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Falcon's Nest

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Chapter 1 – Stealth Walker

 

It had been four years since Orin Travis made the decision to hire a US Army Ranger sniper. He’d been told the man was a ‘hotshot’ yet he was the best of the Army’s best. Now four years later Travis could not understand why Vin Tanner had been labeled a hotshot. He was anything but. He was laid back and quiet. He had one of the most analytical minds Orin Travis had seen in a man under thirty.

Travis had assigned Tanner to Chris Larabee’s team. Travis didn’t know how Tanner did it but he’d outlasted every other sniper on Team Seven. He jelled with every team member and most all other agents as well. Just recently Travis had discovered the young agent was a ‘mustang’. He’d gone from Private to Staff Sergeant in just two years. Then on a secret mission for the President, a Colonel had given him a field commission to Second Lieutenant.

Travis stood against the wall as he watched Team Seven hover over some photographs as they tried to make sense of some pictures Buck Wilmington and JD Dunne had taken.

Pointing to an image of a man in a slouch hat and a buckskin poncho with fancy beading, JD said, “This guy seems to know his way around the homeless town we were watching. Everyone knew him. We could never get his face though.”

“Let me see that!” Larabee barked taking the photo JD handed him. “I saw this guy in D.C. four or five years ago. He was coming out of a bank near the river with a wad of money in his hand. I waited to see if alarms went off, thinking he’d robbed the place. Followed him into the alley just to make sure.”

Travis watched as Tanner changed in front of him. The cool sniper suddenly became rigid and tense. Only Travis observed Vin turning and rushing out of the room.

Travis sent a text to his secretary to see if she could find out what kind of job Vin Tanner had after he got out of the Army.

-=-=-=-

Vin rushed to his desk and dialed his ranch computer. While he rented a small apartment in town, none of his team members knew he had a ranch on Lookout Mountain. In fact few people outside of Miss Nettie Wells knew that the former Army sniper owned several thousand acres of Lookout Mountain including the presidios mountain lake. Locals only knew that one day [Private Property / No Trespassing] signs were suddenly up.

Vin inwardly smiled as Margaret, an artificial intelligence computer, answered. He’d let the two million dollar reward go for finding a kidnapped scientist’s daughter and opted for this wonderful computer that now ran security for his ranch and a small corporate hotel he and Josh Bird owned.

“Yes Vin.”

In another language Vin said, “I need you to save everything off this computer to a private file at the ranch, and then delete everything here except the programs that came with it. I need you to tell Jersey to get to Larabee’s ranch and get my horse and all his stuff to our ranch…plus get into the house and take everything that belongs to me out. Jersey knows what to do. Tell him to take a couple of guys with him. Needs to be clean within the hour.”

“Something happened. You’re resigning?”

“I just found out who assaulted me four and a half years ago.”

“Larabee …Vin, I am hearing stories about him.”

“Get it done Margaret. I’m on my way shortly.”

Vin pulled his briefcase from under his desk and then opened his bottom drawer. He took several files out and put them into the case. He unlocked the upper drawer and looked at all the sweets he knew JD would devour. Unlocking a second drawer he drew out a large zipped plastic case. Opening this case he took out one of the folded newspapers, then slipped the case into his briefcase and closed the briefcase. He laid the briefcase and his jacket on his desk.

Unfolding the newspaper he glanced at it. Then pulled his badge out checking to make sure nothing personal was in it. Taking his badge and the newspaper he walked back into Team Seven’s conference room.

“You want to know who that person is?” Vin said as he walked up to the table.

“Yeah. You know him?” Buck asked.

Tanner flipped the newspaper on the table and watched the reaction of Chris Larabee.

It was Josiah who read the first paragraph that was in bold print.

“A former US Army Ranger, a Bronze Star hero, has done what the FBI could not do. Lieutenant Vin Tanner, now a bounty hunter, has found Samantha Hawthorne, the seven-year-old daughter of a NASA scientist that was kidnapped three months ago.”

Only Travis was aware of Vin taking his ATF issued weapon off and laying it on the table along with his badge. Travis was also aware that his sniper was staring daggers at his team leader. Orin was shocked to see some kind of awareness cross Chris’ face.

“Hey!” JD chirped. “It says that Vin turned down a two million dollar reward!”

Suddenly the room was quiet as the team became aware that two of them were staring each other down.

Vin picked up his badge and gun and dropped it in the middle of the newspaper. Glaring into Larabee’s green eyes Vin said, “What I said in that alley still goes. And I hope to hell…you haven’t assaulted anyone else like that!”

The team stood in disbelief. Vin was out the door and gone before anyone could recover. As they all began talking, no one noticed Orin Travis reaching in to pick up the gun and badge.

Leaving Team Seven’s offices, Travis called down to security and asked them to hold Tanner until he got there. Under no circumstances was he to leave the building.

=-=-=

“Come on Murray!” Tanner groaned. “I’m going to be late.”

“Travis said we had to hold you until he got here. What’d you do anywhere?”

“I resigned.” Tanner growled 

Several agents who were going out for a late lunch stopped in their tracks. “You what?”

Tanner didn’t want to explain it. He was glad when he saw Travis emerge from the elevator. 

“Vin… let’s talk in this conference room,” Judge Orin Travis said evenly pointing to a room with the number eleven on it. 

Five agents watched Tanner and Travis disappeared into the room.

“What do you bet Larabee made a pass at him? Though if he did, Chris would probably be dead. Murray, see if you can find out anything, will ya?”

-=-=-=-

Judge Travis laid Vin’s badge and weapon on the table.

“Look Judge…” Vin protested.

“Vin. I want you to keep these because what I’m going to ask you to do, you will need them,” Travis said motioning Tanner to sit.

Reluctantly the sniper sat, though he had no clue why.

“There have been rumors flying around Washington and Denver for several years regarding Chris Larabee’s aggressive sexual behavior. I would like you to find out if what happened to you… has happened to others.”

Tanner’s eyes went wide. “Sir?”

“You said he assaulted you.”

“Yeah… he did that all right. Only reason I am here is because I have keying in a phone call and my friend could hear what was happening. He used my GPS to find me.” Vin explained.

Vin watched the Judge pull out some folded papers. “These are the names of several men who have been heard discussing Chris in conversations. I’d like you to find out …one way or the other if they are true. If he is a walking rapist, he will be taken down. I’ve known Chris for many years but I know he has changed drastically since losing his wife and son.”

“Sir, I really think….”

“Vin… I was told not to hire you because you were a hotshot.”

“A what?” Tanner yelped looking up in surprise. “A Hotshot? Me? I’m an invisible mouse. They called me the stealth walker in the Army.”

Travis laughed. “I wish I had twenty men of your caliber. You are an amazing agent. I am really astonished at the abilities you possess. You could even take over my job.”

“OH NO!” Vin yelped. “Too much paperwork.”

Travis looked around startled when he heard a bird call.

Vin reached for his phone, “Tanner.”

“Vin. Jersey has accomplished his task. Beauregard has arrived back from Chicago with some very fine horse flesh. He thinks you will be pleased. And Colt wants you to stop by the hotel to look at some applications before your head out to the ranch.”

“Thanks Margaret. Margaret… can you get into a security system in Washington DC?”

“I can do many things. I can also call on other AI computers. What do you need?”

Tanner watched Travis’ face as he spoke. “Can you check out security camera recordings …say four years to present?”

“It depends. Some companies continually tape over and over on the same tape. Some put them onto a digital format and file them. What do you need?”

“Four years ago on September 4 I was assaulted in an alley in DC. I need to know if that tape is available and shows what happened. “

“And if it is, you would like a copy.”

“Yes.”

“Well, I just happen to be on good terms with NORAD’s AI computer, so I will enlist his aid. Shall I tell Jersey you will be here for dinner …he has been making BBQ ribs all day.”

“It depends on what Colt has for me to review. Tell him to keep some warm for me.” Vin said. Closing his phone he could see the questions on Travis’ face.

Rather than wait for the question Vin replied, “I own Lookout Mountain …I purchased it five years ago with some of my Army hazard pay. Got several hundred thousand acres for a relatively cheap price. Some former Army Rangers and I are raising Appaloosa and Arabian horses …it is also kind of a home for several of my men who had no home to go to when they got out. Some had joined the Army because of unhappy home life. Some just had no family to start with. Most everyone who has served with me… knows they can just come and hang out. No pressure. Just a place to unwind from the war zone to civilian life. They can stay as long or as short as they want.”

“You are full of surprises, Agent Tanner,” Travis said with a smile.

“It’s a place I wish I had when I got out. Now it’s done a lot to keep my nightmares at bay.”

“I also own Carmichael Place …actually Colt Hammer, Josh Bird and I own it together. We discovered a need for a corporate hotel when I was recovering in a hospital in Germany. We have a waiting list of corporations wanting in.”

Travis pushed Vin’s badge and gun to him. “I want you to keep these. You’re a man I don’t want to lose. You’ve got plenty of comp time on the books, so take a month or more if you have to. In the meantime I will list you as a floater to step in if another team’s sniper is injured or out.”

Vin took a deep breath and let it out slow, staring at the badge before him. “A month or two… and if I find Larabee guilty?”

“He’ll be arrested or disciplined. You, as second in command, will become team leader.”

-=-=-=- 

JD came out of the conference room and looked around. “Hey, where’d Vin go?”

Buck and then Ezra left the conference room when JD barked that Tanner was gone.

“Do you think he really left?” JD asked looking at his friend’s desk. “I mean his badge and stuff are gone.”

“It appears he has left Mr Dunne or this drawer would not be open.” Standish replied pulling open Tanner’s snack drawn.

Buck and JD both tried to grab a Ding Dong when Ezra abruptly closed the drawer. “Gentlemen, I do believe we have a problem. Without Mr Tanner we cannot proceed with this case.”

In the conference room Chris Larabee stood staring at the newspaper article. In the last four years he’d learned a lot about his sniper. Tanner was a man of his word. Chris vividly remembered Vin’s words to him as Chris was zipping up his pants.

You’ll rue the day you did that. You’ll think dying will be better. When I find you, you will be mine.

Chris closed his eyes as Tanner’s raspy voice echoed in his mind.

“Chris?” Buck asked watching the emotions play across his old friend’s face. What Buck Wilmington saw turned his stomach. He knew …knew Chris had done what Vin said. Turning on a dime he left the room and told everyone to come to his condo.

-=-=-=-

Vin dropped his case and jacket on the back seat of the Jeep. Climbing into the driver’s seat he started the engine and speed dialed Colt Hammer. He told Colt he had to get to the ranch and could they go over the applications via a conference call.

-=-=-=-

Vin flicked his headlights on the invisible gate as he turned at the sign that said FALCON’S NEST. Easing his Jeep through the lazar gate he followed the winding road until he came to the end of the treeline. In front of him was Lookout Mountain Lake and the house he’d built.

Vin sat in his Jeep for a long time just looking at the display of nature. It was worth every penny building the house and having it computerized. He was glad he was talked into building it away from the lake. Last spring’s rains had raised the lake some and the basement of the house would have flooded if it’d been built at the original location. For the influx of Rangers that were passing through, the extra bunkhouse was worth having. It had been full since he issued the call ...’if you need a place to hang-out to get back into civilian life, look up Falcon’s Nest.’ Beau had even opted to put in funds to build a rec hall with a pool table and large double bathroom. It was becoming a second home to some who had never had a home.

Vin jumped when something tapped at his driver’s window. Instead of rolling down the window he opened the door and got out. Looking up into the horseman’s eyes, Tanner asked, “Is this one of the ones you brought back?” 

“He’s a stallion. Paid four thousand for him. I think he’s worth it.” Beauregard Gainsfield stated as he sat astride a beautiful Appaloosa. 

“He’s gorgeous,” Vin answered, “Definitely worth the money.” 

“Margaret said you resigned,” Beau said leaning forward.

“I tried. Travis wouldn’t accept it. He’s given me a job to do. You coming in for supper? I have something to share and I think it will take all our resources. In fact, I may have to spend some time at the hotel.”

-=-=-=- 

Josiah Sanchez, who had known Vin Tanner as a homeless teenager leaned into Vin’s office and quietly said, “Why doesn’t Ezra call Vin and see if he could meet us at The Edibles. He does live down there somewhere.”

“Good idea,” Buck responded. “We really need to let him know that we support him. From the look I saw on Chris’ face … my gut feeling is Vin was telling the truth.”

“Perhaps then, it would be best if you called him Mr Wilmington. Knowing Mr Tanner, he would think you believed Chris over him.”

Buck looked around. “Travis was here. We’d better check with him to see where we stand with this case.”

The meeting with Judge Travis was short. The team, minus Chris and Nathan, were told that Agent Tanner was taking some comp time but would be on-call for sniper duties as a floater for any team that needed him. However he would not be available for Team Seven. The case they were working had already been given to another team.

-=-=-=-=- 

Vin came up behind the ranch chef as he was staring at a recipe and hugged the younger man. “Jersey… how’s my baby boy doing?”

“Vinnn… the guys are here,” Jersey whispered blushing red.

“I know. We got some newbies here. Just want them to know who you belong to,” Vin chuckled kissing Jersey on his neck. “Heard you’re making my favorite ribs.”

Turning to face his boss, his master, his lover, Jersey stared into the sapphire blue eyes he loved. “Margaret said you resigned today. You sure that’s a good idea.”

Vin’s fingers lifted the chin of his lover and kissed him hungrily. “Tried to. Travis refused to let me go. Any of our Elite guys around?”

“Ben, Sam, Jerry are,” Jersey answered licking the taste of his lover off his lips. “Peppermint.”

“Hey Lieutenant….” A couple of male voices sang.

Tanner turned around and raised his hands. “Yes, I tried to resign. However, Judge Travis refused to accept it and has given me a month off.”

“Margaret… will you tell Ben, Sam, Jerry and Beau to meet me in my study.”

“On it Master Vin.”

As The Magnificent Seven theme music went off, Vin mumbled that he was going to have to change that ringtone.

“Agent Tanner. Yeah Buck, what’s up?”

“The Team… well, Ezra, JD, Josiah and I would like to get together with you at The Edibles.”

“I’m out on Lookout Mountain, Buck. Why don’t you come out here for dinner? Chef’s makin’ barbecued ribs. I’m just past Larabee’s a ‘ways. Look for a marker that says Falcon's Nest.”

“You have a ranch?” Buck Wilmington gasped as those standing near him stared at him.

“Why don’t the four of you drive out in ‘Siah’s SUV and join me? See where I live.”

“You live in that crumbling apartment in…”

“I own Lookout Mountain Buck. Drive towards Larabee’s… then past it about a mile. Look for a sign that says Falcon’s Nest. Turn in there. A rider will guide you through.”

“Past Larabee’s? You mean somewhere on Lookout Mountain?”

“Just come, Buck. I’ll explain things when you get here. Be sure to tell the rider if Ezra is driving his Jag or he won’t be allowed in. This is a very secure place. Leave early and come around five. It will give you time to look around.”

-=-=-=-=- 

Tanner walked into his office off the living room, near the front of the house and closed the door. Picking up his android he texted, Ben, Sam, Jerry and Beau to come to his office right away. Four members of Team Seven were coming for dinner.

-=-=- 

Vin met with four of his elite squad explaining what went down today at work.  He also told them what he realized about Larabee and that Travis had asked him to investigate the man.

“So,” Ben asked, “You want Sam, Jerry and I to hit the computers with Margaret’s help to see what we can find on Larabee taking men down.”

“Yes… I also have this list of names that Travis gave me. At various times over the last few years, the Judge has overheard conversations of men who indicate Larabee took them down or tried to. If there is a way to program their names and Larabee’s into your search …or with images of both… I need concrete images, videos even to nail this guy.”

“You’re smilin’ Beau…”

“If Margaret finds the images of what happened to you…,”

“I have found it! Well, actually NORAD found it and two others. I am downloading them now.”

Vin looked at Beau. “What’s your idea?”

“Well…. Margaret can go anywhere there is a computer. So why can’t she take these images... a frame or two... and display them on Larabee’s laptop for twenty seconds or less. Just to let him know his days are numbered.”

“I could print ‘rapist’ on them. Program them to go only when he boots up and then it would erase itself.”

“Margaret, you are full of surprises. Do it. But only when he is home.”

Vin checked his watch and then asked if they’d heard from Josh.

“Dr Bird has delivered a set of twins up on the ski mountain. Did an emergency appendectomy down at some camp site and should be back he said by morning.”

“Perfect lifestyle for our ER doctor,” Vin laughed. “You must be getting lonely Beau. Josh hasn’t been here much this month.”

“Don’t worry I’m tying him to the bed when he gets home.” Beau replied. “If we get this evidence on Larabee, what then? Putting him in jail is a sure death sentence.”

Ben grinned at the group. “Don’t suppose we could kidnap him and stash him in one of those pioneer houses we found. We have several guys here who love to have a guy to fuck. Some like really rough sex.”

Tanner stared at one of his computer geeks. “Which one are you thinking about? Is there one that isn’t on the aerial view we have?”

“We’ve actually found two that aren’t on any map anywhere,” Jerry responded. “We can ride out there before dinner and have a look… if you want.”

“Saddle up the black while I Skype to Colt. He wants to go over some apps for the hotel.”

-=-=-=-=- 

Margaret displayed five photos of men applying to be security guards at the hotel while Colt read off their past experiences. Vin approved four of them. He also approved supervisor’s requests for hiring six more housekeepers, two bell hops, another chauffeur and a second pastry chef.

“Make sure the penthouse is dusted and stocked. I’m working on a special project for Judge Travis and may be spending some time there for the next couple of months.”

“I heard you resigned today. Everyone from the Federal Building that eats at The Edibles is talking about it.”

“Handed in my badge and gun but Travis handed it back to me with a request that I find out some things. Will explain when I come in tomorrow.”

-=-=-=-=-=-

Vin swung up onto the black gelding with ease. Nodding to Jerry and Beau they rode out around Lookout Mountain Lake following a trail into the forest.

About thirty minutes later the trail disappeared and they inched their way between trees and bushes before coming to a small clearing.

“Well, I’m be,” Tanner choked out as he viewed the cabin nestled in the middle of nowhere. “Even with this creek, it’s got a basement. Have you been inside?” 

“It’s in fairly good shape,” Jerry answered. “We can easily sound proof that side room or the basement. Haven’t been in the basement. But looks big enough for a hammock, sling, or bed. It’s big enough to house two or three guys. In fact, I think the Montana Brothers have used this on occasion. They are the ones who told me about it,” Ben said.

Tanner had the foresight to knock before walking in and they found two guys from the ranch passed out drunk on an old couch.

Beau pulled out a whistle from his pocket and blew it loudly as the others covered their ears. The two sleeping beauties jerked awake and stared at the newcomers.

It was Tanner who got into their faces telling them they were idiots to be somewhere so remote. That they could have died out here and no one would have found them. He also told them they had just lost priviledges at the ranch. No more involvement with the horses until they sobered up.

Jerry volunteered to walk them back to the trail and called down to the ranch to have someone pick them up.

-=-=-

“Take that couch out to the porch,” Vin ordered as he began to look around.

“That antique shop in Four Corners has something that could go in this corner… a booth thing with benches and a table. Across this wall we could easily build some wider benches with storage underneath … and even make a sleeping alcove here. This bedroom is big enough for bunks on two walls. The outdoor privy might be cold in the winter… but the wood stove is in good shape. You can even bake in it. Need a good wood supply. Let’s take a look in the basement,” Vin said as he opened a door and started down some stone steps.

Beau and Ben looked at each other and grinned. Then they heard Vin laugh.

Cautiously going down the steps to the basement the two men stared at their laughing boss.

“Well, well, well. Look what we have here?” Tanner chuckled.

“What?” Ben asked staring at a wood square with nails along the edge.

“It is a curtain stretcher,” Vin answered. “In pioneer days, the lace curtains needed to be stretched after they were washed. They were stretched over these nails. We, however, can use it for a frame for holding Larabee. I think you have a brillant idea here… however, you realize, I can’t know anything about this.”

“You will do the sketch, right?” Ben asked. “On how this thing can be used to hold Larabee in a prone or upright position.”

“Yeah… I can do that. And look at this place! It is dry. Even with that water out there, no seepage anywhere”, Vin exclaimed, amazed there were no water marks.

“Sound proof the ceiling. Make those two windows two way…. He sees out, no one sees in. It needs a good cleaning. A low bed with drawers underneath for storage of clothes, sex toys, blankets. A corner for men to undress and hang their clothes. In fact… look here …bet this was used for hanging laundry. Use these rings to make a jail cell. He has freedom from here …to the window but can’t attack anyone coming down. You’ll have to figure out how to pass food to him.”

Vin paced off an area. “In fact, that frame could be made into a stationary upright position and be hinged off the bars. I’ll sketch it out. This will be Larabee’s private prison and fuck parlor.” Vin said walking around the large room.

“Make sure only three or four trusted men are in on this project. Once I get the evidence Travis asked me to find, Chris will be put under house arrest. That is when he can disappear.”

Vin’s mind was coming up with two scenarios. “When you take him make sure you wear gloves. I don’t want to be visiting you in jail. You can make him disappear one of two ways… one, make his den look like a struggle took place. Tipping over furniture, etc. Or two …put his suitcase on the bed and throw some clothes on top of it. He’ll probably be drinking. Use that to your advantage. Tip the bottle on his laptop, put the whiskey on the table, plus a couple others out of his liquor cabinet in his kitchen. I can give you the layout.”

“Have to get a leather hood,” Beau put in. “Best even our guys not know who he is. Just someone who wants it. Need a chemical toilet too. Don’t think we can do plumbing through this stone. I would bet they lived down here while building the house.”

“Hey!” Jerry called as he came down the stairs. “There is a privy under the stairs. We could take him to the stream in the summer for washing. He’d think he was back in time. Winter might be a problem.”

“And a collar! Want this asshole wearing a black leather collar with a GPS in it. Also the porch…” Vin ventured as they trooped up the stairs. “Enclose it with that fine mesh screening we used for the deck of the house. That will also help snow from piling up on the porch in the winter.”

“Also make sure you explain it to Margaret…thoroughly…and why it is being done and that nothing can go back to me or the ranch or the hotel.”

“Actually boss….” Jerry put in re-entering the cabin, “it was Margaret who gave us the idea.”

“Why jeopardize the ranch,” Beau said suddenly. “Jersey said Larabee’s barn has a lot of dead spaces. Vin, why don’t you give us a sketch of his barn. Maybe we can make a space in there. If he is under house arrest, he’s going to be watched but will have to take care of his horsea. Jersey got into the barn and got Peso out and all his stuff… he said the tack room is pretty big.“

Vin looked at Beau. “His initial disappearance would have to be off his property. The dogs could pick up his scent there and they’d end up taking the barn apart. Get the Montana brothers up here. They would be good caretakers and this is just the kind of place they like. But I’ll draw up a sketch after the team leaves. Eventually he’ll have to be moved from here. Depends on who gets his ranch if he isn’t found.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 2 – Matthew

 

 

“HOLY CRAP, WHAT IS THAT?” Buck exclaimed as they turned onto the dirt road next to the Falcon’s Nest sign.

“Cool,” JD bubbled. “It’s a lazar field.”

“My word!” Ezra gasped from the back seat as two mounted riders armed with rifles and visible holsters emerged from the trees on either side of the SUV.

Josiah lowered the window and said, “Good Evening.”

Montana replied, “State your name, and the full name of all your passengers.”

“Josiah Sanchez. John Daniel Dunne. Buck Wilmington. Ezra Standish.” 

“Flick your lights twice for the gate to open. Follow the road to the tree line. You will be met there to be escorted to the house.”

-=-=-=- 

Chris Larabee stared at the newspaper spread across his dining room table. He had told everyone to take off early since Vin had vanished. He was looking forward to a quiet weekend. He had taken the paper with him when he closed up the office for the weekend. He’d read the article three times and he still couldn’t understand why any man would turn down two million dollars.

Also running through Chris’ head were Tanner’s words …’when I find you it won’t be pretty.’

Chris had called Buck and had found out that he and JD were out with some friends of JD’s from Boston. Ezra was busy and Sanchez had the mission.

Larabee was pacing. Something wasn’t right. He’d put the horses in, had come in and made a couple of sandwiches... the horses! Vin’s horse was missing!

Chris raced to the barn, flinging open the door so hard it bounced back nearly hitting him. Flipping on the lights he went into the tack room to discover all of Peso’s gear was gone. “Shit!”

Back in the den, Chris stared at the bookshelves and for the first time discovering spaces on the shelves where movies and DVDs were stored. He took the stairs two at a time, up to the second floor to check out the bedrooms. Pushing open the door of the room that Tanner had commandeered his first night here, Chris found it empty. He looked in every dresser drawer, the closet and under the bed… nothing. It didn’t appear that anyone was ever there.

Sinking onto the bed Larabee stared into the empty closet. “Hell Vin, couldn’t you have waited? Did you just have to completely disappear?”

-=-=-=-=-

“Margaret! Has the team come through the gate yet?” Vin asked his AI computer as he glanced at his watch.

“They are just at the gate now. Shall I have them park at the tree line and a ranch vehicle pick them up and bring them in?”

Grinning Vin answered, “Yes. Have Colton escort them in?”

“Colton? In Army fatigues?” Beau asked in disbelief.

“Yes, because they will be asking me why after four years they are just now finding out about this place. In fact, Margaret…pass the word that just the elite will be eating in the house tonight.”

“How is that chef for the bunkhouses working out, Ben?” Vin asked as he slowly walked into the house he’d built.

“Pretty darn good. He’s even gotten some of us to like vegetables.”

“Those coming in are Wilmington, Dunne, Sanchez and Standish.”

-=-=-=-=- 

“Are we ever going to get there, Mr Sanchez?” Ezra rasped from the back seat. “Why on earth did they make this road with so many curves?”

JD, who’d been busy scanning the trees, said, “So they can monitor who is coming in, in case they need to prepare for an attack.”

“What?” Buck yelped. “That is the silliest thing I ever heard.”

“Remember the first year Vin was here,” JD pointed out. “He couldn’t go undercover for military weapons because of some missions he did. I heard Travis say there were some bad guys who wanted Vin dead because of a mission he did for the President.”

“At last we’re coming out of the ….” Buck started.

“Holy mackerel!” the group exclaimed.

Before them lay acres of green grass blending into trees with horses in fenced pastures. There were two long buildings with men moving in and out, along with a huge horse barn. They could hear a dinner bell ringing.

Suddenly in front of them loomed a large weapons carrier painted in green camouflage with the name ‘Falcon’s Nest’ across the side. They watched a young blond in Army fatigues jump out of the driver’s seat.

Colton grinned as he walked up to the vehicle. These guys have no clue who Tanner really is.

“Agent Sanchez, would you please park your vehicle over there on that gravel lot. I will take you the rest of the way in.”

-=-=-= 

Colton opened the side door of his vehicle and ushered the four inside. Standish was surprised to find a comfortable padded bench around three sides.

JD watched Colton punch in a code on a built-in monitor and before the door was fully closed the four heard….

“Welcome to Falcon’s Nest. If you are being deployed or on your way home and need a few days to unwind, welcome. Our bunkhouses are divided for men and women with a chef who provides two meals a day. If you are here to work back into civilian life after discharge, please feel free to check with our ranch manager, Beau Gainsfield, about working with our horse program. If you are just a visitor to the ranch, please check in at the house before venturing anywhere else.”

“Beauregard?” Ezra gasped loudly.

“You know this guy, Ezra?” Buck asked.

Standish looked at Buck and then muttered, “No way Beauregard Gainsfield the Third would give up his father’s plantation for the wilds of the Colorado Mountains.”

-=-=-=-

“Beau?”

“Yes Margaret.”

“Are you Beauregard Gainsfield the Third?”

Vin burst out laughing. “Yes Margaret he is, why?”

“Ezra Standish just mentioned him in the vehicle approaching the house.”

“Ezra Phineas Standish?” Beau gulped.

“Phineas? That’s what the P stands for?” Tanner gasped laughing even harder.  “Wait? Wife number three of your father was… Maude?”

“This will be interesting,” Beau said calmly. “I told Ezra once nothing would make me leave Georgia.”

“They are approaching the front door now….” Margaret said as Vin started for the door and then stopped.

“Beau… answer the door,” Vin said with a smirk. “Invite the gentlemen in.”

Beauregard stared daggers at his longtime friend and then laughed. “Be a shock for Ezra, that’s for sure.”

-=-=-=-

“You suppose Vin owns all this?” JD asked as they stepped onto the front porch.

“No way,” Buck chortled. “Bet it’s owned by some rich dude and Junior’s just house sitting.”

Before them was a massive double door which opened as they approached.

Ezra Standish’s jaw dropped open as Beauregard Gainsfield the Third said, “Gentlemen… Welcome to Falcon’s Nest. Come in. Dinner’s almost ready.”

“Beauregard!?” Standish gasped totally losing his cool at the sight before him.

“Phineas.” Beau answered, a quiet smile spreading across his face.

“Phineas?” Buck, JD, and Josiah gasped loudly looking at their undercover agent.

Ezra stared unmoving as his fellow agents walked in. His former step-brother stood at the door, all six foot four of him, in blue jeans, black boots and a dark blue shirt which said ‘Beau Gainsfield, Falcon’s Nest, Ranch Manager.’

“You going to eat out there Ezra?” Beau asked as he started to close the doors.

“What? No.” Standish mumbled moving through the doorway into the entry way. Still he stared at Beau as the others walked into the open living area.

“Why on earth did you give up Atlanta to come here?” Standish questioned, not moving from the entry.

“When Daddy married a woman five years older than I and then had a child… I knew it was time to move on. My brothers are tied to the plantation. Have been since they were born. They don’t know anything else. The Army changed how I look at things. When Vin called about needing someone to manage this place, I jumped at the chance. One of the best things I’ve ever done. I love it out here.”

“Come. Jersey is an excellent chef. Even you will be impressed.” Beau replied as he turned and walked into the living room.

=-=-=-

Vin was explaining about the house when a young man of about fifteen roared into the house from a side door yelling, “DAD!”

Three Rangers sitting near the large stone fireplace turned and grinned. Jersey held up his hands and muttered in Russian. Vin turned and glared at the teen.

Matthew came to a halt and looked around. “Ah, sorry Dad… didn’t know we had company…BUT Josh is back! He found Ringo… you have to come see. We’re sure it’s him. He ran right up to the bird when Josh was getting ready to leave Littleton.”

Josiah Sanchez just stared at the young man. “Matthew? Is this the same Matthew that…”

“It is,” Vin answered cutting his fellow ATF agent off. “Let’s go check out the dog Matt, while Beau gives our guests a tour.”

-=-=-=-

Once outside, Matthew turned to his adopted Dad and said, “That’s the guy from the mission. The one who wanted to put me in jail.”

“Yes, he is the man from the mission, but no… he didn’t want to put you in jail. He is the one who called me to intervene for you because you were the same age as I was when I lived on the street. He is only at the mission two Saturdays a month. It was the head of the mission that wanted you incarcerated.The same man who also wanted to incarcerate me. Josiah is a good guy, Matthew. He got Miss Nettie to intervene for me, just as he got me to intervene for you. And my adopted son… he is one hell of a chess player. You might invite him to play after dinner. Now… let’s go look at this dog.”

[][][][][][]

Josiah looked at the closing door as Vin and the boy left. “Vin adopted the boy?” Came out before ‘Siah could stop the question.

One of the Rangers who had been putting a log on the fire turned and said, “Yes sir. The adoption was official a year ago. It turned out that his parents that signed off all responsibility of him weren’t really his parents. His parents died several years ago when that dam in Wyoming broke and swept through that campsite. His mother sat him on a table and the flood took him down stream. This couple picked him up. They were more interested in raising a slave than a kid, but a couple of months out here …straightened him out. He found out what real family is.”

“Vin told him about life on the street that he hadn’t experienced yet. He is smart as a whip. He is home schooled by Miss Nettie and whoever is here. He’s an A student. He is two grades ahead of what his high school class would be and even has a college course he’s taking. He is also a rated chess player.”

“A chess player?” Josiah questioned pulling out a newspaper clipping he was going to ask Tanner about.

“Yes sir.”

 “He took Tanner’s name?”

“He asked Vin for his name when he found out his parents had died long ago and the parents he thought were his weren’t. Vin and Miss Nettie talked about it at length and when she agreed it would be better for Matt to be a Tanner … than Vin said okay.”

The two other Rangers then stood. The team was surprised to see that one was a Major in uniform. “Matthew’s juvie record has also been erased and his birth certificate has been changed to parents unknown. Once he started opening up we found out several things about his kidnappers that the police didn’t know. He has scars on his body …much like Vin does …scars you don’t know about and wouldn’t ask about. Scars that have bonded those two together as well as some others here. Many who come through Falcon’s Nest have bonded with Tanner because of what we all have been through.”

The Major let out a melodic whistle which brought several other soldiers into the living room. “Dinner in the bunkhouse in ten minutes.”

“Right.”

“Yes sir.”

“Okay Major.”

[][][][][]

Father and son were almost to the bird when Vin stopped and pulled Matthew into a hug.

“No one can take you away. The adoption was final a year ago. Those people can’t come back and say you belong to them because you don’t. Their names have been erased from that birth certificate. We don’t know who your real parents are …or were. We don’t know if they are dead or alive. But you are alive and you are a Tanner. That is all that matters now Matthew. This ranch is your home and you have more uncles than any kid in the world.”

Matthew hung onto his father and listened to the same thing he’d been told for the last two years. It was finally beginning to sink in. He had a dad. A real dad. A home. A family.

“I think I’m getting it…” Matthew choked out as barking was heard.

Vin saw the dog and let out a whistle.

Ringo stopped in his tracks and looked around. Then the dog saw him. Ringo sprang up into the air and twisted around as a hand signal told him to drop to a ‘stay’ position.

Vin Tanner grinned as the dog obeyed instantly. Grinning Vin said, “Looks like we have our dog back.”

[][][][][][]

Chris Larabee slowly folded the newspaper so just the article of Tanner was up. He laid his laptop next to it and sat down to look up the newspaper.

Chris gasped loudly as an image other that his desktop wallpaper came up. An image of HIM zipping up his pants and a prone figure on the ground. Over the image was the word – RAPIST!

Larabee slammed the lid down as he pushed his chair back against the wall behind him. Who? What? How?

“Who the hell are you? I didn’t rob the damn bank! Get your hands off me you pervert! BIRDMAN!”

“Birdman?” Chris yelped. “Oh hell, that has to be Dr Josh Bird, ER Doctor who flies for Denver General.”

Slowly moving back to the table, Chris opened up his laptop to find his desktop wallpaper. Still he shut it down and rebooted it just to see if that image came up. As the ‘welcome’ page came up Chris let out a sigh of relief which was short lived as yet another image came up. This time he was on top, entering an exposed butt. And again the word - RAPIST!- appeared in large letters. And then it was gone.

Chris stared at his laptop as he did a virus scan, a malware scan … every damn scan that came with the thing but nothing … nothing was found that could explain what was happening. He had lost all interest in the newspaper article. Now he was determined to find the link to what was happening. Finally remembering what JD had told him about Temporary files and history. He began searching by files until he came to the Cache.

Larabee scanned down the list of links but didn’t find a single one that stuck out. He highlighted them all and deleted them. Same for his browser history. Nothing jumped out at him as he slowly deleted every place he’d been to this week.

Staring at his electronic gadget he decided to Restart it. He breathed a sigh of relief when no images came up on the Restart. He checked his emails and then was shocked to the core when he hit Shut Down.

We know what you’ve done! We know where you work. We know where you live. We know what you drive. Your time is running out.

[][][][][][]

Family and friends at Falcon’s Nest were just finishing dessert when JD got a frantic call from Chris Larabee. JD tried to calm his boss. Gave him several instructions which Chris said he’d already done. When JD said, “It could be a highly skilled hacker who is having fun or someone who knows you. Chris, I have the best virus software on all our laptops. If it is getting around that …”

“You’re useless!” Chris shouted before hanging up.

Vin looked at Ben who got up and went down the hall to the computer-security room to have a talk with Margaret. 

[][][][][][][] 

“Margaret, what have you done?” Ben asked as he stepped into the ranch’s security tech room.

“I have just let Chris Larabee know that his time is limited.”

“Show me!” Benjamin Flowers growled.

Ben gasped as the three images came up. But it was the words that raised his anger.

“YOU ARE A COMPUTER! YOU ARE SUPPOSE TO DO AS YOU ARE TOLD!” Ben blasted angrily.

“MARGARET! You are here to protect this ranch and the people who live here! If Larabee finds out Vin’s computer is doing this …Vin could end up in prison. Is that what you want? Matthew with no father. Remember, if something happens to Vin …you go into automatic termination and become just a regular old computer.”

Ben waited for that to sink in. He didn’t know if it was true but he’d heard Vin tell her that before.

Ben waited as their computer mulled over the word ‘termination.’ Then he smiled as she said…

..”Just an old computer would be boring. I was angry. He hurt Vin. One picture a day Vin said.”

“Yes. Now…JD Dunne is the computer whiz kid on Team Seven that is out there. Since Larabee has called ...if you engage JD, he would certainly know right away that you are capable of doing what Larabee called him about.”

“You can tell Vin I am unavailable for any demonstrations tonight. I have narrowed his DNA to two men. We should know more about his father soon. Since we got that marriage license and know his father was a Navy man that cut off four other men in the DNA search.”

“That marriage license he got from the Navy helped?” Ben questioned.

“Yes, it helped. Told us that he was in the Navy not the Army. And gave his blood type, and his full name.”

[][][][][][][]

Buck looked at the display of food on the long table. What was left of the meal these men had just devoured – barbeque beef ribs, glazed carrots, baked potatoes, fruit salad. “How come you’re so skinny, Junior, if you’re eating like this every night?”

Vin watched Beau’s, Ben’s and Jersey’s heads jerk up at the term ‘junior.’ Vin knew they weren’t going to finish dessert.

“Junior?” Jersey quaked angrily.

“Yeah, ‘cause he is a Chris Larabee duplicate, so we call him Junior,” Buck responded.

It happened before Tanner could stop it. Jersey, Ben and Jerry were on their feet and Jersey whipped the plate out from under Buck’s nose.

“THE HELL HE IS!” Jersey raged. “You’re not eating any more of my food!”

“Larabee is a scum bag who uses men. No way you can compare the two,” Ben roared. “Excuse me. Think I’ll have dessert with the men tonight.”

Vin was on his feet as Ben headed toward the door. “BEN!”

“Don’t even ask it, Lieutenant. If that’s what they have been calling you all this time, it’s no wonder you resigned today.”

“You resigned?” JD, Ezra and Josiah barked at once.

“Shit!” Vin mumbled as he stepped away from the table.

“Could I have that back?” Buck asked staring at the delicious pie.

“Jersey….” Vin responded quietly.

“NYET!” Roared the Russian-American as Russian began to spout angrily from the young chef.

“Beau, take over,” Vin ordered as Tanner walked toward his chef arguing in Russian. Vin backed the young man down the hall as Jersey yelled at his boss and lover.

“Well,” Ezra remarked as he finished his pie, “That was exciting. How do you keep this ranch in order Beauregard? You and Mr Tanner must really be trusted by the owner of this place.”

Beau Gainsfield shook his head as Jerry Hanson sat back down. Beau pushed his chair back and stood. He stared at the four members of Team Seven. Had they not heard anything he said when giving them a tour of the house.

“Did none of you listen when I gave you a tour of this place? When we stood on the front porch and I explained who bought the mountain and built the ranch, and why he did it?”

JD looked up and innocently said, “Some poor Texas guy who wanted to finally have a home.”

Standish’s head snapped up. “Mr Tanner …owns ...built this fabulous place?”

“Junior owns this place?” Wilmington laughed. “Where the hell did he get money for buying a mountain?”

Now it was Jerry who stood. Leaning forward on the table, looking directly into Wilmington’s face, Jerry growled fiercely, “You call him Junior one more time and you will be escorted to the road. You are not welcome here. Every man who rides this ranch has had a run in with Larabee …and none of them have been good. He’s a mean bastard and is not welcome here.”

“Jerry,” Vin said softly.

“Sorry boss man, but I think I’ll see if Coco has any leftovers.”

“VIN!” Margaret yelped overhead. “I think I have found your father! There are only two Michael Tanners in the U.S. and one is much too old to be your father. Plus this one lists your mother as his next of kin even though he has no clue where she is. I have been talking to one of the nurses in this place. It is an Army-Navy hospital north of Sacramento. She wants to Skype with you.”

Vin looked at Josh who hadn’t said a word during all this, and asked him, “Could we fly the Hermès there?”

“You have a Eurocopter Hermes?” JD asked excitedly. “I saw one of those in Boston. It is the coolest, neatest chopper ever.”

“Birdman?” Vin asked quietly.

Josh smiled at the man who saved his life multiple times. He owed Tanner so much.

“Yeah Vin. It would be good to get that bird out again. Colton said it is aching to be airborne. And may I suggest that next time you want to meet your team for dinner….do it at The Edibles.”

“Okay Margaret, I’ll be there in minute. Beau…?”

“Go.”

Matthew looked at Beau and Josh and then was up and after his dad.

 

Chapter Text

Vin walked down to the master bedroom to check on his chef who was cuffed to the bed. Just as he reached the door, Vin heard Matthew said “Dad.”

Turning, Vin saw an odd look on his son’s face and then he knew. Knew the man he’d worked under for four years was going to rot in that basement prison.

“Matt. When did Larabee touch you?” Vin asked sharply.

In the dining room, Josh and Beau glanced at each other while Buck’s fork clunked onto his plate.

Vin pointed to the master bedroom and father and son walked in together. Matthew was surprised to see Jersey cuffed to the bed. He knew the two men were lovers but this was new.

“You going to behave, Jersey?” Tanner asked as he closed the door.

Jersey growled and yanked on the cuff that held him to their king-size bed.

“Right. Which is why you’re going to stay there. Matt, sit.” Vin said pointing to the reading corner that held two wingback chairs.

Matthew Tanner walked over and sat in the red chair, slinging his legs over one arm. He looked at Jersey and then his dad.

“It was when I was still on the street. Nothing happened but the look was there. I knew what he wanted. If I’d been older, I think he would have taken me.”

“Which is why when I brought you to his ranch and said you were in my protected custody, he spent the evening staring at you.”

“Yeah,” Matt responded quietly, his head dropping down.

“What did he say to you that night?” Vin pushed.

Matt’s head jerked up and he stared at his father. Matt looked over at Jersey who gave him a nod to go for it.

“He followed me into the kitchen when I went to get more sandwiches. He asked me if I was your ‘boy.’”

Only Jersey saw Tanner’s muscles tightened and the fist forming on the hand that hung over the arm of the chair.

“Before I could even answer, he said, ‘I’ve been after Tanner for years. Bring him around tomorrow and we’ll have a threesome. It’ll be good.’ And then he walked back into the den.”

“Which is why you didn’t want to go over on that Sunday?”

“Yeah.”

Tanner got up from his chair and walked over to the bed. Two clicks and the sheepskin cuffs were released. He spoke to Jersey in Russian and then turned back to his son as the chef bolted off the bed and was gone.

“Come, we’re going to see if this man Margaret found really is my long lost dad.”

[][][][][][][][][][

Jersey walked into the great room and began clearing the dishes off the table. Even as Josh reached to finish off the fruit salad that dish disappeared.

“Jersey?” Beau questioned as Jersey reached for another dish.

“Dinner is over. You who live here, you can snack on leftovers later. Per the man who owns this ranch …this mountain, the team is to be escorted off the mountain. Until further notice no ATF agents are allowed. If they want to talk to Vin, they will have to do it at Carmichael Place.”

“Jersey,” Josh said quietly. “What happened between Larabee and Matthew?”

“You don’t want to know, Doc. Because if those troops out there find out… there won’t be enough pieces of Larabee left to fill a matchbox.”

[][][][][][][][]

“Dad, Agent Sanchez doesn’t have to leave, does he? I have a chess tournament tomorrow. He could take me.” Matt said as they entered the computer room.

“What about your two bodyguards? They will have to go with you.”

“Yeah but they aren’t into the game. And they are always too busy scoping out everyone who talks to me.”

Tanner grinned, then pulled his phone and called Josiah who at that moment was staring at Jersey.

“Sanchez.”

“’Siah. Could you accompany Matthew to his chess tournament tomorrow? I may be flying to California to check on a man who may be my father. We’ll be going into the hotel later. He can call you in the morning and let you know when to pick him up at Carmichael Place.”

“I would be glad to do that, Vin. Look forward to it.”

Closing his phone, Vin said, “Why don’t you go out there and talk with him. I told Jersey that the team had to leave…but talk with him. We may not get to the hotel until morning.”

Vin smiled as his son left. It amazed him how much they were alike.

“Oh dear. Roy Montana just came in. He has something urgent to tell you about that house in the woods.”

“Okay… tell this nurse that I have dinner guests and we will set up a Skype call in about an hour.”

[][][][][][][]

“Good lord, who is that?” Ezra gasped as a burly looking mountain man stepped through the kitchen door.

“One of our surveyors,” Beau answered standing.

“Roy.”

“Need to see Tanner right away.” Roy Montana replied as the man in question appeared.

“Vin,” Roy said quickly, “Need to see you outside. It’s about that project you ordered.”

Vin glanced at the table. “Jersey! They came for dinner. They get to finish dinner.”

“You said they were to be escorted off the mountain!” Came the furious reply.

“When dinner was finished and … after Matthew explains about the chess match tomorrow. Agent Sanchez will be taking him to it. “

Vin held in his grin as his chef growled.

“You behave.” Tanner responded tightly.

To everyone’s surprise, including Tanner, Jersey dropped to his knees in a submissive mode. “I am sorry master. They just piss me off calling you a miniature Larabee. You are far from that. They don’t even know you.”

Vin ruffled Jersey’s hair and then walked out the back door with Roy.

Not a word was spoken as Jersey jumped to his feet and walked into the kitchen. He became rinsing the dishes he’d already cleared and stacked them in the dishwasher.

Buck Wilmington just stared at the chef as he went about business as usual.

“No wonder Chris never got to first base with Tanner. He’s got a hundred guys here to keep happy.”

Dr. Joshua Bird pushed his chair back and stood. “You have a filthy mind Agent Wilmington and I will personally air drop you on your front lawn. Yes, Jersey and Vin are lovers. They have been ever since Vin rescued the young man from a very abusive Russian father who used his children as slaves.”

Buck Wilmington swallowed under the scrutiny of Doctor Bird.

“You must be one of Larabee’s submissive to answer as you did,” Josh continued. “The men you see on this ranch are Army men who are on their way to deployment or are coming home and need a transition. Others work this ranch and get paid for the work in cash, food and lodging. Now I realize that Agent Sanchez drove you out here, however, you are leaving as of right now. My bird is parked just outside the door that Vin and Roy walked out of.”

[][][][][][]

“What’s up?” Vin asked as he walked with Roy toward a Polaris Ranger.


“Ben was telling me what you planned to do. And I wanted you to know that old house is not as sturdy as it looks. There is some water seepage in that basement at times. Roger and I are the ones who put that john in the basement. It helps to pump out the water during the spring floods. Got another house you might consider and it is easier to get to …yet it is not on any map. Got time for a ride?”

Vin looked back at the house and the setting sun. “Show me,” he said as he climbed into the Ranger.

“This other house… we can use the attic. It can be soundproofed and there are also windows he can look out of. Course all he will see are trees and men. I think there are about 20 men you could entrust with this project. Not only to do the work on this house, but to use the man also. It has a nice porch that can be enclosed with screen or plexi-glass. Also has indoor plumbing. A small space but doable.”

Vin looked around. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in this area. Where are we?”

“It’s the other side of the eagle habitat. And don’t worry, any pounding we do won’t bother them. There is a shorter way by horseback but wanted you to see it now so we can get started on it tomorrow. Old Antiques is having a sale and I figured we could pick up some neat stuff there for this place.”

Tanner gasped in surprise as the old house came into view. “It has electric porch lights? From where?”

Roy laughed. “You’re not going to believe this… but I think whoever put the electricity in tapped into Larabee’s electric line. His north pasture has an electric fence and Roger traced the line in that direction. It’s about two miles from here.”

“The team has ridden all over this area. We’ve never discovered this house. Let’s have a look.”

Walking onto the porch was like entering another age. “Keep these chairs. They look to be in good shape. Put up a sign somewhere … Property of Hidden Valley Ranch. Want a couple of trusted men to start bunking here to make sure no one is living here. While these are old chairs, they are well kept. Let’s go inside.”

Vin laughed. “It’s like something out of the 1800’s yet looks new. I think we have squatters here Roy. Better get someone up here fast.”

Roy pulled out his satellite phone and talked to his cousin about sending someone up here and why. Then he and Vin checked the place out.

“I actually like cooking on a wood stove like this better than electric or gas,” Roy explained as they looked around.

“Our grandmother still has a wood stove in her modern kitchen. Winters in Montana when you lose power …it keeps her whole downstairs toasty warm.”

“Good working kitchen then,” Vin replied checking out the built in shelves.

“Have to keep the pump primed in the winter so it doesn’t freeze. It has a small privy here,” Roy continued. “Have to shower at the ranch. There is one small bedroom and a larger one down. Now, let’s have a look upstairs.”

Jogging up the stairs, the two men discovered mattresses on the floor. A couple of backpacks and two weapons. Roy lifted an odd looking bag and looked in it.

“Looks like we found those robbery suspects the police are looking for. Don’t rightly like the cops looking around this place.”

“Need a door at the top of the stairs with an old fashion lock. See if you can find a door at the antique place.” Vin said looking out the window.

“Here come Ben and Jerry. Looks like they have a couple of guys in tow. Might be our squatters,” Vin informed Roy as he turned back to the stairs and then stopped.

“It might work… if you brought the police out here a longer way. A way they knew a drunk Larabee would never find.”

“Always did love the way you think, Lieutenant.”

[][][][][][][]

By the time Vin got back to the ranch house it was dark, and two police cruisers were parked at the treeline taking custody of the squatters, their loot and weapons.

Vin walked up to one officer and remarked, “Hey Gonzales, you made sergeant.”

Ron Gonzales answered in Spanish about being a token but it was a pay raise and his wife liked that.

“Anyway you can get it brother,” Tanner laughed. “Are you going to need to get back to that place?”

“Is there any other way in?”

“Don’t know. Roy and Roger just discovered it today. Hell, Team Seven has ridden all through this mountain for years. We never found it.”

“We took plenty of pictures. Probably won’t. I’ll tell the Chief the place is pretty remote.”

“Tell the Chief, Tanner got lost,” one officer said laughingly. “And it’s his forest.”

[][][][][][]

Vin walked into his ranch house and looked around. Josiah and Matt were hovered over a chess board. Ezra and Beau were in a corner chatting. Birdman and Jersey were sitting at the table munching on cold ribs.

Walking up to the table Vin asked, “where are the other two?”

“I flew them to Buck’s condo about an hour ago.” Josh answered.

“Don’t forget you have a call to make to California,” Jersey said. “And Beau invited the other two to spend the night. Guest suite has already been made up.”

Jersey blushed as he spoke in Russian saying… he had invited Josh into their bed tonight because Beau and Ezra were so occupied Beau had forgotten about Josh.

Vin gave Jersey a hard look and then grinned. “Good. I like to watch the two of you enjoy each other.”

Both men blushed deep red.

“I’ll be in the computer room.”

[][][][][][]

“Margaret, has she shown you any pictures?” Vin asked as he slipped onto a padded bench.

“Yes Vin! Look at this one! I think it is their wedding picture.”

Tanner gasped. “It’s my mother. Lord, she was beautiful.”

“And here are two more. Your grandfather and her. Your grandfather, her and your father.”

“Okay. Let’s see if you can get her back.”

[][][][][][][]

Miss Caroline Rose jumped as the phone in front of her rang. She was beginning to wonder about this man who might be Commander Tanner’s son.

“Yes, this is Miss Rose. Just a minute, I need someone to help me with Skype.”

Caroline nodded to her friend as she explained how Skype worked and all she had to do was look straight ahead. She saw her face in the corner of the screen and then gasped as she heard the man speak.

“Ma’am.”

[][][][][][][] 

Vin smiled at the 40ish woman he saw on the screen, and then reached for a scrunchie that was in a dish as Margaret whispered for him to pull his hair back.

“Miss Rose…”

“Oh my! You look just like the Commander… pictures he has from the war. Incredible.”

“What can you tell me about him?” Vin asked.

“Tell you about him. I don’t understand.”

“Miss Rose. I have done a DNA search for my father and it’s been narrowed down to Commander Michael Tanner who is a resident at your facility. I know nothing about him or why he is there.” Vin replied curtly. This woman was frustrating him.

“Well, certainly your mother has told you about him. She sent him their marriage license five years ago. We’ve been waiting to hear from her but have not received one word.” Miss Rose answered angrily.

“My mother died when I was five years old, Miss Rose. She only told me how wonderful her husband was.” Vin shot back at her.


“It was The Department of the Navy that sent out the marriage licenses to next of kin. Me – her son. And him – her husband. The marriage license was never registered. In fact several hundred were never registered. The Navy did not know that she was a Navy wife, nor did she receive any benefits from them.” Tanner growled trying to get his temper under control.

“I will not go into my childhood with you, ma’am. Other than to say, when she died in my arms at the young age of five, I was whisk into the hellish life of Texas foster care. I spent four years in the US Army and I am now a Federal Agent. I will be flying out there tomorrow. Do you have a helipad?”

“Helipad? You mean for a chopper to land?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Dad…”

Miss Rose watched as the man she was talking with turned to talk to a very nice looking young man. The man’s son grinned and said…“Thanks dad!”

“I will be there sometime tomorrow, Miss Rose. Good night.”

“Wait! I need more information for the Commander. Please bring your birth certificate with you.”

Vin stared at her. “His DNA and mine are 99%, Miss Rose. Has he married someone else and had more children?”

“No, but your birth certificate will verify to him that you are who you say you are. You certainly must have one.”

Vin was off the bench and swearing in Kiowa. He spun around and came face to face with Josh.

“Calm down. You’ve had a hell of a night with those robbery suspects and the team here. Let me talk to her.”

Caroline Rose gasped as her high school crush sat down in front of the computer. Though Joshua Bird didn’t know she was alive, she collected everything she could find on him in high school.

“Joshua!”

Josh stared back at the woman. She looked familiar but he had no clue who she was. “I’m Dr Josh Bird. I am also Agent Tanner’s pilot.”

“Your…your father said you were dead.”

Josh looked up at Vin who was grinning at him.

“I am an on-call ER physician for Denver General Hospital. I am a helicopter pilot and an Army veteran. We will be arriving about mid-day tomorrow. We will not be bringing a birth certificate because Agent Tanner does not have one. He has never been able to find one. None is registered in the State of Texas even though he was born there. He has no idea how old he is or when he was born. “

“Oh my.”

“We will be there tomorrow, ma’am. You can tell me who you are then, and I will explain why my father wishes to make me dead.”

Looking up, Josh continued, “Margaret, get the coordinates of this place so I can make up a flight plan.” Then he reached up and turned off Skype and the computer.

Behind him, Vin said, “Well… that was fun.”

[][][][][][][]

The Head nurse of the Stars and Stripes Veterans Home watched as Caroline spoke with Commander Tanner’s long lost son. He was that, she knew for certain. His mannerisms. His frustration at dealing with someone who wasn’t listening. Now Samantha Jones’ fingers flew across the keyboard of another computer looking up ‘Vin Tanner ATF agent.’  Quietly she printed off information on him to give to Commander Tanner, along with the notes she’d taken during the short conversation that just happened.

[][][][][][]

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 4 – The Lost Are Found

 

 

“Who was the starry-eyed nurse?” Vin asked. “Some high school sweetheart?”

Birdman groaned. “Haven’t the foggiest. Didn’t have time for girls in high school or college or med school. But my sister did tell me a lot of girls had crushes on me. Come on Falcon, some good hard lovin’ ….and you will sleep like a baby and be rarin’ to go in the morning.”

[][][][][][]

Samantha picked up the printouts and her notes and started to leave.

“Well!” Caroline roared. “I certainly won’t allow him in here tomorrow.”

“You are not working tomorrow,” Samantha  responded. “You did not listen to a thing Agent Tanner said. All you saw was someone you remembered from high school who doesn’t have a clue who you are, nor should he. Dr Bird is known for his emergency medicine. Look him up online, Miss Rose. And yes… that man is Commander Tanner’s long lost son. IF you had been paying attention, you would have noticed it right away.”

Several minutes later Samantha Jones knocked on a door with a US Navy SEAL emblem and the name ‘Tanner’ underneath.

When the door opened, Miss Jones explained that she had information on his son and could she come in.

Michael Tanner sat heavily in his recliner as he stared at the printout of himself at a younger age.

“He has my eyes,” Michael said softly.

Samantha chuckled. “He got totally frustrated dealing with Miss Rose. Jumped off his chair and was swearing in a language I’ve never heard. At least I’m assuming it was swearing.”

The Commander laughed. “Kiowa. His mother was part Kiowa-Comanche. She swore in that language when things frustrated her. He’s a Federal agent …ATF?”

“Yes. I printed this off for you. Some articles from The Denver Post. He is a sharpshooter …sniper. Was one in the Army too. And Sir… he has no birth certificate. He doesn’t know how old he is or when or where he was born.”

“What? The Navy would have…”

“The Navy didn’t know your wife was a Navy wife. Here is what he told us …the marriage license was sent by the Department of the Navy to next of kin. Your wife died when your son was five years old. The license was never registered. He said several hundred were never registered…and on one of those printouts is a NY Times article on it. The chaplain who married you and others going off to war never registered them with the Navy or the State of Texas.”

Michael Tanner started looking through the printouts, gasping as he saw the headlines on several.

“I’d like to talk to him.”

“He’ll be here tomorrow. He’s flying in by helicopter. About mid-day he thought.”

“I had a feeling Rachel was gone. Otherwise she would have hunted diligently for me. Thank you, Samantha. I appreciate all you’ve done to help me with this search. Think I will be eating in tonight so I can go over these.”

[][][][][][]

Early Saturday morning, Vin eased himself out from between two naked bodies and headed for the shower. Josh had been right; all his frustrations with Larabee and Miss Rose were dissolved away by his two lovers. He also realized that Beau would never get Josh into his bed again.

Vin was drying his hair when his two lovers wandered into the bathroom grinning.

“Last night was awesome,” Jersey said with a grin. “Got to do that more often. Told Josh…he can forget about Beau, we’re claiming him.”

“I agree,” Tanner responded pulling them into a group hug.

“What’s for breakfast? I need to talk to Matthew’s bodyguards. Evidentially Ezra has decided to go to this chess match too, and you never know what might happen if any of the people he’s met undercover are around.”

Vin walked out of the master bedroom, down the hall to the kitchen. He clicked on the large coffee urn and his smaller pot that Jersey had put together last night. Opening the refrigerator he discovered a large note on a covered pan.

“Whoever is the first up ...take these out. Turn oven on to 350*. When temp is reached, put this in and set timer for 40 minutes. If timer dings before I get here – please take them out of the oven and TURN OFF THE OVEN.”

Vin laughed. He remembered about a month ago when someone took the cinnamon rolls out but left the oven going …it was several hours before Jersey realized it was on.

[][][][][][][][]

Commander Tanner never made it to bed. He’d fallen asleep in his recliner with his laptop on his lap. He’d found the article on Vin in the Alabama paper about being a bounty hunter and turning down two million dollars in reward. He read several Denver Post write ups about Team Seven and their Army sniper. He’d found several top secret papers that told him his son was a Bronze star recipient and why. And, about being found in a body bag after holding his ground so his platoon and a Dutch platoon could get to safety.

He also discovered that his son had grown up alone with no family around. Had survived being in foster care and had lived on the streets as a homeless teen. This information pained him deeply. But in learning that, he discovered his son had adopted a boy who had also been homeless and had no family.

Commander Tanner had spent the night learning he had an amazing son.

[][][][][][][] 

Beauregard realized at breakfast that he’d missed out on something last night but couldn’t put his finger on what it was. He and Ezra had slipped out to Beau’s cabin and Ezra had ended up crashing there.

Ezra and Vin were in a heated discussion about the two bodyguards that were hovering. And finally Tanner growled at the man. A weary wolf growl that no one had heard before.

“Ezra! These two guards are with him wherever he goes. It’s been that way for two years and will continue to be that way. One – because there are people in this world who would like me dead. Who would like to hurt anyone related to me. And three, it’s possible that his kidnappers may try to get him back once they discover what a good man he is turning out to be. And lastly, should someone who wants YOU go after him, I want back up.”

Ezra Standish had never seen his team mate so vehement or concerned about anyone before. He realized belatedly that this young man meant far more to Vin than he had previously thought.

Looking at the rest of the group, Vin remarked. “As I said before, Josh and I may not be back tonight. We’re just going to play it by ear. See how it goes in California. Ben and Jerry have a project to work on for me and will probably be in my study or the computer room most of the day. Samuel and Ramon will stick with Matthew. They have their own car. We found that works better as in the past someone has tried to disable the Jeep when Matt and I travel together.”

“Beau.”

“I’m meeting with the Montana boys shortly on the project we checked out last night. Have four others that will be helping with that. The home front will be taken care of Vin. Travel safe.”

[][][][][][]

Vin pulled his overnight bag from Josh’s medical chopper as the Hermes windshield was being cleaned.

“When was that named Hidden Valley Ranch?” Vin questioned as he walked to the bird.

“Well, we did a survey a few months ago. It was decided that the sign on the road, ‘Falcon’s Nest’ might bring your enemies here. Plus every military person who knows Falcon may decide to just drop in. We are in a valley. And we definitely are hidden. Also Lookout Mountain is on the map so everyone would know where we are. But, Hidden Valley could be anywhere. Hence, we named it Hidden Valley Ranch,” Birdman explained.

Continuing, Josh ventured, “The Montana Brothers changed the sign on the road shortly after the team came through last night.

Plus I have used it to pick up the men who have been coming here to wind down. All I need to do at any airport or base in the state now… is identify myself as Hidden Valley Ranch and I’m given clearance.”

The two men talked with Colton and then climbed aboard.

“Where are we refueling?” Tanner asked as he belted up and put on a helmet.

“Provo and Reno. Have already talked to two smaller airports in each area. Told them we were on a flight to the Stars and Stripes Veterans Home in Sacramento. Both men I talked to said they knew people who had been there and I gleaned some interesting stories from both.”

In Provo, Tanner laughed with the airport manager as their bird was refueled.

“I can’t believe you know this guy,” the manager gaffed.

“He has a sense of humor that would drive one nuts,” Vin offered remembering a prank this soldier had done. “Next time you see him, ask him about the exploding cream puff.”

“Exploding cream puff?” The manager asked wide eyed.

“C-4 in the frosting,” Vin replied as the tanker drive called over to say the bird was refueled.

Josh pulled his wallet and both the manager and the tanker driver said, “No charge.”

“We will probably be through here tomorrow at this same time,” Josh said putting his wallet back in his breast pocket.

“We’ll be here.”

Once they were airborne, Josh looked at his friend. “C4 in frosting?”

“Yup, an experiment gone wrong. Actually, the general who walked in was not expected and the cream puff exploded all over him. Talk about 20 guys who practically bit their tongues off to keep from laughing. I’m surprised we all weren’t court martialed. Chambers mumbled that his little sister sent them and he had yet to eat anything she’d made.”

“How are we going to work this when we get there?” Josh asked.

“I do not care to deal with Miss Rose again,” Vin replied. “The woman behind her was taking notes. Her badge said ‘Samantha Jones’. That is who we will ask for.”

[][][][][][]

“Looks like they know we are coming,” Josh said as he circled the facility.

“No, I think that is just a common area. The helipad is over there by the front door.”

“Boys… I just went through the records of this place and Vin has several of his Rangers that are here. Two are giving the nurses a really hard time according to their records. Something about their artificial limbs. Also your man Jackson is here, Vin.”

“Aw hell …madman Jackson. Put her down Birdman. See what we have. This is going to be like walking into a mine field.”

-=-=-= 

Commander Tanner watched the red and white helicopter circle and land. He was more nervous now than on any mission he’d ever been on. What do you say to a son you love but have never seen? He watched the two men inside ease out and was surprised when the pilot used a remote to lock it down.

Checking himself in the mirror for the umpteenth time, dressed in navy jeans and his trident blue shirt, Commander Tanner stepped out of his room locking his door behind him.

=-=-=-

“So far the mine field is clear,” Josh muttered as they entered the lobby and approached a circular desk.

“Agent Tanner,” Samantha Jones said upon seeing him. “I’m Samantha Jones. I’m sorry but Miss Rose doesn’t work on Saturdays. Let me ring down to your father’s suite…”

“I don’t think that will be necessary, Miss Jones,” Vin replied as he observed the Navy man walking toward them.

Miss Jones turned to see the Commander approaching. And then was startled when three men burst through a side door arguing.

“Mine field just exploded,” Josh remarked.

“Oh those three,” Samantha groaned. “I’d like to throw them in the trash.”

“I know one. Mind if I intervene?” Vin asked.

“Yes, if you can stop that…please.”

Turning, Tanner started for the three brawling men. He gave his father a short nod and watched the man come to a halt.

Tanner walked directly up to the three men who were now sprawled on the floor. “JACK-SON! waar zijn uw manieren!”

Jackson VanDyke rolled into a sitting position and stared at the man who had spoken to him in Dutch.

“Falcon!” Jackson all but screamed as he jumped to his feet.

“Damn Lieutenant! We heard you were dead. Birdman flew in and found you in a body bag ….” And then he saw Josh.

“Birdman! Guys…. These are the two me and Torpedo have been telling you about. This skinny guy here is the best damn sniper the Army has ever had.”

“Torpedo is here?” Vin asked quietly, trying to keep a circus from happening.

Before Jackson answered, Vin heard his father whisper “Falcon?”

It was a question as though they had met before and then Vin knew the Navy unit he’d been asked to flew into was Commander Tanner’s.

Behind him, Josh said, “Go. I’ll handle this.”

Skirting around Jackson whose eyes were now glued on Josh, Vin approached his father. “Sir.”

“You’re the Army sniper known as Falcon.” Commander Tanner questioned.

“I was, yes. Is there a place we can talk. Outside maybe.”

Michael looked around and then nodded. “This way.”

-=-=-=-=-

Two hours later Josh appeared in front of the two men sitting in the shade.

The Commander had learned that the Army sniper that had come on the skids of a chopper to free up his SEAL unit had been his son. Vin had learned some things about his mother that he didn’t know. He discovered that his father was a city boy and knew nothing about horses or ranching. Vin also discovered his father was an amateur chef. Vin had explained about the corporate hotel he and Josh owned in Denver, and invited his father to come spend a month there. Michael said it would take a couple of days to get that together but yes, he was interested.

Looking up at Josh, Vin said, “Birdman.”

“Five of your Rangers from your first elite squad are here. I’ve talked to all but one. Three are flying back with us to the ranch. I’ve already talked to Beau about them… what they can and can’t do. The fifth one is in lock down. You need to see him. Talk to him if you can. It’s Carter.”

“Carter?” Vin barked jumping to his feet. “I thought he was killed in that fiasco with Major Browning.”

“Whatever happened there… " Josh began, "no one knows. Only Carter knows. The others have all testified against Browning. Said he ordered men into a visible mine field and did nothing when several were blown up in front of them. Carter had some kind of a fight with Browning who shoved him onto a visible IED. Blew off part of his leg. I looked at his medical records and x-rays. There’d be no problem with him getting a new leg… except he refuses. Just sits in a corner of this room.”

“Dad.” Vin said half turning.

“I’ll show you, son.” Commander Tanner answered rising.

[][][][][][][][]

The orderly and the doctor in charge were not about to let Tanner stand in the doorway of Carter’s room until Dr Bird explained about Vin’s capture, torture in a room this size.

Vin did not look at this father during the explanation. His eyes were on Carter huddled in a corner of the padded room.

“Give me the keys,” Vin finally ordered, “And move away. I want him to see only me and Birdman.”

It was the Commander’s authoritative voice saying, “He can handle it.” That finally backed off the doctor.

The door opened slowly and Josh hooked it to the wall so it wouldn’t close on Vin.

“Carter…” Tanner said slowly. “What are you doing in here? If you don’t like KP all you had to do was tell me.”

Jefferson Carter’s head came up slow and he stared at the man standing in the door. Stared into the sapphire blue eyes of his sergeant. HIS SERGEANT!

“SERGEANT TANNER! SARGE! Ohmygod….sarge!” Carter screamed.

Seconds later Sergeant Tanner was holding a sobbing former Ranger who was babbling about men dying, losing his leg and a Major who had no heart.

“Shhh. It’s okay," Vin soothed.  "Let’s get you up and out of here… you can tell Birdman and me all about it.”

“Birdman?” Carter mumbled looking up. “Birdman! He sliced my leg off with a sword! A sword!”

Vin glanced up at Josh. A sword had been stolen from a museum in Bagdad that was never found.

“Come on,” Dr Bird said quietly. “Let us get you up and out of here so I can look at you.”

Carter looked around cautiously. “Is that other doctor here? He’s a quack. Doesn’t know anything about medicine. I asked him a bunch of questions, and he couldn’t answer any of them. Stared at me like I was talkin’ Greek.”

“That flyer you brought to the ranch,” Josh said quietly. “I’m pretty sure that’s him.” 

“Dad," Vin asked. "Could you help Birdman with Carter?” 

The Commander dropped to one knee next to his son.

Do you know the doctor wearing the blue frock?

Never saw him before. But have never been in this area before. Didn’t know it was here.

He came on a medical student exchange five years ago. Let his visa lapse and disappeared. All Federal agents received a flyer on him recently. Help Josh. I need to call Dragon.

You have a direct line to Dragon?

“Will you two stop with the mental telepathy?” Josh barked.

“What?” Both men were heard to say.

Agent Tanner jumped to his feet and walked to the wall opposite ‘Doctor Herman.’ Dialing a number that only he knew and would identify him to the man who answered, Vin gave his code name ‘Falcon.’ Tanner then went on to explain where he was and why. And, who he had found.

Dragon said they had a team on the ground in the area and would be there within the hour. It was one of the private veteran homes that were under investigation.

During Vin’s conversation, ‘Dr Herman’ turned and attempted to leave, however, Vin stopped that from happening by shouting in Dutch to Jackson to hold the man for authorities. 

“Son,” Michael Tanner said loudly, as he and Josh lifted Carter onto a gurney. “Someone named Michael Whitehorse is in one of these rooms.”

“Whitehorse?” Vin spun around and was in Miss Jones’ face. “You want to tell me what is going on here?”

“I-I’ve never been here before. Dr Herman is in charge. He came four years ago. He picks his own orderlies….and his nurse …oh lord, Miss Rose… she does paperwork and other things for him.”

Tanner spun around. “Jackson! Put a squad together. I want that man, who is not a doctor by the way, isolated. Put him in one room under guard and all HIS orderlies in another. Army investigators will be here shortly.”

“Yes sir!” Jackson replied smartly.

Tanner started walking down the hall looking in the window of each locked door. He stopped at the second door and stared. “We have a dead man here!”

“Lieutenant! Whitehorse is here! He’s chained to the wall and this guy says the keys for the room are …inside.”

“Sarge…” Carter rasped from behind Vin.

Vin gripped Jefferson Carter’s hand and leaned close to his face. Tanner learned that the locks on these doors aren’t really very sturdy and one swift karate kick could open them if you hit them in the right place. Vin asked if Carter knew that place. Carter wasn’t sure but he saw a guy hit a lock with his fist a couple of times and then he pushed it open.

“We’re taking you home with us, okay?” 

“Horses, right?”

“Lots of horses, and a dog that understands sign language.”

Vin watched Miss Jones and two others take Carter through to the ‘good’ side of the hospital area. Then Tanner walked up to one of the orderlies that had been rounded up.

“Where are the keys to the chains that hold him?”

“On the ring above the door, with the key that unlocks the door,” the man sneered. “He’s a mean piece of shit.”

“When was the last time he was feed?” Tanner growled low in his throat.

“Hell if I know! A week or two maybe,” the orderly gushed.

No one said a word as Agent Tanner’s fist hit the orderlies’ stomach and then his jaw.

Commander Tanner smiled as he watched his son get into ‘his zone.’ He knew now that he’d been this close to Vin before.

It was a voice he hadn’t heard in years. A voice that Vin had heard twice in his Army life.

“Move back please. Seven, eight feet away from this room. You are about to see the energy of this man open this door. And don’t laugh. I’m visible proof that he can do it.” Colonel Chamberlain explained taking a position next to Michael Tanner.

“Colonel, good to see you again, sir. It’s been a while,” Vin replied with a smile.

“And you. Let’s get Whitehorse out of there.”

Vin paced off five feet from the door and then dropped to a crouch and stared hard at the keyhole.

No one watching dared breath.

When it happened, it happened fast. The ATF agent, Army Ranger, bounty hunter sprang to his feet and with a Cherokee yell hit the lock with one swift kick and it bounced wide open into the room hanging on one hinge.

People started to rush for the door but were stopped by a bark from Colonel Chamberlain. “He’s Tanner’s man! Only he goes in.”

Inside the room, Michael Whitehorse’s whole body jerked. It wasn’t the noise of the door banging open; it was the yell he heard. A voice from his past he never thought he would hear again.

Vin stared at his Cherokee brother, a long time childhood friend.

Without turning, Vin asked, “I don’t suppose Spider is here.”

“He is! They just locked him away yesterday. And now that we know how to open these doors… we’ll bring him.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5 – His Uncle is His Grandfather

 

 

 

 

Whitehorse’s head lifted slowly and he stared into the serious face of his childhood best friend …the boy who had saved him from drowning when he was four years old.

Vin was his blood brother who had been ripped out of his grandfather’s arms and taken away. Whitehorse stared into the calculating blue eyes he knew was a fierce Army fighting machine. A man he would walk through hell to save.

“Brother….” Whitehorse rasped. “I think you may be too late.”

“Like hell!” Vin roared. “You survived Ranger survival school, didn’t you?”

“Sarge,” Austin Hewlett said quietly not wanting to venture into the room.

Vin raised one hand and pointed to the ceiling. “Need those …down here.”

Spider looked up. Kicked off his shoes and said, “A piece of cake.”

Mouths dropped open. Gasps were heard as Austin Hewlett, known as Spider since he was five years old, climbed the wall. He crawled along the ceiling to the hook that held the keys to the chains holding Michael Whitehorse in a standing position.

“Catch!” Spider quipped watching his Sergeant catch them.

“Colonel!” Vin shouted. “Need two of your strongest men.”

“Stay up there, Spider, need you to unlock the wrists once his ankles are free.”

[][][][][][][]

Back at the ranch Beau, Ben and Jerry sat in Vin’s study going through the six video clips of sexual assault that Margaret had found within the unsolved cases in the Denver Police Department and the Washington DC Police Department. They were amazed that no one before had matched ‘the man in black’ with Chris Larabee. He was a rapist walking free. 

“This one on Vin…” Beau said. “We’d better not let Vin see it. He has enough nightmares already.” 

CLUNK!

The three men bolted from their chairs at the sound of something dropping to the floor. They were horrified to see Matthew standing there staring at the TV screen, his chess case on the floor.

“CUT IT!” Ben blasted. “Matt…?”

“We’re going to fry him, aren’t we? Cut him up into little bitsy pieces and feed him to the sharks,” Matthew growled fiercely.

“HEY GUYS!” Jersey called, running down the hall from the kitchen. “Matthew might be coming back… Hi Matt.”

Looking at the three stunned men, Jersey continued, “Five alarm fire in Boulder. All downtown events are cancelled. I’ll bring more Danish. Might as well tell him Beau, ‘cause Matt has a tale of his own involving Chris Larabee.”

Beau put his arm around Matthew and drew him into the study. “We are making plans for Agent Larabee. But we can’t jeopardize Vin or the ranch.”

“Does Dad know about this?” Matthew asked looking around.

“Vin was asked by Judge Travis to get evidence on Larabee involving several sexual harassment complaints. It wasn’t until yesterday that he discovered who attacked him in Washington DC five years ago. Then he found out what happened with you… we’re preparing a pioneer house up on the mountain that Montana found.”

“Why not use the house in the woods?” Matt asked walking to the front window.

“What house in the woods?” Came a unison question.

“The house out here…” Matt responded pointing to the thick grove of trees off the side porch. “Ringo and I found it last year. I go out there to study at night.”

“Thought you were in the loft at night,” Ben said.

“What loft?” Matt asked turning to look at the three.

“You don’t know where the loft is?” Beau asked. “It’s where we figured you were at night.”

“You show me the loft and I’ll show you the house,” the teenager said as Jersey entered with more sweet rolls.

“You don’t know where the loft is?” Jersey said putting down the sweet rolls. “Come on, Beau and I will show you.”

Beauregard gave their chef the eye, something wasn’t right here. Jersey rarely went up into the loft and then Beau realized it was Jersey’s way of telling him that Matthew may also have a problem.

“Ben, you and Jerry start making up those packets. Photos of each incident, plus a video clip. Put only the date and the place on the outside though,” Beau said.

“Okay Matthew… to the loft. It has a wide screen TV, wi fi, books, and just a great place to teenagers to hang out.”

Matt followed Jersey toward the back of the house and then stopped short as a door was opened.

“I thought this was a closet…” Matt said softly peering up the stairs.

“Most of the guys think it is,” Jersey stated opening the door wide. “But it is a special place for family to hang out. Come on.”

Matthew stood staring up the stairs. It wasn’t like the stairs he remembered; those were dark at the top. Now he could see sunlight, bright sunlight. Slowly he started up the stairs pushing out all the bad memories of being forced into a dark attic for punishment he didn’t deserve.

Near the top, Beau gently laid a hand on Matthew’s back, saying, “Doing good Matt, almost there.”

Matthew felt the hand and memories washed over him. Screaming he yelled, “IT WASN’T ME! I DIDN’T DO IT! WHY DO YOU ALWAYS BLAME ME? I’M NOT EVEN YOUR SON. PLEASE….PLEASE, DON’T PUT ME IN THIS ATTIC AGAIN!!”

As Jersey pulled Matthew up the last two steps and into his arms, Ben and Jerry raced up the stairs behind Beau who held up his hand to stop them.

The three watched Jersey cuddle Matthew, soothing him with words they knew Vin had soothed Jersey with through similar nightmares. Beau motioned the others down and he followed.

-=-=-=-=-=-

“It’s okay, Matthew. You’re okay. No one is going to hurt you. Cry it out. Just let it go,” Jersey whispered and as the sobs turned to choking coughs.

“When… when Beau touched… me. The man I thought was my father.. he’d put me… force me to climb dark stairs to the attic and then close… lock me up there. I never did anything. But I was always punished.”

Jersey held Matthew and told him some of his own horror stories of childhood and how Vin had brought him through all the screaming nightmares he used to have.

“Don’t ever be afraid or embarrassed to tell Vin something. He’s lived a horrible life too. Now let me show you what is up here. Then you have to show them where this house is …because Larabee is going to vanish and be used as the whore that he is.”

-=-=-=-=-=-

“Beau…” Matthew mumbled timidly as he knocked on his dad’s study door.

Beauregard Gainsfield opened the door and embraced Matthew. “Don’t ever be afraid to tell any of us if something scares the shit out of you, you hear?”

“Yes sir.

“Now, where is this house you’re talking about? We have just looked at the aerial views of the mountain and we don’t see any house here.”

“Dad has a magazine in a binder here somewhere, about a recluse, a hermit who lived on the mountain. Everyone in Four Corners knew him but no one could ever find where he lived.”

“You mean this,” Jerry asked walking to a bookcase and picking up a blue binder. “It has pictures of a very old house made with logs and mortar. It says people have exploded the mountain for years and never found it.”

“Ringo and I found it. Come on, I’ll show you.”

 -=-=-=-=

Outside Matthew whistled for Ringo who came bounding up to Matt for some loving. After a good petting, Matt stood up and said, “From a point off the kitchen you walk into the trees here… follow me.”

Ben, Jerry and Beau followed Matthew and Ringo into the mini-forest.

“This tree that looks like a Y …growing from one trunk and then splitting into two trees – go left here.” Matthew instructed.

Beau checked his watch, timing how long it took point to point.

“The red bush… it is red all year long even in the winter…turn right and walk until you get to the house….”

“I’ll be damned!” Ben Flowers yelped upon seeing the house. “This place has been here for years. LOOK….the date on the house is 1895. I would bet whoever built the house also planted the trees.”

Beau agreed. “The thicker the trees, the harder to get a horse through. Keep the Indians away. Bet they were farmers. Coco’s gardens are flourishing. Matthew! This is a wonderful discovery. Show us the inside.”

Inside they found an open floor plan with a small kitchen built into a corner near a large fireplace that held a good sized wood burning stove. Plus a built-in eating area and two very small bedrooms. Upstairs they discovered two more bedrooms, one of which had a chemical toilet.

“I’d like to have Roy come in here and have a look.” Beau said walking through the small house. “These two small bedrooms look like it was once a larger bedroom. And that one window up there has bars on it. Good to keep Larabee in.”

“What about Dad?”

The men looked at him.

“I mean… this close to the house.”

“What did Vin say the other day,” Ben responded. “Put something in plain view and it goes unnoticed. One, I think your dad will love … is that you found the house he has hunted the mountain for. And two…our guys walk through this mini forest every day and no one has found this place yet. Yes, Beau. Call Roy and get him in here.”

-=-=-=-

Matthew walked back out to the edge of the trees to meet the Montana boys, who followed him into the forest as he explained the way again. Now the two men stood with gaping mouths unable to speak.

“Welcome!” Beauregard said loudly bringing them back to earth.

“This is unbelievable! A house like this so close and no one has ever found it,” Roy exclaimed. “This is the place Tanner’s been hunting for right? For the last ten years he’s looked for this place.”

“Come on in… I think it is workable for the two of you and Larabee.”

An hour later, Roger said, “No problem turning these two bedrooms back into one. And we can put bunks on either end and still have room. In fact that Home Décor place in Four Corners is having a sale on Murphy Beds. We could put one here and one up on that other bedroom upstairs. No electricity, but that is why it hasn’t been found. I wonder how that hermit got this wood burner in here. Must have been a chore. One pot meals work for us. Roy can get his camping skills back. We can soundproof the upstairs with that foam padding too. The house on the creek floods and the other one is too open… This one is perfect.”

“House on the creek?” Matt questioned. “The one with the stone basement?”

As the heads nodded agreement

Matt frowned. “That basement has spiders. They come out at night… big time. One night when I first got here and went out riding with Ringo, we stopped there. Ringo was barking at something and when I opened the door, I discovered the basement. Ringo wouldn’t go down so I got my flashlight. Hundreds of black spiders all over the floor!”

“I hate spiders!” Beauregard and Roger barked together.

“This house has everything we need - a separate area for Larabee. A bedroom for Roy and I. We can cook here. I prefer we did our own cooking as we’ll have to feed Larabee too.”

“Okay… go through here and give me a new list for what needs to be built or changed,” Beau said. “We need to get it done ASAP. Once Vin brings this package to Travis, I’m sure an arrest warrant will be issued for Larabee.”

“Why can’t we take him now?” Matt asked. “Why can’t you take what you have to Travis? Get him started on whatever needs to be done. Dad probably won’t be back until tomorrow or Monday. No one will think he is involved if he isn’t here.”

“Are you sure you aren’t a Tanner?” Beau quizzed tilting his head to study the young man.

Matthew grinned. “I listen and I learn.”

“Hey guys!” Ben called from upstairs. “Better come up here and look at these rooms. I think someone was a prisoner up here. Those bars on the windows aren’t for animals.”

Matthew followed Beau and Roger up the stairs to the small hall between the two rooms.

“Bars on this window are solid steel,” Roy said as he pulled on them.

“And here you have a real hide-a-bed…” he remarked pulling on a leather thong.

Beau whistled as a double bed seemed to uncurl from the wall.

“Built-in dresser behind Matt. Chemical commode in that corner. And … if you pull that handle you will see bars that go almost to the ceiling. I do believe we have found a place for our man.”

They followed Roy’s instructions to move out of the room and into the other, and then watched as he pulled the bars across the room’s opening and latched it closed.

Beauregard grinned. Slapping Matthew on the shoulder, he exclaimed, “Matthew! You have done good!”

“Now for this room,” Roger wondered out loud. “A playroom for our guest?”

Roger walked around the room while the others stood in the doorway.

”A table bolted to the floor. Foam covering on the table top. A futon over here. A place for sex toys… condoms… a spittoon for used condoms. Got your measuring tape Roy, let’s get this measured. Home Depot and Lowe’s are having a clearance sale this weekend. We need to get rattling. We’ll do the upstairs first. Too bad the place doesn’t have electricity.”

Matthew grinned. Walking over to a panel at the top of the stairs he pushed the round black button.

“What the?” Three grown men yelped.

Matthew laughed. “If this is where that hermit lived, he would have put the lights in. The only place near here would have been Larabee’s.”

“Are we really in that much of a rush?” Beau asked.

“Josh called!” Jerry said coming up the stairs. “They are bringing wounded back with them. It’s a hell hole there. They uncovered a fake doctor who is killing off American veterans. He met his dad. Knew him right away. His father is a retired SEAL commander. Never been on a ranch or near a horse. So yeah, I think Matt has a great idea. Let’s get this taken care. Test out the sound to see if it really needs to be soundproofed. It’s Saturday, so Larabee is probably working in his barn. We’ll want him here before we spring the videos on Travis. And I think we need to draw Colt into this. At least part of it. His father went to law school with Travis. He could take what we already have….”

“No!” Beau barked, “No one outside our perimeter. I will call Travis and tell him that Vin asked us to search for what Travis wanted. And that we are finding incriminating things. I will tell him that Vin is in Sacramento and unavailable. I will give him the option of waiting for Tanner to get back or meet me with what we have so far.”

[][][][][][]

Michael Whitehorse sagged into the strong arms of two bulky soldiers, and was lifted by them onto a gurney to be taken to a triage center that had been set up in the lobby.

Whitehorse mumbled some words in Cherokee and Vin leaned closer, responding in a bare whisper. “Beauregard is still alone. You fight, little Indian pussy cat.”

The growled response was fierce. “Who you calling a pussy cat, white man!”

Tanner just grinned and stepped back. He pulled his phone and walked over to where his father was standing.

“Need to call and see how Matthew is doing at his chess match,” Vin explained.

“Matthew?” Commander Tanner gasped.

“A young teen I adopted two years ago. Who we thought were his parents abandoned him on the streets of Denver. Turned out they had kidnapped him when he was five. Lost his parents in a flood.”

“In a flood?” The Commander whispered.

“Dad?”

“Come to my room. Tell Miss Jones where you are going.”

-=-=-=-

Vin stared at the photos his father was laying out on a small table. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“This is Major Cribley,” Vin responded.

“You know him?” The Commander asked surprised that his son did.

“He was the first officer I served under when I graduated from sniper school. My squad stood up for him and Emily when they got married.”

“This Emily?” Michael Tanner asked quietly.

“Yes.”

“Nine months later …to the day, they had a son named Matthew. When Matthew was five, his father was killed.”

“I know,” Vin answered tightly. “It was the first personal loss I suffered. And all my expertise as a sniper couldn’t save him.”

The Commander reached back to a bookcase behind him and brought forth a red, white and blue photo album. On the cover was a photo of Major Marcus Cribley.

“These were taken at Arlington…” The Commander replied quietly. “She and Matthew walked most of the way, until I picked him up and carried him. I held him during the ceremony and explained why the riflemen were there.”

“You... were the Navy man dressed in white among all the Army brass? He had his head on your shoulder when the flag was being folded.”

Commander Tanner looked up shocked. “You were there?”

“My squad … we were those riflemen. Michael Whitehorse. Jefferson Carter. Jackson. Torpedo. Me and two others who have passed away. He wrote his own funeral, and he requested that we be there… by name.”

“I cannot believe the number of times we have been so close. Emily was my sister. She and my father were lost in that flood. We never found Matthew. We assumed he drown too.” Michael replied.

Vin gasped, and then he sat back in his chair and started to laugh. “I adopted a Tanner and changed his name to Tanner. Now his uncle is his grandfather.”

Then Michael Tanner joined the laugher. “Uncle Grandpa. I like that.”

Vin pulled his phone and called the ranch. ‘Jersey. Have you heard from Matthew? How did he do?”

Jersey stared at the group around him.

Matthew took the phone and said, “Hi Dad. Match was called because of a big five-alarm fire in downtown Boulder. They are going to hunt for another place.”

Before Vin could answer, Matt continued. “You know that house you have been looking for? The one that hermit lived in on the mountain. The house you’ve looked for years and years. Ringo and I found it. Can’t wait to show you where it is.”

Vin stared at his phone and shook his head.

“Matt, remember when we talked about that flood. You remembered sitting on a table and bouncing in the water. And about a man dressed in white that carried you through a big grave yard?”

“Dad... I think that was just a dream.”

“It wasn’t a dream, Matthew. It really happened. Your mother and your grandfather were lost in that flood. The man in white was a Navy man. He held you during your father’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. He’s your mother’s brother.”

“He’s real! All that was real! Have you met him there?”

Vin looked at his dad who had a huge smile spreading across his whole face.

“Yes, he’s here. He was told that you drown with your mother. I’m looking at him, Matthew. He – is - my father.”

Behind him Matthew heard laughter. Then Jersey burst forth with… “Your uncle is now your grandfather. What a hoot! That means Matt… you really are a Tanner!”

“Okay, what is going on guys?” Vin asked seriously.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 6 – Breaking News

 

“It’s Beau. Did some research on Chris Larabee. Discovered that your father tried to get him court martialed for inappropriate sexual behavior. An admiral shipped him out before it could go through. The hermit’s house is in the mini forest in front of the ranch house. It is a fairly big small house. Perfect for the Montana boys and our prisoner to be. It is where Matthew has been studying at night because he is terrified of attics. Like you and small places. His kidnappers used to punish him even though he wasn’t bad by locking him up in a dark attic. He had a melt-down today in the loft. Jersey handled it like a pro. I want to talk to you privately about something that Matt suggested.”

“Matt knows about this?” Vin barked angrily.

Matt came home early and walked into the study. He saw part of your rape by Larabee.”

“Captain Larabee…” Michael Tanner roared. “I will kill that bastard.”

“I need to talk with you, Vin. Let me have Margaret set up a secure line. Does the Commander have a phone in his room?”

Vin called Josh and told him what was going down and that he’d be unavailable for a while. Then he called Margaret on his father’s phone.

“I have you on speaker Beau, go ahead.”

“The hermit’s house is amazing. It is exactly as the pictures in that old magazine you have. The date on the outside is 1895. We could tell that the trees are planted in such a way that the house is totally protected which is why no one has found it. You can walk right past it and not notice it because of the trees. The house by the creek is out. Matt and Ringo stopped there one night and discovered the basement full of black spiders. The hermit house has a rain collector and we could put solar panels on the roof though it is pretty shady with the trees. Has a pot belly stove inside a fireplace. Probably something the hermit put in. But, that could heat the whole place. Two small bedrooms, probably kids’ rooms downstairs… and get this… upstairs are two rooms without doors. One has iron bars on the window and a barred gate like thing that rolls out and locks a prisoner in. Plus a bed that rolls out of the wall. The other room has nothing in it but Roger has some ideas for turning it into a playroom for our guest… not for his enjoyment but ours.”

“It sounds like you are planning to kidnap Larabee,” Commander Tanner questioned.

“Exactly!” Vin replied. “He’ll probably go to jail for life but be dead in a week if not sooner. I told him when he left me in that alley that if I ever found out who he was… that hell would be safer.”

“Actually boss man, Matthew came up with this idea and Ben, Jerry and I and now Jersey would like to run with it.”

“Which is?” Vin asked wondering what they had come up with.

“I call Travis,” Beau began, “and set up an appointment with him. Tell him you asked our help on the Larabee project. Let him know we have found seven so far and is he interested to see them. Plus, make him aware that you are in Sacramento and we don’t know when you will be back. If Larabee disappears while you are gone, you won’t be suspect… and Jersey has a homemade concoction that keeps dogs away. He made it up to keep Ringo out of his vegetable garden.”

“Matt’s idea was to leak what we have about Senator Godfrey’s son however that security tape doesn’t show rape. It shows Johnny Godfrey coming onto Larabee and them having sex in a parking lot in broad daylight. Which I think Travis also needs to see because I am sure the Senator would edit out his son begging to be fucked by Larabee.”

Vin stared at the phone. He was beginning to think they were all insane.

“This is Commander Tanner. Go with it! Any backlash, I will take the heat. I know what Larabee did in the Navy. He is a sexual pervert. If you have men that want him, let him be taken. For what is happening here. It will be a couple of days before it is cleaned up and the wounded can travel. Tell my nephew that I look forward to getting to know him again. In fact, I think I am the one who taught him to play chess. And for what is happening here …you might take Larabee before you release anything you found.”

<KNOCK KNOCK>

“We have to go, Beau. Leave a clean house… like he just stepped out to check the horses. No prints, no tracks the dogs can follow. Will check in with you later. And have Margaret monitor the national news. What is happening here will break soon.”

[][][][][]

“Sergeant Tanner!” Dr Vanderlaan responded loudly, surprised to see the young man he’d patched together years ago.

“Doc? What brings you here?” Vin replied while hearing his father’s thought. Dr Impossible.

Frowning, Vin looked at his dad. “Dr Impossible.”

The Commander shook his head. “Can’t get use this… you hearing my thoughts before I even say them.”

“Must be a Tanner trait because Matthew and I do it all the time.”

“Wait a minute!” Dr. Vanderlaan quizzed. “This is the son you have been looking for all your life?”

“Yes.” Commander Tanner answered quietly.

“No wonder I was confused in Germany years ago. Two residents complaining about how stubborn patient Tanner was.” The doctor said.

Then continuing, Dr Vanderlaan asked Vin’s question. “I’m here for Jefferson Carter. Birdman called me.”

Vin turned serious eyes on his father, he knew what specialty Dr Vanderlaan had gone into. Vin looked at his father from head to toe. It’s then he noticed that one shoe wasn’t exactly the same.

Before Vin could say anything the Commander replied, “Some hotshot Army sniper told me to always shot to kill. I didn’t listen. Had my knee cap shot off. My shin shattered as I went down. I made sure I followed his instructions from then on.”

A soft whistle behind them telling Falcon to back down was overlooked by the sniper. Instead he glared at his father saying, “You are the second person in two days that has called me a hotshot! To me a hotshot is a braggart and a booster on how good he is. I am not that! Never have been, never will be. I’m given a job; I go in and do it. Matthew’s right. It’s about time I hang up my guns and just be a rancher.”

With that said, Vin turned and walked out of the room past Josh, down the hall and into a door marked “Break Room.”

[][][][][]

Vin didn’t notice Samantha Jones sitting in the corner with a cup of coffee until after he was on his phone talking to Jersey. Then he stared at her and her smile reached through his wall and warmed his heart like no one had since his mother died.

“What? Jersey? Yes. No. He called me a hotshot. I got pissed and ….” And then Vin reverted to Russian as he described the woman sitting across from him.

“My love for you will always be true,” Jersey purred into his master’s eye.

” Josh and I are good for each other. Because of our past, we will never violate the other. But you my master, you need a woman. We need some babies here. Go with your heart.”

Putting his phone back in his pocket, his eyes still locked on hers, Vin said, “The Army has kind of pushed you aside, haven’t they?" 

“I’m really surprised on how efficient the Army is. From the way the men here talked, I thought they would be totally unorganized and a bunch of jerks. That was Russian you were speaking, right?”

“Yes. Jersey is the chef for the household. We have another chef that feeds the flock of service men that come through the ranch. Did you understand what I was saying?”

“Only the word woman,” Samantha replied with a smile.

“He has a name no one can pronounce and since he was from New Jersey he got the name Jersey. When he gets angry, he spouts off in Russian. I learned Russian so I could understand him and talk with him. He is shy around women and every new soldier that comes to the ranch he watches. He was attacked by some men when he first came into the Army. I was out of sniper school and had just received my first assignment. Pulled the two men off him and told them to be careful because I could kill them from a mile away if they ever touched him again.”

“Can you? Kill someone from that far away?” Samantha asked as she sipped her coffee.

“It’s possible… depending on the terrain… the wind… a lot of things.”

“Coffee?” Sam asked standing.

“My coffee melts a spoon,” Vin said not moving.

“Then you’ll like this,” she said walking over to get another cup and pouring him one.

“I was married for a year. My husband died in a freak accident at Fort Hood. He got me hooked on this coffee that melts spoons. In fact, I have this spoon…” Sam opened a drawer and pulled out a spoon that was just a handle. She liked his laugh, she decided.

“I put it in my coffee sometimes. It blows Caroline’s mind. What is going to happen to her? She helped Dr Herman a lot.”

“She’s been arrested. They found over 500 wallets in boxes in her house. They are making a list to try to track who they belong to. Those that are here, theirs will be returned. “

“SHE’s been taking them?” Sam exclaimed. “We thought we had a thief in our midst. Men would lose those two days after they were admitted. She has the hots for Dr Bird. Said she has scrapbooks on everything he did in high school and college.”

Sipping the coffee handed to him, Vin grinned. “Hmmm, this is good. Think I’ll take you home with me.”

“Josh said his sister was always telling him that this girl or that who had the hots for him. He never had time in high school he said. Sports took up his time and college was all geared toward medical school.”

Suddenly Vin realized he was sitting alone in a coffee room with a woman he knew nothing about and sharing his heart with her. “Who are you?” He suddenly blurt out.

Samantha laughed. “I take it you’re not used to talking much.”

“I deal with men all day long and then go home and deal with more men.” Vin explained as he watched her tear off a corner of a napkin and roll it into a tiny spitball.

Samantha Jones. Holy hell, its Sammy Jo!

“Where are you from?” Vin asked as he sipped his coffee.

“Texas. Little town outside of Austin. A place no one has ever heard of.”

“Killeen,” Vin ventured.

“You’ve heard of it?” Sam yelped almost spilling her coffee

Vin grinned. He was definitely taking her home. “Texas made, born and raised. How good are you with those spitballs? You’ve got quite a pile there.”

Samantha looked down. She wasn’t even aware she’d been making them. Hadn’t made them in years. “Who are you? I haven’t made these in years.” 

Vin laughed. “Had a feeling I knew you when I walked in here. Wasn’t sure from where, until you started making those. Only one girl I know in the world who does and that is – Sammy J Jones.”

“No one has called me Sammy Jo since grade school.” Samantha replied setting down her coffee.


Vin smiled, his grin growing wider as he spoke. “I was in love with you in the fourth grade until you got me in trouble for shooting a spitball into Mrs Fletcher’s water. Was kind of hard to do when my left arm was tied to my desk.”

“Vin? I don’t remember any Vin …. VIN-CENT MICHAEL TANNER! Ohgod! I have loved you forever! I was so darn mad when they moved you to another school.”

“Now I know you are coming home with me,” Vin said grinning.

Sam and Vin jumped when a sharp knock was heard on the door and Colonel Chamberlain stepped in.

“Agent Tanner.”

“Colonel.”

“You will be opening the press conference…”

“Me?” Vin yelped. “I only came here to meet my father.”

Colonel Chamberlain gave his former sniper a stare.  “You uncovered something that we have been trying to get a handle on for months. You called us …remember?”

Vin sent a glance to Sammy Jo who held up another spoonless spoon.

Pushing off the wall, Tanner said, “I came here to meet my father who I have looked for since I was a teenager. What I found were soldiers I had served with, some of which were being mistreated and a doctor who was not a doctor.”

“Which is when you called for backup,” Chamberlain replied.

“I’ve been on the sidelines of news conferences with the ATF. These reporters are going to already know facts that we don’t know.”

“Excuse me Colonel …,” a man said walking up behind Chamberlain.  “Agent Tanner. What team are you with in Denver?”

“Team Seven. Chris Larabee’s team.”

“A Federal arrest warrant has just been issued for him.”

“A warrant? For what?” Vin asked sharply though he already knew.

“Sexual assault and rape. Judge Orin Travis has ordered his arrest.”

“Colonel, mind if I turn on this TV? We better know what is coming from the press out there.”

Samantha stood next to Vin, his arm around her as they watched the background of Agent Chris Larabee, former Navy SEAL, former Denver PD Homicide Detective, now a wanted fugitive. Two videos clips were being shown, one that happened in Washington DC and one that happened in Denver. The reporter was saying that seven confirmed cold cases were now active. Each one shows Agent Larabee in the act of rape.

Sam turned her face into Vin’s shoulder as a man was carried out of an alley wrapped in a blood soaked sheet. Pulling her close, Vin edged her out of the room and into the hall where he bumped into Josh Bird.

Josh Bird was staring at a text message from Jersey.

Our master has found a lady. We’re going to have babies here. That room you like. I’m fixing it up for us! Whitehorse will stay with Beau. That is the one Beau has always loved. Bring them home safe.”

Birdman looked up to see Vin staring at him.

“I want you to stay with Sammy Jo. I don’t think you’ll be called out,” Vin said quietly.

“You do realize that it is only a matter of time before they find out that last one was you,” Josh said in a bare whisper.

“I know.” Vin answered quietly.

“That bloody man was you?” Sam rasped, tears on her face.

“Sammy Jo?” Josh quipped. “The spitball queen?”

“That’s me.” Sam laughed.

“Sgt Tanner… we’re ready.

“You stay with Josh,” Vin said kissing her lightly on the nose before walking to the door. Near the entrance Tanner saw Jackson. Speaking to him, Vin told him to stay with Miss Jones if Birdman was called out for the press. 

“Heard you disappeared with her,” Jackson responded.

“Yes. And you’d best protect her at all costs or you’ll be sleeping in a basement full of spiders.”

“Hell, Sarge, you know I hate those… oh right. Gotcha.”

[][][][][][] 

Buck Wilmington, JD Dunne, Josiah Sanchez and Ezra Standish had gathered at Buck’s condo after Travis called each of them to say that Chris was being arrested. The men were silently watching the news when a sharp knock was heard and before anyone could get up to answer it the door burst open and Federal agents stormed in with a search warrant.

“You better damn well fix that door, Corbet!” Buck roared looking at the dent in the door.

“Where’s Larabee?” Another man questioned looking around. “This warrant gives us the right to check every room!”

“Go right ahead,” Buck responded. “But his ranch is where you’ll find him.”

“He’s not at his ranch,” Corbet roared.

“Did you check his barn…the hayloft…the pasture where the horses are?” Agent Sanchez quizzed staring angrily into a fellow Federal agent’s face.

“We’ve been out there, Sanchez. His back door was wide open. A bottle of scotch on the kitchen counter. Truck parked in the garage with the keys in it. Called out some dogs… all they did was run back and forth to the barn and the house.”

“It’s clear Corbet.”

“Where does Tanner live?” Corbet demanded.

It was then that Ezra snatched the warrant out of Corbet’s hand and read it.

“Mr Wilmington. I believe you have cause… this warrant is only issued for Larabee’s ranch. These men have illegally entered your establishment.”

“What?” Buck roared reading over the paper Ezra handed him. 

“Corbet! I’m getting you fired. Erza, call the Judge. If they didn’t find Chris at his ranch that means someone watching the news has picked him up …which means these jerks have messed up a crime scene.”

“HEY GUYS! Vin’s on TV!” JD shouted.

All conversation stopped as the local news station said they were patching into a national news story that was breaking in Sacramento, California.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 7 – Changes All Around

 

 

Chris Larabee came to slowly. He blinked, frowning at the plastered ceiling above him. Sitting up he took in his surroundings. Primitive. Early American. Like a pioneer cabin.

Slowly standing, then falling back onto the bed as vertigo took over, Larabee studied the walls. He took in the barred window and the bars across half the room. Bars! Where the hell am I?

Standing, he walked to the window trying to see through the distorted glass. All he saw were trees. Lots and lots of trees. Turning slowly, he noticed that the bed seemed to come from an opening in the wall. When he lifted it by a strap on the front, he was amazed when it started to retract into the wall. He caught it before it disappeared, pulling it back out. He stared at the chemical toilet, the vintage water basin and pitcher which he discovered was filled with water and had a cup attached to one side.

“Hell, I’m back in the eighteen hundreds,” Chris barked. Still, he emptied himself into the toilet and followed the directions on the wall above it. He was surprised when it actually worked.

At the sound of the toilet going, Roger Montana jogged up the stairs and leaned against the wall.

“Well, well, sleeping beauty has awakened. Margaret. Activate the wall monitor in there and show him why he is here. Then go to the news from California. You’d best get as much rest as you can Larabee … because once that news conference is over… you will be tied bare naked over a table in your little play room over here and your body will be used as you have used others.”

Chris swallowed hard staring at the bearded blond man. He grabbed for the bars to steady himself as he heard a local newscaster say…

        “An arrest warrant has been issued for ATF Agent

        Chris Larabee. You heard right. The team leader of

        The Magnificent Seven, the best team in the country,

        Denver’s most eligible bachelor is being arrested for

        sexual abuse and rape. So far, seven security videos

        have been turned into Judge Orin Travis of rapes

        Agent Larabee has done over the years in Denver and in

        Washington, DC. Federal agents were at his ranch just an

        hour ago looking for him. Dogs have been brought out to

        see if he can be found. He will be held in a Federal jail

        outside of Denver until his arraignment and trial.”

 

Chris plunked down on the bed as Vin Tanner’s assault was shown and then one from Denver; both gotten from security cameras in the area. Both were cold cases that have been reactivated as were several others.

Chris Larabee closed his eyes as he heard Tanner’s voice once again. You’ll rue the day you did that. You’ll think dying will be better. When I find you, you will be mine.

[][][][][][]

“You’re on,” Sammy Jo whispered as Vin kissed her on the nose. “Something good will come from this, Vin. It will.”

“You and I will … no matter what happens here today.”

Vin had no way of knowing his whole life was going to change once he started speaking.

“Good afternoon. I am Federal Agent Vin Tanner with Denver ATF. I am not here, however, in that capacity. I am a son who came looking for his father.”

“DENVER ATF! You’re Larabee’s sniper! There’s an arrest warrant out for him?” A reporter shouted.

Arrest warrant? What for?” Tanner asked quietly.

“Sexual assault! Rape!” Responded another.

“Don’t know anything about it. Dr Bird and I left Denver early this morning. We are not here to discuss the ATF. I am not here as a Federal Agent. I have been looking for my father since I was a teenager. Twenty-four hours ago, through a DNA search I found him here.”

The same obnoxious reporter asked loudly, “Are you Sergeant Tanner… the Army’s best sniper or this Lieutenant Vin Tanner that appeared out of nowhere that no one knows about?”

Vin turned and looked at Colonel Chamberlain who walked over shaking his head. 

“He is both Sergeant Vin Tanner and Lieutenant Vin Tanner. A man named Colonel Borst gave him a field commission in the heat of battle to Lieutenant. Tanner went toe to toe to the man telling him he was a sergeant and could do more as a sergeant than a lieutenant. To make a long story short, the paperwork on it got lost and even though I and several others have tried to explain it to Army personnel, no one seems to get it. As far as the Army is concerned Sergeant Tanner went MIA that day and Lieutenant Tanner who’d never been on the books before suddenly appeared. Maybe after today they will get it straight. However as Agent Tanner explained, we are not here for that or for Larabee. We are here for what he found and what he found is why he called me.”

[][][][][]

In Washington DC, phones were ringing in the White House staff office, in Army Headquarters and in ATF offices. One man on the screen was four people… a sergeant, a lieutenant, an ATF agent and a Dutch Medal of Honor winner. 

An Army General was staring at paper work on his desk from the Dutch Consulate who wanted to give a Medal of Honor to Sergeant Vin Tanner. General Roskamp had no clue where this Sergeant Tanner was until minutes ago when an aide rushed in and turned on a breaking news story.

“Get me everything we have on Sergeant Vin Tanner and Lieutenant Vin Tanner. We’re getting this straightened out today!” General Roskamp declared.

[][][][][][][]

The head of the ATF and three others gawked at the news conference as Agent Vin Tanner walked up to several microphones.

“Isn’t he Larabee’s sniper?” One questioned. “The one they call ‘invisible’ … stealth walker. He’s not too smart, and how the hell did he pass sniper school if he is dyslexic?”

Clicking away on a laptop, another man grinned. “Your invisible man has an IQ of 145… near genius. He speaks eight languages fluently. I would say he is smarter than the three of us combined. He was the Army’s best sniper and no one has beaten his scores yet.”

“What else do you have on him, Leonard?” their boss asked.

A whistle emerged from the man tapping away on the laptop. “He owns Lookout Mountain which has a working agreement with the Army for taking soldiers who need a place to work back into civilian life from the war zone. He owns the whole damn mountain!”

Leonard burst out laughing. “Sir, what is the name of that little restaurant downtown Denver you like?”

“The Edibles. It is part of a corporate hotel.”

“The corporate hotel is Carmichael Place …which is owned by … Vin Tanner and Colt Hammer. Hammer was an Army Captain. However, they did not serve together. I think sir; you have just found someone to replace Orin Travis. Tanner definitely has ethics and certainly can’t be bought off. Plus being a Texan, he knows how to handle those western cowboy states.”

The Director grinned at his right hand man. “I’ll run it by the President.”

[][][][][][] 

Vin ignored the reporter who constantly brought up Larabee and explained how he tracked his father down.

“When Dr Bird and I ….” And then Tanner stopped.

“Some of you asked earlier who Dr Josh Bird is. In the Army he was known as Birdman. He flew a medical chopper, a bird, into the war zone, did triage and then flew his patients out. He is the youngest son of famed Dr Benjamin Bird in Baltimore. He did not follow his father’s tradition or his brothers’ tradition of going into private practice. And because of that his father disowned him. Cut him off from his own family. He did, however, follow family tradition because his great-great-grandfather was an emergency medical, combat physician during the Civil War. He rode in on horseback, under fire to aid fallen soldiers. Josh is now an on-call Emergency doctor for Denver General Hospital. He flies his own ‘bird’ around the state to aid those who can’t get to a hospital or a doctor. As for his Army career, as a combat physician, I would not be standing here if he had gone into private practice. And there are several hundred Army men, Marines and Special Forces that are alive today because of his flying expertise and his medical know-how. It was Dr. Joshua Alexander Bird who spotted the fake doctor here. He recognized the man from a Federal alert flyer that I brought home to the ranch.”

[][][][][][] 

Two nurses in two different Dr Bird offices rushed into exam rooms and told their bosses to come out immediately and see what was on television. Soon Doctors Robert and Russell Bird were standing in the same outer office watching and listening to Vin Tanner tell about their younger brother they thought was long dead.

“I can’t believe the old man would do such a thing,” Robert remarked staring beyond Tanner to the man he knew was his younger brother.

“Remember the man in the wheelchair at Mom’s funeral who stayed in the back. He talked as though he knew her personally. Said he called her every Wednesday no matter where he was in the world. I have to get that tape out. Bobby, we have to contact him.”

Dr Robert’s nurse jumped and yelped, “That’s him! Standing next to that nurse. That was the Army Captain your father had an argument with at the funeral. Benjamin would not allow him in the church. But someone outside was resourceful because he came back in wrapped up in a wheelchair and no one stopped him.”

“I can’t believe father refused to allow Josh to attend his own mother’s funeral …just because he didn’t want to go into private practice?” Russell growled.

[][][][][][] 

In a board room at a major Baltimore hospital, a meeting was in progress when the television suddenly came on as Agent Tanner was explaining who ‘Birdman’ was. 

One man at the head of the table fumed. “Turn that damn thing off!”

“I think not,” the hospital administrator said as one camera zeroed in on Josh and Samantha.

They watched as Josh motioned to two men who came to stand next to the nurse as Josh walked up to the microphones. He didn’t speak but he acknowledged that he was the man Tanner was talking about. As they listened, the Board of Directors of the hospital was astonished at the works of Dr Josh Bird and what he had done.

One man turned angrily to Benjamin saying, “You cut this man off from your life and his family just because he wouldn’t go into private practice? I know this young man. Have had dinner with him. He is a good surgeon and a great caring person. Several patients in this hospital talk about Birdman. They are alive because of him. You need to retire Benjamin Bird! You are not the man who built this hospital. You died long ago, bitter because one son of three didn’t do as you ordered him to.”

Two women came into the room with trays of coffee and donuts setting them on a buffet opposite the television. One looked up and barked, “its Joshua! Dr Bennett. Remember that pileup on the freeway two years ago when you were called to help. Birdman came. Flew in by Army helicopter. Did triage and surgery right there.”

[][][][][][]

Russell Bird left the newscast and walked into his office locking the door behind him. Sitting at his desk, he looked around and knew what he had to do. First, he called his wife asking her if she was watching television and waited while she turned it on.

“My gosh! Is that Josh?” Mildred Bird exclaimed.

They talked for thirty minutes about selling his practice, their house and moving to their house in Aspen, Colorado. His wife was all for the idea and would check with some realtors yet today

Then Russell called his son who he knew was interviewing today for a summer job.

“I’m striking out on the job hunt, Dad.”

“Good. Because I’m selling my practice and we are selling the house …we’re moving to Aspen. Your Mom is calling some realtors this afternoon.”

“To our house in Aspen? For real? Never coming back here?”

“You okay with that?”

“I am! Yes. I’ll head home and help Mom. But ... are you okay with this?”

“I am okay for the first time in twenty years.”

Russell Bird looked around his office and then grabbed his rolodex, paging through to the man who had been calling him yearly about his practice. If things went the way he hoped, Doctor Todd Bentley would soon have an office here.

[][][][][][][] 

A small, petite woman pushed her way to the front of the line of reporters and cameramen. “Joshua!”

“Mrs. Hancock?” Birdman exclaimed, surprised to see a local reporter here.

“I’m a national correspondent now. I was so angry at your father when he punched you in the chest at the funeral. You were incredible in your uniform. The mini eulogy you gave … from the wheelchair in the back, really touched me. Others too. You knew her better than any other family member. I am heartened today to hear that you followed in your great-great-grandfather’s footsteps. I researched him for her. There are more books about him in the Library of Congress. You need to check them out.”

 

Chapter Text

As Josh continued to explain who he was and what he did, Vin studied the extensive flower gardens. He’d noticed them when he sat outside with his father. An ugly thought raced through his mind as he remembered a statement made by one of his captors ... the best ash for gardens are cremated remains.

Stepping back, he motioned to Sammy Jo, Jackson, Spider and Torpedo.

“Who takes care of all those flower gardens?” Vin asked the group.

“Miss Rose has some kind of mulch and ash she uses. And that one orderly follows her instructions on how to spread it around,” Samantha offered.

“Do you know where the incinerator is?” Vin asked quietly.

“It’s around back, Sarge,” Spider replied. “That orderly you decked has an electronic key for it.”

“There has to be a way in from inside. Anyone know?” Vin pushed. When no one did, Vin looked around for Whitehorse.

“BIRDMAN! Where’s Whitehorse?” Tanner shouted.

“Lounge, he’s ….” Birdman began as he watched his friend take off on a dead run.

Turning to Colonel Chamberlain, Josh stepped away from the microphones. “He’s been watching something outside.”

Chamberlain walked over to Miss Jones and the three former Rangers. Before he could say a word, Tanner was back.

Vin looked around for his father and then called him over. “Dad. I need you to stay with Sam. Any calls that come in … you take them. Any corporate bigwigs call. Stall,” Vin ordered as he walked them to the door of the Break Room.

Quietly he told her to start putting things together because she was going home with him.

Samantha’s eyebrows shot up and she looked at him as he crooked his little finger.

When we grow up we’ll get married. The remembered promise flashed through her mind like a wildfire.

“You sure,” she questioned as her finger locked with his.

“Never been more sure of anything in my life,” the ATF agent replied with a smile.

Once she was inside and the door closed, Tanner turned his attention to his former Rangers.

“Jackson. Where is that orderly I decked?” Tanner questioned.

“Follow me.”

Keeping pace with his former sniper, Colonel Chamberlain asked what was happening.

“Torpedo! Where is the dining room here?” Vin suddenly asked ignoring the Colonel’s question.

“We’re walking right past it,” Torpedo answered. “It isn’t very big. We eat in shifts.”

The group stopped at a set of double doors. The former Ranger walked through first and held the door for the others.

On all four walls were pictures of veterans of varying services.

“When you first arrive, they take your picture,” Torpedo responded. “All these guys have moved on.”

“Moved on where?” Chamberlain questioned recognizing several.

“Miss Rose would know. She handles all the transfers,” Torpedo answered.

“You know someone here, Colonel?” Tanner asked watching odd emotions cross the man’s face.

Walking to the closest wall, Chamberlain responded tightly. “This man is my brother-in-law. We would definitely know if he’s been moved elsewhere.”

Vin stepped back into the hall, pulling his ranch phone as he walked.

“Hey Boss man, what’s up?” Samuel Hutch asked.

“Sam. I need Margaret to find something here. And to electronically open the door to it,” Vin spoke quietly so only those near him heard.

“Gearing into your GPS now. That is a sprawling place. Where do you need to go?”

“They have an incinerator here … supposedly for garbage,” Vin ventured.

“I can tell you right now, whatever is there, it is too big for just garbage. Go straight to the end of the hall you were standing in, and then turn left. Go through those doors and turn right immediately. It appears to be a breakaway door but it is a narrow hall that widens at the end.”

“Are there alarms on the breakaway door?” Vin asked as the group turned left.

There doesn’t appear to be,” Sam replied his eyes going wide as he spotted what lay ahead. “Hold it! That narrow hall seems to be the back door in. The blue door is on a different side.”

“Can we get through here?” Colonel Chamberlain asked moving up next to Tanner.

“Who are you?” Samuel wanted to know.

Tanner answered before his former Colonel responded. “Sam, I have with me Colonel Chamberlain plus Jackson VanDyke, Spider and Torpedo.”

“Crap. We’re going to have to build another bunk house.”

“Samuel!” Vin barked.

“Don’t know how to tell you this, Vin … in those rooms ahead of you are bodies. Several bodies. Only minimal heat source from two. The rest are dead. Margaret is pulling up the plans for this. I’ll have them in a minute.”

Without turning, Tanner barked, “Spider! Get Birdman and lead him down here. Tell him to come alone. Torpedo, go with him and get that smirky orderly down here.”

“Falcon. What did you see outside that set you to investigate this?” Chamberlain asked his former sniper.

“Remember when I was captured?” Tanner asked quietly.

“I definitely do, yes.”

“The main tormentor pulled me to my knees one day. He pointed to the magnificent flower gardens. He said I was one of the lucky ones. The other captors were burned alive and the ashes were fed to the gardens.”

“Vin,” Jerry spoke quietly hearing for the first time what his Sergeant had gone through.

“Jerry,” Vin answered as Josh Bird and the escorted orderly arrived.

“There are five other Stars and Stripes Veterans Homes. All owned by the same corporation. Offices are based in Chicago. The states are Pennsylvania, Indiana, Georgia, Idaho and Missouri. Every single one is the same.”

“Okay. Hold that thought. Josh, straight ahead is a room full of dead bodies. Two are still alive. We need the State Coroner and his Forensics team.”

Birdman jogged down the hall and slowly pushed the first door open. A quick glance told him these men had been dead for several days. What he saw turned his stomach. Veterans stripped of their clothes. Faces gaunt, ribs, bones showing from starvation. Checking out the other two rooms, Josh spun around and raced back up the hall. Birdman grabbed the orderly’s neck and slammed him up against the wall.

“I’M GOING TO SEE THAT YOU GET THE DEATH PENATLY FOR THIS! HOW MANY HAVE YOU KILLED OVER THE YEARS? HOW MANY!?” Dr Bird roared into the man’s face.

“Josh.” Vin spoke quietly coming up next to his friend.

“McNamara is there! Just inside the door,” Josh gushed as he let go of the orderly, who collapsed to the floor.

“Colonel McNamara?” Chamberlain asked as he walked down to the door that was still open. Jonah Chamberlain stared at his brother-in-law. He knew that orderly was going to fry.

Vin watched the Colonel grab for the wall. “Help him!” Tanner ordered to the Colonel’s two Army men.

The orderly who had been Dr Herman’s right hand man was now terrified. His sassy, belligerent attitude had vanished.

“Jerry! Where is the blue door?”

“When you entered this hall there was a window on your right. It appears to be a slider. Go through there and it will take you to the blue door. Margaret is working on the computer lock.”

Vin started for the door and then stopped. Dad?

I am looking at a flyer in the office here… for Lt. Rory Calhoun. He was here a few months ago. Came to visit a close friend. Don’t remember him leaving.

Tanner spun around and jogged down to the death rooms. Looking in the first he scanned the faces. Then he checked the next room and then third. In the third, he found Lt. Rory Calhoun. Dried blood on his shirt. Bruises on his face. A tourniquet tight around his neck.

The group in the hall heard loud cussing in several languages. And then Tanner shouted. “BRING THAT ASSHOLE DOWN HERE!”

 The two Army men picked up the orderly and walked him down to Tanner.

Tanner grabbed the orderly and pushed him to his knees. Pointing to Calhoun, Vin growled, “This man was a visitor! He has a wife and four kids. Why?”

“He… he recognized Dr. Herman. Was telling everyone he wasn’t a real doctor. We… we darted him …and Herman …Herman took him.”

It was several seconds before anyone spoke.

“Let’s try out the incinerator,” Josh Bird said as he motioned the two Army men to pick up the man.

Following Jerry’s directions the group was quickly standing in front of the blue door.

“Door is unlocked. Took Margaret a bit to run through the codes. Vin… these doors open directly in front of this incinerator. But that isn’t what it is. It is huge. The same as a crematorium would have.”

“I am disconnecting, but standby. I am going to need a direct secure line to the President.” Vin remarked quietly.

-=-=-=-

Vin Tanner, Colonel Chamberlain, Josh Bird, the two Army officers and Vin’s former Rangers stared at a very nervous orderly.

Chamberlain nodded to his officers but before anyone could move Commander Tanner’s stern voice filled the hallway.

“Vin, put your badge on. You are needed up front. Dr Bird. Coroner is coming in. Spider … Torpedo, your help is needed in the Commons. I’ll assist the Colonel.” Michael Tanner said in a tight controlled voice.

Dad?

You have a career and a darling future wife. It’s best that military people do this.

“Josh.” Vin said pulling out his badge. Slowly he pulled out the lanyard that was encased in the leather covering. Putting the lanyard around his neck he adjusted the badge so it was visible.

“You’re….you’re a Federal agent?” The orderly moaned just beginning to realize something big was coming down.

“Come on Birdman…”

Josh’s eyes moved between Colonel Chamberlain and Commander Tanner.

Vin offered this explanation. “This is a military home. These are military men.”

-=-=--=

Josh and Vin stopped on the other side of the glass sliding door.

“They’re going to fry him, right?” Josh questioned quietly.

“They are,” Vin answered. “Because he is the man who made the decisions on who to kill off.”

“SARGE!” Spider yelped. “There’s a list here. Torpedo and me are on it. We’re listed as troublemakers.”

Vin walked up to the backside of the door they had come through earlier. He read the list of six names and stared at the flame under the names.

“See this flame at the bottom. This means that these men …including the two of you … were next to be cremated” Vin said tightly.

Torpedo, a man in his early forties, stared at the list. “Those pictures in the dining room …they’re all dead, aren’t they?”

“Yes, my friend. They are,” Vin replied solemnly.

“You two go ahead, I need to call the President,” Vin said as he pulled his phone out once again.

The conversation to President Bush was short. Vin explained what they found and what they had obviously been doing for years. The military was holding Caroline Rose and were awaiting a warrant to go through her house. Colonel Chamberlain, as yet, hadn’t decided what agency should be in charge.

-=-=-=-=-

Vin and Josh and the two former Rangers stepped through the double doors marked “PRIVATE – AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY,” and stopped.

“I have a feeling Texas boy,” Josh rasped, “that you are the man in charge.”

“Aw hell! We have to stop visiting people Joshua,” Vin moaned. Seconds later he let out a loud whistle.

California State Police, Sacramento Police, FBI … everyone came to a stop. Before anyone could say a word, Samantha Jones stepped out of an office with a wireless phone.

“Vin! It’s the White House! For you!” Sam called loudly.

“Joshua! We really have to start staying home!” Tanner barked as he walked up to Sammy Jo.

It was so quiet; you could hear a pin drop as Federal Agent Vin Tanner answered the phone. “Mr. President.”

“Your previous call brought up alerts on several fronts. We have contacted the State Police in the five other states. Those Stars and Stripes Veterans Homes will shortly be raided. This includes their corporate offices in Chicago. The Treasury Department is already starting an investigation and an audit. Falcon …YOU are the one that discovered this atrocity. You know firsthand what the others are going to find. I want you to handle this. Please set up a command post with monitors, so these other states can communicate with you.”

“Since no family has ever been notified that they have been moved, it appears they may be embezzling military retirement benefits,” Vin stated. “I’ll turn that over to the FBI who are already here.”

Frankly Vin,” President Bush continued, “I want the world to know that not all Texans are cowboys or hicks.”

Those watching Tanner’s face knew the President was asking him to take over the situation. You don’t say no to the U.S. President.

 “Mr. President … I’m sure there are qualified people here who….” Vin began.

“Falcon! I want someone I trust. Someone I know can’t be bought off and have this swept under the carpet. You are that man. Use your father’s talents. He was an exceptional SEAL commander.”

-=-=-=-

Two FBI men on the fringe of the State Police whispered, “What do you bet the President is telling him he is in charge of this?”

“That is a bet I wouldn’t want to take. But I have to tell you. I’ve heard tales about Sergeant Vin Tanner. He runs a very tight ship.”

-=-=-=-

“Yes, sir, Mr. President. I will take charge of this horror house. Yes sir, I’ll keep you posted,” Vin declared as he handed the phone back to Sammy Jo.

Vin let out a loud breath. Looking around he asked, “What county are we in?”

A State Police Sergeant spoke first. “This place is in a no man’s land. It isn’t in any county. They built this on a strip of land that hadn’t been incorporated and still hasn’t.”

“What about the street out there?” Vin asked.

A young man from Sacramento PD stepped forward saying, “We handle traffic along that road for a couple of miles, and then the State Police take over.”

“Okay, for starters,” Vin began, “We need all the press and news hounds off the property. We need the land surrounding this building freed up for medical helios to land as well as vehicles from the Coroner’s office.”

Vin glanced at the big wall clock and asked Samantha when lunch was served.

“They should be setting up in the dining room in about an hour,” Samantha responded.

“Could we change that to a buffet in the Common area? I’d like to use the dining room as a command center?” Vin wanted to know.

Sammy Jo stared at the man she’d loved since grade school. “We have a new Frenchman as head chef and he …” She began.

“French?” Tanner said with a lopsided grin. “I’ll talk to him,” Vin responded as he watched three SPD officers inform the press corps they needed to be off the property. Then he saw Josh’s friend hovering just inside the doors.

“Mrs. Hancock!” Vin barked, “That includes you also.”

She made a noise that proper older women shouldn’t make but she packed up her gear and left.

-=-=-=-

Larabee was startled awake by a hand moving down his hip. He bolted upward only to be yanked back by the cuffs that held him down.

“Good morning, sunshine,” Roger Montana purred as his hands stroked Larabee’s cock. “Today, you’ll be wearing a cock ring so you are hard… stiff and erect! Plus a new toy arrived this morning. Overnight express from California. It holds your mouth wide open….so cocks can slide right in and eject straight into your stomach. We are going to have fun with you today. Got five wranglers just itching to use you.”

“Hey Rog!” Roy called up the stairs.

“You’ll never guess what was just delivered. One of Larabee’s own team members left this on his doorstep,” Roy ventured jogging up the stairs.

“Don’t worry, they checked out everything and disabled the cameras before picking it up.”

Chris Larabee stared at the black leather bondage helmet he’d forced Buck to wear.

“Well Chris Larabee, thanks for this. Keeps us from having to buy one. We have some newbies on the mountain. This will keep them from knowing who you are.”

-=-=-=-=-

“Samantha. Does Miss Rose have a private room or office she uses that no one is allowed in?” Vin asked.

“She does, yes! Carries the key with her all the time,” Sam answered.

“Does she keep a duplicate here? Have you ever been in this room?”

“Dr Herman and Caroline and the only ones allowed in. I think I know where she keeps the spare key, do you want me to find it?” Sammy inquired.

“Yes, darlin’ I do.”

DAD! I need to you and Chamberlain up front. I think I have found their war room.

“Agent Tanner, could you tell us what is going on here?” Sergeant Biezinski asked looking around.

Vin motioned them into a circle and quietly told them what he and Dr. Bird had found. Veterans starved to death waiting to be cremated. Others cremated alive, and the ashes of all are around the flower beds.

One of the State Police officers burst out laughing. “That is the most ludicrous lie I have ever heard. This is a well run operation. There are several more throughout the country.”

“Well, Mr. Police Officer!” Colonel Chamberlain growled. “I suggest to come with us. Perhaps you can ID some of the dead.”

“Hell, why not,” the man chuckled as he followed the Colonel and another Army man.

-=-=-=-

“Vin…. I have the key,” Samantha said coming up to him. “You have to enter through her office.”

“This is her office,” Vin asked pointing to the door behind Sammy Jo. “Is it unlocked?”

“Yes. It is always unlocked… in case we need residents’ files,” Samantha answered. A sly smile spread across her face as Vin’s warm hand crossed her palm extracting the key.

Turning to the officers of various agencies, Vin spoke quietly. “I need the ranking man of the FBI… the State Police … and SPD to come with me into this room.”

“Vin. You haven’t spoken to the French chef yet. He will be setting up in the dining room soon,” Samantha said quietly.

Tanner let out a sigh. “Right. Gentlemen, follow me.”

-=-=-=-

Chapter Text

 

“NEWBIES?!” Beauregard raged, grabbing the two men as they jogged down the stairs. He roughly pushed them in the first floor bedroom.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing? This man is not available to anyone on this ranch except a core group! You want everyone arrested, is that it? Want to see Vin and Matthew and me in jail so you can play house with this man? Not going to happen! Pack up! You two are moving back into the bunk house.”

“You said he’d be available for us,” Roger lamented.

“You two, Samuel, Jersey …Whitehorse..maybe two others. NOT the whole damn ranch! All you need is one drunk in Four Corners talking about fucking a blond prisoner and every Federal agent in the state would be here with dogs,” Beau blasted angrily.

“Now, I have to find another place to hide him thanks to you two assholes,” Beau rasped. “He would be discovered here in the winter anyway, with a steady track from the house to the woods. Right now… take that tent down and move back into the bunkhouse.”

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Larabee tried several times to work himself out of the cuffs that held him, but after an hour he finally gave up. He looked out the barred window and realized the sun was setting. He hadn’t heard a sound since that big blond dude grabbed the two bearded men.

=-=-=-=-=-=-

“Jersey,” Beau remarked. “This is your storage shed. It’s not big enough for Larabee.”

“Walk around the side, Beauregard. It is a lot bigger than it looks. Plus it has an older solar panel on the roof.”

“Holy crap! There are windows back here. Let’s have a look.”

Inside the first door, Beau looked at the plastic containers stacked against one wall. “What the heck is all this?”

“Remember that party store that was going out of business? I bought a boat load of stuff. Paper plates, napkins, plastic wear for birthdays, anniversaries, all the holidays. Cook said he wanted something to remind the veterans that this could be like home. Plus, some wives come out now and then.”

Beau watched Jersey pull down a small piece of metal that appeared attached to the wall. Then he turned it clockwise. The Russian slowly pulled the panel to the right. Beau Gainsfield was stunned to see what laid before him.

Jersey chuckled. “I’ve been using the front for a whole year and just discovered this last night. On your left is a small stove. I figure we can use those compressed logs that Vin likes. Wood sends sparks and could cause a fire. Built in dresser down here. Built in bunk over there. And if you look at that bunk … it is big enough for two. Over by the window … a built in chest. I already looked inside. It has four down comforters and two pillows.”

Beau moved to his left near the built in chest and discovered a small bathroom.

“Chemical toilet. Mini sink. Shower! Wow. Note on the wall says FIVE MINUTE showers. Five minutes is underlined. Probably what the solar panels are for.”

“And over here, Beauregard …” Jersey said quietly, motioning to a dark area.

Beau stepped in and a light automatically came on. “Where’s the electricity coming from?”

“Got no idea. But … bench on this side. Cuffs on the wall over there. Some drawers I didn’t have time to look at.”

Beau walked over to the six handles he saw in the wall. Pulling one open he gasped and then starting laughing. “Dildos in this one. Some still in plastic wrappers. Cuffs and … a collar! Hell, we don’t even have to buy Larabee one, it’s here waiting for him.”

“Let’s look around a bit more. There has to be another entrance here,” Beau suggested as he glanced around the dark room. “I don’t want whoever built this to come sneaking in on our prisoner or us.”

“You await here, Georgia boy. I’ll look around outside.”

Beau continued to open drawers and pull levers as Jersey went outside to find another entrance.

“Whoever’s been using this place has been having some pretty hot sex here,” Beau rasped, looking at a variety of sex toys, gags, hoods, and cock rings. Many still in their wrappers.

Beau spun around as he heard knocking on a far wall. “Jersey?”

Jogging back into the cabin, Jersey informed his friend that there was a padlock on a door out back.

“Okay. I’ll take the ATV to the barn and get the tools to cut that off. I’ll put one of our new black code locks on that door. Hopefully that is the only other entrance. We’ll move him tonight,” Beau explained.

“I’ll dart him again. Wrap him in that rug you saved and carry him onto the porch and off your steps to this place. “

Walking back into the main room, Beau looked at the door.  “Can it be locked so he can’t get out?”

“I’ll go out,” the Russian said. “You try to open it.”

Five minutes later, the Georgian stepped out with sweat on his face.

“Okay. Lets get Samuel,” Beau said quietly. “I want two cameras in this room and one in the other. Soon as dinner is over we’ll move him. He is still naked and cuffed to the bed in the Hermit’s house. Don’t want him there too long.”

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Vin Tanner stared at the French chef. A young man in his early thirties that Vin and four other Texas Troopers had arrested in a sting operation. The man looked shocked to see him.

“They had culinary classes there?” Vin asked quietly.

“Oui.” Answered the stunned man.

Tanner smiled. He reverted to French and told the man what he needed and why.

Tory stared at the former State Trooper. Shocked by what he was hearing. Finding his voice, he answered quietly, “Not a problem, sir. I’ll take care of it.”

“VIN!” Jackson barked coming into the dining room. “Some guy from Idaho wants to talk to you.”

“Dutchman … need all these pictures taken down and stored in a room.”

“Okay.”

“Then I need to know if you have two or three computer monitors that I can put in here. Need those in here ASAP!”

“On it , Sarge.”

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Chris Larabee’s whole body hurt. He felt like he’d been packed in a pretzel can. Stretching, his hand hit something above his head. The blond was instantly awake. Slowly rolling onto his side, Chris found he was in a completely different place.

Sitting up he looked around. He was still naked but the cuffs were not in sight and thankfully, there was no collar waiting for him. Standing, he investigated the room. He opened every drawer of the built in dresser. He found two sets of his underwear in one drawer; plus his jeans in another drawer. Turning, he discovered his moccasins sitting neatly at the end of the bunk. Upon further investigation, he discovered the chest with the down comforters, and the tiny bathroom which he used.

Standing in the doorway of the bathroom, Larabee’s eyes scanned every wall. He saw no door. No entry. No way to escape. It was then he noticed the dark patch on the opposite wall.

It took Chris Larabee several seconds to walk across the room and touch the black wood. He almost fell when he discovered nothing was there. As he staggered into the room, lights automatically came. Much to his shock, there were images of him, naked, plastered on one wall.

Larabee gawked at the images… one, he was kneeling on a bench his head down, his mouth on a hard rock cock, his ass ripe and waiting. Another he was eagle spread against a wall. His balls full, a cock ring at the base of his penis not allowing it to fill. The one he feared, he stared at the longest. A black leather collar was around his neck. Rings on each side. Leashes attached to the rings. A bondage mouth gag, holding his mouth wipe open for anyone to come and empty their semen directly into his throat.

“Good evening, Agent Larabee,” a rough voice laughed. “Former Agent Larabee. You’ve been dismissed. Fired. There is a warrant out for your arrest. They won’t find you, however. You are tucked away on my retreat in a place no one would think of looking. Close to an international airport. To be used as the whore that you are.”

Chris dropped to his knees. His worst nightmare was about to come true.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

In Vin Tanner’s closed study, at his Four Corners ranch, Samuel, Jerry, Jersey and Matthew stared at Beau Gainsfield.

“Didn’t you lay it on a bit thick there, Beau?” Jersey questioned.

“My Russian friend, I want him to know what is coming. His worst nightmare. We’ll leave him for three or four days. Let him get relaxed. Leave his meals on the top of that pull down table next to the stove. Once he discovers that book drawer, his nose will be in it.”

“This place sure is better than the Hermit’s house,” Matthew put in.

Samuel looked around. “Is there a way we can just serve him breakfast and dinner? Don’t want too many trips out there every day.”

Jersey held his hand up and then he dashed for the kitchen. Walking back into the room he had what looked like a small thermo container.

“Found this at Wal-Mart. Canadian flag. That should confuse him. One compartment for cold, one not. Fruit or salad in cold side. Packaged snacks in the other.”

Beau looked at the monitor they were watching. He watched Larabee’s hand go to his neck.

 “THAT! Is what the man fears most. A collar around his neck. Means he is a slave. For a control freak like him … a Dom …. That means doom. That is his worst nightmare!”

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Spotting Joshua, Vin put his right hand up to his ear as though he was talking on a phone.

“Josh! Did we bring any earplug phones?”

“Got five in the bird. You need them?”

“Activate all of them. One for me….the Colonel….the Commander. Also one for you. And, I want Sammy Jo to wear one for security. With all the people going in and out of here, don’t want to lose her.”

“Be back in a minute,” Josh answered taking off for the front doors.

“Agent Tanner,” a man said walking into the dining room. “We have liberated three large computers from people who don’t need them.”

Vin grinned at the man. Liberated. A military term for stealing.

“Put them on those two buffets … are they wireless? Let’s get them plugged in.”

“Vin!” Josh rushed, coming back into the dining room. “Gave one to the Colonel and one to your dad. Explained to Samantha why she was wearing one.”

“She okay with that?” Vin asked as he pushed back his hair to loop the phone on his right ear.

“She definitely is! I also talked with Sister Dominica. We have another NASA computer available for our use … her name is Lill.”

Vin gave his friend a weird look. “Lill?”

“Evidently the White House called her. Gave her a synopsis of what was happening. Cory didn’t want Maggie to get overloaded. All the images …names at Caroline Rose’s house are being downloaded to Lill who will be matching them to the Department of Defense. When you get into the War Room here, all those images will go to Lill also.”

“Okay, Maggie! Get me online to the other Stars and Stripes Veterans homes in Idaho, Missouri, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Georgia.”

“Vin!” Commander Tanner called coming into the room. “Those two orderlies we locked up don’t belong back here. They work with Samantha. One of them is deaf. Dutchman said...”

“Bring them up here,” Vin cut in.

-=-=-=-

Vin had been sitting in a corner of the dining room for forty minutes listening and talking to the two young men. Behind Vin, officers, Army men and others watched the young man ‘speak’ to Tanner as tears flowed down his face.

Suddenly,  the conversation stopped. Vin reached out and hugged the young man as he now visibly sobbed in the arms of the man he could finally communicate with.

Without turning, Vin called, “Samantha!”

Sam hurried to his side, touching his shoulder and reaching out to the young man who grabbed for her hand.

 “Sam,” Vin started as he signed, “I want you to take them to the Break Room. Get them some coffee … let them relax.”

“Vin. I’ve never… I had no clue…” Samantha started.

Tanner rose quickly, embracing her in front of everyone. Not caring what anyone thought. Fingers wiped tears from her face.

“I know. You were hired to care for the residents. Miss Rose and Dr Herman were the ones who were destroying human lives. Show …Randall,” Vin rasped, pointing to the deaf man, “how you make spit balls.”

Sammy mouth opened and closed. She saw the love, and the tiredness in Vin’s eyes.

Randall stood up slowly, signing as he stood.

Vin smiled and told him, ‘yes, he and Samantha were together … since the fourth grade.’

Vin waited until the three left the room before explaining what he’d been told.

“I’m going to give you three names. FBI.. officers… Do you know them? The deaf boy is Randall Greene … with an e. His friend is Robert Angelo. The best friend of Randall’s was Russell Brownee.”

Sgt. Biezinski pulled out a small tablet and came up with the answer instantly. “Missing since last year. They were all going for job interviews and never returned.”

“You are right. Randall Greene is the deaf boy. The other is Angelo. Russell is … was Randall’s best friend. They came here together for jobs. They were given a tour and they liked what they saw. But, Russell picked up on some things he didn’t like and tried to leave. The other two were forced to watch him … being burned alive. They were told if they tried to leave, they would also die.”

“Gees Louise….” Muttered an FBI man.

“Who knows someone named Ruggles?” Vin asked.

FBI agent Turner spoke up. “Black market anything. Latest we’ve heard he’s involved with international organ smuggling.”

“He’s due here tomorrow. Randall said he’d only been beyond those NO ADMITTANCE doors once. He had to help carry some refrigerated boxes to another part of the building. When Dr Herman opened the door, he saw a huge room. It looked surgery was going on. He stared at the floor immediately when he heard Herman’s name.”

Vin pulled his phone out and tapped in some numbers.

“This is Agent Vin Tanner. I need to be routed to ATF headquarters in Sacramento. “

“They are on standby for you, Mr Tanner. Hold on.”

“Special Agent Bosley. What do you need?”

“I need one cadaver dog, and a bomb dog. And I need them now!”

“We will be airborne in three minutes.”

“I also need your mobile tech unit with an encrypted line.”

“A fire engine ran into that the other day. I’m afraid that is not available. However, one of the choppers coming has tech available. And, congratulations on your new job.”

“What new job?” Tanner questioned sharply.

“You haven’t been told?”

“Been a bit busy here. “

“Orin Travis has been forced to retire because he has not complied with the change in the ATF that was directed last year. You have been appointed to fill his position … and the new ATF boss knows that you will train those yahoos in Denver into lean mean fighting machines.”

“Oh shit!”

“I’ll see you in a few.”

Vin spouted off in six different languages. Then once again punched in numbers on his phone.

“Maggie. Patch me through to Jack Maloney’s private cell number.”

“Maloney.”

“HEY! Maloney, baloney! What’s this about a new job? Couldn’t you have waited until I got home.”

“Who told you?” Jack Maloney asked with a smile that Vin couldn’t see.

“Never mind who told me. Do I get a chance to refuse?”

“No. Travis has dragged his feet for a year. The whole system has changed. We have divisions of… demolition, snipers, computer forensic analysts, profilers, etc. You can pull from whatever division you need. However many you need. I want a lean mean machine who is also as tender as a bunny rabbit. That is you.”

“For what is happening here … I’m going to need a month off to recoup.”

“Not a problem, Vin.”

Tanner turned his attention to the computers as they all heard the sound of helicopters landing.

“Gentleman… we have just made another discovery here. I will be back in a few minutes to talk with all of you.”

-=-=-=-

Larabee had fallen asleep reading a First Edition Zane Grey western novel. The light above his bunk was still on when Beau Gainsfield touched his shoulder.

Chris jerked awake and stared at the tall blonde dude dressed in black leather.

“Get up!” Beau ordered sharply. “You’ve got some body parts I definitely want to enjoy.”

-=-=-=-

“Special Agent Bosley.  This is Agent Faver and his dog, Farley.”

“Cadaver dog?” Vin asked.

“Yes.”

Vin Tanner lead the two men down to the area near the blue door. He explained in detail what was behind the blue door and how it was used. He then explained about the dead bodies that had already been found.

“We have just now learned there is yet another area of this place where they are taking body parts and organs from veterans. That is why we need the dog. Some of these missing men may be alive, some may not be.”

“What do you need the bomb dog for?” Bosley asked.

“Because I have noticed some things here,” Vin explained quietly. “I believe this place may be pre-programmed to blow. Explode or implode.”

Vin watched the interaction between the two agents. It was the K9 agent who spoke.

“As we were landing, our demolition guys noticed some odd things on the outside. They think the place should be evacuated.”

“Okay. Let’s hope we can get everyone out before that happens.”

-=-=-=-

Vin walked back toward the dining room, then diverted into the kitchen.

“Tory.” Vin said softly, knowing the man was on edge.

The chef jerked like he’d been stabbed.

Vin shook his head. Speaking in French, he told the chef he wasn’t going to tell anyone where he got his culinary degree. And if he needed a future reference Vin would be glad to give him one. But what Vin needed right now was something sweet. Donuts, eclairs… sugar.

Tanner sat on a stool in the kitchen and watched people work. He was on his second glass of orange juice and third chocolate éclair when his father found him.

“The dog found some interesting things,” the Commander reported looking around.  “Josh was ordered up three MASH units from San Diego.”

Vin’s eyes suddenly noticed something on the ceiling. Tory picked up on it though the Commander did not.

Do you know where it goes. Vin asked looking directly at Tory.

No. I’ve followed several. They disappear into corners.

Is there a basement?

No. we’re near the cliffs. Bedrock. Solid here.

“Okay. I need to talk to the ATF agents outside. Then I need to sequester myself in front of those monitors.”

-=-=-=-=-=-

 

Chapter Text

Beauregard quietly walked over to one of the drawers in the black room. He watched Chris Larabee lean against an opposite wall. Pulling out an open plain black collar, Beau asked, “Have you seen one of these before? Looks innocent.”

Chris swallowed. “Fingerprints open and close it.”

“You’re right. The problem here is … no one here opened it.”

Larabee stared at the man. Hell, I’d have to wear that for life.

“Truthfully, this place of yours is on a much bigger ranch. No one who lives and works here even knew it was here until a week ago. We have no clue who built this little playroom. I’ve had our computer people do extensive research on this collar. It has a GPS inside. They discovered who originally programmed it and we have redesigned it. The man whose fingerprints opened it, unfortunately isn’t around anymore.”

“There is no way in hell you can make me wear that!” Chris growled.

“Well, actually there is,” Beau answered with a smile.

“I just had a long chat with Orin Travis. He is the one who asked Tanner to investigate the sexual assaults against you. He is also retiring because he failed to upgrade the teams. A directive he received from Washington last year. Travis has talked extensively with the District Attorney. No one is willing to take the witness stand against you. Because, quite frankly, they don’t want the media all over them and their families.”

“But…” Chris moaned. He hated the word ‘but.’

”Orin Travis knows where you are.”

“WHAT?” Chris yelped.

“The District Attorney only knows you are being held by ‘friends’ who know you would die if you were sent to jail. He has agreed to something Travis and I put together. You will be sentenced to house arrest for ten years. Instead of wearing an electronic anklet for ten years, you will wear this collar. Its tracking device will be monitored by my people. You will be allowed to spend Saturday and Sunday at your ranch. The rest of the time will be spent here. And, as would happen in jail you will have sex with other men. Some may be consensual, some may not.”

“The District Attorney will announce that you have accepted a plea bargain. This includes being housed in a private sector with two days a week visitation at an outside facility. Where visitation will not be,  will not be announced. Your ranch driveway will have a gate put across it with an electronic lock. Any family member or team member will have to put in an application to see you on those weekends. Who they apply to has not been decided.”

Chris swallowed back bile. An electronic boot or anklet would not allow him to wear his boots or any real shoe. The collar, his worst nightmare, would give him free rein to work his ranch and ride Pony.

“If I agree to the collar … would I be allowed to ride my horse on those weekends?”

“Yes.”

“And how would you know I won’t take off on my horse?” Larabee questioned.

Beau smiled. “We have done some modifications to this collar. If you went beyond the trees where your son’s playhouse is or tried to go through the electronic gate … you’d be zapped. It would be enough to knock you off your horse.”

“You will also be monitored inside and outside the house. The District Attorney has insisted on this. I did not asked Vin, but I took the liberty of using his computer gurus . They have set up cameras inside and outside both the house and the barn.”

“VIN? Vin knows about this?” Chris blasted.

“Vin does not. It was the father he went to meet for the first time in Sacramento, that gave me the order to take you.” Beau explained quietly.

“Vin’s father? Vin was trying to match his DNA in some military bank.”

“It is why Vin is in Sacramento. I believe you know the man. Commander Mike Tanner,” Beau explained quietly, watching Larabee’s reaction.

“The Commander … of SEAL Team Five … is Vin’s father?” Chris moaned as he slid down the wall to the floor.

“You know him?” Beau answered hiding his smile.

“What if I don’t agree to wear the collar?”

“You will be turned over to Federal agents and taken to the closest Federal jail until your lawyer can put together a plea bargain. How long you last in that jail is the question. Two wardens have already refused to take you. Evidently, they don’t want your death on their hands.”

Larabee stared at the black collar. He’d read stories of how inmates brutally beat and killed federal agents sentenced to jail. It was horrifying, the things he’d read.

“Even at my ranch I won’t be alone, will I?” Chris asked tightly.

“The guard that will be there, will not be for you. He is there to take care of the ranch and the horses that are boarded there. Your former team members will not be allowed in on the weekends.”

Beau watched Larabee close his eyes and think. The man had a tough decision to make. Something Jersey had said yesterday is what prompted Beauregard to go and talk to Travis. What had happened after that conversation had really surprised him.

Pulling a folded piece of paper out of his sleeve, Beau offered it to Larabee.

“Took this message off your home phone. Sebastian has some young bucks he wants you to train. You would have to do it here. That monitor that is on the wall above the dresser. We can set up a video phone connection. You would have to explain that they would be locked in with you. Or, you can do it at the ranch. Either way. They are locked in with you.”

“A Dom wearing a collar,” Chris started, “isn’t a very good example.”

“I believe when Sebastian sees you on the video phone, he will rescind the offer.”

“Die in prison or wear a collar. Not much of a choice,” Chris lamented.

‘Wear a collar and be free on the weekends to swim in your pool. Ride your horse. Grill. Have you sister visit.” Beau responded quietly.

“Do it!” Chris growled, closing his eyes.

--=-=-=-=-=-=-

Agent Vin Tanner stood outside the Stars and Stripes Veterans Home with two ATF bomb experts. He listened intently to the two men as he stared at the roof of the facility.

“You’re saying… those exposed wires could trigger whatever is in the attic?”

“Lightning … something from one of those helicopters…”

Vin touched his ear phone. “Colonel. We have two news choppers out here. Aren’t we still under a no fly zone for non military traffic?”

Colonel Chamberlain walked through the front door and looked up at the two news choppers. Pulling his phone, those around him heard him berate the supervisor in charge of the control tower. Threatened to close down the whole airport and ..shoot the helios out of the sky.

The two ATF agents looked wide-eyed at Vin. “Would he?” One of them asked.

“Oh yeah!” Tanner answered, holding in a smile.

Seconds later the choppers were gone.

“If you guys could get to the attic, would you be able to disconnect whatever is up here?” Vin wanted to know.

An old telephone ring sounded. Agent Fisher grabbed his phone and put it on speaker. “What have you found Angel?”

“I’m in the Administrator’s office. We found the control panel for the destruction of this place. There is wiring in every single room. Before I try anything we would have to evacuate.”

Vin took the phone saying, “We are still removing bodies from one area. Plus there are patients that cannot be removed yet. Is there any way you can tell how operational it really is? And… if you had access to a super computer would you be able to disengage this thing.”

“A super computer?”  Came the shocked answer. “You mean one of those NASA supers that think for themselves?”

“Yes.”

Silence followed Vin’s simple answer. Then Tanner said, “Maggie. Introduce yourself, and keep us posted.”

“Vin. Lill’s going to do it. She knows more about these older systems than I do.”

Looking at the two stunned agents, Vin smiled saying, “Let’s go find Randall. I believe he knows where the attic is. Any of the agents here know deaf sign language?”

“I do,” one of two with Vin answered.

“Good. Randall is a deaf. He’ll be glad to speak to someone besides me who can understand him. I need to get back into the conference of the other five Stars and Stripes.”

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Vin talked briefly with the men from Idaho. They had found several bodies stacked up and had not found any operating room. Though the plans were the same, it appeared to be a much smaller facility.

“We had some trouble getting caskets,” Mr. Caulfield said. “But once we mentioned Colonel Chamberlain, they practically fell over themselves getting what we needed. We have had some ATF agents arrive. I believe you’d best ask your questions to them.”

Vin grinned when he saw who the Idaho agents were. He’d met them as a bounty hunter.

“So, you two really are agents, eh?” Vin asked with a grin.

The two Idaho ATF agents stared back at him. It was only when Vin sharply cleared his throat that they came alive.

“We’ve been in contact with Special Agent Bosley. He’s informed us what was found there. We have bomb dogs going through the place, plus are checking the attic. We do have a basement, though we cannot find an access to it.”

“If the building is rigged to implode, they probably sealed the basement. We have found the motherboard for that in the Administrator’s office. Get your computer agents in there right now! What else have you found?”

“It was pretty harrowing but we got into the incinerator room and got the fire machine completely turned off. Just got a text, that the surgery room is empty.”

“Put the other man on.”

“Before you ask, Agent Tanner. Like you, I came here this morning to see my father. When I couldn’t find him, I called for backup. State Police have taken over. And now the ATF have arrived. We found my father in one of those padded rooms. Thankfully, he’d only been there a couple of days.”

“That’s why I’m here. To meet my father. What you need to do now, is find places that can take the veterans who are there. Hotels. Shelters. You need to evacuate. The sooner the better. Do not let the news media in. It will take months to go through all the personal effects that were saved.

“Also they have a war room. Everything that is in there needs to be photographed. It lists everyone they have killed; plus the money they are embezzling from each man. Even though they have been killed …they are still collecting that person’s military benefits. The war room is in the office near the front doors.”

-=-=-=-=-=-

Chris Larabee stood in front of the small monitor wearing a tee shirt, black jeans and that collar.

“It saddens me Christopher, that you have used your talents to take men in the manner in which I saw on the news. I knew you had a hunger. I did not realize how strong it was until Beauregard explained your situation.”

“You know the blond dude?” Chris asked, surprised at this revelation.

“I do. But what you need to know is… Vin Tanner is a master equal to me.”

Chris’ mouth opened but no sound came out. The former team leader watched the screen go blank. Then he stared wide-eyed at the image that came up. Vin Tanner, his hair in a pony tail, wearing black leather. But it was the Native American symbol on Vin’s shoulder that he stared at. It meant he was a Master of men.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Vin smiled as he talked to the man in Missouri. He was a former Marine Master Sergeant. He was very much in control of things. Jeffrey Cotton was the lead detective of Homicide in the town of Blue Springs, Missouri. He had called his paramedics and doctors to assist in what they had found in the padded rooms. They unfortunately, had lost someone in the furnace before they discovered the red and green buttons were opposites.

Detective Cotton listened intently as Vin explained about the explosives. And knew the man would handle it efficiently.

“We’ve had to threaten local news stations to keep them away. My Chief’s father-in-law has clout for lifting their broadcasting licenses. That was my last resort and the only thing that worked. We have discovered the cottage near the entrance. It was where their War Room was. We have ATF and Police photographers getting films on everything.”

“God, Tanner. It’s going to take months to get information to families.”

“And even longer for the Defense Department to stop the checks that the designers of these places have made millions off of. Keep up the good work. I’ll let President Bush know you have everything under control.”

“How the hell did you get tapped for this?”

“Because,” Vin started, letting out a breathe, “My elite sniper squad … answered only to the President.”

-=-=-=-=-

Vin sat back on his stool as he accepted a beer from Tory.

“I sure am glad Georgia, Indiana and Pennsylvania have things under control. One call to ATF in Washington and everything was taken care of. Just hope this place doesn’t explode before we can get those men out of that organ ward.”

Tory moved to a chair next to Vin.

“It’s unbelievable they have gotten away with this for so long. Now I am wondering if the chef I replaced really left, or is he ash around those flowers.”

“We’ll never know. Unless he is listed in the War Room. How are you doing packing up the kitchen?”

“We’re almost done. Those ladies have worked here for over five years. They have no jobs to go to,” Tory replied as he pulled out a slip of paper.

“Got this call a bit ago. Some small hotel in Denver needs a pastry chef. You know anything about it?”

Vin grinned. “It is a small corporate hotel near the business center of Denver. Their pastry chef decided Denver was too tame. He took a job back in New York. I recommended you. Told them about the eclairs I devoured here. Hopefully, you made them.”

Tory laughed. “I did, actually, but I’m not really a pastry chef.”

Taking notes from his jacket pocket, Vin handed it to Tory. “These are the desserts the hotel is famous for, under the chef that left.”

“Flan … I have a great recipe for that. Eclairs… cream puffs.. I make those with custard not that white stuff.”

Tory grinned as he read the list. He had recipes for all of these. Looking up he responded, “Maybe I am a pastry chef. But what is going to happen when they…”

“I recommended you. Doesn’t matter if you served two or ten. I’m one of the owners. They can’t say no to me.”

Tanner suddenly stood up. “In fact, you shouldn’t have had to serve any time. The report my partner and I put in, proved you were not involved.”

Tanner walked to the door as he pulled his phone and called Lill. Behind him, Tory sat in stunned silence.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Vin found a quiet corner and talked with the NASA computer Lill. Within seconds she was in the digital reports of that incident. She found where Tanner and his partner’s reports had been filed plus a hand written note from their Captain to lose them.

“Send them electronically to the Judge that presided. I know he asked several times if they had information on Tory to prove he was involved.”

“Definitely the Captain’s note also.”

“That first, then the two reports. Send them from Special Agent In Charge, Denver ATF, Vin Tanner.”

-=-=-=-=-=-

 

Chapter Text

 

Closing his phone, Vin spotted his father.

DAD! Get your stuff together. We’re evacuating.

What?

This place is rigged to blow.

The two men stared at each other for just a moment and then Vin took off running toward the back of the facility. He hit the double doors marked NO ADMITTANCE with his shoulder and kept on going.

Vin found the Medical Examiner standing among several bodies.

“Sir! We’re evacuating. We’ve just discovered this place is rigged to blow.”

The older man looked at him in surprise. “Well, that makes my decision easier.”

Motioning to several men around him, the Coroner ordered the six bodies to be placed into three caskets and they would be processed in the tents set up near the front hedges that formed a boundary around the property.

Vin went through their back door, jogging around to where Josh was. Coming to the open door, Vin backed away as the stench made him gag.

“JOSHUA!” Vin bellowed.

“Vin.. it’s going to be a while,” Josh Bird said stepping out into the fresh air.

“We are out of time, my friend. We’ve just discovered this whole place is wired to blow. Has been since it was built. ATF found exposed wiring on the roof. Every room is wired. Every window is wired. You need to make some quick decisions. And Bro, I don’t want you to be a pile of dust here.”

 “Keep this door propped open too. If it closes, you might not be able to get out,” Vin stated.

-=-=-=-

As Vin jogged around the west side of the facility, he suddenly spotted Herman’s face up against a window. As he pulled his phone, he watched the fake doctor in animation.  It took Vin several seconds to realize the cell phones being used may set off the bomb.

Running full out, Tanner came fast around the front of the building almost colliding with several ATF agents.

“Tie these front doors open!” Tanner ordered. “Make sure people can get out on one side. Attach one of the ropes to that SWAT vehicle. I’m ordering an evacuation.”

Entering the open lobby, Vin caught Samantha’s elbow. “Do you have a PA system? Where is it?”

Samantha stared into Vin’s blue eyes. “What’s wrong? What’s happening?”

Softly, the ATF agent said, “This place is wired to blow up. Get everything in that break room you want to save gathered together. I’m ordering an evacuation.”

“Those wires around the windows aren’t for security, are they?” The nurse asked cautiously.

“They’re not. Need an alphabet listing of all residents so we can check them off…”

“I’ve got that on a tablet,” Sammy Jo butted in as she stepped up to the front desk and showed him the public address system. “Just push this and it will go into every room and the halls.”

“What about those rooms in the back?” Vin asked.

“I’m not sure, but I think they do.”

“Don’t forget your spoons,” Vin whispered as he kissed her on the cheek.

-=-=-=-

Vin Tanner said a short prayer and then picked up the microphone.

“Agent Tanner,” Special Agent in Charge Bosely ventured coming up behind Vin.

“Why has you asked to have the doors tied open?”

“See those wires around the windows?” Vin asked quietly.

The senior agent smiled. “Security. It’s normal for this type of facility.”

“Maybe for a regular facility. But not this one. Not one that tortures veterans. Starves them. Harvests their organs for the black market. Those sir … are wires to implode this place,” Vin stated firmly.

As the senior agent walked over to the windows, to inspect them more closely, Vin’s hand tightened around the microphone.

“DO NOT USE YOUR CELL PHONES INSIDE THIS BUILDING! REPEAT. DO NOT USE YOUR CELL PHONES INSIDE THIS BUILDING!”

Special Agent Bosely’s nose was close to the window. His eyes widened as he saw the thickness of the wire. Just as he pulled his cell, he heard Tanner’s announcement. Hurrying from the building, he sought out his demolition team. Before he could even speak, they were pointing out the wiring on the roof.

“THIS IS AGENT TANNER. COMMANDER TANNER’S SON. WE ARE EVACUATING THE BUILDING! THIS IS NOT A DRILL. LEAVE BY THE FRONT DOOR! DO NOT OPEN ANY WINDOWS. DO NOT OPEN ANY SLIDERS. THIS IS NOT A DRILL!”

“REPEAT! EVACUATE THE BUILDING THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR! DO NOT… GO TO YOUR ROOMS FIRST. THIS IS NOT A DRILL!”

 “Oh hell,” muttered Bosely. “Tanner’s going to evacuate. We need a place and transportation.”

“What about that VFW with the conference center? They have buses. Go on tours.” One ATF agent responded.

Special Agent Bosely, pulled his phone as he walked away. Once he mentioned what was needed, without telling the man why, he had a confirmation of a place for the veterans. Plus two large tour buses would be dispatched immediately.

Vin watched Samantha emerge from the Break Room with a large paisley dress bag and a tote.

Taking her things, Vin sprinted to where he parked their ‘bird’. Quickly depositing them inside, he started back toward the main building.

Bosely stopped him from entering, saying, “I’ve talked to VFW Post 310. They have a new conference center and tour buses. I made arrangements for all the residents to go there. Their buses will be here shortly.”

“Thank you sir. Once the residents are off this property … you will be in charge,” Vin explained solemnly.

“I don’t think so….” Bosely began.

Tanner showed him a text he’d just received from Washington.

Bosely stared at the text that came from – The White House.

Special Agent Bosely will be in charge of the veterans once they leave that no man’s land. He is the Sacramento Agent in Charge. He knows his town. Vin, chose someone you trust to clean up what is left.

News conference … you, Colonel Chamberlain, Commander Tanner. Plus any ATF agents that were essential in saving lives.

Before Bosely could respond, his own cell jingled with a text.

ATF and US Marshals are in charge once everyone is evacuated. I have instructed US Marshals to pick up Caroline Rose. She will be housed in a safe place where she can be interrogated. The FBI has dropped the ball. You know your city. Use it. … President George W. Bush

Special Agent Bosely read the text twice before looking up into Tanner’s face. “Who are you? You were a sniper.”

Vin just stared at the man.

“Bush had a special sniper squad he could call up …. Shit!” Muttered the Agent in Charge of Sacramento.

Vin just smiled, saying, “Tell the snipers at the front gate to let those buses in. Let’s hope we can get everyone out before it blows. Vibrations have already started.”

Walking back to the front door, Vin pulled his vibrating phone from his pocket. He stopped next to the two demolition agents who were looking through a scope as they studied the roof.

“Agent Tanner.”

“Chief of Staff, Vin. The FBI have been pulled off this situation. Caroline Rose is now in the custody of US Marshals. They will be working with Bosely and his agents. Only you and the Georgia facility seem to have surgery rooms. Both are close to shipping lanes and international airports. The President also wanted you to know, that even though you would prefer to stay a Sergeant, you were promoted on the field to Lieutenant. Your discharge will be changed as being discharged as a 1st Lieutenant. Which means, you will be getting back pay for both positions. I told that General that you had more clout as a Sergeant than a Lieutenant, but I was over ruled by the President.”

“Thanks Cory. I’ve just announced an evacuation order. We’ve discovered this place is wired to implode. There are several exposed wires on the roof. Anything could set them off.”

As an afterthought, Vin asked, “Do you know anything about Larabee? Several media people threw things at me at the first news conference.”

Vin didn’t like the long pause. He was about to hang up when he heard a sigh.

“Larabee is one of the reasons Travis was asked to retire. He has been sitting on those items he asked you to investigate for years. From what I understand, Beau Gainsfield is the…”

BEAUGREGARD! If he endangers my ranch…!” Vin blasted angrily stepping away from those around him.

“Easy, Falcon. It boils down to the fact that … Larabee would die a horrible death in prison. Gainsfield went to Travis. They discussed Larabee, who is now held in a place only the Georgian knows. A deal was worked out between Travis, the District Attorney and Beau. I don’t know the specifics. You will have to check with your ranch manager. The D.A. is making an announcement tomorrow regarding it.”

-=-=-=-

Slowly walking back into the entry of the Stars and Stripes, Vin found Samantha looking at the list of names.

“This has a phone, doesn’t it?” Vin asked taking it out of her hand.

“Yes, but…”

“Show me how to pull up the number,” stated calmly. “Okay, dial in this number.”

Samantha stared at the number on the card. She jumped when a woman’s voice said, “How may I help you?”

“Lill,” Vin said softly. “Samantha is going to say her name. Sam.”

“Samantha.”

Continuing Vin stated, “Lill, there is a list of names in here. All the veterans will be filing out. They will give Samantha their last name. Need you to mark them off.”

“I can do that. Does this include the orderlies and the kitchen staff? Their names are not on this list.”

Sam looked at Vin who nodded.

“Tory Schroeder is our chef. Rosemary Elder. Carry Felter. Misty Foster are the kitchen help. Then the two orderlies, Randall Greene …G.r.e.e.n.e. Robert Angelo,” Samantha said quietly.

“Thank you Samantha. Vin. I can feel vibrations. Best get them out.”

“Sam. Go stand beyond that Humvee. Archie, stay with her. And stay away from the doors.”

Vin looked around. It appeared no one was assembling for evacuation. Picking up the mike again, he spoke Polish for several seconds. Smiling, he watched Sergeant Biezinski running toward him.

“Tanner. That deaf young man. He is feeling vibrations.”

“Yes. Go get him and drag him out if you have to. This is the real deal. This place is going to blow!”

Picking up the mike again, Vin Tanner growled loudly.

 “GENTLEMEN AND LADIES. THIS IS NOT A DRILL! THIS PLACE IS RIGGED TO BLOW. COME THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR. THE FRONT DOOR ONLY. GIVE YOUR LAST NAME. YOUR LAST NAME TO SAMANTHA!”

Vin watched as people discovered this was real.

“PLEASE ASSIST THE THREE IN WHEELCHAIRS. DO NOT GO BACK TO YOUR ROOM. YOUR LIFE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYTHING IN YOUR ROOM.”

“REPEAT! THIS. IS. NOT. A. DRILL. PLEASE LEAVE THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR. DO NOT. DO NOT GO OUT ANY SIDE DOORS OR ANY SLIDERS.”

“THOSE IN THE BACK BY THE INCINERATOR. PLEASE EVACUATE VIA YOUR DOORS. JOSHUA. CORONOR… LEAVE THE BUILDING NOW!”

“ALL ATF AGENTS. FBI AGENTS. STATE POLICE. THIS INCLUDES YOU. GET THE HELL OUT OF DODGE PEOPLE … NOW!”

“Tanner! The door is trying to close,” an ATF agent called who was standing next to the SWAT vehicle.

“Back it up! Hold it open! We have two officers running. They are carrying someone.” Vin shouted.

Vin stepped back as Biezinski and one of his officers ran through the double doors carrying Randall Greene.

“CUT THE ROPE! LET IT GO! THEN BACK UP FAST!” Vin shouted as he ran towards Samantha and the others.

-=-=-=-=-

“This is news chopper … eye in the sky. They are evacuating the Stars and Stripes Veterans Home. Two buses from the VFW have arrived. We don’t really understand  why they …OHMYGOD!! Windows on the west side have just imploded into the building.”

-=-=-=-=

State Police. Sacramento Police. US Marshals. ATF agents. Veterans and staff stood silently watching the building they were just in, slowly disintegrate into a pile of dust.

Tanner turned to FBI agent Turner and the US Marshal standing next to him. “I need to talk to that fake doctor … Herman. Where is he?”

The US Marshal spoke first. “We picked up Caroline Rose. She was the only one at the Federal jail.”

“Turner.” Vin growled. “Where is he? It’s why you were sent in the first place.”

Turner looked at the disintegrated building. Then looked back at Tanner.

“You never picked him up, did you?” Vin groaned looking back at the building. “Hope you can explain why to your boss.”

-=-=-=-=-

Josh pulled Vin away, and they walked to Josh’s blue bird.

“I just talked to Izzy at our hotel. She’s called two corporate hotels here. The Ambassador has agreed to host us. You. Me. The Commander and Samantha. I need to stay for at least two days.”

“The two orderlies. Randall and Robert need to stay with us. Randall is deaf. He and I have communicated several times. Sam has an apartment here but once the media finds her …I want her out by then. What is the name of the owner of this hotel?”

Josh pulled his phone and looked at the name. “Angelo Colombo.”

Chuckling, Vin pulled up the number on his phone. “Vin Tanner. Denver. Is Colombo in?”

“Mr Tanner! Just a moment.”

“Vincent! Are you in town?” An excited voice boomed out of Vin’s phone.

“Izzy called you. I’m in need of several rooms … or one of your penthouses. I found my father… and my girl. Also Josh Bird is with me and two young orderlies from the Stars and Stripes Veterans Home ….which has just disintegrated into a pile of dust.”

“Oh my lord. We were just watching that via the Eye in the Sky news chopper. You are one of the people on the ground.”

‘I am.”

“I have a suite of rooms I can give you. Two smaller bedrooms and a master. Plus living, dining, open concept. You will be the first to test it out. Rollaways in the closets of the smaller rooms. Is that blue helicopter yours?”

“Yes.”

“We have two helipads. This is wonderful! I want to pick your brain, my friend.”

“Not sure when we will be there. One of the young men coming with us is deaf. Alert your staff. I speak deaf sign language, but if your have….”

“I do!” Colombo cut in. “She will be happy to assist him.”

“Ciao.” Vin grinned.

Joshua Bird gawked at his friend, saying. “Do you know every person in the world?”

“I met him on a flight from Washington to the West Coast. I got off in Denver. He stayed on. We talked the whole time about corporate hotels,” Vin ventured looking around.

State Police were setting up spotlights, and crime tape around the whole building. Two fire trucks had arrived and were on standby. Samantha was standing on the steps of Caroline’s cottage calling out names, while a US Marshal handed out boxes. Clear plastic boxes with lids. Inside were wallets, IDs and other personal effects that identified the man.

“Where’s Randall?”

Vin saw the young man in question and took off running toward the bus he was waiting to board.

“ROBERT! STOP!” Vin shouted.

“We’re going with them,” Robert said stepping aside for someone else to board.

Sliding to a stop, Tanner pulled both men out of the line. “You both are coming with me. You aren’t veterans. You can’t go with them.”

“But the kitchen help…”

“They have apartments in town. You stayed here, right?”

“Yeah. Once we came, we couldn’t leave.”

“Where are you from?” Vin asked.

“A little town in Colorado that no one hear of. Laveen,” Robert muttered.

Tanner started laughing as the two men looked at him oddly. “A nice little mining town that has been there for centuries. Less than a thousand people, right?”

“You know about it?” Robert gasped.

Vin signed as he answered. “Come on you two… we’re heading to a hotel to relax before we go home.”

-=-=-

 

Chapter 12 – Shame on You!

Chapter Text

 

“Vin…”

Reaching for his earphone, Vin quietly spoke. “Sam. What is it?”

“There are boxes here for Russell, Robert and Randall.”

“I’ll bring them up to you. Randall will probably want Russell’s. Do you need to go to your apartment before going to the hotel?” Vin asked.

“You don’t think I can stay there?” Samantha muttered worriedly.

“Darlin’. I’m sure the news hounds probably already have it stacked out. How did you get here today?”

“Took the bus. My old Mini wouldn’t start again. My neighborhood’s not so great.”

“We’ll work it out at the hotel,” Vin answered, motioning Robert and Randall towards the cottage.

“Come on, you two. Samantha found your things that were stolen. You stay with her until we’re ready to leave,” Vin insisted.

Vin watched the two young men jog up the steps to the wide front porch of the cottage. As the two looked through the plastic box containing their wallets and other personal items, Vin followed two US Marshals into the cottage.

“Thought you’d want to see this,” one Marshal stated. “It’s incredible. Going to take months, years to get them to families. Families that might not even be alive.”

Vin followed the two men down the hall. Stopping midway, the curly haired blond Marshal offered, “From that door to down there is all one room.”

Stepping into the room, Tanner’s breathe caught in his throat. “Good god! Ceiling to floor shelves lined with clear plastic shoe boxes. These are all dead?”

“We’ve only looked at a few, but we’re fairly sure this is the ‘dead room.’ The date of death is handwritten under their names. Not sure how we’re going to catalog all these.”

Vin pulled his phone and punched in a number. “Lill. Are you still here?”

“I am. May I suggest that the Marshalls get their photographers with digital cameras in here. If they take a slow running video of what is here, I can catalog them alphabetically. I can also catalog the year of death. And I can run the names through the military data base for next of kin.”

The two US Marshals stared at Tanner, who quietly told them she was a NASA computer on loan to him for what was happening here.

“Lill. Put you number into Hawthorne’s phone so he can call you up when the photographers get here,” Vin stated as Josh rushed through the open door.

“Randall broke down sobbing when he discovered Russell’s box was next to him,” Josh blurt out. “No one seems able to get through to him. Robert gave me the name of the Sheriff in Laveen. It’s Georgio’s father. Figured you better call him.”

“Georgio’s dad is a sheriff? Thought his mother was some high society babe,” Tanner gasped following his friend through the maze of the house.

Coming out onto the front porch, Vin was caught by Colonel Chamberlain, Sgt Biezinski and a lone ATF agent.

Biezinski rattled off in Polish. The two men talked about the situation and Vin agreed with the man’s assessment. The area would have a State Police presence until the place was cleaned up and no longer a danger. The flowers would be plowed under as there was no way to retrieve the ashes there.

“I’m Agent Tanis. Second in command under Bosely. He’s not equipped to handle what is happening here. He took this assignment because nothing much happens up here. He’s not a military person. No one in his family has ever been a military person. Doesn’t understand anything about what these men have gone through. He was born and raised here … yet doesn’t know the city at all.”

“Colonel,” Vin muttered.

Jonah Chamberlain grinned. “I just had a conversation with Jack Maloney. He has asked Agent Bosely to step down and allow his second in command to take charge of the veteran situation. Agent Tanis knows of resources within the city ... and I have Army resources. We’ll work together to get the veterans placed elsewhere or back with their families.”

“What about the ….?” Vin started as he heard an unearthly scream. Looking up, Vin moved past the three men to Randall who was sobbing into Russell’s box.

“It’s  Russell’s box,” Samantha said quietly. “Josh was trying to take it away.”

Vin heard someone behind him growl about the news chopper, Eye in the Sky. Looking around he spotted one of the State Police snipers. Calling him over, Vin asked for his weapon. After checking the weapon and loading it, Agent Tanner stepped up onto a bench seat and took aim. One single shot was heard as the news chopper suddenly fly straight up and beyond range.

Pulling his red phone out, Vin asked Maggie to put him into the air traffic control tower. His voice rang out over the main system.

“This is Federal Agent Vin Tanner. We are still in a no fly zone over the Stars and Stripes Veterans Home. Colonel Chamberlain has NOT given you an all clear. I will personally shot down any news copter that invades this air space  and endangers the people on the ground. If you do not comply with this order, I will use my direct access to the White House and see that you all are transferred to latrine duty.”

Vin was aware of total silence around him. Stepping down from the bench, he tossed the rifle back to the sniper. Vin glanced at Chamberlain who burst out laughing.

 “Latrine duty? I’ll have to remember that,” the Colonel chuckled. “What damage did you do to the chopper?”

“I shot off the little red light on their left skid,” Vin answered matter-of-factly.

The two State Police snipers just stared at Tanner. One of them gushed, “That was awesome!”

Colonel Chamberlain proudly boosted, “Sergeant Tanner’s the best sniper I’ve ever had under my command.”

Under his breath, Tanner muttered, “How the hell can they bump me up so many ranks? I’m not even in the service. I’m a Sergeant not some dumb ass Louie.”

Vin turned and went to see Randall. Chamberlain walked off the porch, pulling his phone out he speed dialed a General in D.C.

-=-=-

Chamberlain listened quietly as he was told the President already made the decision to make Tanner a 1st Lieutenant.

“In other words, Bush isn’t giving Tanner an option? We’ve just had something happen here. Falcon growled that he was a sergeant. And why would Bush make him a dumb ass Louie when he wasn’t even in the service. You’d best let your White House informant know that Tanner won’t answer any White House request as a Lieutenant. It’s not who he is.”

-=-=-=-

Vin stared at the text addressed to Lieutenant Tanner. Instead of answering it, he erased it. Then he talked with his computer, telling her to block any calls or texts for Lt. Tanner.

“I will notify them that we have no Lt Tanner in our phone database.”

“Thank you.”

-=-=-

The message that bounced back to Chief of Staff and General Roskamp was completely different however.  After talking with several others who knew Vin’s Army record, Maggie the super computer bounced back this message…

Vin Tanner was a Lieutenant for only three hours and then was back to being a Sergeant. As a Sergeant, he controlled three sniper squads. As a Sergeant he was awarded two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star. Making him a Lieutenant – six years after being discharged as a Sergeant means Sgt Tanner will disappear off the face of the earth! None of his men will be able to find him. Shame on you! … Margaret

-=-=-=-

As Vin comforted Randall Greene, Colonel Chamberlain answered his encrypted phone.

“Slow down, General Roskamp,” Jonah huffed walking away from everyone. “What message are we talking about?”

General Bernard Roskamp read the message that had come through his iPhone. He had already heard from someone at the White House on it.

“Margaret is a NASA computer that was programmed to work with Vin Tanner at his Denver hotel and his ranch. She is one of those computers that can think and do as a human. She is quite incredible. Personally, I think she is right on. And no, I doubt very much Falcon is aware of what she has done. He has enough on his plate here. It’s been a hell hole. Seasoned veterans tortured, starved … burned alive. Their ashes mixed with mulch and put around flower gardens. Now he is working with the State Police, US Marshalls and the Sacramento Police Department. Who else received this?”

“President Bush’s personal assistant and the White House Chief of Staff. From what I was told, Bush’s assistant send a text to Falcon, as Lt. Tanner, and it was blocked, stating they had no Lt. Tanner in their database.”

Chamberlain shook his head. He was glad Roskamp couldn’t see his grin.

“One of the things Margaret does is protect Vin Tanner. NASA programmed her to do that. So until she is told Lt. Tanner exists, it will continue to be blocked.”

The Colonel turned as he heard a horn. He waved as the first bus began to leave.

“Bernie. I suggest you talk to the head of Special Ops. Our Sgt Tanner has an agreement with them to do training and tracking on his mountain. I doubt very much he will do it as a Lieutenant.”

“Good point, Jonah. Thank you for calming me down. Wish me luck to fight for the right of our Sergeant Tanner.”

-=-=-=-

As General Bernard Roskamp walked down a hall toward Special Ops, the six former Rangers that Margaret had spoken to started a text that gave the fax number of the White House. Within minutes that text was sent to hundreds of Army soldiers, Rangers, Marines who had serviced with or under Staff Sergeant Tanner. By the end of night, that fax machine would be overloaded with the question – Who the hell is Lt Tanner? Give us back our Sergeant.

The President would soon learn about military ranking. Who is respected and who is not. The last line in every fax was … “Making Falcon a lieutenant erases everything he did as a sergeant. You didn’t even give him the opportunity to decline. Shame on you.”

-=-=-=-

Vin had just gotten Randall settled down comfortably in the blue bird when he heard several beeps going off. He watched as Archie and several other former military men pulled their phones out.

“Vin, what’s going on?” Sammy Jo asked softly as she looked at the men’s faces.

Before Tanner could answer, Josh Bird appeared. “Get in you two. We’re heading to the hotel. Biezinski, Chamberlain and Tanis will meet us there.”

“What’s going on?” Vin questioned tightly as he helped Sammy in before sliding into the co-pilot’s seat.

“Margaret’s done something,” Josh answered as he fired up the bird.

“Oh hell! Now what?” Tanner groused.

-=-=-=-=-

The blue bird was circling the Ambassador Hotel when Vin realized he hadn’t seen his father in all the mess back at the veteran’s facility.

“What the hell happened to my dad?” Vin barked, jolting everyone awake.

“The Commander was asked to go with the men to help them understand their transition,” Samantha offered.  “Once there, he said he’d find a way to get to the hotel.”

Vin glanced at Josh who answered the terrified look he saw in Vin’s eyes.

“Don’t worry. He is coming home with us. But right now, he is needed there.”

-=-=-=-

The Eye in the Sky news chopper was on the ground at the far end of the station’s parking lot. The pilot and camera man were walking around the chopper inspecting it for damage. The chopper’s mechanic walked up and started laughing.

The pilot groused, “Some sniper he is, I don’t see a single bullet hole or damage anywhere.”

The mechanic chuckled saying, “He wasn’t trying to bring you down. Just wanted you out of there. He took off your little red light on your left skid.”

The pilot stared down at the skid. The socket was still screwed in, but the bulb was gone.

“That gentlemen …is why Tanner … is the best sniper around.”

-=-=-=-

As the blue bird circled to land at the Ambassador Hotel, Josh said, “I’m not sure I want this bird out in the open like this.”

“Let’s see what Columbo has before we make any decisions.”

Seconds after shutting down the engine, Alfonso Columbo and several security guards strolled out.

“Hells ‘a’bells! They have camouflage. Josh! It looks like cement and bricks,” Vin yelped. “We need to get some.”

Josh shook his head, “From a mean machine to a kid in twenty seconds.”

-=-=-=--

Chris Larabee was on his knees checking out the pot belly stove when an overhead voice got his attention.

“Please step over to the windows!” A voice barked.

Larabee looked around wondering how anyone could get in.

“NOW LARABEE!”

Chris instantly jumped to his feet and moved over to the door of the small bathroom. He was shocked to see the wall in front of him slide open. A large muscular man stepped in wearing black combat fatigues. In his hand was a covered tray and a small box. Both were laid on the table next to the stove.

Chris glared at the man as his eyes slowly travelled the length of Larabee’s body. The blond’s jaw tightened as those eyes lingered on his groin.

“Nice package,” the man rasped, as he moved into the room.

“There is a news conference coming on shortly. You might be interested to see it,” the man stated as he programmed the TV monitor on the wall.

Stepping back, the man in black said, “The box is your cold breakfast. Things are happening here. Lunch will probably be late. Tomorrow evening … you will have visitors in the black room.”

“Tomorrow’s Saturday. When do I get to my ranch?” Larabee rasped tightly.

“The D.A. hasn’t decided how that’s going to work yet. He’s waiting for the new Agent in Charge of Denver ATF.”

Chris had heard that Travis had been forced to retire. “Who’s the new AD?”

The man grinned. “The title now is … Special Agent in Charge. And, I think you know the guy they hired for the job.”

Larabee watched the man back up. “Who is it?” He demanded.

 Laughing, the man slowly pulled the pocket door closed. “Vin Tanner.”

“Vin Tanner? VIN TANNER!” Larabee shouted as he moved to the wall to inspect it. Try as he might, he could find no way to open it back up.

Chris lifted the cover off his supper tray and stared at the large portion of lasagna. Plus some kind of green vegetable, four garlic sticks of bread and a salad.

“At least I’m not going to starve,” muttered the blond.

-=-=-=-

Samantha stood in the middle of the living room of the penthouse Colombo had said was for their use.

“Vin. This is bigger than the house I was raised in,” Samantha rasped as she took in the view.

Coming up behind his lady, Vin whispered, “We are the first people to use this. Three bedrooms. One for each of us … or … you and I can share one.”

Sammy Jo turned in his arms. “Could we try out the bed first? I-I haven’t had sex since Jimmy died.”

“How about right now?” Vin rasped, kissing her hard on the mouth.

Josh watched as Samantha wrapped her legs around Vin’s slim hips. Dr Bird’s fist shot up into the air as he watched his long time friend and brother carry his lady down the hall.

-=-=-=-

An hour later, Josh knocked on the master bedroom door. “Press conference. Forty minutes.”

“Sammy Jo.”

“Mmmm.”

“Sleep.”

“Mmm.k…”

Vin rolled out of bed and headed to the master bath. After a quick three minute shower, he gathered his clothes and weapons and walked across the hall to dress.

“Archie here?” Vin questioned, buckling on his ankle holster.

“They are in the living room. No one will get to her,” Josh answered.

“What about Chamberlain, Biezinski and Tanis?”

“Downstairs in a conference room waiting for you.”

“Call the Commander. See if he can get here.”

“Why?” Josh asked as they headed for the living room.

“I’m proposing to Samantha tonight. Romeo should be able to get him here. Columbo’s putting together a midnight buffet for all of us. I’d really like the Commander here.”

“Josh! I better call Georgio’s father right now,” Vin declared. Pulling out his phone he asked Maggie to find the Sheriff’s cell number and put ‘Federal Agent Tanner’ as the incoming caller.

Sheriff Winters.”

“This is Special Agent in Charge, Denver ATF. I am in Sacramento, California. I have found two of three missing young men from your town.”

“Russell, Randall and Robert,” came the rasped question. “Are they all right? What’s happened…”

“Randall and Robert are safe. Unfortunately, Russell is dead. I am just getting ready to do a news conference. I wanted their families to be aware as they may be on camera.”

“What about Russell? Randall and Russell were always together. Have been since grade school.”

“Dad. Who’s calling? What is it?” A voice in the background rasped.

Vin heard an argument going on and then a voice of a former Ranger barked into the phone.

“Who is this?”

“It’s Falcon, Georgio.”

“Hey Sarge. What’s going on?”

“I found my father at the Stars and Stripes Veterans Home in Sacramento. I also uncovered some horrific things. Robert and Randall are alive and safe. Randall’s friend Russell … is dead,” Vin explained.

Slowly, Vin explained to his former Ranger what Randall and Robert were forced to watch. Vin told Georgio that Russell’s parents needed to know the body was not retrievable.

“Like those flower gardens in…”

“Yes,” Vin cut in. “And Georgio, Randall’s going to need some counseling.”

“That will be me, Falcon. I have a degree in it. And I can totally tell him I understand his pain. I’ll call their pastor and we’ll go over together. This news conference, is it nationwide?”

“Yes. And… there are five other Stars and Stripes Veterans Home in the US.”

-=-=-=-

Vin and Josh stepped out of the elevator into a sea of security guards. Looking around he asked if Columbo was around.

“I am here, my friend. What do you need?”

“I need an engagement ring. A very special engagement ring.”

“Explain..”

Using his hand, Vin explained he wanted a small pearl in the center surrounded by diamonds in a white gold or silver band.

“I have such a one in my safe, as well as several others. Come!”

Tanner whistled as a guard opened a huge walk-in wall safe. Columbo gave the guard instructions, and a box was brought out and set on a small table.

Alfonso reached into the safety deposit box and pulled out a blue satin bag.

“You remember meeting my daughter in Washington.. when we first met. She gave me this, at that time. Her fiancé gave it to her because she loved pearls. Unfortunately, he was killed two months before their wedding. She kept it for a year before giving it to me. She told me, ‘sometime in your future, a friend will need this.’ And you are that friend.”

Vin slowly reached in and pulled out the exact ring he’d just described. “You sure, Columbo?”

“Absolutely! My business is thriving thanks to you. I did what you suggested. Took that course about how to manage a hotel. I learned incredible things. I discovered, even at my age, I could still learn.”

-=-=-

 Upstairs in the penthouse, Samantha heard someone saying, Saa..man…tha over and over again.

“Oh, spitball queen … time to get up..” Maggie sang.

Spitball… “Vin!” Sam barked sitting up.

Sammy Jo stared at a woman sitting in a chair across the room. “Are you real?”

Stephanie Columbo laughed. “Yes. Remember, we met when you arrived. Agent Tanner is getting ready for a news conference. I brought up a couple of dresses. Thought you might want to wear something besides scrubs.”

“Oh, I would loved to wear a dress. Let me take a quick shower. I want to be down there for the news conference.”

-=-=-=-

A security guard caught Josh Bird as he waited for Vin to return. Commander Tanner had arrived and wanted something out of the camouflaged chopper.

“I’ll just change right here, Josh,” Michael Tanner suggested. “There is room under this shelter. I think I need to be in full uniform for this. And if these other things can be put .. wherever I’m bunking..”

“In a penthouse with me, Vin and Samantha,” Josh answered. “I’ll ask security to take them up.”

“What about Randall and Robert?” The Commander asked.

“They are being incorporated into a sleepover with young adults from a deaf school and their advisors. Some are deaf. Some aren’t.  I thought it would be good to get them totally away from the press conference. Randall’s having a really tough time since Russell’s box was discovered.”

-=-=-=-

Vin Tanner, Colonel Jonah Chamberlain, Sergeant Biezinski and Agent Tanis had just finished a thirty minute conference on how to handle the questions that may come up in the news conference. How much they could say or not say, when Vin’s red phone began to beep.

Vin stared at the Lt. Tanner text. Looking up at Chamberlain, Vin asked, “What exactly did Margaret say?”

The Colonel pulled out his phone and scrolled down to the text.

Vin Tanner was a Lieutenant for only three hours and then was back to being a Sergeant. As a Sergeant, he controlled three sniper squads. As a Sergeant he was awarded two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star. Making him a Lieutenant – six years after being discharged as a Sergeant means Sgt Tanner will disappear off the face of the earth! None of his men will be able to find him. Shame on you! … Margaret

“I have to agree with her,” Vin answered quietly. “Plus, there is protocol about who and how one gets promoted. Once you are discharged, that’s it. And Margaret’s right. Everything I did as a Sergeant would be wiped clean.”

“How much time to we have?” Tanner asked looking around.

“Press conference will be out front in the circle drive … whenever we get there. Make your call. We’ll wait out in the lobby for you.”

Vin turned away from the door and walked over to the farther corner of the room. He looked at the number.

“Maggie. When she answers, put it on speaker. I don’t care where she is, I want witnesses,” Vin growled.

“She’s having a late night dinner with some Washington friends.”

“Good. Let’s do it.”

The Washington woman looked startled as her phone went off. Her companions asked who was calling her this late and she gave a short reply.

Margaret answered the phone for her, putting it on speaker.

“This is Agent Vin Tanner. I am not Lieutenant Tanner. I cannot be promoted to Lieutenant, Madam! It is against Army protocol to promote anyone after they have been discharged. I was discharged as a Staff Sergeant. That is what I am. I would suggest that you and the President go to the Pentagon Library --- West Wing, third floor. There are several documents there that will explain how promotions go.”

“Well, Lieutenant. You are in the Army. You do things for the President…”

“You are misinformed, madam. I am NOT in the Army. I repeat, I was discharged six years ago. Things I have done for the President, I did as a private citizen, NOT as an Army man. I would suggest you get your facts in order.  Perhaps it is time to go back to school and learn what the Armed Forces is all about. All future calls to Lt Tanner will be blocked.”  Vin made a hand signal in the air and the call was terminated.

“Little testy there, aren’t you son,” Michael Tanner ventured softly.

Vin’s head snapped up and he stared at his father in full Navy whites. Immediately, he was back in Arlington National Cemetery standing with his squad as Major Cribley was being buried.

Michael caught his son as he began to slide down the wall. “Sorry Vin, I should have warned you I was coming in, in uniform.”

Vin blinked. “It’s been one hell of a day, dad. When can we go home?”

“Tomorrow?”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Josh said you’re proposing to Samantha tonight.”

“I already asked her. She said yes. But … wanted to make it public. Have a ring. Thought I do it during the midnight buffet that Columbo is putting on.”

“She is all dressed up in a blue dress.”

“Oh no. I’ll be back in the fourth grade. Blue dress. Blue tennis shoes. Blue ribbons in her hair.”

-=-=-=-=-

The press conference lasted thirty minutes. Many questions asked could not be answered. Vin Tanner and Colonel Chamberlain spoke of the horrors they found. The mistreatment of veterans. Lives lost. The US Marshals only said it would take months to go through the records and for families to be notified. At the end, Agent Tanner said he could only speak for what was found here. He stated there were five others, and he listed the states they were in. Tanner also informed the press and the public that the corporate offices in Chicago were embezzling the military benefits of the veterans under their care. Even the ones that were dead, their benefits were still being collected.

Tanner’s closing statement stunned the press and the audience that was listening.

“I know that many people in this city have visited the Stars and Stripes Veterans Home. You’ve talked with veterans there. Eaten with veterans there. But … when you were told they ‘moved on’ you never asked why or where. Shame on you … for never pushing to find out where your friend disappeared to.”

“This morning on the west side of this city, a seventy year old woman was found unconscious in her house. The postman discovered three days mail in her mailbox and called police. Not one neighbor called to check on her. Her family didn’t call. Her friends didn’t call. A postman. Alert to his elderly patrons made the discovery.”

“How many of you check on your relatives… your neighbors … those that live alone and have absolutely no one to turn to. Unless we start stepping out of ‘our box’ we will become that person that no one cares about. And if that happens, all humanity will die.”

Vin Tanner made an about-face and walked quietly back into the hotel.

-=-=-=-

Vin walked to where Samantha was standing with his father. No one said a word. No one coughed, sneezed or breathed.

“What?” The Texan barked looking around.

It was Archie who responded. “Hell Sarge! You said three whole paragraphs out there. Usually its only one or two sentences.”

“It had to said,” Commander Tanner responded loudly. “Now! Food. Vin and I haven’t eaten since breakfast yesterday.”

-=-=-=-=-

Vin put his arm around his lady and ushered her into the conference room he’d been in earlier. He decided he’d had enough public for one day. The ring was going to be presented quietly.

Slipping the velvet bag out of his pocket as he closed the door behind him, Vin whispered, “I want to make our engagement legal.”

Samantha turned around her eyes wide as she stared at the beautiful ring being taken out of the velvet bag.

“Oh…Vin. It’s beautiful. I love pearls,” Samantha gushed.

“The pearl is small…” Vin started.

“Doesn’t matter. The setting. The diamonds around it,” Samantha purred. “The pearl. It kind of looks …umm..”

“Like a spitball,” Vin finished with a wide grin.

The two lovers looked at each other and burst out laughing.

“Exactly right!” Vin yelped. “Let’s go get some food.”

=====

 

Up next – Chapter 13 – Home At Last