Misperceptions of Justice and Vindication
Summary: Team 7 has been newly formed and all is not going well, there's jealousy, intrigue, death, whumping of at least one of the boys (yep, that would be Vin) and more.
Feedback: Yes, please, constructive, constructive positive.
Author's Notes: We own nothing whatsoever to do with M7 or anything or anyone in connection with them, the only thing we get out of doing this is the satisfaction and fun of sharing our ideas with each other (across two continents no less) and with all of you.
A special thanks to Chris (author of No More Words) who may recognize an item in Vin's apartment in chapter 4, Chris, I borrowed [stole] the idea from - she wrote me and told me it was all right - and I thank you for it. (Laurel)
Size: Approx. 310K
Chapter 1-3 | Chapter 4-6 | Chapter 7-9 | Chapter 10-12
Vin looked through the scope of his rifle, lined the cross-hairs up and calmly, ignoring all other objects and distractions around him, smoothly pulled the trigger. In an instant the target was neutralized. Quickly he surveyed the scene below selected another target and again, with the practice and detachment that comes from highly specific Ranger training, he dispatched the next target.
His job was far from done, there were so many targets he was already lining up his third shot. He focused through the scope and then pulled back, it was wrong. His position on this target was wrong. There was no safe way for him to take that shot, not only would he endanger the hostage but just behind the target he glimpsed the writing on the side of the shipping crate: DANGER EXPLOSIVES.
He couldn't take the shot, all he had was a head shot and only a partial at best, if he took the shot the risk was too high that his bullet would pass through or perhaps miss altogether and the next thing it would hit was the crate of explosives.
He pulled back as his training and experience had taught him. Another moment would present itself so he continued to follow the target through the scope of his rifle. In the next moment however the target was obliterated in front of him and the echo of the shot sounded in his ear. Whirling around Vin checked for the second shooter and from an angle slightly below him and to his left the shooter appeared.
In a moment the entire arena was flooded with light as the amphitheater lights came on and the sounds of enthusiastic applause and whistles of appreciation split the air. Vin snapped off the laser site of his rifle and quickly descended from his perch above the ATF's simulated practice range.
Vin reached the center of the room and stood looking as the other sniper approached from his perch who gazed cockily at him and arched his eyes as if to say, "I'm a better shot."
Vin read the challenge easily but felt no need to take it up. He was confident in his abilities but not cocky about them. He trained and practiced and kept up on the latest in technology and weapons. His job was to be the best because lives depended on it. His work spoke for itself; he felt no need to grandstand.
So he met the other man's gaze straight on and gave a small nod; it was an amazing shot. Still, too risky for his taste but he felt no need to censure the man, leastwise not in front of a room full of young recruits who were being treated to the staged action scene. However, John Haslund, the training instructor, wasn't worried about censuring the uninvited shooter.
"Frainier, what the hell was that?" Haslund strode up to the two snipers, gave Vin an appraising nod and stood square in front of the second sniper. "First of all, who gave you permission to be on this stage; second, who authorized you use of a weapon; and third, what the hell kind of a shot was that!"
"A perfect shot." Frainier answered back without any trace of remorse.
Vin noted that Frainier, whoever he was, wasn't in the least intimidated by Haslund, which Vin appreciated, however what Vin didn't like was that Frainier also didn't appear to respect Haslund. Vin noted also that the room had gotten silent from the whistles and applause of a few seconds before. He noticed that everyone's attention was riveted on the shouting between the two men.
"You think so, hotshot? Well, how about this, your angle was poor, you had a hostage in your sightline and what does this say?!" Haslund stepped up to the crate that Vin had noted from his position and pounded it with his fist. "It says DANGER EXPLOSIVES!"
"Makes my shot all the better, neutralized the perp, and everyone goes home happy."
"Reckless, endangered your team, the hostage and half the city block." Haslund turned away from Frainier and focused his attention on the recruits. "A sniper not only has to be an excellent shot, he has to use his brain. A sniper needs to be patient, controlled, unafraid, confident and smart. Tanner made the right call, his angle wasn't right, the hostage was in a risky position and he took in his surroundings and waited for a safer shot that ladies and gentlemen is what makes a great sniper. Anyone can ride in like Rambo but all that is is Hollywood fakery and fakery gets people killed. All right. Tanner, nice job, thank you for your time and your skills."
The recruits burst into applause and Vin inclined his head in acceptance and gave them all a smile of thanks. As the recruits started to exit out the back of the room Vin turned and followed Frainier out the side door. He caught up to him in a side hall on the way to the arsenal.
"Hey, Frainier." The other man whirled around and the anger and redness in his face caught Vin slightly off balance. He backed up slightly to give the other man a moment.
"What the hell do you want!" Frainier snarled at him.
"I just wanted to tell you that while I agree with most of what Haslund said from a theoretical point of view, I have to say that was the most amazing shot I've ever seen."
"You think you're hot stuff, don't you, Tanner. Well you can't hold a candle to me. How you got that job on Larabee's team over me I'll never know." With that Frainier stalked off. Vin just shook his head, takes all kinds.
(Later that afternoon in the ATF parking garage:)
"Have a good night, Cowboy. See you on Sunday."
"Yeah, take it easy, Vin, and stop calling me 'Cowboy.'"
"Sure, whatever you say, Cowboy."
Chris turned and glared at Vin who grinned right back at him. Shaking his head Chris wondered yet again how he had let himself get talked into bringing this untamed mustang on his team. He had enough trouble with Buck who was sure to never grow up, JD who while much younger than Buck often seemed more grown up if it wasn't for his boundless energy. Ezra their own Artful Dodger whose expense reports required a microscope as well as a Masters' in Accounting prior to signing and Josiah and his damn crows, what was he thinking, thank God for Nathan.
He climbed into his Ram and started the engine wincing as he heard Vin trying to crank the engine to his Jeep, when it finally caught on the third try a cloud of smoke coughed from the rear exhaust and then the cocky Texan headed out of the garage.
(Sunday Afternoon: Larabee Ranch:)
Chris and Buck had prepared all the goods over the table outside the house and Buck was fixing some salad while Chris was salting the meat and starting the fire.
"This will be our first barbecue, kinda welcome to the team for everybody" Chris said to Buck.
"Yeah, yeah..." he didn't feel all that comfortable right now with the team Chris had put together.
JD was at the corral trying to get Peso and Pony to meet him. He'd been excited when he found out Chris had horses and had headed right out to see them.
"So... I heard you and JD are going to share an apartment?" Chris was surprised when he'd found out about Buck's plan since he knew Buck loved the ladies. Actually, truth be told, he'd been amazed and more than a little surprised at how quickly Buck had taken JD under his protective wing.
"Yeah, he doesn't know a lot of people in town and you know Denver is a big city for a kid his age, dangerous and..."
"Yep, I got it Buck." he said smiling at his old friend. Buck was always sort of a 'mother hen' kind of friend even though he tried to deny it and he sure was looking after JD. Chris was glad; the two of them seemed to get along like brothers.
The noise of a car approaching made them go to the front of the house and they saw Josiah and Nathan getting out of Nathan's car. He waved a hand and said "Hey, guys! Good to know you could make it!"
"Thanks Chris, it's good to be here" answered Josiah while climbing out of the car and joining Nathan on the path
"Nice house you have." said Nathan
"Thanks, we're in the backyard, with the barbecue and stuff. You can join us there. After lunch, I'll take you on a little tour if you like."
"Okay. Where are JD and Vin?" asked Nathan
"JD's down at the corral." said Buck with a smile on his face. "And Vin... he might not come" he said after a momentary pause and with no trace of a smile on his face.
Chris was surprised and gave Buck a little quizzical look. "He's coming. Don't worry, he just called a short time ago saying he'd had trouble with his Jeep. It wouldn't start so he's fixing something with one of the neighborhood kids. He'll be here though."
"That boy sure has trouble with the damn car." Josiah noted.
"Yeah, I wonder what he does with the money he gets for the job, maybe he should buy a new car and burn that one down." added Buck.
"I don't really care what he does with his money on that Jeep as long as he remembers to bring out the dessert." retorted Chris thinking on JD's disappointment if there wasn't something sweet to go with the BBQ, as well as Vin's own disappointment. He smiled and had to admit he had a little sweet tooth as well.
Suddenly an explosion at the front of the house brought all their attention to the driveway and really to none of their surprise such noise belonged to none other than Vin's Jeep.
"Dang ornery ole beast!" they heard him say as he climbed out and looked disgustedly at the offending vehicle.
JD came up from the corral and, with his usual energy, ran over to where Vin was standing and peering under the hood.
Vin looked up as JD reached him and he had grease stains on his face and hands and he reached out with one greasy hand to greet him and JD immediately grabbed it not caring in the least that his own got covered in grease. "Hey JD, how's it going?"
"Great, did you know Chris has horses? You gonna try to fix it? Can I help you?"
Vin looked at him and simply answered "Yep, was here last week to help him with one of them, had a bad leg and I used an Indian medicine to relieve his pain, guess he's fine by now, plus that black with the white blaze is mine, and yes, I'll try again to find the problem, and yes, you can."
JD easily connected all the answers to his questions and after a moment, he took off his shirt and opened the tool case and was kneeling beside Vin who was by now under the car. "Can you pass me the 3/4?"
He rummaged in the case and handed the tool, "Sure, here it is."
By this time the others, who had been watching the scene and taking in the youthful energy and immediate acceptance between the two, decided to head to the back of the house where the BBQ preparations were waiting.
Chris couldn't avoid the look of pleasure in his face while watching the two youngstest getting along so well but Josiah noted a flash of disgust in Buck's face.
"Something troubling you, Brother Buck?"
Buck didn't know he'd been that transparent and quickly looked away, "Nothing Josiah, nothing" and to change the subject he asked back "Did you hear from Ezra?"
"He called saying something about wine in French and that he'd go to a store and bring something for dessert as well since he was sure that whatever Vin brought would be likely to induce a sugar overload, not sure of the name either" answered Josiah.
Josiah paused and looked thoughtfully back to where JD and Vin were working easily together under the Jeep, "you know, Buck, those boys are going to be very good friends. I think it's good that JD has someone like Vin and Vin has someone like JD. They're both similar in age but quite different in their background. They can teach each other a lot."
"Yeah Josiah, I saw it. I'm just not so sure of what JD will learn from Vin." With that he headed into the house to gather some missing items and left Josiah staring thoughtfully after him.
Quietly Ezra appeared at his elbow. In Josiah's distraction with Buck's words he hadn't noticed Ezra's arrival, but Nathan did as he looked up from where he was setting out drinks in an ice chest. "Ezra, glad you could join us. What have you got there?"
"Only the finest Camembert that can be found in Denver, my friend," Ezra was glad for the distraction since he had noticed the tension exhibited in Buck's posture and did not like seeing it.
+ + + + + + +
Lunch time was uneventful, thanks to Josiah's and Nathan's talk about procedurals and profiling people, so everybody was on the same page since the conversation was on neutral ground.
Still Chris could help but notice some of Buck's disapproving glances every time JD turned to face Vin and whispered something to him, causing the quiet sharpshooter to smile. The others noticed that Buck would rapidly pick up the conversation and take it in a different direction when JD would be talking to Vin so that JD was drawn in and would turn away.
Slowly, the talk turned to how they'd been picked up for the team and Chris started to explain things to each of them "Well, Buck was there, so there wasn't much of a deal in his case, then I got news about Nathan working in that shelter with Josiah, I've known Josiah from my times as a cop and, when I asked him, he accepted immediately and handed me Nathan's resume as well." he faced Nathan with proud eyes and said "I was impressed, and didn't have any doubts, you would be perfect. Then the Judge came with JD's profile and talked to me. I'm sorry, JD, but I didn't feel you could fit, but I have to say now, that I was wrong, and I'm really happy the Judge defended your case the way he did."
Buck said then "Well, not only the Judge..."
"Yes, well, you also insisted, but I'm really happy with you, JD, I apologize" "It's ok, I know I look young and green and..." he turned red.
Vin smiled and felt suddenly uncomfortable for he was sure he was next, and he didn't want to be the center of the conversation, then he remembered the sharpshooter he met at Friday's demonstration.
"Chris, ever hear of an agent by the name of Frainier, don't know his first name."
"Frainier?" Chris puzzled for a moment as he turned the name over in his mind. "Doesn't ring a bell, why?"
"Met a guy by that name on Friday when I was doing a demonstration for Haslund's recruits. He's a shooter, got a great eye, not the best judgment, but a really great eye. Anyway, he was questioning how I got the job on the team instead of him. Didn't know what made you pick me over him."
"Tanner, I often wonder why I picked you, I wonder why I picked you when I chew on that sludge you call coffee, when your bike drips oil in my driveway, when your Jeep breaks down and I have to pick you up in that war zone you call home, when I remind you for the fourth time in ten minutes not to call me Cowboy, you drip jelly from your donut on my dashboard, your feet are on my coffee table -"
"Blah, blah, blah. I see your lips moving there, Cowboy, but all I hear is blah, blah, blah. If you can't remember the guy 'cause your memory ain't so hot, just say so. I'll be happy to speak slower, in shorter sentences, or to record things on a little tape cassette thingy for you to carry with ya so when you forget you can play it back."
"Wise guy. Never heard of no Frainier and you best leave it be now before in my boss like way I order you to read about 14 procedural manuals that in my senility I forgot to have you read and sign off on when you came on board."
Vin rolled his eyes and JD snickered as the Larabee glare just bounced of Vin harmlessly.
"So, Mr. Tanner, was this Frainier's skills on par with your own?"
"Like I said, he's a real good shot. Made a shot that I wouldn't even dare to take and he nailed it perfectly."
"Oh, come on Vin, surely you're not saying this guy can outshoot you, I mean, you're the best there is." JD spoke up quickly.
"Yeah, Vin, are you saying this guy out shot you?" Buck asked maintaining a sweet innocence in his tone that Chris picked up on and narrowed his eyes assessingly at his old friend.
"Well, like I said, he took and made a shot that I wasn't comfortable with. He's got a great eye."
Buck huffed quietly and sat back somewhat satisfied to see some of the hero worship light fade slightly in JD's eyes.
Ezra however sensed something more and decided to test the waters a bit. "And what was it about said shot that made you uncomfortable, Mr. Tanner?"
Vin, however, wasn't about to bad mouth another agent, much less another sharpshooter, when the man wasn't there to defend himself and he looked at Ezra's clear eyes and answered evenly, "Just that each sniper has to take and make the shot that is the most sensible in that situation and for me that shot wasn't one I was willing to take, but it's an individual choice."
Ezra tipped an imaginary hat Vin's way; he appreciated that Vin wouldn't badmouth another man out of his presence. The rest of the team nodded approvingly Vin's way all except Buck who noticed everyone's approval and abruptly left the table muttering something about needing to use the bathroom.
"Well I am stuffed." said Vin while excusing himself, "JD asked me to teach him to ride a bit so we're going to work with Pony for him and I'll take Peso."
"Sure, Vin, see you both later."
"They sure get along pretty well" commented Josiah to no one in particular.
"That they do, Mr. Sanchez, that they do." Ezra replied thoughtfully as he watched Buck's retreating figure.
Chris however decided on a more direct approach and after a moment he gathered up some of the utensils and headed into the house where he found Buck glowering in the kitchen.
"What's your problem Buck?" asked Chris.
"My problem is; who is this guy?"
"Well, he's our sharpshooter for one." Chris replied evenly.
"You know what I mean, Chris. He's got a dark past, half his record is sealed so even you don't know about it. He comes from nowhere and all of a sudden we're trusting out lives to him and we don't know the first thing about him other than he lives in Purgatorio surrounded by all that bad element and here he is making good money with the ATF although you wouldn't know it 'cause of where he lives and that heap he drives and now he's got JD following along after him like a lost puppy."
Chris remained quiet as Buck brushed by him and left the kitchen passing Nathan and Josiah who were starting into the house carrying plates and dishes. Chris stood quietly in the kitchen although his eyes showed the anger rising within him. This was exactly why he had put this BBQ together so that everyone got a chance to know each other, problem was, it wasn't working.
(That evening after the barbecue at Chris' ranch:)
"Bye Chris, thanks for the going to all this trouble..." started Buck way too politely for Chris' liking, so he interrupted his friend saying.
"Yeah, yeah Buck, go home, I'll talk to you later, we really need to talk" he kept his glare firmly on his old friend's face, just to make his point clear. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Buck climbed into his car and noted that JD wasn't inside. He looked around and found him still talking to Vin by Vin's Jeep. Frustrated that they both seemed like schoolgirls who couldn't stop yakking all the time with each other he rolled down his window and yelled sharply to JD, "come on JD, time to go!" he started the engine and Chris could see him mumbling something to himself while looking at the two youngster men chatting and laughing while walking to the car.
"Bye, Vin. See you tomorrow!" shouted JD.
Buck drove the car to the expressway looking sideways every now and then. He'd turned on the radio to avoid any further talk, but JD managed to start anyway "This Vin's great, Buck, you know he was with the Rangers? He's kinda... doesn't wanna talk about it much, but he said he was with them doing some top secret stuff...Top secret stuff! Can you imagine that? He's like my age and he was doing that around five years ago. Wow! and he knows everything about horses. He taught me how to sit on Pony without a saddle and how to make him go the directions I want him to go without even using reins just my legs and he knows all about guns and rifles and..."
Buck couldn't stand anymore talk about Vin. He could see JD's admiration in the glowing eyes and he could feel it in his voice, too much admiration will bring trouble, he thought. He couldn't bear to hear anymore, so he interrupted by saying "You know what JD, my head hurts with all this talk, I think I've drunk too much or ate too much or just... well, just shut up would you?" and he cut JD off with that and just drove the rest of the way home in silence.
JD couldn't believe Buck's reaction. He thought they had all had a great day together and he was excited to share some of what he'd learned about Vin with Buck since Buck didn't seem to know him all that well. He was confused and a little hurt and angry at Buck's reaction so he sat in silence on the ride home as well.
They got home in silence and in the same silence they headed to their respective beds, to sleep, or, in Buck's case, to start a night full of tossing and turning. His head was busy with all the thoughts he'd been having and he only wished he could change the present, change the team somehow. He was troubled with all his thoughts and he didn't know what to do with them, for he was sure no one on the team would listen to him.
(A little over a month later
9:30 a.m. Monday - MAG 7 office:)
"Buck, can you come here a sec?"
"Sure thing, Stud."
Chris shook is head, true he had just shouted from his office out to the bullpen, but Buck could have just come to his office instead of shouting back to him and then getting up, grinning like a Cheshire cat and sauntering towards him. One day. One day I'll knock that silly grin off his face, maybe.
"Is everyone here?"
"Everyone except Vin." Buck's face remained neutral but there was a slight change in his tone when Buck said Vin's name.
"Everyone else is here, even Ezra?" Chris decided to ignore Buck's mood over Vin for the moment.
"Yeah, Ezra got here about 15 minutes ago, seems he's a bit late even when given an extra hour to get himself all gussied up in the morning." Buck decided to sit down so he sprawled his tall frame in one of the chairs across from Chris' desk.
Team 7, recently formed, had completed their first successful bust last night. After the arrests were made, processed, the cache of weapons inventoried and properly secured in the evidence room with all vouchers and chain of custody forms signed in triplicate, stamped, witnesses, and filed, it was after 1:00 a.m. In recognition of everyone's hard work Chris had relaxed the 8:00 a.m. arrival time for the team and moved it back to 9:00 a.m.
Despite that relaxation of the start time, Chris still arrived at the office at 8:00 and was a little surprised that Tanner hadn't either already been there or arrived shortly after. As the next hour rolled by Chris immersed himself in catching up emails and signing off on reports and briefly noted as one by one the team members arrived, Josiah at 8:50 followed almost immediately by Nathan, at 8:59:55 Buck and JD had boisterously entered the office.
Since Chris was already on a phone call when Buck and JD arrived he wasn't able to go out and physically check the office area to see that Vin wasn't there but he figured the quiet sharpshooter would have at least poked his head in his office to say good morning. He no sooner had completed that phone call when another call rang in and he spent the next thirty minutes parading through a nonstop series of calls until finally peace reigned in his office.
Now, looking at Buck lounging across the desk from him and realizing that everyone on the team except their newest member was present and accounted for Chris began to allow himself some concern.
"Did he call in?"
Flashing Buck an irritated look, Chris stood up and strode out into the main office area where everyone else was busily engaged with typing up their report, reading a file, or talking on the phone. Ezra noted the look on Chris' face and immediately informed whoever he was talking to that he would call them back.
"Has anyone heard from Vin?" Chris was aware that Buck hadn't followed him from the office but chose to remain behind stewing in whatever it was he was stewing in. Right now Chris was more interested in what the other four of his agents had to say.
"Mr. Tanner has not contacted me."
Nathan, JD and Josiah all exchanged quick looks and shakes of the head and Josiah spoke for them.
"We haven't heard from him either. I'll try his cell phone."
"JD, give him a page will you and Nathan -"
"I'm dialing his apartment as you ask."
Chris stood there waiting and watching first Josiah and then Nathan dial their phones, wait until the voice mail picked up, listened to them leave Vin messages to call them back and then shake their heads in the negative to Chris. JD could do nothing other than dial into Vin's pager, leave the call back number and wait. The tension began to mount in the room as Josiah, Nathan and JD found themselves staring at JD's phone willing it to ring. None of them wanted to look at Chris who was emanating the highest degree of tension in the room.
After an interminable five minutes has passed Chris whirled around to return to his office and noticed that Ezra was now firmly in place at Vin's desk.
"Ezra, what are you doing?" Chris moved until he was standing just behind Ezra who had accessed Vin's computer and was scrolling through his calendar and emails.
"I am endeavoring to ascertain if our absent comrade has left some intimation of his location."
"How did you get past his password, Ezra?" Curious, JD had walked over to join them.
"It is simply a matter of observation." Ezra answered noncommittally.
"You mean you watched him put his password in?"
"Not at all. It was rather a simple matter of divination. Upon amassing the relevant data on Mr. Tanner, I was able to narrow down the possibilities and then try them in the most logical order. I'm rather disconcerted that it took me the full three tries before the system would have locked me out. I must be a tad out of practice."
"Is there anything in there?" Chris would have a chat with Ezra later about his methods, after he changed his own password.
"Nothing. It appears Mr. Tanner doesn't utilize his computer's capacity for keeping track of his daily events. His emails appear to be nothing more than the standard messages for a new agent: Attend this mandatory meeting, fill out this form, submit this clearance and so on. There's s few here where he and the head instructor in the firearms department is requesting his services for some demonstrations and he's offered a few replies to inquires about weaponry, but other than that, there is nothing to indicate why he is overdue or more accurately missing."
Chris stared at Ezra appraisingly for several seconds. Ezra merely returned his stare his poker face firmly in place. Nodding once Chris returned to his office.
"Ezra, do you think Vin -" JD began only to be stopped by Ezra quietly raising his hand to stop him.
"I think perhaps it best if we all return to our prior tasks. Mr. Larabee will no doubt have a plan of action shortly and, if my ability to evaluate a man's thoughts is accurate, and it usually is, I'd say Buck is about to rile our quick tempered leader's fury and it will be safest if we are all dutifully occupied."
"Yeah, but shouldn't one or some of us go to Vin's and check to make sure he's okay?"
"Oh, we will, JD." Josiah's rich baritone carried softly across the space. "But Brother Buck needs to make an ass of himself first."
Nathan merely nodded in agreement and returned to the file he was reading after flicking one more glance at JD's phone as if by looking at it he could will Vin to call in.
Dejected JD returned to his desk and went back to typing up his report. He knew what Buck was going to talk to Chris about, heck, he'd had to listen to Buck's grousing now for the whole month that Vin had been on board with the team.
Chris closed the door to his office loudly and stood behind his desk staring at Buck
"Something you've got to say?"
Buck just stared back at him and then slowly stood to face him.
"Let's just say that I'm not surprised." With that, Buck turned as if to leave the office.
"What the hell does that mean? Don't leave this office, we're not through yet."
"Aren't we? Kinda seems like we are."
"Oh, cut the crap, Buck. You saw him in action last night. He was right where he needed to be every second of the way. He had the perfect spot to guard each and every one of us. He fired three times and each time planted his shot right where it needed to be. He wounded two and planted the third bullet in the door just above the head of the third idiot who was trying to sneak up on Josiah at the end. How is it you still doubt him?"
"I don't know, Chris. He's good, I grant you that, hell, he's probably the best I've ever seen or ever will see. I just don't like that he's got a past that we know so little about."
"Well not everyone is willing to share every thought and past action in their life. People are different you know."
"Thanks for the newsflash, Larabee. I didn't know there were different people out there, heck, I didn't know that JD was different from me, but now I guess perhaps I'd better pay closer attention."
Buck's voice had risen to a shout and despite the best efforts of the four agents in the outer office not to eavesdrop they couldn't help but hear his angry, sarcastic words. JD continued to hunch over his computer growing sadder and angrier at each stupid work Buck spoke.
"So you don't trust him just because he doesn't share his life's story?" Chris was getting more than a little angry. He'd heard the slights Buck had been sending Vin's way over the past month and he knew when Vin was approved as the team's sharpshooter about two months ago Buck had been less than enthused since there was little in the way of information about him other than he'd been in the Rangers, had done some bounty hunting and didn't have any family but Travis had pushed for him and Chris ultimately accepted the decision.
"If you don't trust Vin, I guess that means you don't trust me."
"Now wait a minute, Chris, don't be making this personal." "It is personal, Buck. I do the hiring on this team. You didn't have any problem with JD coming on board even though he lacks experience. Why do you have a problem with Vin when he's got experience?"
"Chris, it's just that...look, Tanner's got experience, nobody's saying he doesn't, but it's all covert, secret stuff. He's got black ops in his military history, he was a bounty hunter and you and I share the same low opinion of that career choice and then there's where he lives."
"So what? The only thing that bothers me about Vin living in Purgatorio is that it's dangerous and that means he's in a dangerous place. I'm not worried about him getting drawn into the bad element down there. Hell, he's sort of like the Robin Hood of Purgatorio."
"Yeah, it's all a little too nice and squeaky clean. You know the old saying, Chris, lay down with dogs and get up with fleas."
"I think this has less to do with Vin being reluctant to share his whole life story and everything to do with you feeling like you're being replaced."
"Oh, get over it, Chris. I like you and all but we're just friends. Just 'cause I carried you home enough nights, tucked you into bed, cleaned up after you doesn't mean I'm looking to make a future with you. I'm telling you as your friend for more than 20 years, as a police officer and as an ATF agent, Tanner's not what he looks like and you need to be careful, not because he may let you down as a friend, but because he may get one of us killed."
"You just don't seem to understand that we're a team now, and he is part of the team, and if you'd have taken the time to get to know him a bit by now, instead of being all suspicious of his every move you'd know all the answers to those questions you have. You even can ask him, remember, we ARE a team and we need to get to know each other and trust each other and..." pointing his finger in Buck's chest he finished saying "... whoever doesn't get along with this team, he can start to look for another job immediately."
Buck turned away from Chris, flung open the door and stalked out. Crossing the room quickly he reached his desk pulled the chair out and settled into it glancing at the other members of the team as if daring them to challenge him.
After several minutes of strained silence Buck looked over at JD who was proofing his report and ignoring his roommate.
"Come on, JD, you know I want to like Vin but it's true, that which you keep your thoughts on, associate with, or study is what you become."
JD spun his chair so he was looking Buck square in the face,"Yeah, well, Buck, if you are what you associate with then how come you haven't turned into a woman yet? You spend about all your time thinking about them, looking at them, dating them. I don't see you becoming one of them." With that said JD spun his chair back to his desk and continued proofing his report.
The sound of Chris clearing his throat caused everyone in the outer office to look up. Chris stood there momentarily as he made up his mind.
"Ezra, Nathan you're with me. The rest of you continue with your reports. Josiah, I need you to brief Travis on last night's takedown. Advise him he'll have the full report Monday at 9:00 a.m. and I'll be available later this afternoon." Handing Josiah the folder with his preliminary report Chris left the office with Ezra and Nathan hurrying along behind him.
Josiah shared a look with JD and Buck then turned back to his desk and began reading through the folder Chris had given him.
(Purgatorio, Vin's Apartment:)
"His Jeep is here. Maybe he just overslept." Nathan didn't believe the words that he spoke. He was just trying to fill in the silence and ease his own concerns. He didn't like Vin living here either but it wasn't because he thought Vin was involved in anything illegal, it was just his natural inclination to worry about people and he knew that the heat wasn't that great in Vin's building, there wasn't a lot of hot water, police and rescue personnel only went there if they had to and rarely hurried and he knew Vin left his door unlocked so that anyone who needed sanctuary could come to him, problem was that it wasn't just those needing sanctuary that might come.
"Ezra, check out Vin's Jeep and then meet us upstairs. First door on your right on the third floor." Chris was out of Nathan's sedan and opening the door to Vin's building as he called out his instructions.
Ezra exchanged a look with Nathan who shrugged and hurried after Chris.
"Perhaps it best if we all check out Mr. Tanner's abode. I may be of some assistance in gaining entry into his -"
"Vin keeps it unlocked. Now hurry up and check out his Jeep." Chris was harsher with his words than he intended but now that he was here he couldn't help the mounting concern for Vin's safety. He knew that Vin was slowly acclimating to the team but liked the work and wasn't looking to leave. He also knew that, if Vin had had some sudden appointment, he would have taken his jeep since taxis and buses were scarce in Purgatorio. Something was wrong, he knew it. His growing concern had him all but running up the three flights of stairs and when he reached Vin's door he had to restrain himself from just bursting through.
Chris waited until Nathan was in place and then he knocked gently on the door and waited. When there was no answer he knocked louder and when there was still no answer he nodded to Nathan who turned the doorknob and pushed the door open. Both men remained on either side of the door wary of an attack but none came. Carefully covering each other's moves they entered the small apartment and cleared each room. They returned to the front room and holstered their guns as Ezra appeared.
"I found nothing awry with Mr. Tanner's vehicle. I found no blood inside, no notes to tell us of his plans, he does not have a bag packed for travel in the Jeep, nothing."
"He leaves his Jeep unlocked as well." Nathan raised his eyebrows at that.
"Not exactly." Ezra dryly replied and began to survey the sparse apartment. "Charming little residence. I'd say he's furnished it in early Salvation Army."
"Not everyone needs leather couches, Ezra." Nathan headed to Vin's desk to check the answering machine.
"Indeed." Ezra headed to Vin's bedroom and emerged a minute or two later after Nathan had finished playing the one and only message on the machine which was his from earlier that morning.
"Mr. Larabee, am I to assume you have knowledge of where Mr. Tanner keeps his arsenal?"
"Yes, Ezra, he keeps his guns locked up safe in a special storage unit in his bedroom closet."
"All of them?"
"Yes, all of them. He also locks his bedroom door as you've no doubt noticed the locks when you passed by them, as double protection since the kids from the building use his apartment from time to time."
"Quite. Was the bedroom door locked when you arrived?"
"No, it wasn't."
"Um-hmm. Would that be unusual would you say?"
"Yes. Vin always locks it."
"I see. Does he keep his long distance rifle here?"
"Not the one he regularly uses on the team that's kept in a special locker for Team 7 only down at the arsenal. He does have another rifle from when he was in the Ranger's; he keeps that here."
"So it should be in his locked cabinet?"
"Yes, what are you getting at, Ezra." Chris was getting frustrated with this little game of twenty questions so he started to walk towards Vin's bedroom and then stopped and turned back nearly bumping into Nathan who was following him. Ezra, for his part, remained in the living room.
"I don't have a key to his gun cabinet, Ezra, so it's not like I can show you the rifle."
"You don't need a key." Ezra replied calmly.
"What!" Chris' long strides had him down the hall and into Vin's bedroom in seconds, Nathan hard on his heels. He stopped in shock as he saw Vin's gun safe wide open and his rifle cabinet similarly ajar.
"Not to worry. I opened them myself." Ezra had quietly followed them and was carefully checking beneath the nails of each hand as he spoke. "I shall secure them again prior to our leaving. However, if you'll note, Mr. Tanner's prize rifle is missing."
"Doesn't mean anything, Ezra, maybe he's just bringing it to the range to clean it, check the site could mean anything." Nathan said unconvincingly.
"No, he brought it back last evening. He'd been using it along with the one he keeps in the arsenal to check the sites and practice. He brought it back with him last night when I dropped him home." Chris said quietly, "His Jeep is here, he wouldn't walk the streets with the rifle even if he kept it in the carrying case. So where is he?"
"That's a question we'd like answered."
The three ATF agents turned in unison putting their hands quickly to their guns.
"Whoa. Denver PD. Officer Krikorian and my partner Officer Torres."
Chris eyed the two uniformed officers as he moved his hand away from his gun.
"Now, you fellas mind telling us what you're doing here, and what right you have to be carrying those guns." Both officers had their hands on their respective holsters with the release clips off for a rapid draw if needed.
Nathan spread his hands in front of him and stepped slightly forward. "We're ATF, I'm Agent Jackson, that man there is Agent Standish, and this is Special Agent Larabee. This is Agent Tanner's apartment. He's on our team and we're looking for him."
"Yeah, well so are we." Neither officer looked any friendlier but they did take their hands off their guns and snap the gun release strap back in place on their holsters.
"Why are you looking for Agent Tanner." Chris didn't try to be friendly. Vin was missing and now two officers were entering his apartment without any probable cause and he wanted to know why.
"There was a shooting early this morning, around 3:30 a.m., drug dealer was killed, not that big of a deal since he was bad news, however, a man by the name of Moses Landy was also killed at the same time. Landy ran a shelter/school/youth center a couple of blocks from here. He worked with the kids in the neighborhood, tried to keep as many kids as possible from heading down the path of drugs and crime."
"I've heard of him." Nathan spoke up. Chris and Ezra turned to look at him. "I volunteer when I can at a community clinic and when I take my shift on the ambulance crew I've met people that speak of him. Josiah's heard of him too, sometimes he sends kids that show up at the shelter to Moses. Moses Landy is known as someone who won't ever turn anyone away."
"So why are you at Agent Tanner's apartment?" Chris wanted answers and now wasn't soon enough.
"The coroner retrieved the bullet and we matched it in the database. See, this is a pretty high profile case for us. Moses worked real close with the Denver PD, plus he's an ex-cop, so a lot of us are real upset someone murdered him. Bullet matches a specialty rifle, only three like it in the city; the SWAT team uses one of the rifles. We checked it; hasn't been fired recently. The second rifle is in an evidence locker at your very own ATF building, impounded over a year ago. The third rifle and apparently unaccounted for," Krikorian gestured to the open gun cabinet behind Chris, "belongs to your very own Agent Vin Tanner, ex-bounty hunter, and currently MIA ATF agent."
"Circumstantial at best, doesn't mean Mr. Tanner had anything to do with this morning's tragic event."
"Didn't say it did, Agent Standish, just makes him a person of interest, oh and by the way, that gives us probable cause to search his apartment, even a City judge says so."
"What City judge?" Chris pitched his voice dangerously low which was a sign to anyone who knew him that he was in a white hot rage. Chris was always at his most deadly when his voice went quiet and his movements resembled those of a coiled snake ready to strike.
"Judge Pronti he signed our search warrant an hour ago. Now if you agents will excuse us, we're going to execute the warrant and you're in the way."
"Ezra, I need you to stay here and keep an eye on these two. Nathan, you're with me."
"I'll make sure these two officers carry out their search of a fellow member of law enforcement with courtesy and respect."
"See that they do or I'll have their collective -"
"Ah, Chris we should head back to the office." Nathan interrupted Chris and forcibly grabbed his shoulder and pushed him out of the room.
Nathan kept a firm hand on Chris' shoulder all the way out of Vin's apartment, down the stairs and out the door into the bright, yet chilly Denver air.
"All right, Nathan, all right." Chris shook off Nathan's hand and stood staring at Vin's Jeep. Where are you? What happened?
Nathan was standing next to Chris scanning first in one direction and then the next up and down the sidewalk. Seeing a curious discoloration just down the building a few feet from where they stood he walked over, stooped down and studied the stain.
After a moment Chris followed and crouched down beside him. "What is it?" Chris stared at the small dark splotch on the concrete and felt his skin crawl as the sight of what he was sure was Vin's blood.
"I'm not exactly sure, but it looks like blood."
"Can you analyze it?"
"Chris, I'm an EMT, not a criminalist. It's not like I carry an evidence collection kit with me."
"Humor me here, Nate, is it blood or not?"
"Hang on, I might have something." Nathan fished his car keys out of his jacket pocket and opened the trunk of his car. Pulling out a first aid kit he returned to Chris, put on a pair of gloves, opened a sterile gauze packet and stooped down to gather some of the liquid on the gauze. He had to rub the material on the concrete a bit since the fluid was now dry but after a couple of seconds he had some of it on the pad. Folding the pad over to protect the sample he put it inside the wrapping material the gauze had come from.
"I'll take it to Susan in the lab and ask her to do a quick analysis of it. If it's blood, she can at least tell us if it matches Vin's type. That is if it's not too contaminated, other than that -"
"Yeah, let's get back. I'm going to have to call Travis."
(Three hours later back at Team 7's office:)
Nathan entered the office nearly at a run and pushed by Buck, who was coming from the fax machine, as he headed to Chris' office.
"He's not there." Josiah spoke up concerned at Nathan's unusual movements.
"Where is he?"
"He's still up with Travis." Buck answered as he returned to his desk with the fax he had just picked up.
"How long has he been up there?"
"About an hour and a half now, are those the lab results?" Josiah indicated the paper in Nathan's hand.
"Yeah, Susan put a rush on it. You know how she feels about Vin." "Is it his?" Chris had entered the area quietly and now came face to face with Nathan.
"Chris, you know the best Susan can do this quick is match the type; she can't do a DNA comparison this fast."
"Is it his?"
"It's his blood type, yes."
Chris snatched the paper from Nathan's hand and read it quickly.
"Chris, there's more I've got to tell you."
Nathan looked at the other members of the team; they were all watching and waiting for him to speak. Josiah and JD looked concerned and hopeful, Buck's expression was worried and something else Nathan couldn't identify. Ezra wasn't there; he was still back at Vin's apartment keeping tabs on the officers that were searching through Vin's things.
"Nathan, go ahead."
"Chris, maybe we should go into your -"
"No, we're a team. Whatever you've got to say we all hear it."
"Susan told me the blood sample matched Vin's blood type and that it was probably his because he has a rare blood type, AB-, only 1% of the US population carries that blood type." Nathan paused to take a breath.
"Okay. We already figured it was probably his blood." Chris pressed wondering why this had the usually unflappable Jackson looking so agitate.
"There was another tech in the room running a sample. When he heard Susan mention that the sample I brought her was AB-, he mentioned that he was amazed at the coincidence. Susan asked him what he meant and he said that he was fast tracking the blood found at the scene on the street where Moses Landy and the drug dealer were killed as well as in the building across the street where they figure the shot was fired from. The blood at the street scene belongs to the two victims, however, there was blood smeared in the room where rifle casing was found, and yes, that casing matches a bullet that would be used in Vin's gun and is similar to bullets that he has registered as having purchased for that rifle.
Chris, the blood in the room is also AB-. Both Susan and her colleague agree that the odds of two people - two different people with AB- negative blood, both having access to a weapon of such specificity as Vin's Ranger sniper rifle...."
"I take it, Brother Jackson, the odds aren't very good."
"I bet even Ezra wouldn't bet on that hand." Buck spoke quietly as he stared hard into Chris' eyes. Larabee blinked first and turned away closing his office door behind him.
"Sometimes I hate it when I'm right." Buck muttered to himself.
While the rest of the team had been busy at the office briefing the Judge or waiting on blood results Ezra had watched in disgust as the officers manhandled Vin's few belongings. He had tried to intervene but when faced with the threat of being arrested for impeding an investigation he had decided to simply observe. While his demeanor appeared calm and unperturbed he was deeply troubled by the flagrant disregard for his colleague's property, meager though it was.
After a few minutes of searching the two officers appeared to forget about Ezra's presence, a little trick he had learned as a youngster when Maude would leave him at a friend's house or with some distant cousin or uncle or aunt. The officers were not only careless of Vin's belongings but they were careless in their conversation. While they talked Ezra listened and filed away each precious nugget of information.
Once the search was complete Ezra called Chris to let him know that the officers were done with Vin's apartment and that he was going to track down a few leads he had become privy to. When Chris questioned him further Ezra said that he didn't want to impart information that wasn't backed up a little more but that if Chris would give him a few hours he should be able to confirm the validity or lack thereof on the killings that Vin was being sought for.
Ezra waited through the pause as Chris contemplated Ezra's reasoning and then Chris told him about the blood Nathan had found as well as the blood that had been found at the latest crime scene. He closed his eyes as he processed this latest tidbit as well and then opened them again upon receiving Chris' approval to track down his leads. He was about to disconnect when he heard Chris' parting message that, if his investigations took him until after 6:00, he should meet them at The Saloon with his information.
Disconnecting his call he immediately dialed another number and waited through one and a half rings before it was answered, "It's me...um-hmm. I need you to get me some information about the following: three murders presumably connected, the first one was a drug dealer, the second and third were weapons dealers, in the last one also there was another man killed, a Moses Landy, I'm not sure if he's connected to this. They're blaming all of them on a Vin Tanner, sharpshooter in the ATF. I'm afraid that is all I have my dear. Can we meet in our usual place? Of course, I will be there at the prescribed time."
With that accomplished Ezra took one last look around Vin's shabby and now completely disheveled apartment and then closed the door sadly behind him and headed out. His best contact, who he had just spoken with, would need a few hours, but Ezra had other means and methods at his disposal and he would utilize those until the arranged meeting time arrived.
(Back at Team 7's office:)
Chris strode out of his office and looked at the remaining members of his team. Josiah was talking on the phone. His years in the precinct as well as his years of working at the local shelter kept him touch with many members of law enforcement as well as parole officers, probation officers, and official and unofficial informants. He had been on the phone nonstop for hours talking and cajoling any little tidbit of information he could. Chris could see that he had been less than successful.
Nathan had been busy contacting various ERs, clinics, morgues across the city looking for anybody who knew anything about their missing agent. Now, after hours of talking and searching, he was taking a moment to collect himself. Chris knew Nathan was regrouping mentally since he had taken his medical packs and completely unpacked every item and was checking and rechecking expiration dates and amounts of bandages, the condition of each package and then slowly repacking each item carefully into the packs.
Buck was busy working at his computer but Chris wasn't certain what it was he was working on and JD as per usual, was scanning through the internet or the police database or Chris wasn't exactly sure but he was intent on his task.
Chris cleared his throat to gather everyone's attention. "Ezra just called. Everything is done at Vin's apartment and he's heading out to track down some leads. He wouldn't tell me what information he was given or thinks he has just that he wants to verify it before he comes in. He said it would likely take a few hours and I told him if it was after 6:00 to meet us at The Saloon; I get the feeling some of his contacts will need a bit of time."
With that Chris returned to his office where he was busy trying to gain access to some of Vin's background files. He wasn't worried that Vin was guilty, he just needed as much information as he could get at the moment.
JD suspended his search through Chris' short announcement and watched as the rest of his colleagues returned to their tasks as soon as Chris retreated to his office. JD was about to return to his prior and fruitless task when something Chris said caught his attention, I get the feeling some of his contacts JD realized that it was likely Chris didn't know Ezra's contacts. That wasn't that big a surprise since all of them knew people that the others might not know, what struck JD was that he realized he didn't know what Ezra's specialty in the team was.
He thought back to the BBQ and remembered that while everyone else's skills or specialty had been discussed they had never talked about Ezra's. JD admitted that Ezra had totally puzzled him from day one. He liked the smooth talking agent who used far too many words to express himself but he realized that like himself and Vin Ezra had no prior ties to any team members. Buck and Chris were old friends and partners from their years in the PD and Nathan and Josiah both had not only law enforcement but community volunteer work in common and had known each other for many years and as such were readily accepted by Chris and Buck as they had all crossed paths at some time prior or had known someone who had known someone, but he, Vin and Ezra were all new comers. Vin was a sharpshooter, weapons expert, and JD was the team's information and technology expert, but Ezra - what was Ezra?
Ezra was a complete mystery with his expensive car, fine clothes, gourmet food and his home - JD didn't even begin to know how to describe Ezra's home, or 'sanctuary' as Ezra termed it. Ezra seemed to be able to come in late, disappear for hours or even days on end without explanation, at least not one that JD ever heard and for all that mystery, JD liked the guy and trusted him. Ezra always treated him as an equal and he knew that Vin and Ezra had formed a kinship of some kind.
Curiosity overcame JD and he decided right then and there he needed a little more information on Ezra. Multi-tasking was never a problem for him so he decided to add yet one more task to his list, Chris had had him install some firewalls on all the computers to keep outsiders from hacking in; now was the time to do a little diagnostic work on those firewalls, and perhaps take a peek at Ezra's and see if he could find out what Ezra's specialty was.
The team gathered at The Saloon in a back room. Inez had heard the angry talk of some of the other law enforcement personnel during the lunch shift and then again at the early time Happy Hour and when the five members of the team entered she immediately escorted them to the back room where they could have privacy and some quiet and not have to deal with the angry glares and angrier comments.
Inez would make sure they got a good meal. She knew they were working hard and she could see from their worried and drawn faces that their spirits were low. She saw Ezra wasn't there, but she's sure he'd come soon, so she set out the preparations for cognac, ready to heat the glass and serve him as he taught her the day he'd brought the bottle there for her and to share some peace filled moments in that hard day that she'd never tell anybody about it.
She put drinks on the table and let them talk, keeping a vigilant eye on the door. They were safe in her place, safe to talk and make plans. She'd send Ezra back as soon as he arrived.
"As soon as Ezra comes we'll start sharing what we have and brainstorm our next steps." Chris started and then took a long sip of the cold beer.
It didn't take long for Ezra to slip through the door followed almost immediately by Inez and one of her waitresses and they were loaded down with lots of food and a fine whiskey for Ezra who flashed a brilliant smile as he eased into his seat.
"All right. Dig in and let's get started, Ezra, lead off." Chris instructed.
"As feared it is a very bad scenario. My - uh - contact confirmed much of what I overheard the two officers speaking of at Mr. Tanner's domicile and added a few details heretofore unknown. First of all there are at the moment four dead persons, three of them known to be nefarious.
The first victim, one Joseph Stanton, very prominent in city politics but in actuality a very large scale drug dealer who kept that side of him very well hidden. He was arranging a deal on Colorado Boulevard and East 40th Avenue when he was shot. The shot came from a tree in a nearby golf club but the bullet striations didn't match to any registered rifle, but the bullet and the shot could only have come from a long distance rifle and the thinking is that it was by a sharpshooter with a rifle that had clearance for special operations."
Buck didn't bother to hide his derision, "There you go, Vin and his so called sealed file-" but he couldn't finish his thought because the infamous Larabee glare was directed his way and he was almost burnt alive by it.
"Please go on, Ezra." Chris quietly said.
"Yes, Mr. Larabee, that was two months ago. Our team wasn't even fully formed at that time; more specifically Mr. Tanner as yet had not been acquired. The next one was last week, an arms dealer, Phillip Hunter," Ezra paused to look at the others to see if any of them recognized the name but when no one showed any signs of recognition he explained, "He was one of the people in a bust that was canceled because of lack of evidence and that judge denied the warrant."
When the others nodded he took a quick bite of the stew Inez had placed before him and enjoyed the savory flavoring of the beef. Swallowing he continued. "This event occurred near a park, specifically in Schaffer Park, at east 37th Avenue and Clayton. He was seated in a bank across the street talking on his phone when the shot pierced his cranium between his two eyes. Forensics and crime scene processing are certain the trajectory of the bullet placed it across the street, around six floors up from one of the buildings on 37th Avenue. They combed the place, no trace of anything. The bullet was from a rifle, not traceable just like the first one. They compared the bullet striations; they were fired from the same rifle and ballistics team that had been working on the first shooting and this one was finally able to narrow it down to a rifle that the Rangers tend to favor."
Chris looked Buck's way and said "Yeah, now you're gonna tell me that's the lead to Vin, right?"
JD looked at Buck in disgust and moved himself closer to Nathan, not wanting to have any part of being close to him. He was mad at Buck for letting Vin down this way, he felt that Buck was betraying the team, he felt he was betraying Vin, not looking for an explanation or anything or even giving Vin a chance to speak in self-defense. In JD's mind, Buck had condemned Vin without even looking him in the eye and asking for an explanation.
"Go on, Ezra"
"Oh, yes, well, and now comes the latest murder that occurred about 2:30 this morning, another drug dealer, this one we know really well for it was the one that escaped a prison sentence because of a procedural technicality about a year back, Raymond Bricks. He was parked in his car talking to another person, ostensibly setting up a business deal when the bullet parted his brain; unfortunately, as I'm sure you are well aware, said bullet also passed through Mr. Landy's person as well.
Ezra paused in his recitation of information and abandoned fine table manners as he began to devour the delicious stew before him. He was starved.
"What does your contact say about all this?" asked Chris after a few moments.
"She..." he closed his eyes, he'd let that slip without thinking. He opened his eyes and saw JD's wide eyed look that he instantly tried to hide by sipping from his empty beer mug."...said that the police department is after Mr. Tanner and that they are sure it was him, or if they are not sure, they still want some scapegoat to...to calm down the madness. The thinking seems to be once they have him, maybe they will try to make sure it was him, but until then, he is presumed guilty."
Nathan said "I thought it was presumed innocent until found guilty..."
"I'm afraid not this time, my friend" said Ezra with sorrow and pity showing in his eyes.
"Nathan?" asked Chris
"I checked every clinic, ER and urgent care and pharmacy. No one has come in or reported injuries that can't be accounted for or that raise any type of legal concerns that aren't already being investigated, in other words, a dead end there. I talked to some of the boys that help me at the clinic, and they said they haven't heard from Vin, nor seen him other than last night after you dropped him off. Apparently Vin and one of the kids from the neighborhood were working on his Jeep or talking about working on his Jeep, either way, no one has seen Vin."
"Josiah," Chris turned to the large profiler hoping for some additional clues.
"Well, it's getting really difficult to dig inside the department. I had no idea how angry people are about things to the point of seeing us as the enemy. I finally found one of my old and faithful friends who willingly talked to me and the information is bad and it seems like it has been quietly building. He confirms everything Ezra just reported, my guess is the only way they were able to keep it out of the press or out of the daily briefings is that someone higher up is pulling strings and pointing the blame at Vin and along with Vin our whole team.
What went down last night, well, actually early this morning has set everyone on edge and most of law enforcement are against us, Mike Ryan, my friend, says there are a few around who aren't so sure. The fact that Brick and Moses Landy were killed with a different rifle then the first two killings, even though this time it's likely to be Vin's rifle and that Vin's blood was found in the room across from where Landy was shot is just a little too neat for them. They think it's a setup. The problem is that they're a minority right now."
For the next several minutes the team sat quietly each lost in their own thoughts as they tried to finish the delicious and filling meal. Plates were scraped, forks were lifted only to be set back down still full, the information that had been shared left them all uneasy and suddenly at a loss for eating.
Inez scurried in with a round of coffee and the cognac "Here, Ezra."
"Oh, just what I needed Ms. Recillos, you're an angel!" and he kissed her hand making her blush like a college girl.
For that moment the mood in the room lightened, the table was cleared and the men sipped their coffee and cognac in silence. Inez closed the door firmly behind her and headed back out to the main part of her establishment where business hummed along.
(Several hours later:)
The team had remained in the back room reviewing timelines and information, picking apart details and tapping into the wireless network as JD was once again in possession of his notebook and was pulling down all the police information on the killings that Ezra had informed them about.
Inez was cashing out the register while her bartender was cleaning down the bar. It was about thirty minutes after closing and with the exception of an exhausted and disillusioned group of men huddled in the back room, the bar was empty.
Inez finished counting the money and filling in the deposit slip. She put the money in the safe, closed the door and spun the dial securing the deposit for the morning. Locking her office behind her she stopped at the back room to grab a case of beer to start restocking the cooler up front. As she grabbed the beer and turned to leave the room she heard a sound. She stopped and stood still listening for the sound again. After a moment she heard it, someone was knocking at her back door. Setting the case of beer down Inez went to the back door and checked through the peephole.
"Madre Dios!" Opening the door she helped the late night visitor into the bar.
"Senior Larabee!" Chris looked up as he heard Inez yell his name. As one the six men rose and rushed toward her as she struggled with her burden.
Chris reached her first and carefully lifted the youth from her and carried him to the front of the saloon. With no other options available he gently eased the young man onto the floor. Looking around him quickly he saw the rest of his team rushing around him to help, Josiah was dialing for an ambulance, Buck and Ezra disappeared only to reappear in moments with a blanket and a cushion to place under the boy's head, across from Chris Nathan was kneeling down gently lifting the boy's jacket to see the injury while JD took a pitcher of water and some cloths from the bartender.
Wanting to move out of the way and give Nathan more room Chris started to stand only to find his hand held by the boy. Looking at the boy's face more closely Chris realized he looked familiar. As if feeling Chris' gaze upon him the boy's eyes opened weakly and his lips parted as he tried to speak.
Buck was crouched behind Nathan and could see the terrible injuries and his eyes filled with sorrow and anger. He couldn't help himself and he leaned closer to the youth and asked, "Son, who did this to you?"
The youth never took his eyes off of Chris as he struggled to speak. Chris leaned close and heard the weak, breathy whisper, "Vin."
Chris nearly hit the top of his head with Buck's as he sat back on his heels shocked at what he heard. Looking at Buck he saw anger glittering in the normally laughing eyes and then he looked at Nathan who returned his gaze with deep sorrow, turning his eyes again to the youth who lay on the floor he realized that the boy's eyes were still staring upward only now there was no pain or fear in them, they were sightless.
+ + + + + + +
It was a couple of hours later and the boys were back at the office. Even though it was now close the middle of the night and no one had slept they were hard at work and there was a hum of energy in the room. While there was energy bouncing in the room, none of it was positive.
"Dammit, Chris, you heard what that poor kid said. Vin did that to him."
"I don't believe it, Buck, that isn't who Tanner is."
"How do you know? How do any of us know? He comes in here with his secret past and his -"
"Enough! We've had this conversation and I'm not having it anymore, not with you, not with anyone." Chris all but threw Buck out of his office and slammed the door behind him. Standing there Buck glared at the rest of the team who stared openly back at him.
"You know you all are thinking it, I'm just the only one willing to say it."
"Pray tell, Mr. Wilmington, when you were endowed with the gift of divination?"
"What, I never said I was no God, Ezra."
"Not, divinity, Buck, divination." Josiah said patiently as he went to stand beside Ezra.
"Yes, as I said, I was unaware of your powers of mind reading. Perhaps at a more practicable occasion you will enthrall us with your skill, however, for now I would like to know what we are going to do about this circumstance that we find not only Mr. Tanner and Mr. Larabee in, but our whole team as well?"
"Does anyone know who the boy was?" Nathan sat quietly at his desk, he had checked earlier with the coroner's office, and while an autopsy would be conducted in a few hours they had prepped the body and found no identification on it.
"He looked familiar," JD spoke up.
"How would you know?" Buck asked.
"I do do things on my own now and then, Buck. I spent an afternoon with Vin a couple of weeks ago working on my bike and I met some of the neighborhood kids when they stopped to say hello." JD's face flushed red. He was angry that Buck, who was always so amiable and willing to include anyone in the group, had shown such an intense distrust of Vin.
"Easy, there, kid, I was just asking."
JD seethed but remained quiet. Instead he picked up the phone and started dialing.
"I guess the best thing for us to do is check down in Purgatorio and see if anyone can identify him."
"I agree, Nate, we should do this unofficially of course but since the Denver PD are already gunning for Vin because of Moses, it would be better if we found him first." Josiah looked at Ezra who nodded back in agreement.
"So shall we draw cards to see which one of us goes inside and informs our conflicted leader of our plan?" Ezra produced his ever present deck of cards and quickly shuffled the deck and fanned out the cards. His plan was interrupted because at that moment Chris' door opened and Larabee himself emerged at the same time as the JD's printer began to hum.
Chris looked at his team and saw Ezra calmly replacing the cards in his pocket. JD stood up and looked at Chris and passed him the newly printed sheet of paper.
"The medical examiner sent me a picture of the boy."
"Good job. JD and I are going to Purgatorio, anyone who wants to join is welcome to come along." Chris started to the door when Nathan stopped him.
"Chris, it's 3:00 a.m. I don't think we're going to get very far in the middle of the night knocking on doors."
Buck stood, stretched, grabbed his coat, turned off his desk light and turned to JD, "You coming, JD?"
JD was amazed at the move and just answered "Where the hell are you going Buck?"
"Home, where do you think huh? I'm tired, more than that I need to go to sleep before I fall."
"Well, you just go, I'm going to stay here a little longer and then I'm heading over to Casey and Nettie's for the rest of the night." he retorted angrily.
"Suit yourself." With that Buck stormed out of the office leaving the rest of the team staring at his retreating form.
Chris looked at his watch and said "JD, Nathan is right. It's the middle of the night. As much as I hate to say it, we all need to go and get a few hours of rest. We'll meet back here at 8:00 a.m."
Nodding their heads in resignation and exhaustion the remainder of the team headed out to grab a couple hours of sleep if they could. The fate of their missing colleague weighed heavily on each man's mind as well as the fate of their newly formed team.
Silvia and Laurel