I've Got Your Back

by Kathy Teresa

ATF Universe

Chapter 13

Billy Baker faced Ezra Standish outside the trainer's room at the gym. It was late and Ezra had just finished getting his massage. "Mr. Baker. As much as I trust your integrity as a professional masseuse I am very hesitant to leave Mr. Tanner at your establishment for the night. My specific instructions from Mr. Larabee were to make sure Mr. Tanner made it home to his apartment tonight after you had completed your work on his leg."

"Well, I ain't finished, Standish. So you just scoot on home to your silk pajamies and I'll take care of Tanner." Billy stood firm. Although a foot shorter than Ezra, the con man felt intimidated by the ex-boxer. Ezra started to speak and Baker held out his beeper to him. "Check it."

Ezra reached out and took the beeper from Billy's hand. Pressing the message button, Ezra read out a short note from Chris. He read it out loud. "Leave Tanner at the gym with Baker." Ezra handed the beeper back to Billy. "Fine. Well, Mr. Baker may offer you your usual fee plus Mr. Tanner's." Ezra reached in his pocket to pull out his money clip. Reaching out, Baker took the cash with a smile.

"That's mighty generous of you. But Mr. Larabee already took care of Tanner's bill, I'll use the money you gave me for my street kids boxing program." Baker folded the money and placed it in his pocket. Laughing he waved his hand at Ezra who took the hint and headed toward the exit. Baker eased the door to the trainer's room open. Vin was still sound asleep. Billy stepped to the table and lifted the poultice he had applied earlier.

Vin stirred and lifted his head as Billy began a soft massage of the now more pliable flesh beneath his hands.

"Hey." Vin said sleepily. "What time is it?" Yawning hugely he started to lift his shoulders off the table.

"Early yet. Easy there. Vincent put your head down. I'm about to cause ya a little pain. I'm gonna strip these muscle fibers that were bruised. After I break them apart I'll apply more heat and poultice and let you sleep again. Once more before morning and you'll be able to go ten rounds tomorrow. Promise." Billy started to apply a twisting stroking motion with his hands to the bruised area along Vin's hip and thigh. He heard Vin moan and stifle a cry.

Pain seared up Vin's side and down to his knee. He tried not to move trusting Billy's words that the pain would be worth it. But after five minutes of vigorous work, Billy felt Vin's body shaking and trembling. He hadn't heard Vin cry out but, knowing the young man, Billy knew he wouldn't. Not if someone was trying to help him. He eased his hands off Vin's hip and placed a warm poultice of Nathan's herbs across the area he had stripped.

"Okay Vincent. That's it for now. Sorry." Avoiding looking at the tear-streaked face, Billy gave Vin a moment to recover. Slowly he worked the marigold and oil into Vin's shoulders muttering soothing words until he felt the tremors stop and saw Vin's eyelids close in sleep. Billy continued working his hands softly over Vin's shoulders and back until he was sure the shaking had stopped. Taking a soft warm blanket he draped it over the still form and dimmed the lights again. Leaving the door open, Billy went to the kitchen to make coffee. It was going to be a long night.


Vin woke again to pain. This time it was more of an ache than the screaming pain it had been earlier. He heard soft Native American flute music playing in the room. Inhaled the scent of sage and rose hips. Trying to place where he was, Vin started to turn over on his back and felt firm hands stopping him.

"Hold it there, kid. Almost finished here." Billy finished rubbing warm oil in the bruised tissue and helped Vin turn over on his back. Letting Vin ease himself over Billy watched with satisfaction. "Better?"

Vin nodded as Billy wrapped yet another warm towel around his middle. "Thanks. Feels much better." Vin saw Billy pour a cup of tea and turn toward him. "I really don't need anything more, Billy. It's much better."

Walking toward Vin Billy held the cup out. "How many flights you gotta climb with all those weapons?" Offering it again, he smiled as Vin took it and drank.

"Thought so. Okay, slide over here. It's whirl pool time." Putting the empty cup down, Vin followed Billy.

Vin eased into the warm swirling water. The walk to the whirlpool room hadn't been bad. Billy tossed him a pair of new boxer shorts and turned his back giving Vin some privacy. He smiled as he remembered how shy the teenager had been. Probably still was.

Settling Vin with an inflated pillow, Billy sat back to watch as Vin again drifted off to sleep.


Billy opened the gym door at five A.M. Chris Larabee was waiting in his truck. Chris smiled as he passed through the door and greeted Billy with the usual bag of donuts.

"Some day you're gonna find all those donuts in your blood vessels." Chris laughed as he stepped inside. Casually he motioned toward the locker room. "How's Tanner?"

"Come see for yourself." Billy chewed on a chocolate donut as he moved toward a room in the back off the kitchen. Opening the door slowly Billy showed Chris the sleeping form of Vin Tanner. Chris smiled as he looked down at the relaxed pain free face of his sharpshooter.

"Thanks, Billy." Placing a hand on Billy's shoulder Chris gave it a squeeze and turned toward the locker room to change.


Vin smelled coffee. Easing his head off the soft pillow, he found himself staring at a very familiar ceiling. Laying his head back, Vin remembered the dozens of mornings just like this after Billy had taken him in.

The water stained ceiling and the familiar smell of coffee were the same. Billy stuck his head in the door and spoke softly. "Vin? Breakfast in five. Then the trainer's room. Your coffee is the pot on the stove."

Smiling to himself, Vin eased himself out of bed. His left hip was tender but the constant pain he had experienced yesterday was gone. Slipping on the sweat pants he found on his bed, Vin walked slowly to the stove for coffee.

"How's the leg?" Vin jumped at the voice. Leaning on the stove he turned quickly.

"Chris? I mean...Agent Larabee? I ...what?" Vin cringed inside feeling stupid. Vin stared at his boss. Dressed in workout shorts and T-shirt, Chris moved to the table and poured himself a cup of coffee.

Sensing Vin's hesitation, Chris put down the towel and motioned to the food on the table. "Billy said you were to eat and meet him in the trainer's room in ten minutes. I'm gonna work out for a while then we'll both go to the office." Chris finished his coffee and walked out.

Vin sat unable to move. He sensed Chris was still worried about him and still held out doubts about his abilities. He wished he knew what to do about it. From the little that Larabee had offered, it sounded like Wilmington was listening to Stan Johnson. No telling what Buck had been telling Larabee.


Finishing his breakfast, Vin eased himself from the chair and went to the training room. Two hours later Vin finished dressing and joined Chris in the hall outside Billy's office. Billy Baker's strong arms surrounded him from behind and hugged the air out of Vin Tanner's lungs.

Stepping back Billy surveyed the young man standing before him. Dressed in black cargo pants and black T-shirt with black combat boots, Vin Tanner was no longer the lost teenager of ten years ago. Vin was obviously in his element.

Billy smiled and smacked him on the cheek. "You be careful out there. I expect to see you later this week. Understand?"

Vin nodded unsure of his voice. "Promise. Thanks again. Leg feels good." It was all Vin could say as tears started to form. Moving quickly outside, Vin saw Chris talking to Billy as he shook his hand. Both men smiled as they parted. Chris motioned Vin to his truck and drove in comfortable silence to the office.

Chris parked his truck and walked with Vin toward the elevator. Chris was satisfied to see Vin moving without any sign of injury. Setting his mind on the day's activity, Chris let his thoughts turn to the day's schedule.


JD sat on a table as Nathan worked to attach a hidden microphone in the lining of his sports jacket. "Hey! Nobody said anything about cutting holes in my jacket. Nathan!"

Nathan grinned continuing with the tiny stitches that would put JD's jacket back in one piece. "Better than the old days, JD. Why I remember one time when Josiah was undercover and all we had were those mikes that you had to tape to your chest. How much hair did you loose that day, Josiah?"

Hearing Josiah and Buck laugh, Nathan padded JD on the shoulder and closed up his equipment. "Okay, kiddo. All finished."

Chris and Vin entered the office. Chris heading to his office and Vin to the rifle bags on his temporary desk. Each man had last minute details. A schedule and places to be. Ezra came out of Chris's office carrying the keys to the Jag. Pausing at Vin's desk, he inquired politely about Vin's hip.

"Feels good Ezra, thanks for asking. And for reintroducing me to Billy Baker." Vin looked up briefly and smiled. "Be careful today. I'll be watching."

Ezra nodded " I know you will, Mr. Tanner." Ezra paused at JD's desk and both men left together to go to the factory meeting place.

Buck watched JD enter the elevator and got up abruptly and walked to Vin's desk. Standing above Vin, Buck hesitated. Vin continued to inspect each bullet putting some aside placing others in his satchel. "Little late to be picking out bullets, ain't it?" Buck rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet.

Vin finished loading his satchel and then looked up at Buck. "Habit. Hard to break. Do you have a problem with that?"

"The only problem I'm gonna have is if that boy gets hurt cause you got your mind on something other than your job today." Buck's face was full of emotion, his fear for JD's safety raising his natural outspokenness to outright rudeness.

Looking up with a puzzled expression, Vin asked. "Look, Wilmington I honestly don't know what's got you so angry at me. I haven't been home in three days. Been with one of you since I got here. So you'll have to give me a hint, okay?"

Vin looked down at his scope and started cleaning fingerprints from it with a soft cloth. Buck took a breath and leaned forward one hand on Vin's desk. Keeping his voice low, Buck spoke rapidly. "Well Tanner, I've been checking a few sources. Seems there is this imbalance between what you earned and what you spent while earning money grabbing scum as a bounty hunter. Rumor has it a big investment of cash was made into the local recreational drug scene not long after one of your payoff from one of those BIG bounties you used to collect."

Vin kept his head down hiding his anger and spoke softly. "So you're willing to believe that I would contribute to the drug and gun trade here at night and risk my life in the day time fighting it?"

Looking up directly at Buck, Vin continued. "Or is that what Sam Johnson told you about me?"

"Look, Tanner. There's nothing concrete about you. Not even your Army time is straightforward. Lot's of loose ends about you. And I like things all nice and tidy before I risk my life with someone. And JD's life." Gesturing widely taking in the entire room Buck continued. "And ...and all our lives."

Vin looked back down at his hands as Buck finished talking. "You may never know me Wilmington, but one thing you can count on. I've never been involved in drug or gun trade and you can trust me with watching JD and the others. And that's about as concrete as it gets." Standing Vin held Buck's stare for a few moments before turning to pack his rifles.

Buck started to say more as Vin turned away but caught Chris staring at him from his office door. Seeing Chris start to say something, Buck held up his hand in a gesture of resignation and stomped to the locker room.

Vin let his eyes follow Buck's back before sitting down staring down at his hands.

Chapter 14

Chris watched as Vin finally stood up and zipped his tote bag closed. Turning Vin saw Chris moving toward him carrying a gun bag. "Ready?" Chris continued past Vin expecting him to follow. Vin grabbed his tote and rifle bags and stepped into the elevator behind Chris. "Nathan and Josiah will be at the back of your building. They'll be in the communications truck about half-a-block behind you." Vin nodded his head. "Remember to check in before you climb."

"Chris? I was at the briefing." Vin's mind was still on Buck's remarks. He kept hearing those words. "Nothing concrete about you. Lot's of loose ends." Shaking his head to try to clear it, Vin felt Chris's arm on his own.

"Vin? Where are you? Need you to pay attention to what I'm saying." Chris watched the young agent as his eyes focused and he stared back at Chris.

"What? I'm sorry Chris . . . uh, Agent Larabee. I was just thinking." Vin went to the passenger side of Chris's truck and climbed inside.

"Vin. Chris is easier, okay?" Chris said as he started the truck and began to back it out of the parking space. Puzzled, he tried to study Vin's face without the sharpshooter knowing it. He needed Vin sharp and he had appeared to be that way before Buck had talked to him. "Look, Vin. Are you thinking about what Buck said? You know how he gets." Chris exited the garage and began heading toward the factory location.

Vin turned his head to look at Chris. "No, Agent Larabee I don't know how Buck gets. All I know is that he doesn't trust me to be his backup and he accuses me of doing things that...that I would never do." Chris heard Vin's voice drop off at the end of the sentence; ending in a soft whisper.

"You want to tell me what is the truth?" Chris asked, without letting his eyes leave the road.

"Do I need to? So, what? You'll trust me too?" Vin let the words hang in the silence of the truck. Making a decision, Vin drew in a deep breath. "Okay. You want to know what happened to all that wonderful money that I made catching scum? I gave all but what I needed to live on to the only people who ever gave a damn about me. And....and they never ever cared about my past. They just feed me; gave me a place to sleep; tended me if I was sick or something and..." Vin paused not really knowing what to say. He stopped and stared out the window fighting tears of memories long ago.

Chris said quietly. "And what Vin?" Vin turned his head back to Chris. Chris saw the tears clinging to the long black eyelashes.

"Sometimes they held me. Just took me and held me. Didn't ask anything of me. Them Sisters were there for me. And I promised them I would always be there for them if they needed me. So I give 'em what I can. Right now that's money." Vin busied himself with dusting off his rifle bags.

"Sound like wonderful people, Vin. Glad you can help them." Chris didn't know what else to say.

"Yeah, the Sisters at St. Teresa's Children's Home will always be family. Only one's I ever had." Clearing his throat, Vin took a drink of coke from the can he had brought with him. "Don't wanna talk about it anymore, Chris. Need to concentrate, okay?" Vin looked straight ahead staring at the factory site coming up ahead.

"Kay, Vin." Chris let a small smile cross his face. It was a little victory. A slight crack in the armor. It was enough for now. Chris let Vin off a block from the communications van and Vin quietly knocked on the van door a few minutes later. Nathan quickly opened the door and let Vin slip inside. Josiah handed Vin his earpiece, mike and battery pack. Vin nodded and let Nathan help him clip the battery pack to the back of his belt. Picking up his bags Vin started toward the door. No one had spoken a word.

"Vin?" Josiah spoke softly. "You be careful climbing those stairs." Vin looked at Josiah and nodded slightly.

Nathan reached out and rested a hand on Vin's arm. "Remember we're here listening in on everything. You sing out if you need us. First names only, okay. Just like in the briefing." Again Vin nodded and closed the door quietly behind him. Crossing the street Vin quickly entered the deserted building that was along beside the factory parking lot. Turning left Vin followed the blueprint of the building that he had memorized from briefing papers. Opening the door to the stairwell, Vin checked it quickly and started slowly to climb. He had allowed himself twice the normal time to climb the stairs and get himself settled. He didn't know how well his hip would hold out and he had to be settled before Ezra and JD showed up. He HAD to do this right. More than any other assignment he had ever been given, Vin knew this one would decide the rest of his life.


Vin began to feel the wear on his injured hip about the fifth flight of stairs. Easing his tote and rifles to his right side, Vin moved so his left arm could use the handrail. That worked to ease the aching until Vin reached the tenth floor. Sweat lining his forehead as Vin settled himself down on the foot of the eleventh floor. Resting his head against the wall Vin rubbed and worked the muscles that were becoming stiff again with the stress of climbing. Checking his watch, Vin grimaced and stood slowly groaning slightly as he again lifted his bags and resumed his climb.

Stepping into the cool entrance to the rooftop stairwell, Vin dropped his bags carefully and leaned against the wall. His leg was throbbing. Despite Billy's work the climb up twelve flights of stairs had really taken the injured muscles beyond their limit. His watch told him he had a little less than two hours to get settled. Forcing his body off the wall, Vin bent down and began to unload his tote bag. Following a pattern he had followed for several years Vin began donning his equipment piece by piece. Settling each belt, vest and satchel until it was exactly right, Vin paused and took out his notebook. Looking out across the rooftop Vin checked his notations made at the range. One last check to see all his zippers and tabs were taped down and Vin scampered across the rooftop taking shelter every few feet to avoid being seen. Vin reached the place chosen by the other sharpshooter. His face blackened and a black cap covering his pony tailed hair Vin knew he would be hard to see against the black asphalt of the rooftop. Unrolling a thin pad Vin stretched out and began to assemble his rifles watching the parking lot below him for signs of life.

Chris Larabee settled across from Vin's building in a second story window. He couldn't see Vin from his vantage point but he had heard Vin check in with Josiah. Looking at his watch he saw that it had taken Vin almost thirty minutes to make the climb. Shaking his head, Chris knew that Vin's leg must have gotten tired in the long climb. Resisting the desire to call on the mike and check on him, Chris knew the move would only unsettle the others that he was worried. Chris settled back to wait until the show started.

Chapter 15

Buck Wilmington slipped around the corner of another building to take his assigned place. Dressed in black like Chris and Vin, Buck settled in the doorway at the edge of the old brick building. From his spot Buck could see straight across to the building where Chris was positioned. Looking to his right he tried to check and see if Tanner was in place. Vin was too high for Buck to see from his position. Buck sure hoped that Tanner was as good as Chris thought.

The building faced the open parking lot between Buck and Chris's buildings. They formed a U-shaped protection around the deserted parking lot. The parking lot where JD and Ezra were to conduct their "buy" opened to the street. Across the street lay the discarded pieces from the old factory. Buck grinned when he heard Josiah's voice and settled back to wait.

Josiah Sanchez had used his undercover before, a street preacher hanging around the corner spouting scripture and handing out flyers to anyone passing. He had spent the last two weeks establishing a pattern of coming and going at odd hours to "preach the word". The local homeless and poor citizens were used to him and paid him no attention other than to close their doors or pause to ask for a handout. Josiah let his eyes sweep the streets around the area keeping an eye out for any thing suspicious.

Chris checked the building across from his own. With his binoculars he saw the tip of Buck's black boot, the laces covered with duct tape to keep them in place. When all but JD and Ezra had checked in, Chris allowed himself a small moment of reflection.

The buy was one Chris hadn't been sold on from the beginning. There had been a series of mail bombings in the western states involving homemade pipe bombs using metallic triggers. The pressure had been on all the teams to find the source. Chris had called a short meeting to let the team know details.

"Metallic triggers, Chris?" JD realized again that he hadn't been keeping up with all ATF material. Bombs and their equipment had never interested JD as much as computers and guns.

Chris grinned and followed JD from the room. Going to JD's desk, he pulled out a pad and made a notation. Handing it to JD, he turned to his office. "It's a movie, JD. You probably saw it in reruns. Lethal Weapon? Watch it. Mel Gibson will tell you all about mercury switches."

JD had been running through some Internet sites that dealt with making "homemade defense items". After checking out the movie and a few other ATF sources, he had logged on to several chat rooms. After a few weeks, JD had hooked up with a couple individuals who seemed more than interested in JD's cover.

Pretending that he was a graduate chemistry major at a local university, JD had been able to get information from the men that the pipe bombs being used were from a particular seller right in Denver. Taking his information to Chris, JD had been so enthusiastic that Chris had let him work with Ezra to find the local source.

Three weeks ago Ezra received a message regarding the identity of the seller. A few phone calls and a short meeting with JD and two college chemistry majors and the buy was set. A few thousand for 24 homemade pipe bombs and their triggers and the identity of the bomb makers. Chris had let JD present his idea to the team and all had agreed it sounded straightforward. With Chris's approval the team had set about putting together the plans they needed.

So now, four weeks later Chris Larabee sat waiting for his youngest team member to score his first buy. Having Ezra at JD's side eased Chris's nerves somewhat but he still felt unsettled. As if there was another card to fall that had yet to be dealt. The sound of a high-powered engine coming down the street caught Chris's attention and a second later he heard Josiah's voice.

"Company coming. Our side." All the members of the team heard the soft rumble of the street preacher's voice. Nathan pressed the record button on all the surveillance cameras and watched carefully as Ezra's Jag pulled swiftly around the corner and squealed to a stop in the parking lot facing Chris's building. JD and Ezra sat inside waiting for the sellers to show. Ezra talked quietly to JD keeping his voice low and staying in character to help JD steady his nerves.

There was only one person more nervous than JD at that moment. That man was Buck Wilmington. Buck was a well-trained and seasoned agent and it was only that experience that kept him from moving so he could see JD clearly. Buck had grown to be like a big brother to JD and that protective nature was clouding his judgment. Buck knew he had to trust his instincts and training, not his heart.

"More company. One car. Two people." Josiah's voice soft and calm. Nathan listened along with the others as he scanned his cameras. Looking closely to a monitor that showed a view of the streets behind Vin's building, Nathan saw a van pull up and stop. He felt a chill as he saw two men in black slip out of the van and run down the street along the outside of Vin's building.

"Bad guys. Two. Moving behind Vin up to Buck." Nathan maneuvered the controls of the camera trying to track their progress. "Lost 'em. Be sharp."

Vin heard Nathan's message. Looking to his left he cursed the iron support that blocked his view. He could see most of Buck's building but knew he would have to move to catch a shot at anything inside. Seeing a flash of metal Vin turned his scope on what part of the building he could see clearly. "Chris. Movement second floor front."

Chris snapped his head as Vin spoke. Catching a man making his way into Buck's building. "Got 'em. Nathan. Buck's building second floor west."

Buck heard the chatter and felt the tension in the air increase. "Chris? Let's get JD and Ez out now. This wasn't..."

Chris was about to make the same suggestion when the car pulled into the parking lot blocking the entrance. Before Chris could say anything, the Jag roared to life and its nose came to rest on the passenger side door of the seller's car.

"Good move, Ez." Vin whispered. As he sighted on the driver's side waiting for his target. "Chris! Eighth floor east corner window." Vin's peripheral vision caught sight of the second man.

"Okay got him" Chris marked both men as a man rose slowly from the driver's side of the seller's car.

Ezra had been going over final touches as they sat waiting for the sellers to get out. With Ezra blocking the passenger's door with his own car it put them at a disadvantage. But that's exactly where Ezra Standish wanted them. The minute he heard the chatter about the two extra unannounced men, Ezra had decided to even some of the odds. Now he was about to test his skills. This was when Ezra was in his element. JD knew to stay back and let Ezra do most of the talking. His role was to play the role he had created. Reaching back to his belt, JD checked his 9mm once more before opening the Jag's door.

"Gentlemen. Gentlemen." Ezra eased his door just short of closing it fully. JD followed and stood back against the back side panel. "Such a display of driving skills in hardly necessary." Ezra saw Josiah creeping along the front of Chris's building to cover the front exit.

"What the hell you doing to my car?" The seller jumped out of the car facing Ezra his face full of anger. Moving toward Ezra his hands waving in the air.

Ezra tried not to smile. This was the reaction he wanted. Getting the men apart was the key. The second man crawled out of the driver's side and stood next to the door. "Who's that?" JD's surprised question popped out before he could stop it. Starting forward JD stopped short as he moved around the front of the seller's car.

Ezra grabbed a waving arm and used the man's movement to push him down on his face. "Stay down till we figure out what's going on here friend. Ezra put his foot on the man's back and quickly frisked him. Finding a gun, Ezra realized the buy was over. "I'm very much afraid as agents of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms we can't allow you to carry a handgun without a permit." Tossing the gun to Josiah, Ezra turned to face the second man. He froze when he saw what the man was holding.

JD was mesmerized by the metallic object in the man's hand. Moving closer he continued to stare. There was something familiar ...something ...

Vin centered his scope on the man's hand. A metallic trigger taped to the man's hand; the man's thumb was free to trip it. "Bomb trigger. JD stop!"

Buck heard the word 'bomb' and moved forward. His mind set on protecting JD, Buck didn't see the man several floors above him lever a rifle on his back but he could see the pipe bomb taped inside the left side wheel well.

"Buck down now!" Chris frantically looked for the man he had seen before stalking the eighth floor. "Nathan talk to me!"

"Nothing. Can't see him." Nathan frantically angled and scanned Buck's building. "Nothing, Vin?"

Vin concentrated on the man's hand. It was his entire world. He followed the hand as it continued to move. A blur and suddenly the hand moved across a flannel shirt. JD! Zooming back Vin now saw what the trigger man had grabbed and was using JD as a shield. The trigger hand rested just past JD's chin by his left ear. The other hand was free making gestures as he shouted. Nothing was holding JD upright but his own legs.

"You're gonna let us go or we're gonna blow this bomb. These agents are dead. Just like all the others we took out already." The man's eyes darted back and forth searching for his friends among the buildings.

"My friend. This is all so unnecessary. Why don't you..." Ezra attempt to speak was cut off by the man turning toward him.

The man's movement toward Ezra changed the angle of his shot. The man's taped trigger hand was now free of JD's body. Taking a deep breath, Vin let it half way out and increased the pressure on his trigger finger.

An explosion of blood and bone tore through the air around JD's head followed by an agonizing scream pulled Buck from his hiding place behind the shack in the parking lot. He started running toward the blood-covered figure of JD sitting on the ground.

Chris screamed again at Buck to stop as he saw both men step out from cover on different floors in Buck's building. Trying to cover both men, he realized that his only shot was at the man on the second floor. Seeing a rifle muzzle appear on the eighth floor, Chris yelled for Vin. "Tanner! Eighth floor shooter."

Cursing to himself, Vin struggled to remain flat and get an angle on the man behind the rifle. Making a decision against all his training, Vin stood and moved to his right. Now at the correct angle Vin raised his rifle and felt the slight recoil against his shoulder. Watching as a black clothed figure fell from the building, Vin grunted suddenly as he felt someone hit him in his left hip with a bat. The force drove him backward. Vin felt himself falling. His leg. It had finally had too much. Had finally failed him. Landing hard on his back, Vin felt the pain explode inside his side. Gasping he reached down and felt moisture. Confused and in pain Vin raised his left hand. It was covered in bright red blood. Blood? But it was a baseball bat... Vin tried desperately to stop the flow of blood with his hand as his world started to spin toward blackness.

Chris gasped as he suddenly saw Vin standing at the rooftop end exposing his body. Vin raised his rifle and it barked. A movement from the second floor and suddenly the air was filled with another gunshot. Metal gleamed in the sun as Chris saw the face of the man who had just shot Vin Tanner. The face was laughing. The sight of Vin folding and falling backwards raged in his mind and Chris Larabee filled the laughing face with a blast of gunpowder.

"Nathan! Vin's been hit!" Chris moved forward to the edge of his building looking down on JD and Buck. "Buck?" Chris couldn't make out whose blood covered the concrete.

"JD's okay." Buck cradled JD in his arms as he stared at the body that had landed only a foot away from where he had been hiding.

"Chris? Chris, Vin shot the man's hand off. The bullet split the trigger in half." JD pointed and stared at the splintered hand on the ground. Josiah pointed to the pipe bomb still in the wheel well. "Ezra! Make sure that's a fake!" Seeing the con man grimace, Josiah sprinted across the parking lot toward Vin's building.

Ezra was already on his cell phone calling for an ambulance and police backup and a bomb squad. Heading toward the front fender of the car, Ezra determined that the pipe bomb was indeed a fake. He'd know that the men would never risk their own lives with a live bomb. Nevertheless, they had brought pros with them. Enough to have spelled trouble for the entire team.

Buck looked up. Suddenly aware of all the confusion, he called over his mike. "Chris? What's? What happened?" His senses dulled by nearly seeing JD killed, Buck now was frightened again. "Chris?" Chris was climbing the stairs as fast as he could. He knew Nathan was ahead of him but had not reached Vin yet. Damn! Vin had been right. The spot was wrong. He told them and they hadn't listened. Now the young agent was down because he had made a promise. A promise to protect all their backs. Chris prayed the sharpshooter wouldn't pay for that promise with his life.

Chapter 16

Ezra Standish felt helpless. Watching Josiah race across the parking lot, he kept his prisoner on the ground handcuffed and cuffed to the bumper of his Jag. Rushing to JD's side, he checked the man whose lower arm was now an explosive mess. Finding no pulse, Ezra wasn't surprised. The amount of blood under the man was staggering. He had obviously bled to death from his wound. Helping JD to his feet, both men watched Buck chasing Josiah across the asphalt.

Fifteen stories above where Ezra worked, Nathan Jackson sprinted across a rooftop. Dropping to his knees beside the sharpshooter, he saw Vin's left hand desperately losing a battle to stem the flow of blood from his body. Reaching for his scissors Nathan quickly cut away Vin's pants and pressed a thick trauma dressing on the pulsing wound.

"Ah...no! Please?" Vin felt knifing pain shatter through his body. "Stop please!" He tried to move away from the insistent pressure that was hurting him more. Someone was talking to him but it took too much energy to listen. Too much energy to stay awake. He could feel his heart pounding rapidly in his throat. The pain was too much. Staying awake too much effort.

Nathan tried to hold pressure while checking Vin further for injuries. He could hear the young man moaning; could hear the effort for him to take a breath. Making a decision, he spoke into his mike for the first time since reaching Vin. "Ezra? Get a med helicopter in here now. Vin's bleeding too much from this gunshot wound. I'm waiting for help to start some IV's but I can't release pressure on this wound. That bullet must have hit an artery. Way too much blood. God!" Nathan added another trauma dressing on top of the saturated one under his hand. Looking around desperately, Nathan hoped help was not far behind.

Chris hit the rooftop entrance at the same time Nathan made his desperate call. Looking at the condition of the roof, Chris called out. "Have them land on the parking lot west of the building. This roof will never hold it." Out of breath, Chris reached Vin's side and saw blood covering everything. "Nathan?" The breathless question asked more than the words.

"Over here quick. Put pressure on this spot." Nathan grabbed Chris's arm and pulled him down into the blood pooling around Vin's body. "Right here. Lean with all your weight." Nathan stood quickly and wiped his bloody hands on his clothing. Grabbing his bag, he quickly cleared Vin's arm and slipped a large bore IV catheter in a vein. Seeing Josiah reach the roof, Nathan held the saline solution bag in his mouth and started it flowing into Vin's blood stream.

"I've got it Brother Nathan." Josiah took the IV from Nathan as the man finished taping Vin's IV in place. Quickly going to the other side, Nathan repeated the process holding pressure on the bag to empty it quickly. Chris reached up to take the second bag from Nathan as the medic moved to replace the first one in Josiah's hands. Josiah closed his big hands around the new bag and added pressure saying a quiet prayer with each drop that tried to buy Vin some time.

Nathan paused at Vin's head to check his pulse and breathing. A fast faint pulse didn't encourage Nathan as he tilted Vin's chin to make sure his airway stayed clear. Studying Vin's face, he could see Vin flutter his eyelids. "Vin? Vin, you're okay. Chris, Josiah and I got ya. How you just keep on breathing and don't let go. Stay with us, okay? Vin? Can you open your eyes? Let me know you hear?"

Chris pressed another dressing under his hand. Horrified at the amount of blood covering Vin's lower body, he searched Vin's face closely for any signs the sharpshooter had heard Nathan. Vin heard a faint roaring near his head. Someone was talking to him. Trying to get him to do something. His body was so tired. The pain was a constant bone aching thing that consumed his mind and drew him back toward darkness. He tried to stay. Tired to answer the voice that sounded so safe. But his body failed him. He felt the voices fade away slow as his body began the slow process of shutting down.

"Shit!" Nathan suddenly jumped as he felt Vin's head go limp in his hands. Chris felt it too. The resistance he had felt against his constant pushing was suddenly gone. The flesh under his bloody hands sagged, offering up no more resistance.

As Nathan moved to start breathing for Vin, Buck arrived at the stairwell just ahead of the paramedics. Buck ran across the roof carrying an oxygen tank. Seeing Nathan begin to breathe and press his hands on Vin's chest, Buck cried out and fell forward on his hands and knees. "GOD! NO!" Buck's scream filled the air. He stared frozen as one paramedic quickly injected drugs into Vin's IV. Nathan continued to do compressions as a second medic slipped a breathing tube down Vin's throat. Seeing the medic gesturing to him, Buck looked at the oxygen tank and moved it along side Vin's head.

Chris stared as the medics helped Nathan. He pressed harder. Tried to press the life back into the frail body beneath his hands. He continued to watch the pale face now covered with tape and tubes. His hearing picked up the prayer coming from Josiah's mouth and he let his own voice join in. Each man did what he could to bring life back to the young man who had put himself in harm's way to keep a promise.


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