as Dunne walked over to the large waiting room window and stared outside.

"Can't I? If one of us did this he'd have us in his office and give us hell. Instead, he kept after Goodwin and now Buck and Josiah are hurt too…we're all hurt except Chris, and he just keeps on doing the same shit…"

"Excuse me, but you'll have to keep it down or you'll have to leave," a security guard said from the open doorway.

"We'll keep it down," Travis assured the woman.

"See that you do," the woman said and closed the door before leaving them alone.

"I should go tell Nathan and Ezra what's happened," Dunne said.

"I'll go, JD and I'll bring back coffee and sandwiches," Nettie said and walked out of the room.

"JD, sit down and take it easy," Travis ordered.

"What if…"

"Let's not go to what ifs right now. Let's wait and see what the doctors have to say," the former judge ordered, relieved when the younger man slumped in one of the blue chairs. He knew Dunne was angry, hell of it was they all were. Chris Larabee needed to back off before it was too late, before one of his team ended up in the morgue.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Nettie took a deep breath as she gently opened the door to the room where Standish and Jackson were sleeping. She saw Nathan's head move and his eyes opened as Ezra moaned softly and rubbed at his skull.

"Nettie, what's wrong?" Jackson asked softly.

"There's been an explosion at The Firm's office," the woman answered.

"Sonofabitch!"

"Was anyone hurt?" Standish asked, sitting forward on the bed.

"Buck and Vin are in the ER. I have no idea how bad, but I wanted to make sure you two knew before you heard it form the staff or the news."

"Was it accidental?" Jackson asked.

"I have no idea, but I need to get back downstairs…"

"I'm coming with you…we both are," Jackson vowed.

"I figured you'd say that, so I stopped at the nurse's station. They have two orderlies coming with wheelchairs. You will both get in without arguing or you can wait here until I come to update you. What's it going to be?"

"The wheelchair," Jackson answer.

"Good," the elderly woman said as the door opened and two orderlies entered the room. She watched as the men helped the patients from the bed to the chair and sighed tiredly at the thought of the injured men.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7 

Chric ran his fingers through his already disheveled hair before leaning back in the chair. He knew Miller was doing everything he could to have him released, but there was a lot going on. Goodwin was adamant that he be charged, but so far, no charges had been laid. He knew he'd be lucky to walk out of here tonight and silently cursed the two men who caused him to be here.

‘Who are you kidding, Larabee…you're not only at fault for going into this, but you're at fault for everything that's happened as a result of your fucking need to take Charlie down and damn the consequences,' the blond thought and closed his eyes as the sound of sirens reached his ears.

Chris stood and walked to the single window and stared into the back parking lot. Miller could have had his choice of offices, but he wanted this one because it was well suited to his need to have files close at hand. There was a full-size closet filled with open cases and Chris knew the police captain often took one out to review the details. Cold cases were the hardest for any cop to deal with, especially when the family was actively involved in keeping the case open.

"Chris, I got good news and bad news," Miller said upon entering his office and taking his seat behind the desk.

"Bad news…tell me it's not my team?"

"No, there's nothing new on Buck and Vin's conditions, but Goodwin wants you thrown in jail…"

"It's a good thing I'm not Goodwin and I'm on your side. I spoke to Judge Willows, and he called Orin Travis. They decided you needed to be at Saint Vincents with your men. Seeing as this is Saturday after four there's no way to arraign you so Judge Willows said you were to be released under your own reconnaissance."

"Thank you, Robert…"

"Hold on, Chris," Miller ordered and took a deep breath. "Willows also said to warn you not to go anywhere near Goodwin. No phone calls…nothing. Understood?"

"Understood," Larabee said.

"Lieutenant Parker said he would drive you over to get your truck. Go check on your men and keep me up to date on their condition."

"I will, Robert," Larabee promised and shook the other man's hand before leaving the office.

Sharon Parker stood up from her desk and grabbed her jacket and keys. She downed the last of her cold coffee and motioned for him to join her. "Come on, Larabee, I'll drop you off."

"Thank you," the blond said and followed her toward the front offices. He knew he owed Travis and Miller a lot and hoped he could do as they wanted. It all came down to what Goodwin and Vargas had in mind. God, he could only hope they came after him and left the people he cared about alone.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Nathan, here drink this," Rain ordered and handed Ezra an orange juice before giving the others coffee and the sandwiches Nettie Wells had asked her to bring. She looked around the waiting room and noticed someone was missing. "Where's Chris?"

"Who cares!" Dunne snarled and drew a deep breath as he looked around.

"Easy, JD," Travis ordered.

"Why? What if Chris is the cause of this? Of all of this?"

"JD, this could have been an accident," the former judge observed.

"Really? Look around, Orin. Look at Ezra and Nathan! Josiah's still in SICU and so is Father Thomas! Look at Casey. She doesn't deserve this! Chris went to far when he went after Goodwin! I'm not saying he's wrong about him, but he stuck us in the middle of this. Most of us don't even know who Goodwin is…at lease not before this happened!"

"JD, Chris was just doing…"

"What Chris does," Jackson interrupted Travis. "Most of the time he does what's right…"

"Not this time…look at us. We are a mess because of him…"

"Am I interrupting something?" Midland asked as she stepped into the room and looked around.

"No, Doc, how are Buck and Vin?" Jackson asked.

"Vin's on his way to the OR. He has a lot of bruising on his lower back. More cuts than I want to count and bruises everywhere. There is a serious wound to his right temple as well so when he does wake up, we will watch for signs of a concussion. He also has a penetrating wound to his left side that needs to be taken care of surgically."

"Will he be okay? Travis inquired.

"All I can tell you is we are doing everything we can. Vin's proven time and again how strong he is and if I was a betting woman I'd put my money on him," Midland told them.

"You and me both," Standish said. "What about Buck?"

"Buck has internal injuries that will also require surgery. He has several broken ribs and lost a lot of blood. Roy is optimistic, but until surgery is finished, we won't know anything for sure. Ezra, Nathan, you should both be in bed. JD and Casey should be resting. I stopped in to check on Josiah, but there's no change there so try not to…"

"Worry, Doc? Dunne snapped. "Buck and Vin are in surgery! Josiah and…"

"Easy, JD," Nettie tried. "Keep the Faith…"

"I don't have any Faith right now! I'm angry and…" Dunne grew quiet when the door opened, and Chris Larabee stepped into the room. "You're the reason Buck and Vin are hurt! Hell, you're the reason we're all hurt! The only one not hurt is you!"

"Easy, JD," Nettie Wells said.

"Why? Because I'm the only one who will say what we're all thinking?"

"Did I miss something?" Larabee asked and realized he was standing alone in a room full of people he cared about. He knew he'd let them down, but he hadn't realized how much they blamed him for what happened.

"Stacey just updated us on Buck and Vin," Travis answered. They are both in surgery and…"

"How bad?" Larabee asked the woman who'd been his physician for longer than he cared to remember.

"Both are listed as critical right now because of blood loss. Their injuries require surgery," Midland answered.

"Damn!" the blond snapped and rubbed at his aching head.

"Headache?" Midland asked worriedly.

"Yeah," the blond answered and felt bitter bile rising in his throat.

"Oh, poor Chris…"

"JD, give it up!" Casey scolded.

"It's okay, Casey. You both…you all have a reason to be angry with me right now…"

"Right now!" Jackson's anger shone in his eyes as he thought of the injuries. "Chris, you fucked up royally and JD is right. I don't know if the explosion was an accident, but something tells me you're the reason for it."

"Nathan, I…"

"You need to leave, Mr. Larabee," Standish said as his own anger began to show. "You're the one who told us never to go at the enemy alone and right now you are your own worst enemy."

"Is that how you all feel?" Larabee asked.

"Right now, I'd have to say yes," Travis said. "It's best if you leave, Chris. Go home and get some sleep."

"Not until I know how buck and Vin are," Larabee vowed.

"Chris, why don't you wait in the doctor's lounge, and I'll come tell you when there's word," Midland suggested.

"Thanks, Doc…"

"Chris, I…"

"It's okay, Nettie. I know how they feel, and they are right," Larabee said and left the room.

"You were a little rough on him," Nettie Wells said.

"He needed to hear it," Jackson said.

"He's got to own up to what he did, and he needs to know he's as bad as…"

"No, JD, don't go there," Casey warned.

"Go where, Casey? Chris should have stopped when he was told to. He should have left Goodwin alone! He should have stopped his vendetta when you and I got hurt. Now the whole dang team is down…everyone except him that is!"

"No point in getting upset right now, JD," Travis said and took a deep breath as he looked around the room. There was no doubt these men were angry, and they had every reason to be, but Chris Larabee wasn't to blame for this. He needed to stop what he'd been doing, but right now he needed to take some time away from his team. Let the others heal and hopefully give them a chance to see Goodwin and Vargas were the real enemy here.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Larabee sat inside the doctor's lounge and thought about each member of his team…his chosen family. How the hell had he let Goodwin get the upper hand? How the hell did he end up unscathed while everyone else was injured. Midland had offered him a couple of Tylenol, but he refused and told her the headache wasn't too bad. She had seen through his deceit but had stayed silent before leaving the room with a promise that she would come and update him as soon as she had word.

Chris glanced at the clock on the wall and noted that three hours had passed since he'd spoken to his team in the waiting room and hoped Buck and Vin would be okay.

"Larabee, sit down before you fall down!"

"How are they, Simmons?"

"Saved by their hard heads and stubborn streaks. I think that's the one thing you and your whole damn team have in common."

"Are they still in surgery?"

"No, they are in recovery."

"Can I see them?"

"Stacey is updating the others so come with me," Simmons said and held the door for the blond to exit. "They'll figure this out, Chris. None of it is your fault."

"This time I think it is," Larabee observed and grew quiet until they reached the recovery room. He knew this was not usually allowed and was grateful to Simmons for doing this.

"Chris, they won't know you're there, but talk to them anyway," Simmons said of the two patients who were separated by a curtain.

"Thanks, Roy,' Larabee said and stepped between both beds as the older man drew back the curtains.

"You have five minutes," Simmons told him and turned to the nurse. "I'll be at the desk if they need anything."

"Yes, Doctor," the male nurse answered and allowed the newcomer a few minutes alone with the unconscious men.

Chris stood between the two beds and knew they were both in bad shape as the clicks and beeps of the monitoring equipment drowned out the other noises. He swallowed the bitter bile that rose in his throat at the thought of what Goodwin had cost him. His team was important to him, and he needed to see justice served for them.

"This is my fault, but I promise this is the end of it. Someone else will have to get justice for Charlie's victims. I won't be the cause of anyone else being hurt…especially not my family. Look, Boys, I know I can't make up for the pain I caused, but I will be here to make sure you guys get the best of care…"

"Why is he in there!" JD snarled from near the desk.

"I was just leaving, Kid," Larabee said and closed his eyes. He opened them and looked at the nurse before speaking. "Take care of them."

"Oh, now you want someone to take care of them!"

"JD, stop," Casey warned as Simmons strode toward them.

"What's going on?" the older man asked.

"Nothing. I was just leaving," Larbee vowed. He left the room and headed for the stairs as pain flared in his skull.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"JD, are you all right?" Casey asked as Dunne swayed and someone grabbed a chair for him.

"I'm fine, Casey," Dunne said but reluctantly sat down. "Dammit, why did he go after that bastard."

"Do you think he's right about Goodwin?"

"I do, Casey, but he was wrong about going after him like that. He should have stayed away from him once there was a restraining order. Look at Buck and Vin…what about Ezra and Nathan. They're hurt too and God only knows when Josiah will get out of SICU."

"I know and I'm angry too, but we need to be angry at the right person and that's not Chris."

"It is right now…maybe time will help, but for now I don't want him around you or the others. What if Goodwin decides it's not enough having one of us killed? I can't lose you, Casey."

"You won't, JD. We will look after each other and then we'll talk to Chris and get him to see that Goodwin is out of his reach for now. We need to convince him that there are better ways to bring him down."

"Casey, you and JD should both be resting," Simmons warned.

"I can't…not until I know they are okay," Dunne said.

"I'll have a cot put in with Ezra and Nathan. Use it!"

"Doc…"

"You heard me, JD…use it or I'll have you banned from my hospital."

"I'll see that he does," Casey said.

"No, you're going home with Nettie. I'm on call tonight so I will check on all of them," Simmons ordered.

"I want to see them," Dunne said and tried to stand only to have the world tip sideways as Simmons grabbed him and made him sit back down.

"Right now, you need to let the orderly take you to Nathan and Ezra's room. Stacey convinced them to stay one more night although it didn't take much convincing since most of you are already here. Orin is talking to Captain Miller, but I can get him to make it an order. I could also grab one of those blunt needles that I usually reserve for Larabee."

"Doc…"

"Trust me, JD, we'll take good care of them," Simmons said and motioned for the orderly to take charge of the wheelchair he'd put the younger man in.

"Casey…"

"I'll be back in the morning, JD," the young woman vowed and kissed his cheek as the others joined them.

"Where's Chris?" Travis asked. He'd spoken with Miller about the pending charges against Larabee and hoped they could do something about them before it went to far.

"He left!" Dunne snapped as Ezra and Nathan moved to check on Vin and Buck.

"Casey, it's time to get you home," Nettie said. She knew they had every right to be angry at Chris Larabee, but it was something the man did. He went in with both feet and damn the consequences. Usually, it meant the criminals were in trouble, but this whole thing was turned around and left a bad taste in her mouth.

"That's long enough…you boys need to get back to your room and rest. You can see them in the morning after the nurses have done what needs to be done," Simmons said and left them no choice as Nathan and Ezra joined them. "Do I need to get those blunt needles?"

"No," Jackson said and wasn't surprised when Simmons ordered two more wheelchairs. His anger at what happened had increased when he saw the damage to Buck and Vin. He hoped the man went straight home, but he wasn't sure that would happen.

Travis and Simmons watched as the reluctant men were wheeled away. Casey and Nettie Wells walked toward the stairs and nodded to them as they left the floor.

"Will they be okay, Roy?"

"They should be, as long as they rest and don't do anything stupid. Do you think Larabee will be okay?"

"I think so, but I hope he's gotten it through his head that he needs to stop with the vendetta for now."

"Do you really think that will happen?"

"One can only hope," Travis shook the other man's hand before leaving the floor. He silently prayed that these men would make a fully recovery and that Goodwin paid for everything he did. Instinct told him that Larabee was right, and he was going to check into some things on his own. With a heavy sigh he walked over to his car and drove away from the hospital.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

The darkness surrounding him was no worse than the darkness in his soul and Chris Larabee knew it was time to leave. Not for good, at least he hoped not, but right now he could not face the people he cared about. The people he betrayed. The people he'd let down with the actions he'd taken over the last few months.

Chris walked toward the bike parked near Buck Wilmington's Mustang and sighed heavily. He knew he should call JD and tell him he was taking it, but Dunne would probably refuse to speak with him. He left a note on Wilmington's windshield explaining that he was taking the kid's motorcycle and would be in touch when he had the chance. He'd left his cell phone at the office before taking a taxi to Wilmington and Dunne's apartment building.

Chris knew the FLHT Electra Glide was the kid's pride and joy. He'd bought it after he sold the Daytona 500 for a tidy profit and had done a considerable amount of work on the newer bike. The motorcycle was a classy piece and Chris knew the kid would be upset with him for taking it, but right now he craved the freedom it offered.

"Sorry, Kid, I'll take care of her," Larabee said and reached underneath Wilmington's car for the hide-a-key JD kept there. It wasn't long before he placed the helmet on his head, adjusted the straps and took a deep breath before straddling the motorcycle and closing his eyes for a few minutes. Again and again, he heard the others and knew they were right. He'd fucked up badly by going after Goodwin and Vargas and his team paid the price.

Chris drove out of the underground parking lot without conscious thought as to where he was going. All he needed was time to clear his head and just maybe come up with a valid way to prove to the guys that it was over. He no longer wanted to bring Goodwin and Vargas to their knees, not at the cost of his friends…his family. He drove out onto the main street and started west; away from his ranch and the life he'd worked so hard to build.

The wind in his face was a soothing balm on his shattered nerves and he knew it would take a long time for him to rectify his mistakes, but somehow, he would make it up to each and every one of his team. Josiah, Vin, Buck, JD, and Ezra had all wound up hurt because of his need for revenge. The only one left standing, besides him was Nathan Jackson and even he had been touched by the fall out. The raw need that had threatened to drown them all had very nearly done just that, but until he had time to figure out the best way to fix things he'd have to stay away from Billings and those he cared about.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris pulled the motorcycle to a stop in front of the small diner near the outskirts of the town of Bradford Falls and took a deep breath. He stood up and removed his helmet, securing it to the back of the seat before looking at his watch. It was nearly noon, and he was thirsty and hungry, and right now he craved a bottle of cold beer. He knew if he indulged in liquor or beer, he would end up spending the night in the town, but right now it didn't really matter where he laid his head.

Chris dusted off his jacket and adjusted his sunglasses before looking around the nearly empty parking lot. The sign boasted that the diner had the best southern fried chicken in the state and Chris hoped it wasn't a lie, because right now his stomach was rumbling in anticipation of something substantial. He made sure the kickstand was down and pocketed the keys before walking toward the front door. The diner itself was like all diners in small towns throughout the country. There were green and white striped awnings over each shuttered window, the doors had small windows that could be raised to allow air to enter through a screen, and the paint was peeling around the rusted frames. A sign proclaiming the establishment's name was rusted and hung by a single chain that rattled in the breeze.

A dog barked and Chris glanced at the mangy looking mutt who was tied up near the front door. The animal looked as if it had missed more than one meal and Chris felt sorry for it. The sound of children laughing caught his attention and he turned to see a boy and girl, both around ten years old, playing in the street without a care in the world. With a heavy sigh he turned back to the diner and stepped inside. The interior was as bad as the outside, but at least it looked clean. He made his way toward the counter and took a seat at the very end.

"What'll it be?" the weary looking waitress asked.

"Do you have a menu?" Larabee asked, surprised when the woman moved past him and stood in the open doorway.

"Jimmy…Susie get out of the street before I take a switch to both of you!" she shouted before coming back around the counter. "Sorry, you know how kids are. I swear they'll be the death of me."

"At least they listened," the blond said, noting the kids had moved toward where he'd seen the dog.

"There's not much of a menu, but you can take a look. If you want something good and edible, I'd suggest the southern fried chicken and maybe some home fries. We don't have any grits left, but Hal does a mean coleslaw if you want salad."

"I'll have the chicken and home fries…ask Hal to throw a few onions in with the fries," Larabee said.

"Drink?"

"Beer…Corona if you have it?"

"Sorry, we just have draft…but I guarantee it's cold," the waitress told him.

"Sounds good," the blond said and watched the woman push through the swinging door.

"Hal, I need a number one with onions…"

"Onions is extra!" the chef called.

"Onions is extra, Mister…"

"That's okay…tell Hal I can pay," Larabee stated with a smile.

"Hal, we got a paying customer so don't burn anything!" the woman said and reached for a beer mug before moving to the keg of draft beer.

Chris turned his attention to the greasy looking mirror above the dessert cooler and watched as several flies crawled over one another. They buzzed loudly; reminding him that this place was what Ezra would call the ‘quintessential greasy spoon'. The woman placed the glass of beer in front of him and he thanked her before taking a sip and smiling appreciatively.

"Was I right?" the woman asked.

"It's cold," Larabee answered as several people entered the diner. Chris watched her walk over to the table and listened as she spoke to the older couple and their teenage children. They seemed to be regular customers and Chris turned his attention back to the cold beer, briefly wondering whether he should call someone back home. He quickly dismissed the idea because as of right now nothing had been resolved. It had only been a week since he left Billings and he had called to ask about his men. According to Rain, Vin and Buck could be discharged in a few of days.

Chris regretted calling her because he knew she was caught between him and Nathan because Nathan was still angry, at least that's what he thought. He asked her not to tell the others he'd called, but she'd told him straight out that if Nathan brought it up, she was not going to lie to him. Chris had told her he understood and rang off before she had a chance to ask him how he was doing or when he was coming home.

With a heavy heart, Chris downed the beer and placed the empty mug on the counter. The beer was cold, and he knew he would be spending the night in Bradford Falls, so he would have to ask about a motel and find out where the liquor store was, if the town even had one.

Several more customers entered the diner, and the waitress served them before bringing him his meal. It actually looked and smelled better than he thought possible.

"Would you like another one?" the woman asked and reached for the empty mug.

"That'd be great…thanks," Larabee said and lifted the fork. The food was hot and tasted even better than it smelled, and he smiled appreciatively when the waitress placed another mug of beer in front of him. The man she called Hal was busy hitting the side of a cooler until it sputtered and seemed to reluctantly spring to life.

"We have fresh cherry pie if you're still hungry after you eat that."

"Thanks, I'll keep it in mind." Larabee looked into the mirror as the door opened and two men entered the diner. He sized them up without letting them know he was doing so and watched them look around the greasy spoon. Both men seemed to be staring at him and Chris saw the weapons hidden beneath their jackets and readied himself for trouble, but the waitress' words told him they were friendly, at least to her.

"You two want the usual?"

"Not today…we're looking for someone. Anyone in here riding that fancy motorbike out front?" the bigger of the duo asked.

"I am," Larabee answered, turning, and leaning his elbows against the counter. "Why?"

"You own it?"

"It belongs to a friend," the blond answered.

"Is that right? How close a friend?" the shorter, dark-haired man asked.

"Depends on who's asking?"

"We're the law in these parts. My name doesn't matter, but yours does. Who are you and can you prove the bike isn't stolen?"

"The bike's not stolen. I borrowed it," Larabee said, wondering if there was any way to get out of this situation without someone getting hurt. There were at least eight people, two of whom were children in the diner. Chris knew he could not start anything, and right now there really was no need, but something about the newcomers bugged the hell out of him.

"Do you have the license and registration?" the shorter one asked.

"Not on me," Larabee answered.

"Then I guess this notice takes precedent and you are hereby under arrest for possession of stolen property," the bigger one told him. "Now I don't like repeating myself so I'm only going to say this once. Stand up, turn around, and put your hands behind your head."

"I told you the bike belongs to a friend of mine."

"And I told you it was reported stolen by the owner! Now, unless you want someone to get hurt, I'd suggest you do as I said!"

Chris looked at the weary people seated at the tables and knew it would be useless to try anything. He reached for the glass of draft, downed it, and slowly slid off the chair. He turned and looked at the two ‘lawmen' and smiled.

"Hands locked behind your head?" the big one said, his hand resting on his weapon.

"Let me see some ID," Larabee said.

"You're not the one giving orders, Boy, and believe me you don't want to jerk me around!"

"I'm not the one who's jerking someone around. If you're the law in Bradford Falls then show me the proof," the blond said, standing his ground when the bigger one reached into his pocket and pulled out a wallet, showing Larabee his badge, before reaching for his handcuffs.

"Turn around, smart ass!"

Chris knew there was no choice, but to comply and realized what a stupid mistake he'd made in not calling JD and letting him know he had the motorcycle. That was one mistake he would rectify as soon as they reached the station, and he made his one phone call. He turned slowly and put his hands behind his head. He soon felt hands searching his body and fought the urge to lash out. His hands were yanked down, pulled behind his back and a pair of handcuffs was snapped on tightly. He tried to turn, but a fist slammed into his lower back, and he barely stayed on his feet.

"That's for making me repeat myself!" the big one snarled before drawing back his foot and delivering a kick to the back of his prisoner's right leg.

"Bastard!" Larabee ground out as his leg threatened to give out, but he managed to stay upright. He stared at the two men who were supposed to uphold the law, but something told him these two had dirty hands.

"Smart ass and a smart mouth…you'd better watch it, Mister, or we just might have to shut it for you," the big one warned, drawing his gun, and pointing it at the prisoner. "Now just for the sake of keeping the records straight…do you have any identification on you?"

Chris stood his ground while the smaller man roughly patted him down and pulled out his wallet. "Says here his name's Christopher Larabee."

"Well, Christopher Larabee, you're under arrest for possession of stolen property and resisting arrest…"

"He didn't try to resist…"

"Stay out of this…or I'll have the health inspector close you down again, Hal!" the big one said. "Now I'm sure a smart ass like you knows his rights and I'm tired of repeating myself so just keep that smart mouth of yours shut and you can tell your story to the judge!"

Chris found himself fighting the urge to shove his fist down the other man's throat, but right now was not the time. As soon as they were at the station and there were no innocent people around to get hurt, he would demand a phone call and get help. The smaller man grabbed his arm and tried to drag him toward the door, but Chris' stubborn pride would not allow him to go so easily. He yanked his arm away from the man but was driven to his knees by a blow to the back of his head.

"See, Hal, I told you he was resisting arrest!" Jeff Bradford said with a grin. He nodded to his smaller partner, and they lifted Larabee by the arms before nodding to the other patrons and dragging him from the diner.

Chris tried to shake off the effects of the blow to the head, but his vision blurred as they forced him into the police car. He managed to focus long enough to see a tow truck pull up and heard the driver ask about the bike.

"Get it out to the warden and tell him he'll have a new worker before the end of the day," Bradford said and clapped the scruffy looking driver on the back.

"I'll get it out to him tonight, but I'm sure he'll be glad to have it and the extra help. I know he's been bitching about the lack of able-bodied volunteers," Barry Morgan told him.

"My brother's always bitching…just don't let him hear you say that," Bradford said and walked around to the driver's door. He looked in at Larabee and smiled, but there was no warmth in it as he opened the door. "I'm sure my brother will rid you of that smart mouth!"

Chris knew there was no point in fighting right now, not when his hands were cuffed behind him, and he was locked in the back of a police car. He looked over his shoulder at the waitress who stood in the doorway and saw the sadness on her face as the car drove away from the diner.

"So, Jeff, when are we going to hold the trial?" Danny Turner asked.

"As soon as we get to the station," Bradford said. He glanced in the mirror at the man seated behind them and couldn't help wondering what his story was. Something about the ice green eyes chilled him, but it wouldn't take long to bring the man down a peg or two. He'd seen bigger, stronger men brought to their knees once they started working at the compound. It wouldn't take long before his brother showed him who was in charge and what was expected of him.

"You hear that, Larabee, we're not like them big cities where a man sits behind bars and eats steak and potatoes while he waits for months for his trial. The good thing about Jeff being the law here is that he's also a judge and well, we don't believe in trial by jury, so you'll have your trial and be sentenced all in the same day."

Chris listened to the man talking and realized things had just gone from bad to worse. There was no way he'd get a fair trial, let alone be allowed to make a phone call. Whatever happened between now and the trial, he'd have to find a way to escape. Once he accomplished that he could call Orin and tell him what was happening. JD could easily clear up the issue of the bike and there'd be no reason to hold a trial. He kept looking out the window, searching for anything that could be used as a place to hide.

"Are you listening to me, Larabee?" Turner asked and hit the wire cage that separated him from his prisoner.

Chris had been so deep in thought that he'd missed whatever the man had said, but he didn't really give a damn. His head felt ready to explode and the bright sunlight wasn't doing him any good, but right now he needed to concentrate on the town he was driving through. The car pulled to a stop in front of a single-story building that had seen better days. The paint was cracked and peeling, while a battered and faded flag flew high overhead. A sign that read mercantile and post office was on the building to the right of the station, while a laundromat stood on the left. There were several cars parked at intervals along the street, although there was no sign of the drivers.

"Don't try anything or you'll find out just how inhospitable we can be!" Jeff Bradford warned and opened the back door. He stood back and motioned for the prisoner to step out, cursing when the blond remained seated. He briefly wondered if maybe he'd struck him too hard, but it didn't really matter, except that he'd already sent word to his brother that he'd be sending him a new man. "Danny, get over here and help me get this sonofabitch out of the car!"

"Boy, you're riling Jeff, and he don't need anything raising his blood pressure," Turner warned, reaching into the car, and pulling on the prisoner's arm.

Chris didn't look at his antagonist but allowed him to think he was in control. He knew he'd only have one chance at this and hoped his ruse would fool the two men long enough for him to make an escape. As soon as he was dragged from the car, Chris reacted on instinct and drove his shoulder into the smaller man's stomach and was pleased when the man tripped on the sidewalk and fell backward. He didn't have time to think about his actions as the bigger man reached for his weapon. Chris knew he would only get one chance and kicked out at the man's hand, sending the gun flying across the street.

"You bastard! You're gonna pay for that!" Bradford warned and moved in, but he wasn't prepared for the speed and agility of the lean blond. Larabee plowed into him, driving him backward until he struck the wooden frame of a decorative flower stand. He grunted as the wind was driven from his body but did not go down.

Chris acted on instinct and ignored the pain that erupted in his lower back as he kept his weight on the bigger man. Unfortunately, with his hands cuffed behind his back, and already groggy from the blow to his head, there wasn't much he could do. The second man was already up on his feet and had delivered a blow with a baton to Chris' lower back. He fought hard, kicking out at the man behind him as he struggled to keep the bigger one-off balance. The baton slammed into the back of his right knee, and he went down hard. An arm wrapped around his throat and fingers fisted in his hair, yet he would not quit. He tried to force his way to his feet, but the man he'd been holding down had already gotten his bearings and struck him twice in the abdomen.

"Better go easy, Jeff, or we won't be able to have him stand trial!" Turner warned.

"On your feet, Larabee, or I'll cut your balls off and feed them to that cur out at Hal's diner!" Bradford ordered. He smiled as his partner pulled the man to his feet but kept his arm around his throat while the opposite hand still held tightly to his hair.

"Are you going to cooperate, Larabee, or do I have to hobble you?" Turner asked and shoved the blond away from him.

Chris landed hard on his knees and without the use of his hands to stop him, continued to the ground. He grunted as the air was driven from his lungs and felt a gun placed at his temple.

"Hey, Sheriff, you need any help?"

"No, thanks, Rick, we got this one," Bradford answered. "Now, Larabee, are we on the same page here or do you want me to write you a whole new book?"

"I don't think he's talking, Jeff," Turner said. This time he pulled the prisoner to his feet and was ready for anything. They shoved him through the door and into the police station where two officers were seated at their desks.

"What have you got there, Jeff?" Samuel Lawson asked.

"We got us a thief…but he's not so much now. He's also charged with two counts of resisting arrest," Bradford said shoving the blond onto a chair and moving to stand in front of him. "Now, Larabee, here's how things are going to play out."

"I want to make a phone call!"

"What was that? I didn't quite catch what you were saying. Did you guys hear him?"

"Never heard a damn thing, Sheriff," Paul Goddard answered.

"Good, now I know you boys are probably getting hungry, but I'd like to get this smart assed bastard processed and send him out to the warden," Bradford said, walking to the office at the back and grabbing a long black robe from the hook.

"This isn't legal," Larabee said, glaring daggers at the four men now present.

"It is in Bradford Falls," Turner told him, watching as the sheriff put on the robe.

"We might as well get this done," Bradford said. "Danny, you and Paul search the prisoner while Sammy and I set up the courtroom."

"You won't get away with this!" Larabee spat, cursing as the two men shoved him face down against the empty desk. His legs were shoved apart, and he heard the two men talking about what they'd like to do to him, and he fought harder, but there was no escaping the insulting language.

"All right, Boys, enough fun. The warden is waiting for him," Bradford said and took a seat behind the empty desk.

"All rise!" Goddard ordered and helped pull the prisoner upright. "This court is now in session…Judge Jeffrey Bradford presiding…and yes, Larabee, he really is a judge."

"Does the defendant have counsel?"

"This is bullshit!" Larabee said and was slammed in the ribs by an elbow.

"Better watch that mouth, Son, or I'll have the officer gag you," Bradford warned the prisoner when his men straightened the blond up. "Now since you don't seem to have counsel, I'll assign you one. Danny, I believe it's your turn. How does your client plea?"

"Guilty as charged your honor," the man said, chuckling softly when he tightened his grip on the prisoner's arm.

"I get a phone call…"

"Not in my court!" Bradford said. "Now keep your mouth shut while I decide how much time you're going to serve!"

Chris knew there was no point in saying anything. These men might think they were the law, but everything they did proved exactly what they were. To protest right now would simply get him another blow to the back or the knees and his body already ached from the previous ones. He stood straight and listened to the man pass sentence and knew things had just gotten a whole lot worse.

"The charges against you are pretty serious and therefore the sentence will be a hefty one. Now we're pretty lucky in Bradford Falls considering we don't have a prison and don't believe prisoners need three square meals a day since they broke the law in the first place. You certainly seem like you're fit enough to survive working a prison detail at the compound. The warden out there is a mean sonofabitch, but he's fair as long as you do the job you're assigned. So, I hereby sentence you to five years hard labor at the Bradford Militia Compound with no chance of parole!"

"You're forgetting something, Your Honor," Paul Goddard said with a grin.

"I am…oh…oh yes…May God have mercy on your soul because your body won't receive any during the next five years. Danny, get the prisoner ready for transport," Bradford said.

"Yes, Your Honor," Turner said.

Chris glared at the man sitting behind the desk and vowed to make him pay, but there didn't seem to be anything he could do to free himself right now. He hoped his team was running a trace on him, but that didn't seem likely, not when they had his note saying he needed some time to clear his head. With his team down, and angry with him, there wasn't much chance they were searching for him.

"Come on, Larabee, we don't have all day," Turner said and dragged on the prisoner's arm. Goddard took the opposite side and between them they escorted the blond out to the car. Lawson followed behind, his weapon drawn and ready to use should the captive try anything stupid.

Jeff Bradford reached for the wallet he'd confiscated and removed the small amount of cash hidden inside. There were several credit cards, but that was something they didn't mess with. Credit cards left a paper trail and if anyone was looking for Chris Larabee, they could easily trace him through his credit card usage. He checked the identification and finally shoved the wallet into a drawer that contained at least a dozen others they'd obtained over the last month and locked it. It was time to lay low and his brother would probably be angry he'd taken it upon himself to grab Larabee, but the arrogant sonofabitch deserved what he got. He picked up the phone, dialed the number to the compound, and sat back to wait for his brother to answer it.

"Jeff, this better be good!" Stan Bradford warned.

"It is, Stan, I got another worker for you…"

"I told you to lay low for a while…I'll kill your sorry ass if this brings the real law out here!"

"It won't, Stan, but if it does, I'll handle it. Look, this bastard is arrogant and he's a real criminal…he was in possession of a stolen motorcycle…real nice and I figured you'd like to take a look at it," Jeff explained.

"What kind?" Stan asked, suddenly interested in the conversation.

"I'm not real sure, but it's sleek and right up your alley," Jeff answered.

"Are you bringing the prisoner out?"

"I figured I'd drive on out there and make sure he's settled in real good," Jeff told him.

"All right…but mark my words, Jeff, this has to be the last one for at least a month. We can't take any chances right now…not when we're this close to fortifying the compound."

"What about the bastard you've been dealing with? Has he got the goods we need or is he just another mouthy Mexican?"

"I believe Vargas can come through with what he's offering as long as he keeps those agents off his ass," Stan assured him. "Look, bring the prisoner out and I'll have Tremaine cook you up a good steak."

"Sounds like a plan…see you in about an hour," Jeff said and hung up as Goddard and Lawson returned. "All right, boys, looks like you're in charge for the night. Make sure you don't go breaking the law while I'm gone."

"Sure thing, Jeff," Goddard said with a grin.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Josiah Sanchez stared at the men he'd worked with for so long and wondered how everything could have gotten so screwed up in such a short time. He'd been in and out of consciousness since waking the first time in the SICU and wanted to be brought up to date on everything now that his head was clear. He still wasn't sure what had happened and why the others were still so angry with Chris Larabee. Buck and Vin were both patients and he knew they'd been injured in an explosion at the office building. They were both in wheelchairs and still had opposing IVs running into their hands. JD, still pale, was seated on the end of his bed while Nathan and Ezra stood in front of the window. Ezra's arm was in a sling and there was a neat row of stitches above his right eye. Nathan sported a cane and seemed to be leaning heavily on it as he looked at him.

"Look, Josiah, this can wait until after…"

"No, it can't, Nathan. Something tells me we need to talk this out and find out where the hell Chris went," Sanchez snapped.

"Chris took off sometime after Buck and Vin were injured," Standish told him.

"That's another thing," the older man stated. "How were you guys hurt and why the hell would Chris take off with the three of us in the hospital? That just doesn't sound like the Chris Larabee I know!"

"Chris wasn't acting like the man we all know, Josiah," Wilmington snapped. "He's been obsessed with Goodwin and Vargas for months now and after you were hurt, we thought he'd learned, but he didn't. Chris kept after them and managed to violate the restraining order on several occasions. He managed to alienate just about every friend he had…"

"Including all of you," Sanchez observed.

"Ain't sayin' that, Josiah…"

"Aren't you, Vin? It sure sounds like you've all come down mighty hard on a man who's stuck by all of us when the chips were down," Sanchez offered and knew he'd struck a chord. "Tell me something…how long has it been since any of you heard from Chris?"

"Not since the night Vin and Buck were brought in," Standish answered.

"And that doesn't surprise you? Was Chris in his right mind when he left?" Sanchez asked, his patience wearing thin as he looked at the others.

"We're not the bad guys here, Josiah!" Dunne snapped. "Chris let his anger take control and we were hurt because of it. Look at Buck and Vin…look at your injuries. You and Father Thomas nearly died!"

"So, Chris set the explosions and he ran you off the road, JD? I guess that means it's his fault Casey was hurt too and if that's the case we better make damn sure he's arrested for his part in all this!" Sanchez told them, his voice deadly calm, but there was an underlying anger in his words.

"Ain't Chris that set the explosions or ran JD's car off the road, but he was supposed ta stay away from Goodwin…"

"Would any of you have done things differently?" the older man asked softly rubbing at tired eyes. "Cast not the first stone unless you are sure you have the whole story."

"Josiah, Chris took the law into his own hands when he went after Goodwin," Jackson told him.

"Again, I ask if any of you would have done things differently? Do we know the full story behind Chris' hatred of Goodwin and Vargas?" Sanchez asked.

"I know it goes way back, but he never told me the full story. He's known Goodwin a long time and they were friends at one point," Wilmington told them.

"So, what did Goodwin do to make that friendship change?" Sanchez asked. He looked at Wilmington and Tanner and knew if the two men had been thinking clearly, they would never have let this go for so long. Wherever Chris Larabee was he didn't deserve the anger…but he guessed the events of the last few weeks could weigh heavily on a man. These men needed to talk things through to realize they'd left one of their own out in the cold long enough. It was time to find Chris and bring him home.

"The bastard is dirty," Tanner said.

"Are you sure?" the ex-preacher asked.

"We have been able to uncover several inconsistencies in his financial dealings," Standish answered.

"Josiah, you shouldn't be worrying about this. We'll take care of things," Jackson assured him and saw the look that crossed the older man's face. He knew what was bothering the ex-preacher and understood why he had misgivings. "Look, Josiah, we've had a lot of stuff on our minds lately, but that's no excuse for putting everything on Chris' shoulders. You, Buck, and Vin can't do anything while you're in here, but JD, Ezra and I can search for Chris."

"Start with his credit cards," Wilmington said, his head aching with the need to rest.

"Find out what vehicle he took and put out an APB on it," Sanchez told them.

"His truck is parked at the office, so my guess is he rented a vehicle," Jackson told them.

"Oh God," Dunne whispered and looked at the others.

"What's wrong, Kid?" Tanner asked.

"My bike…"

"What about your bike?" Wilmington asked, knowing the motorcycle was Dunne's pride and joy.

"When I went home after you and Vin were admitted I wanted to check my bike, but it wasn't there," Dunne told them.

"Did you report it…Chris," Tanner said, sighing tiredly.

"I reported it stolen that same night," Dunne told them. "If Chris took it, he could get arrested."

"Maybe that's a good thing," Wilmington said. "If he's spotted and arrested then he'll call you to verify that he knows you and that it's your bike."

"Chris didn't leave ya a note or anythin'?" the Texan asked.

"Not that I found," Dunne answered, growing quiet when the door opened, and Stacey Midland entered.

"Well, I figured I'd find you two here, but I had no idea someone called a meeting during hospital visiting hours," Midland told them and quickly checked Sanchez's monitoring equipment.

"Sorry, Doc, we just heard that Josiah was doing better and wanted to check on him," Wilmington told her.

"Well, according to the nurses you've been here for over half an hour and I'm afraid it's time this meeting is adjourned," the physician said and moved to check Buck and Vin's IVs. "Nathan, Ezra, would you please take Buck and Vin back to their room?"

"Sure, Doc," Jackson agreed.

"JD, how are you feeling? Any headaches?"

"I'm okay, Doc…the headaches have stopped," Dunne answered.

"You're still on light duty until I see you next week," Midland warned.

"I hear you, Doc," Dunne assured her.

"Good, now Josiah, I don't want you talking shop while you're still in ICU. Your numbers look good, and we'll transfer you to a regular room tomorrow morning…until then the ICU rules apply. Say goodbye, JD."

"Goodbye…we'll be back tomorrow, Josiah," Dunne assured him.

"All right, Son, but if anything turns up, I want to know about it," Sanchez ordered and watched the youngest member of the team walk dejectedly out of the room. He lay back against the pillow and listened as the morphine pump kicked in before looking at the woman still standing beside his bed.

"Josiah, you need to rest."

"I will, Doc, how is Father Thomas?"

"He's doing better and should be discharged tomorrow morning," Midland answered. She knew Sanchez and the priest were close friends and was glad both men would make complete recoveries.

"What about his back?"

"The swelling has come down and he's able to move his legs. He will need physio, but the outlook is good," Midland told him. "So, did they have any news on Chris?"

"No…I doubt they even thought about what he's been through," Sanchez told her. "I think they were ticked at him because Goodwin got the upper hand with us, but if they'd been thinking clearly, they'd realize Chris did exactly as he normally does when it comes to people like Vargas and Goodwin. He dove in headfirst, and the consequences be damned."

"This time the consequences could have cost several people their lives," the physician said.

"I know, but I keep thinking if we'd just listened to what Chris was saying we might have been able to find the evidence needed to put Vargas and Goodwin behind bars."

"I'm sure you were all doing what you thought was right, but with four of you out of commission it's hard to think clearly. Now, I know you're worried about Chris, but right now we need to take care of you. I want you resting…"

"Seems like I've been hearing that a lot the last few days," Sanchez said with a grin as he settled back on the bed. He heard the physician speaking with the nursing staff, but soon drifted off to sleep, wondering where Larabee was and hoping he hadn't done anything stupid.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris tried to ignore the headache and keep track of where they were going. They'd been driving for over 40 minutes when they left the main highway and drove onto a narrow road. The sheriff and deputy all but ignored him, but Chris knew they were watching him. Bradford made sure he drove over every bump and pothole in the road and several times Chris was slammed into the door or the seat in front of him.

"Hope you're enjoying the scenery, Larabee, it's some of the best in the state. Too bad you won't get to experience it as a tourist," Bradford said, chuckling softly as he looked in the rear-view mirror.

"I think the cat's got his tongue, Jeff," Turner said.

"He's the silent, deadly type, but it's not going to do him much good when Stan sets him straight. You'll be working them soft hands to the bone out here or you'll go to bed with an empty belly."

"How long do you think he'll last at the compound?"

"Well, he looks like he works out, but his hands are soft so I'm guessing he's never done a honest day's work in his life," Bradford answered. He kept glancing at the quiet prisoner and couldn't quite get rid of the feeling that he was dealing with a coiled snake. Larabee's eyes glistened with anger and the set of his jaw spoke of a dangerous man when crossed. Right now, Larabee was his prisoner, he just hoped he never ran into him once his sentence was completed. Although, truth-be-told, he didn't expect Larabee to last a year let alone five long years.

Chris knew Bradford was afraid of him, but with the others around he was like bullies the world over, he hid behind others; there was no doubt Bradford was a coward when he was alone. Chris had tried to get his hands free, but with them cuffed behind his back it was impossible. He shifted on the seat but kept his eyes on the two men in the front seat as they turned onto an unpaved road. The trail seemed barely wide enough for one car, with overhanging trees blocking out the sunlight. Chris knew they'd been driving more than an hour when he spotted a dark structure looming ahead of them.

The trees had parted to reveal a solid wall that stood well over ten feet high, with guards patrolling on some kind of scaffolding inside the compound. Chris could not help but be awed by the immense height of the walls and the towers that were set at 50-foot intervals. There had to be six towers at the front, and he could see at least two at the sides and was overwhelmed with the thought of being held here. There didn't seem to be any way for the structure to get electricity and yet the lights were already coming on as they pulled up to the front gate. How the hell was he going to get help if he was locked away? With that thought running through his mind, Chris looked around for a break in the thick grove of trees, one that might give him hope of escape.

"Impressive, isn't it?" Bradford asked upon opening the front door. He stood waiting and smiled when his brother and two armed men stepped out of a small door to the left of the gate. "Hey, Stan, is that steak ready yet?"

"It's getting there…so where's your prisoner?" Stan Bradford asked.

"Right here," Jeff answered and opened the door. He pulled Larabee out of the car and shoved him, chuckling when the blond barely stayed upright. "Stand straight, Larabee…"

"Larabee?" Stan Bradford said, the earlier conversation he'd had with his supplier fresh on his mind. "Chris Larabee?"

"How'd you know?" Jeff asked incredulously.

"Rodrigo called to say they'd be making the shipment after all," Stan said, watching the anger flare in Larabee's eyes. He signaled the two men to grab the prisoner's arms and stepped forward once they had control. "You're either the unluckiest bastard in the world or I'm the luckiest. Rodrigo will be quite pleased to find out you're a guest of my facility. What's really uncanny is that you'll be helping build the storage chamber for the weapons and drugs in the tunnel."

"Go to hell!" Larabee snarled and spit in the man's face.

"Now that's going to cost you two days in the hole," Stan Bradford said. "Care to try for more? Your life as a prisoner can be easy or hard…your choice…my prison…"

"This is not a prison...it's a militia compound!" the blond snarled and struggled against the men holding him.

"Yes, it is, and it belongs to me. You'll call me Warden and you'll speak to me in the proper appellation...Sir."

"The proper what?" Larabee spat.

"You got an attitude problem, Larabee. That's already bought you two days in the hole. Now, do we have an understanding, or would you like to try for four?"

"Man like you is easy to understand," Larabee said and couldn't help the lopsided grin as he added distastefully. "Sir."

"That's earned you four days in the hole," the warden said and tapped a baton against his open palm as he moved so that he stood toe to toe with the newcomer. "You'll learn to bend that stiff neck, or I'll make you do it. From here on you're not a name, you're a number, Inmate 78. Put him in the hole!"

"Yes, Sir," David Phillips told him and began dragging the newcomer toward the back of the compound. God, help him, but he hated this part of his job.

Chris fought the hands holding him but a vicious blow to his lower back sent him to his knees and he heard the sound of something heavy being lifted. The hinges sounded like they needed to be oiled, but Chris knew that was the least of his worries as he was unceremoniously shoved over the edge. He landed on the uneven surface, rolled onto his back, and stared up at the men who had sentenced him to hell.

"What are the chances of this happening?" Jeff asked with a grin as the latticework grill was locked in place over the hole.

"I don't know, but I'm willing to bet Vargas and his partner would have a good laugh over this," the warden answered, laughing as they walked away from the newest addition to the compound.

Chris tried to stand, but the hole was simply too small. He tried to push against the grate, but it held firm, and he tried using his fingers to find a weakness around the edges, but again there was nothing. The light from the poles to the south illuminated his cell, if the three by six-foot hole could be called that. The walls were reinforced concrete, but the floor was dirt and felt damp as if it had rained sometime in the last few hours.

Chris wondered what had happened to his jacket and wished he had some way to stay warm, but something told him this was only the beginning. He rubbed at his bare arms and sank back in a corner, as the sounds of the compound grew quiet.

Chris' thoughts turned to his team, and he wondered what they were doing. Was Josiah out of ICU? What about Vin and Buck? Were they recovering from their wounds? Wounds he might as well have inflicted with his own hands. What about JD…was he taking it easy or worrying about his bike? What about Nathan and Ezra? Were they taking care of their own injuries? Of the team, they were the only two that had escaped major damage, although they'd both be on sick leave for a couple of weeks.

What of Vargas and Goodwin? Were they celebrating their win and what would they do once Bradford told them he was here? How could he get word to his team? Would they believe him, or had he finally driven them away with his obsession to bring Goodwin and Vargas down? It didn't really matter anymore because he'd done a lot of soul-searching since he'd left Billings and didn't like what he'd seen.

Chris closed his eyes, but the images of Buck, Vin, Josiah, Nathan, JD, and Ezra kept flashing across his closed lids. God, he hoped they were all right, but he hadn't even stayed to find out and his calls had been few and far between. He heard the far-off call of an owl and felt the loneliness seep into his heart as he gave in to the sleep his body and mind craved.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7 

Charles Goodwin knew what he had was only a reprieve, because sooner or later Larabee would be back. When he did return, he would be looking for retribution for what had been done to his team. He refilled the glass of cognac and returned to his desk where several photos were spread across the top. There were shots of every member of The Firm, including Orin Travis, but he ignored those and picked up the picture of Larabee.

There was no way of knowing where Larabee was or how long he'd be gone, but one thing was certain, when he returned, he'd be like a rabid dog without a leash. Why the hell hadn't he gone with his gut and killed the sonofabitch instead of agreeing to Vargas' plans? Sure, The Firm was now down six key members, but none of them were out for good. What good was winning the battle if you lost the war? 

They needed to find Larabee and silence the man for good, but so far none of his or Vargas' contacts had come up with anything. All they knew was Larabee had left after Wilmington and Tanner were found, but where he went was unknown.

"Where the hell are you, Larabee?" he snarled under his breath and returned the photos to the file before placing it in the locked cabinet. It was late and most of his staff had already left as he grabbed his jacket and headed for the door.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7 

Rodrigo Vargas had two separate phones, one for everyday business, and the other for calls from Charles Goodwin or his other clients. When the second line activated, he looked at the number and recognized it as one of his recent clients who was interested in an arms shipment that would net him over 10 million dollars. He quickly pressed the button to accept the call and leaned back in his chair.

"Hello, Amigo," Vargas said.

"Hello, Rodrigo, I thought I'd call for an update on our transaction."

"It will take a week to set everything in motion, but we'll be able to meet the two-week deadline," Vargas answered.

"Very good. There is another reason for my call."

"I thought so...tell me you are not backing out because that is not how we do business."

"No, I have need of the weapons and munitions I ordered, but I believe I have a new prisoner you might be familiar with."

"I have no interest in your prisoners, Stan," Vargas said.

"I wouldn't be so sure of that, Rodrigo. You see this man has been a thorn in your side and he's been causing problems for your silent partner."

"Larabee?"

"Give the man the prize."

"How the hell did you get your hands on Larabee?"

"He sort of dropped in on my town and right into my brother's lap. Jeff arrested him for possession of stolen property and held the trial on the spot. Found him guilty, and well, the rest is history as they say. Now, I could kill him or since he's here anyway I can put him to work building the storage area. I leave it up to you."

"Keep him alive for now, but don't underestimate the sonofabitch, Amigo. He's well trained and a former SEAL so he knows how to escape."

"I'm going to have him put in wrist and ankle restraints."

"Good idea. Keep him on a short leash," Vargas told him with a grin.

"Hmm, a short leash...guess that means I'll have him fitted with a collar."

"I like the way you think."

"Are you still planning to check out my facilities?"

"Of course, Charles and I will accompany the trucks delivering the goods. Perhaps, we will have a long-lasting relationship."

"I certainly hope so. See you in two weeks."

"We will be there...I may call after I speak with Charles," Vargas said and smiled at the thought of telling his friend their troubles with Larabee could already be over.

"I look forward to it."

"Take care and don't go too easy on Larabee."

"Who?"

"Your prisoner."

"Ah, you mean Inmate 78. He is no longer a name, but a number and as such I will treat him as the scum he is. Goodbye, Rodrigo."

The line went dead, and Vargas reached for his drink as he thought about what he'd just been told. Charles should be here any minute and they now had a reason to celebrate. He went to the bar and pulled out the most expensive bottle of Scotch he had. Tonight, they would toast Larabee's death and the birth of Inmate 78.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin was angry as he turned into Vargas' driveway and pulled to a stop in front of the main house. Larabee's team was down, but the bastard was still unaccounted for. That meant he'd have to keep looking over his shoulder in case he was closing in on him. He needed closure if he was to go to the next stage of his career and would have to rely on his silent partner to help him until Larabee was out of the equation for good.

Goodwin exited the car and made his way to the door, hoping that Vargas had some form of entertainment to get his mind off his problems. An older woman, who still looked good in spite of her early life on the streets, opened the door.

"Senor Vargas is expecting you in the den, Senor Goodwin," the woman told him.

"Thank you, Lina," Goodwin said and made his way toward the den at the back of the house. He pushed open the door and was surprised to find Vargas alone.

"Come in, Amigo, I have news," Vargas said and waited for the other man to close the door before handing him a glass of Scotch.

"Good news, I hope," Goodwin said.

"I believe so. I just had a call from Stan Bradford."

"Who?" Goodwin asked.

"Stan Bradford...our newest client."

"What did he want?"

"He has a new prisoner as of today."

"So?"

"Well, this new prisoner is of special interest to you."

"Who is it?"

"Larabee," Vargas answered and smiled when his partner choked on the drink.

"What? How the hell did Larabee find Bradford? The bastard seems to be..."

"Easy, Amigo, Larabee wasn't there because of Bradford. I'm not sure of the whole story, but the sheriff arrested Larabee for possession of stolen property…let's just say they have their own judicial system in Bradford Falls. Larabee was sentenced to hard labor and even now he's helping build the storage facilities for the weapons and armaments."

"Larabee is dangerous."

"Yes, he is, but he's in a better place now, and we can keep an eye on him."

"You should have Bradford kill him."

"I thought that would be something you'd enjoy doing. We'll be visiting Bradford in less than two weeks to finalize the weapons transfer and I figured you'd enjoy rubbing salt into Larabee's wounds before you kill him," Vargas said and saw the smile form on Goodwin's face. "I take it you like that idea?"

"I do," Goodwin agreed.

"Very well...are you ready to party?"

"I am...and please tell me we have some new recruits."

"That we do, Amigo, new and exciting," Vargas told him and motioned for his partner to follow him toward the secret rooms that housed the young recruits brought in that morning.

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Buck lay awake long after the lights had gone out and visiting hours had been declared over. Sleep was something of an elusive commodity since the talk with Josiah. The man had a way of making you see straight and even the meds he was on could no longer dampen the guilt he felt.

Oh, he knew Chris was wrong in the way he went after Vargas and Goodwin, but hadn't they all done things like that when they knew someone needed to be taken down? How many drug lords or weapons dealers would still be on the street had it not been for Larabee's team? How many innocent children like Peter and Elizabeth would have died at the hands of their kidnappers if Chris hadn't been there to bring them safely home to their parents? He knew they all had a hand in it, but Chris had been the one to go deliver the money and bond with the children.

Buck heard movement in the other bed and knew Tanner was probably just as tied up in knots as he was. "Vin, you awake?"

"Hard ta sleep when yer thinkin's givin' me a headache," the Texan told him.

"Sorry, it's just...hell."

"Yeah, it is," Tanner said and turned toward Wilmington. He pressed the button and raised the head of his bed so he could see the man without it setting off the fireworks in his skull. God, his back hurt more now than it had when he'd been thrown in the explosion that took out their office.

"We need to find Chris."

"I know, but ain't much we can do from here. The only ones can do anything are JD, Ezra, and Nathan and they're not in top shape right now. Chris knows how ta take care of himself, Buck."

"I know he does, but the fact that he hasn't called has me worried. It's not like him...not when the whole team's gone to hell in a hand basket," Wilmington explained.

"Could call Travis and see if he can get someone else working on it."

"Wouldn't do much good since they don't know Chris like we do. What if we got Ezra and JD to bring in their laptops and we..."

"Simmons would castrate us," Tanner said.

"Maybe, but at least we'd be doing something," Wilmington said tiredly.

"Well, we ain't gonna get nowhere if'n we don't get some sleep, Buck," Tanner said and glanced at the clock. It was after midnight, but something told him it would be a long time before the sandman paid them a visit.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7 

The bright morning sunlight brought Chris awake with a start and his eyes shot open when the sound of a gunshot reached his ears. It took several agonizing seconds to realize where he was, and he knew the nightmare was very real. The compound was coming to life, and he heard several voices shouting orders, but no one seemed to give a damn about his discomfort.

The blows Bradford had delivered to his body reminded him he shouldn't move around too much, but that wasn't going to happen while he was stuck in this small hellhole. He knew he'd have to watch his mouth, or he'd spend the rest of his life in here. He needed to get out, get word to his team...to Travis, because his team was out of it now. He couldn't...wouldn't take a chance that they could be injured further because of him.

The sound of footsteps above told him someone was coming, and he glared at the man whose face appeared through the latticework. He heard a lock disengage and a small portion of the grill opened upward before someone lowered a plate and cup toward him.

"Better eat that, Inmate 78," the man told him. "The warden wants to see you when you're done!"

Chris looked at the gruel in the bowl with distaste and reached for the cup of water. He knew he would have to force the food down and maybe bending his stiff neck wouldn't be such a bad idea, at least it would give him a chance to escape. The small opening closed up and he cursed the fact that there were no utensils so he'd be forced to eat like a miserable cur. Swallowing his pride was something he'd have to do until such time when he could ram this bowl down Bradford's throat.

Larabee finished what he'd been given and fought to keep it down while trying to work the kinks from his back. He'd spent one night in the hole and according to 'the warden' he still had three more to go. His body already ached from lying on the ground, what would it be like after three days? He closed his eyes and let the agonizing images flow freely but opened them when the man returned, and the latch was opened.

"All right, 78, let's go see the warden."

Chris looked at the two men, one holding a gun on him while the other reached out to help him out of the hole. He shifted and climbed unsteadily to his feet, biting back a groan as his legs shook and his lower back protested the mistreatment from the day before. A second set of hands latched onto his right arm and pulled him out of his private cell.

Although he wasn't as weak as he let on, Larabee allowed the two men to support him, and was soon standing before the bastard who called himself the warden.

"Just because your nights will be spent in the hole does not mean you can't work during the daylight hours. I give a full bowl for a full day's roll. Do the work, never talk back to a guard, and do not fight with other inmates. Any violation of these rules results in time in the hole. Understood 78?"

"Yes," Larabee snapped.

"Yes, what?"

"Yes, Sir," the blond ground out and fought to control his temper.

"Good, I'm glad we have an understanding," the warden said and reached for the prison uniform on the table beside him. "Now you're going to put these on and then Mr. Phillips is going to take you to the tunnel and put you to work. As I said before, if you work hard then you'll get your next meal with the other prisoners. If the guards tell me you're not putting your back into it, you'll go to sleep with an empty stomach."

Chris took the uniform and fought the urge to spit in the man's face before he was turned away. He stumbled toward a row of what could only be described as ramshackle sheds. Unlike the other buildings in the compound, they looked to be in ill repair. He stood his ground as the first door was opened and he was shoved inside.

"You have five minutes to change into that uniform," David Phillips told him.

Chris leaned against the wall and fought to keep his temper in check. To let it get control right now would just end up with him spending more time in the hole. At least if he was able to sleep in one of the shacks, he'd have a chance to escape. Reluctantly pulling off his shirt, Chris donned the rough material that consisted of a prison uniform, and briefly wondered if it had been washed since the last man had worn it. He wasn't surprised to find the numbers 78 on the worn pocket and removed his pants to put on the rest of the prisoner's garb.

"Come on 78...you got one minute."

"I could go in there and give him a hand!"

"He don't need your kind of hand, Elroy," Phillips snapped.

Chris sighed as he finished getting dressed and put his boots back on before opening the door and stepping outside. David Phillips was slightly taller than he was, but much broader as he held a shotgun across his arms.

"All right, 78, we need to get you fitted for some irons," Phillips said and pointed toward a man standing in front of an open shed.

Chris walked slowly toward the man, eying the towers and the men who seemed to be watching his every move. He wondered where the other prisoners were but had a feeling he'd find out soon enough. He stood in front of a heavy-set man whose eyes narrowed as he looked up from what he was doing.

"What do you need Phillips?"

"Inmate 78 needs to be fitted for ankle cuffs. The warden don't want him running," Phillips answered.

"Put him in wrist cuffs too," the warden shouted from the front of the main building to the left. "And you might as well add a collar."

Chris breathed through tightly clenched teeth and would have made a play for Phillips' weapon, but the man seemed to read him and moved away.

"Come on, 78, I ain't got all day to fuck with the likes of you!" the man snarled.

Larabee glanced around and knew of at least four guns pointed at him. To try anything now would just get him killed and leave Goodwin and Vargas in the clear. For now, at least, his best bet was to bide his time and let them think they had him kowtowed. He moved forward and was soon fitted with the wrist and ankle cuffs and turned to find the warden watching him with a sickening grin on his face as he walked toward him.

"The collar is only used for special prisoners, 78, it lets the other inmates know that you were involved in law enforcement. Now this may not be a normal prison, but I assure you we do have our share of criminals who don't appreciate people like you," Stan Bradford said and took the collar from the large man. "I take great pride in placing this around your neck because you need to be brought down a peg or two and I am just the man to do that!"

Chris kept his head up and glared at the bastard as he encircled his neck with the collar. He heard the lock engage and continued to keep eye contact with Stan Bradford even after the man stepped back.

"You are an insolent bastard, 78, but that won't last long in here," the warden said and made a slight gesture to the man behind Larabee.

Chris bit back a curse as something slammed into the back of his right knee and he went down hard. He felt hands in his hair and his head was jerked back until he looked up at his tormentor.

"Take him into the tunnels and tell them he's to work through lunch since it's taken so long to get him started. Tell Cyrus I said to put him to work with the Lawless Brothers," the warden ordered and smiled as the man was dragged away. Chris Larabee was going to learn just what Hell-on-Earth meant and eventually that experience would kill him.

Chris stumbled along between Phillips and the other guard as they herded him toward the dark maw that marked the entrance to the tunnels. The length of chain between his legs was short and he knew it would be next to impossible to make a run for it while his feet were tethered.  

"Move it, 78, we ain't got all day…oh, wait a minute, we do have all day," the guard said and chuckled softly. "You won't be seeing much of it though since you'll be digging in the dirt."

"Give it up, Elroy, leave the man alone," Phillips warned as they entered the mine.

Chris looked around at the bare cave walls with heavy beams and woodwork mixed throughout to keep it from caving in. There were lights strung along the ceiling and dust billowed up from somewhere deeper in the mine. He saw two men carrying buckets across their shoulders and knew by their garb, they were prisoners.

"What do we have here, David?" Cyrus Peterson asked as they entered a large cavern.

"Got a new man for you. This is 78 and you're to put him to work at the back of the mine with the Lawless brothers," Phillips said and felt some sympathy for the man who would be working with what he thought of as scum.  

"Gage Lawless is gonna love this…you know how he hates the law," Peterson said with a grin.

"Gonna be something to see," Elroy Peterson said.

"We're not going to see it, Elroy. We got work to do and the warden wants us to make sure the last shipment of liquor is properly stored in the cellar," Phillips reminded the other guard.

"Damn, can't we get the prisoners to do it?"

"Not likely. The warden don't like them in his home. Watch 78, Cyrus, they say he's dangerous," Phillips warned and turned to walk out of the mine.

"All right, 78, time to put you to work. You're a bit on the scrawny side, but I got a feeling you're stronger than you look. Come on then, let's go introduce you to the Lawless brothers," Cyrus said.

Chris kept an eye on everything around him and spotted a guard stationed every 30 or so feet of the tunnel. Each man held a rifle, but Chris didn't think they would use it in here because of the danger of it collapsing.

"See them guards, Larabee? They're not afraid to use them rifles if you try anything because this place is pretty stable, and we've got enough fresh lumber in place to make sure it won't collapse because of a ricochet or concussion. This place is going to be a stronghold when the warden and his brother decide to make their move. It won't be long since he's got arrangements made for a large shipment of firearms. It should be showing up here in the next week or so."

Larabee let the man ramble on and kept track of what he said about the arms shipment and what this place was being groomed for. If it really was a militia compound and the Bradford brothers were planning on making it a stronghold, then he'd have to do everything he could to undermine their plans. He noticed several off-shoots and caught sight of at least a dozen military crates and knew they contained munitions, probably stolen during one of the raids he'd heard about over the last few months.

"Are you keeping track of the tunnels, 78? Not that it really matters since you'll rarely see the light of day. I doubt you'll be getting out of here unless it's in a pine box…in case you're too stupid to know, that's a coffin," Peterson told him as they entered another cavern where three men seemed to be working to solidify the newly dug chamber.

Chris didn't bother to speak as the three men stopped what they were doing and turned to face him. The smallest of the trio looked familiar, but he couldn't remember where he'd seen him before. The other two seemed to look at him with little interest until Cyrus Peterson moved toward them.

"We got us a new man, Gage, and the warden thought you might be able to use him," Peterson said.  These three had been here for over a year now and when they were in the mine, he called them by name because he had trouble with numbers. Inmate 78 was a different matter; that was a number he would remember because this guy was arrogant and insolent and needed to be brought down a peg or two. He'd only just met him, but the man already grated on his nerves.

"He's wearing a collar, Gage," Paul Lawless said and grinned, showing a row of broken teeth.

"I see that…you some kind of lawman?" Gage snarled.

"Doesn't matter if he was or not, he's an inmate just like you three…well, not quite because he's pissed off the warden, and you know what that means," Peterson said.

"Almost makes me feel sorry for him," Johnny Lawless said and frowned when he stared at the quiet newcomer. "I know him from somewhere, but I just can't remember where."

"Think on it a spell, Johnny," Cyrus said. "Now, make sure he earns his keep and he's working straight through lunch."

"Sure thing," Gage said. "Pick up that mallet, 78, and let's get cracking."

"Now that's funny, you crack me up, Big Brother," Johnny said of his brother's pun and suddenly realized he'd made one of his own.

"78, just because you can't see me, or the other guard don't mean we're not there. Make sure you do the job ‘cause the warden only gives a full bowl for a full day…"

"I heard him," Larabee said, his voice soft and deceptively calm as he lifted the heavy mallet and moved away from the guard.

"Give him a good workout, Gage, and I'll see you and your brothers get a steak for dinner tonight," Peterson said with a grin.

"You heard him, Boys, let's see what 78 is made of," Gage Lawless said and watched as Larabee went to work beside his brothers.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Josiah Sanchez knew he would be of no use in the search for Chris Larabee, at least not when it came to the footwork involved. Hell of it was, neither would Buck and Vin. They were stuck in here just as he was, and if he was being honest, Nathan, JD, and Ezra weren't in the best of shape either.

Josiah kept his eyes closed and listened to the clicks and beeps coming from the equipment the staff were using to monitor his condition. Hopefully, most of it would be gone in the morning, but there was no way in hell he'd be getting out of here. He knew Midland and Simmons would go to Travis if they even thought he was going AWOL.

Sanchez turned slightly and opened his eyes as he felt the nurse checking the IV line in his arm. The alarm had gone off several times because it had kinked, and he had a feeling they would be changing the site before he was moved out of this room.

"How are you feeling, Josiah," Madonna Warren asked softly.

"Probably better than I have a right to. The Lord saw fit to let me survive and I'm grateful for that," Sanchez told her.

"We have many things to be grateful for and I try to say a prayer for all those in need each night," the nurse said. "I'm afraid we'll have to change the IV site before we move you in with Buck and Vin. Dr. Simmons had them moved into a larger room so that the three of you could be …I believe he said, ‘less troublesome and easier to manage'."

"Smart man," Sanchez said simply.

"I'll be back in a few minutes, so don't go running any marathons while I'm gone."

"I'll be here," the ex-preacher said and closed his eyes. His thoughts returned to the missing team leader, and he wondered what Chris was up to right now. He could only hope that Chris hadn't turned to the bottle for solace, because he knew from experience that was the wrong kind of spirits a man needed to turn to in order to clear his conscience.

If Chris had taken JD's bike, then he could be anywhere. If he rode into the wrong town, he could end up with somebody wanting to make a name for himself by arresting him for possession of stolen property. It wouldn't matter that Larabee was innocent because the bike's owner had reported it stolen. Chris would argue that he knew the owner and if the arresting officer was as hotheaded as he was then Chris could easily wind up in jail.

They needed someone to help them with the legwork on this and two men came to mind. As soon as he was moved to the new room he'd speak to Vin and Buck about calling Jake Taylor and Rafael Cordova de Martinez. Both men had helped them on several cases and proven that they could be trusted. They also respected The Firm and the men that worked for it, that meant they would do everything they could to help find Larabee. He heard someone enter his room and smiled at the woman who stood next to his bed.

"Josiah, I'm going to set up the new IV now and then an orderly will be here to help move you to the new room."

"Thank you, Madonna," Sanchez said and sighed tiredly. God, he felt old, older than he'd ever felt in his life, but he was not about to roll over and play dead. There was a man to find…a friend…a brother, one that he respected more than most and somehow, they had to bring him in from the cold.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris could feel the strain on his muscles as he hefted the mallet and drove it against the metal spike. Sparks flew each time it connected and sweat beaded on his brow. He swiped at it and knew his face was covered in dirt, but that was the least of his worries. He'd been listening to the brothers who'd stopped working and stood huddled nearby as if he wasn't even there.

"I know I've seen him before, but I can't quite remember where," Johnny said softly.

"Me too," Paul agreed.

"I know who he is," Gage said, anger evident in his voice.

"Who is he?" Johnny said.

"His name's Chris Larabee. Ain't that right, 78?" Gage asked and watched as the lean blond straightened and turned to face him.

"What if it is?" Larabee said and held tight to the mallet. It was heavy and seemed to be growing heavier with every passing minute.

"Then you killed someone who belonged to us."

"Never met you before," Larabee said.

"Maybe not but you killed our kin…Jackie Pinder…remember him?" Gage asked.

"Can't say that I do," Larabee said and saw the light glint off something in the man's right hand.

"You shot him dead…in Denver. Ring any bells?"

"I haven't worked in Denver in over a dozen years," Larabee answered.

"That's about right. He was 18…a stupid hothead who thought he knew everything."

Chris didn't hear anything else as a picture of a young man holding a gun on a grocery store clerk came to mind. The man had turned the gun on him, and he'd had no choice, but to defend his life. "I had no choice."

"You could have winged him. But you didn't. You shot him right through the heart. You're gonna pay."

"He wasn't trying to wing me."

"That ain't the point," Gage said and smiled when his brothers tackled Larabee and drove him backward.

Chris knew the mallet was no damn good and dropped it as the two men came for him. They tried to grab his arms, but he'd learned how to fight and defend from the best. His drill sergeant was adamant about not locking your body in a fight and using everything you had to defend yourself while trying to put the enemy down. He struck the first man a glancing blow to the chin that had little effect, but he used his hips in an effort to drop his weight onto the man's foot.

"Sonofabitch!" Johnny cursed as he stumbled backward.

Larabee knew the man wouldn't be out of it for long and heard the guard curse and call for help as Gage moved in on him while Paul kept him from pulling away. Johnny had recovered and added his own weight to pulling him off balance. He felt something slice into his left side but continued to fight for his life.

"Get off him, Lawless! The warden doesn't want him dead…yet!" Cyrus Peterson warned as two other guards entered the cavern.

Gage dropped the makeshift weapon and stood with his hands raised as a guard pulled Paul off the injured blond. He smiled at the sight of blood soaking through the prison garb as Peterson flipped the man over and pressed his knee into his back.

"Stop fighting, 78, or I'll knock you senseless!" Peterson warned. "Elroy get them three out of the way while I get 78 out of here!"

"Sure thing, Cyrus," Elroy said and smiled at the brothers. "Nice job…you stuck that pig real good!"

"All right, 78, I'm going to let you up now and you're going to behave yourself, aren't you?" Cyrus asked.

"Fuck you!" Larabee snarled and choked as the man shoved his face into the loose dirt.

"I don't think so. Now listen up, ‘cause I don't like to repeat myself. You're going to stand up and walk out of this mine or I'm going to have you dragged out. So, this can go easy or hard…your choice, 78."

Chris stood on shaky legs and held his left arm tight against his side as Peterson shoved him toward the entrance. "Looks like the doc got himself another patient. Elroy, grab that shiv and make sure the warden knows 78 started a fight and got himself cut with his own weapon."

Larabee didn't bother saying anything because it wouldn't make a difference with these bastards. He stumbled along, feeling the warm blood flowing through his fingers as the guard shoved him in the lower back. He clenched his teeth and managed to stay on his feet as he stumbled out into the bright sunshine.

"What the hell's going on, Cyrus?" the warden bellowed from his perch on the verandah leading up to his home. It was located outside the main compound, but close enough for him to watch what was happening inside the militia compound.

"Larabee…"

"78," the warden corrected.

"Yes, Sir…78 started a fight with the Lawless brothers. I don't know where he got it from, but he got cut with his own shiv!" Cyrus told him.

"Wasn't mine," the blond snapped.

"Did you say something, 78?" the warden asked.

"It wasn't mine…Sir," Larabee spat in disgust.

"That's better, but I never had any problems with the brothers until today so I'm going to assume…"

"Yeah, well, you know what they say about assume?" the blond told him.

"Take him to the infirmary and have doc take care of it. If he's unable to go back to work put him in the hole," the warden ordered angrily.

"You heard him, 78…doc's place is the last cabin in the row," Peterson said and forced the prisoner to move in that direction as several other inmates stopped and looked toward him.

Chris knew there was no point in protesting and silently prayed that ‘doc' really was a doctor and not some quack who lost his license and wound up here.

"Hold up, 78," Peterson said and pulled the door open. "Hey, Doc, got another one for you!"

"You should tell the warden the prisoners can't work if he keeps working them to the fucking bone. Send him in and get the fuck out of my sight."

"You heard him, 78, get on in there," Peterson said and pushed the prisoner into the room where several beds were set up for injured prisoners. "Go ahead and lie down on that bed over there and fasten the cuff around your right wrist."

Larabee saw a man lying on a bed in the corner. His right wrist cuffed to the bed, one leg straight, and the other bent at the knee. His eyes were closed, and a fine sheen of sweat was visible on his forehead.

"I said sit down and put that cuff around your wrist, 78. Don't make me repeat myself again!" Peterson warned.

Chris sat on the edge of the bed and glared at the man as he snapped the cuff around his right wrist. Peterson placed his rifle on the table and moved to ensure the cuff was tight before retrieving his weapon.

"Doc will be with you shortly so relax and enjoy yourself while you can. I should tell you he doesn't have anything in the way of pain killers so good luck with that," Peterson said before leaving the small cabin.

Chris looked around what was laughingly supposed to be the infirmary and shook his head. The place was dingy and dark and lit only by two 40-watt bulbs hanging from the ceiling. He heard movement at the far end as a door opened and a man dressed as a prisoner came in holding a bottle of liquor in his hand.

"Lie down, 78, and get that damn shirt off," the gruff man ordered as he neared the bed.

"Simmons! What the hell are you doing here?"

"I got caught same as you did...are you touched or something?"

"I just saw you…you were taking care of Buck and Vin," Larabee said his voice filled with concern. "Are they all right?"

"Jesus, 78, did you get hit in the head too. I don't have that kind of equipment here… wait, how do you know my name. The warden insists on using damn numbers. What kind of stupidity is that?"

"I've known you for a couple of years…ever since you accepted Stacey Midland's offer to be a partner in her medical practice."

"I don't know anyone…ah hell, you must be talking about my twin…"

"Your twin?"

"Roy…we're identical, but I haven't seen him since we had a fight…doesn't matter when it was, but we haven't spoken in a long time. I thought he dropped off the earth…how is he?"

"He's good…a bit gruff and thinks he knows what's best for everyone else…"

"Ha, that's exactly what the fight was about," Simmons said and reached for the bottle of whiskey he had placed on the table. He took a quick swallow, looked at his hands and then took a deep breath. "Lie back and let me see what kind of damage they did to you. My name is Ray, but in here you call me 92."

Chris did as he was told and laid back as Simmons checked the wound in his left side. He lifted his head and reached for the bottle, but Simmons slapped his hand away.

"Hold still, damnit. You're messing with my aim!" Simmons spat and pulled the bottle away.  "Hell, no, this here's medicinal. It keeps my hands steady. You know it takes a pretty special man to get himself thrown in the hole five minutes after he comes in here."

"I don't feel so special," Larabee said and grunted when the man continued to examine the wound.

"I don't reckon you do. The warden here has a good thing going. His brother's the sheriff and when he sees someone he thinks no one will miss he sets ‘em up and acts as judge and jury. Sentences ‘em to five years hard labor," Simmons explained and reached for the needle and other items he'd need to stitch the wound closed. "Half the men in here are innocent, but that don't matter to The Warden as long as he gets his compound up and running."

"What about the other half?"

"Murderers, cutthroats, thieves, and rapists who deserve what they get. They make this camp a little harder on the innocent man. But I figure you already know that," Simmons answered as the injured man lifted his head and pointed to his fellow prisoner.

"What happened to him?"

"This place happened to him," Simmons answered and glanced over his shoulder. "He came in here…a lot like you. Got himself thrown in the hole, but at least it took him over an hour. He's been here a couple of months and he's been in that bed for nearly a week. He's not talking or eating much, and I got all I can do to get him to drink. He needs a hospital, but that's not likely to happen. Well, I'm just about done here, 78…"

"Chris…Chris Larabee," the blond told him.

"Not anymore. Not if you want to stay alive, 78," Simmons told him.

"I'll stay alive, Simmons, and I've got people who'll be looking for me," Larabee said and closed his eyes. Had people…God, help him he had people, his team…his family, but they were out of commission because of him, and he wasn't sure if they even knew he was in trouble.

"Look, 78, they're probably going to come get you, but I don't want you going back to work today. You need to rest and take it easy for a couple of days."

"Like that's going to happen," Larabee said and looked around. "It's either go back to work or back in the hole."

"Take the hole. At least it'll give you a chance to rest without moving around," Simmons said and doused a cloth with whiskey before placing it against the wound.

Chris cried out as the alcohol burned against his skin and dragged his arm against the cuff locking him to the ring above the bed. The agony lasted for several long seconds, but he managed to stay conscious as Simmons taped a thick bandage over the wound.

"Damn, I wish you'd passed out," Simmons told him.

"Me too," the blond gasped.

"Sorry, I meant if you'd passed out, I could make a case to the warden about keeping you here, but when Peterson gets back, he's going to take you to the hole," Simmons said as a hint of a smile was born. "How good an actor are you, Larabee…shit, I mean 78?"

"I'm not a pro, but I can act," Larabee told him.

"Good, close your eyes and don't make a sound until after Peterson leaves," Simmons warned. There was something about this man he liked, and he had a feeling the warden would be sorry he'd ever laid eyes on Inmate 78. He heard someone at the door and knew Peterson had returned. "Close them eyes and shut up!"

"You done with 78, Doc?"

"I'm done, but he's out cold. He lost a lot of blood and if the warden wants him able to work then he'd best leave him right where he is."

"The warden said he either goes back to work or in the hole," Peterson said.

"Are you going to carry him? Look, let me go see the warden and tell him just what I told you. He wants him alive then he'd best leave 78 right where he is for the next 24 hours. Otherwise, it was a waste of good thread sewing him back up."

"It's your ass," Peterson said and motioned for the man to go through the door before he checked Larabee and made sure the man wasn't going anywhere.

Chris could smell a mixture of tobacco, onions, and garlic on the man's breath, but he remained still until he heard him leave. He lifted his head and looked down at his side and fought the nausea churning through his gut. He knew the wound wasn't as bad as it could have been, but he had a feeling it was going to be damned hard keeping it clean here.

Larabee sat up and looked at the man sleeping across the room. He wondered what his story was and whether he had family out there looking for him. Was he a husband, a father, or was he just someone who had nothing or no one? It really didn't matter because he was a man, a human being who deserved to have a fair trial even if he was a criminal. If he was innocent, then he deserved to be freed, and that was something Chris would work on.

"Jesus, boys, I'm sorry, and I promise you I'll find a way to get Goodwin and Vargas without going lone wolf," the blond whispered and lay back when he heard voices outside the door.

"All right, 92, you heard the warden…if he finds out you're lying then you get to take 78's place in the hole," Peterson said.

Larabee remained still until Simmons spoke from beside the bed.

"How long since you ate anything?" Simmons asked.

"Had some kind of gruel and rice mixture before they put me in the mine," Larabee answered.

"Figures, look I get special treatment because they figure they need me to keep you boys working. I managed to put something away every meal, so I want you to eat a little and then try to sleep. There's nothing more I can do for now," Simmons said and handed Larabee two slices of bread and some cold stew. "Wish I could warm it up for you, but at least it's something substantial."

"Thanks, Simmons…"

"Look, 78, go with Doc or 92 or we'll both end up getting our asses kicked in the hole. I hate being a number, but right now that's exactly what we are," Simmons warned and watched as Larabee ate the food before he reached for a glass and poured a healthy shot into it. "Drink this…it might help you sleep for a spell."

"Thanks, Doc," Larabee said and downed the liquor. He finished the food, grateful that his belly was full, and he felt a little stronger for it. He lay back and closed his eyes as Simmons took the dishes away. His mind turned to his team, and he silently prayed they were healing.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Buck glanced at Vin as they listened to the nurse working to make Josiah comfortable. The new room was big enough for four beds, and they were grateful to Travis for arranging this with help from Midland and Simmons. They heard the curtains being drawn back and told the nurse they were both fine before she left them alone.

Buck moved to sit in the chair between Vin and Josiah's bed and knew Midland would give him hell if she knew he'd spent most of the night in the chair by the window.

"Any word?" Sanchez asked and wasn't surprised to see guilt clouding both faces.

"Nothing," Wilmington answered.

"We need to get out of here," Tanner snapped.

"That's not going to happen until the docs give the all clear," Sanchez told them and raised the head of his bed until he could look at them without putting too much strain on his injuries. "We need to call Jake and Raphael."

"What for?" Wilmington asked softly.

"Neither one of us is in any condition to go after Chris, and I doubt Nathan, Ezra, and JD are any better off…"

"They are out of here," Tanner griped.

"Yes, they are and that means they can do the main part of the computer and paperwork," Sanchez offered. "We need to get moving on this because if Chris is driving around on a stolen motorcycle…"

"JD said he was going to pull the complaint," Wilmington said.

"Good, but what if it's already too late? What if Chris rode into some small town and got caught up with a lawman who didn't want to hear him out? We all know the type and contrary to popular belief they are still out there."

"Too many of them," Tanner observed. Before finding his place on Larabee's team he'd been a bounty hunter and twice he'd had run-ins with the law in some out of the way town that had seen better days. Once he'd been forced to work in a compound but managed to escape with several other ‘prisoners.

"We also need to find out what's going on with Goodwin and Vargas," Sanchez said.

"Maybe they shot each other," Wilmington supplied.

"If it was only that easy," Sanchez observed. "Look, I know Chris was obsessed with getting Goodwin, but for all intents and purposes he was right about the bastard."

"I…yes, he was, but he still went about it the wrong way," Wilmington said.

"Did he? I thought we went through all this, Buck," Sanchez said. "I'm pretty sure we've all had our crosses to bear, and I know I've done so the same way Chris did."

"Well, Gentlemen," Simmons said from the open doorway. "I certainly hope you're not talking shop."

"Hell, Doc, if yer keepin' us in here we're gonna need somethin' ta stop us from dyin' of boredom," Tanner griped.

"I could order a series of shots…when was your last tetanus, Tanner?" Simmons asked and placed the three charts on Josiah's bedside table.

"Ya got eyes…check the file," the Texan snarled.

"I can see somebody's feeling better," Simmons said with a grin. "Look, Gentlemen, I know damn well you're worried about Larabee, and I won't tell you not to help find him. I will, however, tell you not to overdo things and don't make the mistake of thinking you're up to working long hours…even regular hours will tax your strength right now. "

"We hear you doc," Wilmington said.

"Do you, Buck? Why don't we start with you? You've got several broken ribs and underwent emergency surgery because of internal damage that involved your liver. You lost a lot of blood and had two transfusions and you're still running a fever and on antibiotics. On the other hand, there's Vin, how's your back and please don't tell me it's fine."

"It's okay," Tanner answered.

"Only because of the medications you're on. You got more cuts and bruises than that corn flake bunch got corn flakes. You still have a drain in your left side and it's still not running clear. Let's not mention the problems with your head…oh wait a minute you bunch all have problems with your heads."

"Sheesh, Doc, seems ya got up on the wrong side of the bed," Tanner snapped.

"No, the problem is I haven't been to bed yet. I just wanted to check on my favorite trio and make sure there are no plans in place to go AWOL."

"We're not going anywhere, Doc," Sanchez vowed.

"That's good to hear. Now that we're clear on that…any word from Larabee?"

"You're a softie, Doc," Wilmington teased and smiled when Simmons glared at him. "Nothing, Doc, but we'll find him."

"No, you won't, not by yourselves anyway. You've got some good friends, and you need to turn to them for help," Simmons observed.

"We are, Doc, thanks," Sanchez told him.

"Let me know when you find him so I can chew his ass out too," Simmons said before leaving the room.

"He really is a softie…"

"I heard that, Wilmington…might have to order one of them dull needle therapies again."

"Damn, that man's got bionic ears…"

"Bionic what?" Tanner asked.

"Bionic ears…you know…Steve Austin."

"What does a wrestler have to do with bionic ears?"

"No, Steve Austin…The Six million Dollar Man. Hell, never mind…I'll see if we can get some DVDs and watch it when we get out of here."

"I think Vin would probably rather watch Jamie Summers," Sanchez said.

"Who is she?" Tanner asked.

"The Bionic Woman."

"Did it cost six million dollars to make her too?"

"Probably, but hell…maybe we could have a movie night when things get back to normal," Wilmington suggested tiredly.

"Buck, you should get some sleep," Tanner said. He'd seen the other man at the window several times during the night and knew he needed to get some rest before he collapsed.

"We need…"

"I'll call Jake and Raphael," Tanner assured him and watched as the other man stood up, latched onto his IV pole, and made his way to the empty bed opposite his own.  He reached for his cell phone and quickly found Jake Taylor's cell number.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris shifted slightly on the small cot and watched Simmons as he checked the other patient. He knew he'd slept for a short time and vowed the man would not pay for helping him. God, he still could not wrap his head around the fact that there were two of them. Ray Simmons was probably the only man who could give his brother a run for his money in the gruff doctor category.

"How is he?"

"I wish I knew, but he's taken a hit to the head a couple of times and without a scan it's hard to say what's going on," Simmons answered. "He's been awake a couple of times, but he's not making much sense."

"Did you tell the warden he needs a hospital?" Larabee asked. The grunt from the older man told him everything he needed to know. "Sorry, I forgot where I was."

"I had a look at your arm while you were sleeping…how'd you come by that one?"

"Had a run in with a drug dealer," Larabee answered.

"Are you a cop?"

"Used to be…work for a man named Orin Travis."

"Heard tell of him. Wasn't he the judge who resigned after he resided over the Milano case?"

"Yes, he was. He made damn sure the conviction stuck and then decided he wanted to cut the bureaucratic red tape and opened up his own agency. I work for an off shoot of his agency called The Firm," Larabee answered.

"They brought lunch while you were out," Simmons said and handed Larabee a plate with half a ham sandwich and a cup of coffee.

"You need this," Larabee told him.

"I told you I got plenty…now eat up," the gruff man ordered and poured himself a second cup of coffee. "How's the side feel?"

"Not too bad," Larabee lied.

"Look, I need you to be honest about that. There's no telling what kind of shit was on that shiv, and I need to know if it starts to burn or you feel like you've got a fever," Simmons told him.

"I hear you, Doc," Larabee said and grew silent as he listened to the prisoners outside. He knew he would need help if he was going to escape this place, but for now he'd have to take whatever they dished out. He vowed to make sure the innocent were set free, and people like the warden and his brother found out what it was like from the other side.

"Tell me about my brother," Simmons said.

"He's damn good, but his bedside manners suck," Larabee answered honestly.

"I take it you've had the honor of being under his tender care?"

"Tender is not how I'd describe it, but let's just say he says my file should be called War and Peace; The Continuing Epic."

"Ouch, that's no short story."

"No, it's not. There are seven of us on my team and he's named each of our files after some book he says he's read."

"He probably has. Look, Larabee, they're going to come check on you shortly and I doubt I'll be able to convince them to let you stay here tonight so rest while you can."

"I will," the blond said and handed over his empty cup and plate. "Thanks, Doc."

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Hal Greely watched as his sister made sure Jimmy and Susie were seated at the back table with their dinners and knew she loved her kids. Truth was, so did he, even when they were underfoot, he was glad to have them around. Janet's husband had been killed in a Taliban raid, but they'd been told it was a training accident.  

Hal had already established the diner in Bradford Falls and immediately told his kid sister she could bring the kids and live with him for as long as she wanted. He pretended to be gruff, but Jimmy and Susie knew he was just an overgrown teddy bear. Janet knew he was a softie at heart, and he knew she felt bad about what happened to the customer Jeff Bradford arrested.

"Hal, why don't you take a break while things are slow?" Janet suggested and poured two cups of coffee. The diner was empty, except for them and she wanted to talk to her brother while they had the chance.

"We can't do anything to help him, Janet."

"We have to or we're just as bad as they are."

"What about the kids? What do you think the Bradfords would do if we turned on them?"

"I can send them to stay with Aunt Jenny…she'll keep them safe for me."

"Aunt Jenny is nearly 70, Janet. There's no way she'd be able to keep up with them two youngins," Hal told her. "Look, Janet, we don't know anything about the man they arrested. The sheriff arrested him for possession of a stolen motorcycle."

"He said it was a misunderstanding because he borrowed it from his friend," Janet said.

"If he did then why would his friend report it stolen?"

"I don't know, Hal, but he didn't look like the type who would steal anything."

"Maybe not, but I don't think we should get involved unless we know for sure…hey, Sheriff, the usual?"

"Just a piece of Janet's apple pie and coffee," Jeff Bradford said. Janet Tucker was still a beautiful woman, even with two children.  Maybe it was time to make a move on her…once the compound was up and running, they'd solidify their hold on the territory and anyone who stood in their way would simply find themselves on the wrong side of a firing squad.

"Sorry, Sheriff, I promised Jimmy and Susie the last piece of apple pie," Janet said, feeling her skin crawl as the man stared at her.

"I'm sure they won't mind waiting for the next one…right kids?" Bradford asked and smiled at the children who turned away.

"Sorry, but a promise is a promise. I have lemon or bumble berry," Janet told him.

"You know you spoil those kids…Hal, this is your place so I guess it should be up to you," Bradford said as his partner came into the diner.

"Sorry, Sheriff, but the pies are Janet's. Maybe she'll make one special for you," Hal said, hoping to dampen the anger in the man's eyes.

"What about it, Janet? Would you make me a whole pie to myself?"

"I could do that, but I'd have to figure out the cost of a whole pie."

"That's easy…you fix me the pie and I call off the health check."

"We already passed the health department's check," Hal said.

"That may be, but sometimes they throw in one just to make sure it wasn't a fluke. So, Janet, how about that pie?"

"I'll make you one…you can pick it up tomorrow after we open," Janet snapped and turned to join her children, pointedly taking the last of the apple pie with her.

"You need to keep her in line, Hal," Bradford said.

"Problems?" Danny Turner asked.

"Nothing I can't handle. I'm going to take a trip out to the compound tonight. Make sure that pie is ready for me, Hal, or…"

"I know…another health department visit," Greely spat and waited for the two men to look at the menus and decide what they wanted. Maybe it was time he got a backbone and figured out a way to clean up the law in the area.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Nathan cursed the need for crutches, but the injury to his right leg was serious and would probably require surgery even if he took it easy. He eased out of the passenger seat and smiled at the woman behind the wheel. God, he still could not believe how lucky he was. Rain was far more beautiful than any of the super models he'd seen on TV.

"Nathan, I'll pick you up at six," Rain told him.

"Sounds like a plan," Jackson said and spotted Ezra and JD walking toward him. "How'd you two get here?"

"Orin dropped us off and said he wanted to be kept in the loop in our search for Chris," Dunne answered.

"You okay, Kid?"

"I'm good," Dunne said, but he knew Nathan could see right through him.

"You will have to excuse Mr. Dunne…he has yet to perfect his poker face," Standish answered and adjusted the sling holding his left arm in place.

"We're like a living version of The Walking Dead," Jackson observed. "Josiah called to tell me he's in with Vin and Buck."

"That's good news," Dunne said.

"Did you two find out anything new about Chris and where he might have gone?"

"I assure you…"

"Assure me of nothing, Ezra, just tell me what you found out," Jackson ordered.

"Mr. Larabee was headed west when he left Billings. We were able to trace him through his credit and debit card," Standish answered and entered the hospital through the main visitor's doors.

"At least we've got a place to start," Jackson said. He caught sight of their reflection in the closing doors and realized they could probably act as extras on The Walking Dead, but at least they were alive. 

"Buck said they were calling Jake and Raphael to do the legwork for us," Dunne offered.

"Good, we're not exactly in top form and something tells me we need to find Chris fast," Jackson said and saw Dunne's shoulders slump. "What's wrong, JD?"

"I went to check on Buck's car and…I found a note in the corner. It must have blown off the car and I didn't see it," Dunne answered as he pulled the piece of paper from his pocket and entered the elevator.

"What does it say?" Jackson asked and took the note. "It's from Chris."

"What does our absent leader have to say?" Standish asked as the door closed.

"Might be best if I read it to everyone when we reach their room," Jackson said. The trio grew quiet as the doors opened on the third floor and made their way toward the room their three friends occupied. They entered to find the men in bed but awake and talking about what they needed to do.

"Tell me you brought good coffee?" Wilmington asked hopefully.

"Sorry, Buck, but Dr. Midland left orders that we can't bring anything in for another two days," Dunne answered.

"When has that ever stopped you?" Tanner asked.

"Under threat of dull needles, we figure it'd be better to wait," Dunne said.

"Can't say I blame you there," Sanchez said and noticed the paper in Jackson's hand. "What's that?"

"A note…"

"From Chris?" Wilmington asked, instincts telling him they'd found a missing piece of the puzzle.

"Yeah."

"What does it say?" Tanner asked.

"JD, I should have asked to take the bike, but I need to get out of here and get my head on straight. Buck would probably say I need to get it out of my ass. I'll call in a few days. Take care of each other. Chris."

"Is that all?" Sanchez asked.

"That's it," Jackson answered and moved to sit in the chair beside the window.

"If he left that the day he took the bike then he should have called by now," Wilmington offered and ran his fingers through his hair.

"I checked our answering service, but there's no word from him yet and Orin hasn't heard anything either. Casey told me Nettie is upset that Chris hasn't checked in yet," Dunne said.

"We need to go after him," Tanner said and wished he could simply remove the IV and leave, but the minute he started moving his back spasmed and pain shot through him.

"That's why we called Jake and Raphael. They should be here tomorrow around noon. Ezra, you, and JD need to bring your laptops so we can get started on this," Sanchez said.

"Buck, you've known Chris longer than the rest of us…any idea where he'd go to get his head on straight?" Jackson asked.

"He'd want some time alone to think about what happened. When we were part of the Teams Chris tended to hit the waves. He'd swim for hours and then do a marathon run until his head cleared. If he wants time to think then he's probably riding the bike along back roads and maybe spending nights in seedy motels or small towns," Wilmington said.

"Chris told me he wanted to check out a couple of small towns northwest of Billings," Tanner told them and stared out the window. Larabee had once told him he loved small towns, especially the little specialty stores where you could find so many things rarely found in big cities. Chris had once found an old spyglass and harmonica on his way back from a meeting and bought it on a whim. He'd had it authenticated and found out it dated back to the Civil War. Vin knew this because Chris had given the items and papers to him for Christmas last year.

"We will find him, Vin," Standish said. He knew the special friendship the two men shared and wondered if the medications were affecting the strange link they shared. The Texan was even more tight-lipped than usual and that alone was alarming.

"I know…just hope we're not too late," the younger man said and knew the others were watching him. Usually, he had a read on Larabee, but right now there was nothing to indicate that the gossamer strands that linked them were present.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris opened his eyes when he heard voices nearby. He knew they were talking about him and recognized both Simmons and the warden. He would not allow Simmons to get hurt for helping him and held his arm tight against his side as he sat up.

"Doc…I'm awake," Larabee rasped and licked at dry lips as the two men came to stand beside his cot.

"78, I told you what happens if you don't do a full day's…"

"Yeah, I heard you…maybe that's a reward since the bowl isn't exactly appetizing," the blond snapped.

"92, why is he still here?" the warden asked.

"He lost consciousness while I was sewing him up," Simmons answered.

"He's awake now and is to be taken to the hole for the night," the warden ordered and called for the guards waiting outside. "How long before 46 can return to the mine?"

"I don't know. He still hasn't come around long enough to assess his mind," Simmons told him.

"Maybe it's time to get rid of him…"

"Leave him alone," Larabee snarled.

"What are you going to do about it, 78? Are you going to do his work for him?"

"If that's what it takes," Larabee vowed and stood up to face the man standing before him.

"You know, 78, there are a lot of men in this compound who would take great pleasure in gutting you, but there are even more on the outside. I never believed in fate, but there are times when it seems like some higher power is at work. I'm putting the finishing touches on a major deal that will get me the guns, ammunition, and drugs I need, but you're not interested in that. What might interest you are the two men I'm dealing with. They come from your neck of the woods and lately you've been causing them some problems…ah, I see that got your attention."

Chris' anger intensified at the man's words, and he knew exactly who The Warden was talking about. He struck out, smiling when his left fist connected solidly with the man's jaw. He heard him grunt and watched as he wiped blood from the corner of his mouth.

"That will cost you, 78!" The warden turned and stormed out of the small cabin.

"That was a stupid move, Larabee!"

"I know, but it felt good," the blond said with a hint of a cocky grin. He knew Simmons was right, but his anger had gained the upper hand. He stayed where he was as Simmons sputtered and realized he didn't just share his looks with his twin.

"Mr. Phillips, see that Inmate 78 is taken to the post," the warden ordered from the open doorway.

"Sir, if you do too much damage, he won't be able to work," Phillips warned.

"Are you questioning my authority, Mr. Phillips?"

"No, Sir, I'm just thinking we're already down one man and there's a lot of work needs to be finished before that shipment arrives."

"Oh, he'll still be able to work…isn't that right, 78?"

"Go to hell!" Larabee snarled.

"I'm afraid you already have a one-way ticket to hell, 78," the warden said with a grin as two men entered and grabbed the prisoner by the arms. "Mr. Phillips, remove the chain from 78's wrist. 92, you lied about his condition and as a result you will be subjected to five lashes…"

"No! He did nothing wrong! I pretended I was out!"

"Very well, 78, then you will receive his as well as your own!" the warden ordered and signaled the men to drag their prisoner from the small cabin that passed as the compound's hospital. "92, as a reminder of what happens to men like him you will come with me and witness 78's punishment."

"He doesn't deserve this!" Simmons snapped.

"Do not tell me my business, 92. Mr. Phillips, get 46 on his feet and bring him along!" the warden said and watched Simmons' face as Phillips did as he was told. "Help him…carry him out if that's what it takes. I want every prisoner to witness what happens if you do not adhere to my rules!"  

Gage Lawless stood beside his brothers as Larabee was dragged across the compound and felt sorry for the man. He didn't know 78's story, but he did know Bradford and his men were far worse than the men they forced to work in the mine. He spotted the warden and the doc walking toward him while the man they knew only as Inmate 46 was dragged between Phillips and another guard.

"You men should know I don't allow anyone to laze about while others work for what they get. I give a full bowl to anyone who works for it, but 78 and 46 don't seem to understand what that means," the warden snapped and slammed a club against the post as his men locked Larabee's cuffs to the metal hoop at the top of the post, forcing him to stand on his toes as he struggled to turn around.

"Warden, don't do this," Doc tried.

"Quiet, 92, or I will rethink my decision and have you…"

"Leave him alone!" Larabee snarled.

"You do not give orders, 78, but since I already agreed to allow you to take his punishment, I will let it go. Now, 46 here has been languishing in the hospital bed long enough and when 78 is through they will both go back into the mine…"

"Let him go!" Larabee ordered and was soon facing the man whose anger was easy to read. A chill wind blew across his body, reminding him that he had no idea what had happened to the shirt he'd worn.

"What did you say, 78?"

"I said let him go…Sir!"

"Inmate 78, are you willing to take on his punishment and work on top of everything else?"

"If that's what it takes!" Larabee snapped.

"Very well…take 46 back to the hospital, Mr. Phillips," the warden ordered and reached for the riding crop. It would not tear through Larabee's skin like a whip, but it would certainly raise more than a few welts on his back and shoulders. "Now, 78, you will receive 15 lashes…five you earned and 10 you took on behalf of others."

Chris stood tall and glared at the hated man who seemed to take such pleasure in the power he thought he held. He knew doc was on his side, but there was no one else he could rely on as the first blow struck his back and sent fiery pain through his body. A second and third quickly followed, but he managed to keep from crying out as the fourth and fifth landed across his shoulders.  

"78 seems to think he is some kind of hero, but he's nothing but a glorified rent-a-cop. He doesn't work for any police department, but he has the right to go after good men!" The warden landed three more blows to Larabee's lower back and frowned when he heard a sound he didn't expect. He'd heard it before and knew it was a sign of respect and made sure the next three blows were hard enough too illicit a cry from the prisoner.

Gage Lawless was the first man to tap his pick against a rock, but his brothers and several other prisoners quickly took it up. It was a sign of respect, not for the warden or his men, but for the prisoner who had taken it upon himself to protect a man who could not protect himself. They only knew the man as 46, but they'd seen him collapse under the hot sun and knew he'd been in the cabin that passed as a hospital ever since.

Chris lost count of the blows that landed on his back but managed to stay on his feet. He breathed through tightly clenched teeth as someone reached up and unlocked the metal hoop holding his wrists in place. He would have fallen but was surprised when Gage Lawless caught him.

"Elroy, see that he's taken to the mine and put the bastard to work!" the warden ordered.

"I need to treat him!"

"Get your kit and treat him in the mine. Inmate 78 agreed to take your punishment and to work off 46's time and I will take him at his word! Don't make me regret that decision and put him in the hole tonight!"

"Do…don't, Doc!" Larabee managed as Paul Lawless joined his brother and supported him toward the entrance of the mine. He could feel the warden watching him but kept his head up as they reached the opening and entered the first chamber.

"Put him on the chair," Johnny told them.

"The warden wants him put to work!" Elroy snapped and reached for the blond's arm.

"He also said the doc could treat him!" Gage snarled and stood his ground. Elroy and Cyrus were sadistic bastards, and he knew he was probably putting his own life on the line, but right now he felt like he was finally doing something right for a change. He heard voices outside and smiled when he heard doc's angry voice before he entered.

"How is he?" Simmons asked Gage Lawless.

"I'm okay, Doc, how is 46?" Larabee asked as Simmons motioned for him to turn around.

"He's the same…but he would have been a lot worse if you hadn't stepped in. It takes a special kind of man to do what you did."

"I don't feel so special."

"No, I don't suppose you do," Simmons said and opened his bag. "I don't have anything to give you for pain, Larabee…"

"You call him by his number, 92!" Elroy ordered.

"Easy, Doc, just do as he says," Larabee said when anger flashed in the older man's eyes.

"Okay, let me take a look at you," Simmons ordered and shook his head when he touched the man's shoulder. "Looks like a couple broke the skin but won't need stitches. I'm going to put some cream on them and cover them, but you need to take it easy and keep the wounds clean, Lara…78."

"Give me something easy why don't you," Larabee ground out and grabbed the handle of the pick as Simmons covered the welts with cream. The man was as gentle as he could be, but the mind-numbing pain burned through him.

"Maybe I should get the warden…"

"No, I'm okay," Larabee lied.

"We'll take care of 78, Doc…after all he's one of us now," Gage said and offered Larabee a shoulder to lean on. "In here you can call us by our numbers…I'm 33, Johnny is 34, and Paul is 35."

"Nice to meet you," Larabee said as he shuffled along between the two younger brothers.

"All right, 92, get back to your cabin and take care of your patient!" Elroy Peterson ordered as the four men disappeared down the tunnel. Men like Larabee grated on his nerves and he knew several ways to make his life a living hell without actually killing the bastard.

Chris knew he needed to stand on his own two feet or face the warden's wrath again. He took a deep breath and straightened up, wincing as the movement pulled on his wounds.

"Take it easy, 78, we'll do our best to cover for you," Gage Lawless told him and handed Larabee a small spade. "Just make us look good."

"I'll do my best…thanks, 33," Larabee said as Elroy came into the chamber with his rifle laid across his arms.

"All right, Inmates, get your back into it and no slacking off or you go on report!" Peterson ordered and watched Larabee closely.

Chris could feel the man watching his every move and put his back into shoveling the discarded stones and debris into the wheelbarrow. He ignored the pain from his back and side and called on his training to work in spite of it. He kept reminding himself that his friends would miss him and start searching for him when he didn't contact them. At least he hoped they would, but God, he'd put them in a hard place as well.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

JD sat at his computer and tapped several keys as he brought up the files he wanted. He knew he should be resting, but since finding the note from Chris, he'd felt guilt gnawing at his gut. He knew it wasn't his fault, but that didn't matter because Chris was out there somewhere…riding a bike that he'd reported stolen. 

Ezra had stayed late in the evening, and they'd managed to track Chris through a paper trail that sent him northwest of Billings. There were several small towns where he'd gotten gas and eaten at a diner, but there'd been no activity in the last few days. He'd either stopped using his cards or something had happened to him.

Dunne reached for the cup of coffee and realized it was cold as he glanced at the clock in the lower corner of his laptop. Normally he'd be able to work longer hours, but his head was beginning to pound, and he knew he needed to take something and try to grab some shuteye before Ezra and Nathan picked him up in the morning.

JD reluctantly set several search parameters before standing and making his way toward his room. He glanced into Buck's room and sighed tiredly. He knew the others would be fine, but Buck was the older brother he'd always dreamed of having. It didn't matter that they sometimes argued over things like Buck's penchant for going after married women, because deep down JD knew the man was just a big flirt. Buck was all talk and would never hurt a woman because his mother had taught him the proper way to treat a lady.

‘Maybe I should call Blossom,' Dunne thought and smiled as the image of the fiery woman came to mind. She could handle Buck better than any woman, even Inez, but JD knew he shouldn't interfere, especially since Buck and Inez seemed to finally have their relationship on the right track.

Dunne sat on the edge of his bed and removed his clothing before climbing under the blankets. He reached for the bottle of pills on his nightstand and took two, swallowing them with a mouthful of water. He shivered as he lay down and closed his eyes, hoping and praying his ‘'family' would all be together again soon.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris looked up through the latticework grill above him and shivered as he tried to get warm. His back was stiff, and he knew he would have trouble sleeping, but he also understood that sleep was something he needed right now. He heard footsteps approaching and was surprised when he recognized the guard named Phillips.

"Look, 78, I could get myself shot for this, but you need it," Phillips said and lifted the small grate as he handed Larabee a bowl and cup of hot coffee.

"Thanks," Larabee said and placed the cup on the ground, surprised to find the bowl held a thick savory stew.

"Eat that fast and I'll be back to pick up the bowl in ten minutes," Phillips said and hurried away.

Chris knew if the warden discovered what Phillips had done, he would probably have the man shot and dispose of his body. He silently prayed Phillips didn't pay the ultimate price for helping him and quickly ate the stew before drinking the strong hot coffee. It helped warn him, but he knew it wouldn't last long as the cool night stretched out before him.

"You done, 78?"

"I'm done," Larabee said and handed the man the bowl, cup, and spoon. "Thanks."

"I'll try to sneak you more when I can, but I won't always be able to. You need to watch what you say and try not to get in Elroy and Cyrus Peterson's path. They are sadistic and I know of two prisoners who died after them two got hold of them."

"I'll do my best," Larabee said and wondered what this man's story was. Why was Phillips working for the warden and would he help Chris escape?

"Try to sleep…maybe I can convince the warden you'll work better if you get a good night's sleep," Phillips said, securing the latch before hurrying away.

Chris took a deep breath and gingerly leaned back against the wall of his small prison. The warmth of the stew and coffee made him feel stronger as he closed his eyes. Sleep was a long time coming, and when it did his dreams were filled with images of his team and he moaned softly, but no one was around to hear him.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin drove back to the city with a smile on his face. The two young women he'd spent the night with would not forget him, not for a long time. He'd been rough with them, all the while thinking about what he would do to Chris Larabee when he went with Vargas to the compound.

Charles knew they could not travel together and that he would have to be discreet, or risk being caught. He'd worked too hard to get where he was but taking Larabee down might just be worth it. Eventually he would have to cut all ties with Vargas, and maybe Stan Bradford was just the man he needed to do that. If he played his cards right, he could be rid of both problems and have a new ally who was stronger than any he now had.

Goodwin knew he would have to check into Bradford and get as much ‘info' as he could on the man's background. If Stan Bradford was into ‘survivalists' or just a militant didn't matter because they just might be on the same page. Vargas on the other hand was into drugs and worse, and sometimes he regretted ever having met the man.

Charles drove toward his home and wondered what Larabee was doing. Was the warden making his life miserable…God, he hoped so. He stopped the car and looked at his knuckles, relieved that he'd worn gloves when he was with the women. There was no sign of damage to his hands, but he'd left the young women in rough shape.

Goodwin got out of his car and felt the breeze as it rustled the leaves in the trees that lined his driveway. He knew he needed to get some sleep, or he would be in no shape for his noon lunch with the mayor and police chief. They were both on Larabee's side, but he would do his best to convince them how wrong they were.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Jake Taylor had known Larabee and his team for several years and worked with them on a few cases when they needed someone to do some extra legwork. He admired Travis for putting together a group of men who could and would do the job they were hired to do. He parked his car under a tree at the back of the hospital's visitor's parking lot and locked it up before hurrying toward the main entrance.

"Jake!"

Taylor turned when he heard someone calling him and waited for the newcomer to catch up with him. "Hey, Raphael, how's it going?"

"Not too bad. I hope you're going to come to the opening," Cordova said.

"I wouldn't miss it. You and Inez revamping The Saloon to include more authentic Mexican foods was a great idea," Taylor said as they walked into the hospital lobby.

"I hope so…did you hear from Chris?"

"Nothing…I hope the hell he contacts his team soon," Taylor observed.

"It's not like Larabee to just up and leave."

"He probably just needed some time to think. I talked to him before he left, and he blames himself for what happened to his team."

"Because he went after Goodwin and Vargas?"

"Goodwin is the problem…no one would fault him for going after a known scumbag like Rodrigo Vargas, but Goodwin is a well-known politician with delusions of grandeur," Taylor said as they entered the elevator and rode up to the fourth floor. 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Larabee shifted and opened his eyes, surprised to find that sunlight bathed his prison and drove away the chill that had infused his bones during the night. He was stiff, and the pain in his back was good, because it made him forget the pain in his side. At least that's what he kept telling himself.

Chris heard voices nearby and knew his rest time was over as the latticework grill was lifted and David Phillips looked down at him. The warden was also present and stood with his hands behind his back and a smug look on his face.

"I trust you slept well, 78," the man asked as Phillips helped Larabee from the hole.

Chris knew he needed to curb his anger and bide his time if he was going to escape from this hellhole and kept his head down as he answered. "Yes…Sir."

"Very good, 78. Since you are being cooperative and respectful this morning, I will allow 92 to tend your wounds while you have breakfast. You have 30 minutes before I send Elroy to get you," the warden said and watched as the prisoner shuffled along in front of Phillips.

Chris managed to stay on his feet until they reached doc's cabin and stepped inside to find Simmons already waiting for him. He made his way to the chair beside the table and sat down, not surprised when Phillips locked a manacle around his right wrist.

"Elroy will be here for him in half an hour, Doc," Phillips said before leaving the two men alone.

"Get that shirt off so I can look at your back while you eat, 78," Simmons said and placed an apple next to the bowl of cereal. He helped the blond out of the prison shirt and shook his head. The welts looked tender, but it was the ones that had broken his skin that worried him.

"Thanks, Doc," Larabee said and reached for the cup of coffee as Simmons touched his back. He gritted his teeth and tried to ignore what was happening as he ate the hot cereal and turned his attention to the apple. It took everything he had not to cry out when the doc spread something over the wounds and covered them with a large bandage.

"Okay, now let's see to your side and arm," Simmons said. He tended the injuries, angry that he had to work under these conditions and knew he had to do something to get these men the help they needed.

"How's 46?"

"The same as he was…I think he's just shut himself down and waiting to die," Simmons said as Larabee finished the apple and coffee.

"You done with him, 92?" Elroy snapped from the open door.

"30 minutes isn't up yet!" Simmons spat.

"Close enough. He's got work to do. The warden wants him in the mine and if he don't get a move on, he'll be working through lunch again!"

"The warden needs to realize he needs to rest if he's to work…"

"You want me to tell him you said that…"

"I don't…"

"Leave it, Doc, I'm ready," Larabee said and stood up. He walked toward the door and didn't miss the glare Peterson sent in his direction.

"You know the way, 78," Peterson said, surprised when the Lawless brothers waited until Larabee reached them before heading for the mine. Maybe he should let the warden in on the developing friendship because he was pretty sure it was not what the man had in mind.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin sat behind the desk in his office and knew he had to keep his private life separate from his public one. If he really wanted a chance at the political arena, then he needed to make sure people trusted him. For that to work he had to make sure Chris Larabee didn't screw it up for him.

Goodwin forced a smile as his secretary opened the door and an elderly couple entered the room. The Martins were well known in the political circle, and he'd been playing them like a fine-tuned piano, stringing them along until they were ready to back him. They'd been out of the country for several months but had called him to ask for this meeting and he'd jumped at the chance to speak with them about furthering his career.

"Thank you for seeing us on such short notice, Charles," Daniel Martin said and shook the younger man's hand.

"I always have time for my favorite constituents, Daniel," Goodwin said and turned his charm on the woman. "I hope your visit with your grandchildren was as special as you are, Colette."

"Our trip was wonderful, Charles, but that's not why we are here," the woman said.

"Is something wrong?" Goodwin asked.

"I hope not, but we heard some rumors from several of our colleagues," the man answered.

"Well, you know rumors are just that, Daniel."

"Yes, but these particular rumors seem to be grounded in some truths," Colette Martin said and watched the younger man move behind his desk as they sat down.

"What rumors?" Goodwin asked, fighting to control his anger.

"Orin Travis is well known in our circles and therefore we also know of his agency. Chris Larabee…"

"Is a liar and a hothead. Did you know we were friends at one time?"

"Yes, that is something that turned up in our inquiries. We also heard that he has made accusations that you are involved in human trafficking, and drugs amongst other things."

"Yes, he has, but there is no proof that I am involved in any of those things."

"See, Charles, that makes me wonder," Daniel said.

"What does?"

"Instead of saying you had nothing to do with drugs and human trafficking, you said there was no proof," Daniel answered.

"As you know, Charles, my husband was involved in the FBI before he became a prosecutor. He knows how to listen and read between the lines. I'm afraid we are going to have to back out on your political aspirations until these charges are cleared up."

"But Larabee has disappeared. He is in trouble with Orin Travis and ran out when his men were injured. He is a liar and I assure you the charges he made are unfounded."

"That remains to be seen, but for now we withdraw our backing until the allegations have been cleared up…"

"Please, Daniel, don't do this…not now when things are finally moving forward. I have several people ready to back me, but if they hear that you are…"

"I'm sorry, Charles, but for now we are within our right to rescind our offer and we prefer to do just that," Colette said and stood up. "Give us a call when everything…and I mean everything is cleared up."

"Goodbye, Charles, I hope you are not the man Chris Larabee painted you out to be," Daniel told him before leaving the office with his wife.

"Sonofabitch!" Goodwin cursed and grabbed the bottle of whiskey from the cabinet behind him. He poured a stiff drink and downed it.

"Mr. Goodwin, the mayor is on line two," the secretary said from the doorway. She'd seen the elderly couple leave and heard her boss' expletive and dreaded the anger she knew she'd face.

"Tell him I went out!" Goodwin said and grabbed his jacket.

"Yes, Sir. What about your afternoon appointments?"

"Cancel them…something's come up and I need to take care of a problem of my own!" Goodwin brushed past the woman and hurried out the door. He needed to vent his anger and hoped that Vargas had something that would help.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Vin had dozed off and on during the night, but sleep was a long time coming. He'd tried relaxing his mind and reaching for the strange connection that made Chris his brother. There were times when it was so strong that they felt each other's pain, but there were other times when the gossamer strands were silent. Vin looked at the PCA pump and ignored the button that would deliver the meds and rid him of the pain raging through his body.

"Vin, no one will think any less of you if you push the button," Jackson observed. Rain had given him, JD, and Ezra a ride to the hospital and they'd arrived just as Simmons had finished his morning rounds. He'd heard him telling the injured trio that their charts were now epic novels and would soon need new volumes.

"I'm okay, Nathan, let's just go over what we know," Tanner told him.

"One of these days you're going to tell the truth and give us all a heart attack," Jackson said.

"Then I'd best just keep saying I'm okay," the Texan said with a slight grin that disappeared as quickly as it formed when a knock sounded, and the door opened. The newcomers were a welcome sight and he hoped they would agree to do the legwork for the team.

"You boys look like something out of a horror movie," Taylor said.

"Hello to you too, Jake," Wilmington said and shook hands with the two men. "Thanks for coming, Raphael."

"Anytime…I take it there's still no word from Chris," Martinez said.

"JD found a note he left, but it doesn't tell us where he's gone," Jackson answered.

"Did he take his truck?" Taylor asked.

"No, he took my bike," Dunne said, his voice soft.

"JD, it ain't yer fault," Tanner said and saw Taylor frown. "JD thought someone stole his motorcycle and reported it missing. We didn't know Chris had taken it."

"I cancelled the report, but it might be too late," Dunne told them.

"Not if he's picked up by the police," Cordova offered.

"Depends on the police," Wilmington said. "When Chris wants to get his head on straight, he likes to be alone. He is probably taking the bike along back roads and stopping in towns that might not be on the map. The man knows how to disappear when he wants to. I've seen him do it before."

"Okay, so where do we start looking for him?" Taylor asked and knew these men well enough to see how badly they wanted to be active in the search. "Trust us, Boys, we'll work it the same way you do."

"We wouldn't have asked you here if we didn't trust you," Sanchez said.

"The last contact we have of him is a small-town northwest of Billings," Standish offered. "It is from a gas station and dated three days ago. The paper trail stops there."

"Okay, so we'll head for…"

"Landen," Ezra answered. "It's a quaint little community about 200 miles..."

"I've been there," Taylor said. "I doubt you would even classify it as a community anymore. The only thing it has going for itself is the best damn coffee shop in the state."

"Then I guess that's where we're headed," Martinez said.

"We owe you," Jackson said.

"You're kidding right?" Taylor said. "It's going to take a lot more than finding Chris to pull us even. You boys have done a lot for us."

"We'll contact you once we reach Landen. What's the name of the gas station?" Cordova asked.

"I'll text it to you," Dunne told him. 

"That works and send me a recent picture of Chris. Anything new on Goodwin and Vargas?" Taylor asked.

"No, Goodwin is flaunting his freedom and proclaiming he is innocent, and that Chris is delusional and jealous," Standish observed.

"Ezra and JD are looking over some old files and if there's anything to be found they'll find it," Sanchez said.

"We will find out what makes him tick," Dunne vowed and looked at Buck who was seated by the window. The man was unusually quiet, and JD knew he was hurting…not just physically. He looked around the room and realized they were all feeling the same way. The fact that Chris was missing had touched them all and until they found him there'd be no rest.

"All right, Boys, we're going to get moving. We'll contact you as soon as we talk to whoever is at the gas station," Taylor told them.

"We'll keep tracking Chris' movements," Jackson assured them.

"Try not to worry too much…Chris is a grown man, and he knows what he's doing," Taylor said shaking hands with the men before leaving with Raphael.

Only the ticking of the large clock near the closed door broke the silence in the room. Vin studied the others and could easily read the raw emotion in their eyes. It had taken everything they had not to remove the IVs and take off after the two men, but they were smart enough to know they would just slow them down.

"JD, give us an update on Goodwin and Vargas," Wilmington ordered softly.

"It looks like Vargas is gearing up for a big deal. I spoke with Carlos, and he heard rumors, but he's not ready to give me anything concrete yet. He's supposed to call me with an update this afternoon," Dunne said and frowned when he picked up a news feed on the laptop.

"What about Goodwin?" Tanner asked.

"Hold on a minute. Daniel and Colette Martin…"

"Who are they?" Wilmington asked and noticed Josiah was showing signs of weariness.

"They are one of the wealthiest couples in the country. I have had the pleasure of meeting them at the governor's ball," Standish answered.

"Listen to this," Dunne said and turned up the volume as the couple stood on the steps of the courthouse.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Thank you all for coming," Daniel Martin said and smiled as his wife stood in front of the microphone.

"We have a great deal of respect for reporters and hope you will allow us to speak before asking questions. Daniel and I have decided that we will withdraw any political and financial support for Charles Goodwin…"

"Does this have anything to do with Chris Larabee's accusations?'

"Not entirely, but we are willing to hear Mr. Larabee out and we would certainly entertain the idea of Charles and Mr. Larabee in an open debate," Daniel told them.

"Do you believe Chris Larabee?" another reporter asked.

"I believe he is a smart man, and he has never done anything that would make us disregard his accusations. I know Orin Travis well enough to respect his choice of team leader for his agency. Chris Larabee and his team have a reputation for being honest, even if they sometimes work a case in unorthodox ways," Colette answered.

"That being said we are not saying we think Charles is guilty…we simply want to make sure he is the right man to have in the political arena," Daniel told them.

"Did you know Larabee's team was the target of several attacks in the last few weeks and that he has disappeared," a female reporter asked.

"We heard there were attacks and hope those men make a full recovery," Colette answered.

"What if Goodwin is behind it?' someone else asked.

"Then he belongs in jail," Daniel told them and held up his hands to stop any further questions.

MM7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Rodrigo Vargas turned off the television once the interview was over and knew Charles Goodwin would be on his doorstep before long.  The man had called to tell him about the Martins, and he knew his friend would need a way to blow off steam.

He knew the two young women he had in the private room would be worth a lot of money in the Asian trade market, but today he would let Goodwin enjoy himself. Something about the would-be politician's recent actions made him nervous, and he had set up a camera in the room to make sure he had proof of who the man really was. He wasn't a fool and had once heard his mama tell his papa not to put all his eggs in one basket.

Rodrigo reached for the cup of coffee on his desk and added two lumps of sugar before sipping it. He looked out the window but turned as a knock sounded. "Come in."

"Senor Goodwin is here," Lina told him.

"Show him in," Vargas said and forced a smile when his silent partner entered the room.

"Did you see that damn news conference?"

"I saw it," Vargas answered.

"I should have you kill them for me!" Goodwin spat and grabbed the bottle of scotch. He poured a large amount into a glass and downed most of it before looking at his silent partner.

"I could do that, but it would simply cast an even darker shadow over you," Vargas said. "They are not your only backers so don't give up on your future yet!"

"I know, but they are important, and they influence others. If I lose any more then I'm going to owe more money than I can afford."

"I could always be your backer…"

"No, God, that won't work!"

"Are you too good…"

"No, Rodrigo, you know that's not the issue. Until I'm in office I need to make myself look squeaky-clean. Especially with that bastard telling everyone I'm a lowlife drug dealer. I can't afford to add fuel to the fire."

"Is that how you see me, My Friend?"

"No…no, but you know that's how people like Larabee see you."

"See us you mean?"

"Yes, I'm sorry, Rodrigo. I know how much you've done for me, and I appreciate it. Please don't take offense."

"None taken," Vargas said and smiled. "Now since Larabee is out of the picture and we have some free time I'd like to introduce you to a couple of new acquisitions."

"You always know just what I need," Goodwin said and followed the man toward the room that held the new acquisitions and his body reacted before they reached the door. "Will you be joining us?"

"No, I have a meeting, but do me a favor and don't kill these two. I have a couple of buyers for women with their exotic coloring."

"I won't kill them…but you know me."

"Yes, I do," Vargas said and held the door for the man to enter. He closed it once Goodwin was inside and made his way to his desk.  The camera feed was directly to his computer, and he saw the smile on the would-be politician's face as he moved toward the young women who were drugged and bound to the bed. "Have fun, My Friend, because now I will have proof of your sick cravings."

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"I bet Goodwin is pissed over this," Wilmington said, shifting his body as he tried to get comfortable.

"Buck, you need to get back in bed and get some sleep," Jackson said,

"I'm…"

"Going to get in your bed or I'll have Simmons paged." the medic warned and watched as Wilmington used the IV pole to help steady himself as he moved to the bed. Nathan looked at Vin and Josiah and knew they needed to rest; hell, his knee was hurting so bad right now he would kill for a shot. "I've never met a more pig-headed bunch."

"You're one to talk, Brother," Sanchez said with a weary smile.

"I'm fine…hell," Jackson said when the others chuckled softly. "You boys have rubbed off on me."

"Go home, Nathan, get some sleep," Sanchez said.

"Come on, Ezra…JD shut it down and let's get out of here," the medic ordered.

"I need…"

"To rest," Wilmington observed. "You're not fooling anyone, Kid."

JD reluctantly closed the laptop, but silently vowed he'd keep searching once he was back in his apartment.

"JD, you, and Ezra might as well come back with me. Rain will pick us up in 15 minutes and we'll pick up lunch along the way," Jackson said. He knew Dunne and Standish both wanted to keep working, but Rain would make damn sure they rested. Hell, she'd make sure he took some downtime too.

"If you hear anything…anything at all," Tanner said.

"We won't keep anything from you," Jackson vowed and sighed tiredly as he picked up the cane. He knew he would have to see the surgeon soon because his knee wasn't getting any better.

Half an hour later Josiah knew he was not going to get any sleep. Vin and Buck were sleeping with the aid of pain meds and his should kick in soon. A sound at the partially open door had him raising the head of his bed, and he smiled as Father Jonathon Harper pushed a wheelchair into the room. 

"Hello, Josiah, how are you feeling," Father Thomas O'Neill asked. He knew he probably looked as bad as Josiah, but at least he was getting out today and would recover at Father Harper's home. 

"I'm okay…"

"Josiah, you can lie to yourself, but you cannot lie to Him," Father O'Neill said and made the sign of the cross.

"I've been better," Sanchez amended softly.

"How are Vin and Buck?" the priest asked.

"Banged up and worried."

"Understandable…have you had any word on Chris?"

"Nothing," Sanchez answered and wondered how the man knew about the missing man.

"The Lord works in mysterious way, but in this case, it was the television," O'Neill answered the unspoken question.

"I am sorry," Sanchez whispered.

"You have nothing to be sorry for, Josiah," Father Harper told him.

"Miranda was a wonderful lady, and she will be missed."

"Yes, she will, but she's resting in His arms now and is no longer in pain," Father O'Neill vowed. He shifted in the wheelchair and muffled a hiss of pain, but it didn't go unheard by the two men.

"Thomas, it is time to get you home. Josiah, rest easy and call if there is anything the church can do for you."

"Thank you, please keep Chris in your prayers," Sanchez answered and closed his eyes once the two men left. He thought about Chris Larabee and hoped the man would contact one of them soon. Goodwin was starting to feel the heat and if things kept going the way they were then he would be brought down. Chris deserved to be here for that, and he needed to know they understood why he went after Goodwin the way he did.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris looked at the unappetizing meal and forced himself to eat part of it. He felt like hell, and every bone in his body ached as he looked around at his fellow inmates. Besides, himself, the Lawless brothers, 46, and Simmons, there were at least a dozen other men imprisoned in Bradford's private hellhole.

"You gonna finish that," an elderly prisoner he knew only as 27 asked hopefully.

"Enjoy," Larabee said and passed the plate to the man as Simmons spoke with the warden. He could not hear the heated exchange, but he could tell the warden didn't like the outcome as Simmons strode toward him.

"78, you eat anything?" the gruff man asked.

"Ate some," Larabee told him.

"Come with me," Simmons said as Phillips spoke with the warden before striding toward them.

"78, you are to go with Simmons and let him take a look at your wounds," Phillips said and motioned for the prisoner to get on his feet.

Chris stood up, nodded to the Lawless brothers, and walked toward the infirmary. Once inside Phillips quickly locked a cuff around his wrist before leaving them alone.

"How's the back feel?" Simmons asked.

"Sore, but I've had worse," Larabee said as he eased the shirt over his head.

"There are a lot of scars so I'm thinking you give my brother plenty of grief," Simmons told him. 

"He gives as good as he gets," the blond said.

"Good, well, I'm not going to take off the bandages, but I figured you could use the extra time to rest before he orders you back to work," Simmons said and handed Larabee a bruised banana. "Eat that."

"Thanks, Doc." Larabee watched as the older man sat on the bed beside him and wondered what would happen once they escaped. There was no doubt in his mind that he would do just that, and when he did, he'd make damn sure the prisoners here got a new trial.

"What's got you thinking so hard?"

"I was just wondering if you're going to come to Billings with me when we get out of here."

"You that sure we're gonna get out of here."

"Damn right I am. I'd like to think you'd want to see your brother."

"I do…not sure he would want to see me though."

"There's only one way to find out," Larabee said as Cyrus Peterson opened the door.

"Come on, 78, time to get back to work. The warden wants that new storage area finished so the new shit has a place to go!"

"Thanks, Doc," Larabee said and stood up. He walked past the table and out through the door, cursing when Peterson used his gun to shove him hard enough that he stumbled, but didn't go down.

"Clumsy idiot."

"Do that again and I'll make you eat that fucking gun!" Larabee snarled.

"One more word, 78, and you'll have five more lashes," the warden warned as they passed him.

Chris bit his tongue and kept walking toward the entrance to the tunnel. If he could get his hands on some of the explosives stored in one of the offshoots, he could blow the whole damn thing. The problem was he needed to make sure there was no one else inside and he'd need time to set things up.

"Move it, 78, I swear you're worse than an old man of 90," Peterson chuckled as he shoved the prisoner again. "Thought you were gonna make me eat it?'

‘Soon,' Larabee thought as they entered the shaft, and he joined the Lawless brothers.

"Elroy, I brought 78."

"Thanks, Cyrus…all right, boys, get that new entrance shored up so we can get started on the next one," Elroy ordered and wondered how long Larabee would last.

Chris reached for the pick and hefted it above his shoulder as Gage Lawless moved to block Elroy's view. His back and side hurt, but he'd worked through worse injuries and wasn't about to let this stop him from planning and moving when the time was right.

"You have any ideas on how to get out of here."

"Not yet but give me some time. I have people looking for me and sooner or later they'll find Bradford Falls."

"We'll do what we can to help you," Gage told him.

"How'd you three get caught anyway?"

"We were passing through about six months ago and stopped at Hal's diner for some dinner. We were just paying for the meal when Bradford and his deputy came in. Guess they didn't like the looks of us and told us we were under arrest for vagrancy and outdated tags on my jeep. They weren't outdated, but I guess the sheriff makes his own rules. How'd they get you?"

"Long story…let's just say I borrowed a friend's motorcycle, and the sheriff took a liking to it. I hope he doesn't wreck it because I want to return it to its rightful owner once I'm out of here," Larabee said and swung the pick at the base of the tunnel. 

"Less jawing…more working! Don't make me put you four on report!" their guard snapped.

Gage Lawless could read the anger in the set of Larabee's shoulders and shook his head in warning. Elroy Peterson wouldn't think twice about hitting any of them, but right now he had a feeling Larabee was their best chance of escaping this hell hole. 

"You got something to say, 78?" Elroy shoved the barrel of the shotgun into the prisoner's back, grinning when he heard a sharp hiss of pain from the blond.

"Don't," Gage Lawless warned, relieved when Larabee simply kept eye contact with the guard until Elroy lost interest and walked back to the wooden bench he'd been sitting on.

"You boys best get a move on if you expect to eat supper while it's hot!"

"Thanks, Gage," Larabee said and returned his attention to the task at hand. If Gage hadn't stopped him, he would have let his anger get the best of him and attacked Peterson. That anger had nearly cost him his team and he would atone for that if he got back home, no, when he got back home.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Hal Greely watched as the sheriff and his deputy came into the diner. Janet had been there with the kids, but he'd sent her out the back when he saw the vehicle pull into the parking spot closest to the door.  He knew she was taking them up to the house and would use his car to take them to their Aunt Jenny's house. She would leave them there until they figured out what to do about the Bradfords.

"Afternoon, Sheriff," Greely said as the man entered the diner and made his way to the counter.

"Afternoon, Hal, where's that pretty sister of yours?" Jeff Bradford asked.

"Janet took the kids to visit our aunt."

"When will she be back?"

"Not for a couple of hours. I told her it was a slow day and she wanted to see Aunt Jenny."

"Did she make my pie?"

"She did," Greely answered and walked to the back to get the pie his sister made the day before. "She was expecting you yesterday morning."

"I got busy," Bradford said and looked at the pie. "How much?"

"Five dollars," Greely answered as Paul Goddard came into the diner.

"Put it on my tab," Bradford said and pointed to the chalkboard above the door to the kitchen. "I'll have the roast pork, mashed potatoes, and gravy."

"Me too," Goddard said.

"Anyone new come through?" Bradford asked.

"Not since that fella on the motorcycle. That was one sweet ride," Greely said and moved behind the counter that separated the kitchen from the dining room. "Bet your brother loved it."

"Yes, he did," Bradford said and helped himself to the coffee and a donut. "You know, Hal, it might be a lot safer for you and your sister and her kids if you'd keep your nose out of my business."

"Sorry, Sheriff, didn't mean anything by it. Just admiring your brother's taste in bikes is all," Greely said.

"It was a nice ride. Stan will probably have it painted and sell it if you're interested," Bradford said.

"Wish I could afford it, but with Janet and the kids staying with me I just don't have any extra cash," the diner's owner told him and served the two men their meals before reaching for the newspaper.

"Anything interesting in the paper?" Goddard asked.

"No…just a couple of things about the Billings hockey team getting a couple of new prospects."

"Maybe they'll win a game or two this year," Goddard observed and dug into his meal.

Greely pretended to be interested in the sports section but kept glancing at the two men. He wasn't sure if the whole damn sheriff's department was on Bradford's payroll, but he really didn't trust any of them. When Janet got back, they would need to come up with a course of action and maybe they could get the town back to what it once was.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

JD opened the door and smiled at the two women standing there. Nettie and Casey Wells had called to ask him if he was up for some company, and he'd jumped at the chance. His head pounded and he knew he'd overdone things in spite of Nathan's warning to get some rest. 

"JD, we brought dinner," Casey said and hugged him gently. "Are you okay?"

"I'm okay, Casey, just a bit of a headache," Dunne answered.

"You've been on the computer all day haven't you, Young Man?" Nettie asked, shaking her head as she carried the bag of Chinese food into the kitchen.

"We need to find out where Chris is," Dunne told her.

"Yes, we do, but you won't do him any good if you ignore your own injuries, JD," Nettie warned. "Now close that laptop down and go sit at the table. Casey, would you get some glasses?"

"Yes, Aunt Nettie," Casey answered and moved to the cupboard. She had spent many evenings in Buck and JD's apartment and knew where the glasses were kept. She brought three over to the table and went to the fridge to get apple juice and soda.

"Now, JD, when did you last eat?" Nettie asked.

"Breakfast," Dunne said and lowered his eyes when he realized he'd skipped lunch and only had coffee during the afternoon.

"I wish you boys would realize a body heals much faster when you take care of it," Nettie scolded and handed the young man one of the pills she'd found on the counter. "Take this and eat. Then you need to get some rest."

"I don't…thanks, Nettie," Dunne said and sat down. He smiled at Casey, relieved that the bruise on her cheek was nearly gone. 

"Has there been any word from Chris?" Nettie asked hopefully.

"Nothing yet, but we followed his trail to Landen. Raphael and Jake left late this morning and will contact us as soon as they find out anything."

"Landen? Where's that?" Casey asked.

"It's a small place about 200 miles northwest of Billings. Chris used his credit card to buy gas there, but that was three days ago," Dunne answered.

"They'll find him, JD," Casey vowed.

"I hope so, Casey, but what if he got caught with my bike. I reported it stolen and if he's caught with it…"

"He'll explain why he has it and have them call you," Nettie said. "Now eat your dinner before it gets cold."

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Jake Taylor relaxed as Raphael turned onto the stretch of road that would lead to the outskirts of Landen. He'd been reading the map and knew there were several other small communities in the area. If Larabee had gone to any of those he may have had to use cash only, but he still would have needed to get cash from an ATM machine. 

"The gas station should be a mile down the road on your left," Taylor said.

"Chris really doesn't like Goodwin, does he?"

"No, and to be honest I don't like the man either."

"I wouldn't vote for him…not sure why, but he just doesn't seem like he's as clean as he lets on."

"What politician is?" Taylor asked with a hint of a smile.

"There are some…"

"And they are few and far between," the ex-cop observed and read the sign posted on the side of the road. "Welcome to Landen. Population 1975."

"Small community is right," Raphael said and turned the car into a space to gas up.

"I'll go inside while you fill up," Taylor said and exited the car. He leaned against the door and heard a dog barking in the distance before heading into the station. He pushed open the door and heard a bell ringing in the back before a middle-aged woman came out and stood behind the counter.

"What can I do for you?"

"I'd like to fill up," Taylor said and knew he would have to wait until Raphael finished pumping the gas.

"Anything else I can get you?"

"Maybe…I'm looking for a friend of mine. He came through here three days ago on a motorcycle."

"Real good-lookin' fella, but didn't smile much," the woman said.

"That sounds about right. Did he say where he was going?"

"No, he just paid for his gas and a couple of maps," the woman said.

"Can you show me the maps he bought?"

"The one that shows the local parks and the newest one that shows the towns north of here. There's not much," the woman told him.

"Local parks?"

"There's not many, but he said he'd like to check them out and maybe go camping there. I told him there's one place that's secluded and has some of the best trout fishing in the state."

"Can you show me everything you showed him?"

"He's not in trouble, is he? He didn't strike me as an ex-con?"

"No, he's not, but his friends are worried about him, and we'd like to find him," Taylor said as Raphael entered the station.

"That'll be thirty-two fifty," the woman behind the counter said and took the money from Taylor.

"Chris was here, and he bought some maps of the area," Taylor said and turned back to the woman. "Can you tell me the main parks you recommended?"

"Sure, there are two. They are about ten miles north of here and within two miles of each other, but he said he wasn't sure he'd have time to check them out," the woman said. 

"That's okay…is Rosie's place still open?" Taylor asked and saw the woman smile.

"Sure is and she still makes the best scones in the state," the woman said. "Just make a right on Little John Lane and keep going south until you reach Milton Avenue. It's right on the corner."

"Thank you," Taylor said and left the gas station with the maps. "Why don't we grab something to eat and then check out the first park?"

"Sounds like a plan," Raphael said and got behind the steering wheel as a woman pulled into the gas station. She was pretty, but the two kids in the back seat told him she was either married or a single mom and probably wasn't interested in a relationship.

"Jimmy, you and Susie behave while I get some gas."

"Yes, Mommy," the boy said and watched the vehicle next to his mother drive away from the station.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Josiah knew the two men sharing his room were not sleeping, but they'd talked themselves out hours ago. Buck had told them stories of his and Chris' life before Chris met Sarah Connelly. Some of those stories were funny, some bawdy, but most showed Chris in the same light they all saw him. Larabee was like the knights of old and would come to the rescue of anyone who needed it, and that didn't just mean damsels in distress.

Orin Travis had been in just before visiting hours ended and told them Gary Browner wanted to help and was calling in several favors. There wasn't a whole lot they could do, but with Browner's law firm behind them they might just be able to keep Chris out of jail if Goodwin decided to press charges.

JD had called to update them on what he'd found, but it wasn't much. Ezra and Nathan had also checked in, but there was still no news from Chris Larabee. Raphael had also called to tell them they were spending the night in Landen and confirmed that Chris had indeed been at the gas station.

Josiah turned toward the door as a nurse eased it open and shone a small penlight into the room. He smiled when she made her way to his bed and checked the readings on the IV pump.

"How do you feel, Josiah?"

"I'm okay, Donna," Sanchez said as movement told him his roommates were no longer pretending to sleep.

"Do you want something to help you sleep?"

"No, thanks, I'm good," Sanchez lied and knew he wasn't fooling her as she checked on the other men before shaking her head and leaving the room.

Josiah knew he needed to rest; his body had already reminded him he wasn't as young as he used to be. The injuries had taken a toll on him, and he shifted to find a more comfortable position, but until he admitted he needed help, it would not get any easier.  He closed his eyes in the hope of getting some sleep, but his thoughts quickly turned to Charles Goodwin.

There was no doubt in his mind that Goodwin had enlisted the help of Rodrigo Vargas to further his career. He also understood there would come a time when the politician would want to cut all ties with the drug dealer. When that happened, Josiah knew Goodwin would try to cover up his involvement in Vargas' operation, and he hoped that both men would be brought down.

‘Lord, protect us all, and keep Chris safe until we find him,' he silently prayed as sleep finally wrapped him in the warmth of friends.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris straightened his back and leaned the pick against the wall of the cavern. He knew it was late in the day as the Lawless brothers did the same with the equipment they were using. God, he knew what hard work meant, but what he was doing now gave it a whole new meaning. He cursed when Elroy Peterson came toward him with a smile that didn't reach his eyes.

"The warden wants to see you, 78," Peterson said.

"There's a big fucking surprise," the blond whispered and heard Gage chuckle softly.

"Did you say something, 78?" Peterson snarled and came to stand toe to toe with the prisoner as his brother and Phillips entered the mine.

"Not a damn thing!" Larabee answered in the same tone.

"I should teach you about respect, 78…"

"Not now, Elroy, the warden wants him now!" Phillips said and moved to take charge of the prisoner. "Don't say another word, 78!"

Chris held his tongue as he was led from the mine and wondered what Phillips' story was. How did this man become part of this operation? Was he family? No, that didn't seem likely as Phillips seemed to be the only non-Caucasian working for Bradford. He spotted Simmons talking to a prisoner sitting on a stump and shook his head when the physician made a move toward him.

"Be careful, 78," Phillips warned. "Don't get too friendly with Simmons or the other prisoners or the Warden will use them against you."

"I hear you," Larabee said as they reached the warden's home and the hated man turned toward him with a rag in his hands.

"As much as I hate to admit it you do have good taste in bikes, 78. It's too bad the real owner will never see it again," the warden told him.

"I wouldn't bet on that," Larabee vowed.

"Look around you, 78…do you really think you'll see any of your friends again?"

"Bank on it!"

"I do like your confidence, but it won't last long here. I just spoke with a mutual friend…Rodrigo Vargas…"

"He's no friend of mine!"

"I expect he's not, but their plans have changed, and they want to move up the meeting. They will be here in two days to discuss a newly acquired arms shipment I'm interested in, but the real reason Goodwin is coming is to renew your acquaintance and give you an update on your friends. It appears three of your men are still hospitalized…you know they blame you for that…"

"Fuck you!" Larabee growled and fought the urge to go after the man. He knew there was no point in antagonizing him further, because he'd be the one to pay the price.

"I hear Vargas goes that way, but not me," Bradford said and made a show of shining part of the bike. "The bike is registered to a JD Dunne, isn't it?"

Chris refused to answer and hoped he would be able to give JD the bike back in the same shape he'd borrowed it. He watched as the warden seemed to caress the bike as if it was a female he wanted to make love to.

"It doesn't matter since it's mine now. I'll have the VIN number changed and maybe put a new color on it, but Dunne can kiss it goodbye. I'm sure his insurance will take care of it, but I doubt that will make up for the loss of this piece of art. How much time did he put into refurbishing it…I mean the chrome and leather don't have a scratch on it…well nothing that can't be worked out of it anyway?"

Larabee knew the man was baiting him, and it took every ounce of strength to remain silent as the warden moved to sit at a table set near the bike. He could smell the food and heard the rumble in his stomach as Bradford cut a piece of steak and placed it in his mouth.

"You've been here a total of three days, 78, and you've managed to make friends with 33, 34, and 35. I didn't think that was possible given that you were a cop. Now the doc is another matter, he's a softie, but he does his job, and he doesn't cause problems. I know he squirrels away food for prisoners like you and I've let him get away with it because it means you boys can give a full day's hard labor. Tonight, you'll be sleeping in the prisoner's quarters, but rest assured you men will not have time to chit-chat. You'll sleep or I'll put you back to work in the mine until you drop dead. Understood?"

"Yes, Sir," Larabee snapped a partial salute as the warden continued to eat.

"Good," the man said and turned to the guard. "Get him something to eat and lock him up with 63 and 79."

"Yes, Sir," Phillips said and motioned for the prisoner to follow him.

Chris felt like hell when they reached the table holding the unappetizing meal set out for the prisoners. He took a bowl of the thick stew and a couple of slices of stale bread before moving to sit on the ground next to the Lawless brothers as a cool breeze rustled the branches of the nearby trees.

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Stan Bradford watched as Phillips led the prisoner to the area where the other men were already eating. There was something about Chris Larabee that made him wonder how he could have gotten the upper hand on a man like Charles Goodwin. If he was being perfectly honest, he would have to admit he admired the way the blond held himself even or in spite of the rough treatment he'd received so far.

What was it that made men like Larabee tick? Why did they feel it necessary to save people who didn't even know their name and wouldn't think twice about betraying them? How many people would pay to have a shot at taking this proud man down? Probably a lot more than he knew and that's why Larabee had to be broken. They needed to send a message to people that men like Larabee were not heroes…they were simply men with a death wish and he would gladly put them down.

Phillips was another problem he would have to deal with before long. There was something about the man he didn't like, and it had nothing to do with the color of his skin. Phillips had a weak spot for the prisoners and that was something he did not need. After he dealt with Larabee he would deal with Phillips. Maybe he would take care of both problems by having the guard kill Larabee…then Phillips would have to do as he said because he would be as guilty as everyone else.

Bradford cut off another piece of steak and felt someone watching him. It did not surprise him when he looked up and his eyes met and locked on Larabee's. Even at this distance he could feel the hatred and smiled as he continued to eat.

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David Phillips lifted the cup of coffee and sipped the hot liquid as he watched the silent exchange between Bradford and Larabee. He knew he needed to get word out, but if he tried to do so now then his cover, and the months of hard work would be in vain. He remembered the first day he'd met Jeff Bradford and how he'd saved the man's life. Little did Bradford know it had been a set-up to get information on the militia compound and the Bradford brothers in particular.

In the months he'd been here he'd seen some things that made him want to get out before it tainted him forever. It would be a bitter pill to swallow if he was forced to do nothing while a man like Chris Larabee was murdered under his watch. He knew he had enough to bring the Bradfords down, but there were other, major players, he needed to identify before he called in his fellow agents.

Stan Bradford and his brother were scum, but so were the men who bought and sold drugs and human beings. He'd managed to listen in on a couple of the warden's calls and if he was right two major players would be at the compound sometime in the next week. He needed to keep up appearances until he had their identities and enough evidence to bring them down.

Phillips thought about his wife and their twin girls back in Atlanta and felt the heaviness in his heart once again.  He wanted to be with them, and knew he was missing precious moments that he would never get back. Since the beginning of this undercover assignment, he'd made a silent vow that this was his last case. He wanted to be home to see the girls first birthday and celebrate the love he shared with the woman who'd stolen his heart when she'd hit him with a mud patty in the playground near the school.

‘I'll be home soon, Baby,' he thought and watched Larabee stand on shaky legs. He silently prayed the man would not do anything stupid and get thrown in the hole again. The man's eyes met his own as Elroy and Cyrus Peterson came to collect the prisoners, Larabee included, and escorted them to the shacks where they would spend the night. 

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Chris had watched the warden, Phillips, and several of the guards while he finished his meal. Most of the guards were as bad as Bradford, but something about Phillips was different. Somehow, he would find out the real reason the man was at this compound, and God help him he hoped it was something good.

"All right, Scumbags, on your feet. It's time to lock you down for the night," Elroy Peterson ordered as his brother and two other guards moved to help him.

Chris stood and stretched his back, silently cursing when he felt it tugging on the wounds but refused to show any discomfort in front of the guards. He caught Gage Lawless watching him and nodded his gratitude that the men never offered their help. They understood it would just make him look weak in front of the others and he didn't need that right now.

"Come on, 78; get your ass in gear!" Cyrus ordered and shoved the barrel of his gun into the blond's lower back.

Chris stumbled several steps but didn't go down. He didn't say anything, and he didn't look at the bastard who'd hit him. Instead, he forced his anger down and knew there would come a time when he'd give the sonofabitch a taste of his own medicine.

"You put him down if he gives you any trouble, Cyrus," the warden ordered.

Chris knew what the man wanted and refused to let him see just how tightly wound his anger was. Now was not the time to do anything stupid. Now was the time to watch and learn, to find out who was on his side and how many were stacked against them. Escape was a word that held him in control, but until the time was right it would have to be beaten down. They came to the first of the shacks and Gage Lawless reached for the handle and shoved the door open.

Chris stepped inside and made his way to the nearest cot. It was small, but he sat down with a sigh of relief as nine other men entered the shack. He heard the distinct sound of a lock and looked at the two windows on opposite walls. They were open to let in air, but the bars were there to make sure the prisoners stayed put.

"Want to talk," Gage Lawless asked and sat on the cot across from him.

"Nothing to talk about," Larabee answered and felt two men watching him closely. They looked like hard-core criminals who belonged in a maximum-security cell block. Long, stringy hair hung down to their shoulders, scars marred their faces, but it was the eyes that sent a chill through him. They were cold and dark as if there was nothing left of the soul they were supposed to have. He turned to look at Gage Lawless and waited for the man to answer his unspoken question.

"Inmates 63 and 79…word is they raped and murdered two women in Landen and were caught at Hal's Diner. A lot of people seem to get trapped by the Bradfords when they visit that place."

"Do you think they are involved in this?" Larabee asked, continuing to watch the two prisoners out of the corner of his eyes.

"I don't think so. I think they are just caught up in this," Lawless told him. "You're planning a way out of this place?"

"Maybe…might be better if you didn't know anything about my plans."

"You're kidding, right? Have you looked around, Larabee? Most of the men in here got caught doing nothing that should have landed them in here."

"What about the others?"

"Deserve what they got, but don't ask me who they are. Right now, I can vouch for most of the men in this shack, but not in the others. You give us a shot and maybe we'll all get out of this hellhole alive."

"Any chance we can get some of those explosives in the second shaft of the tunnel?" Larabee asked softly.

"Maybe, but someone will need to create a diversion."

"Hell, I'm beginning to hate that word," Larabee said and flicked at the too long strands of sweat-soaked blond hair that swept across his forehead. "We'd better get some sleep while we can."

"You should have gone to see the doc."

"I'm good," the blond lied. He stretched out on the cot and thought about his team. What were they doing right now? Were Josiah, Buck, and Vin out of the hospital? Did they know he was in trouble? Could they forgive him for being a bastard where Goodwin and Vargas were concerned? God, he didn't even know if Josiah and Father Thomas were alive. Last time he'd checked on them Josiah had still been critical.

‘I'm sorry, Boys, I fucked up,' Larabee thought as sleep claimed him. His dreams were filled with images of his team, interspersed with people who had died because he'd been unable to help them. No one was there to help him past the worst of the nightmares and as midnight passed through the quiet compound a muffled cry escaped tightly clenched lips as he sat up and slid his legs over the edge of the bed.

Chris stood up and made his way to the nearest window and looked out into the darkness that mirrored the ebony fire that burned inside him. How the hell could he face his men when he knew he had gone too far? The answer came from a source he'd almost given up on, but he felt the ripple of a touch like gossamer strands shifting in a light breeze.

‘We're coming for you, Cowboy.'

"I hear you, Vin," Chris thought and moved back to the cot. He needed sleep, and now that he knew he wasn't alone he just might be able to grab some shuteye.

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Vin stood at the window overlooking the hospital parking lot and listened to Buck and Josiah's soft breathing. It was just after midnight, and he'd woken to the feeling that Larabee was in danger. The gossamer strands that defied description had kicked in with a vengeance. He knew Chris was alive, but he was in danger and needed their help. He looked at the IV in his arm and fought the urge to pull it out and leave.

Tanner knew they had people searching for the missing man and he trusted Jake and Raphael.  Taylor was an ex-cop and Raphael had grown up on the streets where drugs and guns were prevalent. They both knew Larabee; hell, Taylor had helped them bring Chris back from a nightmare that had nearly killed them both. Vin would always think of the price of his broken promise and how Chris had nearly paid the ultimate price.

Vin heard the door open and turned to find Roy Simmons watching him. He knew the man wasn't half as gruff as he let on and nodded when the older man asked if he was okay.

"I prescribed something to help you sleep…want me to get it?"

"No, thanks, Doc, I'll sleep."

"You will? When?"

"When I get home and in my own bed…how long before ya cut me loose?"

"Not for a few days yet. In case you haven't noticed you're still attached to an IV and need antibiotics and pain relief medication. You can deny it all you want, but as smart as you are you know damn well, I'm right. Sleep is as important as the medications, but…"

"I hear ya, doc," Tanner told him.

"Then get in the bed and I'll get you the medication to help you sleep."

"I'll get in the bed, but I don't need the meds."

"Then hit the button on your PCA, Tanner. Those injuries are serious, and I can tell you're in pain. You won't do Larabee a lick of good if you ignore what your body is telling you," Simmons said and watched as the Texan made his way back to his bed and climbed under the blankets.

"Thanks, Doc," Tanner said and pushed the button before closing his eyes.

"Ain't never seen a more stubborn bunch in all my years," he whispered and made sure the IVs were running properly before leaving the room.

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Ezra stood on the balcony of his penthouse apartment and looked at the untouched glass of Remy Martin. His arm ached and his head pounded as he thought about Chris Larabee. The man was no different than the rest of them, yet they'd all turned on him because he'd been so adamant about going after Charles Goodwin.

Chris had been the first man to trust him and had shown him there were other things he could do besides spending his life gambling. His mother had cursed Larabee for turning him away from ‘his God-given talents' but Ezra saw it as a blessing rather than a curse. It had given him a chance to indulge in a fantasy he'd had ever since he'd watched a late night showing of Sherlock Holmes.

The only person who'd ever seen the good in him before Larabee and the rest of the team was his Uncle Hiram. The man had once told him he was destined for more than just gambling and he'd been right. The men he worked with were more than friends, they were brothers and he felt as if he'd finally come home. 

He touched the bandage covering the wound above his right eye and sighed tiredly as he looked at his watch. It was after midnight and he knew he should get some rest, but he wanted to keep searching Charles Goodwin's background. The man wasn't as squeaky clean as he let on and there were several bank accounts that were set up with variations of his name. He couldn't prove anything yet, but the money in those accounts was far more than Goodwin should have.

He'd also been looking into Rodrigo Vargas and his dealings. The man was smart and had covered his tracks, but he wasn't perfect. Ezra had found several cracks in the man's enterprise that could pull him down, he just needed to dig deeper. He had created a file on his laptop and would enlist JD's help in the morning. Between the two of them they would find a way to tie Goodwin and Vargas together and deliver them to the DA tied up in a nice big bow.

Standish stood up and walked into his home, closing the door behind him. The air inside was cooler because of the air conditioner and he made his way toward his bedroom. It was late and he knew Simmons would give him hell if he knew he was up this late and had even thought about having a drink.

Ezra removed his clothing and wondered what the others would think if they knew of his penchant for sleeping in the raw. It was simply his choice, because he wanted to sleep with nothing between him and the satin sheets on his bed. He stretched out on the bed and closed his eyes, hoping that wherever Chris Larabee was he was enjoying the comforts of home.

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Charles Goodwin pinched the bridge of his nose and knew sleep would not come easy for him. Vargas had set up bank accounts for him using several variations of his name. He'd been assured that they were untraceable but had set it up so that he would be notified if someone tried to access information about them.

He had over four million dollars spread out between five accounts and could easily access the money at any time, day or night. The problem was whoever was looking into the accounts made it impossible for him to touch the money without his true identity being disclosed.

Goodwin rose from the bed and made his way to his study where a red light blinked slowly on his laptop. He opened it and was shocked to see several emails from his contact in the Cayman Islands. The man was an investment expert and had given him several tips on insider information on accounts that would earn him a quick reward as long as he did exactly as he was told and withdrew the money from those accounts before his duplicity was discovered.  

He opened the first one and quickly read through them all before sitting back with a soft curse. Michael Lewiston had discovered and confirmed that someone was looking into his accounts and had already discovered three of the five. Lewiston went on to say he was working to identify the culprit, but Goodwin knew who was behind it.

Larabee had two men on his team who were experts at computers and computer technology. JD Dunne and Ezra Standish were well known for taking things a step further and should have been charged with computer tampering long ago, but they had ties with government agencies that even they didn't know about.

Goodwin reached for the bottle of Scotch and poured three fingers into a glass. He downed the fiery liquid, relishing in the way it burned down his throat. How could he have been so stupid where Vargas was concerned? Would his life have been different if he'd turned down the man's first offer? The answer to that was an obvious yes, but he had no regrets because the money he had sequestered away would make sure he continued to enjoy the lifestyle he had as long as he left the country before Larabee, and his damn team discovered the true extent of his dealings with men like Vargas.

Charles looked at the clock and knew he wouldn't get any more sleep tonight as he tried to find out exactly how much Standish and Dunne knew. His computer skills were adequate, but he would never be considered a geek. He sighed tiredly and glanced at the open window as several thoughts ran through his mind.

Rodrigo had suggested he should indulge in other sexual roles that included being with a man, not just any man, but Chris Larabee. It would be one hell of an act of revenge, but it really wasn't something he wanted to do. Vargas had also suggested sending Larabee to one of the bordellos in Mexico. That was something he would seriously think about once they went to Bradford's compound and came face to face with Chris Larabee or Inmate 78 as he was known there.

"You should never have stuck your nose in my business, Larabee," he whispered as a hint of a smile formed on his face. In two days he would be at the compound and maybe the last thing he would do on American ground would be to kill the bastard himself.  With that thought fueling his need for sleep, Charles Goodwin made his way back to his bed and stretched out with the cool air blowing across his body.

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Rain studied the sleeping man's face and sighed as she laid her head on his shoulder. Nathan's knee was still giving him problems and she knew he would be seeing David Frost in a week to talk about what should be done. She hated the idea of him needing surgery but understood it might be the only way for Nathan to get full mobility back.

Rain reached up and gently ran her fingers across his forehead as a soft sigh issued from his throat. She knew she had to get up but didn't want to wake him as she eased her body from the bed.

"I need you, Rain," Jackson whispered, relieved when she lay back down beside him.

"I didn't mean to wake you," Rain said and smiled when he wrapped his arms around her.

"There's no better way to wake up than by the woman I love," Jackson assured her and inhaled the scent he associated with her. It was a light floral scent with a hint of honey, and he nestled his head against her hair.

"Will you feel that way when I'm old and wrinkled and cranky?"

"Yes, yes, and yes. God, Rain, don't ever leave me."

"I won't," she answered his soft plea.

"What if Frost can't fix my knee and…"

"And nothing…we'll face every day as it comes, and it will never get bad enough to make me leave you."

"Thank God," Jackson said and sighed when she sat up once more.

"I need a shower…would you like to join me?"

"Do you even have to ask?" Jackson said and eased his leg off the pillow. He cursed the need for the cane but heard her chuckle as she came over to help him stand. "What's so funny?"

"Your team would say you've taken a page from their book," Rain said.

"Damn, don't tell them."

"I won't…at least not right now. Do you want a ride to the hospital?"

"Yes, Ezra and JD won't be going in until later," Jackson told her.

"Okay…shower and breakfast…should be just enough time."

"We could skip breakfast," the injured man said softly.

"Nathan, as much as I would love to make love to you it's more important that you eat."

"Damn, Woman, that's cruel," Jackson said and kissed her before allowing her to lead him to the washroom. He had to be the luckiest sonofabitch in the world and thanked God for the love this woman unconditionally showered on him.

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Stan Bradford watched as Larabee, and the other prisoners sat at the long table eating the breakfast he provided for them. He knew he had to keep the man alive until Vargas and Goodwin arrived, but that didn't mean he couldn't have a little fun with the bastard. He knew the Lawless brothers would no longer do his bidding where Larabee was concerned, so today the bastard would be assigned to work in the quarry with 63 and 79. 

The two men had been arrested for being drunk and disorderly in Bradford Falls. They weren't the usual people his brother chose for the compound, but a look into their background had shown they were the lowest scum with no family to speak of. They had several warrants out for them, including the rape and murder of two women in Landen. They'd been given a choice…Jeff would call and have Landen police pick them up where they would be tried and convicted for their crimes, or they could work at the compound and sometimes be given a little freedom.

"Elroy, tell 63 and 79 I have something special in mind for them," the warden said and leaned back with his coffee in his left hand.

"Inmate 78," Peterson asked.

"Maybe…just bring them to me."

"Yes, Sir," the guard said as he hurried away.

Bradford watched Larabee as Peterson spoke to the two men and tipped his head in a mock salute as the blond finished eating the morning meal. Vargas and Goodwin would be at the compound sometime late tomorrow afternoon, until then he would make damn sure 78's life was a living hell.

"You wanted to see us, Warden?" the taller man he knew as 79 asked.

"See that man over there?"

"Blondie?" 63 asked.

"Yes, his number is 78, but I think his name and job might be of interest to you two," the warden told them.

"Who is he?" 63 asked.

"His name is Chris Larabee and he's been a cop, a Navy SEAL, and works for an agency with ties to the government now," Bradford answered and saw the eyes darken with rage. "So, what do you two think should be done with 78?"

"I can think of a few things…is he going to the quarry with me and 63?"

"It could be arranged, but don't kill him. He has a couple of very important visitors arriving tomorrow and they'd be pissed if 78 wasn't here to greet them. I'd also like to have him be able to work to earn his keep…"

"We'll make sure he can work, but he'll be a bit uncomfortable doing it," 79 offered.

"Very well. Elroy, 78 has been reassigned to the quarry so make sure your brother takes him along," the Warden ordered as Peterson smiled and strode purposefully toward the four prisoners who remained seated at the table.

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"Be careful, 78, those two belong on death row," Gage Lawless said before Elroy and the two prisoners reached them.

"Cyrus, you got a new man for the quarry," Elroy said with a grin. "Inmate 78, you're with Elroy today."

"You heard him, 78, get on your feet and get moving. Daylight's wasting here and I got plans for tonight," Cyrus ordered and made sure Larabee was between the two men as they shuffled toward the quarry near the tunnel opening.

"You a cop?" 79 snarled.

Chris ignored the man and knew instinctively why the warden had reassigned him to the quarry. The only good thing about it was that he would get to see another part of the compound. The more he saw the better the chances were that he could find a way to escape. He glanced sideways as they passed a guard tower and cursed when he felt the man behind him shove him into the one walking ahead of him.

"Clumsy fucking pig!" 63 spat and kicked at Larabee's left leg.

"Bastard!" Larabee snarled and managed to stay on his feet.

"Keep moving, 78, or I'll make damn sure you work through lunch!" Cyrus warned.

"Big fucking deal!" the blond snapped and stumbled along when the guard shoved him. He kept his mouth shut as they passed Simmons but saw the worry in the man's face when he stood up. It took several minutes to reach the quarry and start down the steep slope. Chris kept his footing until they reached the halfway point, but the man in front of him made a show of slipping and grabbed him, twisting his body and sending them both toward the hard-packed gravel at the bottom.

"Inmate 63, are you all right?" Cyrus asked when he reached the bottom with 79.

"Think so…that bastard tried to kill me!"

"On your feet, 78!" Cyrus ordered.

Chris cursed as he tried to get to his feet and could feel something wet on his back. He'd slid down the quarry and knew the stones and sand were ground into the wounds made by the whip.

"Ain't got all day, 78," Cyrus warned. "Get him on his feet 79!"

"My pleasure!" 79 said and smiled when he reached for the blond's arms.

"Don't fuckin' touch me!" Larabee snarled and tried to pull away as 79 grinned, showing a mouthful of broken yellowed teeth.

"What're you gonna do about it, 78?" 63 spat as the blond got to his feet.

"I'll break your fucking neck!"

"Now, 78, you know you can't do that, or you'd have to work both jobs," Cyrus said with a smile. "Come on, boys, let's get to work and just maybe 78 will show us just how clumsy he is."

Larabee breathed through his nose and glared at the three men. It took everything in him not to attack them, but he held back and turned away. He glanced around, taking the time to check out his surroundings as Cyrus shoved him toward the center of the quarry. This area was to the right of the mine, and only had one watchtower, probably because the base of the mountain would make it difficult to escape.

"Quit lollygagging' 78. There's work to be done," Cyrus ordered and hit the prisoner between the shoulders with the butt of his gun.

Chris bit back a cry as he went to his knees and heard the three men chuckling behind him as he tried to get to his feet. He snarled between clenched teeth as a foot hit his lower back, but he refused to show any weakness as he finally stood and faced his tormentors.

"You really need to stop being so clumsy, 78," Cyrus warned and pointed to the work he wanted done. "Hop to it or no food for you."

"Don't do me any fucking favors," Larabee said and picked up the mallet. He knew the stone from this area was being used to help shore up the tunnels and wished there was some way he could use the tools to bring these three down.

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"You sure about this, Gage?" Paul Lawless asked softly as they continued to work in the tunnel.

"You want to be stuck here for the rest of your life, Paul?" Gage asked.

"No, but do you think Larabee is the right one to plan this escape?" Johnny asked.

"I don't see anyone else coming up with a plan. We need to do what we can to help him."

"How the hell do we get the dynamite without Elroy noticing?" Paul asked.

"Yellow, rock," Gage answered with a grin.

"What the hell does that mean?" Johnny asked, watching as Elroy seemed to relax against the stone wall.

"Elroy and his brother are greedy bastards…we make him think we found…"

"Gold," Paul said with a grin.

"Who goes for the dynamite?" Johnny asked.

"I'll do it," Paul answered.

"You sure?" Gage asked.

"I am, just make damn sure you keep him occupied long enough," Paul told his brothers as Elroy looked in their directions.

"What the hell are you bastards jawing about?" the guard snarled.

"Nothing," Gage answered and made a show of hiding the rock he'd picked up.

"What the hell are you hiding, 33?"

"Nothing…"

"Hand it over, 33!"

"Just a rock," Gage offered and dropped it to the ground as the guard moved closer.

"Somethin' tells me it ain't no rock…now hand it over," Elroy ordered and looked at the two younger brothers who seemed to cower in fear. "You two get away from him or I'll put a bullet in you."

"Go," Gage ordered.

"Pick up that rock and show me what you were lookin' at!

"I don't know what it is, but it looks like…like…"

"Like what?" Elroy asked, eyes widening at the thought of what it could be.

Gage saw Paul move toward the side tunnel and knew he needed to keep Elroy's attention on him while his brother retrieved the dynamite. He made a show of searching for the rock and felt the other man standing behind him.

"Was it gold?" Elroy asked greedily.

"I think so…"

"Hurry up and find the fucking thing!"

"You gonna tell the warden?" Gage asked and shoved several rocks away.

"Depends on what it is…you don't say a fuckin' thing and just maybe I'll find a way to get you and your brothers out of here. Now find that rock!"

"Got it," Gage said, relieved when he saw his brother had returned. There was no mistaking that what he held was often called ‘fool's gold' and silently prayed Elroy would be the ‘fool' he hoped he was. He handed the rock over and watched as the guard licked his lips and grinned.

"I'm gonna take this with me. You boys fund more of it then you make a neat little pile in the corner for me and Cyrus."

"What if the warden finds out?" Gage asked.

"He won't…you boys just make sure you throw some of the worthless rocks with the good ones," Elroy ordered and made a show of polishing the rock.

Gage looked at his younger brother and knew he had been able to get the dynamite and smiled at how easily Elroy Peterson had been duped because of his greed.

"Get back to work," the guard ordered and moved back so he could watch the trio and gloat over what could be the discovery of a lifetime. The Lawless brothers would never see the light of day if this was indeed gold.

"Where is it?" Gage asked softly.

"Let's just say I don't dress to the right," Paul said with a grin.

"Good, now we just need to let Larabee' know and hope they put him back in here with us."

"Wish they hadn't put him with 63 and 79," Johnny said of the two prisoners.

"Don't give up on Larabee…he strikes me as a tough sonofabitch," Gage answered with a hint of a smile.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Jake Taylor crossed the second park off the map and climbed into the passenger seat as Rafael got behind the steering wheel. The ranger had been cooperative but had not seen Larabee, so they'd thanked him and decided to check out the next town on the map.

"What's the next little burg?" Cordova asked.

"A place called Bradford Falls. It's about 30 miles west," Taylor answered as Rafael drove back through the gate and turned right on the gravel road. "I'm going to call and update Wilmington."

"Wish we had better news."

"Me too," Taylor said and took out his cell phone. He hit the button that corresponded with Wilmington's number and waited for his call to be answered.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Wilmington used his fork to push the food around on his plate. It wasn't that it didn't taste good, it was just that his appetite was almost nonexistent. He knew Vin and Josiah had the same dish as he did and heard the telltale signs of fork scraping plate as his cell phone rang. He grabbed it and put it on speaker when he saw who the caller was. "Please tell me you got something?"

"Wish I did, Buck, but nothing so far. We are headed for a place called Bradford Falls but figured you boys would like an update."

"Where's Bradford Falls?" Wilmington asked.

"It's about fifty miles west of Landen…small population, but that just might be the kind of place Chris was looking for."

"Sounds like it. He does like small towns…we used to check out the…hell, I'll tell you about it when you bring him home."

"I'll call you after we talk to the sheriff in town…"

"Hell…a sheriff? Chris has a lick of sense he'd stay away from small town law," Wilmington observed.

"Yeah, but some of them get a bad rep from shows like Smokey and the Bandit."

"Yeah, they do," Tanner agreed.

"Try not to worry…we'll find him."

"Thanks, Jake…you boys be careful," Sanchez told him as Wilmington turned off the phone. He looked at the two men and knew they were being eaten up by guilt. "They'll find him, and we'll all sit down at the ‘Saloon' and talk about the things we did. No point in harboring guilt because there's nothing we can do about it right now."

"If we'd just talked to him…"

"What good would it have done? Chris is as stubborn as the rest of us, and he was like a dog with a bone where Goodwin was concerned. He'll need us to back him up when he comes home and we'll make damn sure he doesn't go it alone," the ex-preacher assured them.

"Hopefully Ezra and JD can find something solid on Goodwin," Wilmington said.

"If there's a trail, they'll find it…if not then we dig deeper," Sanchez vowed and pushed the small table away as the door opened and Standish, Dunne, and Jackson came into the room. Josiah could see the lines of strain on their faces and watched as team medic moved to sit in the chair by the window.

"You boys look like you belong in the next room," Wilmington observed softly.

"When do you see Dr. Frost, Nathan?" Sanchez asked.

"Next week," Jackson answered, rubbing the injured leg.

"Ya sure ya can wait that long?" Tanner asked.

"I'm okay…" Jackson said, shaking his head when he heard laughter from the others. "You boys are rubbing off on me."

"I think Nettie said it best. We're all cut from the same cloth," Sanchez told them as Dunne opened his laptop and placed it on the table Standish cleared off. "Did you boys find anything?"

"We found some evidence of accounts opened in the Cayman Islands…specifically accounts that can be traced back to several corporations that could be connected to Goodwin," Standish told them.

"Could be is not enough, Ezra, this bastard is smart," Wilmington observed.

"I know, but that's not all we found," Dunne said and brought up the files they had discovered that morning. "Ezra found something that could tie Vargas to the same accounts. He can explain it better than I can."

"Thank you, JD," Standish said and brought up two of the accounts he had discovered by accident. "There are two accounts that have two different names tied to them. One name in particular popped out because it reminded me of a story Chris once told me while we were visiting my mother. Mother had left for one of her dinner liaisons and Chris and I were having a drink while we waited for her to return. Chris mentioned that the man she was going out with shared an alias with a man he worked with."

"What was his name?" Sanchez asked.

"Steven Wallace…"

"No way!" Wilmington said, wincing as he twisted his body too sharply.

"I see you are familiar with the name," Standish observed.

"I met him once when he was working with Chris. He was a DEA agent and was killed during a botched operation. They never found out who gave him up to the cartel, but it was around the time that Chris and Goodwin had the first falling out. It must have shocked the hell out of Chris when your mother introduced him to her date."

"It did, and that's why the name stood out to me. I spoke with mother this morning and she's still seeing the man, and he vowed he had nothing to do with accounts being opened in the Cayman Islands."

"So, we need to find out who opened the accounts for Wallace and bring him in for questioning," Sanchez told them.

"His name is Michael Lewiston and from what we found out he specializes in secret accounts like this. He lives in the Cayman Islands, but he flew in this morning and I'm pretty sure it's because he discovered we were searching the accounts," Standish said with a hint of a smile.

"You set him up," Tanner said simply.

"Indubitably," Standish answered with a slight grin. "Nathan called Orin and he's going to talk to Gary Browner and see if he can use his contacts to get as much information as he can on Lewiston."

"Good idea," Sanchez said as he shifted on the bed and tried to get comfortable. He looked around the room and realized they really were the walking wounded. Even Nathan was showing how much he was hurting. JD looked like he was getting another headache and Ezra was rubbing his injured arm.

"They'll find him," Ezra said. God, he could not keep his emotions in check where these men were concerned, and truth be told, he didn't want to. He needed them to know he cared what happened to them…they were his family.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Gary Browner is here to see you, Mr. Travis."

"Send him in, Peggy," Travis said and turned away from the window. He moved to his desk and glanced at the name he had written on the notepad as Browner came into the room.

"Hello, Orin, how is Evie?" Browner asked and took the seat across from the former judge.

"She's fine…worried about Chris. How are Peter and Elizabeth?"

"Still shaky at times, but Shirley is with them and makes sure they talk about what happened. She's really gotten them to open up, but they keep asking for Chris. Has there been any word?"

"Nothing from Chris, but Ezra and JD came up with a name that could give us some new information on Charles Goodwin and Rodrigo Vargas?"

"How can I help?"

"Do you still have contacts that could check into accounts taken out in the Cayman Islands or overseas?"

"I do," Browner answered.

"Can you ask them to check out Goodwin and Vargas and a man named Michael Lewiston?"

"I know the first two, but who is Lewiston?"

"He worked as an accountant at a major firm in New York, but that was several years ago. He has been living in the Cayman Islands for the last four years. I know he left the firm under a gag order, but he took several clients with him."

"I'll get in touch with my contacts tonight, but it could be a couple of days before we hear anything concrete."

"Any help is appreciated."

"Do you believe Chris?"

"I do, I just don't think he was thinking clearly in how he went after Goodwin. Chris has a history with him and at one time they were friends. Something happened to change that and someday I'm hoping he'll tell me the whole story."

"I'm sure he will," Browner said and saw the worry on the older man's face. "He'll come back, Orin, and when he does, he'll tell his story."

"Thanks, Gary, when all this is over, we should have a big BBQ…"

"Actually, Chris still owes us one and I'm going to hold him to it," Browner said and shook the older man's hand before leaving the office.

Travis stood up and went back to the window and felt as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. He knew he could have backed Chris Larabee, but going after Goodwin had become an obsession, one that had nearly cost the rest of the team their lives.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Rafael kept his eyes on the road as they drove toward the town of Bradford Falls. His stomach rumbled and he realized they hadn't stopped for lunch, and it was closing in on 5 o'clock.

"There's a diner up ahead and I think your stomach is telling us we should stop," Taylor observed.

"Sounds like a plan to me," Cordova said, noting that there was only one car parked in the lot. "Looks like the typical greasy spoon."

"Sometimes greasy spoons are the best place to eat," Taylor said as the car stopped in one of the empty spots. He opened his door and stepped outside, smiling when he spotted the dog tied at the side of the diner. "They even got the mangy dog."

"He looks well fed."

"Not sure if that's good or bad."

"What do you mean?"

"If the food is bad then that could explain why he's well fed."

"Or else the owner likes him well enough to give him good food," Cordova said.

"Hope it's the latter," Taylor said as he opened the door and stepped inside. The smell was not as overpowering as he thought it would be, and he spotted several pies on the counter. He took a seat as Rafael moved to take the stool next to him. "I think we got a winner?"

"Apple pie," Cordova said and moved to sit at the counter.

"Coffee?" Greely asked and came out of the kitchen.

"Make it two," Taylor said and looked up at the board that was filled with neatly written specials. "You the cook?"

"Today I'm chief cook and bottle washer," Greely answered and placed a cup of coffee in front of the two men.

"What do you recommend?" Cordova asked.

"The roast beef dinner…mashed potatoes are fresh, and the gravy is thick."

"Two number threes," Taylor said.

"Where ‘bouts are you boys from?" Greely asked once he was in the kitchen again.

"Billings," Cordova answered.

"What are you doing in Bradford Falls?"

"Looking for a friend of ours," Taylor answered. "He might have come through here…maybe you saw him."

"We don't get many people through here…don't say a word!" Greely warned as the familiar police car pulled up outside. "Don't tell the sheriff why you're here. Eat and come to the back when I close up at nine."

"Ok," Cordova said as the door opened, and two men entered.

"Hey, Hal, that pretty sister of yours back yet?" Jeff Bradford asked and noticed the two strangers at the counter.

"She decided to stay overnight," Greely answered and moved to pour two cups of coffee.

"She should leave the kids with your aunt and come stay with me," Bradford said. "Where are you two from?"

"Bozeman…we decided to take a few backroads and check out small town life," Taylor answered.

"Bozeman strikes me as a small town," Danny Turner observed.

"It is, but we wanted to go even smaller," Cordova told him.

"You two together…a couple?" Bradford asked in disgust.

"No, just friends on a journey of discovery. Anything of interest in Bradford Falls?"

"You'd best just bypass Bradford Falls if you're smart," the sheriff snapped.

"Think we might just take you up on that advice," Cordova said as Greely brought them their meals.

"Good…eat up and keep on driving," Turner said.

Rafael held his anger in check as he turned his attention to the meal on the counter. He knew Taylor was watching the two lawmen with a mixture of anger and disdain as they ordered their meals. He picked up his fork and listened as the men talked about how much they hated outsiders interfering with their town.

Jake watched as the cook moved back into the kitchen area and knew they would have to wait until the diner closed for the answers they wanted. Something told him they would soon have answers as to what happened to Chris Larabee. He lifted his fork to his mouth and was only slightly surprised at how good the food tasted.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

The sun had already gone down when Cyrus finally called an end to his day. The men he knew as 63 and 79 had been told to leave hours ago, but it seemed The Warden wanted the pleasure of breaking his back.

Peterson smiled as he watched Larabee drop the shovel and stretch the kinks from his back. The man was stubborn and if he wasn't a law-dog they might have been friends. "All right, 78, let's get out of here. I got a nice bed and a hot meal waiting for me…not sure what's waiting for you."

Larabee looked up to the top of the quarry and knew he needed to draw on whatever energy he had left to get to the top. There was no way in hell he would let Cyrus Peterson see any sign of weakness and he pushed past the man as he headed for the top. He hoped and prayed the Lawless brothers had been able to get the dynamite because he wasn't sure how much longer he could hold his anger in check. If he lashed out now, he was pretty sure he would never see the light of day.

"I think The Warden wants to see you, 78," Peterson said once they reached the main area of the compound. He'd seen the man polishing a bike in front of his home and had seen him signal them forward.

Chris could see Stan Bradford smiling in the light shining from the tower near his house and cursed when he saw JD's bike. He silently vowed that he would get it back to the youngest member of his team no matter what it took.

"You look like hell, 78…are my men working you too hard?" Bradford asked as he reached for a bottle of expensive whiskey and poured it into a glass. He sipped a small amount and made a show of polishing the bikes seat before turning to Cyrus Peterson. "Did he get his work done?"

"Barely," Peterson lied.

"Take him to see Simmons and then put him to bed. He needs to work in the mine tomorrow until my guests arrive. After that I have no idea what will happen to 78."

"You heard The Warden, 78…let's go!"

Chris took a deep breath and slowly made his way toward the building where Simmons treated the prisoners. He fought to stay on his feet as the door opened and the doctor stood shaking his head. He didn't say a word as Cyrus locked the manacle around his right wrist before telling the doctor that he'd be back as soon as he ate his dinner.

"All right, Larabee, lets see how bad it is," Simmons said once the hated guard left them alone.

"It's not too bad, Doc, just tired," the weary man answered and gratefully took the mug of warm soup from the older man. "Thanks."

"You're welcome, how bad is the back?" Simmons asked but cursed when he saw the threadbare material was stuck to the marks caused by the whip. "Sonofabitch! This is going to hurt!"

"Tell me about it," Larabee muttered tiredly and winced when the older man used water to try to ease the rocks and material from the raw wounds. He fought to keep his hands from trembling as he drank the soup but felt some of it spill onto his hand.

"Did they feed you at all today?" Simmons asked angrily.

"Had something that passed for a burger…not sure what meat they used," Larabee answered and finished the soup as the doctor removed the remnants of the shirt.

"I got some bread and coffee," Simmons told him and took the empty cup before replacing it with a slice of bread that had strawberry jam on it. "Eat that while I clean this up."

Chris slowly ate the bread, wincing when Simmons poured water over his back and gently removed as much rubble as he could before slathering some kind of ointment over it.

"That bastard has a heavy hand," Simmons said as he probed the bruised area on the prisoner's lower back. "You tell me if you start seeing blood in your urine."

"Sure," Larabee said as the man finished with his back and checked the wounds on his arm and side.

"You can't take much more of this shit, Larabee."

"I'll live."

"You sure?"

"I have no choice if I want to take these bastards down and get JD's bike back to him," the blond said and accepted the cup of coffee from the physician. He took several sips as Simmons helped him into a clean shirt and closed his eyes as he thought about his team.

"All right, 78, time for bed," Peterson said from the doorway. "I'm afraid you'll only have a couple of hours before you're back to the mine."

"Let him sleep here," Simmons said and knew it wasn't happening when the guard let out a snort.

"The warden said to put him in with the others and that's exactly what I'm going to do," Peterson said and shoved the doctor out of his way.

Chris stood up and tried to grab the guard, but Simmons stopped him from going toe to toe with the hated man. He fought to keep his cool as his wrist was released and knew this wasn't the time or place as Peterson pointed his weapon at the older man. He stepped to the open door and walked outside as a cool breeze blew across the compound.

‘Stay strong, Cowboy…help is comin'.' Chris smiled as he felt the gossamer strands ripple as if Vin Tanner was standing next to him. Somehow, he knew that his team was fine, and that he would get the chance to tell them how sorry he was for being so blinded by his hatred of Charles Goodwin.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Rafael drove the car toward the diner and stopped just out of sight of anyone still there. They'd decided not to chance being seen by anyone, but the diner's cook in an effort to get the information they wanted. It was just after nine and the sky was already filled with bright stars as they exited the vehicle and walked slowly toward the diner.

"We need to be careful. I think the cook knows something, but he could be setting us up," Taylor observed.

"Something tells me we can trust him," Cordova said, relieved to see the diner's parking lot was empty and only one light was on over the door. Even the dog seemed to have disappeared.

"Hope he's still here," Taylor said and moved to the back of the diner. He knocked softly and was slightly surprised when the door opened, and the cook motioned them inside.

"Tell me there's more than just you two," Greely asked hopefully.

"Just the two of us for now. What can you tell us about Chris Larabee?" Rafael asked.

"The sheriff and his deputy arrested him…he's in trouble out there and it's going to take a lot more than you two to do something about it," Greely told them.

"What is going on here?" Taylor asked.

"Stan Bradford and his brother Jeff own this town and they won't bat an eye at killing the two of you to keep their secret."

"So, Chris is in town?" Cordova asked hopefully.

"No, he's being kept at a militia compound, but you go there alone, and I don't think you'll see the light of day. You need to get the army involved and have them clean up that hornet's nest before they get any more arms shipments."

"How many men are at the compound?" Taylor asked.

"No idea, but there must be a lot. Sherriff Bradford keeps an eye out for men he thinks are loners and picks them up on some trumped-up charge. They are sentenced to hard time at the compound, and I don't think any of them ever finish their sentence. They just disappear and that will happen to your friend if you go out there all piss and vinegar…"

"Heard those words before," Cordova said and smiled as he heard Tanner's voice in his head. "How do we get to the compound?"

"If I tell you, it'll get your friend and others killed."

"We'll find it anyway," Taylor vowed.

"I expect you will but do me a favor and think about what I'm telling you. The Bradford's are not good people and I'd hate to see you killed because you wanted to help someone. Do you know anything about militia groups?"

"I do," Taylor said and sighed tiredly as he looked at Cordova. "We might be better off getting help. I can call Travis and tell him what's happening. He could call in some favors and get the army out here."

"What if that help comes too late?" Cordova asked.

"Better late than never, but I swear you'll just get yourself and everyone else killed if you do it your way," Greely told them and turned out the light when he heard a car approaching. He looked outside but didn't recognize the fancy limousine parked near the front door. "Where did you park?"

"Down the road a ways…can't be seen from the road," Cordova answered.

"Good," Greely said as the car turned around and drove away from the diner. "Look, you don't know me, but I've lived in Bradford Falls long before it became Bradford Falls and I'd like to see it go back to a town I can be proud to call home. The only way that's going to happen is if r=that compound and the man who runs it is taken down."

"I'll call Travis," Taylor said.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Rodrigo Vargas looked at the man seated next to him and could tell he was a bundle of nerves. It hadn't surprised him when Goodwin called and asked that they go to Bradford's compound early and he'd readily agreed to the trip. If anything could put his ‘partner' at ease, it was seeing Larabee as Inmate 78.

"Larabee is mine," Goodwin said softly and sipped the brandy from the glass he held.

"He is, but what are your plans for him? Have you reconsidered taking him to your bed?"

"No, but I am thinking that bordello would be a great place for him."

"It will…and if you change your mind, he would be easily available," Vargas said as they drove toward the compound. He was sorry the diner was closed but figured they could get something to eat at Bradford's compound.

"I may watch, but I'm not into other men."

"Not even when rapping him is the most degrading way to treat him. Just imagine him beneath you…unable to move…gagged so that his screams can't be heard. Imagine the power flowing through your veins at having him helpless beneath you," Vargas said, licking his lips at the idea of taking Larabee for himself.

"There is only one thing I really want and that's to see his face when I tell him his men are dead," Goodwin vowed.

"Do you think he'll believe you?"

"It doesn't matter because Chris Larabee is a man who holds onto guilt, and he already blames himself for what happened to them. Telling him I finished them off and there's not a damn thing he can do about it will give me power over him. Power that will be the last nail in his coffin," Goodwin said.

"You really don't like the man?"

"We were friends at one point, but he chose one way, and I chose the other. If I hadn't caught me in a mistake, we might still be friends."

"We are here," Vargas said as they pulled up to a gate and the driver rolled down the window.

"What do you want?"

"Rodrigo Vargas and Charles Goodwin to see Stan Bradford. He's expecting us," Vargas said and saw the man nod.

"Big white house on the right," the guard told them.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Stan Bradford watched as the long black limo drove toward his home and smiled when it came to a stop. The driver exited the vehicle and opened the door for his guests before returning to his seat behind the wheel.

"It's been a long time, Rodrigo," Bradford said and shook the man's hand. He hid his distaste at having to deal with the likes of Vargas, but for now it came down to supply and demand. He needed what Vargas could supply so for now he would put up with the man's presence.

"That it has, Stan…this is Charles Goodwin. He is the man I told you about," Vargas said. 

"Where is Larabee," Goodwin asked after shaking the bigger man's hand.

"You mean Inmate 78?"

"Yes," Godwin answered with a slight smile.

"I wasn't expecting you tonight so he worked quite late in the quarry, but I can have him brought here if you like?"

"In chains and collar," Goodwin told him.

"As you wish," Bradford said and turned to the man standing near the Limo. "Mr. Phillips, bring Inmate 78 and make sure he is wearing wrist and leg irons and that the collar around his neck is in place."

"Are you sure..."

"Are you questioning my orders, Mr. Phillips?" Bradford snarled.

"No, Sir," Phillips said and knew it was time for him to go for help. There was no way he could stand by and watch these men kill Larabee. He turned away and headed for the hut that held the prisoner.

"Is he trustworthy?" Vargas asked.

"He's been with me several months, but I think it's time he disappeared. I'll have Cyrus take care of him tomorrow," Bradford said and turned toward his home. Where are my manners…would you like something to drink and I'm sure Tremaine could cook up some steaks if you are hungry?"

"Do you have any of that Tennessee Whiskey left?" Vargas asked.

"I do," Bradford assured him and watched Phillips disappear into the prisoner's quarters. There had always been something he didn't like about the man he didn't like, and it was time to get rid of him.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Come on, 78, the warden wants to see you," Phillips said and shook the man until he opened his eyes.

"What's wrong?" Larabee asked, fighting to open his eyes.

"I'm sorry, but the warden wants to see you and he wants you…"

"The Warden sent me to make sure he's trussed up to meet his guests," Cyrus Peterson said with a grin.

"I can handle this!"

"Tell it to the boss. Right now, we need to get him on his feet and put these on him."

Chris glared at the newcomer but understood there was nothing he could do about the situation as Phillips attached the leg and wrist irons and checked the collar he wore. He felt the man shudder and knew this particular guard was not like the rest of Bradford's minions.

"Come on 78, no sense keeping the Warden and his guests waiting," Peterson said and pushed the man out the door. "You know the way 78."

Chris took a deep breath and slowly shuffled his way toward the house near the entrance. He was herded inside and recognized one of the voices speaking to the warden before he was shoved into the main room.

"Hello, Chris," Goodwin said, a hint of a smile on his face as he stepped toward his one-time friend. "I must say iron suits you."

"You'll be wearing them soon enough, Charlie," Larabee stated and saw the anger flare in Goodwin's eyes.

"I don't think so, Chris. You see with your team out of the way I can do whatever I want with you. Did Stan not tell you your men are dead…Rodrigo took care of that for me so when I return to Billings, I won't have anyone trying to tear down what I worked so hard to build."

"My team won't let you get away with this!"

"I told you your team is dead. All of them, Larabee, and it's all your fault. You should have let this go, but instead you got your men and several other innocents killed…"

Chris knew in his heart that Goodwin was lying and tried to drown out the hated man's words. He closed his eyes and pictured his friends, his team, and prayed they were okay, and cried out when something struck his lower back.

"They are all dead because of you and your jealousy of me, Chris…or should I say 78," Goodwin snarled and circled the prisoner until he was nose to nose with him.

"You bastard!" Larabee said and snapped his head forward. He knew he'd connected solidly when blood spurted form Goodwin's nose and the man staggered back several feet.

"Mr. Phillips, it seems 78 has more energy than I thought. Take him to the mine and put 33, 34, and 35 in there with him…"

"No, Sir," Phillips said.

"What did you say?"

"I said no…you put 78 in there and he will die!" Phillips snapped.

"You're fired, Mr. Phillips! Get your shit and get out of here before I put you to work in the mine with 78!" Bradford watched the man leave and knew he would not get far. He would call his brother and have him pick Phillips up, but for now he wanted Larabee put in his place.

"You bastard! You broke my nose!" Goodwin snarled as blood continued to flow freely.

"Cyrus, take 78 to the mine and have Simmons brought here," Bradford ordered, and hid his admiration of the prisoner. There was one thing that could be said for Larabee...the man was not a quitter.

"Come on, 78," Peterson said and shoved Larabee out the door. "That was a stupid thing to do."

Chris knew he'd pay for what he'd done, but it didn't matter. He'd done what he wanted and shut the bastard up. He heard Cyrus telling another guard to bring 33, 34, and 35 to the mine and hoped they had found the dynamite because if he was going to act it would have to be tonight.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Orin reached for the phone when it ran and looked at the number. He recognized it and answered immediately. "Jake, where are you?"

"We are at a diner outside Bradford Falls, and it looks like Chris is here, but we're going to need help to get him out."

"Can you go to the police?"

"No, if Hal is right then the police are involved."

"Involved in what?" Travis asked and listened as Taylor told him everything Greely had told him. "Do you believe him?"

"Yes, he's been straight up with us so far and didn't give up when the sheriff and his deputy were here. Do you think you can get the army involved?"

"I'll call a friend of mine and get things rolling. God only knows how many times Chris and his team have helped with black ops. I'll call you as soon as I have an answer," Travis said.

"Should I call Buck?"

"No, if they find out what's happening, they'll go AWOL," the former judge said and hung up.

"They found him?" Evie asked.

"Yes," Travis answered and reached for the phone book he kept important numbers in.

"Is he okay?"

"They haven't seen him yet, but if he's where they think he is then he's in trouble. I need to make a few calls," Travis told her and skimmed through the pages until he found the number he wanted.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris swallowed hard as the lights in the mine came on and he knew hell was well and truly here one earth. He heard voices and turned to see the Lawless Brothers being ushered into the mine. It wasn't long before Peterson removed his shackles a put him to work with the others.

"Did you get the dynamite?" Larabee asked softly but continued to work as Cyrus Peterson seemed to doze near the entrance to the supply chamber.

"I have it…got matches too," Paul answered.

"I'm going to do this tonight," Larabee said and took the stick of dynamite and the matches.

"When?" Gage asked.

"Do you think you could take Peterson out?" Larabee asked.

"We can do it," Paul answered and grinned as his brothers nodded approval. "We should do it now before anyone comes to relieve him."

"What's the plan after he's out of it," Gage asked.

"I'm going to blow the supplies and head around back. There's only one tower and one guard. Once this place blows all eyes will be on the mine."

"What do you want us to do?" Gage asked.

"Stay as close to the entrance as you can and race out of the mine as soon as it blows. Tell them Cyrus shot me and caused the collapse of the mine. Tell them you saw the rocks and dirt fall on us," Larabee answered.

"You sure you can get out of here?" Paul asked.

"Don't have a choice," Larabee said and nodded toward Peterson. "Let's do this."

"Good luck, Larabee," Gage said and picked up a rock as he moved slowly toward the sleeping guard.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"I want that bastard dead!" Goodwin said and held the ice pack to his nose.

"That bastard is my prisoner, and I will decide his fate," Bradford said softly. Something about Charles Goodwin grated on hi nerves and given the choice he would rather not work with him.

"Charles and Larabee have a history, Stan, and it might be best if he was out of the picture. I thought we could transport him to a bordello in Mexico, but I believe Charles would prefer he was not going to come back to bite him on the ass. If it is okay with you, I would like to have Larabee share my bed tonight," Vargas explained with a hint of a smile.

"You swing both ways?" Bradford asked.

"I do and don't knock it until you try it," Vargas said.

"I'll stick with women," Bradford said.

"Doesn't answer my question…can I have him tonight?"

"Maybe," Bradford said as Tremaine told them Dinner was served. "You've never had steak until you've had Tremaine's steak."

"Where did you find him?" Vargas asked as he followed the other man into the dining room.

"Jeff picked him up near Landon and I feel sorry for the restaurant he worked for because it's their loss," Bradford told them and took the seat at the head of the table. "We need to talk about the supplies I ordered, but first let's enjoy this meal."

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Chris held his breath as Gage Lawless crept closer to the sleeping guard. Several times Peterson seemed on the verge of waking, but he simply adjusted the weapon in his arms and snored loudly. He heard the sound as the elder Lawless brother struck the man with the rock and smiled as the man cried out and slid to the ground.

"Let's get this done," Paul told him and hurried over to his brother. They lifted Cyrus and carried him into the supply chamber before turning to Larabee.

"Make sure you leave yourself enough time to get out of here," Gage told him and shook his hand. "Go with God, My Friend."

"You too," Larabee said and gave the trio time to reach the front entrance. He looked at the stick of dynamite and hoped the wick was long enough to give him time to escape. He heard Cyrus moan and knew it was time to set this in motion.

Chris lit a match and touched t to the wick sticking out of the dynamite before placing it on a pile of explosives near the front of the chamber. He turned toward the exit and hurried into the tunnel before racing toward the front entrance. He passed the Lawless brothers just as the explosion sounded behind him. There was no turning back now and he raced along the mountain toward the back of the compound, silently praying the guard would not glance in his direction.

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Stan Bradford slapped his stomach as Tremaine removed his empty plate. "Bring another bottle of bran…"

"What was that?" Vargas asked.

"Thunder?" Goodwin stated.

"I don't think so! Stay here!" Bradford ordered and raced toward the front door. He exited the house and hurried toward the entrance to the mine as several guards joined him. He reached the mine as three prisoners came outside. They were covered in dirt and coughing as they sank to the ground and Bradford looked around in disgust.

"What the hell happened?" Vargas asked.

"Peterson shot 78 and hit the dyn…dynamite," Gage explained.

"Where are they?" Bradford asked.

"Back there. The mine collapsed with them inside. I saw them go down but…"

"You left my brother in there you fucking bastard!" Elroy Peterson snapped and pointed his gun at Gage Lawless.

"Don't!" Bradford said and deflected the gun. "How far back was the explosion?"

"At the supply chamber. Peterson was angry at 78 and said he was going to make an example of him. He told us to keep working and we were, but everything went to hell, and we knew we had to get out of there!"

"Elroy, go get the prisoners and bring them here. We need to get in there and check on the supplies," Bradford said.

"My brother…"

"Needs you to do as I say so we can dig him out," Bradford said. "Hurry up…he needs your help now!"

"What can we do?" Vargas asked as Goodwin joined them.

"Stay out of the way until we get the prisoners in there. You three get more shovels and get back in there!" Bradford ordered of the Lawless brothers and watched as the trio slowly climbed to their feet and carried out his orders.

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Larabee couldn't believe his luck as he hid in the tall grass near the fence and watched as the guard hurried down the ladder and raced toward the mine. Chris moved quickly and was halfway up the ladder when he heard shouting near the mine. He knew he had no choice and took a deep breath before jumping toward the fence.

He hit the ground hard but did not let it stop him as he hurried across the short distance to the heavily wooded area at the base of the mountain. He pushed through the underbrush, ignoring the sounds around him in his bid to put as much distance between himself and the compound as he could.

His eyes adjusted to the darkness, and he knew it was his best defense for now. The moon would soon make an appearance and could be dangerous if the Lawless brothers were unable to convince their captors that he was trapped in the mine.

Larabee continued his pace and hoped the sounds he made did not give away his location. He had to get as far away from Bradford's compound as he could, but he wasn't sure what direction he should go. He kept the mountain behind him and circumvented the fencing until he reached the gravel road. He stayed hidden in the brush and hoped he could find someplace to make a call to Orin Travis. He needed help, and the sooner he got it the better.

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Jake Taylor had never been a patient man when it came to helping the people he cared about. Chris and the members of his team had helped him clear his name when an old enemy had tried to take him down. He had met Larabee when the blond had been kidnapped and used as a price for a broken promise Vin Tanner had made. They had nearly lost both men to a madman's sick need for ‘revenge, but Larabee and Tanner had overcome the obstacles and planted a small, twisted sapling between their properties. That sapling had grown into a tree that symbolized their strength. He pulled out his phone and took a deep breath as he looked at Cordova.

"It's Travis. Judge, tell me you got some good news?"

"I do, but they won't be able to get to you until morning. Where do you want them to meet you?"

"We are at a diner called Greely's. It's about…"

"Half a mile north of town," Greely answered the unspoken question.

"Half a mile north of Bradford Falls. Tell them to bypass the town if possible. The Sheriff and Deputy are involved and most of the townspeople are afraid to do anything about the Bradfords."

"I've been checking into the Bradfords. They don't like anyone in power, and they have stated they'd kill anyone who tried to go against them. Don't try to take them on by yourself."

"We won't. Are you going to let Chris' team know what's happening?"

"I don't think it's a good idea…I'll take the flak from them when this is over, and Chris is back where he belongs."

"We'll back you up, Judge," Taylor said and put his phone away. He quickly explained what was happening and knew it was going to be a long night as Greely passed him a cup of strong black coffee.

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"What's taking them so damn long?" Goodwin asked as he paced in front of the entrance.

"They need to shore up the ceiling or the whole place could collapse." Bradford told him and looked at Vargas. "Perhaps you should take Charles home so he can have his face checked. It looks like Larabee may have broken his nose."

"I don't need…"

"Charles, Stan is right. There's nothing more we can do here, and you need to come up with an explanation about your nose. Perhaps you could tell them you were in an accident, and it was caused by the air bags," Vargas observed.

"Will you let us know when you find Larabee?" Goodwin asked.

"I will," Bradford agreed.

"I hope the bastard is dead!" Goodwin said and touched the bridge of his nose in an effort to ease the pain.

"Stan, the next shipment is on schedule so I will call you when I've checked the inventory. I trust you will send the funds as I explained."

"Of course…I look forward to doing more business with you in the future," Bradford said and watched the two men leave. Rodrigo Vargas was someone he could deal with, but Charles Goodwin was nothing more than a sniveling politician. Someone he really didn't care for and didn't want dealings with. When the time came, he would need to be taken care of whether Vargas agreed or not.

Bradford walked toward the entrance and silently vowed that if Larabee was alive then the sonofabitch would pay for destroying his property. Cyrus Peterson would also be dealt with, and his brother would be too if he went against him. This was his property and his dream, and no one would drag him down.

"There's just so much damage," he heard someone say.

"The damages can be fixed, but we need to know just how far back it goes."

"I don't care about the damage! My brother is back there!" Elroy Peterson said and found himself nose to nose with his boss.

"Your brother is the one that caused this. 33 said he shot Larabee and that's when the cave in happened. He will be wearing a uniform and number if I find out he's at fault! Do you want to join him in there?"

"N…no, Sir," Elroy stammered.

"Then make damn sure everyone is working in there!"

"Yes, Sir," the guard said and moved back inside.

Bradford turned to see Simmons walking toward him with his medical kit in his right hand. He knew the man had taken a liking to Inmate 78, but that would stop once they had the mine reopened. 78 would no longer get off easy and would work 16 hours a day if that's what it took to put things right.

"Was anyone hurt?" Simmons asked.

"I don't know yet. What took you so long?"

"I had to make sure I had the supplies I'd need. Mr. Phillips told me 78 was in there."

"Phillips doesn't work here anymore!" Bradford warned and turned back as more debris billowed out of the mine. "What the hell are they doing in there, Elroy?"

"Just moving stuff out of the way," Peterson told him and was glad he'd hidden the gold under his mattress. If it came down to it, he would escape this place and live the life of luxury with or without his brother.

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Chris continued moving through the woods, unwilling to take a break in his bid for freedom. He needed to get clear of Bradford Falls and call for help. He stopped and leaned heavily against the thick trunk of a tree and felt blood soaking through his shirt. There was nothing he could do about it now, so he pushed away from the tree and followed the path of the road. So far, no cars had passed him, and he prayed that meant Gage and his brothers had convinced Bradford that he'd been caught in the explosion.

He knew he needed to keep moving but ducked behind thick brush when he saw headlights flickering. He watched as the car passed him by and recognized the dark limo that had been parked at the compound. He had an idea who was inside and vowed he would make the two men pay when he got home.

Larabee took several deep breaths in an effort to clear his blurry vision and knew he had to keep moving. It was getting too hard to push his way through the heavy brush, but the only other option was the road. He debated about throwing caution to the wind, but too many lives depended on him. He had to keep to the tree line.

Chris blinked several times and touched his finger to his head when he felt something wet dripping down his face. He had no idea how it happened, but he'd managed to cut his forehead during his headlong rush away from the compound.

"That explains the dizziness," he whispered and could hear the Simmons brothers berating him for not being more careful. "Great, now there's two of them."

‘Keep movin', Cowboy.'

"Moving as fast as I can," Larabee answered the voice that often goaded him on when he needed to find the extra strength he needed. Blinking his eyes several times he rushed forward, unaware of the danger nature had placed before him.

Chris pushed through the low hanging tree branches and stepped forward. Where he expected solid ground, he found a steep slope. He tried to keep his footing but could only tuck and roll as his upper body struck the ground hard. He cried out as tree roots and saplings tore at his injured body; darkness reached for him as he hit the gravel road.

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Janet Tucker sighed tiredly as she drove along the dark gravel road that led to her small home. She had planned to spend the night at her aunt's house, but guilt gnawed at her gut. She needed to talk to her brother and set things in motion if she was going to get help for the ‘prisoners' at the compound.

Her children were her life and she wanted them to be proud of their mother. How could that possibly happen if she couldn't look at her own reflection without feeling disgusted. She needed to be able to tell them she had helped the innocent people Jeff Bradford arrested.

Janet knew she was close to the fork in the road that led to the militia compound, but there was no other way to get to her home. She glanced toward the mountain and shuddered at the thought of such ugliness happening in the midst of nature's supreme beauty.

Janet kept her eyes on the road as she entered the area that sometimes was the location of rockslides. She slammed on her brakes when something hit the ground in front of her headlights. She breathed a sigh of relief, but it was short lived when she realized the figure wasn't moving.

She had no idea who this person was and wasn't sure if she should call for help. The problem was the law in Bradford Falls needed someone policing them. She turned off the car and watched the unmoving figure for several minutes before acting on her instincts.

"Please don't be dead," she whispered and exited the vehicle before making her way to the figure. She knelt beside him and eased him over so that she could see his face in her headlights. Blood covered his face, but Janet knew it was the man Jeff had arrested and sent to his brother's compound.

Janet touched her fingers to his neck and felt the pulse there. "Well, at least you're alive."

"Not…so sure ‘bout th…that," Larabee managed and opened his eyes. He waited for the two images to become one and recognized the woman from Greely's.

"Think you can move?"

"Think so…not going back to the compound," Larabee ground out.

"No, I'm going to take you to my place and call Hal. It's time we did something to get our town back," Janet assured him. "Let me help you."

"Thanks," Larabee said, grunting when she helped him to his feet. He had no idea what damage the fall had done, but he knew he was sporting more damage than when he'd escaped the compound. He leaned heavily on her as she guided him to her car and waited for her to open the back door.

"You need to lie down, and I'll cover you with a blanket," Janet told him, relieved that she'd left the kids car seats with her aunt.

"Okay," Larabee said and fought the mounting nausea as pressure was placed on his ribs. He breathed through tightly clenched teeth until the pain eased and nodded when she covered him with the blanket.

"Stay down, especially if there are other cars," Janet told him and got behind the steering wheel. It would take 15 minutes to reach her home and from there she would call Hal and convince her brother it was time to act.

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Jeff Bradford drove past Greely's diner and cursed the fact that it was closed. Stan had called to tell him about the explosion and asked him to come out and help coordinate the efforts to clear the damage. He'd been in bed with one of the prostitutes who frequented the jail, but his mind had been on Janet Tucker. It was time he made Greely see that she needed to marry him. The kids could go live with their aunt permanently if they caused problems.

He passed a car going in the other direction and knew who it was. He wanted to turn around and follow her, but his brother would be angry with him.

"Damn, Stan, you better appreciate what I do for you," he said and watched the backlights disappear around the bend.

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Vin Tanner sat in the chair by the window and stared out over the parking lot. There were only a few cars parked there at this hour but by seven the lot would be full. People carried on with their lives, unaware of the dangers around them.

"You know Simmons will tear you a new one if he catches you," Wilmington said. He'd been awake since before the Texan moved to sit by the window and knew the younger man was thinking of the missing member of the team.

"What Simmons don't know won't hurt him…or me," Tanner observed.

"What's got you thinking so hard?"

"Just thinking about people living their lives without a care in the world and wondering what that would be like."

"Boring…sometimes I wish I could do that."

"I think we all do." Wilmington said and eased his aching body off the bed. He knew Vin wouldn't be the only one in hell if Simmons walked in, but right now he needed to talk. "Is that magic shit working?"

"He's alive, Buck," Tanner answered. In the years since the team became seven, the connection he had with Larabee was well established. The team had their own names for it, but they all believed in it without question.

"Thank God," the ladies' man whispered.

"Already did, for all of us," Sanchez told them. He was awakened when Wilmington climbed out of his bed but did not have enough energy to join the two men. He raised the head of his bed and winced as his mind and body reminded him, he was far from well.

"Gonna have some apologizin' ta do," Tanner told them.

"You're not the only one, Vin. I think it goes both ways and I'm thinking when all is said and done, we go to the Saloon. We grab a bottle of Inez' finest and apologize over a drink or two on friendly terms.

"You buying, Buck?" Sanchez asked.

"I am," Wilmington answered and glanced at the clock over the door. It was closing in on two in the morning, yet he knew he would not be able to sleep without some help.

"Why don't you call the nurse and have her give you both something to help with the pain. You need to sleep, or you won't be any help when the others get here in the morning," Sanchez said and pressed the button before they could argue with him.

"Coulda given us time ta get in bed," Tanner griped when the nurse said she would be right in with their meds.

"I could have, but that would give you time to come up with a reason you don't need it," Sanchez said as the two younger men made their way to their beds. The door opened and the nurse came into the room. They recognized her from earlier and smiled as she checked Sanchez first.

"Now, you two better not let me catch you sitting by the window when you're supposed to be sleeping or I will make a note for Dr. Midland and Dr. Simmons," Sharon Jones told them.

"How did you…"

"I was outside for a breath of air and saw you," she answered before Buck could finish his question.

"Damn," Wilmington said as she delivered the meds to their IVs.

"I'll be back to check on you in half an hour, and you'd better be in dreamland," Sharon said and left the room.

"Think she'd tell the docs?" Wilmington asked.

"I know she will. She told them the last time JD was stuck in here," Tanner said and turned slightly on his right side. He knew it wouldn't take long for the medication to work and closed his eyes as he sought out the resonance that told him Larabee was alive. A hint of a smile formed as he felt the telltale strands that he could not explain.

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"Where is Lewiston staying?" Standish asked as he watched JD work his magic. He knew it took both of them, but Dunne was the one who seemed to have the edge in this area.

"He's at an Airbnb over on 19th," Dunne answered.

"That doesn't seem like something he would enjoy," Standish observed.

"Most of the hotels are filled up because of the convention," Dunne said tiredly. He knew if Nettie and Casey knew the real reason, he wanted to come home they'd knock him into this middle of next week.

"I had forgotten about the convention. It is good for the city," Standish observed. "It is time for a coffee. Would you like one?"

"No," Dunne told him and rubbed at his aching head.

"Why don't I get you some juice and a couple of Tylenol and you retire for the night?"

"Only if you follow your own orders," the younger man said.

"I suppose you're right."

"No suppose…you haven't used any five-dollar words in over an hour."

"You've been spending too much time with Vin," Standish said and watched as Dunne shut down his computer. He glanced at the clock and wondered where the time had gone. "All right, JD, let's get some sleep and come at it with fresh eyes."

"I put fresh sheets on Buck's bed so you might as well make use of it," Dunne told him and went into the kitchen. He took two Tylenol and followed them with apple juice. He watched as Standish did the same and nodded toward the sling sitting on the table. "You should put that on."

"This is one time I won't argue with you. Sleep well Master Dunne," the gambler said and made his way toward Wilmington's bedroom. He wasn't sure how much sleep he would get, but he knew if stayed up working, then JD would do the same.

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Rain watched as Nathan slept and could see the lines caused by a mixture of pain and worry. They stayed up until midnight talking about the men he worked with. There was no doubt he admired each one, but she'd seen his eyes light up when he talked about Chris Larabee.

There was so much strength in the missing man, both physically and emotionally. There had been a time when they thought they would lose him, but he'd finally accepted their help and dealt with the loss. She remembered the night as if it had just happened.

Chris had been at his ranch and drinking heavily when they arrived. Not just his team, but the women who knew him and wanted to help him. Nettie Wells had taken the bottle of whiskey and dumped the contents down the sink. They'd all been surprised when the angry blond had screamed at her before dropping to his knees and letting the pain out in a long wailing cry of pure agony.

Nettie had held him as his body shook with raw emotion and the others had left her alone. They gave her enough room to hold him while she cried with him. She told him that Sarah and Adam would not want him to drown himself in a bottle. She explained that their loss wasn't permanent and when the time came, and he was called home he would find them waiting for him.

They'd all listened to him curse a God who allowed a woman and child and an unborn baby to burn to death. He screamed out in anger and shook as sobs shook his body. It lasted over an hour until she wiped the final tears from his eyes and looked for the answer she wanted. It came in the form of an apology, not just to everyone in the room, but to Sarah, Adam, and Baby Rose. 

‘Please, God, help us find him,' he thought and glanced at the clock. It was a little after two and she knew she should be sleeping, but for now she was content to watch over the love of her life. She knew he would be having surgery on his leg and hoped David Frost would be able to repair the damage and that he would not walk with a limp. Not that it mattered because she loved him no matter what, but in his job, he needed mobility. 

Rain rested her right hand on her stomach and wondered if it was the right time to tell him she was pregnant. Would he be as happy as she was when she got the news? Was he ready to be a father? She knew in her heart that he would love their child, but there was so much going on right now.

"Rain, are you all, right?"

"I'm fine, Nathan. I'm sorry I woke you," Rain answered and lay down beside him. She placed her head on his shoulder and looked deep into his eyes. "I love you."

"I love you too…maybe it's time we got married."

"Are you asking me to marry you?"

"I think I am…"

"You think," Rain said and pretended to leave the bed.

"Not think…I am asking you to marry me. I know it's not the most romantic proposal, but it feels right, Rain. I love you more than life itself and I want to marry you as soon as I can."

"Yes, I will marry you, Nathan Jackson. Our baby needs to know how much we love each other."

"Our…our baby? Rain, are you…"

"Yes, Nathan, I am pregnant."

"How long have you known?" Jackson asked and held her close.

"A few days and I'm about six weeks along if the test is correct. I will see my OBGYN tomorrow," Rain explained.

"You make me so happy, Rain."

"You do the same for me. Now, how about we both get the rest we need."

"I will as long as you are by my side."

"I don't want to be anywhere else," Rain said, relieved that she'd brought a smile to his face in spite of the worry he felt.

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Chris had no idea how long he was hidden in the car, but he felt the car stop and heard her turn the keys in the ignition. He stayed where he was until she opened the back door and lifted the blanket off him. He took several deep breaths, fighting the nausea and dizziness that threatened to send him back into the darkness.

"Do you think you can walk if I help you?" Janet asked hopefully.

"Think so," Larabee said, grateful when she helped him from the car. He stumbled and nearly fell, but the woman was able to steady him. "Thanks."

"You're welcome…take it slow," she said and wrapped one arm around his waist as he placed his around her shoulder. She felt him tremble and was glad she'd unlocked the door to her house before getting him out of the car.

Chris knew he had to stay conscious and call for help but concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. It felt like an eternity passed before they were inside the house, and she lowered him onto the well-worn sofa. "Thanks…phone?"

"Hold on," Janet said and lifted the receiver. Silently cursing the sketchy signal, she had this far from town. "I'm sorry. I've had problems with the phone."

"Cell phone?" Larabee asked hopefully.

"No, I can't afford one."

"I need to get help."

"Not tonight…I'll go to the diner in the morning. Right now, I need to get you out of those clothes and see how badly you're hurt."

"Can you drive me…"

"I don't have enough gas to drive far, and I saw Jeff Bradford heading for the compound. If he comes back and sees my car at the diner, he'll find you and that would just get you sent back. How did you escape anyway?"

"Blew up his supply chamber," Larabee said with a weak grin.

"They won't be very happy about that. Do they know you escaped?"

"Hopefully they'll think I was caught in the cave in," the blond said. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes as she eased him out of his shirt.

"He really is a sick bastard," Janet said. "What's your name?"

"Chris…Larabee." The blond answered and leaned forward as bitter bile rose in his throat. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay…easy to clean it up. I'm Janet Tucker," the woman said and dropped the shirt on top of the vomit. She knew there wasn't much she could do for him, but at least she could clean the wound she saw.

"Thank you, Janet," Larabee said as darkness reached for him. He didn't feel her ease him down on the bed, nor did he see the worry in her eyes as she cut the remaining clothing from his body.

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"What the hell is taking so long!" Bradford snarled as his brother joined him. "I told you that bastard was trouble, but you just had to go and arrest him. Now the whole fucking mountain has fallen on my supply chamber, and it's put us behind."

"You're the one who complained we needed more help!" Jeff snapped.

"I didn't know you were going to arrest someone as high profiled as Chris Larabee! The sonofabitch works for Orin Travis."

"You knew that when I brought him out here, but you wanted that bike."

"I never even knew about the bike until you brought Larabee here!" Stan Bradford paced in front of the entrance and knew if Larabee was alive then he'd kill him slowly and painfully. "Did you know that my two partners know Larabee personally? The bastard has it in for Charles Goodwin…not that I care, but I need Goodwin as part of my deal with Vargas."

"Where is Larabee?"

"Inside…"

"Then why not kill him now and be done with him. We can hide the body and you can sell the bike. No one would even know he was here."

"Larabee and Cyrus were caught in the cave in. Gage Lawless said he saw the bastard shoot Larabee, and a second shot triggered the cave in."

"Then there's nothing to worry about."

"You don't get it do you, Jeff. Dad always said you were a little slow. I need to be sure Larabee is dead and get back on schedule. The shipment will be here in a couple of days, and I want a place to safely store it."

"Relax, Stan, the inmates will get it done."

"I wish I was as positive as you, but things have been going downhill since you brought Larabee here. The sun will soon be up, and I want everyone in the mine!" Bradford said and looked at the man seated on a nearby rock. "That includes you, 92. Get in there and help get your biddy out of the mine!"  

"Yes, Sir!" Simmons said and made his way toward the entrance. He knew if Larabee was trapped inside he would need medical attention. He didn't give a damn about Cyrus Peterson. The man was a twisted sonofabitch who liked to hurt those he considered beneath him.

"92, get on over there with 33 and help him shore up the walls!" Cyrus ordered.

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David Phillips drove along the main road and knew he needed to get help for the people at the compound before Bradford received the next shipment. He knew he had enough to bring the bastard and his brother down, but he couldn't do it without outside help.

He was so damn tired of people like Stan and Jeff Bradford and couldn't wait to wash the stink of the compound off his body. Everything he needed to prove the compound held stolen armaments belonging to the US government was on a small flash drive under the passenger seat of his car. There was no doubt that he would have been killed on the spot had they discovered it.

His thoughts turned to his home in Atlanta and to his wife and children. God, he had missed them, missed how simple life could be when you loved your family. He hated undercover work, but knew it was a necessary evil that helped speed up the capture of hardened criminals. He was lucky he hadn't been asked to go undercover in a drug cartel. Too many of his fellow agents came out of that life messed up on drugs or dead. 

He looked at his cell phone and wanted to call his wife but knew there was no point until he finished his assignment. When he did call her, he wanted to tell her this was his last undercover job, and that he was ready to take a desk job if that's what it took.

Phillips drove past Greely's diner and headed for the main highway where he could send for the help he needed. All he had to do was call his boss and give him the password that told him this was it.

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Chris shifted and bit back a cry of pain as he tried to sit up. He blinked several times in an effort to clear his vision, but his head pounded with every beat of his heart.

"Easy, Chris, try not to move so much," Janet told him as she knelt in front of the sofa. She knew she had to get him help, but if she got him in her car, it would be even more dangerous because Jeff Bradford would be looking for her. The sun would soon be up, and she would go to the diner and get Hal to cover for her while she drove Larabee to the next town.

"Ph…phone," Larabee muttered.

"There's no signal this far out…I'm sorry."

"Can you dr…drive me…"

"No, you need to stay put."

"I need to get h…help."

"And you will, but for now you stay put while I go to the diner.  Hal will know the best way to go about this because we can't chance you being found by Jeff or Turner or any of Bradford's people. You'll get yourself and us killed if that happens."

"What if they find me here? Won't that…your kids! Wh…where are they?"

"They are safe. I took them to stay with my aunt. I need you to stay here and don't do anything until I get back. I'll call the police in the next town and get help," Janet assured him.

"I'm sorry," Larabee whispered, pain evident in his voice as he looked at her.

"You have nothing to be sorry for. I should be apologizing to you for not doing something before you even came to town. Is there anything I can get you before I leave?"

"Water," the blond answered. He watched her go into the kitchen and silently prayed she would not get caught helping him. He wished he could leave, but he knew she was right about him staying put. The pain in his abdomen and back told him the fall he'd taken had not done him any good.

"Here," she said and helped him drink some of the cold water before she placed it on the coffee table within his reach. "I'll be back as soon as I can…you stay there until then."

"Thank you, Janet," Larabee said and closed his eyes as darkness reached out to claim him.

"Janet felt his forehead and knew he was sporting a fever. She went into the kitchen and ran cold water over a cloth before returning to the sofa and placing it across his forehead. "Please, God, don't let him die," she whispered before leaving the house and locking the door behind her. She was glad she'd closed the curtains because it kept anyone from seeing inside her home.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Jake stood near the main door of the diner as dawn brightened the sky. Travis had updated them during the night that the army would arrive before the sun came up. There were going to be two buses each carrying forty men with plenty of armaments to take down the Bradford Brothers.

"There's a car coming," Taylor said and moved when Hal Greely came from behind the counter and glanced out the window.

"That's Janet…she's supposed to be at Aunt Jenny's place with the kids!" He unlocked the door and pulled her inside. "Where are the kids?"

"I left them with Aunt Jenny…who are they?" she asked and motioned to the two men standing nearby.

"Jake Taylor and Rafael Cordova. They are Larabee's friends. They got the army involved and they should be here anytime." Greely answered. "This is my sister Janet."

"You know Chris Larabee?"

"We do," Taylor answered.

"He's hurt," Janet told them.

"You've seen him?" Cordova asked.

"I nearly hit him with my car last night."

"Where is he?" Taylor asked hopefully.

"I left him at my house. He needs to be in a hospital, but I didn't have enough gas to drive there. I couldn't bring him into town because they'd find him."

"Will you take me to him?" Taylor asked.

"Hal, can we take your car…I don't know how much gas is in my car," Janet said.

"Mine is full," Greely said and handed her his keys.

"Rafael, you stay here and wait for the army! I'll go with Janet and call to have him airlifted to Saint Vincents. I'll call Travis and update him," Taylor said.

"Let me know how bad it is," Cordova said.

"I will," Taylor said and followed the woman out the door.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7  

Orin Travis knew Jackson, Dunne, and Standish were at the hospital and understood they would be angry with him for keeping them out of the loop. They would understand his reasons, but they would also be angry for not being able to help. He had stopped at Delvecchio's and picked up coffee and bagels before heading to Saint Vincents. He stopped outside the door and listened to the six men talking softly. If Simmons caught them, he knew they'd have hell to pay, but he'd already spoken with the staff and let them know what was happening.

Travis knocked softly and opened the door to find himself facing Larabee's team. "I brought coffee and bagels."

"What's going on, Orin?" Wilmington asked as the former judge handed out the items he'd brought with him.

"Jake called me last night."

"Did they find Chris?" Tanner asked.

"They did…hold on and let me tell you what's happening," Travis said and moved to the window. "There's nothing any of you can do so you might as well eat."

"Is he all right?" Wilmington asked.

"I don't know…"

"What the hell does that mean? I thought you said they found him!"

"They know where he is, but they can't get to him without help and before you ask the answer is no! You boys can't do anything for Chris right now."

"Why not? I could go," Dunne said.

"Really? How's the head?" Travis asked and knew it was time he explained what was happening. "Chris got caught up with the law in a little town called Bradford Falls. The sheriff arrested him for a stolen motorcycle…"

"Damn," Dunne whispered.

"Not your fault, Kid, you didn't know," Wilmington said.

"I should…"

"No one blames you, JD. We all would have reported it missing because you didn't know Chris had taken it," Tanner offered, but saw the guilt in the younger man's eyes.

"No, they had to wait for help form the army. I called in a favor last night and they should have arrived in Bradford Falls by now. Stan and Jeff Bradford took over the town about ten years ago and dug in. There's a huge militia compound north of the town and that's where we believe Chris is. The Bradfords pick out someone they think is alone and won't be missed. The person is then set up and sent to the compound to work there."

"Sounds like a lucrative deal for the Brafords," Standish observed. "Until they chose the wrong man."

"Ya got that right," Tanner agreed and prayed the blond was all right and that the army could get him out. "How long before we hear anythin'?"

"Could be a while, but I figured I'd come here so that Jake can keep us up to date. Eat, or else I'll leave and make you wait for the answers," Travis said, relieved when the men seemed to make an effort to do as he ordered.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Would you like to visit a couple of my ladies, or do you want to go home?" Vargas asked as they drove past the sign that said welcome to Billings.

"I think I need to go home and change. I have a meeting with several contributors later this afternoon and I can't afford to lose any more," Goodwin told him.

"If Larabee is dead you won't have to worry about who you have as backers anymore. You'll be able to pick and choose once you're in office."

"I hope he is dead. I know you were attracted to him, Rodrigo, but he is…"

"Was…"

"Was a dangerous man. I just wish we could get rid of the rest of his fucking team."

"Perhaps when all is said and done, we can do just that, Amigo."

"I'd love to be the one to tell them Larabee is dead."

"Perhaps you could be the one to break it to the newspapers when Stan calls," Vargas said.

"Not a bad idea," Goodwin said and sighed tiredly. "I think I need to get a couple of hours of sleep before I meet those backers."

"Sounds like a good idea. You need to get your story straight about your nose."

"I will and I'll check with my doctor…maybe I should go to Saint Vincents."

"That might be a bad idea right now. You need to stay away from Larabee's team until this dies down."

"Thank you, Rodrigo. I will stay away from them for now," Goodwin said and turned to stare out the window as they entered the city he called home. What would life have been like if he hadn't turned down the road he'd chosen? Would he still be friends with Chris Larabee, or would his choices have affected their friendship in other ways? It didn't matter because life was what it was, and his choices made him who he was.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Jeff Bradford knew his brother was losing his patience with the slow work taking place in the mine. He knew the bottle of brandy they'd consumed had done nothing to help the situation.

"They should be through by now!" Stan snapped.

"They need to make sure it won't collapse on top of them," Jeff explained.

"Who cares…if that happens you can just arrest more men!"

"There were a couple at Greely's that might have worked out, but you told me to lay low and not to draw any more attention to the compound."

"If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't be in this fucking mess in the first place!"

"Don't blame me if you can't handle the men I send you!" Jeff said and cried out when his brother grabbed him by the throat.

"I know exactly what I'm doing, and I told you not to arrest anyone for a while. If' you'd done as I told you Larabee wouldn't have been here, and my cave would be intact! I wouldn't have to worry about the supplies inside!"

"What about my brother?' Elroy snapped from behind them.

"Your brother is to blame here, and he just might find himself in a dirty grey uniform. You better shut up or you'll join him!"

"I…I…"

"You what…"

"Cyrus was stupid, Sir," Elroy said and moved away as Stand Bradford released his own brother.

"Go see if Tremaine made breakfast, Jeff!" the older man ordered and took a deep breath before sitting on the chair and waiting for inmate 31 to start fanning him again.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris wasn't sure what had woken him, but he fought his way up to a sitting position on the sofa. The sound was repeated, and he looked around for anything he could use as a weapon when the front door began to open.

"Easy, Chris, it's Jake."

"Jake…Taylor!" Larabee mumbled and forced a thin smile to his face when the other man entered the house.

"Do you know any other Jakes?" Taylor asked as he made his way to his friend. "What the hell did you get yourself into this time?"

"Hell, but I'll explain later," the blond said and tried to sit up further. "We need to get help here!"

"Easy, Chris, help is here. Your team asked me and Rafael to look for you and it's a damn good thing they did. Rafael is at Greely's diner waiting for the army. Travis got them involved…"

"My team…God, Jake, I screwed up."

"Yes, you did, but you had your reasons and if I was a betting man, I'd say those reasons are good ones. Look, I already called for a medivac chopper to get you out of here."

"I need…"

"To stay where you are and let us take care of things. You're in no shape to help, but as soon as you're on your way I'll head back to Greely's and hopefully the army is already there."

"Jake…"

"I'm not going to listen to you if you're going to sat you want to help, Chris, and you should know how stubborn I can be."

"I remember, but I need you to listen for a minute. There are some men at the compound who should be in jail, but there are a lot more innocent ones," Larabee said and fought to catch his breath. "Do me a favor and look for four in particular. Gage, Paul, and Johnny Lawless. They were caught like I was. The o…other one is Inmate 92…might j…just surprise you when you see him."

"What's his real name?"

"Ray Simmons," the blond said and saw the surprise in his friend's eyes. "He's Roy's twin and just as gruff with his bedside manner."

"I hear the medivac. I'll go signal them," Janet said and left the house.

"Tell Simmons to come back to Billings and stay at my place. I wa…want to see Roy's face wh…when he sees him."

"I'll see what I can do," Taylor said, worried about the way the injured man was breathing.

"Goodwin and Vargas were there…if they left, they might think I'm tr…trapped in the cave. Make Bradford believe I'm dead and have him…have him call Goodwin and tell him I'm dead."

"You think he'll let his guard down if he thinks you're dead?"

"Ye…yeah…tell Travis to get it d…done," Larabee said as two men entered the house and hurried toward him.

"I will," Taylor said and asked the paramedics to keep Larabee's identity secret. He also told them that Orin Travis would be at Saint Vincents for their arrival. 

"What's your name, Son?" an older man asked as his partner readied an IV.

"Chris Larabee," the blond managed, but cried out when the man touched his abdomen.

"Easy, Chris, we'll get you on a backboard and C-collar and have you at the hospital in short order.

"…k…"

"I'll see you at Saint Vincents, Chris," Taylor said once the paramedics had the man ready for transport. He had no idea how bad the injuries were, but things were desperate as the two men secured the blond inside the medivac chopper.

"Janet, would you drive me back to the diner?"

"Of course," the woman said and made the sign of the cross before locking the door and hurrying to her car.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Simmons and Midland had already been in to see the men and voiced their displeasure at having hospital policies ignored. Orin had made peace by telling them that this was the best way to keep them updated with news on their missing leader. They'd agreed with him as long as he kept Buck, Vin, and Josiah in their beds and that the other three would stay off their feet while they worked.

Orin looked at his phone and could feel the others watching him. "It's Taylor!" he said and pressed the speaker button.

"You got ‘im?" Tanner asked.

"He's on the medivac. Look, you boys need to stay away from him right now…"

"Why the hell would we do that?" Wilmington snarled.

"I don't have much time, but this is what Chris told me. Goodwin and Vargas…"

"Sonofabitch!" the ladies' man cried out as he shifted on the bed.

"Buck, just lie down and let him talk!" Jackson ordered.

"Chris said he thought they left, but he wasn't sure. He said Bradford thought he was trapped in the cave in and that's why you need to stay away until I get back to you. Rafael said the army was at the diner and we are going to catch up with them. If they haven't cleared the cave in when we get there, I'm going to make damn sure The Warden calls Vargas and have him tell Goodwin they found Chris' body. It's important that you guys are not there when they bring Chris in so that we can give Goodwin enough rope to hang himself." 

"It sounds like Chris thought this through," Sanchez said.

"I think he did, Josiah."

"How bad is he, Jake?" Jackson asked.

"It's not good, but he's too stubborn to quit when he's this close to getting those bastards."

"Ya got that right," Tanner observed.

"I gotta go, but I'll try and keep you updated as best I can,"

"Thanks, Jake, just be careful," Travis said and put his cell phone away. "You heard him…it's best to stay here."

"What about you, Orin, can you check on Chris?"

"I will go down to the ER, but if there are any reporters around, I won't talk to anyone," Travis said and stood up. "I know how hard this is for all of you, but it might just save Chris' life and bring Goodwin down once and for all. I'll be back as soon as I can."

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Easy, Chris, we're at Saint Vincents," the older paramedic told him. They'd hooked him to the monitors and placed him on oxygen, but things were getting worse as they landed on the helipad next to the hospital. The doors opened and he recognized the gruff looking doctor standing there. He quickly ran through the vital signs and treatments as they loaded Larabee onto the gurney and raced toward the ER doors.

"Let's get him into Trauma One," Simmons ordered as Stacey Midland joined him. They worked quickly to get Larabee hooked up to the hospital monitors, relieved to see the clothing had already been cut from his body. The paramedic had told them about the injuries to his back, but right now they needed to get him on a ventilator.

"Roy, I'm putting in a call for portable X-ray," Midland told him as she watched her partner listen to the patient's lungs. They had him down as a John Doe and he would stay that way until further notice. No one would know the man in Trauma One was Chris Larabee. 

"His blood pressure is low," Simmons told her. "You never do anything the easy way do you, Larabee?"

"Wo…wouldn't want t…to make y…your li…life simple," the blond managed.

"There you are," Simmons said and shook his head. "I won't ask how you're feeling."

"Good i…idea," the blond said and fought to stay conscious as darkness threatened to claim him. "T…the team…my men?"

"They'll survive, and right now we need to concentrate on you," Simmons said.

"Don…don't let any…anyone know I'm h…here…"

"I know and we've got you here as a John Doe. Now pipe down and we'll see what we need to do," the physician said. He could see the man was in pain and gave him the medication he needed so that he could rest.

"T…thanks, Doc," Larabee said and sighed heavily as he lost consciousness. 

"Stacey, I'm going to intubate while we wait for X-ray. We need to get a look at his back," Simmons said as she moved to the opposite side of the bed.

"Orin Travis is outside, but I told him he'd have to wait," Sandy told them as she returned from sending the blood work off.

"Thanks, Sandy," Midland said. She knew Travis would go to the waiting room and stay there until she went to see him. They needed to keep Larabee's identity a secret for now.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7 

Jake Taylor and Rafael Cordova hated being on the sidelines, but for now they would let the army take the lead. Colonel Ronald Brookfield had introduced himself and several other men when they met at the diner. He'd told them they could come along, but they were to stay back until the compound was secured.

Jake had given him the information from Larabee and was relieved that the man seemed to understand how important it was that he be there when they interviewed Stan and Jeff Bradford.

Brookfield had shown them the satellite images of the area where the compound was located. He'd quickly told them their plan and how they would attack the compound as efficiently as possible with minimal damage and loss of life.

Rafael followed the vehicle along the back road and wished they could have more of a role in what was about to happen. "Brookfield seems to know what he's doing."

"He does, and Travis trusts him," Taylor said.

"Do you?"

"I think so…at least he showed us his plan of action. He could have ordered us to stay at the diner."

"I think he knew better than that," Cordova said and pulled to a stop near the lead truck. "Guess it's on foot from here."

"Looks that way," Taylor agreed and got out of the car. He saw the colonel and his second in command talking and signaling for the men to get into position. If things went according to plan, they would come at the compound from three sides, leaving the mountain as a last resort because of the heavier terrain.

"Taylor, Cordova, you two come with me, but I want you to stay back once we blow the gate," Brookfield told them.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Stacey Midland stepped out of the room and headed for the doctors and nurses lounge near the main ER desk. Sandy had told Orin she would meet him there once she was finished her examination of Chris Larabee. She pushed open the door and was relieved to find only Travis sitting at the table drinking a cup of coffee.

"How is he, Stacey?"

"It's not good, Orin," Midland said and sat opposite the older man. "He's got internal injuries on top of everything else and is on his way to surgery as we speak. I won't go into details on what they are because we won't know until we get in there. Dr. Nicholson is the surgeon on call, and he didn't want to wait."

"Okay, what else?" Travis said.

"The knife wound on his arm is showing signs of infection, but it also shows someone has been taking care of it and the wound to his left side needed to be cleaned badly. He's been whipped and it looks like he took a fall because there was so much crap embedded in those wounds. Add to that several broken ribs and a broken ankle. He's lost a lot of blood, but we've given him a transfusion and giving him plenty of fluids. That's about all I can tell you for now. Tell his men to stay in the room and I'll come see them after we're done."

"Thank you, Stacey," Travis said and left the room. He walked to the stairs and made his way up them. He knew what he had to tell Chris' men was not what they wanted to hear, but he was in the best possible place. Midland and Simmons would do everything to make sure Larabee survived and that was something they could all bank on.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Ray Simmons reached for the cup of water Elroy Peterson passed around and drank what was in it. He'd been working alongside the Lawless brothers. They'd been putting their backs into it and still there was no sign of breaking through the debris.

"Get back to it!" Elroy ordered. God, he wasn't sure if he wanted to find his brother, but he knew damn well he would be leaving as soon as he had the chance. 

Simmons returned to the task at hand, relieved when Gage Lawless told him to go easy. "Thanks."

"We can keep up the pace, Doc, and make you look good while we're at it," Gage told him.

"Thanks, but the faster we get to 78 the better his chances of survival," Simmons said.

"78 is a survivor," Paul added.

"I think you all are," Simmons said.

"Quit jawing and get to work!" Elroy ordered angrily.

Simmons picked up a chunk of rock and tossed it aside as Peterson walked to the opening of the cave. He had no idea how long they'd been in the mine, but if it continued then Larabee and Cyrus Peterson could die from lack of air.

"78 is safe…don't ask," Gage whispered and saw the slight nod of the other man's head. He knew Simmons understood what he was saying and wondered how much Larabee had told him of his plan.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Jake and Rafael followed Brookfield and his men toward the main gate. Once in set up they waited for word that the others were in position. They hated not being able to be in on the action, but they understood the reason behind it.

"You two stay put and guard the gate. Don't let anyone leave," Brookfield told them. He knew both men were trained in the use of weapons and gotten permission to put them to work.

"We can do that," Rafael said as they listened to the colonel get word that the other teams were ready.

"Jamison, open the gate," Brookfield ordered.

Jake could see the man put something on the hinges of the heavy gate. He had an idea of what was being used and was relieved that there would be no warning that the compound was under attack. He nodded to the colonel that he understood their role as the man took his squad through the open gate and stayed behind cover.

"Do you think we'd be in trouble if we followed them?" Cordova asked softly.

"I doubt we'd be given a military misconduct, but I'm pretty sure we'd need to have a damn good reason for going in," Taylor said.

"What if we saw someone following them?"

"Then we have no choice but to protect their six," Taylor said with a grin. "Not sure if that was a shadow, but I think we need to let the Colonel know someone might be on their tail."

"Them shadows can be dangerous," Cordova agreed and made his way to the main gate.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7 

Stan Bradford stood up and stared around when he heard the first shot. His brother did the same before they both realized the compound was under attack.

"Sonofabitch!" the elder Bradford cursed and raced toward his home.

"What are you doing?" Jeff asked upon catching his brother.

"Someone's attacking the compound!"

"Aren't we going to fight?"

"It depends on who they are," Stan said when they reached his house. He had heard several more shots and knew someone had breached the compound from several directions.

"You're going to…"

"I'm going to do what I have to do," Stan snarled and wished he'd taken his gun from the house. "You can stay here and fight or you can come with me!"

"What about…"

"Do you hear that?" the elder Bradford snapped upon entering his house and closing the door behind them. "It's more than just a couple of people attacking. I'm going to grab the stuff from the safe and get the hell out of here. I don't give a fuck what you do!"

"I'm coming with you!" Jeff said.

"Then watch out front while I get this shit together!" Stan ordered and raced to his office as several more shots were fired.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Looks like someone's in a hurry," Cordova said and pointed toward the two men headed for the fancy house.

"Maybe we should see what their hurry is," Taylor said and ducked behind a planer full of flowers.

"Cover me," Cordova said and raced toward the main verandah where the two men had disappeared.

Taylor did what was asked and broke for the house when his friend waved him forward. There were several shots fired, but not in his direction. He reached the door and stood on the opposite side as Cordova reached for the door handle.

"Be careful…I'll go right…you go left," Cordova said and pushed down on the handle until the door opened. They moved together, but gunfire erupted from near the window.

Taylor's senses kicked in and he dove to his right, coming up and firing as Cordova came to his feet nearby. His bullet caught the man dressed in a sheriff's uniform and drove him backward. He quickly checked the man as Rafael made his way toward the back of the room.

Jake quickly picked up the gun and knew the man was dead as blood pooled beneath him. He stood up and could hear Rafael talking to someone.

"Put the gun down…put it down now!"

"What if I…"

"I'll shoot you where you stand," Cordova vowed as Taylor joined him.

"I wouldn't try it, Bradford!" Jake snapped.

"Look, there's 200,000.00 dollars here…You can have it if you just turn your back and let me leave!"

"I don't think so," Cordova said. "Put the gun down."

"I can get you more!"

"Money is not going to get you out of this, Bradford," Taylor said and watched the man's face for a sign of what he was going to do.

"Name your price!"

"Don't have one," Cordova vowed and slowly motioned for the man to do as he'd been told. Relieved when the gun dropped to the floor. Put the envelope on the desk."

"Now turn around and place your hand on the wall and spread your legs," Taylor said as Cordova watched for trouble from the main door. He waited until Bradford did as he was told and searched him for hidden weapons.  Not finding anything he told the man to walk ahead of him but to keep his hands clasped behind his head. 

The sounds of gunfire lessened as they exited the house and made Bradford kneel on the ground as two of Brookfield's men hurried toward them.

"The colonel sent us to check on you two…guess he was right about you staying out. Who is this?" Mark Waldon asked.

"His name is Stan Braford. His brother Jeff is inside…he's dead. They own this compound…"

"My brother owned nothing. I just let him think he was part of it. Stupid sonofabitch cost me everything because he just had to bring Larabee here."

"Where's Chris?" Taylor asked and shook his head when Cordova went to speak.

"Hopefully the bastard is buried in the cave in!" Bradford snarled as one of the newcomers placed cuffs around his wrists.

"We need to check on Chris," Cordova told the two men.

"Go ahead. We got this," Waldon said.

"Thanks," Jake said and walked toward the mine entrance as several more men were escorted toward the house.

"Nice groundwork on Larabee," Cordova said. "Figure if Bradford really thinks Chris is dead, we can get him to tell Goodwin before they take him out of here. Maybe tell him he'll make some brownie points with the judge when he goes to trial."

"May not even need that if Bradford is out of here. We could have Travis make a statement that they found Chris' body. Just have to make sure his team and Nettie Wells know the truth before he does that."

"I figured you two wouldn't stay put!"

"Sorry, Colonel, but we saw the Bradfords headed for the house and didn't want them escaping," Taylor told him.

"They in there?"

"Yes, one dead…one alive," Cordova explained. "Is the compound secured?"

"It is, but we're still searching the outer area. According to a man named Simmons there is someone trapped in the cave in. We've got the guards digging for him," Brookfield said as Waldon, and another man escorted an angry prisoner out of the house.

"Where do you want him, Colonel?" Waldon asked.

"Put him to work in the mine," Taylor suggested with a grin.

"Sounds like a fitting plan, but I have a feeling this one would be more trouble than he's worth," Brookfield observed. "There are several prisoners being held at the huts they were kept in…perhaps we should put the jailer with the men he jailed."

"Now that sounds even better," Taylor agreed and watched Waldon, and the other man marched the protesting man away.

"Colonel, there is only one man trapped in the mine. He…"

"Are you sure your friend got away?"

"Yes, Sir, he's already been transported to the hospital in Billings," Taylor assured him.

"Good to know. Travis told me Larabee was a good man," Brookfield said.

"He is. According to Hal Greely and his sister there are a lot of innocent men being held here. They said everyone under the sheriff's pay role is part of this," Cordova explained.

"I'll send for more men and see if we can't get them under wraps before they get wind of what's happening here. Do you trust the Greelys?"

"I think so…they helped when they could have let us leave. We wouldn't have found Chris without Janet Greely. She saved his life," Taylor said.

"They'll still have to answer some questions and so will everyone in this compound. One of the prisoners…Gage Lawless says there are a lot of military grade weapons inside the mine," Brookfield observed.

"I think you'll find most of these men will cooperate if given the chance," Cordova said.

"They probably will," Brookfield said. "I've got to make a few calls so will need to talk to you two after this place is secured."

"Yes, Sir," Taylor said. "Can we leave our info with your people. We'd really like to get back and check on Chris and his men. We'd also like to keep Chris' condition out of the papers for now. It might be best if everyone thinks he died with Peterson in the mine. Can you help us out with that?"

"I don't see why not. I'll talk to my men, and we'll make damn sure everyone here thinks he's dead."

"Especially Bradford," Cordova said. "No problem. Anything else?"

"Can we speak privately to one of the prisoners?" Taylor asked.

"I guess that could be arranged. Which one?"

"Simmons. He's the doctor here," Taylor answered.

"I'll have him brought here," Brookfield assured them.

"Thanks, Colonel," Taylor said and listened as the man gave orders to several men. "They'll bring him. Let me know when you're leaving and make sure I have your contact information."

"We will," Cordova said as Brookfield and two of his men entered the house. It wasn't long before a man was brought toward them, and both Rafael and Jake were surprised at how much he looked like Roy Simmons. "You must be Simmons."

"Not sure if I must be, but I am him," Simmons told him.

"You even sound like him…"

"Like whom?"

"Roy Simmons," Taylor said.

"Happens when your twins," Simmons told them. "Are you Larabee's friends?"

"We are," Cordova answered.

"How is he? Did you find him?"

"Yes," Taylor answered. "He's under your brothers not so gentle care."

"Damn…"

"He gave me a message for you," Taylor said.

"What message?"

"He said for you to come to Billings and stay at his ranch. He wants to be there when your brother sees you," Taylor explained.

"Don't know if that's such a good idea. We didn't part on the best of terms last time I saw him. He's lucky I didn't knock him into the next state."

"There's nothing bad enough to keep family apart…especially twins. Give him a chance," Taylor said.

"I'll think about it, but it might not happen until the army sorts this out," Simmons told them.

"We can have Orin Travis put in a good word for you. Might even be able to get you out of here today," Cordova offered.

"Leave with you boys or stay here…think I'd rather leave with you boys," Simmons said.

"Let me talk to Colonel Brookfield and get the ball rolling," Taylor said and went back not the house.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Vin glanced at the clock over the door and took a deep breath as he looked around the room. Three and a half hours had passed since Orin Travis had filled them in on Larabee's condition. Midland would come see them when he was out of surgery. He glanced around the room and wasn't surprised to find his own worries mirrored on the faces of his friends.

"Shouldn't we have heard something by now?" Dunne asked.

"It's only been three hours, Kid," Wilmington offered tiredly. "You know Chris it's never a sprint and always a marathon."

"Orin, were you able to get to Nettie?" Sanchez asked.

"Yes, she understands why we're keeping Chris' condition a secret."

"I told Rain," Jackson said. "She's going to keep it quiet. She said Chris will probably be placed in SICU after surgery and the staff there would not be allowed to give out information on his condition. He'll be there as a John Doe until further notice."

"That's good news, Nathan," Wilmington said and shifted slightly in the chair.

"Look, this could take some time, so why don't you three take your meds and get some sleep," Jackson said.

"I don't want anything until we know how Chris is doing," Wilmington said.

"No thanks, Nate," Tanner said and saw Sanchez shake his head. They were I this together and would wait until they got word on Chris' condition. The whole damn team was here, and it was obvious they were all hurting, both physically and emotionally. 

"Anyone want something from Delvecchio's?" Travis asked. "Evie is there and wants to make sure you all eat."

"I'm not hungry," Tanner said.

"Soup, coffee, and sandwiches it is," Travis told them and spoke to his wife before hanging up the phone.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Nettie Wells watched as her niece made tea and smiled when she placed the cup in front of her. The call from Orin Travis had been a hard one for her. She knew what they were doing was the best way to protect Chris, but it was hard because she wanted to be with the others. Orin had promised to call as soon as he had word his condition, but she hated waiting. 

"Aunt Nettie, he'll be okay," Casey told her.

"I know he will, but I want to be there," the older woman said and sighed tiredly. She saw the evidence of her niece's injuries and knew she was lucky to be alive. JD was also injured, but they were young and had bounced back faster than expected.  

"Chris will understand, Aunt Nettie. Judge Travis will tell him why we are not there. Do you want something to eat?"

"I should be the one taking care of you," Nettie said and reached for her niece's hand. "I thought I was going to lose you."

"I'm fine…the bruises are almost gone."  

"Thank God," Nettie said.

"I can warm up some soup."

"That sounds great as long as you warm enough for both of us."

"Chicken soup for two," Casey said and moved toward the fridge.

"Thank you, Casey," Nettie said, proud of the young woman who had her mother's strength. She was studying to be a nurse and that was something she would excel at. Nettie had no doubt of that and would do everything in her power to see the young woman succeed.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin glanced at the clock and knew he wasn't going to get any sleep until he had word on Chris Larabee. Part of him hoped the sonofabitch was dead, but another part wanted the opportunity to kill the bastard himself.

He touched his nose and again cursed the man who done this to him. He'd gone to a clinic and was relieved to hear it wasn't broken, but the bruising had spread out to encompass part of his cheeks. He jumped when the phone rang and knew it was Rodrigo Vargas. He put the phone on speaker and turned off the television.

"Did they find the bastard?"

"Good afternoon to you too, My Friend."

"I know it's afternoon, but I can't get anything done. What's going on?"

"We're going to need to find new buyers for the goods."

"What? Why? I thought you had a deal with Bradford?"

"I did, but I don't think that's an option now."

"Why?"

"It seems someone called in the army and Bradford's compound is now under their command. Stan Bradford's been arrested, and his brother is dead. The guards and prisoners have been rounded up until a judge can be brought in. I heard the army was also looking at the sheriff's office in Bradford Falls."

"Sonofabitch! Any word on whether they found Larabee?"

"Nothing yet, but they are still digging in the mine so it's doubtful they'll find him alive. Keep watching the news because the story is about to break."

"I will…what do we do about the goods?"

"Hide them in the warehouse until we find a new buyer. Damn good thing I insisted on payment ahead of delivery."

"Yes, it is. I need to go into the office for a few hours and see if I can get things back on schedule here. Call me if you hear anything?"

"I will…don't worry, My Friend, Larabee is out of the picture."

"I hope so, Rodrigo," Goodwin said and hung up the phone. He sat on the edge of the bed and thought about his future and how he could be rid of all ties with Rodrigo Vargas. It would have to happen soon, but not until he was sure Larabee was dead and no threat to his plans.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Vargas looked at the flash drive on his desk as a hint of a smile formed on his face. There was something about the tiny device that gave him a sense of security when it came to his ‘partner'. He didn't trust anyone, especially not when it came to his life and his business.

In the years he'd known Goodwin, the man had insinuated himself into his business as well as his personal life. If Charles ever decided to turn away from his promises, he'd find out just how deep he was in the hell that was known as Rodrigo Vargas.

Vargas picked up the drive and tossed it into the air before standing and moving to the wall safe hidden behind the painting of a matador killing a bull. The matador's face had been repainted in Rodrigo's image and it was something he was very proud of. It was a symbol of his strength and virility and that was also evidenced by the young men and women held in a cage at his home. 

"Maybe it's time for another lesson," he thought and closed the safe. There was one young man who had caught his eye when he'd been brought in. The man reminded him of Larabee and could probably pass as a relative. Yes, it was time to visit the cage and take what belonged to him.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Ray Simmons glanced out the window as Jake Taylor drove toward Billings. They had spoken with the colonel and been given permission to take him with them. He'd agreed to go only when the Colonel had assured him that the army medic would take care of the injured before sending them to the hospital.

They had also found the bike Larabee had been riding when Jeff Bradford arrested him. The colonel would not release it right away but had told them he would get it released as soon as possible. They needed to check the VIN number and make sure it belonged to JD Dunne.

"Is my brother the tyrant Larabee said he is?"

"Only when it comes to Chris and the rest of his team," Taylor answered with a grin.

"Chris holds his own with Simm…with your brother. I think the two are a lot alike in some ways," Cordova said from the back seat.

"I bet he does. Inmate 78…I mean Larabee held his own with the warden and the guards. The problem was he was one man against many, and he paid the price for standing up for others."

"That sounds like Chris. He's a defender of his beliefs and if he thinks someone's been wronged, he'll stand beside them and damn the consequences. Same goes for the rest of his team," Cordova said.

"Tell me about his team," Simmons said.

"Let's see…there's Buck Wilmington," Cordova started. "They've known each other a long time and were part of the TEAMS. Buck is a munitions expert and could probably smell out an explosive device from a mile away. They served together in Beirut and Buck saved Chris' life before they were honorably discharged. They continued to work together, and Buck actually introduced Chris to his wife…"

"Chris is married. He didn't say anything."

"He wouldn't. Sarah and Adam Larabee were murdered, and it nearly cost Larabee his life when they died. I'm not going to say anything more about his family. He keeps it private, and I'd rather not say anything else. So back to Buck. He's a bachelor although lately he's been seeing a lot of Inez Recillos. She keeps telling him nunca, but no one believes her anymore. Buck's a good man and a friend who would do anything for those he cares about," Cordova said.

"Sounds like a good man."

"He is," Rafael said.

"Then there's Josiah Sanchez," Taylor said. "He was a preacher and missionary who lost his faith, but I don't know the story behind it. He joined Chris' team because he's a believer in doing what's right. He's since found his faith again, and if you get the chance you have to listen to him give a sermon at Saint Joseph's Catholic Church. I don't think anyone has ever walked out on him. He's also the best behavioral analyst I've ever met and that includes the ones I've personally worked with. Josiah is a big man with an even bigger heart and God help you if you hurt one of his flock."

"Nathan Jackson is a man who could choose another, safer job, but he's chosen to stay with Larabee's team. He's a fully trained EMT and is engaged to Dr. Rain Goines. Nathan's saved their lives on more occasions than I care to remember, and I know Chris is happy to have him working with them. Nathan has no other family and believes he found one in this team," Cordova said. "Nathan saved my life and introduced me to Chris."

"Ezra Standish is not the type of man you would think Larabee would choose for his team. As a matter of fact, Ezra would be the first to tell you he isn't what you'd call a team player. I'm not sure how he met Chris, but he said Chris saw through his façade and offered him a ‘real' job. I didn't know Chris at the time, but I've heard the story of how he met Ezra's mother and let me tell you it was a head-butting contest if there ever was one. Maude Standish is a formidable woman who taught her son everything he needed to pull off a con. She taught him how to cheat, steal and cajole people up until the day her son met Chris Larabee. From what I was told Maude wanted Ezra to pull another one of her cons and he was ready to go with her, but Chris convinced him to stand up to his mother. He told Maude that Ezra was not meant for the life she had in mind for him. Not sure of the words that were used, but the next day Maude left in a huff and Ezra became part of the team that would be called The Magnificent Seven. Ezra learned how to use his God given talents to finagle his way into many undercover assignments. He's brought down a lot of drug dealers and just about everyone he goes after with the help of his team. He's also second to only one man when it comes to being computer savvy," Taylor said.

"Ezra's got an uncle who lives in the mountains south of Billings. His name is Hiram Standish and he's nothing like his sister. I think you and your brother would get along with him," Cordova added.

"And if you ever want a one-of-a-kind saddle there's no one better," Taylor said.

"I'll keep that in mind if I ever get a horse," Simmons told them.

"If you do get one Chris has a place to keep him," Cordova said. "JD Dunne is the youngest member of the team, but don't let that fool you into thinking he's naïve. He's the computer genius and can probably hack into any computer in the world. His nickname is Kid, but it's only used by the team and just means he's the youngest. They all have a great deal of respect for what JD does. He's been working on finding a link between Charles Goodwin and Rodrigo Vargas even though he's been injured…"

"Another trait of Larabee's team. They never quit, never back down, and never let injuries get in the way of getting answers," Taylor said.

"Sound like good men to have watching your back."

"They are," Cordova said and left it to Taylor to tell the story of the friendship between Larabee and Tanner.

"Vin Tanner is the team's sharpshooter and there's no one better. I've seen him shoot and Chris once said he could shoot a fly off the wall at 300 feet. Vin was a bounty hunter and was injured when Chris found him. They butted heads at first, but there was something about the meeting that set the tone of their friendship. There's something between them that just can't be explained. They feel each other…they know when something's wrong. I know it sounds crazy, but we've all seen it…even your brother. He's seen it firsthand. They bought ranches that border each other and never needed a fence between them. The only thing that marks the boundary is a divided tree that was once a small sapling. They see it as a symbol of who they are and what they've been through."

"Why a tree?" Simmons asked.

"A few years ago, someone from Vin's past wanted to avenge some broken promise by kidnapping Chris and forcing Vin to watch the torture. It was horrific and nearly tore them apart. When Chris was found he was in bad shape and the bastard who did it had convinced him that Vin was the one who had ordered it. I met Chris and Vin in the hospital and didn't think they'd get through it, but they proved how strong that connection is. Vin was on his way back to his ranch when he saw a neighbor digging up this little sapling that had grown apart and then back together. He thought it symbolized the path of his and Chris' life and wanted to plant it on the property line. That tree stands as tall and strong as their friendship. They were meant to be brothers and it seems like that's exactly what they are. They chose each other for a reason and God is the only one who knows that reason. A friendship like that doesn't happen often, but when it does the rope that binds them won't be broken. It will be tested, stretched, and even frayed, but it'll come back stronger than ever. I think that's why Chris wanted you to come back to Billings. He has his brother and thinks you two deserve a second chance," Taylor said.

"We shall see," Simmons said as he thought of his brother. Maybe it was time to end the fight, hell of it was he couldn't even remember what it was really about.

"Doc, when we get to Billings we'll stop and get you some clothes," Taylor offered. The man was wearing something that belonged to the warden, and they knew he would rather be rid of it.

"I don't have any money or my cards."

"That's okay…we'll talk to Orin Travis and have him put it on the expense report," Taylor said.

"I'll pay him back as soon as I get my stuff together," Simmons told him.

"Somehow I doubt he'll let you," Cordova said.

"Are you hungry?" Taylor asked.

"A little," Simmons answered.

"Wendy's okay?"

"Anything sounds good right now," Simmons told them as Taylor pulled the car into the parking lot. It had been so long since he had real food that even fast food sounded like a juicy steak right now.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Roy Simmons pulled off the soiled clothing and sighed tiredly. It had been a long, tiring surgery, but Larabee had once again proven just how much of a fighter he was. Brian Nicholson had been thorough and made sure he found and repaired the damage, but there was more than he wanted to think about. Larabee was in for a long recovery, but that was nothing new for him.

Stacey Midland had been called in on another consultation and it was up to him to speak with their patient's team. He nodded to one of the nurses who had helped him settle Larabee into the SICU under the name of John Doe.

"Would you like a coffee, Dr. Simmons," the woman asked.

"I would love one, but first I need to check on some patients. Can you make it strong and black?"

"Of course," Sarah Rideout told him.

Simmons made his way toward the stairs and walked down one flight. He knew the way by heart and took a deep breath when he reached the room that housed Larabee's team. He knew they'd all be in there, including Orin Travis and there was no point in berating them. He pushed open the door and stepped inside, holding up his hands to stop the barrage of questions flying in his direction.

"Give me a minute," Simmons said and took the small bottle of apple juice from Nathan Jackson. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," Jackson answered as the man sat on the edge of Vin's bed.

"Well, he's out of surgery, but he's not out of the woods yet. Dr. Nicholson did everything and more and deserves your respect for what he's done. I'm not going to go into details, but there were internal injuries and major blood loss. In true Larabee fashion he gave us a hell of a job, but I'm happy to say he's settled in SICU and barring any complications we should be able to take him off the ventilator some time tomorrow."

"You're using an alias for him, right?" Wilmington asked.

"We are and no visitors allowed so he's under police protection as of right now. Captain Miller sent two men to stand outside his room. No one goes in or out except me, Dr. Midland, and two nurses," Simmons explained. "Are you boys going to be able to stay away until you get the people behind this?"

"We'll do what we gotta do, Doc," Tanner told him.

"So, no late-night shenanigans?"

"No," Wilmington snapped softly. "We know what this means, Doc. Chris' life means a lot to us, and we'll do what we need to do to keep him safe."

"Good, look I'm on call tonight and I'll come down to update you on his condition. Stacey has gone home, but she'll be here tomorrow, and she'll do the same. I know this will be hard on all of you, but it's for the best."

"Thanks, Doc," Tanner said and took a deep breath before looking around the room. He knew he needed something to help ease the pain burning through his side and back but didn't want to admit to it.

"I see right through all of you. I'll send your nurse in with your medications, and I don't want to hear how you don't need it. Nathan, Ezra, and JD you three need to go home and rest. I saw Rain before I left Chris and she's coming to pick you up in 15 minutes. Go home and sleep."

"I'll see that they listen," Travis assured him.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Rain glanced in the rearview mirror and silently cursed the men behind the injuries to her fiancé and the rest of the team. JD's eyes were closed, but she knew he wasn't sleeping by the lines of pain and strain on his face. She knew he should not be alone and had spoken with Nettie Wells about dropping him at her home.

Next to him sat Ezra Standish, his eyes wide open as he glanced at the tablet in his hands. She knew there was no point in telling him to put it away but was adamant about him spending the next few days with her and Nathan. He kept telling them that he was fine, but he'd quickly learned that she wasn't buying it.

She kept her eyes on the road but glanced sideways at her fiancé. Nathan would never admit it, but he was just like the rest of the team. He wouldn't admit to hurting, but that didn't matter because she had his medication and would see that he took it, ate something, and went to bed. They would all need sleep until they knew what was happening with Charles Goodwin and Rodrigo Vargas.

Rain pulled into Nettie's driveway as Nettie and Casey stepped out of the house.

"What's going on? I need to go to my place," Dunne exclaimed.

"You need to rest and let the army, Jake, and Rafael take care of things for now,' Rain told him.

"But…"

"JD, there's no point in arguing with her when she's made up her mind. I doubt you'll get anything past Nettie and Casey either so suck it up and take it easy," Jackson said with a hint of a smile as Rain Got out and Nettie hugged her.

"How are they?" Nettie asked.

"Stubborn," Rain said as Nathan joined her, leaning heavily on his cane.

"How is Chris?" the older woman asked softly.

"He's listed as critical, Nettie, but we know Chris' picture is in the dictionary right next to the word stubborn," Jackson answered.

"I believe there are six other pictures right next to his," Nettie said as Casey helped JD from the car, hugging him gently before leading him into the house.

"Casey knows how to handle him," Rain observed.

"She certainly does. She's already warmed up some soup for him and folded down the blankets on his bed," Nettie said with a hint of a smile. "I've got a container of soup and some biscuits for you to take home."

"Thank you, Nettie," Rain said and followed the woman into the house.

"You are a lucky man, Nathan," Standish said from the back seat.

"Don't I know it," Jackson agreed and leaned heavily against the car as his right knee threatened to give out.

"And you tell us we are the worst patients," Standish said softly.

"Josiah once said we are all cut from the same cloth…might be what makes the team work so well," Jackson said as Nettie and Rain returned.

"Thank you, Mrs. Wells," Standish said.

"Just make sure you do as Rain tells you and maybe I'll deliver a peach cobbler tomorrow," the older woman said.

"I shall be on my best behavior," the gambler assured her.

"Good Lord is that a promise or a threat," Nettie said before turning and heading back into the house.

"That is one formidable lady," Standish said as Rain placed the cooler on the seat beside him.

"You got that right and if I were you, I'd stay in her good graces," Rain said and watched her fiancé get in the car. She knew once they got home, she would warm up the soup and put them both to bed.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Stan Bradford cursed as he stood up and walked to the door of the jail. The deputies were incarcerated together in the other two cells, but he was left alone. The army had escorted him to Bradford Falls and made sure they arrested the members they thought were involved in his business.

Brookfield was seated at the desk in the outer office, and he'd overheard the man's conversation. The one good thing that had come out of all this was that they'd found Chris Larabee's body inside the tunnel. He hoped the sonofabitch had suffered before he died.

"You do know you're denying me my rights!" Bradford shouted when he heard Brookfield talking to his men.

"Did you think about the rights of the men you kidnapped?" Brookfield asked from the outer office. He stood up and walked into the back room where the jail cells were fully occupied.

"I didn't kidnap anyone. My brother arrested them, and you should be helping me not those prisoners.!"

"Those prisoners were wrongly accused and deserved a trial…"

"They had a trial and were found guilty!"

"And each man was sentenced to 5 years at your compound. Pretty good scam I'd say," the colonel said.

"It wasn't a scam. They were thieves and drug dealers and…"

"Not according to this man," Brookfield said and smiled when Bradford spotted the man standing in the doorway.

"Phillips! You bastard!" Bradford snarled.

"Jail looks good on you, Bradford!" Phillips said.

"You should be in here too, Phillips. He's been working for me, Colonel!"

"Actually, he's been working undercover and he's probable going to put you away for a long, long time," Brookfield said with a grin.

"You miserable scum!" Bradford said. I should have put you in the tunnel alongside Larabee! I gave you a job and you screwed me over…"

"I already had a job, and it was to help take you down. I just wish the man you called Inmate 78 could see you now, but he's dead and you did that!" Phillips said. He'd been speaking with the colonel and understood they wanted Bradford to believe Larabee was dead in order to get the two men who were still in Billings.

"I'll see you in hell, Phillips." Bradford vowed and turned his attention to the military officer. "I want my phone call!"

"You'll get your call when I say so. For now, enjoy the view because you'll be in a smaller cell before long," the colonel told him and walked away. He waited for Phillips to join him and closed the door as Bradford started screaming about his civil rights.

"Any word from Orin Travis about Larabee?" Phillips asked softly.

"He made it through surgery, but he's still listed as critical. They have him under John Doe in the hospital."

"Hope they can pull this off, so Goodwin and Vargas go down for their involvement in all this."

"They'll get the bastards," Brookfield said. "You know you deserve a medal for what you did at that compound. I've had a look at your files, and it's pretty cut and dry that the bastard will never again see the light of day as a free man."

"He deserves to be thrown in the hole the way he did with Larabee."

"I wish we could do that, but some bleeding-heart judge could see it as an offence to his civil liberties," Brookfield said and sat at his desk. "This is going to take time, but we'll make sure the Is are dotted and the Ts are crossed."

"Good idea…can't let him skate on a technicality." David Phillips poured two cups of the strong black coffee and handed one to the colonel before opening one of the files they'd found locked in the safe.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin looked at the clock beside his bed and sighed tiredly. He'd finally given up on any thought of sleep and turned on the late-night news. The anchor looked solemn as she addressed someone offscreen and he was shocked when Orin Travis joined her behind the news desk. He turned up the volume just as she asked him if he had anything to say about the rumors that Chris Larabee was dead.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Judge, could you please tell us if there is any truth in the report from Bradford Falls?"

"Yes, Samantha, there is," Travis said and took a deep breath before speaking, a slight tremor in his voice. "Colonel Brookfield called me an hour ago and confirmed that they'd found Chris Larabee's body inside one of the tunnels Bradford was using to store illegal armaments and several kilos of heroin."

"I am so sorry for your loss, Judge. Mr. Larabee was well known as a man of honor and integrity and I hope whoever did this is brought to justice," the young woman said.

"Thank you. Chris was like a son to me, and he didn't deserve to die."

"Does this mean you will stop investigating Charles Goodwin?"

"Chris was adamant about Goodwin, but we were unable to find any evidence of any wrongdoing. I wish I could have done more, but the law is the law and without proof there is nothing more I can do."

"What about the other members of his team?"

"They are all recovering from their injuries, and I asked them not to do anything where Goodwin is concerned."

"Do you think they will abide by your orders?"

"They won't like it, but for now there is nothing more we can do," Travis said.

"I hope they are not down for long. We need your team…"

"Chris' team," Travis corrected.

"Yes, Chris' team, but I guess it will just be a team of six and the media will probably come up with a new name for The Magnificent Seven."

"It will be hard to find a seventh member, but Chris would want his team to continue the work they do. That won't happen until they are all cleared by Dr. Midland and Dr. Simmons."

"I am so sorry, Judge, I know how hard this must be for all of you."

"It is hard…I've lost a man I thought of as my son," Travis said and sighed tiredly as someone signaled that the time was up.

"Thank you for updating us on the tragic events. I hope Mr. Larabee's team are able to come to terms with what's happened. Are you worried that they will go after Goodwin and Vargas?"

"Not right now," Travis said and stood up. "Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about Chris and his team."

"You're welcome, Judge. Thank you for agreeing to this interview."

Orin Travis shook hands with the woman and walked off the set. He took a deep breath, relieved that he'd been able to get through it. He knew the others were staying away from Chris but wasn't sure how long they could keep it up. They needed to get Goodwin and Vargas, sooner rather than later.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

The smile on Charles Goodwin's face grew wider as he listened to the interview. He was startled by the sound of his cell phone and lifted it to his ear without looking at it. "Goodwin."

"Are you watching this?"

"I certainly am. Larabee is dead."

"So, it seems, but maybe we should hold off on celebrating until it's confirmed."

"Travis said he was dead and that's good enough for me. I'm going to arrange for a conference and tell his team how sorry I am for their loss."

"Give it a few days, Charles. Bradford should call me when they allow him his call and when he does, I'll ask him how sure he is that Larabee is dead. I don't trust Travis and would rather see the body."

"I…you really believe Travis would set this up?"

"I wouldn't put it past him. If Larabee is alive this would be the perfect way to get you to let your guard down. Don't do it, Charles. We need to be smart about this…smarter than Travis gives us credit for."

"I'll wait to move anything until after Larabee's funeral."

"Good plan…perhaps you should attend the service."

"I am going to…after all we were friends at one time. Giving my condolences to his friends would be the right thing to do and if they go after me, it will look petty on their part."

"Sounds like you have it under control, Charles. Perhaps you can come to the cages tomorrow night and celebrate with the two new girls I purchased."

"I might just take you up on that, My friend. Perhaps if you have that young man who looks like Larabee I will sample his body."

"I do and I'm sure you'll enjoy his body. See you tomorrow, Charles."

"I'll be there," Goodwin said and hung up. He laid back against the pillows and sighed as he thought of his one-time friend. Again, he wondered what his life would be like if he'd stayed true to his values, but it was too late for that. Life was what it was and his would continue while Chris' was over. Too late to think about coulda, woulda, shoulda.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Ray Simmons had been impressed when they'd driven into the driveway and stopped in front of Larabee's home. It was something he could see the man calling home and he knew it was a place he could retreat to. He'd exited the car with Cordova and Taylor and followed them into the house.

"I'll get coffee going," Taylor said and handed the package he carried to Rafael. "Can you show Ray where the spare bedroom is?"

"Of course. Follow me," Cordova said and lead the man through the living room and down the hallway. He stopped before an open door and motioned Simmons inside. "There's soap and shampoo and anything else you need in the guest bathroom."

"A real shower," Simmons said hopefully.

"A walk-in shower or there's a tub in the other bathroom at the end of the hall."

"I could do with a real shower right now," Simmons said. He owed Larabee, not just for putting an end to his incarceration, but for giving him a place to stay in Billings.

"Take as much time as you need," Cordova told him. There was a sadness about Ray Simmons, and he had a feeling it had a lot to do with seeing his brother for the first time. They'd spoken of Roy, but he'd shook his head when asked why the duo had parted ways.

"Thank you," Simmons said. There were clothes in the bag that suited him, and he vowed to repay any money Orin Travis had spent on him. He grabbed a pair of jeans and a red shirt before heading for the bathroom.

"We'll get dinner going," Cordova said as the man disappeared into the other room. He joined Taylor in the kitchen and accepted a cup of coffee. "Ray's getting a shower…he might be a while."

"He's been through a lot," Taylor said.

"Any word on Chris?"

"Orin called. Chris made it through surgery, but he's listed as critical. They aren't using his real name."

"Good, hopefully it'll give Goodwin and Vargas enough rope to hang themselves with," Cordova said.

"I hope so…the sooner the better. I put one of Nettie Wells chicken pies in the oven. I'm also warming up some of her rolls Chris had in the freezer."

"Smells delicious," Cordova said and sat at the center island to wait for Simmons to join. "Do you think he'll stick around?"

"Depends on how things go when he sees his brother." Taylor answered.

"Hard when family have a falling out…even worse when it happens between twins."

"It is, but I have a feeling they'll figure it out, especially if Chris plays referee."

"They're stubborn, but that's something Chris knows how to deal with," Cordova said with a grin.

"That he does," Taylor agreed and hoped things would work out for the brothers. He'd nearly lost touch with his sister over something stupid, but they'd managed to heal the pain and spent lots of time together.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Carl Newman stepped into the SICU and checked on his patient. He'd been told the man was a John Doe and that he was not allowed any visitors. He'd worked many years with an agency that had clandestine dealings like this and knew how to keep his mouth shut. He knew whoever the man was he deserved proper treatment and as a nurse of nearly 30 years he knew what was expected of him.

Carl looked up as Stacey Midland came into the room and knew the woman was watching him. He smiled and hoped she understood he would do what was needed and keep this man's identity secret.

"How is he, Carl?" Midland asked of the nurse.

"His temperature is a little high, but I believe you already know that."

"Yes, I do," Midland said with a smile. "I'm hoping the medication will help with that, but if it's needed you can add a cooling blanket."

"I will Dr. Midland. Is he a friend of yours?"

"I…"

"Never mind. The less I know the better. I'm sure you'd rather not have his identity known right now."

"You're a wise man, Carl."

"I wouldn't say that, but I am a man who knows how to treat patients who need to be protected. I won't let anyone inside, and I will make sure the curtains are kept closed at all times."

"Thank you, Carl," Midland said and checked her patient's chart. She knew it would be morning before they took him off the ventilator and hoped Chris Larabee would continue to show how stubborn he was. "Carl, I am changing the orders so you can ease off on the sedation at midnight."

"Yes, Doctor," Newman said and checked the chart she handed him. He initialed the orders to show that he'd read them and knew it was not necessary, but it was something he'd been trained to do.

"Thank you, Carl," Midland said and knew her next stop would be the room that housed Larabee's men. She made her way to the stairs and went down one flight before making her way to their room. It didn't surprise her when she found them awake and talking. Josiah and Buck were in their beds, but Vin was seated at the window.

"Doc, any news on Chris?" Wilmington asked softly.

"I just saw him and left orders for the staff to ease off the sedation at midnight. He should be waking up around six and I will be there to assure him that you are all right. I wish I could allow one of you to be there, but it is important to keep to the plan."

"It's the only way to keep him safe," Sanchez said.

"And set the trap for those bastards!" Wilmington snarled.

"Is he going to be all right?" Tanner asked tiredly.

"You know Chris, Vin…he's stubborn and bullheaded and I don't think he's ready to give up…"

"More like God doesn't want him yet and the devil's afraid of him," Sanchez told her.

"That goes for all of you," Midland said and sat on the edge of Wilmington's bed. "Look, I'm not going to sugar coat things. Chris is in bad shape and it's going to be a long recovery, but I honestly think he'll beat the odds again. It's just going to be a little harder without you boys there to hold him in check."

"You can handle him, Doc…if not Simmons will tie him to the bed and read a chapter of War and Peace Larabee style," Wilmington said of the file the gruff physician kept on their friend. Hell of it was he had one for all of them and they kept getting thicker.

"Yes, I've seen his files," Midland said of the thick files her colleague kept on this particular team. "He told me he's going to need to think about transferring them to a computer and we all know what he thinks of those."

"Devil's work," Sanchez said.

"That's what he says, but between us he does a lot of work on the computer and knows how to create files and programs. JD's spent a lot of time with him," Wilmington observed.

"Well, I do believe it's time to call it a night. I am on call and will be in the hospital if you guys need anything. Vin get back to bed and get some sleep. That goes for you two as well…"

"I'm already in bed, Doc, and I kind of like…"

"Watch what you say, Buck…Inez and I have your number," Midland said as she left the room. Josiah and Vin's laughter followed her, and she hoped they could contain themselves until the men behind their injuries were locked up.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"I want my call!" Bradford snarled as Brookfield's man came into the outer area of the cells.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I heard you the last 10 times you whined about your call and your rights and everything else. Colonel Brookfield said you can make one call," William Rider said and handed the man a cell phone.

"I want privacy!"

"You got five minutes!" Rider told him.

"Five minutes isn't long enough…"

"Maybe not, but it's all you're getting! Less than five minutes now," Rider said and left the inner area of the jailhouse.

Bradford looked at the phone and hit the buttons that would connect him with Rodrigo Vargas. The phone on the other end was picked up almost immediately.

"Vargas."

"It's Stan Bradford."

"What the hell do you think you're doing calling me?'

"I need your help!"

"I don't give a fuck what you need. You…"

"Shut up and listen you idiot. I'm in jail and the army has taken everything. I need to get out of here…"

"What about Larabee?"

"Bastard died in the cave in at the compound. Look, I don't have much time so shut up and listen. I know you're working with Goodwin, and I did my research. That bastard is as dirty as you are, and I have evidence to put him away so tell him he'd damn well better get me out of here or I'll send it all to Orin Travis."

"I'll tell him, but what do you think he can do?"

"I don't know, but you're both smart men and you know damn well I'm just as smart…"

"Then why are you in jail and we are free?"

"You're only free because I haven't given you up yet, Rodrigo. Now get me the fuck out of here or I'll take you both down!"

"Time's up, Bradford!" Rider said as he entered the inner area.

"Remember what I said!" Bradford snapped and hung up before dropping the phone and stepping on it. He kicked it out of the cell and smiled at the man before speaking.  "Oh, sorry. I can be clumsy sometimes."

"You trying to hide who you called, Bradford?" Rider asked with a grin as he picked up the damaged phone. "It's easy to find out and I'm sure Colonel Brookfield will add this to your charges."

"Add what breaking a phone…give me a break!"

"Actually, it's more like destroying government property," Rider said and left the sputtering man alone.

Stan Bradford glared at the man's back while silently cursing Chris Larabee and his own brother. Jeff had made a fatal mistake in taking Larabee and now he was on the verge of losing everything he'd worked so hard to build. He knew it had been a mistake to let his brother have free reign of the town of Bradford Falls, but he thought he could rely on him to do what was right.

"You stupid bastard, Jeff," he whispered and moved to the window. There was nothing to see in the alley and the darkness seemed to mirror his soul right now. He'd always known he would be caught but had been so sure he would have his compound and his loyal followers ready to take on all comers. He had lost everything, but at least he had some leverage against Goodwin and Vargas even with Larabee dead.

Bradford turned away from the window and walked to the narrow cot that served as his bed. He stretched out on his back and laced his fingers behind his head. If he was going down for all this, then he wasn't going down alone. He would bring Goodwin and Vargas down with him. A hint of a smile formed as he turned on his side and listened to the loud ticking of the clock on the outer wall of the jail cell.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Carl Newman checked the patient's IV lines and made several notations in the man's chart. He was keeping an eye on John Doe's temperature and knew he would have to speak with Dr. Midland if it continued to rise. This wasn't his first time working with a John Doe and probably would be the last time. So far, he had a perfect record when it came to his patients, and he knew that was because he never left things too late to get help.

Stacey Midland was one of the best doctors he knew, and she was also well known for listening to the nurses who cared for her patients. She often asked for their input and sometimes found their ideas went above and beyond. That was something that rarely happened but when it did it showed a whole new side to the doctor-nurse dynamic.

Newman looked at his patient and hoped this man was as strong as Midland thought because he had a long hard road to recovery. "Well, I guess we have a lot of work to do but I'm sure you will come out the other side if you listen to Dr. Midland. She knows what she's doing, and you can trust her to do everything in her power to help you through this. He changed the bag of IV fluids and knew his shift would end soon.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Ray Simmons lay on the bed, covered in the warmth of the blankets as he thought about the rift that had grown between him and his twin brother. They could both be stubborn and as twins it was hard because they each thought they were right. Thinking back on what had caused it made his head pound, not because either of them was right or wrong, but because they had let it come between them.

From what Taylor and Cordova had told him, Roy was a good man and a damned good doctor. He was partnered with a Dr. Stacey Midland, and they had a private practice along with working at Saint Vincents Hospital in Billings. Was he doing the right thing in staying at Larabee's ranch? Could he and Roy mend the fences? Could he find a life here or was that just a pipe dream that would not come true?

Roy had left home without a backward glance, but that didn't mean he had cut ties with everyone from their past. He knew Roy had asked their uncle about him and that had come as a surprise to him. He'd kept in touch with their uncle but had not really asked for information on Roy's whereabouts.

He could wait for Larabee to wake up, God help him, but he needed to know where he stood when it came to his brother. Larabee seemed to have some important part to play in the reunion and he had promised to wait for him. He turned on his side and saw the picture on the wall.

It was one that showed a smiling Chris Larabee along with a woman who was with child. She was beautiful and glowed with happiness as her husband's hand rested on her belly. The next picture showed Larabee, and six men and he knew instinctively they must be his team. He thought about the men and the stories Taylor and Cordova had told him and wondered whether ‘The Magnificent Seven' were as magnificent as these two believed.

Sighing heavily, Ray Simmons closed his eyes and drifted toward sleep, comforted by the idea that he could soon be reunited with his brother.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Roy looked at Larabee's chart as Stacey Midland strode toward him. He knew she had already checked the numbers and ordered the new meds as she leaned against the nursing station's desk. Twelve hours had passed since the surgery and in true Larabee fashion the complications had started. His temperature was dangerously high, and a cooling blanket had been ordered as well as the medications that should help bring it down.

"Have you been to see his team?' Midland asked once she knew there was no one in hearing distance.

"I just finished my rounds and was about to go check on them," Simmons told her.

"Come on…we might as well get it over with," Midland said and stepped away from the SICU desk. They made their way to the stairs and slowly walked down them. "His fever has me worried."

"You're doing everything that can be done. Larabee won't quit on us now…not when he's got to take Goodwin down."

"If he's right about Goodwin…"

"When have you known Larabee to go after someone this hard if he's not 100% sure he's right. I looked into Goodwin and the people he associates with, and he won't be getting my vote."

"Mine either, he seems like a coward. Chris believes he's working with Vargas and that's a mean bastard," Midland said.

"Hopefully we can keep Chris safe until he's strong enough to testify against them."

"We are doing all we can," Midland said and grew quiet when the door opened, and two nurses stepped through. She nodded to them and exited the stairwell with Simmons close behind her. She glanced at the clock and realized they were early, but something told her Buck, Josiah, and Vin probably already had early visitors.

"How much do you want to bet that our three are not alone?"

"No bet…I'd say they are already in there and probably brought coffee and sandwiches from Delvecchio's."

"I could us a coffee," Simmons said as they walked toward the room that housed three of Larabee's team. He pushed open the door and saw the guilt on the faces of six men.

"Morning, Doc," Jackson said softly.

"It is morning…very early morning and I'm pretty sure you boys are supposed to be resting," Midland said and folded her arms.

"We couldn't sleep, and figured Buck, Vin, and Josiah could use a real cup of coffee," Dunne said and sheepishly glanced at the window.

"We brought coffee and sandwiches for you and Dr. Simmons as well," Standish told her and motioned toward the table beside Vin's bed.

"Thank you," Simmons said and moved to lean against the wall beside the window. "How do you boys feel this morning?"

"Better, not great, but better," Sanchez assured them.

"Thank you for not saying I'm fine," Midland said with a hint of a smile.

"We leave that to Chris and Vin," Wilmington said. "How is he, Doc?"

"Let's just say he's putting us through the wringer," Simmons answered. "He's running a fever and we've changed some of his meds and placed him on cooling blankets. Hopefully that will help bring down the fever."

"Is he still on the ventilator?" Tanner asked softly, his voice hoarse with emotion.

"Yes, and for now he will stay that way. He needs it but hopefully we can wean him off tomorrow morning," Simmons said.

"Has anyone tried to see him?" Jackson asked.

"No, and we will make sure no one enters his room unless they are on the main list," Midland assured them. "We are doing everything we can to keep him safe. Miller sent over a couple of plains clothed officers to keep it that way. One is dressed as a cleaner while the other is dressed as a nurse, and they know to stay near Chris' room. They are well trained and know they need to be inconspicuous."

"As long as they keep him safe," Wilmington observed.

"He is going to be all right isn't he, Doc?" Tanner asked.

"We are doing everything we can for him, and we all know what a stubborn SOB Chris Larabee can be," Simmons answered and took a sip of the hot coffee. "Thanks for this."

"You are welcome," Standish said and handed the two doctors a sandwich. "Mama Delvecchio made these fresh while we were there."

"Thanks," Stacey said and accepted the sandwich. These men seemed to gain the trust of so many people in Billings and she wondered how many people they'd helped who didn't even know who they were. "I know how hard it is for you not to visit Chris…"

"It's okay, Doc," Tanner said and took a deep breath as he slid his legs over the edge of the bed and gingerly stood up. "We know what the stakes are, and we are doin' what we need ta. We won't put Chris in danger."

"We know…and that's got to be hard for all of you," Simmons offered and leaned against the wall. "You also need to realize that you're all injured and that means you're down for the count…now hold on! I don't mean you're out of it and we know how much work you're putting in to get Goodwin and Vargas, but you need to take care of yourselves. Nathan, have you seen Dr. Frost?"

"Yeah, he's scheduling surgery for next week."

"That's good news," Dunne said as Rain entered the room and came to stand beside her fiancé.

"I think it's time, Nathan," Rain told him.

"Time for what?" Dunne asked.

"You sure?" Jackson said.

"I am. I just saw Dr. Murdoch and he said I was right about the timing."

"Timing for what?" Wilmington asked.

"You're glowing, Rain," Simmons observed."

"Thank you, Roy," Rain said and smiled at the men in the room. "Nathan is going to make a great daddy don't you think?"

"Daddy...Rain, you're going to have a baby?" Sanchez said with a grin.

"We are," Rain said.

"And that's not all…she's agreed to be my wife," Jackson said and smiled in spite of the worry they all had for the man in SICU.

"Congratulations, Brother, you and Rain are going to be great parents."

"Whether it's a boy or a girl this baby will have six Godfathers to look after him or her," Jackson said.

"That's great news…just wish Chris…"

"He will be, Buck," Dunne interrupted softly.

"Thanks, Kid," Wilmington said and smiled thinly.

"I know there's no point in telling you not to overdo things, but at least take it easy while you search for the evidence you need," Midland told them.

"We will, Doc," Tanner said and knew she didn't believe a word of what they said as she left the room with Simmons and Rain. "Ezra, were you able to find anything else on Goodwin's holdings?"

"Nothing new, but JD and I are digging into a couple of holdings that seem to lead back to him and Vargas," Standish said.

"Keep at it…we need to get as much as we can on them," Sanchez said and lay back against the pillows as he closed his eyes.

"Josiah, are you alright?" Jackson asked.

"I will be once we get those bastards," the ex-preacher told them.

"Get some rest…we'll keep digging," Dunne vowed and took out his laptop. He watched as Ezra did the same and settled int to search out more evidence on the two men who'd cost them so much.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Orin Travis stood up as the office door opened and Gary Browner stepped inside and closed the door behind him. He shook hands with the man and waited for him to take the seat across from him. "Thanks for coming, Gary. Please tell me you've found something?"

"Actually, that's why I'm here. I know JD and Ezra are looking into Goodwins holdings, so I went a different rout," Browner said and accepted the glass of whiskey as he leaned back in the chair. "I figured Ezra and JD are pretty thorough and if there's anything to be found they will find it. I've also come up with a cover story if they run into trouble. I won't go into details but suffice it to say they are working with black ops, even though they don't know it."

"Thank you, that should keep them from being thrown in jail if they are discovered," Travis observed.

"If they are Ezra can talk their way out of it," Browner said with a grin.

"Truer words were never spoken," Travis said. "So, what have you found?"

"I'm sorry about Chris, Orin…I wish I could have done something before…before…"

"Thank you, Gary, that means a lot to me. Chris was like a son to Evie and I."

"I know…and he didn't deserve what happened to him," Browner said and took a deep breath before speaking again. "I started digging around in Bradford's affairs and it seems Stan Bradford wasn't as thorough at covering his tracks as he thought he was. He moved to Bradford Falls…by the way he renamed the town, and I wouldn't be surprised if the townspeople took back what belongs to them."

"Man has a big ego!"

"That he does and that's part of what took him down…Chris deserves credit for most of it. Anyway, he's been buying illegal arms and setting up that compound…if it wasn't for his greed and his brother's stupidity he probably would have been up and running in a couple of months. I've spoken with Colonel Brookfield, and he says they've discovered more than enough weapons and supplies to last decades. There's also evidence the man planned to make an attack on the capital building once he was fully operational. The Feds are involved now, and they'll make sure everything is properly disposed of."

"How does that help us get Goodwin and Vargas?"

"I've got contacts in the FBI, and they tell me there are several files in Bradford's safe that indicate he had dealings with Vargas."

"Is there enough to arrest the bastard?'

"Not yet, but they are working on it. I'm also working on it form my end…"

"Just be careful, Gary. I don't want you putting your family in danger."

"I'm not. Shirley took the kids to visit her parents for a couple of weeks. We owe you; Chris and his team more than we can ever repay, and I am going to do everything in my power to help get the bastards who did this."

"Chris would tell you there is no debt. He…all of us were just happy he got Peter and Elizabeth to safety."

"They are safe because Chris went after them. He could have just let us deliver the ransom…"

"That's not how his team works."

"Believe me I know that. I just wish I could have been more help when Chris was alive."

"You're helping us bring down his killers and that's what counts. What do you want us to do?"

"Right now, just warn Ezra and JD to be careful," Browner said and took a deep breath. "Goodwin and Vargas are still dangerous…more so now that Bradford is in custody. Tell them to concentrate on the Gallo Corporation. Its main office is in the Cayman Islands, but it has holdings here…and by here, I mean Billings. I doubt Goodwin even knows Vargas is connected to it."

"Gallo…I've heard of them. Aren't they working with the military to supply weapons to our allies?"

"They are, but Vargas' dealings with them are not public and he wants to keep it that way. Goodwin doesn't know that he also has holdings in the corporation because of Vargas."

"Do you think there's enough to bring them down?"

"I won't know until I dig deeper. That's why I want JD and Ezra looking into it as well," Browner said.

"I'll send them the name and tell them to concentrate on Gallo," Travis vowed.

"Just make sure they keep tracking the leads they've already uncovered. Try not to worry, Orin, if anything goes wrong, I have an Ace up my sleeve."

"Now you sound like Ezra," Travis said with a grin.

"I'll take that as a compliment."

"Good…it was meant to be."

"Take care, Orin, and please let me know when you guys have made the funeral arrangements," Browner said.

"I will," Travis said and watched the man leave. He felt bad about keeping Browner out of the loop but right now he couldn't chance anyone letting it slip that Larabee was alive. He quickly sent a private email to Dunne and hoped what they had would pan out.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin smiled as he poured another drink and walked to the living room window. Two days had passed since leaving the Bradford compound and so far, it looked like Chris Larabee was dead. The bruising around his nose and eyes looked worse than ever and he looked like a raccoon. At least the bastard who did it was dead and for that he felt relieved but also angry that he couldn't seek revenge. The newspapers and television continued to cover what had happened in Bradford Falls and were making sure they covered what had happened there.

One news program was constantly talking about how much Chris and his team had done for Billings and that he would be sadly missed. He'd even toasted Larabee himself, not out of anything profound but out of a sadness for something that could have been had he chosen a different path.

Goodwin walked to his desk and sat down before opening his laptop and typing in his password. So far it looked as if no one had breached his security and his money was safe.

"Your team is not as smart as you gave them credit for, Chris," he whispered and tapped several keys before frowning. Why hadn't Larabee's men been able to breach his protocol? Were they screwing around in his business and covering their tracks so he wouldn't know they were there?

‘Don't go looking for something that's not there,' Goodwin thought and opened a secure file to check his safeguards. According to his records no one had tried to get through his features, but that didn't mean they weren't searching. He quickly changed his passwords and put in several more layers that would make it hard for anyone to find his holdings.

Leaning back in his chair he opened a secondary file that held pictures and articles on Chris Larabee. The man had lost a lot during his life, but he'd brought it on himself by going after anyone he thought was breaking the law. Sarah and Adam Larabee had died because of a woman's love for Chris. Would things have been any different if he'd been there when Chris needed him most? Would they have still been friends or would things have gone the way they had because he wanted to be successful?

He frowned and closed off the file as guilt, a feeling he didn't like, washed over him. This was his life…the one he had chosen, and he could not change that even if he wanted to.

"You brought it on yourself, Chris, and your friends paid the price. You should have stayed out of my business," Goodwin snarled as his private phone wrang. "Goodwin."

"Hello, Charles, I wanted to offer my condolences on the loss of your friend."

"He hasn't been my friend in a long time, Rodrigo."

"Don't tell anyone that. Use their sympathy to regain some of the ground you lost with the public."

"I plan on. I was thinking about arranging an interview to let people know how devastated I am by the loss of such a dear friend."

"Laying it on kind of thick, My Friend."

"Thick is the only way when it comes to this."

"When will you do it?"

"I wanted to give it a week and then I'll call the reporters and arrange for the interview."

"Why not do it now while things are still fresh?"

"I don't want to appear cold-hearted," Goodwin said.

"Just be careful, Charles. I'd hate to have anything go wrong while we ride out this shit with Bradford."

"I am being careful…just wish I could visit your home and take out some pent-up frustration."

"Soon, My Friend. I'll keep an eye out for your interview."

"Sounds good. Save me a young one…female."

"I will."

Goodwin put the phone back in the locked drawer and finished his drink. He knew doing an interview would piss off Larabee's team, but with him out of the equation it didn't matter what Wilmington, or the others thought. He would make damn sure people listened to him and believed everything he had to say. Chris Larabee was in hell, and it was up to him to put on the performance of a lifetime.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Stacey Midland looked over the chart of her ‘John Doe' and smiled as she watched green eyes flutter open. She knew he would be disoriented and might panic at the realization that there was a tube down his throat. She placed the file on the small table and put her hand on his shoulder as she spoke.

"Easy, you're okay. You're in Saint Vincents and you have a tube down your throat, but I am going to remove it now," Midland explained as the nurse eased off the tape. "Are you ready for this?"

One blink told her all she needed to know, and she took hold of the exposed tubing before removing and discarding it. She hated doing this to her patients, but it would be for the best in the end. "Easy now," she whispered and nodded to the nurse that she could give him the medication.

"D…doc…"

"I'm here, just try and breathe through it until the medication kicks in…"

"No!"

"No, what?"

"Don't let anyone else kick me not e…even medication," Larabee said with a slight smile.

"Nice to see you still have your sense of humor," Simmons said as he joined Midland at the bedside.

"Need it to wake up to your face, Simmons."

"Ha," the gruff physician said. "How are his numbers?"

"Still running a slight fever and his blood pressure is better," Midland answered. "How do you feel?"

"Don't think you want that answer right now," Larabee told her.

"That bad," Midland said as the nurse continued to care for the patient.

"What ab…about my team…are they…"

"Your team is improving, but they know to stay away for now," Simmons answered. "Not saying they don't want to be here, but since you're John Doe we need to keep everyone away until those bastards are caught."

"How long?"

"You were brought in three days ago and you've added another chapter to Larabee's War and Peace," Simmons said with a slight smile.

"I'm going to demand royalties when you publish," the blond said and yawned tiredly.

"Depends on how many people want to read it," Simmons said. "You need to rest so we'll leave you to the nurse. Let her know if you need anything.''

"Okay," the blond said and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath and tried to make sense of where he was and what had happened. He knew it was normal to be disoriented and the medications didn't make it any easier to think but that didn't stop him from trying. He knew Ezra, JD, and Nathan were healing before he left, but he needed to know about the others. "Doc."

"I thought I told you to sleep," Simmons said.

"Vin, Buck, and Josiah?"

"Josiah's injuries are serious, but he is going to be all right. Buck and Vin were hurt pretty bad in the explosion, but they are on the mend. All three will probably be released in a few days."

"So, they are going to be all right?"

"As long as they do what they are supposed to do. That goes for you too," Simmons said. "You've got a lot of healing to do…"

"I've got a lot of apologizing to do," Larabee said.

"That can wait until you're stronger," Midland told him.

"They…they were pissed when I le…left."

"Yes, they were, but that won't last long. They are worried about you and if I'm right they feel they owe you an apology as well," Midland explained.

"Be…best…."

"Yes, they are," Simmons said, relieved when their patient seemed to be sleeping. "Stubborn as a Missouri Bull in heat."

"I don't know how stubborn a Missouri Bull is, but it's a good thing he is," Midland said as they left the room."

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Sleep was a rare commodity for the six men working to find evidence of Goodwin being ‘in bed' with Vargas. They knew what had to be done, but it could easily get them all in trouble. Travis had told them that Browner would do everything he could to keep their investigation secure. So far Goodwin seemed unaware of just how far they'd gotten and hopefully with their evidence and Larabee's testimony they would put him behind bars.

Midland had been in to update them on Larabee's condition, and they were all relieved to hear they'd taken him off the ventilator. He would still spend the next 24 hours in the SICU before they moved him to a private room. He would continue to be listed as John Doe until it was safe for him to do otherwise. When the time came, he would probably be under police protection if he was going to testify against Vargas, Goodwin, and Bradford.

"What about the Gallo Corporation?" Wilmington asked.

"So far there's not much, but if Browner is correct we will find the evidence we need," Standish observed.

"We need to make sure we got ‘im this time," Tanner said and rubbed his left side. The pain was a constant reminder of what had happened to all of them. Chris hadn't deserved what they'd said to him, but at the time it was the heat of the moment, and they would all have a long talk once Goodwin and Vargas were in prison where they belonged. He glanced at the television as a familiar figure walked into view. "JD, turn up the sound."

"What the hell!" Wilmington said as all eyes turned to the television.

"Sonofabitch!" Jackson said.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin stepped up to the podium and fought to keep from smiling as he looked at the reporters seated in front of him. He knew what he was about to do would piss off Larabee's friends, and that was a bonus for him. He tapped the microphone and waited for people to quiet down before speaking.

"I'm sure most of you know who I am, and I hope you understand why I asked for your time. I also understand you're as saddened as I am at the loss of Chris Larabee. Chris and I have been friends…"

"That's not what Larabee's team said…"

"I'm sorry but I'm not taking questions or comments at this time. I just wanted to let you all know that I will get to the bottom of what happened to him in Bradford Falls."

"What happened to your nose? Did Larabee do that?"

"Are you working for Vargas?"

"Was Larabee right about you taking money?"

"Are you part of the drug cartel trying to set up operations in Billings?

"I have never taken a bribe, nor have I ever been working for Vargas. If you continue to interrupt, I will have you removed," Goodwin warned. He felt himself losing control as several more questions were fired by reporters who wanted answers. He took a deep breath and tried to regain composure as more questions were fired in his direction. He realized this was a stupid move on his part, but it was too late to do anything about it. "I'm sorry, but this is not why I came here. I wanted to talk about my friend and what he was like, but if you're just going to sling mud then we'll end it now."

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Looks like they rattled his cage," Wilmington said with a grin as Goodwin stormed away from the microphone with several more questions fired in his direction.

"I don't think he was expecting this," Jackson agreed.

"He got what he deserved," Dunne said and looked up as Nettie Wells entered the room.

"I thought this was a hospital room…not your office," the elderly woman observed.

"Good morning, Nettie," Tanner said and smiled at her as she came toward his bed. He'd finally gotten used to calling her Nettie instead of Miss Nettie, but there was no doubting the respect he had for her.

"I take it you were watching The Gong Show?"

"We were. I just wish they'd used a hook around his neck," Wilmington said.

"We all do," Standish agreed.

"How are you doing, Nettie?" Tanner asked.

"I'm okay, but I'll feel much better once this is over. Please tell me you're getting somewhere with all this?"

"As a matter of fact, we are," Dunne said. "We are working on a couple of new things…"

"JD, can you bring up Vargas' holdings north of Billings?" Standish said and tapped several keys on his laptop.

"What's going on, Ezra?" Sanchez asked.

"I called in a couple of favors and had some images taken of Vargas' home outside the city. It seems the man has video coverage of his own and a friend of mine works as his gardener. He has seen some things that he doesn't like and is ready to quit but I managed to convince him to stay in Vargas' employ for a while longer. He told me there are several camera angles of the home, but there is one in particular we should concentrate on."

"You want me to tap into the closed-circuit television?" Dunne asked.

"If you can do it without Vargas knowing. Otherwise, we must figure out if the man is keeping records from his cameras," Standish said.

"It may take some time, but I'll find a way," Dunne vowed.

"Did your friend say anything else, Ezra?" Tanner asked. He knew the gambler well enough to know that he hadn't disclosed everything he'd found.

"He told me he may have seen Goodwin at the house…"

"That's great…we need to tell Miller!" Wilmington said.

"Not so fast, Buck…"

"What do you mean not so fast, Ez? We could have the bastard…Sorry Nettie."

"I've heard worse, Buck," Nettie told him.

"We can't go after him until we can confirm he was there and in Vargas' company. My friend could not be sure and that's why we do this by going through the camera feeds," Standish explained. "If…sorry when JD taps into the camera feed we should be able to download whatever Vargas hasn't deleted. Then it will be a simple…"

"Simple is not a word I'd associate with any of this," Sanchez observed.

"I misspoke," was Ezra's simple answer as he and JD continued to search the services used by Vargas.

Nettie watched as the men continued to work despite their injuries. None of them had been spared this time, and she silently cursed the three men who were responsible for their injuries. She knew it wouldn't happen overnight but when it did, she would be sitting in the front row of the courtroom and cheer the loudest when they were sent to prison. Too many people had been hurt because Goodwin, Vargas, and Bradford thought they were above the law.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Stan Bradford paced the confines of his cell and silently cursed his brother for not following his orders.  Jeff would not be dead if he hadn't taken Chris Larabee. He would still have his compound and the army and FBI would be unaware of his holdings. If he could get out on bail, he would gladly kill David Phillips for his duplicity in all of this. It didn't matter that the man was doing his job, it was still a betrayal on his part.

He was now officially charged by the FBI and had been moved to a more secure location. His lawyer was supposed to visit him later in the afternoon, but he'd already been told there wasn't much he could do. He was facing life in prison for his illegal operations. He quietly laughed at the thought that what he was doing was illegal.

‘How the hell could making my property secure against attack be illegal?' he thought and dropped heavily onto the single cot as he stared at the barred window high above his head. The only good thing to come out of this was that Larabee was dead and could not testify against him. A lot of good that was when there were so many others who could put him away for a long time. 

He had not spoken to Vargas or Goodwin and knew they would not help him. When the time came, he would use everything he had on them if it lessened his own sentence. He wasn't the only one who would spend the rest of his life as a prisoner. They should be there to help him and for that he would gladly plead for his life by offering the bastards up.

A hint of a smile formed on his face as he lay back on the pillow. The smell of sweat was enough to make his stomach churn but complaining about it wouldn't do him any good. He'd found that out early in the morning when the guard who came to his cell struck him in the gut with a baton. Killing him would be a bonus, but he knew that would never happen while he was behind bars.

Larabee was lucky he was dead, because if he wasn't he'd curse the day he ran afoul of Stan Bradford. A lot of people would soon find out just what he would and could do to get out of this hellish place.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris opened his eyes and listened to the equipment that surrounded him. He could see the nurse writing something down but didn't call out to him. Right now, the pain was minimal but that was because of the heavy medications they were giving him. The problem was it kept knocking him out and he needed to be clear headed if he wanted to help get Goodwin and Vargas.

He was the only one that could testify that he'd seen both men at Bradford's compound but right now he didn't have the energy to lift his head. It wouldn't last long, because as soon as Simmons and Stacey would listen to him, he would give his deposition to Miller. The bastards would spend the rest of their lives behind bars, and he would be there when the doors slammed shut.

"How do you feel?" the nurse asked softly.

"Like I've been on a weeklong binge," Larabee answered honestly.

"That good?" she asked and adjusted the settings on the IV lines.

"Have you ever gone on a weeklong binge?"

"No, I haven't and I'm guessing you don't recommend it."

"No, I don't," he answered and wished he could see his team. The need to apologize was strong and he knew he owed them big time. His team, his band of brothers were injured because of his selfish need for revenge, and he knew he would do it all over again. They needed to understand that, and he needed them to know why he did what he did. Some of it was for selfish reasons but for the most part he did it because of Charles Goodwin's victims. The list was even longer now, and somehow, he would be there to see Goodwin's face when the time came.

"You look like you have a lot on your mind," Tina Mulligan observed softly.

"I do," Larabee sighed heavily and let his eyes close as the nurse continued to do what was needed for him. God, help him but he hoped his team would forgive him and accept his apology. He drifted toward sleep, hoping the nightmares would not return. It also made sense that when he was ready, he needed to talk to Susan James about what he'd been through and deal with everything that had happened.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7  

Josiah knew he'd been asleep for some time and kept his eyes closed as the others talked quietly. He had dreamed of Miranda Jarvis and knew the woman was at peace now, but he vowed he would see justice served. He knew how Chris felt and understood his need to get Goodwin and Vargas. The bastards were guilty of taking Miranda's life and for nearly killing Father Thomas O'Neill.

"Josiah, are you awake?" Jackson asked.

Sanchez knew there was no point in continuing the ruse and opened his eyes as he raised the head of his bed. He was surprised to see Vin and Buck sleeping but not surprised to find JD and Ezra quietly working on their laptops. "Find anything?"

"Not much but I may have found a way to get through the security without Vargas knowing anyone had been digging into his records," Dunne said softly.

"Good…how soon can you get into the files?" Sanchez asked.

"Not sure," Dunne answered. "I need to be careful, or we'll alert him to what we are doing. I just wish I could find the code to access it, but Vargas is smarter than I gave him credit for."

"Yer smarter than him, JD. Ya'll find a way," Tanner said and slowly sat up. He glanced at the clock above the door and was surprised to find he'd slept nearly three hours.

"I hope so," Dunne said as Wilmington also sat up in his bed.

"Why'd you let us sleep so damn long?" the ladies' man asked.

"We were under express instructions from Mrs. Wells," Standish answered. "She even threatened to prohibit JD from seeing Casey for a period of one week."

"A week ain't that long," Tanner said and reached for the cup of water.

"It is when you miss your paramour," Standish advised.

"Did ya get anywhere?" Tanner asked.

"We're working on it," Dunne offered.

"Have you found anything more on the Gallo Corporation?" Wilmington asked.

"Nothing much but I have a couple of leads on who started the corporation and who signs the checks," Standish answered. "It's so damn frustrating not to be able to…"

"Hello, boys," Jake Taylor said as he entered the room, followed by Rafael Cordero. He placed a tray of coffee on the table and looked at the six men. "You boys look like you belong on the set of The Walking Dead!"

"We owe you," Wilmington said and quickly shook both men's hands. He watched as the others did the same before accepting coffee from Cordero.

"I didn't know you were a fan of The Walking Dead?" Jackson observed.

"What can I say? I binge watched it last year, but can't get into Fear, The Walking Dead."

"It's a great show," Dunne said.

"If you say so, Kid," Wilmington said. "I can't watch it."

"Don't tell me there's too much violence?" Cordero said.

"No, but I can't take those pretty women like Andrea being torn apart," Wilmington said.

"Did you notice how much she looks like Mary Travis?" Standish asked.

"You watch the show?" Wilmington asked.

"I do…another guilty pleasure of mine," Standish said and tapped several keys. "Boys I think we have a back door to Gallo."

"Can you get in without them finding out?" Sanchez asked.

"Perhaps, but it will take a little longer."

"What are you boys doing?" Taylor asked.

"We're trying to find evidence against Goodwin and Vargas," Dunne answered.

"What can we do to help?" Cordero asked.

"You've done plenty already," Wilmington said.

"Maybe, but you boys are still out of commission, so give us what you have that needs to be run down by someone who's not part of…"

"The Walking Dead," Jackson finished before Cordero could and they all laughed.

"If the shoe fits," Taylor said.

"How would ya feel about goin' out to Vargas' place north of Billings?" Tanner asked.

"Got an address?" Cordero asked.

"We do, but you need to be careful," Standish answered.

"Careful? Is that my middle name or yours, Jake?"

"I do not believe any of us uses that moniker," Standish said as he wrote down the address and passed it to Taylor.

"What do you need us to do when we get there?" Taylor asked.

"For now, we just need to know how good his security is and whether or not we can get access to the monitoring equipment without tipping him off," Sanchez told him.

"I sent you a text with the address," Dunne said.

"Thanks, JD. We'll get what you need," Cordova vowed.

"Check in with us and be careful," Jackson reiterated.

"We will," Cordova said before leaving the room with Taylor.

"We owe them," Wilmington said and sighed tiredly. It was hard for him not to see Chris but for now they needed to stay away from him.

"He's okay, Buck," Sanchez said.

"Who?"

"Chris…"

"I wasn't…"

"Not a good liar this time, Buck. We all want to see him," Dunne said.

"JD's right, Buck," Tanner said and winced as he shifted from one foot to the other.

"Vin, you should be resting," Jackson said.

"Could say the same for you, Nathan…actually could say the same for all of you," Roy Simmons said from the open doorway.

"Only so much restin' we can take," Tanner told him as he closed the doctor closed the door and walked over to Sanchez's bed. "How is he, Doc?'

"Doing better than I expected. He's awake and off the ventilator. Still running a bit of a fever and sleeping a lot. We should be moving him to a private room tomorrow."

"That's good," Wilmington said.

"Does he know why we ain't visitin'," Tanner asked.

"He does and he knows you're not angry with him anymore. Although he may still be mad at himself. You know he blames himself for all of you being hurt?"

"We put the culpability on him as well," Standish observed. "Josiah showed us we were wrong."

"That's good. Now, how do you guys feel…starting with you, Tanner?"

"Sore…"

"An understatement that I'm sure I'll hear the rest of you repeat. Look, I know how hard this is for all of you but in true team7 fashion you're all doing better than expected," Simmons said as he looked around the room. "I know there's no point in telling you not to worry but I do need you to take it easy and remember Chris isn't the only one hurting."

"We know that, Doc," Wilmington said.

"Sometimes I wonder. The whole damn team seems to put yourselves in harm's way. Don't get me wrong, I know, and I understand why you do it but sometimes I wonder if it's worth it."

"It is," Sanchez observed.

"I'll take your word for that. Ok, I've gone over your tests and charts and you're all doing better than…"

"Does that mean we can get outta here?" Tanner asked.

"Don't make me laugh," Simmons told them. "Although the nursing staff would [probably be relieved if I sent you all home."

"So…"

"No, Buck, don't even think of asking," the physician said and smiled before taking a deep breath. "I've got real patients to check on so try not to give the staff a hard time."

"The nurses love…"

"Love it when you go home," Simmons interrupted, smiling as he left the room.

"He knows you, Buck," Dunne said.

"I think he knows us all," Wilmington said and moved to his bed. He hadn't slept well, and he was feeling his injuries as he sat on the edge and laid back. "The man does have a point…I'm going to rest my eyes."

"Vin, why don't you do the same?" Jackson asked.

"What ‘bout Josiah?" Tanner asked.

"I'm going to do like Simmons said and get some rest," Sanchez said and closed his eyes. It was the first time he could actually say he felt a lot older than he was and wondered if it was time to retire. He knew it was just the injuries making him feel this way, but sometimes he wondered how much longer he could do this.

"JD, Ezra, I think that's our cue to go get some lunch," Jackson said and reached for his cane as the two men closed up their laptops.

"Bring us back a burger and fries."

"Dream on, Vin, but we can get sandwiches from Delvecchio's," the team medic said.

"And soup?" Tanner asked hopefully.

"Done."

"Ezra, do you think you could bring coffee from your favorite shop?"

"Certainly, Josiah. Special coffee all around," Standish told them. He held the door for JD and Nathan and turned off the light in the room. The fact that there was no protest from the trio was a sign that they were healing but still had a ways to go.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris had no idea how long he'd slept, but the dreams he had would haunt him for the rest of his life. He knew his team was safe, but they'd all been injured in some fashion. Somewhere in this hospital there were three members of his team who had nearly paid the ultimate price for his choices. How could he make them see he'd done what he knew was right? How could he face them knowing he was the cause of their injuries?

"Glad to see you're awake," Simmons said upon entering the SICU room.

"Hello, Simmons," Larabee said and wondered what this man would think when he found out his twin brother was in Billings.

"Are you behaving yourself?"

"I don't see that I have much choice right now."

"Hmm, wonder if we can bottle up whatever made you admit to that?"

Chris smiled at the physician as he opened the chart and checked the notations made by the nursing staff and waited for him to speak.

"We must be due for a snowstorm…"

"In the summer," Larabee said with a grin. He knew exactly what Simmons was alluding to and waited for the man to say something.

"It would surprise me in the least. Seems the staff is saying you're being a model patient."

"Could be too much of the heavy drugs."

"You've been on those before and still felt the need to harass the staff. Why is this so different?"

"It's…" Larabee began and closed his eyes with a heavy sigh.

"Talk," Simmons said and sat on the edge of the bed.

"Not much to say."

"I don't believe that for a second. The time of the five words in a day Larabee is long past. Tell me what's got you looking like you just lost your best friend."

"I may have, Doc," Larabee said softly.

"Things aren't as bad as they seem. Believe me I know what it's like to think your family doesn't give a damn about you…"

"I didn't think you had family."

"I do, but I rarely talk about him…"

"Him…a brother?"

"More than just a brother…twin." Simmons answered.

"Hell, there's two of you?"

"There is, but I got the good looks and best bedside manners."

"Really? This is the best?"

"Watch it, or I'll find that case of dull needles."

"Tell me about your brother. Where is he?"

"I have no idea. We lost touch and I'm guessing he doesn't want anything to do with me."

"What happened?"

"I said some things that were uncalled for…told him to get the hell out of my life and that I never wanted to see him again. Maybe someday I'll get the chance to tell him I was wrong," Simmons said. And looked at his patient. "I think you'll find your band of brothers…oh…"

"What?" Larabee asked tiredly.

"I might just have a title for the new book I'm working on."

"Let me guess it has to do with me?"

"You and the rest of your team. You're going to star in my version of Band of Brothers. It will deal with every time two or more of you end up in my ER. How long do you think it will take to surpass your file? I'm going to start with the admissions in the last month. I wonder if I should get shares in a paper company. Maybe sell the rights to the highest bidder."

"Real funny, Simmons," Larabee said and smiled despite the pain raring it's ugly head.

"Glad I could give you something to smile about. Now, the nurse is going to give you the new meds we've ordered and then I want you resting, not thinking about what's going on outside these four walls."

"Easier said than done," Larabee whispered as the older man stood up and handed the chart back to the nurse. He closed his eyes and heard the duo talking before Simmons left the room. He hadn't really gotten the story behind Roy and Ray Simmons falling out, but he knew both men wanted to mend fences. That was something he could and would help with once he was strong enough.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Ray Simmons sat on the deck of Larabee's ranch and sipped at the coffee laced with whiskey. The sun was going down, and the far-off cry of a wolf mixed with the sounds of crickets and the soft whiney of the horse in the barn. He knew the animal's name was Pony and belonged to Larabee and had even gone out to tend the animal during the last 24 hours.

He thought about his brother and what his reaction would be when they saw each other again. There was nothing he could say or do that would take away from the past, but maybe there was something he could say about their future. He wanted his brother back and was damn well ready to do anything and everything in his power to get through to the stubborn SOB.

Ray laughed softly at the words he used to describe his brother because that term suited them both. If he'd simply listened to Roy, they might have saved themselves so much pain and loss. At the time they were both so sure they were right that nothing could have stopped the wedge that was driven between them.

Could Larabee right about his brother? Was Roy ready to accept him back into his life? Would he accept his apology, or would this be a futile attempt to mend fences? God and time would tell, and he hoped and prayed God would see fit to give him back his brother. It didn't really matter because he was going to have a talk with Roy even if it took tying him to a chair to make him listen.

A hint of a smile formed at that thought and he wondered if Roy had the same thoughts when it came to him. Growing up they'd been like two sides of a trick coin. They were both stubborn, willful and would beat the crap out of anyone who tried to hurt them. School had been rough at times, but they'd managed to make friends and it hadn't been until the final year of med school when things had gone bad between them.

The time had come to close the distance and mend those damn fence and so help him he was going to do just that. Larabee had told him that Roy had settled into the job he'd taken at Saint Vincents and maybe there was a chance for him to stay close. Maybe he could transfer to Billings and start his own practice, but that all hinged on his stubborn brother.

Taking a deep breath, Ray realized he owed Chris Larabee for giving him this chance and hoped he'd get the chance to thank him properly. When Cordova and Taylor returned, he would find out what Larabee's liquor of choice was. Although if the bar was any indication the man's taste ran to expensive whiskeys.

Ray stood up and walked back into the house. He placed the mug in the dishwasher and made his way into the living room. Larabee had more than a dozen pictures on the wall around the fireplace and he knew who they were because Cordova and Taylor had told him about them.

He reached out and touched a picture of a woman and a small boy and remembered the story of the love Chris had for Sarah and Adam and the woman who'd taken them from him. He knew it had almost killed Chris Larabee, but with the help of his band of brothers he'd come full circle. It didn't mean he would ever forget them, but at least he could face his future until the time came for him to join them.

Ray walked to the chair and switched on the television as the news reporter started talking about ‘Larabee's' death and what it meant for his team. According to the reporter there would be a memorial service in two days. The picture changed to several reporters talking to a man named Goodwin and he knew this was one of two people Larabee was after. Goodwin was rattled by what he was being asked and had stormed away without acknowledging the questions fired in his direction.

"You and the others picked on the wrong team when you went up against Larabee," he whispered and changed channels, settling on an old western starring Yul Brenner and Robert Fuller. There was something to say for this story and he wondered if Larabee's team was as good as Yul Brenner's was.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Jake Taylor nodded as Rafael Cordova moved to check the fence surrounding Rodrigo Vargas' home north of the city and hoped they could get the info they needed for Larabee's team. So far, they had only seen three men walking around the perimeter of the house and gardens. The exterior of the house was well lit up by spotlights while the heavy drapes stopped them from seeing inside the home.

A car had left earlier, and Taylor had recognized the passenger as Rodrigo Vargas. The man seemed to wear a smug, satisfied smile and he'd vowed to wipe it from his face when the time was right. Cordova had already updated Jackson and the others and promised to contact them as soon as they had more information.

"Jake, I'm going to check the back of the house," Cordova explained softly.

"Just be careful," Taylor said.

"You too," Cordova said and skirted the edges of the fence as he made his way toward the back of the property.

Jake watched him go, glad they'd hidden the car a half mile back and knew Vargas would not see it. He waited for the guards to move out of sight and walked toward the gate, surprised to find it unlocked. He knew Vargas' men should have taken care of it, but he wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. He gently slid the bolt across and opened the gate far enough for him to slip inside. He quickly sent a message to Cordova as he stealthily made his way toward the house.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

‘Gates open…I'm inside…checking house now.'

Cordova made sure he hid the light from the screen as he read the message and hoped Taylor didn't get caught. He made his way past what looked like a guard's tower and was relieved to find it empty as he dashed across the open lot toward the fence. He picked up a small piece of wood and tossed it at the fence, relieved when there was no sign that it was electrified.

Rafael pulled out a set of wire cutters and quickly cut away the fence until there was a big enough hole for him to slip through. Once through he made sure he put the wire back in place and hoped it was enough to keep from being discovered while they searched for the evidence they needed.

Cordova ducked behind a large rock when a search light panned toward him and sighed in relief when no alarm was raised. He knew Taylor would check the front of the house so he would stay to the back and see if he could find out what Vargas was doing here. There was something about the layout of the grounds and the guards that screamed something was not right, but it also meant they needed to be careful.

He made it to the house and leaned against it as he waited to see if he was discovered, but he could hear Vargas' men laughing at the side of the house. They seemed to be taking a break, but he didn't know how long they would stay where they were. He quickly sent a text to Taylor and told him where he was.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

‘Inside fence…checking house…meet at car in 30 minutes.'

Taylor quickly read the message as he checked the door, but found it locked. He put the phone back in his pocket and moved to the window as voices reached him from the side of the house. He heard laughter and caught the distinct smell of pipe tobacco as he checked the window closest to the door. The drape was open less than an inch, but he could see most of the inner hallway. There didn't seem to be any markings or pictures that would give the appearance that someone lived here, and he moved to check the next window. Again, there was just a small gap that he could look through and he wasn't surprised to find a lack of furnishings in the large living room.

Jake was surprised that there didn't seem to be any sign of life inside, but he knew the guards had to be there for a reason. He checked the window and found it locked and hoped Rafael was having better luck as he moved to the next window. The voices were louder, but they didn't seem to notice anything but themselves.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Rafael heard approaching footsteps and ducked behind a hedge of cedar bushes as two men came around the corner. He quieted his breathing as the duo seemed lackadaisical about their surroundings. He watched as they opened the back door and one of them went inside, returning a minute later with two bottles of beer.

"Do you think Vargas would mind if we looked in on those two lovely ladies?"

"I don't know, but I'm not willing to take the chance. He'd kill us if he even knew we were thinking about messing with his property."

"Who's going to tell him? The girls? I don't think they'd tell him anything."

"You want to take that chance you can go for it."

"Not right now…maybe when he brings in the new ones."

I'd love to get my hands on that new blond."

"I didn't know you were into men."

"He's not much of a man…might be consider jailbait."

Cordova silently cursed the two men as they walked past him. They talked about human life as if they could do as they wanted. He knew there were people in the house who were probably being held against their will and quickly took out his phone as he tried the door, relieved to find it unlocked.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

‘Guards talking…back door open. Need to go inside and help the people Vargas is holding. Will unlock front door…be careful.'

Taylor knew Cordova would not go inside unless he knew exactly what was going on. The fact that he had entered through the rear told him they would need to get the police involved once they rescued whoever was being held there. He listened for the guards, but their voices were low and seemed to have moved further from the house.

The door handle moved, and Cordova gently eased it open enough for Jake to slip inside. He closed the door behind him and moved further into the house as the clock over the fireplace ticked loudly. Jake took notice of several pieces of furniture placed discreetly to give the appearance that the house was empty.

"Any idea where they are being held?" Taylor asked softly.

"No, but if I'm right then there has to be a secret area somewhere near the back of the house. There are several locked doors back there."

"I'm going to send a message to Nathan and let him know what's happening,"

"Tell him not to send the police until we get the people out…rather not have those guards find us."

"Done," Taylor said and kept away from the windows as he followed Cordova across the living room. There was a hallway leading toward the back of the house and the two men stopped when they found a door that seemed to have a locking mechanism that needed a combination.

"Damn, how do we get this open without help?"

"I wonder if JD could do it remotely?"

"Might be worth a shot," Cordova said and watched as Taylor sent several messages. "Wait…I think there's someone in the next room."

They moved back toward the living room as the door to the right of the locked one opened and a woman stepped outside. She moved toward them, and Rafael quickly caught her and placed his hands over her mouth.

"We are not going to hurt you," Cordova said. "Understand?"

Taylor saw fear in her eyes as Cordova continued to hold her around the waist while his other hand covered her mouth. "We know the house belongs to Rodrigo Vargas and he's holding people here against their will. Is that true?"

The woman nodded as her eyes darted left and right. Rafael could feel her trembling against him and wondered if she knew what was going on at the house. He wanted to release her, but he wasn't sure she would remain quiet.

"If my friend releases you, do you promise to stay quiet?" Taylor asked softly and watched for any sign of deception. She really did seem terrified, but he wasn't sure if it was because of him and Rafael or because of Rodrigo Vargas and what he could do to her. "Do you know what's behind that door?"

Cordova felt her trembling intensify as she nodded slightly. "Are there women or men being held there against their will?"

"…yes…" was the muffled reply.

"Can you open the door?" Taylor asked and smiled when she nodded her head. "Will you open it for us?"

"Will you help me get my son away from him?"

"Is your son in there?"

"No…he took him away. He said he would hurt him if I tried to help the others."

"Do you know where?" Cordova asked as he released his hold on her.

"No, but he sometimes takes them to his others house. Please, I need to help him."

"We will do everything we can," Cordova told her as he watched her hit several numbers on the locking mechanism. "What's your name?

"Maria Caldwell."

"Are there any guards in there, Maria?" Taylor asked.

"No, just the three men outside. He thinks they are enough," the woman answered, her voice filled with fear as she heard the click of the lock release.

"Rafael, stay here with her and watch for trouble," Taylor ordered and opened the door. The smell hit him immediately and he knew this area had been used to hold prisoners for many years. He walked to the top of the stairs, relieved that the area was already lit as he started down. The air was cool, bordering on cold as he made his way to the bottom. There were several doors, all of them locked from the outside and he quickly lifted the bolt on the first one to find four young women huddled in the far corner.

"Please don't hurt us…"

"I'm not going to hurt you," Taylor told them. "I'm going to get you all out of here. Do you know how many others are down here?"

"No, but I saw at least two young men…boys brought down here this morning,"

"Okay, I want you all to go upstairs. There's someone waiting to help you out of here."

"What if they come back?" a blonde woman asked.

"My friend can protect you," Taylor said and motioned for them to go up the stairs. He moved to the next cell and repeated the words he'd used to get them moving. There were two young girls behind the third door, and he cursed the fact that they couldn't be any older than 15 or 16.

When he opened the final door, he found two men and a boy who seemed to be traumatized by what he'd been through.

"…please…no more…" the boy said, and Jake felt his heart breaking as the two men moved to try and protect the child.

"I'm not. I'm here to get you out of here," Taylor told them. "We need to move fast, but we have to be as quiet as we can until we take care of the guards."

"You're really here to help us?" one of the men asked.

"Yes, follow me."

"What about the others?"

"They are already upstairs."

"Thank God," the second young man said.

"Come on," Taylor said and led the trio up the stairs. They reached the top to find Cordova assuring the others that they would get them out, but first they had to take care of the guards until the police arrived.

"Maria, how often do the guards come inside?" Taylor asked.

"They come for beer and food. I am not sure how many times."

"Okay, I want all of you to stay here and wait for me or Rafael to come back. Keep quiet until we take care of them."

"The police are on the way, but they are still 15 minutes out," Cordova explained. "We need to take care of the guards before they can tell Vargas what's happened."

Taylor smiled as he reached inside his jacket and took out the weapon he kept in the hidden holster. "Ezra does have some good advice."

"That he does," Cordova said and took the weapon he kept in the ankle holster. "Maria, can you get everyone inside a safe room?"

"There is a room with no windows at the back of the house. It is where Senior Vargas…where he…"

"Where he kept us for his special guests," one of the young men answered.

"What's your name?" Taylor asked.

"Brian Talbot."

"Brian, can you help Maria get everyone back there?" Taylor asked.

"I can."

"Good, keep the door closed and put something against it until you hear from me or Jake," Cordova told him.

"Yes, Sir," Talbot answered and led the others away.

"I'll take the back," Cordova said.

"All right, just be careful. These guys may not be the best security, but something tells me they know how to use those guns," Taylor said and made his way to the front door. He eased it open and stepped outside, staying as close to the wall as he could.

Jake heard laughter from the right side of the house and crouched as low to the ground as he could. He stepped away from the house and stayed in the darker shadows as he moved toward the sounds. The voices grew louder, and he knew there were two of them. He hoped Cordova had the third man in his sights as he reached the corner and took a quick glance around it.

The two men were leaning against a railing that ran along a high veranda and still seemed unaware they had company. He leaned back against the house and counted to ten before checking on the guards again, relieved when he saw they'd placed their weapons on top of a wooden bench while they shared a cigarette. The smell told him it wasn't a normal cigarette and he wondered what Vargas would think of his choice of guards if he could see them.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Rafael eased the door open, surprised when he came face to face with one of the guards. He raised his gun and brought it down against the man's head before he had a chance to react. The man went down, but he wasn't out and started to get up, but a kick to the head made quick work as the man's eyes closed, his weapon dropped from his hands, and he lay still.

Cordova knew he had to move fast and grabbed a garden hose near the door. He quickly wrapped it around the man's wrists and tore a piece from the unconscious man's shirt. He shoved it into his mouth and hoped it would give him and Taylor enough time to get the other two. He took the man's gun and made his way to the corner of the house just as Jake moved out of the shadows. He reacted instinctively as the two men grabbed for their weapons. His shot hit one man in the leg while Taylor spoke sharply to the other one.

"Do it…I'd be happy to put a bullet between your eyes."

"Who are you?" the wounded man asked.

"Doesn't matter since you two are out of the picture," Taylor answered.

"Paul, we need you here!" the second man shouted as Jake shoved him to the ground.

"I don't think he can help you since he's a little tied up," Cordova said.

"You two are screwed when Vargas finds you here!" the second man said.

"Jake, I'm going to bring the other one over here. You okay to watch these two?"

"Not a problem," Taylor answered and heard the sound of approaching vehicles.

"Now you're fucked…that's Vargas!" the wounded man said and began to giggle.

"No, that's the police. You boys are going to jail."

"Craig, you're bleeding like a stuck pig!' the second man said.

"I ain't a pig…he is!" the man said and started laughing. "Do you think they'll feed us…"

"If they do it'll be ham or bacon…best part of a pig." Craig said and the duo started laughing as the third man was shoved toward them. "Look at him…Paul's a hoser!"

"He is…oh, man, Vargas is gonna be pissed at us. I told you to lay off the pot, Man!"

"They are high as a kite," Taylor said and smiled as two of the guards continued to show just how stoned they were.

"Don't tell them about Vargas' harem!" Craig said.

"You just did, Dummy!" the second one said and started to laugh. "Hey, Piggy, ya got any munchies?"

"Jake, I'm going to go check on Maria and the others," Cordova said.

"Go ahead…I got these idiots," Taylor said as two police cars pulled up to the gate. He knew help was here now and they had enough to put Vargas in jail, but there was still nothing to incriminate Goodwin. "Was Charles here tonight."

"Who?" Craig asked and smiled.

"Charles Goodwin."

"Don't know him," the second man said and broke into laughter as several officers hurried toward them. "Here piggy piggy…"

"You're going to pay for that," Taylor said. He recognized the officers and quickly explained what happened, including the fact that the three men had smoked marijuana and were high.

"You know you can't charge us…you broke in here! Cops ain't allowed to do that!" Craig said and tried to keep a straight face, but one look at the other man sent them both into uncontrollable laughter,

"We are not cops…we are regular civilians, but these guys will make sure they read you your rights before they take you away," Taylor said as Cordova returned with the captives.

"What the hell are they doing out of their rooms?" Craig asked and suddenly seemed to have lost the effects of the drugs.

Jake and Rafael ignored the man as they explained what was happening to the lead officer. She listened as they told her what happened and about Maria and the other prisoners kept in Vargas' house.

"He still has my son and two young girls at his other house. He was supposed to bring them back tonight, but he said he had more important matters to tend to," Maria told them. "Please, you promised you would help me get my boy back."

"We will do everything we can, Maria," Cordova vowed, surprised when the woman suddenly reached for him and began to sob against his chest.

"They are all so…so young. I wanted…wanted to help them, but he had my boy."

"We know that, Maria, and we will get him and the other away from Vargas! The bastard will pay for everything he's done!" Taylor vowed.

"Be careful…he is dangerous."

"We will. Go with the police and tell them everything you know. It's time Vargas and everyone like him pays for what they've done," Taylor told her.

"I will," Maria vowed and followed the officer to a patrol car.

"Jake, what can you tell me about what's happening here," Donna Stevenson asked.

"Vargas was holding them against their will," Taylor explained as Cordova helped with the traumatized captives.

"How did you know they were here?"

"We didn't. We were doing a little reconnaissance for a friend and stumbled on this."

"Who is the friend?"

"I can't tell you yet, but you need to call Captain Miller and tell him what happened here and see if he can get a search warrant for Vargas' place before he gets word of this."

"Johnson, contact the station and tell them what's happening. Have them get a search warrant and get out to Vargas' place ASAP!"

"Thanks, Donna," Taylor said. "Look, Rafael and I need to get back to Billings and update…"

"Larabee's team," Stevenson said softly. "I am sorry about what happened to him and his team. Let me know as soon as arrangements are made for…"

"I will," Taylor told her. "I'll stop by the station so we can give our statement as soon as we're done talking to Nathan and the others."

"Okay, just be careful, Jake…Vargas won't be happy when we serve that warrant and arrest him."

"I wish I could be there to see his face."

"You ready to go, Jake?"

"I am," Taylor said and nodded to the other officers before hurrying away from the house. He knew Nathan and the rest of the team would be anxious to hear what they'd found. There was nothing to implicate Goodwin, but one bastard would be out of the way before morning.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris knew he should be sleeping, but there were too many things running through his mind. How the hell did people like Goodwin and Vargas get away with so much? What made his one-time friend turn to a life of crime? How was he going to prove Goodwin's involvement when it was his word against the other man?

Would people believe him, or had he screwed everything up by going after Goodwin and getting his team injured in the process? It didn't matter because as soon as he was strong enough, he was going to finish what he started.

Chris shifted on the bed and set off waves of nauseating pain that threatened to send him into the darkness of his own nightmares. He knew he was out of the compound and not even close to Bradford Falls, but that was the cause of his dreams. Images of Elroy and Cyrus Peterson were interspersed with those of Vargas, Bradford, and Goodwin.

"Would you like something to drink?"

"Whiskey?"

"Now you do know that's not part of your recovery. I can offer you water…"

"Hot with coffee in it?"

"Afraid not. Dr. Midland said to tell you water for now and maybe something a little more substantial for breakfast."

"Thanks, Tammy…water's fine," Larabee said and smiled when she placed a Styrofoam glass full of water on the table and pushed it close enough for him to reach.

"Small sips," she warned and adjusted the flow of the intravenous. She'd seen the evidence of pain as he shifted on the bed and touched his right arm. "Dr. Midland wrote up new orders for pain medication. I can give you a little more if you need it."

"Not right now…got some thinking to do," Larabee told her.

"Okay, but don't wait too long."

"I won't," the blond said and took another sip of the cold water before closing his eyes and letting his mind wander over the last few months. He knew he'd gone into this without thinking of the consequences and knew he'd do it all over again if it meant putting people like Goodwin and Vargas out of business.

Midland and Simmons had given him an update on his team, and he knew they were healing, but would they listen to him? Would they give him the chance to explain? Would he if the roles were reversed? God, he hoped so because otherwise he'd lost more than just friends…he'd lost his family.

Sleep finally reached for him, and he surrendered to it. His dreams continued to haunt him as faces swam before his eyes. Steven Wallace, Carlina Morgan…Brian Germaine…Sherry Clark…Janet Sullivan…Paul and Maria Santiago…Daryl Cummings.

"I'll make him pay," Larabee mumbled in his sleep, unaware of the nurse watching him sympathetically.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin knew he needed to sleep, but his dreams were filled with images of the man who at one time had been his best friend. He'd tried drinking himself into oblivion, but that had only made him even more susceptible to his nightmares.

Chris Larabee was dead, but there was still someone who had him by the balls. How could he get to Vargas without the man giving evidence against him? Maybe it was time to call on an old friend and take Vargas out of the equation.

What was it about Larabee's death that filled him with sorrow? Did he really care that he was dead or was it just jealousy at the idea that they'd been friends and Chris had found the strength to stay on the right side of the law? Did he miss that side of their friendship? Did he covet something that was lost years ago?

Goodwin moved to the bar and poured a glass full of his best brandy before moving to the fireplace and poking around until the embers came to life. He placed the poker against the bricks and sipped the fiery liquid as his thoughts went back to the friendship he'd had with Chris Larabee.

They'd been friends for several years before Larabee became part of the ‘special teams'. The man had been determined to protect the innocent and make sure those who did the crime did the time. It was something they'd both wanted during the first years, but he'd drifted toward the criminal side of things when he took a bribe in order to pay off several bookies, he'd made stupid bets with.

"You were a fool, Chris. You could have been rich if you'd just taken that money! You'd still be alive for fuck's sake!" Goodwin whispered as he stared into the flames that destroyed the wood in its wake. It reminded him of the way his friendship with Larabee had ended with images burned into his mind.

Goodwin threw the last of the brandy into the fireplace and enjoyed the burst of flames it caused before moving to the window and sitting in the recliner that seemed to caress his body and allow him to relax. Sleep finally took him back into the nightmares that continued to plague him.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Where are you going, Nathan?" Rain asked as she watched him stand and reach for his cane.

"I was going to see if there's any of your mac and cheese left," Jackson told her.

"There could be," Rain said mischievously as she moved to take the cane from him. "Why don't you lie down, and I'll warm some up for both of us?"

"I can…"

"You can listen to the doctor…me in this case and take advantage of our bed," Rain said and gently eased him back. "You need to let me take care of you right now, Nathan, so put your legs up and relax."

"Yes, Ma'am," Jackson said and smiled as she took her robe and made her way out of the room. He thought about how lucky he was but was torn from those thoughts when his phone lit up. "Jackson."

"Nathan, it's Jake."

"Jake, tell me you guys found something!"

"We did and Miller is on his way to arrest Vargas."

"That's the best news I've had in a long time. What about Goodwin?"

"That bastard is still in the clear, but it's only a matter of time. Maybe Vargas will give Miller the information he needs to arrest the Sonofabitch."

"God, I hope so. Where are you?"

"On our way to Saint Vincents to update the others."

"I'll get Ezra and JD and we'll meet you guys there."

"Sounds like a plan. See you in about half an hour."

Nathan hung up the phone and turned to see Rain standing in the doorway. "That was Jake Taylor. He and Rafael went out to check in Vargas' holdings north of Billings. They found enough evidence to get Vargas arrested."

"That's great news."

"It is…can you drive me to the hospital?"

"I would remind you that visiting hours are over, but that never stopped you before. Let's get dressed and you can eat your mac and cheese on the drive to the hospital," Rain told him and quickly grabbed clothes for both of them.

Nathan stood and pulled her into his arms with a smile. "You are amazing, and I am the luckiest bastard in the world."

"Yes…I am, and you are," Rain said and chuckled softly as she tried to pull away. "Keep this up and Saint Vincents will have to wait."

"You have no idea how badly I want to take you up on that…"

"Don't worry, Lover, I will make sure we revisit this when we get home," Rain vowed and kissed him boldly before moving out of his reach.

"Damn," Jackson said and reluctantly began to get dressed.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Buck glanced at the clock above the door and noted it was nearly 10PM. He had slept a couple of hours, but his mind kept going over the events that had led to this time and place. He was still angry at Chris for going after Goodwin, but he understood why he'd done it. Why the hell did his friend have to be so damn stubborn? Why couldn't he have gone about it in a safer way?

‘You'd do the same damn thing,' he thought and sighed tiredly as he sat on the edge of the bed.

"Looks like someone turned off the alarm," Tanner said.

"What alarm?" Wilmington asked.

"The bullhorn coming from yer bed," the Texan answered with a grin.

"Ha, you're not the quietest sleeper either," Wilmington said as the door opened and Rain entered with Jackson behind her.

"What's goin' on?" Tanner asked.

"Jake and Rafael should be here in a few minutes to update us…"

"Good news?" Sanchez asked.

"Nathan, I'm going to check on a couple of patients. I will be back in an hour, and we are going home."

"Thanks, Rain," Jackson said and kissed her before she left.

"You are a lucky man, My Friend," Sanchez said and raised the head of his bed.

"That I am," Jackson said. "Miller is getting a warrant for Vargas' arrest."

"That's great news," Wilmington said as JD and Ezra entered the room.'

"What's great news?" Dunne asked.

"Why don't we let Jake and Rafael tell us?" Jackson said as the two men entered the room.

"You lot look like extras on the set of…"

"The Walking Dead," Dunne finished with a grin.

"I was going to say…okay The Walking Dead," Taylor finished as Cordova closed the door. "Any word on Chris?"

"Midland stopped by earlier to tell us he's doing better and will be moved into a private room tomorrow," Sanchez answered.

"That's good news," Cordova said.

"Yes, it is," Tanner agreed and silently wished he could see the injured man. They were all hurting, but at least they had each other to keep from going stir crazy. "Tell us what ya found?"

"Well, we got to the house just after Vargas left and the man may have security at his Billings house, but he's got nothing worthwhile at the house north of the city. The man hired several rent-a-cops and I'm thinking he got them from the comedy show. There were three of them and they were high as a kite when we got there. Rafael found an open back door and got inside. He opened the front door for me, and we found a woman who works for Vargas. She told us everything she could, and that Vargas is holding her son at his house in Billings."

"Her son?" Dunne said.

"Yes, and I believe her," Taylor said. Vargas had several very young women and men imprisoned out there.

"Think any of them will testify to Goodwin being there?" Sanchez asked,

"Probably, but they are all pretty scared and traumatized by what they've been through. It could take a while before they are ready to talk about what happened," Cordova told them. "Miller is on his way to Vargas' home to arrest him. It would be great if he gave up Goodwin."

"It would save Chris having to tell his story right now," Wilmington said and ran his fingers through his already disheveled hair. "It's going to look to a lot of people like Chris was on a vigilante hunt and that's not right…hell of it is we thought the same thing."

"Chris has always been a man who wants what's right and that includes going after people like Goodwin and Vargas," Sanchez offered. "We are all cut from the same cloth and most people would be more than happy if they knew how hard we worked to put the bad guys away. I just wish we had some way of letting him know what's happening."

"Maybe we could let Midland or Simmons know what's happening and they can relay the message," Dunne suggested.

"Good plan, Kid," Wilmington said. "I'd love to be a fly on the wall when Miller serves the warrant."

"I would enjoy seeing the look on Goodwin's face. I am certain his face would convey his remorse at the thought of being caught," Standish told them.

"Amen to that," Sanchez said. Most of the equipment that had surrounded his bed had been removed, but he knew he was still not up to par. It would take a long time before he could do things on his own, but Travis had already told them he would handle everything from his end. "Well, it looks like we've got Vargas, but the job is not done until Goodwin is in…"

"Hell," Tanner said.

"I was going to say prison, but Hell is a fitting place for him," Sanchez told them.

"We need to remember who we're dealing with. Vargas and Goodwin are slippery so we can't count on anything where they are concerned," Jackson added.

"I think we all know that, Nate, but it's nice to think Vargas will spend tonight in a jail cell," Tanner said.

"Miller said he'd call me once they made the arrest," Taylor told them.

"Guess ya might as well settle in ‘cause we all want ta hear that news," Tanner told him.

"We'll stay until they kick us out," Cordova offered.

"I don't think they'll do that unless we get in their way," Dunne said and smiled. "The staff knows us too well."

"Well, Rain might just have something to say about that when she comes back," Jackson told them and grew quiet when he looked out the window. How many times would they play out this same scene over their lifetimes? Would it ever get any easier? Would they ever stop giving a damn about whether men like Vargas and Goodwin used the system for their own good?

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Rodrigo Vargas looked at the young man tied to his bed and grinned as he thought about the money he would get for this one and the others imprisoned at the other house. Perhaps this one would entice Goodwin to sample ‘forbidden wares'. He remembered the first time he'd taken what he wanted from a young male he'd found on the streets. He'd kept him for several weeks before selling him to Wickes and had visited him on a few occasions. Perhaps this young male would also bring him a high price if he put him up for auction.

"You are so beautiful," he whispered and saw real fear in the captive's eyes. "I am not going to hurt you, Diego, but I need to teach your mama a lesson!"

"Please…"

"I love it when you beg!" Vargas' head snapped up when he heard the hard knocking at the main door and quickly place a gag in his mouth before reluctantly standing and grabbing his silk robe. "I will be back as soon as I get rid of whoever this is!"

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Robert Miller took a deep breath as he told his officers what was expected of them. Rodrigo Vargas was a miserable scum bag, and it was going to be a pleasure to arrest the sonofabitch. It had taken less than an hour to find a judge who would give him what he wanted, and the signed paper was held tight in his hand. This was the part of the job he loved best and the most rewarding part as well.

"How do you want to handle this, Captain?" Jon Lewis asked softly.

"You and Tucker go around back and make sure the snake does try to slither away. The rest of you be ready for anything. This bastard probably has several hostages in there. Richards and Markham stay with me and be ready for anything!'

"Yes, Sir," Richards said and followed the police captain toward the main door of the house. They gave the others a chance to get in position and waited for Miller to knock on the door.

"This is the police!' Miller said after knocking several times and getting no answer. "Open the door or we'll break it down!"

"Can I help you?" a middle-aged woman dressed in a blue robe asked.

"Tell Vargas I need to speak with him!" Miller ordered.

"He's sleeping!?"

"Then wake him up," Miller said and brushed past the woman.

"You can't do that!"

"Actually, we can. I have a warrant to search the house and an arrest warrant for Vargas. Where is your boss?"

"I told you he's sleeping!"

"Then wake him up now!" Miller said. "Never mind…we'll find him ourselves. Richards, take two men and search this floor. Bradshaw, you're with me! Thompson, you, and Graves search the upstairs and make sure Vargas doesn't escape."

"Yes, Sir!" officer Greg Thompson said.

"You have no right!"

"Officer, Burke, take her outside and watch her."

"Sure, Captain. Come with me, Ma'am!"

"I can't…"

"You don't have a choice," Miller told her and watched as the officer took her by the arm and led her out of the house. He moved to the stairs and took them two at a time as his fellow officers began tearing apart the main floor in search of evidence. He made it to the upper level and again called out a warning that he was there to serve a warrant.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Rodrigo Vargas took the time to pull on a pair of pants and a shirt before hurrying to the door that was locked from the outside. This room was part of his inner sanctum, and not even his housekeeper knew the combination to the lock. The door itself was hidden from prying eyes, but he knew it was not infallible and only a matter of time before the police found it.

He could hear people talking and warnings that the police were there and had a warrant to search the premises. He knew he couldn't hide in here and hoped he could escape before the police found this hidden rom. He eased the door open and stepped out into the walk-in closet filled with clothes and shut it behind him. Before moving the shelving unit that held his boots and shoes in front of it.

"Vargas, I know you're in here!"

"My, my, Captain Miller, but you do make a noisy entrance. What brings you to my home?" Vargas asked upon finding several men in his bedroom.

"Rodrigo Vargas, You're under arrest!" Miller said with a smile.

"Arrest for what?" Vargas asked and smiled at the man.

"For kidnapping and holding someone against their will and that's just the start. Put your hands behind your back!"

"Come now, Captain, you and I both know I'll be out within the hour, so why bother going through the motions?"

"Not this time you won't, Roddy!" Miller said and snapped the cuffs around the man's wrists.

"Don't call me that!"

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney…"

"I know my rights!"

"Of course, you do, but this feels so right," Miller said. "If you cannot afford an attorney, one will…"

"I got my own attorney and I want to call him now!'

"…be provided for you. Do you understand these right as I have just told you?"

"Yes, damn you I understand, and I want to call my lawyer."

"We have proper procedures to follow, and you will be allowed to contact your attorney once we reach the station," Miller said and moved past the man as he noticed something out of place."

"You have no right to go back there!"

"I have every right. The judge gave me a search warrant that includes any hidden rooms on the premises," Miller said.

"There's nothing back there!"

"Well, you telling me there's nothing back there makes me think…"

"Cops like you don't think!"

"…there's something back there. Take him outside and put him in the squad car!" Miller ordered. He used his fingers to feel around the edges and felt something give as he pushed against the shelving unit. "Danny, give me a hand here!"

"What do you need me to do!"

"You have no right!" Vargas' voice reached them from the top of the stairs.

"Help me move this!" Miller told the younger man. Between them they shifted the unit out of the way and revealed a door with a lock that needed a combination to open it. "Go tell O'Leary to bring that bastard back here!"

"Yes, Sir," Danny Winters said and hurried to the top of the stairs. "Bring Vargas back up!"

Miller looked at the keypad and wondered if Vargas had the time to press the keys to lock the door before they interrupted him. He knew it would take a locksmith or a specialist to get it open otherwise and wondered if the housekeeper knew the combination.

"Are you ready to come to your senses, Miller?"

"My senses are fine, Vargas. What's the combination?"

"Figure it out for yourself!"

"I was hoping not to have to damage your home, but I can have the locksmith come in and take it apart," Miller told him and reached for the buttons. He pressed the largest one and was surprised to hear a soft click as he pushed against the hidden door.

"Don't!" Vargas warned and cursed the man as he entered the hidden chamber. "You have no right!"

"Get that bastard out of here and have someone call the paramedics," Miller ordered and moved to the bed. He quickly took the gag from the man's mouth and moved to release his arms and legs.

"Please, he'll hurt my mama!"

"Is your mother's name Maria?"

"Si…it is. Is she okay?"

"She's fine and she'll be even better when she finds out we have you. Just lie…"

"No…no, please I can't stay here."

"Okay, just let me get these off," Miller said and released the restraints before helping the young man sit up. "Just take your time!"

"Have to get out of this fucking room!"

"Okay, lean on me. Paramedics are on the way," Miller told him.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. What's your name?"

"Diego Caldwell," the young man answered as they made it to the outer room. He shook his head when Miller made for a chair. "No, please, I don't want to be here."

"Do you think you can make it to a squad car?"

"Anywhere but here," Diego told him and allowed the other man to lead him to the top of the stairs.

"One step at a time," Miller said and motioned for a second officer to help him with the shaking man. Between them they got him outside and wrapped in a warm blanket before sitting him in the nearest squad car.

"Thank you," Diego said when he was handed a bottle of water.

"You're welcome. Just stay put until the ambulance gets here," Miller ordered and moved back toward the house. He told the officers searching outside to keep their eyes on the traumatized man and knew they would not let him down.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris had no idea how long he'd been asleep, but it didn't seem to matter. His energy was pretty well non-existent and even when he shifted on the bed he felt as if he'd run a marathon. He knew if he tried to sit up, he'd probably end up doing a nose plant and that would just prolong his stay.

"Can I get you anything?" the nurse asked softly.

"Not really. What time is it?"

"It's a little after four in the morning. Do you need something to help you sleep?"

"No, thanks, but sleep is something I seem to be doing too much of," Larabee answered.

"Well, right now it's what you need. I'm sure you'll have more energy as each day goes by."

"Hope so, tired of being laid up…"

"Good morning," Roy Simmons said upon entering the room.

"Is it?"

"It could be. I may have some good news for you. Nurse, could you excuse us for a few minutes."

"Certainly, Dr. Simmons," the woman said and left the room.

"What's going on, Doc? Are my men okay?"

"They are healing and for a change they are not giving the staff too much of a hassle. But that's not why I'm here. I just spoke with your team, and it seems Captain Miller arrested Rodrigo Vargas…"

"'Bout fucking time. What about Goodwin?"

"Nothing about him yet, but your team seems to think he has enough evidence to keep him locked up."

"How?"

"Thanks to your friends Jake Taylor and Rafael Cordova. The others asked them to check into one of Vargas' homes and they found several captives there. Vargas wasn't there at the time, but they managed to get inside and rescue the captives and held the guards until the police got there. Miller got a search warrant and a warrant for Vargas."

"That's great news."

"Tell that to your face. What's wrong, Larabee?"

"I'm glad he got Vargas, but that still leaves Goodwin. The bastard is still free," the blond told him.

"I know, Chris, but there's nothing you can do about him right now. You need to stay under his radar until they get something concrete on him."

"I can testify against him."

"Yes, you can, but right now it would just look like you're out for revenge. You aren't strong enough to fight him on his terms. Maybe we'll get lucky, and that other sonofabitch will turn Goodwin in."

"We should be so lucky," Larabee told him.

"Sometimes luck shows up when we need it most. You need to stay here…well, not in this room, but in a step-down room. That way you can do some work if you feel up to it. I can arrange to have a laptop brought in for you…"

"Really…"

"Hear me out. I really don't want to do it, but I know damn well you'll either find a way to go after Goodwin or you'll do something else that's stupid. At least with the laptop you'll be able to keep up to date on what's happening with Vargas and Goodwin."

"Thanks, Doc."

"Don't thank me yet because if I find out you're doing anything you shouldn't be I'll shut you down. Understood?"

"Doc…"

"Understood?"

"Understood," Larabee told him.

"Glad we understand each other. Now, let's take a look at you before I sign the new orders."

"Damn, I was hoping you'd forget to do that."

"Not a chance," Simmons said and began checking the injured man over. By the time he was finished he could easily read the pain in Larabee's eyes. "I know that wasn't easy so I'm going to have the nurse give you a little extra to make the move easier."

"Thanks, Doc," Larabee said and closed his eyes. God, he was so glad Vargas was in jail, but that still left another monster on the loose. Somehow, he had to get Goodwin before he hurt anyone else.

"I just gave you something for pain so just relax and let it work," the nurse told him.

"Thank you,' the injured man said and soon felt himself drifting toward sleep.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Ezra looked at the woman as she poured several cups of coffee. Rain had come back to take them home and insisted that he stay with her and Nathan. JD had gone to stay with Nettie and Casey Wells.

"Ezra, how is your arm?" Rain asked. She'd seen him rubbing his shoulder and knew the whole team needed downtime, but that wouldn't happen until Charles Goodwin was behind bars.

"It is…"

"Don't lie to her, Ezra. Rain can read us all like we were open books."

"Yes, I can. Keep your leg elevated," she warned and heard a soft chuckle from Ezra Standish. "Now, do you have your medication with you?"

"I do, but I…"

"Need to take two right now. I plan to get some sleep and I doubt I will be able to do that knowing you and Nathan are in pain," Rain said and handed her lover two pills.

"Thanks," Jackson said and swallowed the pills as Standish did the same with the medication he'd taken from his pocket.

"Is she always this bossy?"

"I'm afraid so, but she's usually right when it comes to all of us," the medic said with a sheepish grin as she handed him a cup of coffee.

"Tell me, Rain, is Nathan as bad as the rest of us?"

"Don't answer that!"

"Well, let's just say sometimes the worst patients are the ones that can diagnose themselves."

"So, doctors, nurse, and…'

"Paramedics," the woman said with a smile as she kissed Nathan.

"Ezra, you say anything to the others about this and I promise…"

"I would never say anything to anyone as long as there is a small monetary…"

"You, Ezra P. Standish are a fraud," Rain told him. "Now, why don't I make us some breakfast before you two get some rest."

"Pancakes and bacon?" Jackson asked hopefully.

"I think that could be arranged. Now find something you can both watch…"

"I would enjoy watching the news to see what the reaction is to Vargas being caught," Standish said.

"The news it is," Nathan said and started flicking to the channels until he found the local news station.

"Nathan, I spoke with Dr. Frost this morning and you're scheduled for surgery the day after tomorrow at seven AM. That means nothing to eat after midnight tomorrow night."

"That's good news. When are we going to share the other news with…"

"We can tell them when you are ready."

"Tell us what?"

"Nathan is going to be a daddy."

"Congratulations. I am so happy for both of you. Am I the first one you've told?"

"Yes, we only found out recently, so I haven't really wrapped my head around it," Jackson said and smiled lovingly at the woman as she put the bacon on the tray and placed it in the oven.

"Let me help you," Standish said.

"Ah, Ezra, I'm pregnant not injured like you are. Sit down and relax."

"Better do as she says, Ezra," Jackson said and placed his injured leg on the ottoman.

"Thank you for sharing your news with me," standish said and knew these people, this team was not just friends, but family. Probably the only family he had known aside from Hiram Standish. He knew his mother loved him, but she found it hard to show how she felt.

"You are family, Ez," Jackson said simply and saw the slight nod of acknowledgement from the other man.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin opened his eyes and stretched the kinks from his body. He knew he should have gone to bed but had stayed on the couch and finished most of the bottle of brandy. His head felt like it would explode if he moved, but there was a more urgent need that would not be denied. He stood up and made his way to the bathroom where he leaned against the sink and stared into the mirror before relieving himself.

He washed his hands and went back into the living room, debating whether he should eat something or crack open another bottle of brandy. He turned on the television just as his private phone began to ring. He knew who it was, and didn't want to speak with the man, but knew there was no choice for now. He pressed the speaker button as he leaned back on the sofa.

"Goodwin!"

"Listen carefully. I only have a minute…"

"Rodrigo, what's going on?"

"I've been arrested, and I need you to get me out of here!"

"Why are you calling me…call your lawyer!"

"My fucking lawyer is on vacation! Can you believe that shit!"

"Everyone needs a vacation…"

"Don't give me that shit! Look, find out who is taking over and make sure they know I own Lawrence and his agency, and they'd better get him back here."

"Why were you arrested?"

"Someone found my…look it doesn't matter why. Just get me help."

"I don't know if I…"

"Listen, My Friend, don't forget who you're talking to here. You do as I say, or I'll make sure everyone knows that Chris Larabee was right about you!"

"You wouldn't…"

"Oh, really. What do I have to lose right now? Get Lawrence back here and make sure he knows I'm not afraid to talk if he doesn't show up!"

"I'll tell him," Goodwin said and pressed the button to end the call. His mind raced with the news that Vargas was in jail and he knew everything was falling apart. He had to do something fast or else he'd be in the cell with Vargas. He could call Lawrence, but it would take several days for him to arrange Vargas' release if the judge even granted him bail.

There was only one way he could deal with his ‘partner' now and that was to call on several favors and see that the man was put down for good. Vargas had made several mistakes during their partnership including giving him the means to make sure a prisoner never made it to trial. He reached for a second phone and called in one of those favors and hoped the man would help him for the right price. 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Vargas handed the phone back to the man who had pretended to be his lawyer. He knew Barry Johnston was trustworthy…more like bought and paid for over the years. The phone would be immediately erased and destroyed before anyone even knew it existed.

"Will he help?"

"Yes, I think he will. Now how are you going to get me out of here?"

"It's not that easy, Mr. Vargas."

"Then make it that easy. I don't want to spend any more time in here!"

"I know but the charges against you are serious…'

"Maybe, but the police did an illegal search and seizure."

"I'm afraid it's not as simple as that either. If it was, you'd be out of here by now. The men who discovered what was in your first home were not policeman but private citizens who had intel on what or should I say who you were holding there. You might as well relax until we find out if there are any loopholes that will get you out of here."

"Who are the bastards?"

"I don't know but it sounds like they are on the up and up. The police are pretty sure they can keep you behind bars until your trial."

"No, I refuse to believe that. You better get Lawrence back here and make sure he knows the consequences if he fucks this up!"

"I will do what I can," Johnston told him and put his papers back in the suitcase before standing and moving toward the door.

"You better do that and more," Vargas said as the guard came in and unlocked his cuffs from the table before leading him out of the holding area. He was led back to his cell and shoved inside before the guard removed the manacles from around his wrists. He quickly rubbed them to get the circulation going before moving to the cot and lying down with his hands locked behind his head.

Everything he had, everything he'd worked for was falling apart, but he wouldn't let that stop him. Not when he had people like Goodwin in his grasp. The bastard better do what he was supposed to, or he'd be in the cell next to his.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Josiah looked at the sleeping men and thought about the events that had led them here. He knew they'd all come to terms with what Chris had done and even admitted that they would probably have done the same damn thing.

He knew why they were angry and why they'd placed the blame at Larabee's feet, and they were probably right to do so. The problem was they'd driven Chris to leave without saying anything to anyone and now he was somewhere in this hospital under the name John Doe. He would stay that way until they found a way to bring Charles Goodwin down.

Josiah turned on his side and stared out the window. God help him, but he wanted to go after the sonofabitch himself and get some Divine retribution, but that was not possible right now.

Chris felt Goodwin was responsible for many deaths and had even given him a list of the people who had died because of him. There were several more people Josiah would add. Miranda Jarvis was dead and whether Goodwin was directly involved or not, he had something to do with her death and Father Thomas being injured. They were innocent and didn't deserve what had happened to them.

Sometimes there were consequences they had to deal with. Sometimes they had to bury people who had nothing to do with what The Firm's agents did. The problem was innocent people seemed to fall victim no matter what they did or said.

Did that mean they should stop trying to bring people like Vargas and Goodwin to justice? Should they ignore the crimes that were happening around them? Were they right in what they did or were they to blame for what happened to the people they cared about?

‘No, we're not,' he thought and closed his eyes as Miranda Jarvis' face swam before his eyes. He could almost hear her voice and knew she did not blame him for what had happened. She was a beautiful soul and one that was now watching over those she cared about.

"We'll get them, Miranda," he whispered as a beautiful red cardinal landed on the window ledge. His mother had once told him that when a cardinal visited you it was an angel coming to reassure you that you were not alone.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Orin Travis knew his agency stood for what he thought was right and he knew he'd chosen the right man to run The Firm. Chris Larabee had chosen the members of his team and he'd chosen well. There wasn't a man amongst the seven that he did not trust, and he would stand by them through thick and thin.

Chris had quickly shown he would stand by each and every member of his team. He'd done it not by going through files, but by meeting them and making his own decisions. Orin had been surprised by Larabee's choices, but they'd proven they could get the job done.

The biggest surprise had been Chris' insistence that he wanted Ezra Standish as part of the team. The man had a reputation for being a conman and a swindler. When asked why he wanted Standish on the team, Chris had simply shrugged his shoulders, smiled, and said you never know when you needed a good conman.

The rest of the team had welcomed Ezra with open arms, and he was now a trusted member of The Firm. Orin had learned something from that meeting with Larabee and Standish. Never judge a book by its cover because if you did the chances were you'd miss a gem.

"Seven gems," he whispered and wondered what the team would think if they knew how much he cared for each and every one of them.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7 

Rodrigo Vargas looked up as the door of his cell was opened and a man was shoved inside. He frowned as he sat up and stared at the newcomer as the guard made sure the door was locked. He knew the way jails worked and wondered why they'd place a second man in with him.

"Don't think it's a good idea for you to be in here!" Vargas said as the man moved toward him.

"Don't matter what you think!" the newcomer snarled through gritted teeth.

"You don't know who you're talking to!"

"Sure, I do…some little maggot who thinks he's in charge."

"Guard, get him out of here!" Vargas snapped.

"You're not in charge here, Vargas. Now shut up and give it a rest!" The guard quickly used his baton against the bars before leaving the two men alone.

"That's my bed!"

"I don't think so! You can sleep on the floor for all I care!"

"Vargas…you that scumbag they put in here for raping kids?"

"No…no…I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Really…the guard just called you Vargas!"

"There's more than one Vargas…it's a common name."

"How come I ain't never heard of it before today. I heard a couple of people talking about how they caught the sonofabitch who was keeping kids…"

"I didn't…'

"I think you did," the man said and moved closer to the cot. "Why don't you try that shit on me? You afraid?"

"Leave me alone! You can have the bed!"

"I don't need your permission to have the bed! I take what I want!"

"Guard! Guard!" Vargas called but was met with uncanny silence.

"The guards don't give a fuck about us," the prisoner said and moved closer to Vargas. "We're alone in here and I plan to teach you a lesson."

Vargas saw something in the other man's left hand and tried to move past him. He dodged to the left, but his right wrist was caught in a vice like grip.

"Go ahead and scream. The monitors and speakers are turned off so it's just you and me, Vargas!"

"Don't!" Vargas snapped as the man pulled him into his arms and wrapped his right arm around his throat. "They'll charge you with murder!"

"Don't care since I've already killed several people," the man said and made a cut in his own right arm. "I'll just tell them it was self-defense."

"I didn't…"

"Doesn't matter since you'll be dead!"

Vargas felt the man tighten his grip and felt the tip of the sharp object pressed against his throat. He had never been afraid of dying, at least not until this moment when he felt the pain in his neck. "Please…"

"Did you make them kids beg?"

"They weren't kids."

"Some were," the man said and slowly pressed the blade deeper. It was simply a piece of plastic from the cafeteria, but it had been easier to bring in than a real knife. He'd made sure it was sharp enough to do the job before being brought to this cell. The money he was getting made it worthwhile since his mother would get the payment.

"P…"

"Quiet now or this could slip and be over before I get the chance to call for help!"

"Let me go!"

"I don't think so!" He made a quick jerk of his wrist and screamed as he shoved the man away from him. Blood streamed from Vargas' throat as the plastic shiv was placed in his hand. "See you in hell you freak!"

Alarms went off and he slid to the ground as several guards entered the outer area. He could hear someone giving orders and pretended he was unconscious as they opened the door and rushed inside.

"Call for an ambulance!" a guard yelled and grabbed the sheet from the bed. He pressed it against the man's throat but felt no pity for the bastard as he tried to save his life.

"What the hell kind of jail is this! He came at me with that pigsticker, and I had to defend myself. I'm gonna sue all of you!"

"Just shut up and let me take a look at your arm!" the guard who'd placed him in the cell ordered and gave a slight nod that everything had gone according to plan. 

"Look at my arm!"

"I am…it will need stitches," the guard told him.

"If he attacked you how…"

"He didn't want me in here and he tried to kill me, but I got it away from him!"

"I see that, but why did you cut his throat?"

"I was trying to save my own life! Man has a right to defend himself!"

"Yes, you do," the guard working on his arm assured him. This had gone better than planned and it was going to be so easy to spend the money he'd been promised. When the time came, he just might go after Goodwin himself and become a hero. "I wish we had seen it happen, but the cameras were down for several minutes."

"Vargas is dead!" another guard said and shook his head. "Damn paperwork on this one is gonna be a bitch!"

"Nothing much we can do about that," Andrew Metcalf said and continued to put pressure on the prisoner's arm. He wondered how deep the wound was and whether the man would help him out by dying before the ambulance got there. Sounds from the outer area told him that was not going to happen as several newcomers pushed a stretcher into the cell and began working on both men.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Robert Miller watched as the coroner checked Rodrigo Vargas before covering him with a sheet. He had already spoken with the guards and the new prisoner and had read the man's complete statement. Something did fit right in his story because Vargas was checked daily, and no weapon had been found on or around him.

The second problem he had was that no prisoner was to be placed in the cell with Vargas, especially when there were two empty cells readily available. Why had the guard decided to place Jason Stevens in with Vargas? Why did the power supply to the cameras suddenly go out? Those questions needed to be answered and he was going to get to the bottom of it. He looked toward the three guards involved and wondered if either of them was involved.

"As of now you three are on leave until we find out what happened here," Miller told the three men and thought he saw one man cringe. "Do you have something to say, Metcalf?"

"No, Sir, nothing at all," Metcalf told him. "We were just doing our job…no idea how Vargas got his hands on that weapon."

"We'll need to take a statement from each of you because Vargas was searched two hours ago, and his cell was cleared this morning. Someone had to have gotten to him or Stevens had the weapon. That would mean someone had to look the other way for him to bring that shiv in here. I am going to find out who it was and when I do that person will be charged with accessory to murder."

"That's crazy…we had nothing to do with this!" Metcalf snapped.

"That remains to be seen. Don't leave the station until you've given your statements!" Miller ordered.

"Yes, Captain," Rodney Driver said and wondered why Metcalf was so jumpy. He'd known the man for about a year and had felt there was something about him that was like chewing on tinfoil. Maybe it was time to speak to Miller about what he'd seen.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris took a deep breath, wincing when it reminded him of the injury to his ribs. He was alone in his new room, but the nurse assigned to him check on him every 15 minutes. He reached for the remote, turned on the television and flipped through the channels before settling on the local news. He sat forward, ignoring the pain the move caused as a reporter's image was replaced by one he knew.

"Vargas," Larabee whispered and turned up the volume.

"Reports say Rodrigo Vargas attacked a fellow prisoner with a homemade weapon. There was a scuffle and Vargas was critically injured and pronounced dead on the scene. The police have yet to release a statement, but we will get it for you as soon as we can."

"One down," Larabee whispered and sighed tiredly. How many times had they come up against men like Vargas? He'd lost count a long time ago, but there were some that were even worse than Vargas. Charles Goodwin was at the top of that short list, and he vowed the list would get smaller because he was going to bring the bastard down.

"You're next, Charlie," he muttered as he watched Robert Miller exit the police station.

"Captain Miller, is it true Rodrigo Vargas was alone with a fellow prisoner when he died?"

"Rumor has it that he had a shiv hidden in his cell. How did he get it and why was another prisoner put in his cell?"

"Vargas was killed when he attacked a fellow prisoner. There are no other details at this time…"

"Was the other prisoner injured?"

"Who was the other prisoner?"

"The second prisoner is alive, but he was injured and has been moved to a secure cell."

"Why wasn't Vargas in a secure cell? Isn't it true you have cameras in each cell for 24-hour surveillance?"

"Yes, but there was a glitch in the system and the cameras were down for several minutes…"

"That seems kind of…"

"Look, that's all I can tell you for now. There will be an update as soon as we have more information. The guards involved have been relieved of duty until a full investigation into Vargas' death is finished."

Chris watched as Miller turned away from the reporters and hurried back into the station. A hint of a smile formed at the thought of the irony of Vargas being taken care of by the scumbags he associated with. A fitting end to the bastard who caused so much pain and death to so many people.

Larabee raised the head of his bed and pulled the table over so that he could get to his laptop. He owed Simmons a huge favor for allowing this, but to tell the man that would not be a good idea yet. He hoped the time was coming when he could have Taylor and Cordova bring Ray Simmons to the hospital without anyone else knowing. The team, and Roy Simmons were in for a surprise, and he hoped it would not backfire on him.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin smiled as he took stock of his problems. The two men who could take him down were dead and all he had to do was sit back and enjoy the show. Larabee's team would probably continue to look into his business, but at least Vargas could not rat him out.

If they got anywhere near him, he would simply have his lawyer put a cease-and-desist order on them. With Larabee out of the equation, that seemed to be his best bet. He would see to it that they left him alone and maybe offer his help to get evidence of what Vargas was doing.

There were flaws in his plan, including the captives Vargas had kept at the house north of Billings, but he could stay away from them. He hadn't been to that house in a week, but that didn't mean they would not identify him if given the chance.

Goodwin cursed when he thought about the things he'd done and how easy it would be for the police if they asked the right questions. How many captives had the police found at the house? How many nails could be driven into his coffin if they were asked if they recognized him? The only good thing he had going was that he'd insisted that Vargas keep them blindfolded while he was there.

"Just stay calm…everything is in its place," he whispered in the silence of his living room.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Well, damn," Dunne said as he logged in to his laptop. Nettie and Casey had dropped him off at the hospital and he'd only been slightly surprised to find Nathan and Ezra already there.

"What's wrong, Kid?" Wilmington asked.

"I got a message from John Doe."

"Our John Doe?" Standish asked.

"Yes, I think so. The server is one we used on a case a couple of years ago."

"What does he say?" Sanchez asked.

"I owe all of you an apology for what I did, but I would do it all over again. Vargas is dead and that's good news, but Goodwin is still out there. I have an idea on how we get him, but you boys are not going to like it!"

"Damn…ask him what his plan is?" Wilmington ordered.

"Already did. Just waiting for him to answer," Dunne told them.

"Got a feelin' I know what he's plannin'," Tanner said and took a deep breath. "Ain't lettin' him be bait!"

"No way in hell!" the ladies' man agreed and grew quiet when Dunne smiled. "What's he saying?"

"He says he's not setting himself up as bait. He wants you buys to get in touch with Orin and Nettie and tell them it's time for a memorial service for the ‘late' Chris Larabee. He says it's the only way to finish this once and for all!"

"Ask him how a memorial service will do that?" Jackson ordered.

"You know it's not going to be something simple," Wilmington said.

"Nothing ever is with you lot," Jackson quipped.

"May I remind you that you are supposed to be resting?" Standish said.

"I am…my leg is elevated," the medic said.

"He says it will be a set up to bring Goodwin out of hiding. The bastard…his word not mine…will show his hand. He'll be there to make himself look good and that's when the trap gets sprung. Once Goodwin goes to make his statement a surprise guest will show up…"

"Chris," Wilmington said and shook his head. "I knew he was going to try this."

"Wait, Buck, that's not all of it. He says he wants a heavy police presence and if Nathan insists there can even be medical personnel available."

"What if Goodwin doesn't take the bait?" Jackson asked.

"He will," Sanchez told them. "Goodwin is a narcissist, and he won't be able to resist being in the spotlight. He'd hate the idea that even in death Chris gets more publicity than he does."

"That's exactly what he says," JD told them. "Are we doing this?"

"It might be the only way ta get him outta this," Tanner said. "If Miller supplies cops…"

"Chris has a lot of friends in the Billings Police Department, and they will show up on their own to show their respect. They will have their weapons and the only one we need to warn is Robert Miller," Standish observed.

"Does he know about all this?" Sanchez asked.

"I don't think so, but Orin could speak to him and bring him up-to-date," Wilmington answered.

"Should I tell him we are going to back him up on this?" Dunne asked.

"Yes, but tell him it will take a couple of days to get this set up. It will also take that time for the doctors to release us even if it's just for the service," Sanchez said.

"That's what he says. He wants this done for three days from today."

"Three days…that's not much time," Jackson said.

"Time enough to get it done," Sanchez said. "Nathan, call Orin and tell him we need to see him. Vin, get in touch with Nettie and tell her we need her now."

"I told him we are going to go ahead with his plans. He's asking us to be careful…"

"Us, be careful…well that's not going to happen," Wilmington said.

"That's what I told him," Dunne said. "He has to go…Midland just got there."

"Tell him we'll let him know what's happening," Tanner said.

"I did," the youngest member of the team assured them. It felt good to be able to chat with Chris Larabee, but it was still going to take time before they could see him in person.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Hey, Doc," Larabee said and closed the laptop.

"Hey, yourself. How are you feeling?"

"Good…not great, but better than I was," Larabee answered.

"Glad you're being honest about it," Midland said with a hint of a smile. "I'm glad you're feeling better, but please listen to your own body and your doctors and nurses. You need to rest…"

"That's all I seem to be doing."

"Just don't stay on the laptop too long and don't try to ‘ride it out'. You don't need to be in pain when there are medications that can make you comfortable."

"I know, Doc, just hate how it makes me feel and don't like taking them," Larabee told her.

"I know you do…I've heard you all say the same thing, Chris, but there are times when you don't have a choice. All that does is make you miserable and harder for the staff to take care of."

"Point taken, Doc," Larabee said and pressed the button that would release the drug into his body.

"Good," Midland told him and looked at his chart.

"Doc, how are the others?"

"I was wondering when you were going to ask about them. I think I may have won the bet with Roy."

"Did Ezra set up the bet?"

"Not this time," the physician answered and sat on the edge of the bed. "Okay, your team is pretty banged up, but let me assure you they are all going to recover. JD is doing much better, but he still suffers from headaches. They will go away, but he needs to realize he has to rest when they start."

"I'll make sure he does."

"You're in no shape to do that, but Nettie and Casey are seeing that he does what he's supposed to do."

"What about the others?"

"Ezra left arm is broken and a cut above his right eye that took six stitches. He'll recovery and will be able to shuffle cards with his usual dexterity so make sure you know how much you're willing to lose when you sit down to play poker with him."

"We don't always lose…Ezra takes pity on us once in a while."

"I bet he does…sorry, no pun intended. Nathan has an appointment with Dr. Frost. He needs surgery to repair the damage to his right knee. That means he won't be running any marathons for a few months, but he, like Ezra he should make a full recovery."

"Buck, Josiah, and Vin?"

"Those three have a longer road to full recovery…much like you. Buck has several broken ribs and there were internal injuries and major blood loss. As long as he takes it easy, he should be okay and will probably be released tomorrow. Vin's back received a blow that could have crippled him, but true to form he says he's fine. He has a concussion and several cuts and bruises including a deep wound to his left side. Again, he has to take it easy and just may be allowed to go home tomorrow as well."

"Josiah?"

"Josiah is listed as stable, but he is looking at another week perhaps two in here. He was brought in suffering from smoke inhalation, liver damage, broken ribs, second degree burns to his right arm and chest. He also has a break between his right wrist and elbow. We had to remove his spleen and he's had a blood transfusion. It will take him several months to get back on his feet and doing his job, but I believe you guys are all cut from the same cloth."

"When can I get out of here?" Larabee asked and knew he'd asked the right question when his doctor chuckled softly.

"Ask me again in a week."

"I will, Doc, but I'm going to ask for a favor."

"As long as it doesn't involve anything that will set you or the others back, I will listen."

"I need to get Goodwin before he can regroup and screw with someone else I care about."

"Just how do you plan to do that?"

"By setting the bastard up. I want you and Simmons in on it so you're there should either of us fall."

"Where is there, Chris?"

"Well, Goodwin already thinks I'm dead, so I figure it's time for a service. I know Father Thomas was injured…is he going to be okay?"

"He's going to be fine and is already talking about his congregation and a service for Miranda Jarvis. She died in the explosion that injured Josiah and Father Thomas."

"I didn't know her as well as Josiah, but she was deeply devoted to the church and the people who went to listen to the sermons."

"Yes, she was. Now about this service. Exactly what do you have in mind?"

"Well, it needs to look real so it would have to be at Saint Joseph's Church. It doesn't have to be anything big…hell, probably wouldn't be many in attendance anyway…"

"Don't sell yourself short, Chris. I don't want to see it happen, but I know there'd be a lot of mourners attending your service. Now what does this have to do with…wait, are you thinking you should be there."

"I need to be, Doc, it's the only way to make that smug bastard pay for what he's done."

"Can't you watch it from this room?"

"I could, but I want…I need to see his face."

"Why?"

"I owe it to the people he's hurt…"

"Your team will understand if you're not there."

"I know they will, but I owe it to the people he had killed. They were not all innocent, but a lot of them got in trouble because of things he did. He may not have shot them full of drugs, but by working with Vargas he made sure they had a ready supply until they were hooked. Then he turned his back on them and left them for dead. I know you're right about me not needing to be there, but I'm asking you to let me do this."

"If I do, I want a promise from you," Midland told him.

"Name it."

"Oh, you are going to be sorry you said that, but here it is. As soon as the service is over, I want you back here and you will stay as long as Roy and I think it's necessary?"

"Done."

"No fighting or arguing about your treatment?"

"Okay."

"You eat whatever they give you and you take your medications."

"Damn, this list is getting long."

"Well, in the words of Ezra Standish…I have all the cards."

"I may just have a joker…"

"Then no deal."

"Dammit, Doc!"

"Deal?"

"Deal," Larabee told her.

"Very well, but I want you to fill Roy and myself in on the plan before you do anything."

"Okay," the blond told her and sighed tiredly as the medication took control of the pain.

"Let me move this away and you get some sleep."

"Not going to argue with you, Doc," Larabee said and closed his eyes. He heard her leave and knew the next part of his plan would be hard on the whole team, but he needed to see this finished as soon as possible.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Orin Travis looked at Larabee's team and wondered how the hell they could pull this off. They'd told him Chris' plan and he knew it was probably the best way to get Goodwin, but it meant putting the whole team in danger.

"Orin, we need to be there, and it would give a good reason for an ambulance or two to be there. It would also be a reason for so much police presence. Chris was well known to a lot of officers, and they would want to show their respect," Sanchez said.

"Doc Midland has already signed off on the plan, but we need your help to set it up," Tanner told him.

"Stacey really thinks this is a good idea?" Travis asked.

"Not a good idea, but the only one that will help us get to Goodwin," Jackson answered.

"What if Goodwin doesn't show up?"

"Trust me…he'll show up, Orin," Wilmington assured the other man.

"What makes you so sure?"

"He's a narcissist…he'll be there if he thinks he can take the attention away from Chris and make it look like he's the victim in all this. There'll be plenty of reporters at the service and he'll jump at the opportunity to make sure the spotlight is on him. That's when we spring our little surprise on him, Sanchez said.

"Our little surprise would be a certain member of this team?" Travis asked.

"Exactly," Wilmington said.

"We need to finish this for Chris," Dunne said.

"Let's say I'm on board with this when do you want the service planned for?"

"Day after tomorrow," Jackson answered. "It'll give us a chance to put it in the papers and maybe picked up by a news station or two."

"At Saint Joseph's?"

"That's where Chris would want to be laid to rest," Tanner said, his voice betraying the worry and fear he felt.

"You boys are asking for trouble, but it seems you've thought this out," Travis said.

"Yes, we do, but that doesn't mean we let our guard down," Wilmington said.

"Good. Have you boys found out anything new on the Gallo Corporation?"

"Their firewall and passwords are well protected, but me and Ezra found a way in, and we managed to download several files before it kicked us off," Dunne told them.

"We are going through the files, but it could take some time to break through the code they used. We did find several references to Stand Bradford," Standish told them.

"As in the compound where Chris was held?" Wilmington asked.

"Yes," Standish answered. "Bradford seemed to be putting out feelers that he wanted the new tech the military was funding. There are a couple of replies, but so far, no names jump out at us."

"Well, keep trying. Maybe you'll find something that will put Goodwin in jail without using anyone as bait," Travis said. "I'll get started with the arrangements. Tell him that everything will be done, but he'd better not act alone."

"That's one thing we're all in agreement with," Jackson said and rubbed the top of his leg. He'd spoken with Frost and the surgeon had agreed to postpone his surgery until after the service. Rain had not been happy with him, but she'd understood his reasons for it.

"I'll get in touch with Tony Renaldo at the Billings Gazette and have him run the story. Josiah, can you talk with Father Thomas and see what time he can do the service. I know he was injured, but he knows Chris and he would want to do this."

"I will, Orin," Sanchez assured him.

"All right, Boys. Tell him to stand down until we get this done," Travis said.

"Oh, I don't think he has much choice in that," Jackson said and wished he was joking.

"I'll let you know if we find anything on the files," Dunne told him.

"Good, just don't overdo anything. You boys are all injured in one way or another and I need you all healthy as soon as possible," Travis said and left the men alone.

"Ezra, you and JD keep working on those files," Wilmington said.

"Just don't overdo things. You both need to rest," Jackson ordered.

"I think we all do," Dunne observed.

"You got that right, Kid," Wilmington said and moved to his bed. Truth was he hated not being able to do more, but right now he needed to admit to himself that he was far from healed. He lay back, pulled the blanket up over his body and let his eyes close.

"We'll leave you three to rest. We'll let you know if we find anything else on Gallo," Dunne said and closed his laptop. His head was beginning to pound, and he knew he had overdone things again.

"Rain is waiting for us at the main doors," Jackson said and reached for his cane. He looked at Vin and waited for the injured man to get into his bed before turning out the lights and leaving the three men to rest.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin picked up the morning newspaper and moved to his desk near the window. He smiled at the front-page picture and headline that told of Vargas' arrest and subsequent death and wondered if he was in the clear. So far no one had asked him about Vargas and that could mean one of two things. Either there were more important things to do than come after him or they were biding their time in hopes of catching him off guard.

A smaller article was nestled at the bottom of the page, and he sat forward as he read the words aloud.

Funeral services for Christopher Larabee will be held tomorrow afternoon at Saint Joseph's Catholic church. From there he will be interred at Holy Cross Cemetery on Mullowney Lane. Christopher Larabee will be missed by those who knew him and by those he helped during the time he headed Orin Travis' agency known to many as The Firm. There were seven members of the team that were known as The Magnificent Seven because they believed in helping right the wrongs caused by men like Rodrigo Vargas. Chris Larabee will be missed by many, including this reporter. The family has asked that instead of flowers donations should be made to the children's ward at Saint Vincents Hospital.

Goodwin took a deep breath and quickly wrote down the time the service was to be held. It was time to show just how much he mourned the loss of his friend. There were going to be reporters everywhere because Larabee had been well liked in the city. It would also give him a chance to show Chris' team how much this hurt him.

"I will put on the show of a lifetime, Chris. Too bad you won't be there to witness it," Goodwin whispered and clasped his hands behind his head at the thought of making sure Larabee's team saw him there. They would find it an insult, but there was nothing they could do to stop him.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Gary Browner looked at his wife as he sat down beside her and knew she felt as bad as he did about Chris Larabee's death. She'd cried on his shoulder when he'd told her about the man's death and wished they'd been able to do more to stop what had happened.

"I just spoke with Orin and the service is tomorrow at noon."

"What about his team? Will they be able to attend?"

"Orin says he's arranged for them to be transferred by private ambulance."

"I wish they would wait until they are back on their feet.'

"Orin says they all want to show their respect for Chris. They want to do this for him, and I told Orin you and I would be there. I spoke with Mom, and she said she will stay with Peter and Elizabeth." Since the children had been kidnapped, they'd kept the kids close except when their grandparents were able to look after them.

"I can't believe he's gone. Please tell me you're still working on finding out if Chris was right about Goodwin."

"I am, and that man is far from squeaky clean. I just haven't got enough to have him indited yet."

"What about that corporation you were looking into?"

"There are some promising leads there so Ezra and JD are looking into it. Those two know there way around dummy corporations. I just may have to use their services."

"We need to make a donation to Saint Vincents, but I also want to send flowers. I believe I read somewhere that his wife's favorite flower were roses, so I'll have them sent to the church."

"Mom will be here at 10 tomorrow morning."

"Okay, that should give us plenty of time. I wish we could have done more for him."

"So do I, but we can show them how much Chris meant to us."

"They saved our children."

"Yes, they did," Browner said and leaned back on the sofa. He thought about Larabee and what the man had done for Peter and Elizabeth. God, help him he wished there was some way to repay that act of selflessness, but it was too late. All they could now was there for his family and friends.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Roy Simmons looked at the man seated in the chair and shook his head. He knew why he was doing this, but it didn't mean he had to approve of it. Larabee's whole team had been injured and they were recovering, but this could easily set them all back.

"Look, Simmons…Roy, I know this is not what you want to hear, but I need to do this. I need to make sure Goodwin doesn't go after my family."

"I hear you, but I don't have to like what I hear. You know you're far from well…same goes for Sanchez, Wilmington, and Tanner. You willing to put their lives in danger?"

"Hell, Doc, if there was any other way, I'd be happy to hear it."

"Wait another week…"

"I can't…the arrangements are already made."

"You do know that once your back here Stacey and I are going to hold you to everything you agreed to."

"I kind of figured that," Larabee said.

"I had Orin send over some loose-fitting clothes for you and the others. Yes, I know you're partial to black so here you go."

"Any chance the nurse can help me out?"

"The nurses are busy but since I'm off duty I'm your one and only aide. Now, sit there and relax while I do the hard part."

"I got a feeling you're going to enjoy this?"

"No, but I will say ‘I told you so' when the time comes."

"I bet you will," Larabee said and winced as the gruff physician began unhooking the IV line.

"Oh, don't get any ideas of escaping after the service because I'm going to make sure there is no avenue of escape for any of you," Simmons warned. "We have arranged to have a gurney ready, and we will make it look like there's a cadaver on it."

"Fitting," Larabee quipped.

"Just don't make it real after the service," Simmons ordered and knew the gurney was outside the door. Stacey Midland was with the others, and he would see to it that the nurse who had spent most days with ‘John Doe' would help him get the blond down to the hearse.

"I'll do my best," Larabee said and smiled at the thought of seeing Simmons reunited with his twin. He'd spoken with Taylor and had arranged for him to bring Ray Simmons to the hospital two days after the ‘funeral service'. It would be one hell of a day because his team were also in for a shock when they saw the two men together.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Father Thomas O'Neill looked at the bible in his hand and wondered whether the sermon he had planned for Chris Larabee's funeral was good enough. Over the years he'd become more than part of his congregation and part of a circle of chosen family. The men of The Firm were all in that circle because they did everything they could to bring down men like Vargas.

He knew he would have to sit in a wheelchair during the service, but Father Jonathon Harper would be there to help him if he faltered. Josiah would also say a few words during the service, and he wished he could convince his friend that Chris would understand if he could not attend.

The remaining members of ‘The Magnificent Seven' would also be here. They were all injured in one way or another, but they would all be at the church. Orin Travis had arranged for a private ambulance agency to be here in case they were needed.

Father Thomas thought about the life Chris Larabee had lived and the horrors the man had faced and triumphed over. Sarah and Adam Larabee had fallen victim to a sick woman's unwanted attention and had been laid to rest at Holy Cross Cemetery. Chris would be placed there with them, and he knew the family would be reunited with God.

"Thomas, are you sure you are up for this?" Father Harper asked and handed the man a cup of strong black coffee with extra sugar.

"I don't know, Jonathon. I wonder why so many good people fall victim to the horrors of this life. I know there are good people out there, but lately it seems like a losing battle. Chris lost his family and managed to keep his faith and yet we are planning his funeral now."

"Yes, we are, and we need to have faith that the person or people behind this are brought to justice and will face the penance their sins award them. They will face God when the time comes, and He will decide where they spend eternity."

"I know you're right, but there are times when I wish I could bring down the hammer of God and stop them from hurting innocent people. I know Chris was not perfect, but he was a good man, and he did God's work in spite of his loss of Faith."

"Chris may have lost his Faith for a while, but he found it again with the help of his friends and you."

"I didn't do anything…"

"Really? It seems to me you were there for Chris and the rest of his team just like you're here for your congregation. Keep your Faith in God, Thomas, for he has Faith in you. Now, you finish that coffee and I'll see that people take their seats. If you need me to take over at any time just let me know."

"Thank you, Jonathon, I will," O'Neill said and said a silent prayer that they would all have the strength to see this through.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Stacey Midland looked at the six men seated in the room. It struck her how many injuries they'd incurred because of Charles Goodwin and Rodrigo Vargas. She hated that they were having a fake funeral service for Chris Larabee, but there was hope that before the day was over, he would be reunited with his band of brothers.

"Doc, is Chris up for this?" Wilmington asked.

"Are any of you?" Midland asked and took a deep breath as she spoke to them. "Look, I know why you're all doing this, but it doesn't mean I like it. If I think it's too much, I will call it off and have you asses…I mean your asses carried back here and put in lockdown until further notice."

"I do not believe that was a slip of the tongue, Dr. Midland," Standish said.

"What was yer first clue, Ez?" Tanner asked.

"You asses or your asses?" Wilmington said with a grin. "Look, Doc, we know what's going to happen and there will be plenty of police presence since Chris is so well known."

"Roy and I will also be there and several members of the nursing staff. I have given orders that should any of you look like you're wilting…"

"Wilting…as in flowers?" Dunne asked.

"Right now, you guys are all as delicate as flowers in a blizzard," Midland told them and heard a hint of laughter from Tanner and Sanchez. "I will have pain medication with me should any of you need it."

"Thanks, Doc," Jackson said.

"Don't thank me yet, Nathan. You're as bad as the rest…I don't want you missing your surgical procedure again, so I spoke with Dr. Frost, and he's got you penciled in for tomorrow morning."

"Damn, Nate, she got yer number too," Tanner said as Midland capped off the IV port in Josiah's wrist.

"Actually, I have all your numbers so please don't make me use them," Midland said. "Josiah, are you sure you're up for this?"

"Not at all, but it has to be done. I need to do this, so Goodwin really believes Chris is dead."

"We all do," Standish offered.

"I have arranged medical transport for Josiah, Vin, and Buck. Orin is taking care of the added cost. Nathan, Rain is waiting for you at the nursing station. Nettie Wells is waiting downstairs for JD and Ezra. I will see you all at the church and please don't make me regret this decision."

"We shall endeavor to do our best," Standish said.

"You're so full of it, Ezra," Wilmington said as three orderlies came into the room with wheelchairs.

"Ah, hell," Tanner said but took a seat in the first one as Midland helped Sanchez sit in the one nearest his bed.

"Josiah, can you put in a good word with God for us?" Wilmington asked as he sat down.

"Been doing that all morning, Buck," Sanchez told him. He closed his eyes and prayed everything would go as planned.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris knew this was being done for his own safety, but when they transferred him to the special gurney used to transport deceased patients he shivered. This creeped him out more than anything and he vowed to get out of it as soon as possible.

"Comfy-cozy?"

"No," Larabee answered and heard a snort from Simmons as the gurney began to move out of the room. He could hear people talking, but their vices were muffled, and he felt the sides of the gurney as Simmons and the nurse pushed him along the corridor.

Chris knew Simmons would remain quiet until they reached the vehicle Travis had arranged to take him to the church. The others would also be taken by private ambulance to Saint Joseph's Church, but at least they were using wheelchairs and not being carted out like he was.

"Make sure there's no one around before we transfer him," Simmons ordered. "Just lie still until we check things out with the driver. Yes, he just introduced himself as a police officer and I have seen him around you boys."

Chris shut his eyes as a wave of nausea washed over him. He knew if Simmons saw his discomfort, he would haul his ass back to his room and end the plan. He couldn't let that happen not when his team had borne the brunt of Goodwin and Vargas' actions. He blamed himself as well, and again he vowed to apologize to them all.

"All right, Larabee, let's get you into the ambulance. Danny is going with you, and he knows what to do if he thinks you're in trouble."

"I hear you, Doc," Larabee said as they lifted the covering and helped him move onto a second gurney. They lifted the head of the bed so that he could sit more comfortably before strapping him in and loading it into the ambulance.

"Danny, you know what to do if he runs into trouble or tries to do anything stupid?"

"Yes, Dr. Simmons. I have a box of dull needles with John Doe's name on it," the male nurse said with a grin as Simmons closed the back doors on Larabee's protests. "Now, just relax and we'll get through this day."

"Thanks, Danny."

"Don't thank me yet. I know your reputation, but Dr. Simmons will crack the whip if I let you do anything stupid."

"Not going to do anything stupid. Just going to take someone down…hard!"

"As long as you don't do anything physical to take this person down. You don't have that kind of strength."

"I hear you."

"Good," the nurse said as the ambulance left the covered ambulance bay.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin dressed in a white shirt, black tie, and black suit as he waited for his driver to arrive. He had also hired to men to act as security in case Larabee's friends decided they wanted to get to close to him. The security detail was one he'd used before, and he knew they would act on any threat to his well-being.

He had already made up his mind that after today's service he was leaving the country. The ticket and passport and funds were ready for him once he got back home. He'd packed some belongings but decided he would just replenish everything he needed once he got to the Cayman Islands. Once there he would start a whole new life. Money would never be a problem, not once he accessed his hidden accounts.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Josiah smiled at the two priests who greeted them at the door and wished he could tell the two men the truth. He knew they would understand the reasons behind the secrecy, but it did little to alleviate the guilt gnawing at his gut.

"Josiah, on behalf of the congregation I would like to offer my condolences on the loss of your friend," Father Harper said as five other men joined them at the entrance.

"Thank you," Sanchez said and looked around at the people gathered outside the church.

"There is no more room inside. Chris made an impression on the people of Billings. There are people who have travelled from as far away as Denver to show their support for all of you," Father O'Neill explained.

"We made room for the six of you at the front. Orin and Evie Travis are already inside," Father Harper told them.

"Chris did a lot of good," Jackson observed.

"Yes, he did…you all have," Father O'Neill said and shook hands with each man. "There are a lot of reporters, but I asked them to leave you alone until you're ready to talk to them. I told them no cameras inside."

"Thank you, My Friend," Sanchez said softly as he spotted a private ambulance pull up to the side of the church. He knew it was Chris Larabee and looked around, relieved there was no sign of Goodwin. Maybe the man had decided to leave them to their grief.

"He's out there somewhere," Wilmington said.

"I know," Tanner readily agreed. He shifted slightly in the wheelchair and glanced around at the crowd.

"Rita Jordan with the…"

"We're not talking to reporters right now," Wilmington told her as several other reporters tried to get close to them.

"Was Chris Larabee right about Charles Goodwin?"

"Let me answer that for you," a voice called and smiled at the reporter closest to him.

"Goodwin, you sonofabitch!" Wilmington cursed as the newcomer spoke to several reporters.

"I have never taken a bribe or been involved with Rodrigo Vargas, but that's not why I'm here. I wanted to show my support for Chris and for his team. They are a valuable asset to this city, and I wish I could have stopped what happened to Chris…"

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Danny, get me out there now!" Larabee ordered as he heard the hated voice.

"Give me a second and we'll get you ready," the nurse told him. Travis had sent a vehicle that was equipped with both a gurney and a wheelchair.

"I'm ready now. Get me up!"

"Hold on while I get the wheelchair ready."

"I can…"

"Do as I say, or I'll get those dull needles. Now, I know you're anxious to get this over with, but you will do it the way I say. You're going to get in that wheelchair and Marcus, and I will get you to where you need to be. Got it?"

"You've been taking lessons from Simmons!"

"I'll take that as a compliment," Danny said as the driver came and opened the door.

Chris held his breath as the nurse helped him move from the gurney to the chair and covered him with a thin blanket. Next, he handed him a pair of sunglasses and a baseball hat.

"It won't fool anyone for long, but it should get us into the church without…"

"Not going inside the church. Get me to those reporters. It's time Goodwin found out the truth," Larabee told them as they got the chair onto the ramp and lowered it to the ground.

"Are you sure you're up to this?" Danny asked.

"No, but I'm going to bring this bastard down in front of all his constituents." Larabee held his breath as the nurse wheeled him toward the crowd. He could hear his team speaking, but it was Goodwin's voice that reached his ears.

"We were friends for a long time, and I am so sorry he could not see he was wrong about me. I am going to make sure no one forgets his sacrifice or his name…"

"What about the names of your victims?" Dunne asked angrily.

"I assure you I have never…"

"Steven Wallace, Carlina Morgan…"

"Who is that?"

"Brian Germaine…Sherry Clark…Janet Sullivan…"

"Who are these people?" a reporter asked.

"A few of the people he's hurt…Paul and Maria Santiago…Daryl Cummings…"

"Who are you?" A female reporter asked.

"No…it can't be! You're dead!"

"The reports of my death are premature," Larabee said as the reporters moved to give him room to get closer to Goodwin. Chris could feel his team close by and knew they were anxiously waiting for this to be over.

"Chris, you have no idea how happy I am that you are…"

"Cut the crap, Charlie! We both know you're putting on a show!"

"No, Chris, I'm not…"

"It doesn't matter, Charlie. It's over and you're going down for a lot of things…"

"You're still sore that I have so many people willing to vote for me."

"No, Charlie, that's not why I'm here. I'm here to tell everyone what you are. I'm here to tell them you were working with Rodrigo Vargas, and you raped young women…"

"You're lying! I would never do that…"

"Is this true?" a male reporter shouted above the others.

"No, I have no affiliation with Vargas or Bradford…"

"I never mentioned Bradford, but since you did, I can also tell everyone I saw you at Bradford's compound. I told you then that you would be in irons." Larabee forced himself to stand and ignored the pain that radiated from his ankle to ribs as he fought to face down the man who'd become a monster in so many ways.

"I never thought you would stoop this low, Chris. You and I were friends…"

"Were friends, Charlie. You overstepped the lines and made the wrong choices. There was a time when I was proud to call you friend. That time ended when you decided to take the easy path. You are a murderer, a rapist, kidnapper…"

"You lousy sonofabitch!" Goodwin snarled and reached for the weapon carried by one of his guards. He pointed the gun at Larabee as several people shouted to get down.

Chris had no idea who tackled him as a shot rang out. The air was driven from his lungs as he landed on his back. He fought to get the pain under control and had no idea of he'd been shot or if it was pain from the injuries he'd already suffered.

"Get that sonofabitch!" Wilmington shouted as the crowd surged forward.

"We got him!" a police officer said.

"I shot him…good fucking riddance!" Goodwin said as he was forced to lie down on his stomach and cuffs were placed around his wrists. He was pulled to his feet and turned to see people crowding around the downed man. "You made me do this, Chris! I'll see you in hell!"

"Sorry, Charlie, but you…you're the only one go…going to hell today!" Larabee managed and fought the hands holding him down.

"Lie still, Larabee!"

"How the hell did you get here s…so fast, Sim…Simmons?"

"I told you I would be watching. Now, let me see how much damage was done."

"I don't…"

"Danny, where are those dull needles?"

"Right here, Dr. Simmons," the nurse answered.

"Dull needle or lie still…your choice?" Simmons said.

"Lie still," Larabee answered, relieved that the physician was there as reporters tried to get closer.

"Keep them back!" Simmons ordered, and heard several people take charge as he checked his patient.

"Doc, how is he?" Wilmington asked.

"Ornery as always!" Simmons answered as Stacey Midland joined the group. He knew Larabee's team was there, and that Orin Travis was also [present. He seemed to be coordinating with Robert Miller to keep everyone back.  

"Chris, just be still while we check you out?" Midland ordered.

"Was anyone hurt?" the injured blond asked.

"No, he missed thank God," Midland said worriedly.

Chris breathed a sigh of relief as he saw his team surrounding him. They stayed out of Midland and Simmons' way, but he drank in the sight of them the same way a thirsty man needed water. He saw the worry on their faces, but suddenly there was no strength left to acknowledge them as darkness reached for him.

"We need to get him to the hospital," Simmons said and motioned for the gurney to be brought over. He knew he'd saved Larabee's life by covering him, but he was concerned about the damage he may have caused. He looked up as Stacey Midland placed her hand on his arm.

"You saved his life, Roy," she said.

"Maybe, but what if…"

"What ifs don't belong here, Doc. Listen to Doc Midland…ya saved his life," Tanner told the gruff physician.

"Thanks, but let's get you all to the hospital and make sure everyone is okay," Simmons said.

Josiah watched as the doctors worked on Larabee and turned to find Father Thomas and Father Harper watching them. "I'm sorry we couldn't let you know what was happening."

"No apologies necessary, Josiah. I'm thankful God didn't call Chris home," O'Neill told him.

"This is a true blessing," Father Harper said.

"Thank you," Sanchez said as Miller made his way toward them.

"Are you guys okay?" Miller asked.

"Think so, but Chris needs to go to the hospital," Wilmington answered.

"You all do," Midland ordered. "Roy, I'll go with Chris. Will you make sure Buck, Josiah, and Vin are taken care of?"

"I will. See you at the hospital," Simmons said and motioned for Orin Travis to help him.

"What about Goodwin?" Dunne asked, surprised at how easy the crowd had been managed.

"He's in cuffs and on his way to the station. I'm going to see to his booking personally so will check in with you guys later," Miller assured them.

"Thanks, Bob," Jackson said and watched as Rain checked on the others.

"All right, Nathan, let's go. I told Stacey we'd meet her at Saint Vincents."

"Thanks, Rain," the medic said as Nettie and Casey joined them.

"One more SOB off the streets," Nettie said and smiled at the look of surprise her words received.

"Let's just hope he stays there!" Rain told her.

"Amen to that!" Casey agreed as reporters tried to get through the police officers who were trying to control them. She looked at JD, relieved to see that he was ignoring them as they made their way toward the car.

"Stacey, we'll stop at Delvecchio's and grab some sandwiches, soup, and coffee," Travis said as they waited for Larabee and the others to be placed in the waiting ambulances.

"Thank you, Orin," Midland said as she hooked up an IV line while Danny closed the doors and moved to the front with the driver.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Orin Travis looked at his wife and saw the worry in her eyes as they walked into the waiting room. Mama Delvecchio had made up a tray of sandwiches and several containers of chicken soup with noodles and vegetables. He'd promised to let her know how Chris and the others were and knew she would chastise them for making her worry so much.

"Okay, boys, it's time to eat. I have everything set up in the nurse's lounge and don't let me hear you're not hungry because I know you haven't eaten since breakfast and it's almost three," Evie said.

"You heard her…let's go," Orin said and took control of Josiah's wheelchair while the others slowly got to their feet. He knew Josiah, Buck, and Vin were still patients and had been given pain meds before being told their room was ready for them.

"Any word on Chris?" Evie asked worriedly.

"No, he's still in with Doc Midland and Doc Simmons," Tanner answered.

"It's only been an hour, Vin," Jackson said tiredly.

"Feels like a lot longer than that," Wilmington observed.

"That it does, but at least now they can move him in with us," Sanchez said and smiled at Nathan Jackson. "I'm thinking you might just be joining us after your surgery."

"It's day surgery so I should be going home after," Jackson said.

"Unless…"

"Don't go there, JD," Jackson warned.

"I was just going to say…"

"Nothing at all!" the medic snapped.

"Mr. Dunne, I'd advise you to keep your thoughts to yourself until Surgery is over," Standish said as they followed Evie Travis into the nurse's lounge. "This looks wonderful."

"I bet it even tastes better than it looks," Tanner said.

"Mama knows what we like," Wilmington said.

"I'll get you a plate, Josiah," Evie said.

"Thank you, Mrs. Travis."

"I'll get yours Buck," Dunne said.

"Thanks, Kid," Wilmington said and sat down at the table.

"Vin, sit down before you fall down, and I'll fix you a plate."

"Thanks, Orin," Tanner said and sat next to Wilmington. He looked around the room and wished his ‘chosen brother' was there with them.

"He'll be fine, Vin," Nettie Wells said upon entering the room with Casey and Rain.

"He's as stubborn as…"

"The rest of you and thank the Lord for that," the elderly woman answered.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Stacey smiled as Simmons showed more sympathy than he usually did with Larabee and his team. She knew he felt guilty about tackling the inured man, but he needed to understand that he'd saved Chris' life.

"Stacey, there is bruising around his right hip and shoulder. I'd like to get X-Rays just to make sure there's nothing more going on. I also want an MRI to check for internal damage."

"Roy, you do know you saved his life today?"

"Did I?"

"I owe you one, Doc."

"Welcome back, Larabee!"

"Thanks…nice tackle," the blond said tiredly.

"Yes, well, next time you need to stay out of the line of fire," Simmons scolded lightly.

"I'll keep that in mind," Larabee said. "When can I det out of here?"

"Actually, we're going to send you for X-Rays and an MRI. Then we'll get you settled in your room and yes, we will be moving you in with Josiah, Buck, and Vin," Midland answered.

"Are they okay?"

"Everyone is fine except you," Simmons said. "I don't think there's any new damage except for bruising, but the X-Ray and MRI will tell us more."

"What about Goodwin? Did they get him?"

"He's been arrested. I must say you do know how to put on a show," Midland said with a grin as the curtain was drawn back and a nurse stuck her head in.

"X-Ray is ready for him," Johanna Rawlings told them.

"Thank you, Johanna. Chris I'm going to let your friends know how you're doing, and I'll see you when they bring you back," Midland said.

"Thanks, Doc."

"How's the pain right now, Larabee?" Simmons asked.

"It's not too bad," the blond told him and knew he wasn't fooling with of them.

"Chris…"

"Sorry, Doc, just…"

"Hate admitting that you're hurting," Simmons said and injected pain medication into his patient's IV line.

"Thanks, Simmons," Larabee said and closed his eyes. He heard Simmons and Midland talking as his gurney was wheeled out of the ER room. He knew it would be a while before he would see his team, but he already knew what he had to say to them.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Robert Miller took pleasure in locking the cell door behind Charles Goodwin and knew the man wouldn't say anything that might get him in more trouble. "Well, I must say that felt really good."

"Enjoy it while you can. I'm going to sue the city for this. You're taking Larabee's word and not giving me a chance to speak."

"Oh, you spoke loud and clear with that gun. You tried to kill Chris…"

"That was self-defense."

"Self-defense? Really? I didn't see a weapon in Chris' hand. As a matter of fact, the only gun that was drawn was yours and you're lucky Dr. Simmons was there, or you'd be facing murder chargers on top of everything else."

"You have no evidence that I did anything wrong."

"Wrong, there's plenty of evidence and witnesses including several young men and women who can place you with Vargas. We also have Chris' testimony that he saw you at Bradford's compound. You're going to spend a lot of time in a cell like this so you might as well sit back and relax."

"I want my lawyer!"

"I'll see if anyone's available to get you your call, but for now I've got some paperwork to fill out. Sit still ‘cause this could take a while.

"I wish I'd killed him," Goodwin whispered.

"Did you say something, Charlie?"

"No!" Goodwin snarled and glared at the man through the bars. "Leave me alone! I'm not saying anything else until I speak to my lawyer."

"Like I said it could be a while. It's pretty busy here," Miller said and left the man alone. It felt good to know they were bringing him down, it's what the man deserved.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"JD, Ezra, and Nathan, you'll have to wait outside until we get Chris situated. It will take about an hour so go grab coffee or something until we are done," Marti Sloan told the three men as she pushed the door open as far as it would go. They'd moved the three beds around the large room and placed the fourth bed by the window.

"Chris okay?" Tanner asked hopefully.

"Well, aside from several new bruises he is okay. Like the rest of you he needs to get some rest," Marti said.

"Yes, Ma'am," Wilmington said and moved to help her shift a chair. "Let me do that."

"I would, but I'd end up having to put you to bed."

"Now that sounds like a proposition…"

"Sorry, Buck, but I don't think you can handle me," Marti told him and heard soft laughter from the others.

"Oh, I think I could…"

"Buck, you keep talking like that and I'll be forced to tell Inez," Sanchez said as they heard several voices outside the door.

"Buck, stay out of the way," the nurse said as they wheeled the gurney into the room. She knew the new patient was sleeping because of the medications he'd been given and hoped he would stay that way until they got him settled in the new bed.

Vin watched as the stretcher was wheeled inside the room and breathed a sigh of relief that Chris was alive. He closed his eyes and reached for the gossamer strands that connected him to his twin soul. ‘I'm here, Cowboy.'

"Thanks, Cowboy,' was the instant response that brought a hint of a smile to the Texan's face.

"Dammit, Vin, quit with the psychic shit," Wilmington snapped. "Is he okay?"

"Not really, but he will be," Tanner said and watched as they transferred Larabee to the new bed.

"All right, Mr. Larabee, I'm going to get a set of vitals on you and then let you rest," the nurse told him.

"Thanks, Marti," Larabee said, relieved when she finished and left the room. He watched as Ezra, Nathan, and JD came into the room and breathed a sigh of relief. "You boys look like hell."

"Ain't looked in a mirror lately ‘ave ya?"

"Been a little busy," Larabee said and raised the head of his bed slightly. He looked from one man to the other before taking a shallow breath, and knew the time was right. "I'm sorry."

"For what? Doing what we all would do if we truly believed we were right?" Sanchez asked.

"Not for doing it, but for how I went about it. I got all of you hurt because I wanted vengeance," Larabee answered. "I should have asked for your help."

"You did, but we didn't listen, and I know I can speak for all of us when I say we're sorry for not listening to you, Chris," Jackson told him.

"Thanks, Nathan, but I could have done things differently. I should have made sure you boys weren't in his line of fire."

"How would you have done that, Chris?" Wilmington asked.

"I don't know, but…" Larabee shifted slightly and reached for the glass of ice water on his table. He took several sips before placing it back in the center.

"No buts, Chris," Sanchez said. "Look, we will accept your apology if you accept ours."

"Done," Larabee said. "Goodwin and Bradford are in jail and Vargas is dead."

"Unfortunately, there are plenty more out there like them," Standish observed. "I assure you, Mr. Larabee, we are all guilty of blaming each other for something at one time or another. Let's just agree that we will continue to fight the good fight."

"Good will always triumph over evil," Sanchez told them.

"Thanks, boys," the blond said and closed his eyes. He could hear them talking softly and let the familiarity of it ease the tension he'd felt. He drifted toward sleep and knew he had one more surprise for Simmons and this band of brothers.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Stan Bradford looked at his lawyer and cursed the man for not giving him the answers he wanted to head. He knew Vargas was dead, but that didn't help him with the charges against him.

"Stan, I know this is not what you want to hear, but the charges against you are serious," Brian Cortland explained. "You're in possession of military grade weapons that were illegally obtained. You're charged with kidnapping…"

"I never kidnapped anyone. They were arrested and detained by the sheriff and his deputies. It's not my fault that the charges were bogus. I simply put them to work."

"Your brother was the sheriff and several of his deputies have already said he was working for you. You're also charged with receiving stolen goods!"

"Like what?"

"The motorcycle, several cars, a jeep…"

"They were gifts from…"

"Your brother. I'm just warning you of what you're facing and how serious those charges are. Did you know the last man you took was a man named Chris Larabee?"

"So what? As far as I knew he had stolen that motorcycle. I can show you the police report."

"You could, but there are plenty of witnesses…including Chris Larabee."

"That sonofabitch is dead."

"No, actually he's not and he's the reason Charles Goodwin is in jail."

"I don't know any Charles Goodwin."

"That's not what David Phillips told the police."

"Phillips works for me, so he'll tell you anything to save his own hide."

"Actually, David Phillips was an undercover agent. Larabee and Phillips are going to testify against you and the only thing you can do to help alleviate some of the charges is to testify to the fact that Goodwin was at the compound with Vargas."

"What good would that do me?"

"It won't get you out of jail time, but it might help put in a good word with the judge and maybe he'll go a little easier."

"Why the hell am I paying you so fucking much? I could go online and get the same stupid advice from Facebook," Bradford said.

"Be my guest," Cortland told him and motioned to close the leather briefcase.

"Dammit, look, do whatever you can to get me out on bail…"

"The chances of bail are slim to none. I told you the charges are serious and with military involvement it makes matters worse. I spoke with Colonel Brookfield, and he is trying to have you brought up on charges of treason and illegally obtaining military grade weapons and ammunition. You won't be getting out on bail if he gets his way."

"I pay you to get me out of shit like this!"

"No, you pay me to be your lawyer and speak for you in a court of law. With the charges against you my advice is for you to throw yourself at the mercy of the court. We could make it look as if your brother was the brains behind the operation and that he blackmailed you into doing this."

"No one would believe that for a minute. My brother was as so stupid he couldn't tell up from down if you gave him directions. I told him not to take any more men, but he thought he knew better than me. The stupid sonofabitch got himself killed because he thought he could please me with that fucking bike!"

"Your brother is dead, and you need a scapegoat. You can blame him, or you can testify to Goodwin's involvement."

"I only met him once."

"You know of his partnership with Vargas…"

"Another idiot…word is he's dead too!"

"Yes, he is. He was killed by another inmate…"

"Good riddance," Bradford said.

"You're the only one…"

"Who can get myself out of this shit!" Bradford glared at his lawyer when the man started to laugh. "What's so fucking funny?"

"You really think you can get yourself out of this shit? That's funny," Cortland told him. "Look, the best thing you have going for you is that you can testify to Goodwin's involvement with Vargas. It won't get you clear, but it might keep you out of a military prison."

"Your job is to get me out of this shit."

"No, my job is to advise you of your best options. With the evidence they have and the testimony of Larabee and Phillips you are going to do jail time, but how long and how hard that sentence will be depends on you."

"Tell me what I have to do!" Bradford said.

"Give your statement and I will make sure the judge and Colonel Brookfield know you're cooperating." Cortland said and knew Bradford would do anything if it meant his time in prison would be easier. The problem was the military charges were far more serious than at first believed. Brookfield was clamping down on militia compounds and anyone else who thought they were above the law.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Ray Simmons wasn't sure if this was the right time, but he'd spoken with Chris Larabee and been assured that he would make sure everything went according to plan. Jake Taylor and Rafael Cordova had picked him up and would take him to Saint Vincents. Once there they would take the back stairs to the third floor and make their way to Larabee's room. The entrance would need a card, but that was also taken care of because Jake sometimes worked at the hospital and had security clearance.

Would Roy be willing to speak to him? Would they be able to mend the fence that had been broken so long ago? God, help him, but it seemed so petty now and he honestly couldn't remember who was in the right. All he knew for sure was that it didn't matter because he wanted his brother back no matter what it took.

"Ray, are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Jake, just thinking too much."

"You do know that's the worst thing to be doing right now?" Cordova observed.

"I know, but my brother is a stubborn cuss and set in his ways."

"He might just surprise you," Taylor said as he pulled into a parking spot and took a deep breath. "I think you're both going to need time to adjust, but once you do, you're going to be able to mend those fences."

"Thank you," Simmons said and exited the car. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before following Jake and Rafale toward the hospital's staff entrance.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris opened his eyes, relieved to find the others were still there and slowly raised the head of his bed. He took a deep breath, ignoring the pain it caused as he turned slightly and stared at is team.

"Welcome back, Cowboy," Tanner said.

"Thanks, Vin," Larabee said and looked at JD. "I'm sorry, Kid."

"For what?" Dunne asked.

"I know how much that motorcycle meant to you. I wouldn't have taken it if I'd known what was going to happen," Larabee explained.

"The bike's fine, Chris. Jake and Rafael talked to Colonel Brookfield and as soon as they finish their investigation it will be returned to me."

"Bradford said he was going to paint it and modify certain things."

"If he did…"

"If he did, I'll cover the cost of putting it back to the shape you had it in."

"Insurance should take care of it," Dunne told him.

"Well, I'll work on it with you if you'll let me," Larabee said.

"Done," JD said and took a deep breath as he looked at the man he thought of as a mentor. "I'm sorry, Chris."

"For what?" Larabee asked.

"I didn't see your note and reported the bike was stolen. If I'd known, it was you I wouldn't have done that."

"JD, I should have called you and told you I was taking your bike. You did the right thing in reporting it stolen."

"You were caught up in that compound because I reported it stolen."

"Yes, I was. Another way to look at it is that we caught Bradford, Vargas, and Goodwin. I'm sorry you boys were hurt because I needed revenge and would do anything to get it. Charlie was a friend and I guess it felt like a betrayal of our friendship when he took the wrong path. He could have been a damn good politician if he'd made the right choice."

"Yes, he could have, but he didn't and that isn't your fault, Chris," Sanchez said.

"None of this is, Old Son. We chose this life, and we all know we can and will go after anyone who tries to hurt the people we care about. It took Josiah to show us what we were doing by blaming you for what happened to us…"

"It was my fault. I chose to go after Goodwin no matter what the cost."

"That's your nature, Son," Sanchez said. "To be honest we are all cut from the same cloth. It didn't take much to convince everyone that we would all do the same thing if it meant bringing down people like Goodwin and Vargas. I just wish we'd came to that understanding before you went on the road trip."

"The road trip wasn't the best idea I ever had," Larabee said.

"You got that right," Wilmington said.

"Nathan, is that coffee I smell?" Larabee asked.

"I was wondering when you'd notice that," Jackson said and placed the cup of coffee on the bedside table.

"Thanks," Larabee said and looked around the room. Not one member of his team had escaped Goodwin's handiwork and he vowed to be there when the man was brought down for good. Miller had stopped by to tell him the judge had denied bail, and that Goodwin would be staying in jail until the trial.

"You're welcome. I also saved you a bowl of Nettie's soup," Jackson said. He'd already spoken with Midland and Simmons and knew they approved of the soup.

"Thanks, I am hungry," Larabee said and sighed tiredly. "How long before you boys escape this place?"

"Me and Vin might get out tomorrow…looks like you and Josiah are here for a while longer. Nathan might end up being…"

"Don't go there, Buck," Jackson warned. Surgery was scheduled for 10 the next morning and to be honest he was a little worried about it.

"You will be outrunning us all in a month," Standish said.

Chris looked at his cell phone and opened the text from Jake. He smiled at the message and closed it before looking at his team.

"What's going on?" Wilmington asked.

"Well, I met someone at the compound. Someone who might look eerily familiar," Larabee answered.

"Who is it?" Dunne asked.

"You'll find out in about a minute," the blond said and heard footsteps outside their door. "Maybe less than a minute."

"Is it safe to come in?" Cordova asked.

"It is," Larabee answered and waited for the three men to come inside. He knew Simmons was earing a hoodie that kept his face hidden.

"Who is that?" Wilmington asked of the man standing between Cordova and Taylor.

"Boys, I'd like you all to meet Ray Simmons," Larabee said as the newcomer pushed the hood back and revealed the stubbled face.

"Ray Simmons…that's Roy!" Dunne said.

"No, Kid, that's Ray…Roy's twin brothers. He's the reason I'm alive," Larabee said.

"Does Roy know he's here?" Jackson asked.

"Not yet," Larabee answered. "Roy this is my team. Buck Wilmington, Vin Tanner, JD Dunne, Nathan Jackson, Ezra Standish, and Josiah Sanchez."

"Larabee told me a lot about you boys and my brother's books…"

"Damn, he even sounds like Simmons," Wilmington said.

"You're the one with animal…"

"Dammit, Chris!"

"What did I do?" Larabee asked innocently.

"Did you have to tell him…"

"Hell, Wilmington I can tell you of some really good soaps that'll get rid of the stench. Or you can just take a bath in tomato juice. It works for skunks so maybe it'll work on your condition," Ray said.

"Hardeharhar," Wilmington spat.

"Jake, can you see if Roy and Stacey are on the floor?" Larabee asked.

"I'm not sure this is such a good idea," Ray said and moved to the window.

"You won't know until you try. He might just surprise you, but if you want to wait then that's your choice. I just don't think waiting longer is the right mow," the blond said.

"All right," Simmons said as Taylor left the room. "I just hope we don't cause a war on this floor."

"I don't think so. I think your brother might just surprise you. He's gruff with all of us, but he certainly takes care of his patients," Jackson assured him.

"That's good."

"Are you a doctor too?" Dunne asked.

"I am," Simmons answered and heard a familiar voice outside the door as it opened, and Taylor held it for his brother.

"Stacey, I'm on call this evening, but…" Simmons stopped when he saw the man standing by Larabee's bed and knew exactly who it was.

"Hello, Roy."

"Ray, what are you doing here?"

"He was caught up in the compound where I was," Larabee answered. "I thought he was you."

"We do look a little alike, but I got the best looks," Roy said.

"Mirror images," Standish whispered.

"Identical twins actually," Ray answered and watched his brother's face closely. So far Roy had not shown any emotions, but neither had he. "Roy, I'm sorry!"

"Don't," Roy Simmons said and moved further into the room unaware that his every move was being watched closely. "You have nothing to apologize for, Ray. I made a stupid mistake, and I pushed you away. I'm sorry…sorry we've wasted all these years."

Chris watched as the two brothers hugged each other and smiled as they turned toward him. "I'm glad you listened to me, Ray."

"Well, Larabee, I'm glad you convinced my brother to come here with you," Roy told him and shook the blond's hand.

"I'm glad it worked out," Larabee said.

"Stacey Midland, this is my twin brother, Ray Simmons," Roy said by way of introduction.

"It's a pleasure, Dr. Midland," Roy said.

"Please, call me Stacey. Are you planning on staying in Billings?"

"Well, I don't have anywhere else to be," Ray answered.

"Where are you staying right now?" Roy asked.

"I'm staying at Larabee's ranch. Nice place he has."

"Yes, he does, but I have a house and you're welcome to stay with me. Maybe we can get you a job at Saint Vincents."

"I'll put in a good word with the board," Midland said and looked at Larabee. "Chris, you're supposed to be resting."

"I know, Doc, but I had to see this through," Larabee said.

"Is he always stubborn?" Ray asked.

"Hell yes. It's his middle name. Remind me to show you Larabee's version of War and Peace."

"He mentioned you had volumes for his team. I'd love to see them…are they like the ones we did when we were kids?"

"Yes, but a whole lot thicker," Roy answered.

"Roy, why don't you let me take the on-call shift and you can get your brother settled in?"

"Thanks, Stacey, I'm going to take you up on that as long as Ray is agreeable to staying with me."

"I'd like that. I need to go to Larabee's ranch and get my stuff."

"I can pick it up and bring it to Simmons' place," Cordova told him.

"Thank you, Rafael," Ray said and turned to the man on the bed next to him. "Thank you for convincing me to see this through."

"Anytime, Doc," Larabee said.

"Thank you for giving me back my brother, Larabee, but that doesn't mean I'm going to go easy on you. How long has it been since you pushed that button?"

"An hour…"

"More like three hours!"

"Nathan, stop helping me!"

"Is he always this stubborn?" Ray asked.

"This is nothing," Roy answered. "You should hear him when he's being a pain in the ass."

"I think I did. He seemed to take pleasure in goading on the warden and the other inmates."

"I could see him doing that, but I will say this if he decides you're his friend then there's no better man to have your back," Roy said. "This team is proof of that."

"Hell, Doc, that's sickly sweet," Tanner said.

"I mean it, Boys, there's not a better team of men than you seven," Roy said.

"Ray, get him out of here before he says anything else," Larabee said, surprised when Roy Simmons shook his hand.

"I owe you a drink…"

"Whiskey?"

"When the time comes, I'll buy you the whole bottle," Roy told him.

"I would be delighted to show you Mr. Larabee's favorite blend\."

"As long as it don't break the bank, Standish. Stacey, call me if you need anything. Jackson, you have surgery in the morning so go home and get some rest," Roy said and smiled at the group before motioning for his brother to follow him out of the room.

"Rain is waiting at the nursing station for you, Nathan. Remember you are not to eat or drink anything after midnight and be here to register by seven AM," Midland said.

"I will, Doc," Jackson said.

"Chris, press that button and eat your soup and just maybe you'll be on a regular diet tomorrow morning."

"Hospital diet or can someone bring me real food?"

"If they get it from Nettie or Delvecchio's then you're welcome to it."

"McDonalds for me," Tanner said.

"No way in hell! If I come in and find you…any of you eating McDonalds then I'll put in an order for prunes and ipecac," Midland said.

"Damn, Doc, that's not fair," Dunne tried.

"It's as fair as it's going to be," Midland vowed. "Nathan, come on and I'll walk you out. JD. Ezra. Nettie will be here in 15 minutes to take you home. Chris, push that button or I am going to change it to automatic."

"Damn," Larabee said and did as she told him before picking up the spoon and eating the soup.

"Josiah, the same goes for you. Push the button," Midland said and looked at Wilmington and Tanner. "You two get into bed and I'll send your nurse in with your medications."

"Thanks, Doc," Wilmington said and sat on the edge of his bed. He watched Larabee eat as Ezra, JD, and Nathan followed Midland out the door. "Chris, I'm sorry, Man."

"No need, Buck…water under the bridge as Nettie would say," Larabee assured him.

"Maybe, but I've known you a long time and what you did shouldn't have surprised me. Hell of it is I should have been right there beside you, fighting that bastard."

"We all should have…thanks for opening our eyes for us, Josiah," Tanner said.

"It didn't take much to open them, Buck," Sanchez said. "All of you knew why Chris did what he did, and it just took a little soul searching to see that."

"Not for you…you were ready to back Chris even when the rest of us wanted to turn our backs on him," Wilmington said.

"It didn't take much to make you all see Chris was being Chris and that we'd all do the same damn thing if we took his place," Sanchez observed.

"I just got one bone ta pick with ya, Cowboy," Tanner said.

"What's that?"

"Ain't we got enough misery with one Simmons…now you not only brought home a stray, but another one that looks and sounds like Roy!"

"He was just as snarly when he was treating me at the compound."

"And still you brought him here," Wilmington said and shook his head.

"To be honest I am kind of hoping Ray can keep Roy from harping on us."

"Something tells me it's jest gonna get worse," Tanner said as the nurse came in and moved to Larabee's bed.

"Hi, Marti," the injured blond said.

"Hi, Chris, how was the soup?"

"Delicious," Larabee told her as she checked his vitals and moved the table away from the bed.

"Glad you enjoyed it. Dr. Midland said you can have whatever you want to eat tomorrow, so I sent the new orders to the cafeteria, but I heard through the grapevine that Mrs. Wells just might be bringing some of her muffins."

"She makes the best muffins," Larabee said.

"Is there anything either of you need?" Marti asked as she made sure each man took his medication.

"No, think we're good," Wilmington answered.

"Use the call button if you need anything at all," Marti told them before leaving the men alone.

"Chris, I think she likes you,' Wilmington said.

"She's just doing her job," Larabee said.

"Well, she fawned all over you while the three of us felt like we were…"

"Full of shit, Buck," the blond said as the morphine kicked in and sleep beckoned to him. He heard the other three talking softly as he drifted toward sleep. His back was burning, and he knew he should have told Midland, but had forgotten about the injury to his back in the excitement of seeing Ray and Roy Simmons reunited.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Nathan, I can give you something to help you sleep."

"Not yet, Rain," Jackson said and knew he was thinking too much. He knew the surgery was considered a minor procedure, but as with all procedures there was the possibility of complications.

Rain got out of bed and walked over to the window where Nathan was sitting on an oversize armchair. She pulled the ottoman closer and lifted his injured leg onto it before sitting on the arm of the chair. She ran her finger along his chin and smiled as he reached out and touched her flat stomach.

"Our baby is going to grow up knowing he or she is loved," Jackson said. "We need to pick a date."

"For what?" Rain teased.

"A wedding date…"

"I knew that, Nathan. You tell me what date is good for you and I will be there."

"Tomorrow."

"Sorry, but you have other plans for tomorrow," Rain warned.

"Damn, I was hoping you'd forgotten about that. How about July 25th?"

"Okay, so we got a date, but do you think three weeks is enough time for you to get back on your feet?"

"I'll be there with bells on," Jackson assured her. "So, we got three weeks to get everything ready. Are you okay with getting married at Saint Josephs?"

"I am and hopefully Josiah and Father Thomas can perform the ceremony. I'll ask Inez if we can hold the reception at the Saloon."

"That sounds perfect."

"Now, Nathan, it's nearly midnight and you need to get some sleep. Don't worry about the wedding while you're recovering from surgery. I can handle most things from here on out. My Mother and Father are talking about visiting us so maybe I can get them to help me plan everything while you recuperate."

"I can help."

"Yes, you can, but for now you need to concentrate on letting your knee heal. It will take time, but I know you're going to be fine unless you turn out to be as stubborn as your band of brothers."

"I promise…"

"Oh, no you don't, Nathan Jackson! Don't go promising things that we both know won't be as easy as all that. I've seen you hurt and you're just like Chris and Vin and the others. The difference is you have to deal with me, and I know exactly what you should and shouldn't be doing."

"You know us too well, Rain Goines."

"Yes, I do, now come to bed," Rain said and helped him stand. She let him lean on her until they reached the bed, and she eased him down on the mattress. She lifted his legs and then moved to lie down beside him. She placed her head on his shoulders and kissed him while running her fingers along his shoulders.

"I love you," Jackson said.

"I love you too," she whispered and felt him relax against her. Tomorrow would be a rough day on them both, but she would see that he did as Frost ordered. "Good night, my love."

"Good night," Jackson said and sighed tiredly.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

God, he hated this, but for now there was nothing more he could do. His lawyer was working on getting him out, but so far, the judge was not cooperating. If only he'd left when the raid at the compound happened. It was too late to think about that now, but one way or the other he was getting out of here.

Goodwin knew Larabee could place him at the compound and that was a dangerous situation considering the charges against Stan Bradford. The military police were going to come down hard on him and he hoped the bastard kept his mouth shut.

"Your lawyer's here," a guard said and grinned as he motioned for Goodwin to place his hands through the bars.

Goodwin silently cursed the indignity of being handcuffed, but there was no point in voicing his disgust. He waited until the man opened the door and quickly stepped into the hallway. He followed the guard through the hall until they reached the room where his lawyer was waiting for him. He didn't speak but glared at the guard when the man locked him to the leg of the table before leaving him alone with his lawyer.

"Tell me you got bail set for me!"

"I told you yesterday the judge denied you bail. The charges against you are serious and he sees you as a flight risk. I tried…"

"Try harder! I pay you to take care of things for me!"

"I know you do, but there are some things even money can't buy. The charges against you are a lot more serious than a drugs. You were at the compound…"

"They can't prove I was there. It's Chris' word against mine.'

"Actually, Stan Bradford gave his statement. He says you were there. Then there's the undercover agent…"

"What undercover agent?"

"David Phillips…"

"I never heard of him!"

"Well, he's heard of you. He overheard Bradford talking about you and Vargas and that's…"

"Hearsay," Goodwin said.

"Not when it's put together with the testimony of the other prisoners."

"That's just it they were prisoners. Even Chris must have broken the law if he was there!"

"Bradford's idea of breaking the law is not the way it was meant to be. His brother was sheriff and he arrested people he thought would be easy targets. He chose the wrong one when he went after Larabee. You're better off pleading guilty…"

"I'm not going to jail!"

"You already are in jail and if you don't smarten up you could spend the rest of your life behind bars. I told you the evidence against you is overwhelming…"

"If you can't do your job then I'll get someone who will!"

"You can try, but I'm telling you there's only one way you might get some leniency and that's by telling everything you know about Vargas and Bradford. It might already be too, but it won't hurt if you cooperate."

"Get the fuck out of here. I'm better off with a fucking public defender," Goodwin snarled as he tugged on the cuffs holding him in place.

"Your choice," the lawyer said and packed up his briefcase. "You brought all this down on yourself, Charles."

"I told you to get the fuck out of here! Guard, I'm ready to go back to my cell!" Goodwin said and heard the door open. "I'm cancelling your retainer."

"Good luck, Charles."

"Fuck you!" Goodwin said and waited for the guard to release him from the table. He watched his lawyer leave and followed the guard back to his cell. He had contacts on the outside and maybe one of them could help him get rid of the witnesses. He waited for the guard to release his cuffs and made his way to the cot. He stretched out and linked his hands behind his head as he ran through the names of anyone who owed him a favor.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris glanced at the clock over the door and wasn't surprised to find it was only five in the morning. He hadn't slept very well and spent most of the night listening to the other three sleeping. It felt like a soothing balm to his soul that they were all going to recover and that was worth more than anything else.

The fact that Charles Goodwin was responsible for their injuries was no longer front and center for him because right now he needed his team. He needed them to know how much they meant to him. How many times had they been in this position? How many more times would one of them be injured because they believed in doing what was right?

"Chris, are you alright?"

"I'm fine, Josiah. Didn't mean to wake you."

"You didn't. I'm a light sleeper in here."

"I think we all are unless Simmons or Midland decide we need a little something to help us rest."

"They know us too well," Sanchez offered. "So, what's got you awake at five in the morning."

"Just thinking I got lucky this time. I had no idea how bad you guys were hurt when I left and I'm sorry for doing that. I should have waited…"

"Yes, you should have, but we all understand why you left. It must have felt like you were alone after what happened.'

"It did and that's not a good feeling. I though a few days away from Billings would clear my head, but I kind of went from the frying pan into the fire. I was shocked to see Vargas and Goodwin at the compound."

"I bet you were. How did you escape?"

"That's a long story."

"Well, you have a captive audience, Cowboy," Tanner said softly.

"We've got no where else to go," Wilmington said. "Spit it out, Chris."

"I had a plan ready to go before Vargas and Goodwin showed up. Simmons and three brothers were willing to help. The plan was to make it look like I was caught in an explosion. It would have worked much better had those bastards not showed up. Had to take the chance before everything was set. I owe Simmons and the Lawless brothers…"

"Lawless brothers? Is that really their name?" Wilmington asked.

"It is, but in the compound, we were all given numbers. Mine was Inmate 78 and we weren't supposed to use anyone's real names. I spent a couple of days in the hole when I got there. Felt like I'd never get warm again. The guards were real pieces of shit, and they took pleasure in beating anyone and everyone. I think I have more bruises than Kellogg's got corn flakes."

"I bet," Tanner said.

"So, we set up the explosion, and the Lawless brothers spread the word that Cyrus Peterson and I were caught in the explosion. I killed Peterson before I escaped and before anyone else knew what happened. I remember running through the trees…taking a fall and getting up and running. I ignored everything until I reached the road and ended up being hit by a car. That reminds me I owe Janet Tucker and I think I know just how to do that."

"Who is Janet Tucker?" Tanner asked.

"She works at Hal's diner. He's her brother and she has two small children. Her car is in rough shape, and I know her brother helps her whenever he can, but they weren't making much money at the diner. Hopefully, that will change now that Bradford is in jail. When we are all out of here, I want to take you to dinner at the diner. It's a greasy spoon, but the food, especially the pie is delicious," Larabee said and winced as he turned onto his side. His back was burning, and he knew he should have told Marti, but he'd fallen asleep before he could do it.

"Chris, want me to get Marti?" Wilmington asked.

"No, thanks, Buck, I just pushed the call button," Larabee answered.

"What's wrong, Chris?" Tanner asked.

"My back is burning," Larabee answered and smiled as the nurse came into the room.

"My, my, but I don't think I've ever had such a handsome bunch of patients," Marti said as she made her way to Larabee's bed. "Can I get you something, Chris?"

"Can you check my back?"

"What's going on?" Marti asked seriously.

"It's burning," Larabee answered and turned onto his left side so she could take a look.

"How is it, Doc?" Tanner asked.

"How long has this been going on, Chris?" the nurse asked.

"Started after Simmons left," Larabee answered.

"Why didn't you say something?"

"I was going to, but I fell asleep," the blond answered.

"Well, it looks a little inflamed so I'm going to put in a call to Dr. Midland. Just stay on your side until she has a look. Why don't you push that button and I'll get a set of vitals on you?" Marti said, relieved when her patient did just that as she pushed the button and told the nursing station to have Dr. Midland paged.

Chris closed his eyes as the nurse took his temperature and blood pressure. He knew it wouldn't take Midland long to get there and wondered just how bad things had gotten. He could hear Marti talking to Buck, Vin, and Josiah and opened his eyes when the door opened, and Midland came to check on him.

"Marti, what's going on?"

"Chris says his back is burning and he is running a low-grade fever. He just pressed the button on the PCA," the nurse explained.

"Let me take a look, Chris," Midland said and pulled the overhead light closer so she could examine the injured man. "How long has this been going on?"

"Started last night," Larabee answered, wincing when her fingers touched a particularly tender area.

"Marti, I'm going to need to drain this. I'd also like to start him on two Tylenol to help with the fever."

"I'll get what you need," the nurse said.

Midland could feel the other three watching her, but for now her attention was on Larabee. "Chris, it's not too bad, but if we don't treat it then it will get worse."

"I hear you, Doc," Larabee said.

"This is going to be uncomfortable, but I will give you a local anesthetic to help control the pain."

"Thanks, Doc," Larabee said. He felt the effects of the morphine but could hear Midland and the nurse talking softly. He heard the curtain being closed and knew it was for his privacy, but right now privacy was something he really didn't care about.

"Alright, Chris, I'm freezing the area now," Midland said and felt him tense as she started the procedure.

Chris held tight to the pillow beneath his head as his physician slowly drained the infection and then covered it with gauze. He knew the freezing around the area would last for a while and hoped this was the last time she'd need to do this.

"All done, Chris," Midland said. "If you need anything or if it starts to burn again, I want you to let the nurses know. All right?"

"I will," Larabee said. "Tell them I'm fine."

"They heard you, but I don't think they believe you any more than I do," Midland said and eased the blanket up over as Marti disposed of the equipment she'd used and drew back the curtain.

"Doc, will he be okay? Tanner asked.

"I think so, Vin, but it won't be overnight. That goes for all of you. He's sleeping now and hopefully nothing else will happen," Midland answered. "Roy is taking a couple of personal days so Dr. Carter will be here today."

"He new?" Wilmington asked.

"He's been around for about a month," Midland said and made several notations on Larabee's chart. "I'm heading for home in a few minutes, but Dr. Carter knows what's going on with all of you. I'll check back in with you tonight."

"Thanks, Doc," Wilmington said as the woman left the room. He glanced at Chris Larabee and silently prayed he would make a complete recovery. He slid his legs over the edge of the bed and made his way to the chair next to his long-time friend. "Damn, Ol' Son, you never do things the easy way."

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Rain watched her fiancé closely as they sat together in the waiting area. Dr. Frost had come by to check on him and made sure Nathan knew exactly what he was going to do. The surgery would take a couple of hours and then he'd spend a short time in recovery before being released into here care. She'd taken a week off so she could look after him.

"Rain, you need to eat," Jackson told her and fiddled with the tape that held his IV in place.

"I had a toasted English muffin before we left the house and I'll get something else once you go inside," the pretty woman explained. "Dr. Frost knows I will be with the others, and he'll come find me when you're out of surgery."

"You should be resting not worrying about me."

"I'm pregnant, Nathan, not sick," Rain told him and looked up as a nurse walked toward them.

"Mr. Jackson, Dr. Frost is ready for you," she said and checked his wristband.

"Rain…"

"I'll see you in recovery," she told him and walked toward the doors that led to the operating rooms. "I love you."

"I love you more," Jackson said.

Rain watched him go inside and stood there until the doors closed. She knew how hard this was on her fiancé, especially when it meant he would need someone to take care of him. This was something that rarely happened, and she hoped it didn't become the norm.

Rain made her way to the stairs and hurried up to the third floor. The room she wanted was the first one on the right as she exited the stairwell and she entered to find three men talking in hushed tones.

"Rain, how are you feeling?" Sanchez asked.

"I'm fine, Josiah."

"Has Nathan gone for surgery?" Wilmington asked.

"They took him in about five minutes ago. I hope you guys don't mind me waiting here with you."

"Not at all," Sanchez said. "Is he stressed out?"

"Yes, he was…worried about me and the baby…"

"Baby…are you pregnant, Rain?" Larabee asked.

"Yes, I am, Chris. I heard you had a bit of a rough spot during the night. How are you feeling now?"

"Not bad. It's not burning like it was last night."

"That's good but take it easy and make sure you let the nurses know if it gets worse.'

"I will," Larabee said and stayed slightly on his side as he raised the head of the bed a little more. "Congratulations."

"Thank you," Rain said and hugged him gently.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Roy looked at his brother and sighed heavily as he sat at the table and slid a plate of Lasagne and garlic bread toward him. He'd dreamt of moments like this since they'd fallen out. It felt like they'd lost so much time and he wanted to make sure the rift between them was closed.

"Thanks, Roy."

"Anytime. Do you want red wine white wine or brandy?"

"Is the brandy the good stuff or the cheap shit we bought in med school?"

"The good stuff. Actually, it's the best and I need to thank Ezra Standish for that."

"Is he the dandy?"

"That's him. He's got an overbearing mother, but she certainly made sure he had good taste in everything he does. She taught him so many ways to read a person's tells during a poker game and she made sure he could run a con with the best of them."

"Then why does he work for Larabee?"

Roy smile at his brother as he grabbed the brandy and the glasses. "Chris told Maude off and said Ezra had to cut the apron strings and be done with cons. He convinced Ezra that his talents could be put to better use by working with his team as both an undercover agent and a computer geek. You'd be amazed at how good Ezra and JD are with computer hacking."

"Sounds like someone I should call when I get a new laptop."

"If you want it set up and protected, they are your best choice. I can ask them for you."

"Thanks," Ray said and took a sip of the brandy before looking at his brother. "Do you remember why we had that fight because I can't understand what drove a wedge between us?"

"To be honest I don't remember, but it's water under the bridge now because nothing and I mean nothing will come between us again. I hope you decide to stay in Billings. You can stay with me for as long as you want, and I can put in a good word for you at Saint Vincents or any other hospital you want to work at."

"I was headed for Billings before I got caught in that web of lies in Bradford Falls. I wanted to see you and try to make up for lost time and I also wanted to look into family practice. I'd like to deal with children."

"You always were good with kids. Tell me what you need, and I'll help you figure it out here. There's a great community hospital that needs a pediatrician. Did you get your degree?"

"I did," Ray told him. "I worked for a couple of private hospitals, but the way they ran things was not exactly on the up-and-up. I spoke up, but all that got me was a kick to the curb."

"I hate hospital politics, but Saint Vincents is different."

"How so? Politics are politics."

"Well, we lucked out when several big-time donations came in from clients, but only after the board agreed that there would be several doctors and nurses whose opinions counted. Haven't had a problem since that we haven't been able to deal with."

"So, the board is made up of medical personnel?"

"Not just medical personnel. There are a couple of outsiders including a lawyer who knows what to do to get through to major contributors. Saint Vincents is one of the best run hospitals I've worked at."

"You sold me. Maybe I'll apply…"

"I'll go with you. Stacey already said she'd put in a good word and her word is hard to come by."

"Thanks, Roy. How did you come to be her partner in the practice?"

"We got to know each other…through Larabee's team. It didn't take long before she offered me a place in her practice. There's another man I'm going to introduce you too who runs a free hospital. It's not very big, but he caters to people who don't have the means to get insurance. He's never turned anyone away and he's always looking for help. His name is Kojay, and I usually do a shift there every other week."

"Maybe I can help him out while I look for a job."

"Good plan, Brother."

"Tell me about Larabee."

"What did he tell you?"

"Not much, but he did fill me in on his team. They sound like a great bunch."

"They are. You have trouble that you shouldn't have his team are the ones you want working on your case. As for Chris, he's had his troubles. More than anyone I know, and I've been a doctor for nearly 30 years."

"What happened?"

"He had an older rother who died of a drug overdose. His name was Carl and before he took his own life, he beat Chris pretty bad. Took him nearly two months before he could walk and even then, he needed physiotherapy to get his life back together. His dad and mom were good for him, and they were able to see him through it all. He went into the forces and became a Navy SEAL. He saved several of his teams lives on a mission in Beirut. That's where his friendship with Buck Wilmington began and they've been friends ever since. They'd do anything for each other. It was after Beirut that Chris came home and met the bitch who would turn his life into a living hell."

"I thought he was married?"

"He was, but this one was a tryst, and one Chris wishes he'd never had. Her name was Ella Gaines and she thought Chris belonged to her and only her. He left her and moved on and when buck introduced her to Sarah Connolly. What's the word Mom always used when she thought someone was in love?"

"Smitten?"

"That's the one. Chris was smitten from the get-go, and it seemed Sarah felt the same way. They married in less than a year and they had a son named Adam. According to his friends they'd never seen Chris so happy, but it wasn't meant to last."

"What happened?"

"I wasn't around when it happened, but I managed to put it all together from his team's stories and the newspaper articles. It seems Ella Gaines thought he belonged to her and often introduced herself as Ella Gains Larabee…"

"I thought Chris' wife was Sarah."

"She was, but that didn't stop Ella from trying to get her talons into Chris. She murdered his family and kidnapped him after he got out of the hospital. She forced him to marry her at one point, but she died before she could force him to bed her. She can't hurt him anymore, but she put him through more hell than a man deserves. I think she's the reason he tries to right the wrongs he sees in this world. His family was everything to him and if it hadn't been for his team, I think he'd have died."

"It sounds like he needed family…"

"That's it exactly. His chosen band of brothers brought him back from the brink of hell. When Ella died, she left everything to Chris. He could have been one of the richest men in the country, but he wanted nothing to do with her money."

"What happened to it?"

"Well, something good came of the she-devil's death and Chris signed the money over to Saint Vincents so they could build a new wing with new equipment. The wing is for woman and children and is dedicated to the memory of his wife and children…"

"Children? I thought he only had a son?"

"They say Sarah was pregnant at the time of her death, but the bodies were so badly burned there was no way to tell. Chris called the unborn child Rose because it was Sarah's favorite flower."

"I wondered why there were so many rose bushes around Larabee's ranch house."

"He transplanted them from their home. Sarah had been searching for a ranch where he could live his dream of raising horses. He found the papers in the safe and made a bid for the house and got it and a horse name Pony?"

"Pony? Not very original."

"It was what Adam called horses and I think Sarah had picked out the horse before she died, and Adam called it Pony."

"Does he still have Pony?"

"He does and the ranch next to his was bought by Vin Tanner. They went through hell together and when it was over Vin planted a twisted sapling on the borderline between their ranches?"

"A twisted tree?"

"Vin told everyone it signifies their life together. It grew apart, then back together and apart again. I saw it once after Chris and Vin had a falling out and it's really strange and coincidental how it seems to mirror what happens in their lives."

"Don't tell me you've become a believer in psychic…"

"Don't knock it because sooner or later you will see the weird connection Chris and Vin have. They can sense when something is wrong and according to the other members of the team they can carry on a conversation with speaking. I've actually witnessed it and it's a strange thing to see."

"Really?"

"Yes, and you'll see it too before you know it. More brandy?"

"Sure…I'm not planning to drive."

"You got your license?"

"I did…about ten years ago when I moved so far in the boondocks, I had no choice. Figured I needed a car, or I'd be walking 30 miles every day."

"If I remember correctly, you enjoyed walking."

"I did and still do, but not during winter…froze my ass off a few times," Ray answered and sighed heavily.

"What's wrong?"

"I missed this. Missed having my brother around."

"Me too," Roy said and grew quiet as they ate the rest of the meal in silence. "Want to watch some Big Bang Theory?"

"Sure…gotta love Sheldon's antics," Ray agreed and helped clean up before moving to the living room and sitting at the end of the leather couch.

"That's my spot," Roy said, and the two men started laughing. He refilled both glasses and settled at the other end of the couch. This felt like old times, and he wanted to stay this way forever.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris had tried to stay awake and wait for word on Nathan's surgery, but he knew he'd lost the fight as he heard the door open, and Dr. Frost came into the room. He sat up but kept slightly on his right side as Frost hugged Rain.

"How is Nathan?" Rain asked when he released her.

"Surgery went well. He's in recovery and if he's like these men he'll be grumbling in no time," Frost told her.

"Thank God," Rain said and made the sign of the cross before looking at the others.

"Go, Rain," Larabee said. "And tell him he'd better behave himself."

"OMG, did you really just say that?" Frost asked with a grin as Rain laughed and left the room.

"He knows you, Chris," Wilmington observed.

"I know all of you," Frost said. "I'm glad you and your team do what you do to help people, Chris, but I wish you didn't have frequent flyer miles in my ER!"

"Believe me I wish we didn't, but as long as there are people like Goodwin and Vargas, I guess we'll be needed. Nathan is really going to be okay?"

"Yes, he will as long as he does what he's told and finishes physio without being an over-achiever like you and Vin," Frost said and left the room.

"Do you think Nathan will be like you and Vin?" Dunne asked.

"JD, you're not much better. Seems to me you hate being in here as much as the rest of us," Wilmington said and saw a slight smile from Standish who'd been working on his laptop. "Did you win something big, Ez?"

"No, even better," Standish answered.

"You found a woman who…"

"No, Vin," the gambler interrupted. "I finally managed to get into The Gallo Corporation. Or should I say JD and I managed to get into it. I do believe we have all the evidence we need to keep Goodwin locked up for several lifetimes. Vargas is one of the founders and it shows that Goodwin was on the pay role as well. There's even a spreadsheet that shows Goodwin's dealings with Vargas. There's so much to go through and I've downloaded it to a jump drive. Vargas must have had a failsafe in place once he died so that evidence against Goodwin would be readily available."

"Too bad it took so long!" Sanchez said.

"We did everything we could!" Dunne said with a hint of anger.

"That's not what he meant, JD. He meant that it took so long for Vargas to die. It could have been over long ago if someone had taken care of that piece of shit," Wilmington observed.

"Oh…okay. Sorry, Josiah," Dunne said.

"Not a problem, JD," Sanchez said as Midland came into the room.

"Ezra, you, and JD did well. Make sure you get a copy of that to Travis. He's the best one to bring it to the DA. Hopefully that's the end of it," Larabee said.

"That would be too easy," Sanchez offered.

"You're probably right, but maybe this time will be different," Wilmington said and hoped he hadn't put a jinx on the whole thing.

"I thought you and Vin were being released today?" Larabee asked.

"We got our walkin' papers, but we wanted ta make sure Nathan was okay," Tanner said.

"Who are you staying with?"

"Miss Nettie," Tanner said.

"Buck?" Larabee asked.

"My ride will be here in an hour."

"Your ride?" Larabee asked and saw the warm smile on his long-time friend's face. "Inez?"

"Yes," Wilmington answered.

"You old dog," Larabee said.

"I'm not old and I'm hoping this is a good sign," the gentle rogue told them.

"Be good to her, Buck," the injured blond said.

"I will, Chris," Wilmington said as Nettie Wells came into the rom.

"I just checked on Nathan and Rain is with him. She said she would call me if there are any problems. Vin, where's your bag?" the elderly woman asked.

"I'll get it," Tanner said.

"You want to stay in the hospital?" Nettie asked. "The orderly is on his way with a wheelchair and you're going to ride in it to my car. No arguments."

"No point in arguing, Vin," Dunne said.

"Glad to hear you say that JD. Get your things together and we'll head on out," Nettie ordered and placed her hands on her hips when it looked like Dunne was about to refuse. "Buck, Inez is at the nursing station getting your walking papers. Ezra, you're coming with me since Rain is going to have her hands full with Nathan. Now hop to it, Boys so Chris and Josiah can get some rest."

"Seems like that's all we've been doing," Sanchez said and watched as the orderlies came in with two wheelchairs.

Chris smiled as vin came over to his bed and locked arms with him. "Listen to Nettie, Vin."

"Ain't got much choice," Tanner said.

"You got that right," the woman said as Inez came in and hugged them all before motioning Buck to get into the chair.

"See you boys later," Wilmington said.

"Not today you won't, Buck," Inez said. "You're going to my place and straight to bed."

"Now that sounds like something I'd be foolish to fight you on."

"You'd lose," Rain said simply.

"She got your number stud," Larabee said and watched them leave. He sighed tiredly and lay back against the pillow.

"How are you feeling, Chris?"

"Like I was rode hard and put away wet," Larabee answered honestly. "You?"

"A little better…thing I was rode hard, but they gave me a good rubdown," Sanchez answered.

"I'm sorry you were all hurt because of me."

"Wasn't because of you, Son. You were doing what you're good at and I'm damned glad you're on our side. Keep fighting the good fight and we'll fall in beside you every time. May not always feel that way, but anyone who knows you…knows all of us understands we will do what needs to be done to bring down the bastards of this world."

"Thanks, Josiah,' Larabee said.

"Was Goodwin always bad?"

"No, we were friends, and he was a good man. I don't know how he got involved with Vargas, but once he did, he spiralled downward fast. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't figure it out and then Buck and I became part of the Teams, and I didn't see him until I came back to Billings. I think he was already in Vargas' pocket, but I didn't want to face the truth. When I did it was too late toe stop what was happening. I tried to get him to see what he was doing was wrong, but nothing I said made a difference. I met Sarah soon after that and forgot why we were friends in the first place. I wish I'd kept after him."

"You're not his keeper, Chris, and he made his own choices. I'm glad you stayed true to your beliefs and I'm grateful to you for letting me be part of The Magnificent Seven."

"I wonder who started calling our team by that name?"

"No idea, but I'd guess it was Nettie Wells. She's always had our backs," Sanchez told him.

"Sounds about right. The first time I met her she stared me down and warned me not to hurt her niece. She said Sarah loved me and that I'd better love her just as much if not more. I made damn sure I never hurt Sarah out of love, but Nettie was just scary enough to give me a little extra incentive."

"I bet she did," Sanchez said and sighed tiredly as he pushed the button on his PCA pump.

"How much longer are they keeping you?" Larabee asked softly as he did the same with the morphine pump.

"Not sure…could be another week because of the burns. They are healing, but it seems to be taking longer. Guess it comes with getting older."

"Probably…and if that's the truth I think I just turned 70," Larabee told him.

"You and me both," Sanchez said as the day nurse came in.

"Would you like anything?" Sylvia Newton asked.

"Would you mind turning out the lights and closing the curtains on the window?" Sanchez asked.

"Certainly," Sylvia said and did as he asked. "If you need anything just press the button on the side of your bed. I'll check back in an hour or so."

"Thanks, Sylvia," Sanchez said.

"You're welcome," the nurse said and left the room.

"Get some sleep, Josiah."

"That's the plan as long as you do the same," Sanchez said and closed his eyes. He listened as Larabee's breathing softened and knew he was sleeping. It would take time for them to get back on their feet, but he knew they would. Once that happened the fight would start all over again, a fight they would have to win if they wanted to get men like Goodwin and Vargas off the streets.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Rain smiled at her fiancé as he opened his eyes, blinked several times, and coughed. "Easy, Nathan, here, drink this."

Nathan did as she told him and soon felt someone at his IV line. He knew she was giving him pain medication and didn't both to say he didn't need it. He reached for Rain's hand and soon felt her lips on his as she spoke softly.

"You're going to be fine. Dr. Frost said surgery went well and I can take you home in a couple of hours. You're not planning on complications, are you?"

"No, Honey, I just want to go home…with you," Jackson vowed and nodded when she offered him more water and he grateful took several sips. "Thanks."

"Hello, Nathan, how do you feel?" David Frost asked as he moved to the opposite side of the bed.

"I'm fine…ah, hell, I know how that sounded, Rain."

"Good, now answer Dr. Frost's question without using the words I'm fine or okay or never felt better, or I will make sure Chris, Vin, and the others know you're as bad as they are.

"Damn!"

"Let's try this again. How do you feel?"

"Hell, Doc, I'm not feeling much of anything right now," Jackson answered.

"The meds are working then and that's a good thing. I've got your scripts ready and scheduled you in for one week. I've also arranged physiotherapy starting tomorrow. You're going to have to take it easy, but the sooner we get you started the better," Frost told him.

"I'll make sure he doesn't over do things," Rain said.

"She's got your number, Nathan."

"That she does and I'm happy I'll be under her TLC," Jackson said.

"Take care and call me if there are any problems or questions you have," Frost said and left the couple alone.

"Now, Nathan, tell me how you really feel?"

"Not much of anything except tired," Jackson answered honestly.

"Go ahead and sleep. I'll make sure everything is ready for your discharge."

"Thanks, Rain, I love you."

"I love you too," she said as his hand touched her flat belly.

"Won't be long before you have a baby bump."

"I know and will you still love me when I get fat?"

"I'll love you no matter what," Jackson said and drifted toward sleep.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris and Josiah looked at the door as it opened as Roy and Ray Simmons stepped into the room. Stacey Midland had gone home earlier and had told them to expect a visit from the two doctors. Roy had taken three days off and this was the first time Chris and Josiah had seen him since the day Ray had joined them.

"I'll start with you, Josiah," Roy said. "How do you feel?"

"Better than yesterday and God willing it'll be even better tomorrow."

"Good answer," Roy said and turned to the second bed. "Well?"

"Well what?" Larabee asked.

"How do you feel?"

"With my hands," the blond answered with a slight grin.

"Hand it over, Ray," Simmons said and took the twenty-dollar bill from his brother.

"You know them very well," Ray told him.

"Comes from experience. Now, Larabee, how do you feel?"

"I'm okay."

"Is he always like this?" Ray asked.

"This is good. Maybe Josiah is having a good impression on him. How was he at the compound?"

"Probably the same, but he wouldn't have survived he hadn't been a stubborn cuss. You know he saved a lot of men…me included and I'm not sure I thanked him."

"No thanks needed, Simmons. I owe you both more than I can ever repay," Larabee said and made sure both men knew he was talking about both of them.

"Hell, Larabee, don't got getting all mushy on us," Ray warned.

"Fine…when can I get out of here?"

"That's more like it. If all goes well both you and Josiah will be released at the end of the week. Now depending on how well behaved you are that could mean Friday, Saturday, or Sunday," Roy told him.

"Damn," Larabee said.

"So, Friday for sure for Josiah," Roy said. "You on the other hand needs to behave a little better. On that note Ray and I have a meeting with the hospital board. You could be looking at…"

"Hell!" Larabee said.

"Hell is right if they give the okay for him to practice here. The only thing is he won't have to deal with you boys since he's specialized in pediatrics."

"It doesn't mean I won't back Roy and Stacey up," Ray told him.

"I think Vin warned you this could happen,' Sanchez said.

"If you two need anything just let the nurses know. Don't go doing anything to set your recovery back because I know the staff has already had their fill of the whole team in the last month or so."

"I hear you, Simmons," Larabee said.

"Good, as long as it doesn't go in one ear and out the other," Roy said and left with his brother.

"God, help us, Josiah."

"Hey, you brought him here, Chris," Sanchez quipped.

"I'm hoping I don't live to regret it," Larabee told him and knew bringing Ray Simmons to Billings was the best decision he could have made and no matter what he would never regret that decision.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Four days in a jail cell was taking a toll on him and he paced across the floor until his legs threatened to give out. The cot was hard, and he hadn't been sleeping very well since his lawyer's visit. The man had done nothing to help him and if he could, he would see that he was banned from the bar.

Charles cursed Chris over and over for ruining his life and vowed that one way or another he would get his revenge. He looked up when he heard someone nearing his cell and found Robert Miller stood watching him closely.

"Bars look good on you."

"You have no idea who you're talking to, Miller!"

"Really, I think I know you better than you know yourself and there are more charges coming."

"Whatever charges you and Larabee come up with are bogus!" Goodwin snarled.

"You wish, but I'm afraid there is a lot of evidence against you and with Vargas dead and Bradford already singing like the proverbial canary…"

"I don't know any Bradford!"

"That's not what he says, but that doesn't matter since we've also got the files Vargas kept. Did you know he had it set up that if something happened to him a certain private video along with several files would be sent to the FBI? I'm only telling you this because the FBI will be taking over your case and I'm afraid you'll be moved to a more secure facility."

"You can't do that!"

"I can't, but the FBI can, and they should be here within the hour. Say goodbye to freedom, Goodwin, because you certainly won't have any for a long, long time."

"Vargas lied and so did Stan Bradford!"

"I thought you didn't know Bradford!"

"I don't…"

"Doesn't matter. We'll leave it up to the FBI and since Bradford and Vargas were involved in drugs and stolen military weapons, I'd say there will probably be other agencies involved. I almost…and I do mean almost feel sorry for you."

"I don't need your pity. I'll get out of this!"

"Keep believing that while you enjoy your new cell," Miller said and turned to leave.

"Tell Larabee he's a dead man!"

"Another threat added to your list of charges," the police captain said and left without a backward glance.

"I'll see you all in hell!"

"I doubt that very much, but you enjoy the heat when you get there."

Goodwin watched the man leave as hatred continued to build in his mind. Why the hell had Vargas kept such files? Why the hell had he given in to temptation? Why hadn't he killed Larabee when he had the chance? He had to get out of here and out of the country before the FBI came to get him.

He resumed pacing the cell, trying to figure a way out of the mess he was in. Was it too late for him to testify about what had happened? Could he escape jail time if he turned over the files he had on Vargas? He cursed aloud as he thought about what Chris Larabee had cost him and knew if he did get out of this, he would take great pleasure in killing the sonofabitch!

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Gary Browner pushed the door open slightly and looked at the two men in the room. He pushed it all the way open and entered when he saw they were both awake. "Good morning, Chris, Josiah."

"Morning, Gary," Larabee greeted the newcomer.

"Good morning," Josiah said.

"How are you guys feeling?" Browner asked.

"Not bad," Larabee answered and smiled as Sanchez said the same thing.

"I guess Orin was right," Browner said and moved to sit in the chair beside the window.

"About what?" Larabee asked.

"How much you guys hate admitting when you're hurt."

"That's funny," Larabee said. "How are Shirley and the kids?"

"They are doing good. Peter and Elizabeth keep asking if they can see you. I told them you were hurt and right now they can't visit you in the hospital."

"Once I'm out of here we're going to have to plan that BBQ at my ranch. I think I promised the kids they could ride the horses," Larabee said.

"Believe me I keep hearing about that. I've never seen them so excited."

"Are they still seeing a councillor?"

"Yes, and I believe you know her."

"Let me guess," Sanchez said. "Susan James?"

"That's right. She speaks highly of your whole team. The kids have opened up to her about their experiences and they know we are going to do everything we can to make sure it never happens again."

"I wish we could act before things happen, but unfortunately we don't have second sight," Sanchez observed.

"I wish we did," Browner said. "As for the BBQ we'll bring the steaks and beer."

"That sounds like a plan," Larabee told him. "Gary, I'd like to talk to you about setting up a trust fund for two kids whose mother helped me when I needed it.'

"Sure, come see me when you get out of here."

"I will, thanks, Gary."

"Anytime. I'm meeting Shirley and the kids for lunch, but I wanted to check on you first."

"It seems I owe you a lot too. You're the one who found out about The Gallo Corporation, and it wreaks of Vargas and Goodwin."

"I'm glad Ezra and JD were able to get into the files. I know who to call the next time I need someone who is tech savvy."

"You won't be sorry. I'm just glad they are on our side," Sanchez told him.

"You and me both," Larabee said.

"If you need anything…anything at all just give me a call," Browner told them.

"We will," the injured blond assured the other man as he left the room. He thought about Janet Tucker and what the woman had done to save his life and knew what he had planned was pale in comparison.

"What's got you thinking so hard?"

"Just thinking about Janet Tucker and her kids. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her. She's got a car, but like I said it's in bad shape. I figure getting her one she can depend on would go a long way toward helping her and her kids."

"She'd probably tell you it she did what she knew was right and she doesn't need anything in return."

"Yes, she would, but I want to what I can to help her and the kids," Larabee said.

"Understandable," Sanchez told him as the door opened and Buck, JD, and Ezra entered the room. "Hello, boys."

"Hey, Josiah," Dunne said. "Hi, Chris."

"I thought you were supposed to be resting, Buck?"

"Only so much resting a man can do," Wilmington said. "Inez had an appointment with Stacey, so she'll come get me as soon as she's done."

"Are you treating her right, Buck?" Sanchez asked.

"I don't have a choice, Josiah…you know me and the ladies?"

"Lady, Buck," Larabee corrected. He knew Wilmington was getting serious about Inez Recillos and hoped they would continue to see each other.

"Lady, and she is, Chris. That woman is really something and I'm the luckiest sonofabitch ever born," Wilmington vowed.

"Yes, you are," Larabee said.

"Me too…Casey is something else," Dunne said.

"Yeah, but you need to do something about it, JD," Wilmington teased.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I believe Mr. Wilmington is referring to you moving like a snail where the lovely Miss Wells is concerned," Standish said and snapped his fingers before producing the queen of hearts. "Perhaps I could give you some advice on how to woo…"

"Did you just say woo?" Sanchez asked.

"It may be an old word, but it certainly fits the situation," Standish said.

"That's true, it does," Sanchez agreed.

"I don't need anyone's help to woo Casey. I love her and I know she loves me. We're just taking it slow…"

"Snail," Wilmington said.

"JD, ignore them," Larabee said. "You and Casey take it as slow and steady as you want. As long as you love each other you'll know when the time is right."

"Thanks, Chris," Dunne said. "Any word on when you and Josiah are getting out of here?"

"Not sure, JD. It seems Chris and I are stuck here for the weekend," Sanchez answered.

"At this rate it'll be the Fourth of July before you get home…"

"Bite your tongue, Buck!" the ex-preacher told him. "You know, Chris, that would be a great day for that BBQ."

"That it would," Larabee agreed. "This year we're going to make it the biggest celebration we've ever had. I'm thinking I should invite Janet and her kids. Ezra, if I gave you a list of people to invite do you think you can organize it?"

"Certainly," Standish said.

"About how many people are you inviting to this shindig, Chris?" Wilmington asked.

"Not sure…30 or 40. I'd like to arrange to have entertainment for the kids. Maybe a bouncy castle and horse rides," the blond answered. "Ezra, would you order a cake form Mama Delvecchio?"

"Of course, but are you going to be up for this kind of celebration? It's only a month away."

"A month is a long time," Larabee answered. "I'm thinking we could have it catered. I can rent a couple of large BBQs and hire a couple of people to take care of the steaks and burgers."

"Leave the planning to me, Chris, I won't let you down and once I have things organized then I'll run it by you," Standish said.

"Thanks, Ezra," Larabee said. "Just don't take it all on yourself. Hire a party planner."

"I am the party planner, but I'll talk to Mrs. Wells and Inez about who the best caterer is and where to rent tables and chairs."

"Me and Casey can help," Dunne said.

"Nettie's birthday is July fifth so Ask Mama if we can get two cakes," Larabee said.

"Two great reasons to celebrate and give thanks for," Sanchez said and sighed tiredly.

"Well, Mr. Dunne, it seems you and I have some planning to do so shall we pick up a pizza and retire to my home?"

"As long as it's real pizza and doesn't have any little fishes and olives on it," Dunne said.

"Neanderthal," Standish said and turned to his boss. "I won't let you down."

"I know you won't," Larabee said as Inez opened the door. They greeted her and she hugged each of them before taking Wilmington by the arm.

"It's time to get you home to bed."

"Is that a proposition, Inez?"

"Nunca, you couldn't handle me right now, Lover Boy," the pretty woman said and kissed him gently. "But you might be able to handle a massage."

"Hell yes," Wilmington said and looked at his friends. "I'll see you boys tomorrow."

"That depends on how well behaved you are," Inez said and followed JD and Ezra out of the room.

"You need anything…just call," Wilmington told Chris and Josiah before he left the two men alone.

"Buck's got a heart of gold," Larabee said and yawned tiredly.

"That he does," Sanchez agreed. "Go ahead and sleep, Chris…think I'll do the same."

Larabee nodded and looked out the window in time to see a red cardinal land on the nearby tree. His mother had always told him that if you see a cardinal then an angel had come to visit. ‘Thanks, Sarah,' he thought as sleep beckoned to him.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Nathan smiled at the woman who lay down beside him. Her head rested on her shoulder and his hand rested on her stomach. It had been two days since the surgery on his knee and his leg was slightly elevated because the physiotherapist had been there to see him that morning.

"Nathan, I am going to make you some lunch."

"Not yet. I just want to hold you a little longer."

"I made Soup and sandwiches so it's a simple matter of warming it up and I'll come back to bed."

"I can sit at the table."

"I'll make a deal with you, Lover."

"What kind of deal?" Jackson asked as Rain got out of bed and moved to his side.

"I'll help you to the sofa and make you comfortable and we can have lunch while we watch television."

"Not reality shows?"

"I have never been a fan of reality shows, Nathan Jackson," Rain said and helped him slide his legs over the edge of the bed and sit up.

"Thanks." He held his breath as she helped adjust the brace before handing him his crutches. "This could be considered a marathon."

"It could," Rain agreed as they shuffled toward the living room. She led him to the sofa and took the crutches as he sat down on one end of the sofa. She made sure he was comfortable and pressed the lever to raise his legs before she kissed him gently. "I'll be back in a few minutes."

"Don't be long," Jackson said as she covered his legs with an Afghan and passed him the TV remote.

"I won't," Rain told him and moved to the kitchen.

Nathan pressed the button to turn the television on and scrolled through the channels until he found one that covered the daily news. He recognized the reporter as one who had interviewed the team on several occasions. The woman had been fair and listened to their story and didn't embellish anything.

"Nathan, would you like a grilled cheese or turkey sandwich?"

"Grilled cheese please," Jackson answered.

"This just in. The police are investigating the ongoing charges being brought against Charles Goodwin. His association with Rodrigo Vargas is well founded, but the new information points toward his involvement in human trafficking…"

"So, Chris was right about Goodwin and Vargas."

"Yes, he was and if we'd listened and helped him, we probably wouldn't be so damned beat up."

"You couldn't have known, Nathan, and Chris told all of you he doesn't blame you. He left because he wanted to clear his head."

"I know, but so many things went wrong and ended up getting him arrested by that phony sheriff. They nearly killed him."

"But they didn't, Nathan. We need to be thankful for that…and for all of you recovering."

"Thanks, Rain," Jackson said and switched channels until he found an old movie. "Want to watch Shenandoah?"

"Sure, but make sure there's a full box of tissues. That movie always makes me cry and being pregnant will definitely make it worse."

"Lots of tissues," Jackson said and held up the box. He rubbed the top of his injured leg and smiled as Rain stood in front of him with two pills and a glass of water. "I don't…"

"Nathan, do you want me to tell the others that you are just as bad as they are?"

"God no," Jackson said and took the pills as Rain went back to the kitchen.

"Can you imagine what would happen if I did tell them?"

"I'd rather not even think about that," Jackson said. He smiled at her when she returned with a tray that held tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich. "Thanks…it smells great."

"You know what my mother would say right now?"

"What?"

"It smells better when it's made with love."

"Love always makes things better and I love you more than words can say," Jackson said and frowned when he heard a soft sob. "Hey, what's with the tears…the movie hasn't even started."

"Pregnant and hormonal remember?"

"Oh, yeah…you're having my baby. I love you so much right now."

"I love you too," Rain said and leaned back so that she could raise her legs and enjoy being with the man who meant so much to her.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris knew Nettie and Jake would be here in an hour to take him home. Josiah was also being released, but they were both under orders to take it easy. He longingly glanced out the window, but quickly turned back when the door opened, and Robert Miller came into the room.

"I hear you two are getting out of here today."

"We are," Sanchez answered.

"Glad to hear it. I thought I'd stop by and give you an update on Goodwin."

"Tell me that bastard is staying behind bars?" Larabee said.

"He is, but he was picked up by the FBI and Military police because of the stolen weapons. He's still going to face charges of human trafficking, illegal drugs, weapons, kidnapping and bribery. I don't think you'll be seeing him any time soon. The FBI will be in touch with you, but other than that there's not much more you'll have to do."

"I hope the bastard never sees the light of day," Larabee spat.

"He's going away…probably for the rest of his life," Miller said.

"Good riddance," Sanchez observed. He still had pain when he moved, but at least he was finally well enough that both Midland and Simmons had given the okay for him to be released. It didn't mean he was going back to work any time soon, but at least he would be out of the hospital.

"I need to get back to the station. Glad you're getting out of here, but for God's sake take it easy," Miller said. He shook both men's hands before leaving them alone.

"You all right, Chris?"

"Honestly, Josiah, I'm not."

"Want me to get Marti?"

"No, I'm not in any pain, but I can't help wondering why Charles chose the path he did. He could have gone places in his political career if he'd asked for help. He could have been good for the people of Billings, but the stupid sonofabitch went the wrong way."

"I don't know much about his background, but it's obvious at one point he must have been a good man."

"What makes you say that?"

"The fact that you and he were friends. I know from experience that you don't take friendship lightly. If Goodwin had talked to you then you might have been able to get through to him, but he didn't and that's his fault not yours. You don't owe him anything."

"Thanks, Josiah," Larabee said as the door opened and Jake Taylor came into the room.

"Everything okay?" Taylor asked.

"It is now. Where's Nettie?" Larabee asked.

"She's talking to Dr. Midland about your home care," Taylor said. "She'll be here in a minute to discuss housing for you two."

"I've already arranged…"

"Good morning, boys. Are you ready to go home?" the elderly woman said.

"Good morning, Nettie," Larabee said as she hugged him.

"Now, let's talk about living arrangements for the next couple of weeks. Chris, Vin's already settled into his room at your place. Josiah we can set up…"

"Sorry, Nettie, but I've already made arrangements. Gloria should be here shortly, and she's invited me to stay with her until I'm able to stay on my own."

"Gloria? As in Gloria Potter?" Larabee asked.

"That's right. We were seeing each other before she took her kids to visit their grandparents, but she came home three days ago and invited me to stay with her."

"When did you guys have that discussion?" the blond asked.

"You were sleeping when she came yesterday so we kept our voices down."

"Gloria is a wonderful lady," Nettie said. "Okay, so Casey is staying with JD and Buck is with Inez. Nathan and Rain are taking care of each other. Ezra is also staying at your place Chris. I hope that's okay."

"Of course," Larabee told her as Midland came into the room.

"Good morning. So, Nettie has your scripts and appointments for the next two weeks. I don't want either of you doing anything you're not supposed to, and I know Nettie and Gloria will see that you do everything you're supposed to."

"Damn, Doc," Larabee said with a grin.

"Damn is right, but you'll all be fine as long as you give yourselves time to heal."

"We hear you, Doc," Sanchez said.

"All right, Chris, your chariot awaits," Nettie said when an orderly brought in a wheelchair.

"Josiah, take it easy," Larabee said as he was helped into the chair.

"I could say the same thing to you, but since Nettie is taking care of you, I don't think I need to," Sanchez said.

"You won't have it any easier with Gloria calling the shots," Nettie said with a grin as she hugged the ex-preacher and followed the others out of the room in time to greet Gloria Potter.

"Make sure he behaves himself, Gloria,' Larabee said.

"I will, Chris," the woman said and watched them leave before entering the room. "Sorry I'm Late, Josiah."

"You're not late, Gloria. Thanks for doing this for me."

"No thanks Necessary, Josiah," she said and gently kissed him before sitting on the bed beside him. "Stacey gave me your paperwork and do and don'ts. How do you feel?"

"Not great, but better now that you're here," Sanchez answered. "They may have guessed that you and I are seeing each other."

"Are you okay with them knowing?"

"I am…are you?"

"Yes, it's time to tell our friends," Gloria told him and helped him into the wheelchair the orderly brought in. "Let's get you home and into bed."

"Now that sounds like a proposition I can't refuse."

"Sorry, Josiah, but you'll be in your bed on your own until Dr. Midland gives you the all clear for any extra-curricular activities," Gloria said with a smile. She'd been seeing this man for nearly three months and found it quite easy to laugh and joke with him. She was looking forward to actually taking care of him and her two children could spend more getting to know him.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Car comin'," Tanner said softly.

"I don't hear anything," Standish said.

"Wait fer it," the Texan said and smiled when the sound got louder.

"I swear you have bionic ears," the gambler said and picked up the dishes with his right hand.

"Miss Nettie sees you she'll give you crap," Tanner said.

"Then I shall endeavour to keep this our secret." Standish made his way into the house and placed the plates and cups in the dishwasher as the front door opened.

"Chris, use your crutches," Nettie told the injured man as he made his way into his house.

"Welcome home," Standish said.

"Thanks, Ez," Larabee said.

"Did you and Vin behave yourselves while I was gone?" Nettie asked.

"Certainly," the gambler said. "We are enjoying the sunshine and the lasagne.'

"Lasagne?" Larabee asked.

"Are you hungry, Chris?"

"I could eat," Larabee said.

"Very well. Why don't you go on out and sit with Vin and Ezra while I warm up lasagne for both of us?"

"Thanks, Nettie," Larabee said and slowly made his way to the patio doors.

"Let me get that," Standish said and opened the screen so the injured man could make his way outside.

"Welcome home, Cowboy," Tanner said with a grin.

"Thanks," the blond said and took the seat across from the other man. His head shot up as he heard Pony's whinny from the barn.

"You even think about it, and I think Mrs. Wells will have one of Vin's conniption fits."

"Damn right I will," the woman said from inside the house.

"I'm not the only one with bionic ears," Tanner observed.

"Vin, did you take your medication?" Nettie asked.

"Ah…"

"Busted," Larabee observed.

"I'll bring them when I bring out the lasagne. Yours too, Chris. Ezra how's the arm feeling?"

"It is okay for now, Mrs. Wells."

"Are you sure?"

"I am. I am not in any pain right now and would rather not take anything if I don't have to," Standish answered.

"All right but remember none of you are supermen and there is no need of being in pain and miserable when there's help available."

"I will take something if I need it," Standish said.

"Make sure you do," Nettie said as she brought out a tray with two plates and two bottles of pills. "I'll be right back."

"Would you like some help?" Standish asked.

"No, thank you. Sit down and I'll bring cookies and coffee," Nettie said after she placed a plate of food in front of Larabee. "Take your pills…both of you."

"Yes, Ma'am," Tanner said and reached for one bottle. "Where's Josiah?"

"Josiah made his own arrangements with…"

"Gloria Potter," Tanner said with a soft chuckle. "He thought he was hiding it so well, but I've seen the way he talks ‘bout her."

"Really? Josiah and Mrs. Potter are an item? I should have set up a betting pool on that one," Standish told them as Nettie returned with the coffee pot and four mugs.

"Thanks, Nettie," Larabee said and took his medication before reaching for a fork and digging into the plate of pasta. "Sarah always said you must have been part Italian and she's right."

"Lasagne is about the only thing Italian about me," Nettie told them. "I spoke with Rain, and she said Nathan is resting."

"Damn, I was hoping she'd say he was as bad as he says we are," Tanner said.

"Yes, well, Rain won't let that happen. Inez is also keeping Buck in check," Nettie told them.

"Now that's something I'd like to see," Larabee said. "Inez knows how to handle Buck."

"Yes, she does," Standish observed. "I wonder…"

"No betting on the outcome of their romance," Nettie warned.

"I…"

"You heard her, Ez. If I were you, I wouldn't do anything to get on Nettie's bad side," Larabee said.

"She's feisty and she'll find a way ta make ya sorry," Tanner offered.

"No betting," Standish said. "I thought Jake was coming out with you."

"He was, but he got called in for a shift at the hospital. I thought he was ready to retire, but he just seems to keep on keeping on," Nettie answered. "Once you finish eating, I'll turn down the blankets and you can get some rest, Chris."

"I…thank you, Nettie," Larabee said and noticed the look of surprise on Tanner's face. Truth was he was ready to lie down, and the medication would help him sleep. He knew Vin was worried, and he smiled slightly to ease the other man's mind.

"You sure you're ok, Chris?" Tanner asked once Nettie had gone to turn down the blankets.

"I could ask you the same thing," Larabee said as Ezra chuckled softly. "You're not out of the woods either, Ez."

"I assure you I am…"

"A charlatan," Nettie said from the open patio doors. "I believe that means you are adept at hiding your tells."

"Except when it comes to you," Tanner said with a grin."

"I believe I know all of you," Nettie said. "Chris and Vin, it's time for you two to get some rest."

"What about Ez?" Tanner asked.

"I believe Ezra when he says he is in no pain so even though he has only one wing I believe he can help me clean up."

"I am certainly able to help, Mrs. Wells."

"Ain't that under the headin' of menial labor?"

"Sometimes it is a choice between menial labor and naps…I'll choose the former for now," Standish said and picked up a plate as Nettie put her hands on her hips.

"Okay, Boys, I have my helper, so you two off to bed. What would you like for supper?"

"Any lasagne left?" Tanner asked,

"You want lasagne again?" Nettie asked.

"Why mess with something so good?" Tanner observed.

"He's right…lasagne sounds perfect," Larabee said and reached for his crutches.

"Cheesecake for dessert?" Standish asked hopefully.

"Only if you help me make it," Nettie said and smiled as Larabee, and Tanner hugged her on their way into the house.

"I will do whatever is necessary," Standish told her and reached for two empty glasses. He carried them into the house and placed them in the dishwasher as Nettie moved to put the food containers away. "Mother could have learned so much if she had you as her teacher."

"She must have done something right, Ezra."

"How so?"

"She raised a man who believes in doing what's right. She should be proud of the man you've become. I know I would be."

"Thank you, Mrs. Wells, but I believe it was my uncle Hiram who helped me become the man who stands before you. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Chris. The day he faced my mother down will go down in history as a silent fight between two apex predators."

"I am glad Chris was able to defeat her. I'm also glad they seemed to have mended the fences and want what is best for you. She does love you."

"I know, but there are times when I wish she would have been there for me instead of running some con."

"I'm sure you do, but Maude has her own agenda when it comes to…"

"Menial labor."

"I don't think she thought of you as menial labor."

"Actually, she did say that to me at one time, but has apologized for it so we are good."

"Does she know you were injured?"

"Yes, but I told her I was okay, and she didn't have to cut her holiday in Venice short. After all I only received minor injuries"

"Ezra Standish, you are such a fraud."

"I don't know what you mean."

"Why didn't you tell her the truth?"

"I did."

"Really? So, a head wound, and broken arm are minor injuries?"

"I didn't tell her about my arm."

"Why not?"

"I didn't want to worry her. She would tell me I'm messing with my God given talent."

"Cards are far from your god given talent, Ezra. Look at how far you've come since joining Chris and the others. You do things without thinking about yourself and that is something she should be proud of. You are not part of a team…you are part of a family. If you don't mind, I will remind you of the good you do whenever you think you need it and sometimes when you least expect it," Nettie said and hugged the young man before heading back to the patio.

Ezra stood where he was as a slight smile was born. Nettie Wells was a remarkable woman who could get to him when he least expected it. She had just done something he'd seen her do with the others and he felt as if he'd been accepted into her family.

"She knows what she's talkin' ‘bout, Ez," Tanner said from the kitchen doorway.

"I have no idea what you mean," Standish said.

"You are part of our family," the Texan said and headed back to the room he always used at Larabee's house.

Ezra stood still for several seconds and felt the warmth of those words spread through him. He may have only had his uncle Hiram as a child, but now he had more family than he realized possible. Chris Larabee had done something his mother never could and made him part of an inner sanctum where people cared about you and not about what you could do for them.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Buck looked at the woman seated next to him and smiled as she eased him down so his head was resting on her lap. Since leaving the hospital she hadn't allowed him to do anything to help her and he wasn't about to argue with her.

"You need to rest," Wilmington said.

"I am resting," Inez said and ran her fingers through his dark hair.

"What about The Saloon? Don't you have to go in tonight?"

"No, I asked Carmela and Luis to look after things tonight and for the next week. They have my number, and I can go there if they need me. I trust them."

"Are you sure? I don't want to take you away from your…"

"Buck, the Saloon is fine…you are not. I will take care of you, and they will take care of The Saloon," Inez said and looked into his deep blue eyes. "I have a feeling you do not want me here."

"God, no. I love that you're here and I love that you are willing to take care of me."

"Then behave yourself and just maybe I will help you with a shower when you feel up to it."

"Are you going to join me in the shower?"

"I don't think that's a good idea. You wouldn't be able to handle the excitement."

"Now that sounds like a challenge!"

"No challenge until you're strong enough to handle it."

"Lord, Inez, I am stronger than you think," Buck said.

"I'm sure you are, but for now you need to take it easy. Are you hungry?"

"I am hungry for…"

"Don't go there," Inez told him and kissed his forehead. "Would you like something to eat?"

"Not right now," Wilmington answered. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the feel of her fingers in his hair and soon felt himself relaxing to her touch. "Thanks, Inez."

"You are welcome, Buck. Go ahead and sleep or would you rather go to bed?"

"Are you propositioning me?"

"You should be so lucky," Inez said with a smile. She knew this man so well and understood this was his way of flirting with her.

"I already am," Wilmington said as he opened his eyes and reached for her. He kissed her deeply and sighed when she pulled away.

"Sleep now and maybe that shower will be available after dinner."

"Sounds good," Wilmington said and surrendered to the sandman as Inez hummed softly.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Charles Goodwin knew there was nothing he could do to stop what was happening. The FBI had taken custody of him and had whisked him away to an undisclosed location. He'd been questioned and had tried to figure a way out of this mess, but it all came back to Chris Larabee. The bastard had cost him everything and now there was no way to make the sonofabitch pay.

His lawyer had advised him to cooperate, but to do that would be to admit his involvement with Vargas and Bradford. The strange part was Bradford was in this facility as well. He'd seen him led into an interrogation room on two occasions.

Bradford had already given him up to the Feds and now they weren't willing to listen to what he had to say. The agents who had spoken to him had already told him Bradford had given him up and the evidence they'd gleamed from Vargas' computer was enough to put him away for the rest of his life.

He'd thought things could not get any worse, but he'd never been more wrong. The agents had also informed him that several of Vargas' prisoners were willing to testify that he'd been there during the abuse. He thought about giving the Feds information on where Vargas had sent so many of his concubines when he was through with them and wondered if he could use it to his advantage.

"Can you hear me, Goodwin?"

"Who is that?"

"It's Stan Bradford. I'm in the next cell. Don't fucking tell them anything!"

"You already broke any trust we might have had!"

"I don't know you and I don't owe you anything."

"Maybe not, but I hear you're a snitch anyway! What have you told them?"

"The truth about why you were at the compound. They already knew of your involvement with Vargas, and I simply told them you were new to the game. They guessed everything else, and I simply told them the truth. I know very little of your life before that day, but that doesn't mean I didn't have anything on Vargas. It seems the info I gave the Feds proved valuable. My sentence will be life, but at least I won't be in solitaire. I'll even have some privileges because I know what they want. You, let's just say Vargas didn't trust you and there's plenty of evidence in his files."

"I'll tell them everything I know about you!"

"Do you think that scares me?" Bradford said.

"It should."

"It doesn't…I was smart and gave them what they wanted and that meant they really don't need anything from you."

"I wouldn't say that. I can give them people that you've never heard of."

"Really…somehow, I doubt that very much. I'm sure you think you can give them more than I can so go ahead and try. Meanwhile I'll enjoy a steak tonight while you eat crow."

"Go to hell!"

"We are already there, Goodwin…although come to think of it I'm the one with the good win!"

"You're a snitch!"

"Better a well-fed snitch than a hungry prisoner! Think I'll take a nap before I give my next statement. I wonder what they'd say if I told them what the plans you and Vargas had for Larabee were. Not very nice…"

"I had no plans for Larabee!"

"Keep telling yourself that and maybe you'll live a long unhappy life."

"I should have killed Vargas and Larabee!" Goodwin said and was met with silence from the other cell. The smell of stale urine and vomit were enough to make his stomach cringe, and he knew this was only the beginning. He really didn't have anything he could use to help himself and wished he'd left Vargas alive so he had something the Feds would want.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Three weeks after being released from the hospital seven men found themselves back at Saint Vincents. They'd been given the same time on the same day to come in and be checked over by the physician's involved in their cases.

"Chris, Dr. Midland said to bring you all to the doctor's conference. Dr. Simmons, Dr. James, and Dr. Frost are there and Dr. Carson from the burn unit will be joining you," Sandy Murphy said as she led them toward the door leading to the offices.

"Thanks, Sandy," Larabee said when she opened the door to find three of the four doctors already there.

"Come on in, Gentlemen and take a seat," Simmons ordered.

"How's your brother, Simmons?" Larabee asked.

"What makes you think I'm not Ray?"

"He's better looking and has more hair," the blond answered with a grin that brought chuckles from Vin and JD.

"Real funny. Actually, Ray has a meeting with the pediatric department."

"Hope he has better bedside manners than you," Larabee said.

"You know I kind of missed your sharp tongue while you were gone, but I didn't miss having to add to War and Peace, Larabee edition," Simmons said and smiled as he grew serious and handed the meeting over to his partner.

"We've gone over your files," Midland said. "JD, are you still having headaches?"

"Not since last week, Doc," Dunne answered.

"That's good news, but I want you to take it easy and try not to spend too much time staring at your laptop," Midland warned as a knock sounded on the door. "Come in."

"Thank you, Stacey. I have an emergency so I can't stay for the full meeting. If it's okay I'd like to take the floor for a minute," Paul Carson said and moved to sit between Frost and Simmons.

"Go ahead, Paul," Midland said and watched as he turned his attention to the oldest member of Larabee's team.

"How are you feeling, Josiah?"

"Better, Doc," Sanchez answered honestly.

"The last time I saw you I told you the infection you had was clearing up. Did you finish taking the antibiotics?" Carson asked.

"I did."

"Good, any problems I should know about?"

"Not since I finished the antibiotics."

"Make sure you follow up with Stacey and Roy."

"I will," the ex-preacher assured him.

"Good, and you have my number if you have any problems," Carson said before leaving the room.

"Okay, Vin, you're next. How are you feeling?" Midland asked.

"Better, Doc, not great, but better than I was. Back sometimes gives me fits, but the cream you gave me helps," Tanner told her.

"What about pain?" Simmons asked.

"It depends on what I'm doing," Tanner answered honestly. "Nettie makes sure I don't overdo things even when I want to."

"Are you still staying with Larabee?" Simmons asked.

"Yes, and Nettie is keeping us both in check," the Texan said.

"She hasn't had to use the wooden spoon?" Midland asked with a grin.

"Not fer me, but Chris…well he does…"

"Shut up, Tanner!" Larabee snapped.

"Chris, how are you doing?" Midland asked.

"I've been better, but I've been a lot worse too, Doc," Larabee answered honestly. Truth was he was still sore, but at least he was able to get around with the walking cast instead of using the crutches. His ribs were healing, and he'd spoken with Susan James a couple of times and knew she was another weapon in his arsenal against physical and mental pain.

"Do you need anything for pain?" Midland asked.

"Haven't taken anything in a week. I honestly don't need to take anything," Larabee answered.

"That's good news," Frost told him. "I'll see you and Ezra next week at the fracture clinic and hopefully we can get rid of the casts."

"Ezra, how about the headaches you were having?" Midland asked.

"They have subsided thanks to Mrs. Wells," Standish answered.

"Nettie told me about the headaches, and I want you to make sure you get some rest and call me if they return. How long has it been?" Simmons asked.

"It has been a week since the last one," the conman told them.

"Hopefully that's the last one," Midland told him. "Are you still staying with Chris and Vin?"

"I am moving back to my penthouse this afternoon," Standish said.

"Just take it easy and no card tricks until I clear you," Frost warned.

"I hear you, Dr. Frost," Standish said.

"Nathan, how's the knee and are you doing physio?" Frost asked.

"I am…actually I'll be seeing John in the physiotherapy department once we're through," Jackson told him.

"Good. Keep doing what you're doing and call my office if there are any problems," the surgeon said.

"I will."

"So, Wilmington, I guess you're next," Simmons said and opened the file in front of him. "Any problems we should know about?"

"Nothing, Doc. Inez is making sure I do everything I'm supposed to. She's amazing," Wilmington told him as he looked at his friends. "She really is."

"Good to hear, Bucklin," Tanner said.

"I think Buck's off the market," Larabee said.

"A lot of ladies are in for disappointment," Tanner observed.

"Maybe, but it gives you boys a chance at the field," Wilmington said.

"All right let's finish this so we can all get some lunch," Simmons said.

"Susan is there anything you want to say?" Midland asked.

"No, I've spoken with each man, and it seems they are coping with everything that happened. If that changes, they can call my office and set up an appointment. For now, I believe they are all on the mend," Janes told them.

"Very well, I guess that's it for today," Midland said.

"Stacey, I need to get a wagon to carry the book of Larabee in. I'll be back shortly."

"Real funny, Simmons. Keep it up and I'll take back the invite for July 4th."

"Too late. Ray and I already have the invite and we'll be there…we owe you, Chris…big time."

"Oh, hell, see whatcha did, Larabee? Ya made him almost human!"

"Watch it, Tanner, or I'll make you carry your own volume," Simmons warned as the meeting broke up and Larabee's team left the room.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Jake Taylor pulled the Club Van into the parking spot and turned to look at his passengers. Two weeks had passed since Larabee, and Sanchez were discharged from Saint Vincents, and they seemed to be doing well. He'd been worried that it would be too much for Josiah, Chris, Buck, and Vin, but they'd assured him they were fine.

"It does indeed appear to be the quintessential Greasy Spoon," Standish observed as a mangy dog began barking at the vehicle. "I hope the animal has had all of its shots. Rabies is not something any of us need to deal with."

"Appearances are deceiving," Larabee said with a grin as he eased his body out of the front passenger seat. He smiled as Rafael drove a 2015 Chevy Equinox into the parking lot and pulled up next to the Club Van.

"Chris, who did you say you bought the car from?" Jackson asked.

"An older couple who wanted it gone so they could move to Florida. I had it checked out and the mechanic said it was in great shape and very low mileage for its age. Orin paid half and it's the least I could do. Those are the two kids," Larabee said when two children came over to the dog and stood watching them.

"We'd best get inside before we scare them," Wilmington said and followed Larabee toward the door of the diner.

Chris stepped inside to find the diner had several customers, but there was a table near the back that could hold all of them. He took a seat, and the others did the same as a woman came over with menus. "Hi, Janet."

"Hello," she said and frowned, but quickly smiled when she recognized the man. "Chris, how are you?"

"Better than I was the last time we met. How are you doing? It looks like business has picked up."

"It has…it seems with the shutdown of the compound people have decided they can live their lives without the fear of retaliation from the Bradfords. We are even changing the name of our town back to Carson's Corners after the first family who settled here."

"That's great news," Larabee said and quickly introduced the others before asking to speak with her brother.

"I'll see if he can come speak to you before you order," Janet Tucker told him and smiled at Rafael before hurrying away.

"Is there something going on between you two?" Wilmington asked with a grin.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Cordova said.

"Give, Rafael, or I'll use my…"

"Animal maggotism to scare her away," Dunne interrupted.

"Funny, Kid," Wilmington said as a man walked over to them.

"Welcome back, Larabee," Hal Greely said. "We owe you a debt for what you've done."

"I didn't do anything," Larabee said.

"If it wasn't for you, we'd still be living under Bradford's threats. Look at this place…the people are no longer afraid to come here."

"If it wasn't for you and Janet, I'd be dead," Larabee told him.

"I guess we owe each other then. Supper's on the house today," Greely told them.

"Where's Janet's car?" Larabee asked.

"Damn thing finally quit for good last week. Ain't no point putting more money into it," Greely told him.

"Can we take her outside for a few minutes?" Larabee asked.

"Sure, as long as it ain't too long. Got a lot of customers, but most of them have got their food. What's going on?"

"Think you can spare a couple of minutes?" Larabee asked.

"As long as that's all it takes," Greely said. "Tammy, can you keep an eye on things for a couple of minutes?"

"Sure, Hal," a dark-haired woman said and smiled at them.

"Janet, Larabee wants us outside for a minute," Greely said.

"What about the customers?"

"I can handle them," Tammy Bowers answered. She'd been working for Greely for two weeks and even went on a date with the man. She hoped it would go further and was planning to invite the man for a home cooked meal later in the week.

"Thanks, Tammy," Janet said and followed Larabee and her brother outside where Jimmy and Susie hurried over to hug her.

"Mommy, can we go visit Aunt Jenny?" Susie asked.

"Sorry, Honey, but mommy's car doesn't work any more," Janet said and saw the hint of a smile form on Chris Larabee's face.

"Can't uncle Rafael drive us?" Jimmy asked.

"Now, Jimmy, you know Rafael has to work, but maybe we can borrow Hal's car later this week," Janet said.

"Janet, I brought my friends here because I wanted them to meet you and Hal and to enjoy the food and hopefully there's apple or cherry pie."

"There's always apple and cherry pie," Greely said.

"You boys are in for a special treat," Larabee said and moved to the blue Equinox. He took the keys from Rafael and opened the driver's door before turning to Janet Greely. "You saved my life the day you found me. I owe you more than you can ever know, and I hope you'll accept this gift."

"Gift?" Janet asked with a frown as she spoke. "You don't owe me anything, Chris."

"Yes, I do," Larabee said. He took her right hand and placed the keys in it. "Please, accept this as a token of what your actions meant to me."

"I…I can't…you don't need…"

"I don't need to do this…I want to do this. It is a small token considering I would have died if you and your brother hadn't helped me."

"We should have done something sooner…"

"Janet, just say thank you," Greely told her.

"But…"

"No, buts, Janet. You need a car, and it would take a long time for you to save up enough money for a small down payment."

"Hal…"

"Please, Janet, I can't get my money back and it would be a shame for this car to sit in my driveway unused. It was well taken care of by the couple who owned it, and they were happy to give me a good deal once I explained your situation."

"I'll pay you back."

"You already have and then some," Larabee said and soon felt her arms wrap around him.

"I don't know what to say…thank you doesn't seem enough."

"It's more than enough," Larabee said.

"And it means I don't have to drive you back and forth," Greely said, but smiled at his sister. Their lives had certainly changed since Chris Larabee rode the motorcycle into the parking lot. "Thank you, Chris."

"You're welcome," Larabee said. "It's already insured for the next six months."

"How?" Janet asked.

"My boss called in some favors and with your driving record it didn't cost nearly as much as you would think. There's also an emergency package in the trunk in case you have another run in with someone like me," Larabee told her.

"Thank you…"

"Mommy, can we go for a drive?" Jimmy asked excitedly.

"Not right now, but we can drive it home after the diner closes," Janet said and hugged her children. "What do we say to Chris?"

"Thank you," Susie and Jimmy said at the same time.

"You're welcome," Larabee said and motioned for them to go back in the diner. "Jake, would you get the packages from the van?"

"Sure, be right in," Taylor said and moved to the van to grab the bags Larabee had him place there before leaving Billings. One was wrapped in pink with a big bright bow while the other was wrapped in blue with a dark blue bow.

"Jimmy, Susie, come in and eat," Janet ordered softly.

"Ah, Mom," Jimmy said but hurried inside as his sister followed close behind. They took seats at the end of the counter and watched as their mom took food orders from the men at the big table.

"Janet, these are for the kids," Larabee told her.

"You didn't have to do this."

"I know, but I figured it would keep them busy for a while," Larabee said as she took the packages to the kids.

"So, Chris, what do you recommend?" Tanner asked.

"The chicken and home fries are great, but I think I'll try the roast beef and mashed potatoes," Larabee answered and watched as the kids removed the wrapping from the gifts he'd brought them. The Tonka dump truck and digger was something Adam had always loved, and Jimmy's excitement told him the boy would spend hours with it. Susie's eyes sparkled as she looked at the doll. It had the same hair color as she did with soft brown eyes and a pink dress that matched the bows in her hair.

"Mommy, isn't she pretty?"

"Yes, she is, Susie," Janet said and smiled in Larabee's direction. He didn't even know them, yet he'd chosen the perfect gift for all three of them.

"Hal, there will be a delivery for you tomorrow," Larabee said as the man hit the side of the cooler until it shuddered to life again.

"What kind of delivery?" Greely asked gruffly.

"Figured you'd need a new cooler if you're going to keep up with the customers needs. Hopefully, it'll fit in that spot."

"Hell, Larabee…"

"Language, Hal, the kids are here," Janet said.

"Damn…sorry. Thanks, Chris," Greely said and turned his attention to making the meals the nine men had ordered.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

Chris sat in the front passenger seat and waved to the four people standing near the Diner's door. The food had been delicious, and Chris was glad they'd accepted his invitation to the July 4th picnic at his ranch. The kids had been jumping up and down, especially when he told them there would be other kids and lots of games to play.

Hal had volunteered to bring enough potato salad and coleslaw to feed an army. They'd all laughed when Jackson said that might just be enough. Janet had told him she would bring apple and cherry pies. No matter how hard he tried to convince them he just wanted them to enjoy themselves they'd insisted on bringing stuff.

Chris didn't tell them his friend; Cyril Williams had offered the use of several ponies and he'd accepted the offer as long as the man brought his family to the celebration. There would be at least ten kids at the picnic, and he was looking forward to having them around. The fact that Billy was staying with his grandparents was an added bonus. Since Mary had married Gerard, he rarely saw the boy. On the plus side, Billy liked the new father figure in his life, but he still called Chris when he wanted advice. Mary and Gerard seemed to be fine with their continued friendship and he hoped things would stay that way after Mary had their baby.

"What's got you thinking so hard, Cowboy?" Tanner asked from the back seat.

"Just thinking about the picnic."

"It should be fun," Dunne said.

"It will be," Larabee assured him. "Well, Boys, was I right about the food?"

"Mr. Larabee, it rivals some of the best restaurants I've ever visited including the one sin Paris," Standish answered.

"Hal knows how to make peoples stomach's happy," Tanner offered.

"That he does," Cordova agreed from the back seat.

"Something tells me you've been coming to Hal's Diner for more than the food," Larabee observed.

"I don't know what you mean,' Cordova said with a hint of a smile.

"How many times have you been to the diner?" Wilmington asked.

"Not as many as I'd like. Janet and her kids are wonderful and I'm glad they'll be at the picnic," Cordova told them.

"Sounds like someone's getting serious," Taylor observed.

"A bit too early to say that, but I'm not saying I'm not interested just that I'm taking a closer look," Cordova told them. "Chris, that SUV you got her will help her with the kids and means she won't have to go into debt to have transportation."

"Least I could do considering she saved my life," Larabee said and closed his eyes. His body ached, but he knew it was nothing he couldn't handle, and that sleep was still the best thing for him. He listened to the others chatting, but the conversation died down as they reached the main road and soft music sounded from the speaker.

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

"Chris, we're home," Jackson said once Taylor parked the van in front of Larabee's house.

"Home," Larabee whispered and opened his eyes. "Sorry, Boys, guess I was tired."

"You, Josiah, Buck, and Vin passed out as soon as we hit the highway," Taylor told him as Cordova opened the passenger door and helped him out.

"Thanks for this, Jake," Larabee said and made his way toward the front door of his home.

"Do you need help, Chris?" Standish asked.

"Thanks, Ez, but I'm good. Think I'm going to put on a movie and…"

"No alcohol," Jackson warned.

"I hear you, Nathan," Larabee said. He entered the house and watched as Cordova got back in the van before he closed the door. He made his way into the kitchen and made a cup of coffee before taking it to the living room. A knock at the door made him frown, but he placed the coffee on the small table and made his way to the main door and opened it.

"I was hoping you wouldn't mind some company,' Standish said.

"Not at all. Come on in," Larabee told him and smiled in spite of his surprise. In the last few years, this man had become a part of his family and there were times when he felt responsible for him. Ezra was strong, but after everything that had happened, he still seemed to be ‘lost'. "Go pick out a movie and I'll make you a coffee."

"Thank you, Chris," Standish said. "Is there anything in particular you'd like to see?"

"No…maybe that new Magnificent Seven movie with Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt," Larabee answered.

"I haven't seen that one yet," Standish said and began searching through Prime Video until he found the movie. He watched as the other man walked toward him holding a cup of coffee and took a seat at the end of the sofa.

"Is everything okay, Ezra?" Larabee asked before starting the movie.

"I…I heard from Mothah today," Standish said.

"I take it she wasn't very happy."

"No, she wasn't. She wanted me to meet her in Monte Carlo for some scheme she's planning, and I told her I had other things to do."

"Let me guess she said, ‘you're wasting your God given talents'," Larabee said of the woman's penchant to throw her son's choices in his face.

"Exactly," Standish said. "I don't understand why she doesn't accept my choices."

"Probably because she really does think you're wasting your talents. I'm not saying she's right, Ezra, and I pray you'll see what you do is a lot more important than gambling and cons."

"I do, Chris, but she is a master of…"

"Making you feel inadequate," Larabee observed.

"Exactly. Why can't she see that what I do…what we do is important and that we are saving peoples lives by going after people like Vargas and Goodwin?"

"She doesn't see things like we do, Ezra. Your mother seems to think everything should rely on how easy and how well you can con someone. She taught you well, and I thank God that you didn't keep going the way she wanted. I hate to think where you would be and what kind of things she would have had you do if you'd stayed with her."

"Honestly, Chris, I think I would be dead if I'd kept conning people like she has. Mothah has a way of pulling the rug out from under people and she doesn't think about who she hurts in the process. I just hope I am never as cold as she is to people's feelings."

"You're not…"

"How can you be so sure?"

"You wouldn't be here if you were like her. You'd be travelling to wherever she says there's someone open for a con," Larabee told him. "You've proven that you belong and that you won't run our on the people who care about you."

"Thank you, Chris," Standish said and breathed a sigh of relief.

"Nothing to thank me for, Ezra…you are who you are because you made the right choices. Your uncle Hiram had a hand in helping you become someone who can be trusted to do the right thing."

"Uncle Hiram is a…"

"Stubborn cuss, but he knows what is right," Larabee said.

"Yes, he does."

"And there's no one who can make a saddle like him."

"It's a rare art form," Standish observed.

"How long since you saw him?"

"Too long. I keep meaning to go, but something always comes up."

"Why don't you invite him for the picnic?"

"I…thank you, Chris. I will call him tonight and see if he wants to visit for a few days."

"Has he figured out the cell phone?"

"Yes, after several hours, but he still doesn't like using it. I'll call him when I get home."

"You might as well stay the night,