I heard a loud crack and Scott just looked down at his leg as blood began seeping out. He fell into a ball on the ground and began screaming. I looked over my shoulder to see Travis in a perfect shooter's stance, gun smoking. Max was sprinting past him and reached Scott just as a sedan flew into the parking lot and Jayden jumped out and covered Max as he was disarming Scott. Two police cruisers came careening in and the officers jumped out guns drawn.
"Drop the weapons! Now, all of you!" Travis and I lowered our guns to the ground, but Max and Jayden ignored them, guns still trained on Scott.
"INS private security, suspect is down!" Max shouted.
One of the officers covered Scott and the other was still covering Max and Jayden.
"Okay, gentlemen, we have the suspect covered. I need you to lower your weapons to the ground."
Max and Jayden both lowered their guns and stepped back away from them. Just then two unmarked cars with lights and sirens came screeching to a halt in the parking lot.
Karen and four guys jumped out with guns drawn. One held up a badge. "FBI. Officers, get the suspect clear of the van." The two police officers holstered their guns and ran up and dragged Scott clear of the van and handcuffed him. They all had their guns on the van and one of the officers found the right key, unlocked the back door, and jerked it open. Three people were tied up in the back of the van. Two of them were sitting up with looks of absolute terror on their faces. The other was lying down and not moving.
I yelled "Oh, shit, it's Rick!" and started running to the van.
Travis grabbed me. "Whoa, babe, let them do their jobs."
I watched as they pulled the two unknown people out of the van and untied them as an FBI agent was checking Rick. "He is alive, just unconscious. Looks like a pretty bad blow to the head."
As this was going on Max and Jayden had retrieved their weapons and come over to us with Karen. Max reached down and picked up Travis' gun and placed it in his own holster and handed Travis his gun. Karen just nodded. "This will go much smoother if it was a licensed security officer that took the shot."
Travis and I nodded. I looked around and the parking lot was suddenly filled with police. One of the original officers came over with plastic baggies.
"Okay. Sorry, gentlemen, but I am going to need you to unload your firearms." We all did. "Okay, who took the shot?"
Max stepped forward. "That would be me, Officer."
He filled out a label with Max's info and attached it to the bag and had Max drop the gun and magazine into the bag. He went through the same routine for each of us, as two ambulances were pulling into the parking lot. They loaded Rick into one and Scott into the other. Karen and I rode with Rick to the hospital. Max took Travis to go get Shane. I had to call Carl and get him to fill everyone in.
He picked up on the first ring. "Dale! Oh, thank God! Is everyone okay?"
"Travis and I are fine. We got Rick. It looks like Scott hit him in the head; he's unconscious. We are on the way to the hospital. Travis went to get Shane to bring him to the hospital. Can you and David meet us there?"
"We're on our way." He hung up the phone and I just sat back and started to cry.
Karen put an arm around me. "Dale, it's going to be okay."
"I just don't get it, Karen, Why does everyone around me keep getting hurt? Rick is a sweet young boy, for Christ sake! He's a chef; he shouldn't be involved in this kind of stuff. None of us should. We're all just young kids trying to live and have fun and now we have guns around us everywhere and people trying to hurt us. He doesn't deserve this." I pointed to Rick. "He was probably planning dinner for us when this happened."
Just then Rick turned his head toward us; his eyes were open. "Did anyone turn the heat down on the pork loin?"
I just stared at him as he passed out again. I started laughing and crying at the same time. The people around me were the most amazing people in the world. I noticed Karen was chuckling, too. I looked at her.
"So what happens now?"
"There will be an investigation into the shooting. The FBI will take over that case since Scott is a person of interest to them. They will probably get him to plead to a lesser charge and get him to turn state's witness against Carlos Lazcano."
"So he will get away with it." I shook my head.
"To a degree, yes. But the only way he will survive is if he disappears into the witness protection program. He isn't going to have an easy life. But look at it this way -- if what my guys at the Bureau tell me is true, Carlos could be the key to the whole Los Zetos Cartel. He has a direct link to its leader Heriberto Lazcano. This is a major breakthrough for them if Scott talks."
"I guess so. I don't really care about the Los Zetos Cartel, though; I am just concerned with this guy here being taken to the hospital in an ambulance only because he happens to be my cook." The ambulance was pulling into Virginia Beach General and the back doors were thrown open. We jumped out of the way and the paramedic began rattling off a bunch of stuff that I didn't understand. That's when I noticed Cat standing there giving orders.
"Cat, oh, my God, it's Rick."
"What? Dale, holy shit what happened? Who is the gunshot victim?" She looked over her shoulder to the other ambulance being unloaded.
"It's Scott, my ex. He kidnapped Rick and knocked him out. Travis... and I chased him with Max, one of the security guys, and Max shot Scott when he reached for his gun."
"What the hell." She turned back to Rick and began examining his head. "Okay let's get him into Room 4 and get an IV started and get him awake." The hospital staff pushed him off to the room. Karen turned to me.
"Anyone else get hurt?"
"No, just Rick and Scott. I am worried about Travis though."
"I caught that's what you were about to say. Travis is a trooper and will pull through okay, but I will talk to him tonight anyway. Okay, I'll go see to Rick. It looks pretty minor but we will do a full work-up just to make sure. Head injuries can be tricky. I'll let you know once I know something. The waiting room is pretty quiet today so just hang out there until I come get you."
"Okay, thanks Cat." Karen and I went to the waiting room and I just plopped down in a seat. I have never felt so exhausted in my life. A few minutes later Carl and David came running in. I gave them all the information I had and they sat down to wait. Shane and Travis came in and just as I began to tell Shane what was going on Cat came back out.
"Okay, guys, he's awake and responsive. He is following simple commands and is aware of his surroundings. This is a very good sign. Right now they are taking him to do a CT scan of the head, lateral c-spine X-ray, BAL, toxicology screen. That should take an hour or so. As long as those come back clear I will keep him for observation for a couple of hours and then send him home. He is not to be left alone for the night. I think you guys can handle that for now and then I will be over to check on him after I leave here."
I stood up. "Sounds good, Cat, but why a blood alcohol level and toxicology screen?"
"Standard procedure. Alcohol and drugs can mask the symptoms of a deeper injury so we check everyone."
Shane looked up. "When can I see him?"
"In about an hour. And before you ask he has asked for you a couple of times. He is a little scared and shaken up but he is trying to keep a brave face. I will get you into see him as soon as I can. In the meantime someone go make a Starbucks run. I am dying for a latte."
David jumped up. "I can do that." After he took everyone's order he headed out to get us all some very unneeded caffeine. I was wondering how jittery we all were going to be.
Cat went back into the bowels of the hospital and Travis pulled me into a bear hug. "He is going to be fine, babe."
I looked up at him. "How about you? Are your going to be fine?"
He smiled. "With you in my arms how could I not be?" He hugged me tighter. "I will do anything to protect you and this group of nuts."
A group of FBI Agents came into the room and beckoned for Karen. After a few minutes of whispers Karen came back. "Dale, Travis, the Bureau guys would like to ask you a few question. I told them as President of INS you should have your Lawyer with you. Mark Dunn is already on his way with Cal. I anticipated this and called them. I hope you don't mind."
"No, that's fine, Karen. As soon as they get here we would be more than happy to talk to the FBI."
Just then an older man in a lab coat over a shirt and tie came into the room. "Mr. Ryan, please."
"I'm Dale Ryan." I stood up and the whole group stood with me.
The doctor came over to shake my hand. "Mr. Ryan, I am Dr. Lowell, Norfolk General's Chief of Staff. I have a conference room down the hall that you and your people may find more comfortable."
"That's very kind of you, Dr. Lowell. Will you let Dr. Matthews know where we are?"
"Of course. Follow me." We all headed to the conference room down the hall. A couple of minutes later Cal and Mark Dunn came in. We exchanged greetings and Mark explained how things would work. I was up first and went with Mark to a small room across the hall. Two FBI agents introduced themselves and asked us to sit down.
"Mr. Ryan, first let me explain that this is not an interrogation. We just want to make sure we have all the facts straight."
"So it is our understanding that Mr. Fernandez abducted Mr. Young from your house?"
"I wasn't there, but my personal assistant found the house wide open, the alarm not set and the evidence of a struggle and Rick missing."
"What happened after that?"
"Well Carl, my PA, contacted the INS security control center. Then contacted me. Travis King and I were shopping in Colonial Williamsburg at the time. I knew right away it was Scott."
"Why did you believe it was Scott Fernandez that abducted Mr. Young?"
"It's the first thing that popped into my head. Scott is my ex-lover and he tried to crash a party I was having Friday night. My home security team caught him and he explained how desperate he was for money and asked me to pay a debt to some drug kingpin in Seattle for him."
"Mr. Ryan please understand that the questions I am about to ask are required questions and I am not insinuating anything. Are you involved romantically with Mr. Fernandez currently?"
"No. Friday night was the first time I had seen him in about five years."
"Are you familiar with a man named Carlos Lazcano?"
"Only his name. Scott told me he owes $150,000 dollars to him."
"Did you agree to pay the money?"
"No. I recorded the conversation and gave it to INS head of Security Karen Gaines. I instructed her to turn the recording over the FBI."
"Are you romantically involved with Rick Young?"
"No, he is my cook and the nephew of my INS driver, Michael Young."
"Okay. Sorry about those questions but we needed to get them out of the way."
"Okay, so after you got the news that Mr. Young had been abducted from your house what happened?"
"Travis and I were racing back to the house. One of our Security Officers was driving. I noticed the yellow van that was supposed to pick up the tent we rented for the party Friday night heading away from the house. Travis called the house and asked if the tent had been picked up. We were told it hadn't and that seemed really suspicious to us, so we had the driver follow the van. Karen contacted Virginia Beach PD and the FBI. When we saw the van pull into a motel parking lot we were sure that Scott was driving and he had used the van to gain access to the house. When we saw Scott at the back of the van I jumped out of the car and yelled for him. He turned and reached for a pistol in his waist band. That is when Max shot him."
"You are sure he reached for the gun?"
"Yes, his hand was on the grip. It was the only thing I could see because at that moment I thought he was going to draw it and shoot me."
"Were you armed?"
"Yes. I had grabbed one of the security pistols kept in the SUV for emergencies."
"Why didn't you fire? According to the police reports you had your pistol out. You would have had the drop on him."
"I'm not sure. I am not a trained Security Officer. I just kind of froze. Right before we left the car Karen told us to stay put and wait for the authorities. When I saw the gun in his waistband I realized that not listening to her was going to cause me to lose my life."
"But Max Waters fired on Mr. Fernandez and hit him."
"Was Mr. Waters behind you, beside you or in front of you?"
"So how did you see him take the shot?"
"I didn't. But as soon as I heard the shot I looked behind me. Only Travis and Max were there and Max's gun had smoke coming off it. Travis, like me, still had his gun at his side."
"Okay, Mr. Ryan, your story matches those of Karen Gaines and the first officer on the scene. I hope you would be willing to testify in court about the events today and the conversation you had with Mr. Fernandez Friday night."
"Mr. Dunn will make any arrangements needed. Is that all?" I stood.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Ryan, and thank you for your cooperation. Mr. Dunn, would you bring Mr. King in with you when you return?"
"Of course." Mark stood as well and we went into the hall.
When we opened the door to the conference room everyone had a smile on their face.
"Okay why does the whole room here look like they just robbed a bank?"
Karen and Mark shared a look and pulled out their phones. Mark had called Karen and my entire conversation with the FBI had been on speaker phone. I was shocked.
"Holy shit, how much trouble could we get into?"
Mark laughed. "None, really. We didn't record the conversation and they didn't ask us to surrender or turn our phones off. Travis, they are ready to hear your side of the story to see if what you say matches up with what Dale said."
"I am ready." He was smiling and kissed me as they left the room.
Karen put her phone on speaker and we all listened. It was pretty much the same run down, and after a few minutes he was back and Max was up. Same thing, but this time at the end Max told them how when Travis and I jumped out of the SUV he followed immediately and when he saw Scott turn towards me with his hand on the gun in his waistband he took the shot. He was trying to make it a non-lethal shot.
He was released and came back into the room just as Cat was coming in. She looked at us all.
"Thank god there is another woman around. I was starting to worry I would start growing a beard with all the testosterone in the air."
Carl laughed. "Honey, that is one issue you don't have to worry about with this group."
Everyone laughed and the tension eased a little.
"Okay, so all the tests came back clear. He has a pretty severe concussion and needs lots of rest. That includes cognitive rest. Try to keep him from thinking about how to do things too much for the next couple of days. Typically I would keep him overnight but seeing as I will be with him tonight I can release him in a couple of hours. "
Shane jumped up. "Can I see him?"
She smiled. "Of course, lover boy. You are all he keeps asking for."
Shane followed her out. I stood and stretched. "Okay, everyone go say hi to Rick and then head home. Travis and I will stay here with Shane and bring Rick home when Cat releases him."
Everyone started to stand to go except David. "If it's okay, Dale I will stay and wait for Cat to get done. I had agreed to come get her anyway."
Travis smile. "David, you stay here and I will go oversee the troops at the fort." He kissed me and he and Carl headed to Rick's room.
I sat down and David just stared me. "Travis took the shot didn't he?"
"What, David? Why would you ask that?" I looked over my shoulder to see if the door was closed.
"Dale, there is something you should know. I am a Mossad-trained operative. I am not an agent anymore. That's a very long and personal story. It was written all over your face and I tell you the FBI knows it, too, but they don't really care. You just gave them a huge asset to use against the drug cartels."
I laid my head on the table. "Shit, David, I have no fucking clue what I am doing."
He laughed. "None of us do. Sure some of us have training in certain areas that can help us out but everything we do we really just wing it. You have the best talent in the world for someone in your position."
"Really? What's that?"
"You know how to pick your friends. Shit, Dale, you have known this group for what? A week? Other than Carl. And all of us would be willing to charge a tank with a bayonet if you asked us to. Why? Well, I could say you are a born leader and that would be true but it's because you have a heart of gold. You honestly care so much about us it hurts you. That is what makes you so special to us. We know you would do anything to keep us from getting hurt and to keep us happy."
I got up and walked over to him. "Thanks, David, I needed that." I hugged him and he returned the hug.
We left the conference room and headed for Rick's room. When we got there Shane was alone holding Rick's hand as he slept.
I put my hand on Shane's shoulder. "How's he doing, buddy?"
"Okay, I guess. He seems really tired. Dale, thank you so much."
"For what? It's my fault he's here."
"Dale, don't say that. You have done so much for Rick and he is thrilled to be working for you. He looks up to you like an older brother. He has been super depressed since his parents died. It turned his life upside-down and then you come along and start turning him right-side-up again. He would march into the fires of hell for you and I would be right by his side." He stood up and hugged me and over his shoulder I could see David wink at me.
"Okay, you big oaf, let go of me before he wakes up and thinks something is going on between us."
Shane laughed and sat back down as I grabbed the chair on the other side of the bed. Cat came in and smiled at David.
"Okay, guys, as soon as he wakes up you can take him home." She looked at Shane. "No sex for a few days."
We all laughed and Rick's eyes fluttered open. He smiled at Shane and looked over at me. "I'm sorry I couldn't stop him, Dale."
"Oh, Rick, it's not your fault." I grabbed his other hand and held onto it.
He smiled. "I had just put a fantastic pork loin marinated in bourbon and ground mustard seed in the oven. It's probably ruined now."
I smiled back at him. "The doctor says we have to cook for you for a couple of days."
He looked up at Cat. "You realize your condemning me to eat pizza and Chinese takeout, right?"
She smiled. "Yup, he is fine. Get him home, boys. I'll be there in about an hour. I'm on call tomorrow so I can spend most of the day with him. David, you waiting for me or coming back to get me?"
"I'll wait if that's okay."
She walked over to him and kissed him. "I was hoping you would say that. Okay, get him dressed. I'll have an orderly bring a wheelchair."
The three of us finished dressing him just as the orderly came in with the wheelchair. Cat walked out with us and as we were headed out I noticed a large group of people that looked military with various injuries congregating in a large conference room.
"What going on there, Cat?" I pointed to the room.
"That's the Injured Heroes Initiative. It's a non-profit program run by the hospital to help injured veterans regain their quality of life. It's a pretty good program. Horribly underfunded but they do good work. They set up counseling services for the veterans and the families. They try to raise funds for daycare when the veteran returns to the workforce. They also try to do some job retraining. Mostly these are guys that are not that bad off so they are overlooked by the VA. Not saying anything bad about the VA, but they are overwhelmed with tougher cases."
"Who runs the program?"
"Dr. Lowell started it. A couple of the doctors here help support it. I have volunteered time in the clinic do checkups on the veterans."
"I want to support that. Ask Dr. Lowell if he can come by the office this week or next. Give him Clara's number and have her set it up."
"Sure. Jack will be thrilled. He is always looking for donors. And it really is a great program."
We reached the entrance and Max pulled the car up. I had forgotten he was still around.
We loaded Rick into the back seat and Shane climbed in with him. We said our goodbyes to Cat and David, and Max drove off. Within five minutes I looked back and Rick was sleeping with his head on Shane's shoulder. Shane's eyes were closed, as well, and it looked like he was sleeping. I felt my eyes dropping and soon I was waking up to the car pulling to a stop at the house. I got out just as Carl, Nick, Travis, Karen and Michael came out of the house. We all helped Rick inside and set him down on the couch. Shane immediately took his shoes off him and laid him down on the couch. We all congregated in the kitchen.
Michael walked over to me. "I hope you don't mind that I waited for him to come back?"
"Not at all, Michael. He is your nephew. Of course I would expect you to come see him."
"Thanks, Dale. Oh and Dale, Shari, my wife, was thrilled with the champagne Friday night. Thank you. That was very nice."
"You're welcome, Michael."
I opened the oven to the smell of a wonderful roast. I grabbed a meat thermometer and stabbed it in. "Hmm about 20 minutes. Carl, peel some potatoes. Nick, find us some veggies. Travis, grab some wine. No sense in letting this roast go to waste."
They all jumped to action and we were all laughing and cutting up as we finished dinner preparations. Shane came in while Rick was napping and helped out, too. I even had Karen cutting potatoes at one point. When dinner was just about ready Shane went and woke Rick. Cat and David arrived with perfect timing.
Cat smiled and looked at the roast. "Is this the pork loin Rick was so worried about?"
"Yup." I handed them both a plate.
We all ate in the living room and talked out the details of the afternoon. I was getting tired of hearing about it but it seemed like everyone needed to talk about it. After a bit everyone got quiet.
"Dale, Dr. Lowell was thrilled to hear about your interest in the Injured Heroes Initiative." Cat was pouring more wine as she told us this.
Travis looked up. "What's the Injured Heroes Initiative?"
Cat explained the program and then I explained that I wanted to get involved and support it. Everyone joined the conversation, including Michael and Karen.
Rick looked at Karen. "Does INS have the thing where if you pay, like, $10 on Friday you can dress casual and all the money goes to charity?"
"No, we have never done that. That's a great idea, Dale. Even if half the employees in the office participated you would raise $200 a week. You could raise up to $1200 a month for them. I know it's not a lot but it's a good place to start."
I nodded. "I like it. Keep talking, gang."
Travis looked up. "We could have the fleet officer host a dinner, like, once every couple of months where all the ship's crew members can come. They pay, like, $10 or $15 and the officers serve them dinner."
Everyone was throwing out ideas and discussing them. At one point Nick volunteered to have one night a month when every large pizza that was sold in-house he would donated all the proceeds.
Michael got everyone's attention. "Dale, I was intrigued by the whole trying to get day care thing. So these guys get injured in combat and their wives have to go out and get jobs, if they are not working already, and then when the guys, and I guess girls, go back into the work force they can't afford daycare?"
Cat nodded. "Pretty much sums it up, Michael. The program has funds to help with the daycare for a short time but we can't help these guys long term."
Michael nodded. "Dale, I am not putting you on the spot but the INS daycare center is huge and only half of it is used. I bet we could find some of our spouses to volunteer to open the other half for these guys. INS would be footing the bill for the overhead though."
I thought for a minute. "I will have to run that by the Executive Committee but I think the idea is great. Free daycare for members of the program. PR will love it. I think I might like to take it a step further and hire staff for it. All out of INS' pocket, of course."
Cat just stared at me. "Really?"
"Why not? INS is a big part of the community; giving back is important. It's great PR plus it makes us more accepted in the community. Of course, I have to sell it to Cal and Mike. Carl, see if you can schedule some time with the Head of PR and HR before I talk to Cal and Mike. I want to gauge their reactions first. I will say this: INS is going to support the Injured Heroes Initiative somehow and I am going to support it personally. Carl, send them a check for $25,000."
Travis smiled. "I am adding $10,000 to that."
I smiled at him. "Babe, you're the best."
Cat was thrilled. "Wow, you guys are amazing."
I looked at Rick "Oh, and send a check to Sugar Plums for another $10,000."
Rick smiled. "Isn't what they do amazing?"
The conversation continued until we could tell Rick was getting tired. We all left him in Cat and Shane's hands and went to the pool for a swim before bed. When were done we helped Shane and Cat take Rick up to his room, then we all went to bed exhausted after our ordeal.