Misperceptions of Justice and Vindication
Chapter 1-3 | Chapter 4-6 | Chapter 7-9 | Chapter 10-12
The next day Vin woke up feeling lousy, his head hurt, his ribs ached, his eyes felt like someone had popped them out, rolled them in sand and reinserted them all while he slept. It was only the scent of coffee wafting down the hall that stimulated enough energy for him to slowly swing his legs over the bed and then, after steadying himself against the side table for a moment, he lurched to his feet.
Not very graceful he grumbled to himself, thank goodness Kojay or Chanu can't see me now, I'd never live it down. After a necessary trip to the bathroom to attend to, among other things, scrubbing the sleepy sensation out of his mouth he drew on a pair of loose pants and a t-shirt and shuffled barefoot to the kitchen.
Rounding the corner into the sunny room he saw Larabee sitting there reading the paper and then he notices the bottles...ahh Hell
"Morning, Vin. 'Bout time you joined the day." Chris was cheerful, damn, that couldn't be a good sign.
"Now, I'll be happy to pour you some coffee - made by me - not that chewable stuff you concoct - but you can't have any until you take these." And Chris looked up from the paper he had been continuing to peruse while talking to Vin and waved his hand to the pills that were neatly lined in front of their respective bottles.
At that moment Vin wished there was a rock he could just crawl under and hide until he either felt better, gave in to his wounds, or the very least until Chris left. Seeing no way out and desperate for some coffee he shuffled forward swiped his hand over the table sweeping the various tablets and capsules into his hand tossed them into his mouth and followed it with a chaser of water that Chris provided in a glass that he managed to hand to Vin without smirking triumphantly.
"Seems when I got in last night you and Dave were all tuckered out and sound asleep. I figured all was fine until I woke this morning as Dave was getting ready - he's already headed in to the office. He mentioned something about you not looking too good last time he'd seen you although you had seemed relatively fine when you were both eating Nettie's soup.
I got to thinking about that a bit and remembered Nathan's warning to me that we'd have to watch you pretty close after yesterday since you were likely to overdue it and that now was the critical time for you to rest and take your medicine. Sure enough, I snuck into your room, plucked all your pills and counted them out...you not only didn't take your meds last night before going to bed but you didn't take them at all yesterday."
Vin already knew all of this and decided to make himself useful while listening to Chris' 'great discovery' and had been pouring a full mug of coffee and stirring in just the right amount of sugar and was about to take a sip when Chris stopped him.
"Hey, you said I could have coffee if I took the pills." Vin gave Chris his most hurt and disillusioned look at what he perceived to be a betrayal of their agreement.
"I did, and you can. I just wanted to make sure you had actually swallowed them."
With that Vin stepped up close and stuck his tongue out, opened his mouth wide and said "Awwww" so Chris could have a clear view.
At that moment Ezra arrived to take over the morning's watch.
"Yes, a delightful greeting tradition, Mr. Tanner. I do hope I can educate you in some finer methods of offering salutations to your colleagues."
Vin turned to see Ezra standing at the entrance to the kitchen and noticed the gleam in his eye.
"So, Ezra, how is it you drew the short straw and had to git up early to take care of me.
"Early, my fine, Mr. Tanner, the sun is well established in the sky as it is quite near to noon. I am merely on time for my mid-day watch."
"Noon! Why that's - "
"That's what time it is, Vin. You've been out, sound asleep. Now that Ezra is here I'll head in --- what, Ezra, you have a look."
"Well, despite Mr. Tanner's lack of faith in my ability to operate in the earlier parts of the day," Ezra began all the while fielding glares from Vin who shuffled over to the table and slowly settled into a chair and then reached forward and helped himself to the other half of the sandwich Chris had kept hidden behind the newspaper. "It would see our activities last evening have pleased a great many people."
"Well, hell, Ezra, of course they have. I'm sure the police chief and the mayor and the rest of the uppity ups will be taking credit for lowering the crime rate and blah blah blah."
"Yes, well, I would say that beyond those slightly more reputable persons being pleased that some people who are - or perhaps I should say who formerly were in competition with Mr. Crawford are quite pleased. It appears our operation last night opened up a host of possibilities for some other business ventures."
"Oh, geez, my head hurts, I'm eating this lame sandwich and downing it with watery coffee and now I got to listen to Ezra talking about ---"
"Lame sandwich, Tanner, that was mine and it wasn't lame, now focus, and your coffee is fine and you best like it 'cause that's all you're getting." Chris glared at Vin who smiled around his mouthful of Chris' roast beef with swiss cheese, onion, tomato, lettuce and a touch of horseradish sauce for spice sandwich.
Turning back to Ezra Chris prompted, "So, am I to understand that while we did make a dent in the crime that's rampant these days we also managed to open the door for some other smaller operatives to set up shop?"
"It would appear so, as Mr. Crawford was a bit of an obstacle for this particular pipeline of guns and drugs. These smaller operatives are only small in our fare city, they have quite large operations in Dallas and Las Vegas and apparently want to set up a little half way point on their route which, of course, is right here.
It further appears that we were meant to receive the information that we did so that we would make our move last night. Furthermore, it appears now that Mr. Crawford is effectively out of the way they can run a shipment through here which they have needed to move for a while and they plan on moving it right away."
Chris' face darkened at the news, he hadn't expected such a fast move from the other contenders in the area "Any idea how soon they're moving this shipment?"
"Tomorrow at 2 AM in a warehouse close to the 95. It's a perfect set up, the warehouse has fast access to the highway and within half a mile there are two huge exits heading onto other large interstates to allow the players to disappear quickly, also, the place has very little else around it so there is unlikely to be any unanticipated observers, furthermore there is plentiful real estate behind the entrance to the warehouse within which to park to assure that no troopers notice any unusual collection of vehicles, and the final and best part and also how they intend to move the shipment in is the warehouse neighbors an old retired airstrip"
"Sounds like a piece of cake to secure." Chris grumbled, and then wondered for not the first time how it was he and his team were so busy so quickly. It was almost as if the city had been left to its own devices for too long and now all the criminals were throwing a party; good thing he liked to crash parties.
(The next afternoon:)
"Well, Mr. Dunne, have you chanced upon the answer as of yet?" Ezra innocently asked enjoying the fun of tweaking the younger man a bit and, he had to admit, he admired JD's tenacity and skill.
"An answer to what, Ezra, and why do you always call me Mr. Dunne, why don't you ever call me JD?" JD lifted his head from his task long enough to look at Ezra in confusion and then bent back to his work, time was ticking.
"Perhaps in time, Mr. Dunne, perhaps in time, now as to my inquiry; have you found the answer or perhaps some amplification or clarification to that question that is currently troubling you?"
"The only thing currently troubling me, as you say, is making sure I've got all our communication headsets and mics ready for tonight's action. Since I have five of eight sets completed, then no, I'm not done but I don't need a solution or clarification or any other 'tion' so I still don't know what you're talking about."
With that Ezra laid a printout on JD's desk and stepped to the side to better view his young colleague's features. As expected JD paled as he realized what the printout contained.
Knowing as well JD's penchant for honesty he was equally as ready to let the young agent off the proverbial 'hook' which JD was about to impale himself on.
"Ezra, I'm sorry, look I didn't mean anything by it, honestly. It's just that at the BBQ well, we spoke of Chris and Buck's background in the PD and Nathan and Josiah's skills in the medical field and profiling as well as their connections and experience in the streets and I'm the computer tech and Vin's the sharpshooter but for some reason we got sidetracked and never got around to - Oh, Ezra, I'm sorry!"
"My dear, Mr. Dunne, my feelings are not wounded as I fear you are about to imply, nor am I in the least troubled by your recent attempts to 'hack' I believe is the current vernacular, into my system. On the contrary, I am quite impressed with how far you were able to gain access. And you ought not to disparage your skills as our electronics and technological expert that you were not able to gain full entrance to my system. My system is particular to me and was built especially for me, alas, not by me, that skill level eludes me. As for your curiosity into my specialty, in time I believe that shall be revealed.
For now, suffice it to say I am impressed at your abilities; you must tutor me in some of the finer points so that I may tighten up my system, you were very, very close, and I am humbled that you show such interest in my significance to go to such lengths to discover my importance.
With that, I will leave you to your work, and return to my own."
JD watched in amazement as Ezra saluted him, literally saluted him with two fingers as if from the brow of a hat, and then smartly returned to his own desk, picked up the phone and began dialing.
JD watched for a few moments longer confused, amazed and further intrigued by what had just occurred; how had Ezra tracked him? JD was more determined than ever to solve the puzzle that was Ezra Standish but for now he returned to his assignment of readying the teams' equipment for tonight's raid.
(That night - the warehouse by the highway:)
He couldn't feel it anymore; this was crazy, now when he needed it more than ever he didn't have it. He couldn't feel the sensations as before, the smells, the sounds, the sights, normally his senses honed so sharply at times like this but not now. He felt useless, he didn't feel it anymore. He needed it, but he didn't have it. What was different this time?
He aimed the crosshairs of his rifle scope towards Vin's head. He wanted to see how Tanner was taking it right now. He knew he wasn't hundred percent up to the task, and he figured he'd need to back him up as well as do his own job. He looked through the scope right at Vin's face and imagined putting his finger over the trigger...then he paused for a moment.
Message from Dave to Vin: How are you holding up?
He saw Vin lifting his face towards him, through the rifle sight, he wasn't sure but he guessed Tanner was sweating, he could make out lines of strain on the other man's face.
Message from Vin to Dave: I'm ok, don't worry 'bout me.
The shadow of a smile showed on Vin's mouth and he saw him nodding, then going back to his task, covering the team's backs.
Sighing inaudibly, Frainier went back to his task and directed his sight down to the floor of the portion of the warehouse where he could clearly see Buck, Nathan and Josiah hiding between some of the crates that held the arms to be trade tonight.
Message from JD to Chris: They're coming now, five minutes, three trucks, looks like ten men
He tried to aim his rifle at Chris to see his face, but he also could see the worried faces of the rest of the men down there, Buck's was somber and showed surprise after watching the screen of the Blackberry held in his hand.
Message from Buck to Chris: Now what Chris; 10 men?
He couldn't see Chris, but the message he read was clear: Stick to the plan, Team 3 has the outer perimeter, good luck boys
Frainier could feel again, but it wasn't the sensation he had longed for, instead all he felt was the tension among the men around him. He looked Vin's way and saw concern he didn't understand. He knew this team was close to each other, and he knew they were the best team he had worked for in years and he wished more than ever...at that moment he understood why tonight was different; Vin Tanner.
He realized that Tanner's presence changed his interaction with the team. He was no longer their one and only sharpshooter, the man high up that watched over them, no, he felt like an extra, and outsider because that's what he was.
Message from Ezra to Chris: They are coming both ways, watch your back
Suddenly the doors opened and the time stood still, two of the black SUVs entered from different directions the third one was out there waiting.
Chris walked to one of the vehicles while Ezra walked to the other. Buck waited behind while Nathan and Josiah prepared themselves for what was to come. They had one gun in each hand and two loads on their side just in case.
Ezra approached the vehicle and a man dressed in black climbed down from it. They exchanged some words and headed towards the back.
Almost at the same time Chris' movements were like Ezra's and he was by the other SUV waiting for the back doors to open. Now it was a matter of life or death, they could feel it in the air.
Frainier watched from his place how with smooth movements Ezra and Chris tested the rifles they had been handed. He was curious again, he wasn't able to control the impulse, understanding the change from this operation and the last didn't mean he could fully accept it and he needed to see how Tanner was handling the events.
Every so slightly he shifted his movement, bringing his scope again into alignment with Tanner's head and peered through checking on the other sharpshooter, at that very instant chaos erupted below.
He heard shouting and yelling down below and in his gut he knew it was his fault. He knew it as he swung back into position took aim and fired at one of the men taking aim at Ezra. In that instant all he could do was hold his rifle and shoot, all he could do was play God, but he didn't feel like he was God anymore.
He heard Tanner screaming at him, and heard the report of the other's rifle. He heard shouts from Buck and Josiah at the same time unknown voices reached him shouting in anger and pain. At that moment all he did was his job and he no longer felt anything at all.
It was all in a blur, the fog, the smell of gun powder, the yelling, he had a vision of Tanner rappelling down from his position to get a better angle; their plans had been blown. He heard Tanner's voice screaming at him to cover Buck's left, technology was forgotten in the urgency of the moment. He heard sirens in the background and more yelling and shouting and finally he heard "Put your guns down!!! ATF!!!"
As soon as it had begun it ended, he was still up there, he couldn't see where Chris and Nathan had gone, but Buck was there holding one of the men with his handcuffs and saying something to him. He felt dizzy, he'd lost track of time, he didn't know how much time had passed since the beginning, this wasn't good, he didn't know what had happened to him tonight
"Frainier, get down here!!!" he heard Chris shouting at him
"Don't be too hard on him Chris, we're not sure it was him" he heard Buck saying
"Don't be too hard? You saw what Vin had to do to save me? He could have died at that time, you crazy bastard!"
Frainier felt paralyzed, he kept listening, but couldn't move, he couldn't go down there, couldn't face them
"Yer welcome Cowboy" Vin's voice clearly sounded as if he was hurting.
"Vin, let Nathan take a look at you, please." Chris was concerned by the sound of his voice.
"Ain't going to no hospital again." Despite the strain in Vin's voice, there was a determined glint in his eyes.
"Come on Vin, lemme see what you did" Nathan said.
After a few moments of listening to all the exchanges, Frainier took a deep breath, and started to climb down the five flights of stairs that separated him from his team, breathing deep and holding it down to clear his head before he faced the worst of Larabee's rage.
When he finally reached the ground, he could see Nathan prodding over Vin's ribs, his face white as a sheet and he still trying and failing to hide the pain.
Frainier thought about what he'd seen in the blur of the action and wondered if he would have done the same, would he have opened himself to the cross-fire and rappelled from one position to another to save a member of the team? He didn't have time to contemplate his answer as Larabee's rage exploded in front of him.
"What were you thinking you son of a bitch?" he was so mad he couldn't hold it anymore despite the continued pressure of Vin's hand on his left arm trying to calm him. Chris had had enough over the past few weeks and he wasn't holding back anymore.
"I... I don't know what you mean... Larabee" was the only thing he could manage to say, but inside of him there was also rage building up, why was he so mad at him, he should be mad at Tanner. It was his idea to go all gung ho during the fire fight and injure himself again.
Frainier was just about to open his mouth to further defend himself when Chris turned to face him and said with a voice that failed to hide the venom he held inside."You put the whole operation at risk. Your careless actions left him little choice. This all could have gone down without a single shot, but you blew it by tipping them off. Now, not only do we have three dead suspects but Vin is hurt again and any one of us could have been hurt or worse.
This team depends on its sharpshooter, we depend on Vin and he knows that. He'll go to any length, even if it means injury to himself of worse, to keep us safe. He doesn't take risks recklessly though; he should never have had to make the moves he did tonight except for you.
Either you don't know or you don't care about belonging on a team. It's no wonder you're a temporary and switch from team to team; who'd have you!"
Vin was still holding Chris by his left arm, and he tightened his grip sending a silent message to his friend, Chris looked back at him, Vin was holding his ribs but he looked fine. Nathan nodded to him as if telling him everything was fine.
"Chris," Vin spoke low but Chris turned to listen, "Just let me handle Frainier, all right. I'll debrief him and we'll do our reports, let it go, cowboy, let it go."
Chris felt some of his tension disappear and he calmed himself a bit as Nathan spoke, "Chris, we need to get Vin back to the ranch where he can get some rest. Why don't you let him handle Frainier as he suggested, okay?"
Chris nodded, finally giving in to both Nathan's and Vin's requests. Fixing Frainier with a glare he turned to lock eyes with Tanner. Frainier watched amazed as the two men seemed to communicate in that brief moment of eye contact. Then, Vin moved with Nathan towards one of the exits to get to a car. Frainier started to follow only to have to stop short as Larabee's anger was directed his way on one final parting look that burned into his heart.
Chris stood still watching until Vin with Nathan in attendance and Frainier following at a short distance disappeared from his view. He sensed Buck's presence at his back and as always felt the calmness that came from having Buck right behind him in moments like these.
"He'll be fine, Chris."
"I know, it's just that it didn't have to happen, so stupid."
"Yeah, well, mistakes happen but we're all fine and that's what matter. Frainier was just a bit excited and he made a mistake --"
"A mistake - a mistake - I can't believe you're so all fired willing to accept that. I thought you were the guy who didn't accept newcomers, especially newcomers who had 'shady' pasts, and let's face it, Frainier's past is filled with transfers and temporary assignments and ---"
Buck raised his hands in a calming motion trying to slow Chris down a bit as he interrupted, "You're right, Chris. I know you're referring to how I treated Vin and all that and what I'm saying is that I'm trying to learn from those huge mistakes I made with him. I prejudged him and I didn't give him a chance and I expected the best because I didn't know who he was or anything about him. I paid a price for that which would have been much higher if Vin wasn't willing to accept my apology and move on, but he was but I ain't taking that for granted.
I'm willing to give Frainier a break even though he did screw up tonight but we don't know what happened, why did he move, maybe he saw something, maybe something tipped him off and he didn't have a choice, I don't know. I'm willing to find out."
Chris stood in silence as Buck's words sank into his brain. He knew that Buck was right, they didn't know what had caused Frainier to shift position so that a stray light flashed off his rifle scope but at that moment he was still to ramped up on adrenaline and anger to concede to all of Buck's points.
"Fine, why don't we get this place secured and after that, you can head out to the ranch and help Vin debrief Frainier. I won't be able to be clear-headed about it yet."
"You got it, pard." Buck clapped his friend on the shoulder and then set off to help Josiah secure the weapons; Team 3 had already entered the arena and begun loading the suspects into the wagon for transport downtown. Corners wagon had been called for to collect the three dead suspects and Ezra had covered their bodies with blankets, offering some level of dignity to death.
The car ride to Chris' ranch started in silence. It had taken more than a half an hour before Vin and Dave could leave the warehouse as Nathan wanted to more thoroughly check him out and Team 3 wanted to make another extensive sweep of the perimeter to ensure everyone was secured before anyone left the area.
So, it was well past 3:30 a.m. when Dave and Vin finally were able to get a ride with Team 3 back to headquarters where they could pick up Dave's car and head towards Larabee's ranch. Since Chris' ranch was on the northeast side of Denver and the warehouse they were at for the bust was south of Denver it was at least on their way to stop at headquarters.
By the time they were pulling out of the ATF garage Chris and the rest of the team were on the outskirts of the city heading in and Buck would head out shortly after so Vin was desperate to try and find a way to start talking to Frainier
As they started the car ride out of the city the silence in the car was thick and stretched endlessly between the two men. Both felt the strain, one desperately was trying to think of a way to break through the barrier but he was never very good with words, the other was hoping the ride would continue in silence as he was wrapping himself in layer after layer of shielding to buffer against the pain and anger, anger at his own stupidity for thinking he could make this assignment any different, anger at the injustice of being the fall guy for things that had happened that he wasn't responsible for or couldn't control and pain that those around him seemed so certain that he wasn't right for the job when they had never really given him a chance. It was this pain that he was trying to shield himself from the most.
Vin struggled in his mind wishing that he had words like Josiah seemed to have. Vin recognized the gift that Josiah had with his ability to impart wisdom and guidance and to do so like he was weaving a spell so that whether the listener wanted to or not soon found themselves under his spell, listening and hearing the words that he spoke.
Vin understood some of Dave's frustration and while he appreciated Chris' concern and steadfast friendship, he didn't like being the cause of Chris' anger and the subsequent fortress he sensed Frainier erecting around his defenses. On the other hand he also recognized the cocky manner Frainier so often employed in his approach to his job and that manner, if not properly checked by experience, would one day get someone killed. Vin had learned that in the Rangers, it had only taken one lesson.
Vin shifted in the seat trying to find a more comfortable position and the action caused a soft groan to escape his mouth. Well, there was his opening, he thought ruefully, might as well cover the groan with some words so he took a shallow breath and plunged in.
"I - I think I understand what happened back there Dave."
Chancing a sidelong glance at Frainier's face that was dimly lit by the instrument lights on the dashboard Vin could see the lines of tension and the continuing silence remained as thick as it had been before.
"You feel disappointed that they won't let you do it yerself, I understand..." Vin tailed off his words as he heard the snort of derision from the man next to him.
So Vin racked his brain for another angle as mile after mile stretched beneath the tires of the car, the first hint of dawn was still about an hour away and as goes the saying, it was truly darkest before the dawn, the only light was from the headlights of the vehicle traveling along the local road.
Vin tried again "It's never fun to be dressed down in front of your team and -"
"Team!" Frainier nearly spat the word out of his mouth effectively stopping anything further that Vin might have said. He stomped on the brake and veered the car off the road allowing it to bounce its way to a stop on the shoulder and then he shifted in his seat to face Vin.
"You think they're my team! You think -- then you don't understand, you can't understand a thing of what happened there!!!"
Vin figured he'd screwed this up big time. He knew words weren't his strength and now he'd proven it. The best he could hope for was to keep silent the rest of the trip, but it was too late as Dave kept talking firing angry words that were full of misery at him
"My team - you think I'm upset because I got dressed down in front of my team? Tanner, you're an idiot! They're not my team. They'll never be my team and I was constantly reminded of that over the past week."
Vin kept silent at first wishing he had just kept his mouth shut, or that better yet he could magically transform himself into Josiah but then as he listened to Frainier's continued tirade he began to hear through the anger and heard the disappointment and yes, the loneliness.
"They never trusted me. They never thought I could cover their backs. At that first bust they were so relieved that it was your placement I was in, they were so happy to know you had drawn schematics that you had spoken to me and walked me through the operation. Not once did any of them ever think that perhaps I was doing the same thing, which I was. Not once did any of them ever stop and wonder if perhaps I had chosen the same location to watch their backs from that you had chosen.
They were so relieved that you were in the office monitoring things, and they were so happy to know that you were going to be there tonight to back me up, to watch over me, to make sure I didn't screw it up because they were certain I wasn't going to be able to handle the situation.
And yes, I know I screwed up tonight, I know that when I moved from my cover somehow that caused something to be seen and it blew up in our face, but you know what, the only reason I had to move was because you were there. It was your fault; you coming in and backing me up - I didn't need your back up, you were a distraction for me. I had to make sure you were handling things, to know how my 'fellow sharpshooter' was doing" he took a deep breath fighting for control of his emotions.
Vin could hear the emotions raging in Dave's voice, he heard the quiver in the voice that bespoke of intense pain in the other man, he couldn't see Dave's eyes but guessed they were shining with unshed tears. In the corner of his eye he saw Dave roughly rub at this eyes and Vin knew he had been right.
Vin saw how wrong Dave was in his assumptions and wanted to reassure him in an effort to turn the conversation to a better angle "No, yer wrong, I's there because the size and shape of that warehouse required two sharpshooters, you know that was the reason I's there"
"No, that's what they said so I wouldn't mind, but I know it was a lie, I could have done that myself, I'd manage to do it myself!!!" With that Frainier couldn't take the confined space of the car anymore and whipped his seat belt off, wrenched open the door and nearly fell out of the car so great was his desire to escape.
Vin sat for a few moments shocked at what Frainier had said. He watched as Frainier paced back and forth in front of the car, illuminated by the headlights that were still on and then he slowly exited the vehicle trying to figure out how to fix this situation. Vin could see he was mad, very mad. He really had screwed up with his choice of words, and now he had to mend it himself, so he opened the door and tried to climb out of the car, his ribs protested and he felt needles piercing his side "Oh God!" he muttered, but he still got out of the car and looked for Frainier who had started to walk away from the car. He was so angry he had started to hit the guardrail with his feet while muttering words to himself.
"Frainier, first of all I wasn't backing you up tonight anymore than you were backing me up. The warehouse was so huge with so many possible entries that it required two shooters; you know that, you recognized that the first time you got a look at the place. We were there as a team."
Frainier flinched at the use of the word team and Vin knew again he had made a mistake; what is with this guy and the word team he wondered.
"So we're a team, huh?" Frainier's words were soaked in venom and to emphasize his point he kicked out at the guardrail in his frustration.
Vin knew he was doing poorly at trying to mend fences and he was tired, cold and his ribs were continuing to ache only now they were starting to do so louder and all he wanted was to crawl into bed and go to sleep.
"Let me tell you about a team, Tanner. I was the sharpshooter for Team 7; don't you get it? Me, not you, Judge Travis contacted me, he had reviewed my qualifications, he had spoken to other teams I had subbed on and he decided it was my turn, me to finally be on a team, no more dropping in and helping out here, there, never belonging, never in on any of the inside jokes, inside stories, no, now I was going to be 'the sharpshooter' 'the eagle eye' 'the protector' of the team, my team.
All that was mine, for about one day, then --- BAM you appear. All of a sudden I'm not good enough for this team. I get a call from Travis saying, sorry, Dave, not this time, got another shooter I think will blend better. You weren't even with the ATF. I've got eight years in, eight years and still no permanent team, because of you.
So I was relegated to standby status again, and to rub more salt in the wound don't I get a call to assist - assist mind you on the very team that I was supposed to protect, my team! I bonded with JD, even Ezra was all right with me, Buck was nice enough and Nathan and Josiah were working with me, willing to show me what needed to be done, but behind it all was you - that's Vin's desk, that's Tanner's rifle gear, Vin's a great shot, we can always count on him, why don't we check with Vin to see what he thinks of this set up and on and on and on.
Even when they acknowledged my good work you were always brought into the conversation to make sure I knew that I was only a sub, a temporary - but you don't get it do you, this was my team, mine!!
Tonight it was all wrong, tonight I couldn't get my bearings in the field, I couldn't think clearly, I couldn't get my normal rhythm for the work and the only thing that was different was you; you were there, and now because of that I'll never get another chance."
Finally the anger and frustration was spent and Frainier sat down on the guardrail.
Vin watched and was able to see in the dim glow from the headlamps that Frainier actually looked small as if he was shrinking inside himself. Vin heard more than the cocky words of someone who thinks he's too good for those around him, he heard loneliness and a longing to belong and he recognized that in many ways Frainier was much like himself, needing to belong but not sure how. He looked lost, lonely, and Vin understood way too much loneliness, deception, and the effects of hurting words, he didn't want to be the cause of those feelings in Frainier.
The two men were similar in many ways and seemingly the only difference was that Frainier was like a bull in a china shop, barreling down the aisles knocking things over and breaking delicate objects in his zeal to be accepted while Vin chose to quietly watch and slowly find his way, both methods were coping mechanisms - geez, Vin thought, he had been hanging around Josiah a bit much lately, he'd never have come up with 'coping mechanism' before either way, he figured Frainier out.
"Dave, listen to me, you made a mistake tonight that's true, no getting around that but mistakes happen. We're not god. We're not perfect. People will forgive the mistake especially if you learn from it"
Vin reached his hand out to Frainier, offering his hand in a shake and for a moment he actually thought the other man would accept it but instead he sprang up and shoved Vin's hand away violently. Vin grunted as the sharp action caused a twist of his midsection which awoke the pain in his ribs to an even louder volume of protest.
Frainier started to back away unsteadily all the while shouting, "Just leave me alone! You and your fake concern, you and your so golden team!" his voice once again filled with venom and a hint of desperation. As Frainier backed away his legs hit a break in the guardrail, a two foot space between two sections. His momentum coupled with the loss of any barrier to stop him caused him to scramble at the edge as he tried in vain to stop his backward fall; Vin saw the danger and, forgetting his pain, sprang forward arms outstretched trying to catch Frainier's flailing arms. The two men connected and grabbed hold only the momentum was all going the wrong way and as Dave Frainier slipped backwards down the embankment he took Vin Tanner with him.
+ + + + + + +
As Buck was driving to the ranch to help Vin with Frainier's debrief he was trying to think of ways to help patch things up. Damn he thought to himself, why he didn't think to ask Josiah for a quick lesson in people skills he's never know.
Looking at the clock on the dashboard he knew that Frainier and Vin had only left maybe about 30 minutes before him so if he sped, which he was doing, he figured he could get to the ranch not too terribly long after they got there and they'd have maybe an hour or so before Chris got there to try and untangle this mess.
Hell, he knew Frainier had made a mistake, but he also knew Chris had been wrong in his words. So now it was his job to cool things down before Chris got back to the ranch and everything went to hell again, for he was sure Chris wouldn't have calmed down a whole lot, once he got a head of steam going on his anger, it took a long time to cool it back down.
He wanted to make things right this time around. He wanted to show not only Vin but himself that he had changed and this was one way to do it and better yet to do it with Tanner. He was really going to try not to judge anybody else before thinking of all the possibilities for something to happen and that was why he was willing to give Frainier a break for his mistake; he was sure there was a good reason for what happened tonight. He was so distracted with his thoughts that he almost missed the car parked on the side of the rode with the lights on. He stopped a car length in front of it and climbed out to take a better look. He might be wrong but it looked an awful lot like Dave's car. He got closer and he saw it definitely was his car.
Confused Buck looked around and was more puzzled when he saw nobody was there. He returned to his car and grabbed a spotlight he kept under the front seat and snapped it on. The dirt was scuffed and there were a few boot prints and he followed them to a spot at the guardrail where one section ended and another began and peered over the edge thinking maybe one or the other needed a nature break but this was a really funny spot to do it.
To his even greater amazement he caught a glimpse of movement below and he scrambled over the edge, holding one hand securely on the guardrail and with the other shone the light down the embankment. He couldn't see much and the movement had stopped.
"Down here." Came Vin's voice, sounding weary, hoarse and strained.
"Hang on, I'm coming down!"
Shining the light to either side Buck saw a trail, probably made by deer but at least it was a little safer than going arse over teakettle straight down. He shuffled and slid and grabbed roots and rock edges for handholds and stoppers and managed to descend to Vin's level without an injury to himself.
He used the spotlight to pinpoint the opening in the guardrail above and then headed along the base of the embankment to the spot where he had seen the movement which was directly below that opening. As he moved around some scrubby bushes he caught sounds of scuffling and murmuring ahead and his spotlight picked up first one set of boots that indicated their owner was lying on his back and then another set of boots indicating their owner was kneeling and then he saw them; Vin flat on the ground and Frainier with his hands at his throat!
Uttering a yell Buck barreled forward only to slide to a stop when he realized Frainier merely held Vin by his shirt collar and rather than strangling him was instead attempting to help him sit upright. Both men looked shocked at Buck's abrupt and dramatic entrance.
"Buck, you all right?" Vin asked softly wincing as if the very words hurt him.
"Uh, yeah, just making sure there wasn't any cougars or such around, you know, scared 'em off with a loud yell, you know, survival man type thing to ---" He gave up as he realized both men were giving him strange looks and clearly were not buying a word of what he was saying.
Deciding to try to deflect attention from himself he quickly shone the light over both of them taking note of the dust that covered their clothes, the burrs and pieces of bramble and thorn attached to their attire, the rip in Frainier's pant leg, the tear in Vin's and their overall dusty and bashed appearance.
"You two all right?" he asked as he squatted down next to Frainier.
"That's what I'm trying to find out," Dave answered and then turned his attention back to Vin.
"Vin, you all right? I'm sorry. I didn't realize how close I was to the guard rail and then there was nothing and I reached forward and you reached forward and ---"
"Yeah," Vin looked a little bewildered. "yeah, and then we went, as Buck would say, arse over teakettle down the hill." Vin looked again at Frainier and then at Buck and then slowly swiveled his head to look back up the hill
"You sure you're okay? Did you hit your head? How're the ribs?" Dave continued with his inspection of Vin that Buck's abrupt arrival had interrupted. Helpfully Buck shone the light at Vin's limbs while Dave poked and prodded and then shone the light in Vin's eyes when Dave tried to check his pupils and both of them backed off as Vin lashed out, not only with both his fists, accurately connecting with both of their jaws, but also lashed out with a string of curses that were anything but English.
"You're slurring a bit, you know" said Frainier with a hint of a smile as he rubbed his sore jaw.
"Yeah, Vin, I'm pretty sure some of those curse words were a bit slurred." Buck agreed sharing a slight grin with Frainier and then wincing as that aggravated his now bruised jaw.
"Stop fussing and help me up would ya?" Vin growled and Dave helped him up by taking one of his arms while Buck took the other.
The three of them managed to stumble their way over to a small stream about 20 yards back from the bottom of the road and settled next to it on a few rocks. Buck was glad he had thought to grab the spot light but already the dawn was hinting that it was coming as the sky was turning from darkest black to a smoky gray.
The men settled down and scooped up some water to wash the dirt from their mouths and wipe their faces and hands. The men sat there for several minutes listening to the stream gurgle by them and watching the sky lighten slowly until Buck couldn't contain his curiosity any longer.
"So I guess my first question would be, why did y'all stop at the side of the road and my next question would be, how did y'all end up at the bottom of the hill at the side of the road."
Neither Vin nor Frainier spoke up and for another minute Buck flicked his eyes back and forth between the two of them before sighing loudly and muttering, "Yep, should have asked Josiah for some advice."
"Yeah, me too." Vin muttered.
Frainier looked from one to the other, "What are you two muttering about?"
Buck looked and Vin and Vin looked at Buck and waved his hand allowing Buck to take the lead, thanks, junior Buck thought to himself.
"Look, Dave, when Chris gets angry he yells without thinking what he's saying, where he's saying it and sure as heck how he's saying it."
"Great, just great, you going to give me the speech about how the team isn't angry and the team this and the team that well I'm not interested okay, just leave it alone." Dave wasn't about to go through round two of this discussion right now; round one had been painful enough and he wasn't thinking of the emotional pain so much as the pain that that tumble down the side of the hill had caused.
He stood up and started walking away from Tanner and Buck figuring he'd let Wilmington take Tanner to the ranch, now he could head back to his place and salve his wounds, both physical and emotional. Buck stood up just as quickly determined not to let the opportunity slip and grabbed Frainier by the shoulder and spun him around. Frainier came around at Buck ready to fight and was swinging his fist to slam Buck backwards when the early morning air was broken by the crack of a rifle blast and Frainier's motion suddenly reversed and he was launched backwards about six feet and then crumpled to the ground motionless.
"Hey, Chris!" John Haslund called out as he entered Team 7's office.
"Hi, John, what brings you out off the firing range and up into our little corner at this early hour, geez, it's barely 5 a.m." Chris stepped away from Nathan's desk and stretched out his hand to shake the other man's.
"You know the saying, 'early bird gets the worm' well, I'm heading out for a little fishing trip for a few days and decided to start by tying up some loose ends here at the office on my way, which brings me to this," Haslund held up the rifle case he was carrying. "Returning Tanner's personal rifle, I've kept it under lock and key ever since the evidence techs completed all their tests on it. I'm heading out of town for a few days, taking a long weekend to do some fishing up in the mountains and I thought I'd return it."
"That's real nice of you, Vin's already headed out though, why don't you leave it with me and I'll make sure he gets it."
"Missed him already, huh? Thought he'd still be here working out his reports and after action summaries from y'all's bust last night, or should I say this morning." Haslund gave Chris a grin and afforded the other four men in the office a nod as well. Ezra for his turn tipped an imaginary hat to Haslund and then slowly stood from his chair, stretched his back and shoulders and started toward the kitchen looking for a fresh cup of coffee.
"Well, listen, Chris, is Tanner still staying at your ranch?"
"Look, I'd kind of like to return it to him personally, one former Ranger to another. I know how much this weapon means to him, never wanted anyone to touch my Drag." Haslund grinned as he saw JD's quizzical expression from the corner of his eye. "That's short for Dragunov, I always called it my "Drag' but that's the rifle I chose for my time in the Rangers; wasn't really regs, like Vin's CheyTac here, but when you're good, they tend to turn a blind eye a bit."
JD nodded, his curiosity sated and returned to finishing his preliminary report.
"As I was saying, Chris, I'm heading out for some fishing and my drive will take my near to your ranch, do you think it would be a problem if I just swing in there and return it to Tanner personally?"
"Nah, that'd be fine. He was real appreciative when I told him you were personally keeping an eye on his rifle, seemed to relax a bit knowing a friend had it in safe keeping. He'll be glad to get it back and maybe he can give us a demonstration out at the ranch, I've got a little target area he can use. You need directions?"
"Nope, I know it's off Route 52 just past the junction with County Route 41, right?"
"That's it, if you're sure you want to do that ---"
"I'm sure, like I said, one former Ranger to another, congrats to you all for last night's action."
As Haslund disappeared from the office the rest of the team members went back to their tasks of finishing their reports so they too could head off for some much needed rest. Ezra returned from the kitchen yawning and trying valiantly not to spill a drop of the coffee he craved at the moment.
A little while later JD, who had been watching Ezra curiously for a few moments, spun his chair over to the undercover agent and whispered, "If I were to ask you what do the words Dragunov and CheyTac have in common what would be your answer?"
Ezra's head snapped up abruptly as he had been slowly nodding off over his report while the coffee he needed cooled in its mug. "I would say they are both names belonging to rifles that are common among various military institutions for their snipers, and my dear, Mr. Dunne, why is you still have so much energy?"
"Dunno, Ezra, but I'm still trying to figure out what your specialty is."
"Ah, well, right now my specialty is trying to complete this paperwork so that I may go get some rest, perhaps you are wide awake as you are a morning person and the sun has risen, but I, as a night owl, am ready to turn in from my labors and get some rest. Now, leave me be kindly, sir."
JD grinned a bit as he slowly wheeled himself back to his desk; his teasing had had a dual effect, he had managed to rouse Ezra enough to complete his work, hopefully, and he had also managed to ascertain that Ezra knew weapons. Mentally he added that to his list of things he knew that Ezra was good at, the list was growing, weapons, computers, airplanes - judging by his quick identification of the plane at the old airstrip from last night when they were getting ready to leave - Ezra also liked fine foods, clothes, wines, had money and seemed to be able to come and go almost at will, as well as whatever and whoever his informants were, when they gave Ezra information they were usually correct; curious and more curious.
JD gave Ezra one last look and watched the undercover agent's grimace as he tasted his now cooled coffee and then turned back to his computer and started to shut it down having completed his work. He noticed Nathan and Josiah doing the same.
"Mr. Dunne, what caused you to inquire about those two specific rifles?"
"Oh, well while you were in the kitchen getting coffee Haslund was explaining that he knew how important Vin's rifle, a CheyTac, was to him because he never let anyone touch his "Drag" or Dragunov from when he was in the Rangers."
Amazed JD watched as the always unflappable undercover agent, who had been taking in another mouthful of the now unsavory coffee spit it out as he simultaneously lost his grip on the mug and it fell to the floor shattering with a crash and spraying the remnants of its content over the floor and Ezra's pants. The agent didn't spare his attire or the floor and crashed mug a moment of notice, instead he spun to his computer quickly and began frantically working the keys bringing up another file.
Curious as well, Nathan and Josiah wandered over with JD and watched as the man worked the keys bringing up one file and then another rapidly scanning the information before lowering that frame and bringing another up. This continued for about a minute or so until at last Ezra stopped and appeared frozen for all of a moment. Then quietly and in an orderly manner Ezra pushed away from his desk and stood up all the while muttering to himself.
"Had it not been for my nocturnal induced fatigue I would not have left the room for a cup of coffee and we would not be behind the proverbial 8 ball. Mr. Larabee!!!."
JD, Nathan and Josiah stepped back amazed, Ezra never shouted. Chris for his part seemed equally shocked as he appeared hastily at his office door and looked to Ezra for an explanation.
"I know who our vigilante is."
+ + + + + + +
"Buck! Get to cover!"
Vin's shout pierced the stillness that had claimed the dawn air as the echo of the rifle blast faded away.
Without questioning, Buck sprinted from the still from of Dave Frainier and found cover in a small copse of trees. With his gun drawn in one hand he used his other hand to shade his eyes to help him spot Vin. The sharpshooter had sprinted away from Frainier who had taken the rifle blast center mass and been blown backward several feet before crumpling in an unmoving heap on the ground. Buck was just able to make out Vin's form in the ever increasing light of day. Vin all but melted into the cover of some boulders so Buck had to concentrate on his position in order to be able to make him out.
Vin stilled himself and quickly calculated the direction and likely distance of the shot. He and Buck were separated by less than 20 yards of open ground, too far to join up but easily able to communicate by whispered shouts.
"Vin, you invite somebody to this little tea party I ain't aware of?"
"Hell, Buck, appears I got people following me where I go, whoever made that shot, however is serious, they's using my rifle."
"What? How do you know?"
"CheyTac Intervention, Buck, that's my Ranger rifle, I know my Ranger rifle."
"What the - I thought your rifle was locked up in the evidence locker?"
"That's what I was told, and Chris told me who was safeguarding my rifle since it was found, and ---"
"And I remember."
"What, Vin, help me out, what do you remember?"
"All Frainier's going on afore you got here, about me taking his place on the team, the place Travis promised him, how it was my fault that tonight went wrong, how his team, his place, his time was taken from him - I remember."
"That's right, Tanner!" A shout carried through the air, followed by a chorus of laughter that was anything but contagious.
"So you finally remember, ha? I couldn't believe my luck when I found out that you had no memory of who had attacked you and held you captive. I figured I had to cut and run when I got back to the motel and found out you had escaped. But, I listened on the scanner and kept a real low profile at the range for the next day; people came and talked about how you had been cleared but that you didn't remember anything of what happened.
I knew I had a little bit of time to finish my plan but wasn't sure just how much. Larabee kept you out at the ranch under protective care and I couldn't quite get to you there. Hell, Judge Travis himself called me to get my thoughts on ole Davey boy there filling in. He felt pretty confident himself in him but wanted to get my read on him.
I told him the kid was a perfect choice, hell, I knew he was a bit of a hotdog, more fancy than he should be but what did I care, he was Travis' boy just like you are and just like Larabee. All the better for my plan if Travis' choices keep screwing up."
Vin slipped out of his niche in the rocky outcropping and carefully eased his way around a large boulder and then found a nice crack in the rock face and started to climb. His ribs protested and his shoulder, still sore despite the removal of the stitches just the day before complained as well but he kept on. It was tough to get a direct bead on just where Haslund was because there were only a few trees and mostly rock and dirt that played tricks with acoustics and sound bounced and carried abnormally.
Still, Vin knew the limits of his rifle and the from the sound of Haslund's voice he wasn't projecting it that far. Vin knew Haslund would take the high ground and right now Vin needed to carefully work his way around and get at least even with the man, at close quarters Vin's handgun would be more accurate and faster than his rifle.
From his hiding place Buck saw Vin slip out of his hiding place and start working his way out of sight. Buck knew tactics as well and guessed that Vin was going for higher ground. Buck decided to try to work his way to higher ground as well all the while trying to keep Haslund off balance.
Buck shouted out as he started to work his way to the edge of the stand of trees he was hiding in and realized there was a convenient little gully he could use for cover while he worked his way to higher ground.
"So it was you killing all those dealers, you were the vigilante?"
"Yeah, made it look like it was Tanner, that got the ball rolling, everyone going on how Tanner was a nutcase, Larabee's team got tailed, Internal Affairs got involved and had all your offices bugged and ordered deep background checks, word had just filtered in that it was Travis himself that urged for Tanner to be hired and I was about to see my grand plan to discredit Travis and ruin him forever succeed when Tanner escaped and ruined it and you, Wilmington, you were perfect bad mouthing Tanner every chance you got, then all of a sudden you turned yellow and protected him and hid him away.
I decided I had one last chance at this and that was when I realized that Tanner and Frainier, Travis' two lap dogs were together and heading for the ranch. I'd take out Frainier with Tanner's rifle and then finish of Tanner myself. That's right Tanner, you're not getting away. I even made myself look like the perfect errand boy, --- "Oh, Chris, I'd like to see that Tanner personally gets his rifle back, former Ranger and all; I know exactly how important this is."
'Course when he finds me, standing over your dead body, you clutching your precious rifle and Frainier as well as Wilmington both dead, killed by your rifle, he won't know what to think and of course I'll give the show of a lifetime all broken up about having to kill a fellow ranger, and a sniper at that. I'll convince him I need to get myself together for a few hours and then come in and give a complete statement, that will enable me to make my getaway, and he - he'll be so broken up by the loss of his oldest best friend and his newest best friend that he won't pay any attention to me and I'll be off and away."
Ah perfect thought Haslund as he saw part of Wilmington slip into view for a fraction of a second and then duck back down. That's exactly where I figured you'd come up too.
Steadying himself he sighted through the rifle scope and saw the rest of Wilmington's profile through the dense brush. Wilmington probably thinks he's obscured by the brush but I've got a bead on him Steadily and with the skill and patience of years of training he squeezed the trigger and watched in satisfaction as the outline of Buck Wilmington pitched forward, no doubt killed by that shot. He paused for a fraction thinking that perhaps the body had fallen awkwardly but cast the thought out of his head as he knew Tanner would have pinpointed his location and would be on him any second.
As he pivoted he felt the hard steel muzzle press into the base of his skull and a low voice speak, "Move an inch and you're finished."
Freezing in place Haslund watched in amazement as Vin Tanner appeared in a location much closer than he had anticipated and stepped forward to gently remove the rifle from his unresisting hands.
"Now, spread eagle in the dirt." Haslund complied as he recognized the dangerous tone in none other than Chris Larabee's low pitched voice. Slowly he lowered himself into the dirt and spread his limbs out. So, close, so close at completing my plan. He thought and comforted himself a bit at knowing he had managed to take out both Frainier and Wilmington, but immediately that was quashed when he saw Buck Wilmington assisting a groggy and somewhat loose limbed Frainier up the hillside.
Lowering his head down to the ground in disgust he closed his eyes as he felt the handcuffs lock around his wrists.
(Saloon two days later:)
The team, plus one, was gathered at the Saloon to relax over some food, some drinks and review all that had happened.
"So, Chris, you gonna explain everything to us now that Haslund has made his confession?" Buck asked as he set two fistfuls of beer mugs on the table and watched them disappear leaving, thankfully, one for him.
"I will but first a toast; it appears that Team 3 has acquired a new sharpshooter. Judge Travis told me that a really hot shot shooter named Dave Frainier is going to be assigned to the team as their permanent sharpshooter." Chris paused with his beer mug raised and looked at Dave Frainier, gauging his reaction.
To say the least, Dave hadn't been expecting this announcement and his mug of beer nearly slipped form his hand. Quick as ever, Ezra steadied him until he recovered his composure.
"Well, don't that beat all, congratulations, Dave!" Buck reached over and smacked his mug soundly into Dave's causing a bit of the foamy liquid to spill down the sides of both glasses.
As if Buck's words were a catalyst the other members of Team 7 added their congratulations and toasted Frainier's new promotion causing the usually arrogant young man to blush deeply and even duck his head shyly.
He didn't want them to see it but he could feel his eyes stinging with tears of joy that he finally had a team of his own and not just any team, Team 3 which was not only a fine team but also was on the roster as back up to Team 7 and vice versa so while he would be assigned to his own team now, he wouldn't lose touch with this, his last temporary team.
"Larabee, thank you, thank you so much for --- " Dave stopped as he realized he didn't have words to express what was in his heart and his head and as he looked around he started to grin as his eyes rested on Josiah, yep, Vin and Buck were right, Josiah would know what to say, damn.
"You earned, Dave, and from now on call me Chris." And Chris added his beer mug to the others that had been clinked to Dave's and then enjoyed a long pull from the frosty mug.
"And don't think you're getting off easy just because you won't have me to check up on your injuries. I've already talked to Jason, the medic on Team 3 and warned him of your current condition." Nathan stopped as Dave rolled his eyes at the same time that Vin did, since the two sharpshooters were sitting directly across from Nathan he caught the dual eye roll.
Undeterred as only Nathan could be when it came to a team member's health he continued, "You're just lucky that all that bullet did to you was some bruised ribs. Thankfully you were still wearing your Kevlar vest as it is you shouldn't even be drinking that beer not when you're still recovering from that hit to the head when you were thrown backwards and hit the ground."
Chris loudly cleared his throat stopping Nathan's momentum which was rapidly increasing into a full blown rant and brought the topic back to Buck's initial question.
"Now, on to Haslund, seems that John Haslund was demoted about four months ago, only it was kept real quiet. Basically the word that went out was that he wanted to relax a bit and not constantly be on call or taking on assignments that lead to round the clock surveillance and hours all over the clock."
"Sounds boring," JD blurted out then asked as he was swatted by Buck and Josiah, "What, well it does, and don't think I don't know the rest of you feel the same way or you wouldn't have joined the team!"
"Yeah, well boring sounding or not, it was all a cover. Leading up to his 'reassignment' had been a series of well publicized mistakes in procedure both prior, during and after some cases that caused some defendants to get lighter sentences or in some cases have their charges dropped altogether."
"Such us our ill-fated Mssrs. Stanton, Hunter and Bricks?" Ezra queried
"Exactly, Haslund's team was either in charge of the actual operation or the securing of evidence in all three of those cases and in all three cases something for which he held responsibility went wrong, either lost evidence, or tainted evidence for a probable cause search warrant.
After a while there was nothing Judge Travis could do, too many mistakes had been made. So, he approached Haslund and offered to let him take the job as weapons instructor since his background was in weapons and his skills remained sharp, and all anyone would ever be told is that Haslund had asked for the reassignment as he wanted to spend more time fishing and readying for his retirement in about three years."
"I remember when he was reassigned and I congratulated him on thinking ahead to his future. I wondered why he was so abrupt with me when we talked about it, now I know why." Josiah said thoughtfully and then sipped his beer.
"Shortly after that I remember you being named as the head of the new team, Chris, and getting a call from you about a week or so after the announcement." Nathan offered his recollection of that time period.
Larabee nodded and then looked down at the table as he thought of all that had happened, "That was when it happened, Judge Travis tapped me to head up the new team, dispersed Haslund's team to a variety of assignments just in case any among his team were rogues. Our mission was clear from the beginning although not talked about openly among all the rank and file but we were to restore the confidence lost by Haslund and his team's mistakes. We were given the best technology, fairly unlimited resources and authority and Judge Travis and I made sure we picked the best man in his specialty."
To this Chris paused and lifted his mug saluting each of his men individually. They returned the gesture with JD sliding a sidelong look in Ezra's direction.
"Haslund took note of all the support given to our team and saw that it was from Travis, the same judge who had taken him aside and demoted him. Deciding he had given enough of his years, energy, integrity and experience only to have it thrown in his face he decided to exact a measure of justice for himself.
He decided to go out and clean up all those 'mistakes' that he had been blamed for. At first he was just going to do it quietly without trying to pin the work on anyone, just be anonymous, but the more attention and support Travis gave to our team the angrier Haslund got. He knew that Travis was getting a lot of kudos from above for how quickly our team came together and the amount of leads we had already managed to gather.
He set up that little weapons demonstration for some of the new recruits that Vin put on and at the same time sowed some seeds that Vin was the best shooter around and it was no wonder Travis had picked him over you, Dave. Of course, Haslund only did that to get your anger going, Dave. He was playing on your emotions and the fact that you had been on temporary assignment for so long."
"I actually made it easy for him; I talked to him from time to time when I was practicing on the range and I remember mentioning on several occasions how I wanted to be on my own team and was really looking forward to becoming Team 7's shooter and then, well, you know."
Dave glanced over at Vin who gave him an easy grin back.
Chris nodded and took up the narrative again, "Yeah well, no surprise then when you took the bait and tried to show Vin up at the range. Haslund had quite a bit of fun telling you off and trying to humiliate you in the new recruits' eyes. To him he was just setting up another fall guy, Vin would get busted as the vigilante and everyone would think it was you, Dave, because you were both good shooters and had been seen publicly going at each other, at least on Dave's part.
"So far it seems everything Haslund was doing was working to plan." Josiah offered as Chris stopped to take a sip and collect his thoughts, damn, he should have taken Ezra with him to get all this information then he wouldn't have to talk so much. Fortifying himself with another sip he picked up where he had left off.
"Yep, he managed to capture Vin in Purgatorio, seems his Ranger skills at hiding are as fresh as his sniper skills, used Vin's keys to remove his rifle and spirited them both away."
"Then, our moderately deranged Mr. Haslund continued in his killing spree until he made a grave, strategic error; he got overconfident."
"Of course, what started the whole bit to unravel was that attempt on the Judge's life." Nathan put forward thoughtfully, "since Buck and I already had him and about half a dozen or more residents in his building knew where we had him not to mention four severely chastened police officers who could attest to his physical condition and complete inability to do -"
"We get it, Nathan, there were witnesses that would be able to attest that there was no way for Vin to have taken that shot."
"That's where I was going Buck." Nathan shot him a dirty look but then just shook his head and grinned as Buck gave him a lopsided grin back.
"So he was going out there to finish what he had started, he was really bold to walk right into the office, carrying Vin's rifle and asking where he was." JD was amazed and shuddered to think that if he hadn't chanced a little teasing with Ezra about rifles what might have happened.
"Haslund wasn't lacking in the bravado category and he wasn't lacking in the smarts category either, he was lacking in the integrity category. He couldn't accept that his demotion was really Judge Travis' way of protecting him, the higher ups wanted to make a public scapegoat of Haslund but Travis said the man had done too much good and was too valuable to just toss away like that." Chris stopped and thought about all that Haslund had accomplished over the years and how fortunate he really was to have Travis stick up for him; the Judge understood integrity and loyalty.
All the men sat quietly at that, sipped their beers and thought about all that had happened since they had joined as a team.
"Vin," Buck asked after a short time had passed, "Do you remember anything else about the time that you were with Haslund?"
All the men subtly flicked their gazes towards their long-haired sharpshooter trying not to pin him with their attention and make him more uncomfortable than he was likely to be having been asked that question. To their surprise Vin made eye contact with each of them briefly before settling his gaze on Chris while he answered.
"Not much, just images that are jumbled, I remember an angry voice, but it was more than angry, it was - it was disturbed, kinda like not all there in the head, you know?"
At Chris' almost imperceptible nod of encouragement Vin continued on, "I don't remember what happened at Purgatorio, how he got me, I remember being in the hotel room and listening to his ranting about injustice and how he'd vindicate his name or something, then there was - Samuel -"
Vin's voice trailed off and all the men remained silent. Buck leaned over to place his hand on Vin's arm and gave a squeeze. Vin smiled back, a small smile but it reached his eyes and Buck knew he had done the right thing asking Vin to share his pain with all the members of the team, it would be lighter for Vin now that all seven of them carried it.
As luck or fate or whatever force it is that breaks up these heavy moments in life would have it Inez arrived with one of her waitresses in tow and the two of them proceeded to load the table with plates of chicken wings, spicy hot thank you very much, and potato skins as well as onion rings and fried calamari, Ezra's choice.
"So, fill me in since it appears I was napping during the final drama with Haslund. Tell, what did you do once you knew it was Haslund?" asked Dave, who barely remembered the drive out to Larabee's ranch much less anything that happened after he got slammed in his Kevlar protect chest with a sniper buller.
Ezra opened his mouth to start to explain what had lead them to the place by the road when JD beat him and started to explain.
"Once we knew it was him we were heading for the cars as fast as we could. Chris was calling the ranch, but you weren't there. I decided the fastest and perhaps best thing was to grab my laptop before heading out of the office and was already dialing up the program that gave me all of your GPS locations. Surprised us a bit to find all three of you together and about five miles from the ranch but we raced after you trying to catch up on Haslund who had close to a 20 minute jump on us.
We sent Vin and Buck quick text messages letting them know we were coming and they were both able to message back that they were trying to capture Haslund which we already knew he was the vigilante. When we got into position I sent a message telling them where we were located and Chris had spotted Frainier's location. Vin messaged that he was going to come up right beneath him and Buck said he's draw him out and - yeah, Buck how did you do that, it looked real like he really shot you. I almost broke cover from where Nate and I were up on the ridge with binoculars."
"Oh, JD, little old trick I learned a long time ago... just tie your hat to the bushes and put your coat below it and any shooter will fall for it"
Everybody started to laugh at how Buck's old trick had worked with one of the most dangerous sharpshooters.
In the ensuing free for all for the appetizers and the noisy laughter at Buck's successful diversion Ezra nodded to JD and announced the two of them were going to get the next round of beers and they departed the table. As they hovered at the end of the bar waiting for their glasses to be filled Ezra studied his young colleague and asked, "So, Mr. Dunne, have you finally managed to ascertain my unique talent on this team?"
"I don't get it, Ezra. You know fine foods, wine, you have high taste for clothes, cars and furnishings - not to mention the ability to fund them - You have snitches or informants that call you and get you running out of the office without a moment's notice and when you return and report to Chris he follows you without question and the information is good, really good.
You come in late, you leave early, you have security protocols on computers that I'm not familiar with, you can handle yourself in a drug deal, a weapons deal, you know weapons, you can field test drugs in an instant --- I don't know, Ezra. It's like - it's like everything, it's like you are every one of us on the team."
"Ah, so you have figured it out, congratulations, Mr. Dunne." Ezra flipped a couple of bills on the counter to pay for the mugs of beer that were being set in front of the two of them.
"What, I'm still confused."
"I'm a chameleon, an actor, a performer. I can slip into whatever milieu necessary and appear completely at ease, that my dear, JD, is my specialty." With that Ezra grabbed up half the beers and started back to the table. JD started to follow with the remaining and then stopped as he realized what Ezra had said; he had called him JD.
Silvia and Laurel