Rating- R for violence and language
A/N: Many thanks to Marti for reading along and beta-ing as she went. Thanks to Antoinette for the great beta. And a special thanks to Jordan for the wonderful pic and for that extra kick in the behind to get back to this one.
Orin Travis looked across his desk at the man he'd known most of his life. Their friendship started in university and continued through the years, cemented by the trust they had in each other. Orin looked back at the six files on his desk. He knew Dr. Coburn was taking a chance bringing this to him, but he could understand his friend's concern.
“Can your organization help me, Orin?”
“I’ll discuss it with Chris and get back to you, but I think we’ll be able to help. Just leave it to me,” Travis said.
Coburn stood up and reached across the desk, shaking hands with his long time friend.
“Thanks, Orin, Shady Acres is a wonderful institution and I’d hate to see it brought down because of this. I didn’t know who else to turn to.”
“Daniel, I’ll be in touch with you as soon as we figure out what we’re going to do.”
“Okay, but don’t call me at my office. I just don’t know if it’s safe.”
Travis frowned at the idea of his friend going back to the sanatorium, yet there was no choice. He’d worked at Shady Acres since it opened nearly thirty years ago. The dark lines that now marred the tired face were evidence of just how worried Coburn was.
“Daniel, be careful. Don’t do anything to draw attention to yourself.”
Orin watched his friend walk to the door, before turning his attention back to the files on his desk. Six people were dead and no one seemed to give a damn. He pressed the button on his phone and waited for his secretary to answer it.
“Yes, Mr. Travis.”
“Doreen, call Chris Larabee and ask him to come to my office right away.”
“Yes, Sir,” the line went dead and he opened the first file. A young woman’s face looked up at him, sadness evident in the hazel eyes. Heavy scarring covered most of the right side of her face, and Orin knew she’d suffered extensive burns to cause such damage.
“Mr. Larabee is on his way up.”
“Thank you, Doreen. When he gets here, make sure we’re not disturbed.”
Chris walked out of his office and smiled as six men turned to look in his direction. He knew they’d be curious about why he was leaving after vowing an earthquake wouldn’t budge him until the files were updated.
“Hey, Chris, what’s happening?” Wilmington asked, tapping a pencil on the papers strewn across his desk.
“I don’t know anything yet, Buck. Orin wants to see me.”
“Uh oh,” Tanner said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Larabee asked, a smile on his face as he watched the tracker eating a cream filled donut.
“Well, hell, Chris, when Orin calls it usually means one of us is in trouble,” Dunne said.
“I do believe now would be a prudent time for us to find a place to enjoy a pleasant repast before the voice of doom descends on all of us,” Standish said.
“Voice of doom, Ez?” Larabee said shaking his head. “You boys go ahead and take an early lunch. I’ll fill you in on what’s going on when you get back here.”
“Can we bring you something, Chris?” Jackson asked.
“Yeah, if you’re going to that deli JD raves about I’ll have a hot corned beef on rye,” the blond told them.
“No problem,” Sanchez said, watching his boss move toward the elevator.
“Well, Kid, looks like lunch is on you,” Wilmington said, slapping the Bostonian on the back.
“On me? Why the hell does it have to be on me?” Dunne asked, grabbing his denim jacket from the back of his chair.
“Because it was your idea,” Tanner answered.
“No it wasn’t, Vin. It was Chris’,” the youngest member of the team corrected as the six men headed for the elevator.
“Doesn’t matter, JD, it was you who mentioned the great sandwiches the deli made,” Jackson said.
“Ah, hell, we gotta stop at an ATM machine on the way then.”
“No problem, Son, there’s one on the way,” Sanchez told him as they stepped into the elevator.
Chris entered Travis’ outer office and smiled at the young woman seated there. “Hello, Doreen.”
“Hi, Chris, you can go right in.” She smiled and watched appreciatively as he walked toward Travis’ door. She’d been married for five years, and dearly loved her husband, but nothing compared to the sight of Chris Larabee and the tight black jeans he tended to wear. ‘If only Reggie could fill them out like that!’ she thought, sighing as she turned her attention back to her work.
Chris pushed open the door and entered the spacious office. The decor was tastefully done in oak and soft, cream colored furniture. The desk was clear, except for a phone, a coffee mug, a desktop calendar, and desk organizer. Several files lay open in front of the older man.
“You wanted to see me Orin?”
“Yes, Chris, please have a seat.”
Larabee moved to the soft leather chair in front of Travis’ desk and sat down. He watched as the older man thumbed the files in front of him.
“Do you remember Daniel Coburn?” Travis asked, meeting Larabee’s curious gaze.
“Think so. The psychiatrist you introduced us to at the New Year’s Eve party?”
“That’s him. You know we’ve been friends a long time?” Larabee nodded. “He works in a privately owned sanatorium called Shady Acres. He’s been there a long time and helped a lot of people during his career,” Travis explained.
“Is he in some kind of trouble?” Larabee asked, hearing the undertone of worry in his employer’s voice.
“Not yet, but he could be
if he’s not careful. I just finished a meeting with him and he’s asked for our
“What’s going on?”
“Take a look at these files,” Travis said and passed the folders to Larabee.
Chris opened the first one and looked at the name. Martha Collins, aged 27. He read through the papers describing her as a victim of an arsonist’s fire, and placed in Shady Acres at the request of her mother. The second victim was male, Steven MacDonald, 43, extremely violent, placed in Shady Acres by his older brother. The third victim, Janet Mallory, spent most of her adult life in the sanatorium since being committed by her sister. Francis Jacobson was number four, aged 69, placed at Shady Acres by his children after having a stroke. Robert and Julia Slocum, victims number five and six, an elderly couple placed in the home by Julia’s uncle after the two were proven unable to care for themselves.
Orin watched as the younger man studied the files. He knew Larabee was a tedious man and paid attention to details, a trait that saved his life, as well as his friends, on more than one occasion. He knew the blond had chosen his team well, and that they worked well together in spite of the age difference between the oldest and youngest members. He admired the way the seven men formed a tight circle of friendship that was filled with loyalty and trust. Nothing about this team surprised him anymore, yet he knew there were things they’d kept from him. He knew they thought of him as part of their family, but theirs was a brotherly group, and as such his fatherly image was often left out in the cold. Brothers could share things with each other that they would not share with a parent.
Chris placed the last file on the desk and lifted his eyes to meet those of the older man. “Alright Orin, what does this have to do with us?”
“As you can see those six people were patients at Shady Acres.”
“Were?” Larabee asked.
“Yes. That’s why Daniel came to me. Those six people died in the last seven months.”
“I take it their deaths are questionable?” Larabee asked.
“Yes, Daniel says the deaths can be easily explained as accidents or natural causes, but we both know how easily that’s done.”
“What about the police?”
“There’s not enough proof to get them involved. The autopsies showed nothing that couldn’t be explained as natural causes.”
“Is there anything to tie the deaths together?” Larabee asked, comparing the files once more.
“Not much. They all come from well-to-do families...’
Sandy blond eyebrows rose and sea green eyes looked up at his boss. “Money is always a good bet when it comes to murder.”
“That’s true, but why these particular six. Every patient at Shady Acres comes from money, Chris, so why would it only be these six and why did it start up suddenly with the death of Martha Collins?”
“What about their families. Anything suspicious there?”
“Not that Daniel could find out. He’s been trying to figure out what’s going on since the third victim was found.”
“That’s right. She was found in her private washroom, lying against the tub. It looked like she was getting out of the bath when she slipped and struck her head against the sink. One of the female orderlies found her an hour later when she was making rounds with the medications. Janet Mallory was showing signs of regaining her life and would have been released within a month.”
“All right,” Larabee said. “So we have a psychiatrist who seems to think there are six suspicious deaths, and it certainly looks like it.”
“I’m glad you see it that way,” Travis told him. “Chris, Daniel is a good friend and I trust him. I want to help him if we can.”
Larabee simply nodded and closed up the files. “Well, there’s nothing pressing right now, so let me talk with the others and I’ll get back to you.”
“Thanks, Chris,” Travis said. “You can take the files with you to show them.”
Larabee picked up the files and left the office. He nodded to the secretary and made his way to the flight of stairs. He hurried down to the floor where The Firm’s offices were located. The door was open and he slipped inside, smiling as he heard his friends talking in the conference room. He moved toward the door and stood framed in it as he watched Josiah pass around the sandwiches.
“Hey, Chris,” JD called.
“Uh oh,” Jackson said when he noted the files in his boss’ arms.
“Oh, hell, Chris, what’s Orin got planned for us now?” Wilmington asked with a grin.
“You might as well sit and have lunch, Chris,” Sanchez said.
“Yeah, man can’t think on an empty stomach!” Tanner said, tapping his firm midsection.
“Shoot, Vin, guess that means you never think,” Dunne quipped.
“What’s that mean, kid?” the tracker asked, making his way around the table toward the younger man.
“I think Mr. Dunne is making reference to your voracious appetite, Mr. Tanner. If you’re always hungry then obviously you are not thinking.”
“Yeah, see, Vin,” Dunne explained. “You’re always eating so...”
“JD, I wouldn’t if I were you!” Larabee laughed, placing the files on the desk and taking his place at the head of the table.
“JD, I’m not in the mood to patch you up today,” Jackson said of the young man’s penchant for joking around.
Vin tried to keep the serious look on his face, but lost it when JD turned toward him. The kid’s face said it all and the tracker realized the young man thought he was serious.
“Come on, JD, it’s time to eat,” the Texan said and took his seat to Larabee’s right.
Chris reached for the sandwich and coffee Sanchez handed him. “Thanks, Josiah,” he said.
“Not me. JD treated today,” the ex-preacher said.
Larabee turned to the dark haired youth and smiled. “Thanks, Kid.”
“Yeah, thanks, JD,” Tanner said, opening the wrap around the thick Philly steak sandwich.
A chorus of thank yous followed and JD felt great.
“You’re welcome,” he said and his eyes widened. “Since it was my treat and we’re having sandwiches, I heard a new...”
“No!” Buck groaned.
“Aw, come on, JD, no more jokes,” Tanner said.
“It’s really funny...”
“That’s what you always say, Son,” Sanchez groaned, flipping the top off his coffee.
JD smiled. “It’s short,” he said.
“Real short?” Wilmington asked hopefully.
“All right, Kid, let’s get it over with,” the ladies man said.
“A sandwich walks into a bar...”
“Ah, hell,” Larabee spat, knowing what was coming.
JD didn’t miss a beat. “The bartender says... ‘Sorry we don’t serve food in here!’” Several groans went up and JD looked at each man indignantly. “What? That was funny...”
“Shit, JD,” Tanner started. “That’s gotta be worse than your three legged dawg joke.”
“Mr. Dunne, it’s time to do something about your choice of jokes,” Standish said.
“But it’s funny. You guys are just too old,” Dunne told them.
“No, Kid, your jokes are just too old,” Wilmington advised.
“I got more.”
“Okay, Boys, how about we get down to business and make this a working lunch?” Larabee suggested.
“Hmm, JD’s jokes or work?” Jackson said holding both hands in the air as if he was weighing his options. His right hand dropped and his left went higher. “No contest…work!” he said and heard the others agree.
“All right, Chris, what’s going on?” Sanchez asked.
“Do you remember Orin introducing us to a man named Daniel Coburn?”
“On New Year's Eve?” Jackson asked. “He’s a doctor isn’t he?”
“Yeah. I seem to remember him working at some kind of institution,” Sanchez offered.
“That’s him…he asked Orin if we could help him,” Larabee explained.
“With?” Tanner asked.
“Take a look at these and I’ll explain when you’ve finished reading,” the blond said, passing a single file to each man. The men read the files while eating their lunch in silence. By the time the files were passed around, the meal was finished and they were ready to find out what Larabee had in mind.
“Okay, Chris, what’s this all about?” Wilmington asked.
“Coburn came to Orin because he thinks these people were murdered.”
“Does he have any proof?” Standish asked, staring at the picture of Martha Collins.
“Not enough to take to the police,” Larabee explained. “So far all he has are suspicions.”
“I take it he wants us to find out if his suspicions are warranted?” Jackson asked.
“Guess that means we need a plan,” Wilmington said.
Larabee stood up and paced the room, his right hand running through his hair. “I’ve been thinking about that. First I want Ezra and JD to find out everything they can about Shady Acres and its staff and clients. See if the victims have anything in common besides the institution.”
“What about the rest of us?” Wilmington asked.
“We’ll be working on a plan to go in undercover,” the team leader answered.
“At Shady Acres?” Jackson frowned; knowing what could happen if they did go in.
“If Ez and JD come up with anything we’ll have to,” Larabee told them.
“Damn,” the medic cursed softly.
“What’s wrong, Nathan?” the scoundrel asked.
“I hate these types of cases. It means at least one of us is going in as a patient...”
“There’s no choice.” Larabee turned toward Ezra and JD. “You two get to work. Start with the six names we have. Once you’ve checked those out go back over the last couple of years and see if there are any more that are even remotely suspicious.”
“On it, Chris,” Dunne said as he followed the gambler out of the room.
“Alright, boys, it’s time for a plan of action,” the blond told them.
Chris looked at the men seated around the conference table. In the three days since Travis talked to him they’d formulated a plan. He knew these men were not going to be pleased with this undercover assignment and he shuddered at the part he was going to play. He looked at the seven identical files in front of him and passed one to each of his men.
“This is a list of employees from Shady Acres. Some of them have been there a long time, while others are newcomers. Study them and make sure you know whether or not you’ll be involved with any of them. Josiah, would you mind reading the list of names and what they do at the institution? Just give us a brief outline on them and we can go over them more thoroughly later on”
“Sure, Chris,” the ex-preacher said. “Daniel Everett Coburn, age 60, graduated Harvard, was on the Deans Honor list. Worked several years as a missionary before coming to work at Shady Acres. He’s been there for over 29 years,” Sanchez finished.
“Are we considering Coburn as a suspect, Chris?” Wilmington asked.
“Right now everyone on that list is a suspect. Go on Josiah,” Larabee said.
“Carl Sheppard, age 45, financial advisor for Shady Acres. He’s been with the institute for ten years. There are a few questionable things in his background...”
“Such as?” Standish asked.
“Gambling mostly. He’s lost a lot of money at the tracks,” the ex-preacher answered before continuing. “Raymond Kent, age 51, graduated Yale with a full scholarship. Worked in a private institute in New York for several years, but left suddenly, without explanation in ‘82, resurfaced in ‘95 when he went to work at Shady Acres.”
“We need to find out where Kent disappeared during the 13 years he was missing,” Jackson suggested.
“That’ll be something for Ezra and JD to work on. I’m sure if there’s a record of it they’ll find it,” Larabee told them confidently.
“Next we have a Doctor Samantha Parker, age 35, graduated from the University of California. Inherited a large amount of money two years ago when her aunt passed away. Worked for several years at the university before being offered the job at Shady Acres. She’s been there for two years.” He turned the page and looked at the next file before reading from it. “Jenny Lidstrum, age 60, RN, has been a member of Shady Acres staff for nearly 24 years.” Sanchez ran down the list of names until the major staff members were known to each man. They went through the medical, office, and cleaning staff until they had some idea of whom they’d be working with.
Larabee stood up and walked to the table that held coffee and donuts. He poured himself a cup and took a sip of the hot, strong brew before turning to his friends. He walked back to the table and pulled out several more files and placed them in front of him. He knew what he was about to suggest went against how their cases were normally handled, but his background was perfect for what they needed.
“Okay, I’ve got the files here and your new personas. Study them and get to know what your job will be,” he said as he passed each man a file. Once they were open and in front of each man he began speaking again.
“JD, you’ll be going in as JD Carter. You’ll be working in the office and we’ll need you to access the computers, but don’t do anything that’ll make anyone suspicious of you. Study the file carefully as it’s gonna be important that you play the part you’re assigned. That goes for all of you. I can’t stress enough how dangerous this type of assignment is. We’re all essentially on our own once we begin.”
“I’ll be careful, Chris,” Dunne told his mentor when he saw the worry in the sea green eyes.
“Buck Chambers,” the ladies man finished.
“That’s right,” Larabee said. “You’ll be on the cleaning detail...”
“Lots of pretty female cleaners...”
“Those cleaners are probably just your style, Buck...”
“What’s that supposed to mean, Kid?” the scoundrel asked.
“Well, the cleaners at Saint Vincents are all over the hill...Just like...”
“JD, you’d better not finish that sentence!” the ladies man warned.
“Okay, Boys, back to work,” Jackson told the two men.
“As I said, Buck. You’ll be with the cleaners. Hopefully you’ll be assigned a detail or two in the secure facility. Josiah, you’re going in as Josiah Arnott, the family spiritual advisor. You won’t be involved right away, but I want you to coordinate all the information the others come up with.”
“Consider it done, Chris,” Sanchez said.
“Nathan, you’re now Dr. Nathan Bradley. You’re doing an internship at Shady Acres as part of your psychiatric rotation.”
“Hey, Doc, you’re a doc,” Wilmington said, patting the medic on the shoulder.
“It’s a good thing I’ve had plenty of experience with you lot,” Jackson said and they all laughed.
Larabee turned to the tracker and knew the younger man could see where things were headed.
“Vin, you’re going in as Vince Martin. You’ll be playing the part of an orderly and will probably end up assigned in the secure area,” Larabee explained, before turning to the gambler.
“That leaves you and Ezra, Chris,” Jackson said worriedly.
“Ezra and I are going to be brothers...”
“Oh, hell, who are we supposed to feel sorry for?” Wilmington asked, a hint of humor in his voice.
“Shut up, Buck,” Larabee said, shaking his head as he saw the smile on Standish’s face.
“Mr. Larabee, I am honored to find our paternity is no longer in question,” the conman said and smiled when the ladies man choked on the Pepsi he’d been drinking.
“Shit, Ez, that ain’t funny,” Wilmington said.
“Sure it was, Buck, I didn’t know you could make the Pepsi come out your nose,” the youngest member of the team said.
“Children, can we get back to work here?” Sanchez asked, smiling at the men surrounding the table.
“Yes, Pa,” Wilmington said and all eyes turned to Larabee again.
“As I was saying, Ezra and I will be brothers. Chris and Ezra Jacobson of Jacobson Enterprises...”
“Sounds like we’re rich,” Standish said.
“We are...or should I say I am. I’m afraid you’re the brother who drops money at the tracks or casinos and has squandered everything you own.”
“Oh, hell, poor Ezra needs to beg his big brother for money. You gonna give him an allowance, Chris?” Wilmington asked.
Larabee raised his eyebrows and shook his head. Buck knew how to relieve tension and he was grateful for it now.
“So what do our cover stories have to do with Shady Acres?” Standish asked.
“Well, as I said you’ve squandered everything, but you’ve managed to finagle your way into a top position at Jacobson Enterprises, unfortunately for you I now have the means to remove you as CEO of the corporation.”
“Kicked out on your butt, Ez,” Dunne said,
“Not quite,” Larabee explained. “Before I get a chance to go to the board we’ll be making a trip to Shady Acres.”
“Why?” Jackson asked, beginning to see where his boss was going and not liking the idea one bit.
“It’s all part of Ezra’s plan. He’s enlisted the help of Susan James...”
“Our Susan James?” Standish asked.
“That’s right. She’ll be accompanying us to the institution.”
“Why?” Wilmington asked, sitting further up in his chair and paying closer attention.
“Ezra is going to have his brother...”
“Committed,” Tanner finished for the blond.
“That’s right,” Larabee answered.
“Ezra, there’s no choice. We need to find out what’s happening at Shady Acres and that means one of us goes in undercover,” Larabee answered.
“Why you?” Jackson asked.
“Because part of the persona of Chris Jacobson is that he’s got an anger management problem...”
“I can get angry...”
“I know you can, Vin. I know all of you can, but there’s more to it. Jacobson will also have a drinking problem and his family background will be similar to my own.”
“Meaning?” Sanchez asked.
“Jacobson’s family was murdered and he’s been searching for the people who did it. Look, boys, I know you don’t like this...”
“You got that right,” Tanner snapped sharply.
“There has to be another way, Chris,” Jackson tried.
“This is the best way to get in there. We’ve already done some of the groundwork. Orin and Dr. Coburn...”
“You started this without consulting us?” the tracker asked softly.
“Vin, I hate to say this, but I am in charge here and sometimes decisions have to be made. No matter who we decided to send in, it wouldn’t be an easy decision. I talked it over with Orin and this is the best background we could come up with on short notice.”
“Chris, you do know what being admitted to an institution like Shady Acres means?” the medic asked.
“I know, Nathan,” Larabee answered as he leaned back in his chair.
“Do you? You said Ezra was going to have you committed.”
“That’s right, Nathan,” the blond answered.
“So you’ll be committed forcefully, which means orderlies and sedatives...”
“I know,” Larabee told him. “I know they’ll...”
“They’ll pin you to the floor until the doctor injects a sedative into you. Then you’ll be placed in a small room until they assess you,” Jackson explained.
“Dr. Coburn went through the procedures with me.”
“You still think you’ll be able to handle it? What if they decide to put you in restraints? That ain’t pretty, Chris,” the medic stated.
“I know,” the blond said. “There’s nothing else we can do and we all know that no matter who was going in as a patient there’d be arguments for and against. Ezra study that file, you’ll need to know where our offices are located and how much we’re supposed to be worth.”
“How long do we have before we go in?” Wilmington asked, resigned to the fact that his long time friend would be going undercover as a mental patient.
“Susan James is making an appointment for us to tour the facility next Thursday or Friday. I won’t be leaving when Ezra and Susan do,” Larabee said and watched as his friends shuffled the papers before them.
“Chris,” Tanner said after the others left.
“I know what you’re going to say, Vin, but I’m okay with this. I know what I’m doing.”
“That’s not the problem, Chris, and you know it. Hell, I’ve seen you go undercover and you’re one of the best operatives I’ve ever seen, but this means confinement, drugs, and probably restraints. It means you won’t have control over your own life. We both know how hard that is.”
“Yes, we do, and we’ve all been through it in one way or another. I know what I’m getting in to and believe me if there was any other way I’d jump at it.”
“Me too,” the tracker said as he turned to leave. “Ya’d better watch yer back, Larabee?”
“That’s going to be your job, Vin,” the blond said softly, unaware that the younger man heard him. He walked into his office and sat down at his desk, wishing, not for the first time that the case was over.
Vin shuddered at the thought of being unable to fulfill his promise to watch his best friend’s back. Once inside Shady Acres, Larabee would be virtually on his own until the case ended. The tracker prayed things would be easier than it sounded. He walked to his desk and picked up his jacket before heading out. He knew the next few weeks were going to be some of the hardest of his life, yet he vowed to make sure the blond came out of it in one piece.
Time passed quickly as the agents prepared for the upcoming undercover job. Each man understood what was required of him and would make sure he knew what his part would entail. Buck and Vin often wound up at Larabee’s ranch as if they could change the events that were about to occur just by being close to their friend.
Chris often felt his men watching him and knew it was their worry over the role he was undertaking. Again and again he tried to reassure his friends that he knew what he was getting into, but two men continued to worry in spite of his constant reassurances.
Buck wasn’t sure if he could face the next phase of the assignment. He’d been working as a cleaner at the institution for a little over a week and had seen things he knew were the norm, yet it caused a shiver to run through him. He knew Vin and JD were already in place at Shady Acres and things were set up for Chris Larabee and Ezra Standish. Susan James would be accompanying the two men in an effort to add credibility to the cover story. Any background checks made by Shady Acres would reveal that Chris and Ezra Jacobson were business tycoons with conglomerates across the world.
“Buck, you okay?”
Wilmington turned away from the corral as the sharpshooter returned with two bottles of Budweiser. He accepted one and felt the cold mist run down the side of the bottle.
“Thanks, Vin,” he said before taking a healthy swig.
“You okay?” the tracker repeated.
“I’m fine, Vin…just worried about Chris.”
“Because of what happened after Sarah and Adam?”
“Yeah, I keep seeing him when we brought him in. Jesus, Chris thinks he remembers everything about that, but we know differently. Don’t we?”
“Yeah. I can see it as if it happened yesterday...”
PART 2 / PART 3 / PART 4 / PART 5 / PART 6 / PART 7 / PART 8 / PART 9 / PART 10 / PART 11
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