Silent Witness


Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven and its characters are the property of MGM, Trilogy Entertainment, and the Mirisch Corporation.

Patience was a talent Vin had learned in order to survive. Yet as he stared into the flames, his stomach did a slow roll. This time, he didn’t think he could wait.

Only the tight grip Josiah had on his arm, and the knowledge that Buck was behind him, ready to intervene if Vin tried to dart into the burning building for a second time, kept him from moving forward.

Vin still couldn’t believe how quickly things had changed. The bust, fairly routine in their line of business, had gone as planned. Ezra had lured the arms dealers into the net, Chris had triggered the arrest, and the remainder of Team Seven had stepped in to mop up.

So, how had it gone so wrong so fast?

Vin watched, in a daze, as JD and Nathan conversed in low tones, their words barely decipherable. Ezra was shaking his head and waving his arms in a most ungentlemanly manner, as he talked to the Fire Chief. Probably trying to convince the gray-haired man that the building was safe to enter, when in fact, it was the opposite, he thought fuzzily.

Flames were still licking through the holes in the roof, and black smoke billowed skyward through the shattered windows. Firefighters continued to scurry around the structure, and in some cases, in through the front door, carrying their hoses.

It was a given that the building would be a total loss. Only the fear that a man might remain alive inside the conflagration spurred them to action.

Two blocks down the street stood the warehouse in which the bust had gone down. If he squinted, Vin would be able to see the members of Team Three, called in to complete the bust when everything had gone to hell for Larabee’s team. But he didn’t look. His gaze was locked on the blaze before him.

Vin felt his stomach roll again and took a deep breath, trying to will the impending nausea away. But all that accomplished was to fill his lungs with smoke and ash, airborne reminders of his failure.

+ + + + + + +

Chris had gone one way, Vin the other. Both chasing after the two men who had somehow evaded arrest and made their way through an as-yet undetermined exit. Buck’s yell had alerted them, and the rest of Team Seven was left behind as they began the pursuit. The two criminals hadn’t been complete fools, splitting up and heading in two different directions as soon as they had cleared the property.

He hadn’t thought twice about the crackle in his earpiece, simply continuing to call out his position as he followed his prey down the street. Overtaking the fleeing man, he used a flying tackle to bring him down, restrained him, and led him back to the warehouse.

Vin hadn’t even known anything was wrong until he’d returned.

JD had reported that communication was down, had been for some time, and that Larabee was nowhere to be found. It was then that Vin noticed the smoke, just a few streets over, and a sickly feeling settled into his stomach. Quickly handing over his prisoner, he set out at a full run.

It was too late.

Witnesses had described a blond, suit-clothed man chasing another man down the street and into the empty building. They had also reported how, just minutes after the two had disappeared inside, the building had gone up in flames.

Since then, there had been no sign of life.

+ + + + + + +

Vin blinked as the murmur of voices around him shifted in pitch and frequency. For a moment, as Buck’s hand tightened on Vin’s shoulder, the fuzziness cleared, but the effect didn’t last, and Vin swallowed hard, suddenly afraid that the rescue attempt had just turned into a recovery effort. His mind, acting independently of his will and desire, abruptly conjured up the image of burnt timber and charred remains, and his stomach finally rebelled. He felt himself being propelled away, toward the bushes that lined the property, and spent the next few minutes turning his gut inside out.

It wasn’t until he heard Nathan’s calm, soothing tone that he was able to straighten back up and look around.

The scene around him had changed again. Frantic movement had transitioned to fast but deliberate actions. Firefighters were congregating outside what remained of the edifice, and rescue personnel were making their way through the ruins, stretcher between them.

Vin suddenly found himself moving, pushing past Nathan, and aiming for the figure being carried toward the ambulance.

He barely took in the words being passed from man to man. “Alive.” “Lucky.” “Miracle.” “Basement.” “Refuge.” None of that mattered. What mattered was that Larabee had, against all odds, found shelter and survived the inferno raging overhead.

Time seemed to stand still. One moment he was arriving at Chris’s side, the next, he was watching as the ambulance took off, siren blaring.

He stood there for a long moment, his mind retrieving images and memories that filled in the missing spaces. Red-rimmed, tearing eyes. Harsh choking coughs. Blistered fingers that grasped his own and squeezed before releasing.

All proof that Chris was still alive.

“Chris is waiting for us, Vin, let’s go!” he heard Buck call.

He didn’t need a second invitation.