The Invisibility Factor

This story immediately follows "Childhood Gone"**

CHAPTER 1

"What's the matter: are you afraid I'll run the business into the ground?" Roy Houston knew that wasn't why his nephew Matt had called.

"No, Uncle Roy, you know better than that. Just wanted to touch base with you and see how it was going." Matt Houston was kicked back in the den of the house that he had grown up in just outside of Houston, Texas. He had been there for the last couple of weeks with his wife of eight and half months, CJ. He was about to start working on all of the fencing and repairs that needed to be done so that he could start running cattle on the ranch once again.

"Everything is just fine. I helped out Michael with a case last Friday, nothing too serious though. And I've won a couple of bids for security systems and am going to start on one of them today. Pretty easy stuff." The Michael that Roy was referring to was one of Matt and CJ's best friends: Lt. Michael Hoyt of the LAPD. The Houstons were often called in to consult on cases and had helped out the department many times over the years.

Matt got up and walked into the kitchen to refill his coffee cup. "Sounds like you're making the best of it." He was taking time off from the agency for a couple of reasons: he wanted to reassure CJ, who was two and half months pregnant with their first child, that he wasn't planning on getting himself killed anytime soon. Secondly, he was trying to decide if he wanted to give up the detective agency altogether. After being involved in a Middle East mission with the Navy SEALs in which he took a bullet to the shoulder, Matt was re-evaluating his life.

"And what about you? Have you gotten started on that fencing yet?" Roy refilled his coffee cup at the bar and stepped out onto the patio of the penthouse offices of Houston Investigations in Los Angeles.

"I'm just about to do that in…" Matt checked his watch. "Fifteen minutes. I've got some help on the way over here."

"Did you ever decide what kind of cattle you're going to go with?" Roy had never been involved in ranching but he and Matt had discussed several aspects of it over the last few years – especially while on stake outs.

"I believe I'm going to have a cross – Brahman bull with Gelbvieh cows. Bulls I should say. I'm going to divide the ranch into two herds: one will be spring calving and the other fall calving." Matt had spent a lot of time thinking about just what kind of cattle he wanted and had come to the decision in the last couple of days.

"Should work good for that area – they're both pretty heat resistant aren't they?" What little Roy knew of the subject his nephew had taught him.

"Yep. That's a big part of the reason I'm going with them. Plus Gelbviehs are usually good mamas." He walked out onto the back deck of the house and looked around.

"Speaking of good mamas – how's CJ doing?"

"She's great." Matt looked around to make sure he wouldn't be overheard by his wife. "And her belly is sure getting bigger."

Roy chuckled. "She's going to be a great mama, boy, mark my words."

"I know she will. But she sure is sensitive about her belly. I've told her I think it's sexy – but she doesn't believe me."

"Just keep telling her. Well, I better get some work done around here before the boss finds out."

"Yeah, somehow I don't think you've got too much to worry about. Take care of yourself and tell Hoyt I said hello." He hung up the phone and went to find CJ. She was coming down stairs and he met her at the bottom, pulling her into his arms and planting a kiss on her lips.

"Well, what brought that on?" She was a little surprised by the sudden attack, but pleased nonetheless.

"I can't help it – there's a sexy woman here who's just begging to be kissed." He kissed her again, this one a little more intense than the last. CJ wrapped her arms around his neck and as Matt broke the kiss he ran his fingers through her hair, smiling down at her.

"Begging to be kissed, huh? I don't remember begging." She rubbed the three day growth of beard on his face. "Decided not to shave again I see. Is this beard going to be permanent?"

"Don't know. Guess it depends on how hot I get out there working on the fences." Matt gave her a gentle little kiss. "I'm heading down to the barn now to get the tools together. Guess I'll see you at lunch."

"Are you taking a rifle with you?" She was concerned because of the amount of copperheads that had been around the area lately.

"No ma'am. Gonna take a pistol with me." He headed toward the gun case in the den and pulled out a H&K P30L pistol and checked the magazine, then picked up an extra – just in case. He gave his wife another kiss and then went down on one knee and kissed her belly. "You two girls behave while I'm gone."

"Nope, I'm telling you it's a boy." They had argued back and forth ever since finding out she was pregnant.

"Nope, girl. When are you supposed to do the ultrasound?"

"In about a month – and then you're going to see that I'm right." She watched as he put his mouth right next to the baby.

"You keep your mama out of trouble for me, little lady – and I know you are no matter what she says." He looked up at CJ and grinned, then stood up giving her a peck on the cheek, and headed out the back door. He took the truck to the barn and started loading the equipment he was going to need.

Hearing the sound of an engine, Matt looked up to see his help arriving: Chuck Wylie. The two men had gone through school together and played on the baseball team in high school. Chuck was now a deputy with the Harris County Sheriff's Department – and also married and the father of five children. When Matt had asked if he would like a side job helping him work on the fences at the ranch, the deputy jumped on the opportunity. He knew the extra money would be a help to his family and he also knew that he and Houston would have a good time working together.

"Right on time, bud." Matt threw the last of the equipment into the back of the truck and the pair got in and started out to work. "So how are Lisa and the kids?"

"Fine. And at home. And I'm not." He looked over at Matt and grinned. "I love 'em to death, but peace and quiet is hard to come by."

"I don't doubt it." Matt was looking forward to having a few kids running around the house. He had grown up as an only child and was lonely at times.

"How about CJ?"

"She's doing real good. Complaining about the size of her belly though. I just keep telling her it's sexy." He looked over at Chuck and smiled.

"You figured out the answer to that problem all on your own, huh? You always were pretty smart – especially with the ladies. Tell me something, though: why in the hell did it take you two so long to get together?"

"Stupidity." Matt chuckled. "We had been best friends for so long that we were afraid to cross that line. We depended on each other so much through the years, you know? But then the feelings just kept getting stronger and I finally told myself, "Hey Dummy, if you know you can't live without her, you need to marry her!"

Chuck burst into laughter. "You've always been a smart one except for when it came to CJ. Man, everybody has known for years that you two were in love. Hell, I knew that right after you introduced us back when we were all ten years old!"

"Yeah, I know, I'm stupid. But at least I finally figured it out." He pulled up to the first section of fence that needed to be replaced. "All right, here we go. Time to get to work."

When noon rolled around, Matt and Chuck went up to the house. Madre Rosa, the housekeeper who had practically raised Matt, had fixed beef fajitas for their lunch. After stuffing themselves, they headed back out to the fencing job. The morning had been fairly cool due to cloud cover, but the afternoon turned hot and humid. By 3:00, both men were out of their shirts and having a hard time seeing what they were doing because of the sweat running in their eyes. They completed a section of fence and Matt leaned back against the truck as he took a drink. He looked over at Chuck. "Ya know we're not too far from the river."

"Yep." The deputy was trying to wipe the sweat off of his face.

"Might be a cool breeze coming off the water down there about now."

"Yep."

Matt put the top back on the bottle he had been drinking from and started loading the tools in the back of the truck. Chuck followed suit and in a couple of minutes they were driving on up the fence row.

"Uh, pard, you missed a section there." Chuck was pointing behind the truck.

Matt nodded. "Yep, that one's gonna wait. We need to cool off." He looked over at Chuck and grinned.

"That's good 'cause for just a little bit more I think I was gonna melt." The deputy started laughing. "I'm surprised you aren't going fishing."

"Who says I'm not?" Matt grinned. They pulled in under the oak tree that was one of Matt's favorite spots and after they got out of the truck, Matt flipped the seat forward and pulled out two fishing rods and a small cooler with night crawlers.

Chuck just rolled his eyes. "Guess it's a good thing my new boss is a fishaholic."

"Yup." Matt handed him one of the rods and they plopped down on the bank and baited their hooks, then cast out into the river. They started talking about marriage, women, kids, and the need for some peace and quiet on occasions. After thirty minutes of no hook ups, Matt reeled in and checked his bait. It was still intact with no signs of being nibbled on. "Huh. That's a first." He cast back out in a different spot as Chuck reeled in and checked his bait. His was exactly the same.

"That's weird; we always have at least one fish by this point." He and Matt used to fish that spot in the river quite often as kids.

"Yeah, I've never gone home empty handed but I've got a feeling that streak is about to end. Wonder what's going on?"

"I don't know. It's just weird."

At 4:00 they had to admit their first defeat. They loaded up in the truck and headed back to the house when Chuck broke the silence. "You're not going to tell CJ are you?"

Matt snickered. "Are you kidding? I'd never hear the end of it." They both laughed. "Are you off again tomorrow?"

"Sure am. Do you want some help again?"

"Yup. And we're also going to try to get rid of this bad luck we've had this afternoon. I demand a rematch with those fish."

Chuck started laughing. "I had a feeling I was going to hear that."