IN THE SWEET BY AND BY

By Jordan McKenzie

 

 

Part 1

 

Chris Larabee closed the magazine he hadn’t read, pushed aside the coffee he hadn’t really wanted in the first place and squirmed in the First Class seat he hadn’t wanted to occupy. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out why he’d agreed to go to Atlanta. Sure, Hank Connelly was his father-in-law, but he’d barely had contact with the man since Sarah and Adam’s deaths. In fact, the only conversations he and Hank seemed able to hold were arguments that insinuated guilt and apportioned blame. The two men hadn’t been able to agree on anything except their mutual love for those who were now lost to them.

 

The blond leader of the Denver ATF’s Team 7 leaned forward in his seat and rubbed the back of his neck. The phone call from Crawford Long Hospital had come after Larabee and his team had returned to their offices to fill out the paperwork from a very difficult case wrapped up just this afternoon. He’d been told Hank was in critical condition following the surgical attempt to remove recently discovered cancer involving the man’s colon. The medical procedure did little more than reveal how widespread the cancer had become. Now the man lay dying, drifting in and out of consciousness and relying on morphine injections to tolerate the pain filling his final hours. The nurse who had made the call informed Chris of Hank’s condition and related his final wish – to see his estranged son-in-law.

 

Chris could only wonder why Sarah’s father might want to see him now. He would have figured the-man-who-was-never-good-enough-for-my-daughter would have been the last person Hank Connelly would want to lay eyes on, especially now. He leaned back in his seat and tried to stretch his back by pushing on the armrests. It didn’t help his aching muscles or pounding head at all. Must have been that last dive on the pavement, he thought, recalling the takedown just hours before. Aw hell, who was he kidding; it was more likely his jangled nerves and fear of confronting the only other person in the world who could truly fathom the depth of his loss.

 

The agent rubbed his temples and eyes hoping to drive his headache away. In the darkness that lay behind his warm fingers, he flashed on an image he’d become all too familiar with these past few nights – Sarah, beckoning to him; almost begging his attention. Chris jumped, startled by the vivid appearance of her in his mind. The pressure on his eyeballs created a dance of white light across his field of vision. His ears detected the person in the seat next to him long before his eyes could.

 

“Are you alright, Mr. Larabee?”

 

A hand touched his arm and again he jumped.

 

“Easy, it’s only me.”

 

Chris worked to focus his eyes and realized it was Ezra who had hold of him. “What? What is it?”

 

“You’re not looking very well. Perhaps you should’ve had a doctor examine you after that fall on your face this afternoon. Granted you caught the bad guy, but it wasn’t the most graceful tackle I’ve ever seen.”

 

“Ezra, what are you talking about?”

 

“You. You’ve been clawing at that armrest since we left Denver. And since I’ve never known you to be afraid of flying, I would say all the jaw clenching and eye squinting is the result of a severe headache.”

 

“Yeah, well, I have to admit I’ve felt better.”

 

“Since you are visiting a hospital while we’re here, perhaps you should see a doctor yourself.”

 

“I’ll be fine, Ezra.”

 

Standish knew the futility of pursuing a conversation that might actually result in Larabee seeking medical help and decided distraction would better serve him. “The District Attorney in Atlanta seemed to think my testimony shouldn’t take more than a day or two. The Harley Jenkins case is pretty cut and dry.”

 

“What?” Chris was still fidgeting in his seat and rubbing at his neck.

 

“If all goes well, I’ll be heading back home by Friday night.”

 

Chris realized what Ezra was saying; he glanced at his teammate and then stared down at his hands. “Good. I hope to be flying back with you.”

 

“I don’t wish to interfere, but I do understand the awkwardness of your situation here in Atlanta. I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s nothing I can’t handle,” Chris responded gruffly.

 

Ezra knew he was stepping into dangerous territory. Under normal circumstances there would have been little doubt his leader could cope with anything, but Chris had been blindsided by his father-in-law’s request for an audience. Couple that with the fatigue of too many difficult cases back to back and, well, Chris might be headed into something he was ill prepared to ‘handle.’

 

The Southerner leaned back in his seat and stared at the city lights growing larger and brighter outside his window. The nearer the aircraft came to landing, the more he worried. He had a feeling it was going to be a long time ‘til Friday.

 

TBC

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