Replacement Killer

by Brate

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction based on the television series The Magnificent Seven. No copyright infringement is intended to MGM, CBS, TNN, Trilogy, The Mirisch Corp., or any others that hold the rights. No profit will be made from this work.

Notes: Previously published in Legends of the Magnificent Seven #3, by Demon Bunny Press. Re-edited for the web. Thanks, Gem.

Chapter One

Chris Larabee sighed as he hung up the phone, hearing yet another thud against the wall in the outer room. He knew it was useless to shout, but he was powerless to stop himself. "Knock it off!" No sound was heard after the shout for about five seconds. Then came another thud, followed by smothered laughter. "I give up," he whispered, rising from his chair to go and kick the crap out of his men. The finest ATF unit in Denver was attempting to drive him crazy -- he was certain of it.

He was right.

Currently the team's sharpshooter was testing his aiming skills with a rubber ball against a target placed on the wall opposite their leader's office. It had all started with a bored Vin Tanner and progressed quickly downhill with the help of Ezra Standish. His honeyed drawl requested stakes on how many times Vin could hit the wall before their "legendary leader" would come out and take them to task.

Buck Wilmington, JD Dunne, and Josiah Sanchez were dressed in their best suits, trying to make sure they didn't get rumpled before court, while they waited for the outcome of their wager. Buck was sure his guess would win. Larabee's oldest friend had a lot of faith in Chris' ability to ignore bad behavior for a long time. He knew the man had more than enough practice at it. Nathan Jackson and JD had bet on three and four times, respectively, and that number had long since passed.

Vin threw the ball directly at the target posted on the wall for the fourteenth time. Even he was getting a bit anxious. The longer Chris put up with the noise, the more upset he would be when he finally emerged from his office. Vin and Ezra had both lost, and the six were now seeing whether Josiah or Buck would come out victorious.

At bounce number twenty-one, blazing green eyes appeared and a voice bellowed with considerable volume, "Just what the hell is going on here?"

Tanner grabbed the ball on the rebound, snapped upright in his chair, and shoved the ball into a drawer. Buck, Nathan, and JD skittered back to their desks. Ezra discreetly passed the winnings over to Josiah, who palmed them in his large hand before returning to his own desk.

Apparently he was not discreet enough.

Chris crossed his arms and glowered at Sanchez.  Pointedly he asked, "Don't you have to be in court? Take those two jokers with you." Larabee paused. "And aren't you late for your ride-along?" he called to Nathan.

Quickly Wilmington, Dunne, and Sanchez left the office, avoiding any more trouble. Jackson gathered up his things and headed out to his EMT recertification ride-along. Team Seven's leader faced the final two members of his team. They tried to avoid his steely gaze, but after a moment's silence, Vin and Ezra raised their eyes to meet his.

Chris said, "Since we having nothing pending, with most of our team occupied, and since you gentlemen seem to have nothing better to do with your time, I've agreed to loan you two out to Team Six."

Looking across his desk at his partner, Tanner responded to his leader's statement. "Why us?"

"They want Ezra because their suspect has heard of, and agreed to meet, Ezra Simpson," Chris replied.  He referred to one of the agent's many aliases.  "And they'd like to borrow Vin since Rico's still down with his broken leg."  Team Six's sharpshooter had been injured during a bust, leaving a hole in that team.

"I thought they had an alternate to take over the position," the Texan asked.

Chris sighed. "Yeah, they do, but Kevin doesn't think the replacement has had enough preparation for this important a mission. They'd rather go with an experienced, albeit smartass, sniper."

"Hell, it's a good thing ya got one of them lyin' around, ain't it?" Vin smirked and winked at Ezra. Standish rolled his eyes.

"And that's exactly what he'll be doing if he doesn't get moving," the blond tossed over his shoulder as he went back to his office. He turned around at his door. "Richter's expecting you both."

"Yes, sir." Tanner saluted Chris.

The blond leader saluted him right back and disappeared into his office.

"Y'know, pard, usually there's more'n one finger in a salute," remarked Vin as he walked out of the office. "C'mon, Ez. I guess we best be reporting to a real team leader, one that don't give valued team members offensive gestures like that non-sociable cuss in there."

"I heard that, Tanner!" The shout drifted out of the leader's office.

"You were supposed to, Cowboy, otherwise it weren't funny!" the Texan yelled right back, laughing.

Ezra groaned as the two walked to the elevator, headed for Team Six's office. "You do realize that you are going to pay for that malicious comment."


"And that in all likelihood I will be forced to participate in your punishment, since you included me in your retort."


"Many thanks for your invaluable assistance, Mr. Tanner."

"No problem, Ez."

Vin and Ezra arrived just as Team Six was sitting down for a strategy session in their conference room.  Someone handed case files to the Team Seven agents, and the pair quickly read through them to familiarize themselves with their new assignment.

Not too different from any of our missions, Vin thought, leaning against the nearest wall and skimming the contents. He knew Ezra would have the harder time in the middle of the action. As he came upon the suspect's name he froze, and lifted his gaze to his partner sitting at the table.

Ezra was studiously scanning the documents, allowing no outward concern to show. The man Team Six was targeting was none other than Jacob Lange, a man Ezra had been after since his days in the FBI. Lange had started out embezzling for his computer company and, while he was under indictment, the agents tried to get him for bribing a federal judge. He had the judge killed, and slipped through the cracks, using the money he'd embezzled to enter into the wonderful world of gun smuggling. Just before his disappearance, Lange had killed an undercover friend of Ezra's, and Standish had always regretted not being able to apprehend the felon. He'd kept tabs on Lange's rise in the smuggling market, hoping to find and arrest him one day, although, of course, Lange had no idea Ezra Standish even existed. Standish's teammates knew of Ezra's semi-obsession. Chris must've found out Team Six was going after Lange, and been willing to let his undercover agent help.

The leader of Team Six cleared his throat at the head of the table. Everyone quickly focused their attention as Kevin Richter started to speak. "This is a fairly straightforward assignment, gentlemen, although I will add there's nothing routine about it. Agent Alberts has infiltrated the Lange organization and has persuaded Jacob Lange to personally attend this deal."

Applause and catcalls were thrown at the Team Six undercover agent responsible for the coup.

"Settle down. Now we have one day to prepare for the primary meet tomorrow night. Lange requested a meeting with Simpson," Richter motioned at Ezra, "prior to completing the deal. I realize that doesn't give us much time to arrange everything, but we had no choice." Kevin nodded to the files in everyone's hand. "As you can all see, our men will be purchasing thirty cases of fully automatic machine guns along with various ammunition and explosives from Lange."

From his location at the edge of the room, Vin used the time to observe the members of the other team. The two teams had worked together before, but not to this extent. Also, if the truth were told, he didn't like being placed so far in the background if one of his teammates was out in front. He noticed all the men were listening intently to Richter except one. The Texan surreptitiously focused his attention on that man and studied him. He was pale blond, with a deep-set face and a body the size of a Mack truck. The man seemed to be listening to his leader speak, but every few minutes his gaze would drift over to Vin. 

Tanner didn't like the expression that crossed the behemoth's face when he looked over at him. Vin glanced over and saw Ezra watching the blond man, too. Standish must have felt Vin's eyes on him because he turned and raised his eyebrows in silent question. The sharpshooter nodded, letting the undercover agent know he was aware of the scrutiny. No one else seemed to notice either the exchange or the blond man's interest in Vin. The meeting finally ended and everyone got up to leave. Vin headed down to the armory to requisition a rifle; Ezra maneuvered himself next to the Texan on his way to the elevator.

Standish kept his voice low so others would not hear.  "It would appear you have gotten yourself an admirer, Mr. Tanner."

"Didn't look like admiration to me. Who is he?"

"His name is Michael Schultz and he happens to be the sniper you supplanted. I would use caution around him."

"I'll keep m'eye out." 

Ezra acknowledged Vin's statement with a nod and moved off.

+ + + + + + +

Vin Tanner strolled down the hallway toward the armory. Normally he'd use his own rifle, but during the last operation, he'd been forced to use it as a club against one of the suspects accosting Nathan. In doing so, the stock had bent and it would need to be fixed before he could safely use it again. The ex-bounty hunter had no choice but to get one of the supply rifles; he'd go to the range the next day and sight it in.

As he turned a corner, he ran straight into a wall. Vin looked up and saw it was no wall, just a man built like one. "'Scuse me," he said and made to go around the man; before he could, he felt an enormous hand seize his arm.

"Not so fast, hot shot."

Vin snapped his arm out of the other's grasp. "Can I help you with somethin'?" He recognized the blond giant from the briefing. Schultz, he remembered.

"Yeah, you can. You can give my job back to me."


The man snarled, "That was supposed to be my job."

"I had nothin' to do with that decision. I was told what to do, same as you." Tanner hoped to defuse this situation before it became trouble.

He had no idea it was already too late.

Vin didn't see the big man throw the punch, but he sure as hell felt it connect. Schultz's fist hit him hard in the stomach and stole the lean man's breath. As he coughed and doubled over trying to get the wind back into his lungs, another punch landed on his side. Vin's arms wrapped around his midsection and he heard his attacker whisper in his ear, "And that's just the beginning."

By the time Vin was able to straighten up, the other man was gone. Glancing around, he sighed in relief when he saw no one had noticed the attack. The last thing I need is for Chris to find out about this, he thought. Vin knew that Chris was always hesitant about letting his men work under someone else; the leader sometimes took his responsibilities a little too seriously. Not wanting to add to Chris' worries, Vin decided to keep the incident to himself.

He felt along his ribs and deduced that they were just bruised. Lucky for him, it appeared Goliath chose not to put his full weight behind the punch. Vin knew he'd be sore for a while, but decided he wouldn't need to get checked out. He slowly made his way to the arsenal and selected his weapon.

+ + + + + + +

Vin returned to the Team Six offices and slowly made his way to the conference room Richter had assigned Ezra and him as their office for the duration of the mission. He was still sore, but could walk straight enough there wouldn't be a problem with anyone noticing, as long as he could sit down. He peered around and saw through the open doorway that Ezra was still in the outer room talking to members of Team Six. Placing the case containing the borrowed rifle down, he leaned over the table and lowered himself gingerly into a chair.

"Is there a problem, Vin?"

Vin jumped slightly and contained a groan. He hadn't heard Ezra walk in. "Not at all, Ez. Just taking a load off."

At Tanner's entrance, Ezra had surreptitiously watched both the deliberate walk and the cautious way Vin sat down. He had no idea what could have happened to him, because Standish had seen his partner in good health not twenty minutes ago. He continued to observe him for a few minutes until Vin spoke up.

"I'm fine, Ezra."

"Of course you are, Mr. Tanner."

Vin looked at him for a moment before opening his file and studying the layout of the meet. He wasn't sure what Ezra was up to, but he didn't want him to find out about the incident in the hall. Ezra would just tell Chris and then they would do something "for his own good." He did like having backup, but there were things a man had to handle on his own. After all, he'd been standing up to bullies his whole life.

Chapter Two

The next morning, Vin showed up early at Team Seven's office hoping to catch Dunne before he left for court. Tanner was in luck. JD was fighting Buck for the last jelly donut when the sharpshooter pulled him aside.

"Can I talk to you for a second?"

"Sure, Vin."

The duo moved over to Tanner's desk and sat down. Vin motioned for JD to swing his chair around and sit at the computer.

The young agent gave his teammate a look. "Just what do you need?"

The Texan flushed with embarrassment. "I'd rather none o' the other guys knew about this, so could you keep it to yerself?"

JD didn't hesitate. "Of course."

"I'd like you to check on someone fer me. He's jest raised a couple o' questions that I'd like answered."

Dunne logged into the terminal, asking, "What's his name?"

"Michael Schultz. He's the temp in Team Six."

The computer specialist paused a moment in his clicking at the keys, looking up at his friend. "You want me to check out an agent?"


The dark-haired agent nodded and returned to his task. Within moments he'd found some information. "Schultz transferred from the Chicago office last month and has been floating between the teams until Rico's injury left an opening. No other interesting info."

The youth typed a bit more. "Let me look into the master files." As JD hacked into the central ATF records, Vin checked to make sure no one was paying attention to their search. Buck had lost interest almost immediately, probably thinking Vin needed help with a report, and returned to finishing off the last of the donuts. Nathan had already left for his training, and Josiah was in the middle of a new novel, patiently waiting for his companions before leaving for the courthouse. Vin turned his attention back to his computer when the hacker whispered, "I got it."

"What's it say?"

"Apparently he wasn't the most popular agent in Illinois. He was suspended twice for brawling with his coworkers." Dunne pointed at the screen. "After his second suspension, it was recommended that he find a new place to work. No one wanted him on their team."

"So why's he still in the ATF?" Vin wondered aloud.

"His dad's a bigwig senator," JD replied scathingly. "I guess the director was
to give him another chance."

"Great, we get stuck with the castoffs." Vin sighed heavily. "Thanks, JD, I owe ya."

"Want to tell me why you need to know about him?" The young agent looked up at his slightly older friend, curiosity bright in his dark eyes.

Vin shrugged, noncommittally. "As Ezra would say, 'Information is power.'"

JD understood that didn't really answer his question, but he knew better than to push the Texan. "Okay, well, I've got to go. Buck's about to eat his desk, and I'll bet Josiah is anxious to get going, too."

"Thanks fer your help, kid."

Vin didn't exactly know what he'd do with the information he'd acquired, but he knew it was better to know the enemy. And while Michael Schultz should be considered a teammate, not an enemy, the attack in the hallway had changed his category in Vin's mind. This morning Tanner had woken up in quite a bit of pain, and had taken a long, incredibly hot shower to loosen up his muscles. He'd done some stretching and found he could now move around well, if a bit slow.

He waved as his teammates left for court, and headed down to his current office. There was a meeting scheduled to confirm tonight's meet, and then he'd have to go zero in his borrowed rifle.

Standish hadn't shown up yet and Vin had some time before the meeting, so he decided to get some air; he'd been feeling closed in. He rode the elevator to the top floor, and then walked up the final set of stairs.

Sunlight poured down onto the roof, and the Texan drank it in, face up. He'd been busy in the office, and then helping out in his apartment building for the last couple weeks, not leaving himself much down time.  A few precious moments of sunshine were enough to "recharge his batteries"; he stretched, relishing the warmth. He sighed. Unfortunately, now he'd have to go back down and sit in the stuffy meeting room.

Tanner ambled back to the roof access door and grabbed the knob. He wiggled it, and cursed when it didn't budge. Shit! There was no way he could miss this meeting. It was the final setup before Ezra's first encounter with Lange. He pounded on the door, yelling, but there was no response. The sharpshooter had automatically checked the lock when he came out, which meant someone had locked him out on purpose. Now what? Shooting the lock off would bring some help, but he'd hate to have to explain discharging a firearm in a federal building. Looking around, he saw there was no other way down off the roof; this was the only door downstairs.

He walked to the roof's edge and jumped up. Strolling along the ledge, he was glad Chris couldn't see him. His best friend hated when he took chances, but to Vin, this wasn't a chance; he'd always been surefooted and heights didn't bother him. After he turned the second corner, he saw exactly what he needed: a window washer's platform. The sharpshooter grinned. Seeing no key, he managed to hotwire it and lowered the platform down one level. Then he ripped his handkerchief in half, twisting a piece around each hand. He grabbed hold of the rope anchoring the movable scaffold, and slid down to the base rail, slowing his descent with his feet.

Vin jumped the last few feet, landing on the planks and feeling them shake a bit with his weight. He regained his balance and looked inside the window next to him. A young lady was typing on a computer at the desk. He knocked lightly on the window, and was rewarded with her looking up, her eyes wide and staring at the strange apparition before her. He signaled her to open the window and was concerned to see her shake her head and reach for the phone.

Taking care not to frighten the woman anymore, he took out his badge and pressed it against the window. Seeing the ID he was displaying, the woman set the phone back on the handset before coming closer to view the emblem. Vin tried to give his sweetest smile as he motioned again to have her open the window. She headed back to the phone and made a call, probably to verify his ID. She hung up the phone, returning to open the window.

Vin jumped down into the room. "Thanks, ma'am," the Texan drawled, as he tipped his nonexistent hat at her.

She managed a quiet, "You're welcome," but was still clearly confused as to why he'd come in through her window.

He left quickly to avoid any questions, and hurried downstairs to the meeting. It had just started. The sharpshooter slipped in and stood at the rear, scanning the group. Vin caught the surprise on Michael Schultz's face as he stood there. Apparently Schultz hadn't been expecting to see the other sniper. Vin sent the huge man a smirk in acknowledgement. The other man scowled and turned away.

Tanner's grin faded abruptly when he noticed Chris Larabee sitting in on the meeting. Vin leaned back against the wall and groaned inwardly. He knew Chris would have seen Schultz and him making faces at each other, and his fear was confirmed when his boss shot him a concerned look. Vin glanced over and saw Ezra paying close attention to the intelligence on Lange... maybe the sharpshooter could deflect his boss' attention onto his partner. The Texan relaxed and focused his attention on the discussion.

It ended soon after that, with the two undercover agents requesting little backup on the initial encounter. Standish refused to wear a wire and risk scaring Jacob Lange away. It was agreed the wire was unnecessary for the preliminary meeting set at Domingo's Restaurant, at eight that night. Vin would be stationed at the rooftop across the street, while Agent Davidson, posing as their waiter, would back up Agents Standish and Alberts on the inside.

As expected, when everyone else filed out, Chris signaled he wanted to talk with his men. The blond shut the door and joined the two sitting at the conference table. "So how are things going?" he inquired, looking from Ezra to Vin.

"Great. I jest need to sight in m'rifle and I'm good to go," Vin answered.

"No problems?" Chris continued his probe.

"Not me, but Ez here is going up against his old foe, and I think he's a mite worried." Vin gave a lopsided grin as Standish frowned; Ezra knew exactly what the lean man was doing.

"As I assured you earlier, Mr. Larabee, I am on top of the situation. As we speak, Mr. Jacob Lange is enjoying his final days of freedom." 

Larabee seemed to be assessing the veracity of Ezra's claim. Finally he gave a quick nod. "If there's anything that feels wrong, bail out. We'll get another chance at him."

"I must admit not being entirely comfortable with this state of affairs, for I would rather have my entire team behind me." Ezra paused looking over at the Texan. "But I guess one sinewy sharpshooter will have to do." Vin gave his partner a wink and a grin.

Chris leaned back in his chair. "Actually, that's why I'm here. I've requested Team Seven act as backup when you take down Lange. JD, Buck, and Josiah should be done in court today, and Nate's ride-along finishes tomorrow." He smiled at the relief on his men's faces; even the normally expressionless Ezra seemed pleased at this new information. "I'm afraid you're going to be stuck with us."

+ + + + + + +

Michael Schultz covertly watched the three men through the window of the conference room. He saw them smiling, further fueling his anger. That cocky sonofabitch will get what's coming to him, he thought of Tanner. I deserve to be Team Six's sniper, and no kid is going to take it away from me.

The large man narrowed his eyes as he observed that hotshot Larabee leaving. After his attempt to embarrass Tanner had fallen through, it appeared he needed to step up his efforts. He still didn't know how that scrawny little shit could've gotten down from the roof. After a few more minutes, the subject of his ire left the conference room, carrying a gun case. Michael watched him leave, and then informed his superior that he'd be taking an early lunch.

+ + + + + + +

Vin let another five shots go. He looked through the scope... direct in the center. He'd chosen a good rifle; not much effort was required to sight it in. He picked up the spent casings and carefully repacked the rifle into the case.

He started back to the shooting range house, enjoying the fresh air along the way. As he came around the last bend, he noticed Michael Schultz in the center of the track, obviously waiting and itching for a fight. Vin lowered his head in resignation before raising it again and looking his rival square in the eye.

"Now what?" Team Seven's sharpshooter asked.

"I warned you once and I don't like to repeat myself," Schultz sneered.

"Good," stated Tanner, and he moved to pass the tow-headed giant.

Schultz made a grab at Vin's arm again, but this time, Vin was ready for it. The Texan seized the larger man's thumb and bent it backwards toward the wrist, effectively jamming Schultz's arm around his back. With a little pressure, the big man was forced to his knees. "I don't want to play this game anymore," Vin told him, applying some more force before releasing the other man's arm. "It's over."

Michael Schultz watched the Texan stalk away. "We'll see, Tanner," he growled. "We'll see."

+ + + + + + +

Tanner scanned the area through his scope. On the rooftop across from Domingo's, he kept watch over the comings and goings of the restaurant. As he watched for the arrival of his partner and their adversary, Vin fidgeted slightly. The aches from the beating he had taken were beginning to make themselves known as he stretched out.

Seeing his partner arrive with the undercover agent from Team Six, the sharpshooter carefully put his body's complaints aside and focused all his attention on the restaurant entrance. Vin reported their arrival to base and returned to his watch. After fifteen minutes, Lange arrived with one of his men in tow. Vin verified the two men were alone and hunkered down to wait.

+ + + + + + +

Inside Domingo's, Ezra watched Jacob Lange's arrival with trepidation. He'd waited so long to have another shot at catching Lange, and it appeared the end was in sight. Reassuring the felon and setting the trap was required. "Relax and follow my lead," Ezra instructed the other ATF agent as Lange moved toward the table. The gunrunner was wearing a deep blue pinstripe suit that barely concealed a large handgun. Dark, slicked-back hair and flinty eyes completed Ezra's mental description of his adversary.

Over the next hour, Ezra Simpson managed to relate tales of globe hopping and intrigue that even had Alberts on the edge of his seat. As their meal was being cleared away, Jacob Lange leaned back in his chair and smiled across the table at his new friend.

"Mr. Simpson, I must admit you have impressed me. I would be delighted to do business with you."

"Splendid." A gold tooth flashed in his wide smile. "Shall we meet tomorrow night, perhaps?"

"I don't like to do business at night, anymore." Lange chuckled. "Too many places for people to hide. We'll meet tomorrow at four o'clock, at the Wagner Truck Stop on Interstate 50, exit 123."

"Of course. You'll bring the merchandise?"

"And you'll bring the cash."

Chapter Three

Taking care to ensue they were not followed, Standish and Alberts returned to the federal building and reported on the results of their dinner with Lange. The gunrunner's idiosyncrasies were well known, including his insistence on using vehicles in his trades. He would often bring the weapons in a truck of some sort, switch the keys for the money, and then hightail it out of the area. Since there was no time needed to load the weapons or trade conveyances, the felon would make his deals in record time and be gone.

Once they found out the location of the meet, the agents quickly cemented their plans. Richter took charge of the situation, telling each agent where his place would be, spreading the manpower around the gas station. The ATF support services had rigged a semi-trailer with all the equipment they'd need for the mission: cameras, parabolic microphones, and the command center.

Tanner was stationed on top of the command trailer in order to protect his fellow agents. The next afternoon, Vin climbed up the rear of the semi-trailer and bent over. Stooped, he walked three-quarters of the way until he reached his designated position, which had straps bolted to the roof. He attached his gun case to the roof with a carabiner and then laid down flat on the roof. Securing his harness on the straps, he called over his radio to let the team know he was secure. He held on tight as the truck started to move down the road to the meeting place; the straps helped to hold him in place. The command truck pulled into the truck stop and parked near the center of the lot to ensure the sniper and cameras would have an uninterrupted line of sight when the targets appeared.

Knowing that his team, Team Seven, would be backup for this mission brought a sense of calm to the sharpshooter. There was too much at stake in Jacob Lange's capture, including Ezra's peace of mind, to risk messing up the operation. Ezra had waited a long time for this, and with Team Seven's presence, if only behind the scenes, Vin felt sure this mission would be a success.

Opening the case of his rifle, Vin unhooked himself from the leash bolted to the roof and set about arranging his area. Staying low, he put together his weapon, checking twice to make certain everything was up to spec. Turning his hat around so the bill faced the rear, he sighted in quickly, before ducking back down to the roof of the truck.  Being spotted wasn't something Vin was too concerned about since his location was nearly undetectable from the ground, but it wasn't in him to take any chances.

Michael Schultz was serving as a stand-in sniper for Team Seven during this operation. He was set up on the west, giving him a birds-eye view of the entire area, and would provide warning of the approaching vehicles.

"Team Six, check in," sounded over Vin's radio headset. They would only be able to hear the voices of their own team, unless messages were rerouted through command. The system was used to cut down on confusion between the teams. Only the leaders' radios were carried over all the channels.

Vin waited his turn before whispering, "Six-three, check." Vin had to admit it felt weird not starting his call sign with the word "Seven." Hopefully, after this mission was complete things could go back to normal -- or as normal as things got for his team. He heard Ezra's voice after his, and soon after he heard Chris order Team Seven to check in. Radio silence was maintained after the check in. The meet was slated for one hour from now, but Lange was notorious for showing up early. There would be no surprises coming this time. The ATF agents were primed to take this dealer down once and for all.

Not even twenty minutes had gone by when he heard over his radio, "Targets acquired and heading in." Vin waited before rising up just enough to see the action and train his rifle on it. He watched through the scope as Lange walked up to Ezra, extending a hand. The undercover agent smiled warmly and Vin marveled, not for the first time, how amenable Standish could seem when he was after something -- in this case, a gun-trafficking conviction and overdue justice for his friend.

+ + + + + + +

"Mr. Lange, how wonderful it is to see you again," Ezra said as he shook the gunrunner's hand in greeting. "I assume you have brought what I require?" The undercover agent had to speak louder than normal to have his voice heard above the noise of the truck stop. Alberts stood to the side of Standish, carefully watching Lange's men.

"Mr. Simpson, I assume you have what I require?" Jacob Lange motioned at the briefcase in Ezra's hand.

"I will show you mine when you show me yours," Ezra smoothly replied.

Lange eyed him for a moment before nodding. He turned around and waved at one of his two companions. The tall, dark man nodded and talked into a handheld radio. In just a few moments a moving van, over twenty feet long, came forward, passing the undercover agents and parking so that the back end was in line with the small group.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee sipped from a cup of coffee as he observed the undercover agents meet up with their adversary. Ezra appeared to be calm and unruffled as usual; only someone who knew him well could see he was controlling his emotions only through years of practice -- from the job and his personal life. The leader sat at a table with Josiah and JD, across the room from the table occupied by Buck and Nathan. All five men were dressed as truckers to disguise themselves; they sat in the truck stop's restaurant.

Under their flannel shirts, the agents were wearing their bulletproof vests with ATF tags on them. They watched as Lange and his men arrived and Ezra got down to business. When the truck pulled up, they subtly opened their jackets, preparing for when they would storm outside and help Team Six with the arrest.

+ + + + + + +

"Targets acquired and heading in." As soon as he called out the approaching targets, Michael Schultz set his rifle aside and climbed down from his station. He slowly made his way around to the side of the main building, avoiding all of the federal agents. For such a large man, he was remarkably adept at stealth. Schultz quickly climbed the catwalk ladder, pleased that he'd had a chance to scout the area the night before.

Sneering as he stood on the roof of the truck stop restaurant, Schultz stayed behind the giant neon "R" in "TRUCK STOP." He could clearly see Tanner on the roof of the ATF's semi. Bending down, he picked up the rifle he'd placed there the night before. It was from his personal collection and fitted with a silencer. Schultz lined up the longhaired sharpshooter in his scope, waiting for the right time to take his shot.

He'd show his father who really had power.

+ + + + + + +

Looking around, Ezra saw that their actions were going unnoticed by the patrons of the truck stop, most likely accustomed to a variety of activities. Jacob Lange grandly swept his hand aside, indicating for Ezra to go up on the truck and look at the contents. The green-eyed agent glanced over his shoulder at Frank Alberts. "Check it out," he told him.

As Alberts grabbed onto the back of the truck and slid the rear door up, Standish propped the briefcase up on his arm and popped the latches open. Lange eagerly moved forward, quickly counting the stacks of money within. Satisfied with what he saw, the gunrunner smiled. The undercover agent tried not to shudder at the reptilian-like expression on his target's face. Ezra moved back away, still holding the money, and called out to his partner. "How's it look?"

"All right," Frank reported, jumping down from the vehicle. He'd looked through the boxes inside and made sure that they contained the guns and ammunition they were to be purchasing. He pulled the door shut and walked over to Ezra. "It's good to go."

"I believe we have a deal, Mr. Lange." He held out the briefcase while Lange extended the keys to the van. After the exchange, Ezra spoke the code words, letting everyone know it was time to take the man down. "Pleasure doing business with you," he said with a two-fingered salute.

"ATF! You're under arrest!" Men exploded from inside the nearby command trailer. The five from Team Seven burst from inside the truck stop, and more streamed out of surrounding vehicles. "Drop your weapons and put your hands on top of your head!"

Vin kept track from above, careful to keep himself focused on the action. Jacob Lange dropped the briefcase and held his hands high. Apparently Lange was willing to try to get off through legal channels, but it seemed his men were not so willing to trust their lawyers. Two of the three men tried to make a break for it in Lange's car.

Squeezing off two shots, Tanner instantly disabled their vehicle by taking out the two front tires. The men inside raised their hands in surrender. The third henchman, standing behind the van, looked as if he were surrendering as well until he reached into his jacket and brought out a handgun. Both Wilmington and Agent Garibaldi from Team Six saw the movement and rushed at the criminal, stripping him of his weapon and securing him with handcuffs.

When he saw Buck take the third man down, Tanner smiled in admiration. He continued to check around the vicinity, making sure there were no strays lurking, waiting to take a potshot at an unsuspecting federal agent. His colleagues managed to collect all of the felons without major incident -- surprising the hell out of the sharpshooter. Their luck must be running high. Chris even "arrested" Standish, placing him in cuffs until the rest of the felons were taken away in order to preserve his alter ego.

Tanner was eager to get down and congratulate Ezra; the undercover agent must be elated at the capture of the man he'd tracked for so long. As soon as the "All clear" was given, he began to pack away his rifle and equipment. Richter called to tell him to come down. He acknowledged the call. As he unhooked his harness, the blue-eyed sharpshooter was irritated to find that the harness was caught on his bulletproof vest. Glancing around and seeing everything in control, he slipped out of the vest just long enough to release himself.

That was the moment Michael Schultz had been waiting for. Through his scope he saw Tanner take off the vest. He lined himself up and fired.

One second, Vin was wrestling with the straps from his harness, and the next, his face was pressed down onto the roof of the semi, the wind knocked out of him. He was confused. What the hell? The longhaired agent tried to roll over to his back and was hit with a wave of pain in his chest that rapidly turned to agony. Struggling against the pain, he tried to reach his radio and call for help, but his arms didn't seem to work. Despite his best efforts, his eyes closed and he slipped into the darkness of unconsciousness.

+ + + + + + +

Chris heard the "All clear" sound. Then heard Richter do a radio check of his men, along with Ezra's and Vin's replies. Larabee released a sigh in relief at hearing Tanner's voice. Knowing everyone was all right was different from knowing everyone was all right. He hated lending any of his team out and wondered if there was some way he could prevent it in the future. The blond chuckled at the thought of AD Travis' face if he told him the future borrowing of any members of his team was forbidden.

Team Seven's leader was able to see the majority of his team cleaning up the site, but he still called them according to protocol. And then he called over his radio to Schultz, "Seven-five."

"Seven-five here."

"You are clear to come down."

"Seven-five, check."

Not even a minute later, he saw the large blond man join Orbach of Team Six by one of the vehicles. That was fast, Chris thought.

Buck and JD came over near Chris, happy to let Team Six take care of the details of the operation. That was the best part about being backup -- less paperwork. Team Six would escort the prisoners to the federal building for interviews, and then on to the detention center to await arraignment, which left Seven free to leave as soon as the scene was cleared.

Kevin Richter thanked Team Seven's undercover agent for his effective support in bringing down Jacob Lange. Ezra exchanged a handshake and looked over to where his team was standing at the sidelines. As soon as he was dismissed, Ezra sauntered over to his teammates, contentment clearly showing on his face.

"Hey," called out Buck, "look who's here... King of the World!"

Ezra merely gave a sly grin in return.

"Congrats, Ezra." JD extended his hand.

Ezra shook each of the team member's hands in turn, and then made as if he were holding an award. "Thank you, gentlemen. I couldn't have done it without the support of my team, The Magnificent Seven, and especially of my partner-in-crime, Mr. Vin Tanner." The others gave an exaggerated cheer with clapping and whistling, as Ezra made an exaggerated bow.

"Speaking of Vin, what's taking him so long?" asked Nathan.

"I don't know," replied the leader. "Richter called him down a while ago." He keyed his radio. "Seven-one to six-three... stop laying around and get down here. You have a report to write!"

No smartass reply sounded. Larabee and his men exchanged worried glances, before turning their gaze to the command truck. The truck was too tall for them to see if anyone was still on it.

"JD, go see what's keeping him," Chris said.

The young agent nodded and ran over to where the truck was parked. He climbed up the ladder attached to the rear of the vehicle and as his head crested the roof, he saw his fellow agent sprawled on the top, blood flowing freely. JD screamed, "Nathan!" and practically flew the rest of the way up the ladder.

The medic instinctively grabbed his ever-present medical pack and raced for the truck. Larabee's stomach tightened at his agent's cry. "Call for the ambulance," he snapped to Josiah as he followed Nathan. An ambulance was standing by at a neighboring location, just in case it was needed during the bust.

His long legs allowed Nathan to reach the semi quickly. He quickly climbed up the ladder, and ran over to Vin.

JD was on Vin's other side, not touching the injured agent. "He's been shot." Dunne motioned to the unresponsive agent's back.

Jackson knelt down and looked at the hole in the back of Tanner's shirt. Rapidly checking his friend over, he sighed in relief and said, "I've got a pulse. Tell the ambulance a GSW to the chest, unconscious, unresponsive, labored breathing, thready pulse. The hospital needs to prep the OR for immediate surgery and massive transfusions."

Larabee, Wilmington, and Sanchez had followed their teammates up the ladder and were standing next to their prone friend. As Nathan shouted Vin's stats, Sanchez relayed the information over the radio.

"Do you see an exit wound, JD?"

"There's nothing on this side, Nathan."

"Dammit, it's still in there." He carefully cut off Vin's shirt, handing it to JD to bag as evidence. The rest of Vin's clothes would be bagged at the hospital. The computer specialist stood up, taking the shirt, and moved out of the way. Nathan quickly opened his med-pack, grabbing and placing a bandage over Vin's wound.

Chris leaned over. "How is he?"

"Lost too much blood," the dark-skinned man muttered angrily. "Hold this here," he commanded the senior agent, placing Chris' hand on the bandage. "Keep the pressure on."

Larabee nodded and asked his forensic agent what direction he thought the bullet came from.

"Chris, I have no idea!" Jackson shouted in answer, continuing his assessment and treatment of Tanner. He started an IV line, giving the bag to Josiah to hold when the large man came forward.

"If you had to guess..." Chris pushed. He was worried about his best friend, but he had to push his emotions aside to make sure they found whoever did this.

Nathan snapped his head around, lining up where he thought the shot could have originated. "Try the roof." He waved in the direction of the main building.

"Check it out," Chris ordered Buck.

Wilmington grabbed JD on his way down off the truck.

They had Vin in the ambulance in minutes, although they had to do some maneuvering to get him down from the trailer roof. Nathan rode with them to the hospital, rapidly exchanging patient information with the paramedics during the journey.

Chris watched until the lights and sirens from the ambulance faded in the distance before he moved. He stalked over to Kevin Richter, who was in charge of the scene, to update him on the situation, and then made sure his team was doing their best to find the shooter. The remaining members of Team Six, who had not left with their prisoners, canvassed the area with Team Seven. Once this was complete, Larabee hurried to the hospital; his listing as Tanner's next-of-kin required his presence.

Chapter Four

"Anything?" Chris stood up as his agents walked into the waiting room at Denver General Hospital.

"Sorry, Chris," Buck said, shaking his head sadly. "Nate had it dead on. We believe the shot was taken from the roof of the restaurant."

"There were some scuff marks where we think the shooter stood," JD added. "But no shell casings were found, no fingerprints, or anything else we could use."

"Unfortunately, whoever did this knew what he was doing." The ladies' man spread his arms in frustration. "There's no evidence so far."

"Then look harder," Larabee growled. He looked around. "Where's Josiah?"

Buck stepped forward, placing his hand on his friend's arm. "He went to 'discuss' things with Lange, to see if that asshole had anything to do with Vin's shooting."

The blond nodded sharply. He started to pace around the room, his gaze alternately going to the door and then to his agents. Buck and JD exchanged glances, wondering if they should ask about Vin.

They were released from their quandary by Nathan's appearance at the door; he was followed closely by a doctor. Chris abruptly stopped his nervous movement and turned to face the newly arrived men.  "Well?" Chris had no patience left; he wanted to know his friend's status.

"Mr. Larabee, I suppose?" The man in black nodded, and the doctor tried to keep a smile off his face; Jackson had aptly described his boss' manner.  "I am Dr. Gregory. My team performed surgery on Mr. Tanner."

"How is he?" Buck asked, moving forward.

"He's stable. We were able to stop the bleeding and close up the wound, but the bullet did quite a bit of damage upon entry. It missed his heart by a fraction on an inch. "

JD softly voiced all their fears. "So, is he gonna make it?"

Dr. Gregory smiled slightly, trying to convey some hope to these men. "The next twenty-four hours will be critical. If he makes it through that, we have every reason to believe he'll recover completely. Right now he's being transferred to the ICU from Recovery; they should have him settled shortly if you'd like to see him." The doctor made his excuse and left the four men alone in the waiting room.

Josiah and Ezra arrived together, seconds after the doctor's exit. The expressions on their teammates' faces did nothing to reassure them of their friend's well-being.

Ezra ventured, "How is Mr. Tanner faring?"

Nathan shook his head. "Not good. We should know within a day...." He let himself trail off.

"Did Lange tell you anything?" Larabee tried to focus on what he could control -- the search for whatever son of a bitch had shot his best friend.

"No luck there," Josiah confessed. "Lange didn't hire a shooter; he felt in control of the meet, so he didn't think he needed it."

"You believe him?"

Sanchez looked into his leader's eyes. Knowing that the man wanted his gut reaction, which had served him well as a profiler, he said, "I do."

"Godammit!" Larabee's fist connected with the wall. "That takes us back to square one."

"I found out one strange thing," Nathan commented. "The doctor said Vin looked as if he'd been in a fight recently. There were two large bruises on his torso -- looked like someone with a large fist hit him hard -- but Vin had no defensive wounds on his hands."

"He never mentioned it," Chris said.

"He wouldn't." Buck chuckled. "You've been around him, Ez. Notice anything odd the past couple days?"

Ezra nodded slowly while thinking. "There was one gentleman who caught my attention. Michael Schultz."

"The sniper from Six?" Josiah asked.

"Yes. The irate glances he sent Mr. Tanner's way were most unsettling."

Nathan furrowed his brow. "What does he have against Vin?"

"Our brother did take his place on their team," Josiah pointed out.

Clearing his throat, JD drew attention to himself. "I... um... looked up his records for Vin," he managed to stammer out.

A steely gaze was aimed at the computer specialist. "What did you find out?" asked Larabee in a deceptively calm voice.

"He was suspended twice in Chicago for infighting."

"History of violence." The profiler narrowed his pale blue eyes. "Sounds like he's trying to make history repeat."

"Why did we get this troublemaker?" Buck inquired.

JD snorted derisively. "His dad's Senator Schultz from Massachusetts."

They all knew of the extremely powerful senator. "Fuckin' politicians." Chris pointed at Wilmington. "Buck, take JD and get all the info you can -- legally -- on this guy. Ezra, I need you to sweet-talk that judge who likes you so much, see if we can get a search warrant for Schultz's house, car, everything."

"You sure about this?" Buck asked his oldest friend. They all knew the trouble they'd create if they investigated a fellow agent and were wrong.

Larabee shrugged helplessly. "It's all we have."

That was enough incentive to start the ball rolling. Buck and JD left with Josiah and Ezra trailing soon after.

Nathan motioned for Chris to follow him, leading him up to the Intensive Care Unit where Tanner was located.

Chris glanced at Nathan as they rode in the elevator. "Is he going to make it?"

"It's up to him and the man upstairs, Chris. The doctors have done everything they can. Now it's a waiting game."

"That's not an answer."

"Vin's a survivor. If anyone can pull through, he'll do it." They arrived at Tanner's room and looked through the glass window at the figure in the bed.

A ghost of a smile flickered across Larabee's face at the sight of his best friend, but it faded in the presence of so many wires, tubes, and monitors. Pushing open the door, he walked in and sat down in the seat next to the bed, careful not to touch anything. "They'll kick me out soon, won't they?" he called back softly to Nathan.

"Yep."  Nathan moved back out from the door. "I'll leave you alone."

Chris stared at Vin's figure, lying pale and motionless. "Don't you die on me, Cowboy," he murmured. "I still have to kick your ass."

+ + + + + + +

Chris awoke to a soft tapping on the hospital room's window.  The senior agent glanced quickly at Vin to make sure he was still sleeping peacefully, before looking up to see what had awakened him. Buck gestured for him to come out. Larabee patted Vin's hand gently and whispered, "I'll be right back," before going in the hall to speak with Wilmington.

He glanced at the wall clock and was shocked to see two hours had passed since he had sat down with Vin. Apparently the nurses were being fairly lax on his visitation time. He moved over to where a smiling Buck stood. "What'd you find?"

"We got him."

"What? Already?"

"They found the rifle used to shoot Vin in the trunk of his car."

"You're shittin' me."

"Nope, he didn't even bother to hide it, or to deny he shot Vin." The tall agent scratched his mustache, his voice full of contempt. "Figures his dad will keep him out of trouble.

"That ain't gonna happen," Chris reported angrily.

"Don't you worry none, pard. AD Travis already had a chat with 'daddy' and informed him if he tries to use his influence to get his son off, Travis will annihilate his political career. I think Schultz junior's on his own."

+ + + + + + +

Time seemed interminable, listening to the steady sounds of the machines. Slowly, ever so slowly, blue eyes opened and blinked repeatedly.

Chris saw the movement and hit the call button while he grabbed Vin's restrained hands. He knew from experience that Vin railed against the restraints that ICU routinely put on patient's hands to prevent them from unconsciously removing any tubes or equipment. He leaned over, staring into those scared blue eyes.

"Easy, Vin. You're in the hospital. Lie still and don't move. The nurses and doctors will be in to take that tube out of your throat. Just try to be patient. I know that's hard for you, but try for me."

Vin weakly squeezed Chris' hands, letting the momentary panic subside.

"Nice job, Mr. Larabee." The doctor smiled. "If you'll step outside, we'll take it from here." He moved to the other side of the bed.

"I'll be back. Try to behave." As Chris let go, he felt one of Vin's fingers stay completely straight. Larabee smiled; even seriously wounded his friend could still be rebellious.

Almost an hour later, Chris was back at Vin's side and the sharpshooter was able to chew on some ice for his sore throat. "'ey." The damage from the breathing tube made his raspy voice even raspier.

"Hey, yourself." Chris watched his friend try to get his thoughts in order.


Larabee knew what his friend wanted to know. "Schultz."


"You were in the way."


"You should've told me you had a problem."


"Yeah, well, try using your head next time."

Vin grunted noncommittally. He chewed on some more ice before speaking again. "How'd ya get 'im?"

"He left the gun in the car and didn't deny anything."

"So, he's not only an asshole, he's stupid."

"He missed your heart by half an inch!" Larabee yelled.

Vin snorted. "He sucks as a sniper, too?"

"You're damn lucky he does."

"I know." Tanner looked down at his blanket-covered body before lifting his eyes to his best friend. "I made a mistake, Cowboy."

"And you'll have time to think about that when you're on restriction."

Vin's eyes shot wide. "I'm feeling better now. Gimme m'clothes."

Chris smirked. "Can't evidence. You'll just have to wear the gowns and let the nurses appreciate the view."

"Aw, hell."


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