Out of the Frying Pan,
Into the Fire
ATF Alternate Universe
September 17, 1999 (Final version)
Disclaimer Dont own the boys, CBS and their production companies do. But if I did¼
Authors Note Thanks go out to mog, for creating this wonderful ATF A/U.
Author's Note #2 - 09/24/02 - I've revised part of this story - mainly Vin's background. When I first wrote this story, my first in the ATF A/U, I didn't have a full understanding of the canon/fanon requirements and thought I had to conform to what had been done before Now that I'm no longer a newbie, I am writing this the way *I* wanted to. It will also match the other ATF stories I've written Thanks, mucho, Nancy!
"Tanner! Get your ass in here!"
Vin looked up toward the open door of his supervisors office and closed his eyes. He knew that tone of voice. Things were not going to bode well for him. He wondered what EJ had screwed up this time. Elias Joseph "EJ" Banks, his current partner and nemesis, had a knack for getting into trouble and laying the blame on him all the time. The worst part was that Vin could never figure out how to turn the tables. EJ had somebody upstairs in his pocket, but Vin didnt know whom. The political bullshit that went on in this department wasnt anything new to the sharpshooter. But since EJ had been assigned as his partner, hed been seeing it first hand. He got up and went into the office.
"Close the door," Jack Nealson ordered, not looking at the young man.
"Whats up?" Vin asked, approaching Nealsons desk.
"Well, it sure isnt the Stephens case," the older man replied. "You were supposed to have that report on my desk this morning."
Vin shook his head, evil thoughts about his partner coming to mind as he said, "EJ was supposed to have that done. Hes the one that went on the bust, not me."
"Tanner, why is it that every time you get into shit, its EJs fault? Banks is one of the best Marshals weve got! Would it hurt to help him out with the paperwork once in a while?" Nealson retorted.
"Sir," Vin began, checking his temper, not wanting to blow up in front of his supervisor, if one could call him that. "I dont know how I can write a report about a bust I didnt go on. A bust I didnt go on because I didnt know about it until it was over and done with."
"What are you talking about?" Nealson asked. "I personally heard Banks call you on the phone and tell you about it. Shit, I know you werent at the bust, because I had to go and cover for your sorry ass!"
"I never got any phone call," Vin responded, jaw tight, still trying to keep his temper in check.
"Fine!" Nealson said, getting out a folder. "Another letter for your file, Marshal Tanner."
Vin knew Nealson was one of the people in EJs pocket, now. The demeanor in which he spoke, the ease in which hed pulled out Vins personnel file. Once again backing EJ. Now he knew why those transfers to another office never went through. Nealson needed him there. Needed someone to keep EJ from taking a fall.
"Is that all, sir?" Vin asked, hoping that it was.
"No," Nealson replied. "The ATFs got a bust going down next week. A couple of the background players involved are wanted. Were going in to back them up on the bust. For our efforts, well get our guys. I want you and EJ there."
"EJ know about it, yet?" Vin asked.
"Told him last night. Heres the case file," Nealson said, as he handed him the folder. "I want you to be up to speed on this by morning," he added, dismissing him.
Vin walked out of the office and back to his desk. He immediately noticed that someone had been there while he was in with Nealson. He looked around and saw EJ, across the room, talking with another of the Marshals. Vin thought about opening up the desk drawer, but quickly dismissed the idea. Hed come in early tomorrow, when no one was around, to dismantle whatever booby trap his partner had set up. He'd picked up his leather jacket and started to head for the door, when EJ caught up to him.
"Hey, Tanner," Banks called, grabbing his arm. "Where ya going? Days just started."
"Not feelin well," Vin replied coldly. "Headin home early," he added, shrugging from the mans grip and walking out of the Denver branch of the U.S. Marshals office.
EJ Banks strode across the office to Nealsons office. He entered the office, closed the door and sat down comfortably in one of the chairs.
"Hell be out of our hair soon enough," EJ said.
"By next week, Id say," Nealson replied.
Vin wove through the morning traffic easily. He was barely aware of the other vehicles on the road, even those cursing him for his ease at weaving the Harley in between the slow moving line of cars. The only thing going through his mind was the fact that he needed a new job. Soon. Nealson and Banks were driving him crazy. Not only that, he realized, but they were also driving him out of his job. The letters of counsel in his file were massing - mainly due to EJ and Nealson. Mostly bogus letters like whatever Nealson planned on putting in this morning. Some, he admitted to himself, were due to his attitude. He had blown up at Nealson a few times. Bordered on insubordination a few times, too. It upset the young Marshal because hed had a job he not only loved, but was good at too. He was going to head back to his apartment, but at the last minute, took the exit for the freeway. Hed head out to the camper. He needed to be alone tonight. As much as he loved the kids in his apartment building, he knew he wouldnt be in any mood to be good company for them. No, the camper was the place to be tonight. Just him, the woods, the fish and the stars.
An hour later, Vin pulled the visor down on his helmet. It hadnt rained in a while and the dirt road was kicking up a lot of dust. From the looks of the road, no one had been down it for a while. That comforted him. He hadnt been to the camper in almost a month. Every now and then he worried about someone breaking into the old Winnebago. Not that there was much to steal if they got in. Just the principle of it, he guessed.
Another twenty minutes went by and he pulled up to his campsite. He looked around, made sure of his earlier assumptions. Yes, all his traps were in place. No one had been near the camper - at least not anyone that walked upright. He pulled up to the small storage shed and turned off the Harley. After unlocking the padlock, he opened the doors and rolled the bike in. He took off his helmet, shaking out his long hair in the process, and put it onto the seat. He started the generator that was hooked up to the camper and then locked up the shed again.
Vin ducked under a few tree branches, careful of the barely visible fishing line strung between them and the camper. His traps. If anyone had hit those lines, a few piles of rocks, branches, pine cones and other less pleasant things, namely deer pebbles, would have fallen on the unsuspecting intruder. As he unlocked the door to the camper he let out a brief chuckle, as he always did, at the brand name printed on the side. When Charlie Flint had given him the camper a few years back, hed surprised Vin by painting out half of the W in Winnebago, dubbing the newly owned camper, "The Vinnebago." He climbed in and shut the door.
Vin thought about his old friend. Was it only three years ago that hed died? The Harley, the camper, and the land they were parked on all used to belong to Charlie. And when Charlie had been diagnosed with cancer, he signed all his properties over to Vin. The man had been an older brother to Vin. Or as close to one as you could get without being blood kin.
Vin had met Charlie the summer he turned sixteen. While Vin had been living in Oklahoma with his aunt, his dad had been working odd jobs where he could find them. That summer he was in Colorado and his dad had sent him bus fare to come out and spend the summer with him. After meeting at the Denver bus station, they drove out to a campground about an hour outside of the city. His dad's campsite was just down the road from Charlie's. The two teens, Charlie was nineteen, became fast friends and did everything together - hunting, fishing, hiking Vin spent his next two summers there, as well.
After Vin turned eighteen and graduated from high school, he moved to Colorado. His dad was still roaming around, working where he could, but Vin had been so taken with Colorado's beauty that he'd decided that that was where he wanted to be. Charlie had given him a key to his camper and an open invitation to stay any time he wanted. He was there practically every weekend.
Charlie not only influenced Vin in his love of nature, but in his career choice, as well. He helped Vin through his community college's Criminal Justice program and studying for the entrance exam for the U.S. Marshals' exam.
Taking off his jacket and changing into a long-sleeved flannel shirt, Vin grabbed Charlies old fishing hat, complete with lures and flies stuck in it and put it on, tucking his hair behind his ears. He reached up and pulled a fishing pole down from the ceiling hook and checked it over. Same as he left it, ready to use. He left the camper and headed down the narrow trail to the stream. Finding his favorite spot under an old bowed pine, he sat down on one of its big roots and leaned back on the thick tree trunk. He listened to the sounds surrounding him. The rushing of the cool water, the wind gently rustling branches and leaves overhead. The occasional screech of a hawk or falcon. When he found himself finding peace, blending in with the woods and stream around him, he sighed.
Eventually, he leaned forward and took off his boots and socks, rolled up his jeans and let his feet dangle in the cold water. He dipped his right foot in deep and searched the streambed, finding a rope. He looped his foot around it and brought it to the surface. Grabbing the rope, he pulled, eventually bringing the small cooler it was attached to, to the surface. Vin smiled as he opened the cooler, bringing out a cold beer. He closed the cooler, noting that hed have to restock it before he left in the morning. One of Charlies old tricks - hed always had a cold beer handy, even when the camper hadnt been used in months.
Finally relaxed, beer in one hand, fishing pole in the other, Vin began thinking again about the reason hed needed to come out here. Work sucked.
"Hey, Chris?" Buck called. "Just got a call from Nathan. The deals going down today."
"Shit!" Chris swore, pounding the wall. "Are we gonna be able to pull it off?" he asked.
"Nathan thinks so," the big agent replied. "They havent gotten any new players involved. Shouldnt be more than just the six of em meetin us."
Chris thought about the bust. Sure, theyd had the basics planned for a while now, just waiting for the final details to come in. But last they knew, one of those details, one of the buyers, wasnt supposed to be in town until next week.
"We aint gonna get another chance at this," Buck put in, knowing Chris was rethinking the chances of a successful bust.
"I know," the team leader relented. "Where and when?" he asked, strategies already forming in his mind.
"Down at the Gold Mine, eleven oclock," Buck replied. "Nathan said theyre using the back room there."
"Nice public area, lots of potential witnesses, nobody willing to make waves," Chris thought aloud.
"Somethin like that," his friend replied.
"Alright," Chris began with a sigh. "Tell the others. Lets get moving," he said, picking up his phone, starting to dial.
Buck nodded his head and left the office.
"Yeah, its Chris Larabee," he spoke. "The buys been moved up to today at eleven. Yeah, I know thats not much notice. The Gold Mine, downtown. I think well have the inside and front door covered, just like we planned, and use your boys to cover the back door. Same plan, you can just brief your boys on the way, so we wont be late. Yeah, talk to you later, Jack," he finished, hanging up the phone.
Vin entered the office and headed for his desk. Again. He glanced quickly at it, giving it the once over. He didnt believe anyone had tampered with it in the past hour. Hed come in two hours ago, before the main offices opened and dismantled the booby trap EJ had set for him. Nothing too complicated, just a spring loaded cup of ink. But the simple trick would be enough to annoy and/or embarrass a person unlucky enough to get hit with it. So Vin sat at the desk and waited until he knew EJ was watching, then with a subtle smile, slowly began opening his desk drawer. He saw the eager look in his partners eyes, waiting for the cup of ink to pop out and coat the unsuspecting young Marshal. He saw that eager look change to one of disappointment and ill hidden anger as the trick failed.
"Somethin wrong, EJ?" Vin asked innocently, pulling out a pen from the drawer.
But EJs response was cut off by Nealsons call to them.
"Banks, Tanner, my office."
Vin followed the other Marshal into their supervisors office and closed the door.
"If you two are done saying good morning to each other, we can get to work," Nealson began. "I just got a call from the ATF team leader. Next weeks bust has been moved up to this morning at eleven. You and EJ will be covering the back door."
"That aint enough time!" Vin exclaimed.
"Youve got two hours to get ready and get to the back door of the Gold Mine, Tanner," Nealson replied. "The ATF is relying on us to cover it for them. We just wont be able to brief ahead of time with them. Its a basic bust, you take anybody that comes your way and sort them out when its over."
"I dont like it," Vin protested.
"Oh, come on, Tanner," EJ snorted. "Itll be a piece of cake. Theyre the ones wholl be inside with the bad guys."
"You are going to go down there," Nealson ordered, menace and threat laced into his words.
"Fine," Vin replied coldly, heading for the door.
As he left the office, he didnt notice the silent communication between Nealson and his partner.
Vin sat quietly in the company car with Banks. Theyd driven by the ATFs van about fifteen minutes ago and made contact. They were using the local police interagency radio frequency to keep in touch. By driving by, they let the ATF know not only that they were there on duty, but shown them their vehicle as well, so that they wouldnt be mistaken for suspects or bystanders. He resisted the urge to check his weapons again.
Normally, busts didnt bother him. Whether he was part of the main team or as backup, it didnt matter, he was ready. Sometimes he was nervous. But then, one should be. Anything could happen. But there was something about this bust that bothered him. Not just the lack of prep time or coordination, either. Every now and then Vin felt something. Call it a sixth sense or a gut instinct, but something just wasnt right this morning and he knew it.
"I gotta take a piss," EJ announced, reaching for the door handle of the car.
"Banks, you cant just get out!" Vin responded, giving the man a dirty look.
"Dont worry, Tanner," the man replied. "Im just gonna go behind that dumpster over there," he said, pointing to a garbage dumpster as he got out of the vehicle.
"Stupid son of a bitch," Vin muttered as he watched EJ disappear.
"Gentlemen," Ezra greeted the group before him. "Seeing how were all here now, lets get down to business," he continued, putting his briefcase on the table.
The men nodded and placed their own cases on the table.
"Ive got one hundred AR-15s ready to go," Josiah, posing as a seller, offered, pulling one of the assault rifles out of its case.
"And Ive got fifty Calicos, complete with extra mags," Buck, acting as another seller, put in as he held one of the weapons, spinning its fifty bullet capacity magazine.
Nathan, acting as Ezras second, took hold of each of the weapons in turn, inspecting them. Satisfied, he turned to Ezra and nodded. Another man in the group also checked the weapons. He nodded toward his boss, Juan Nunzio, the out of town buyer theyd been waiting for. And another man did the same for his boss, Dwayne Parker.
"The agreed upon price?" Ezra asked, looking at the two buyers. "One hundred thousand for each set - fifty AR-15s and twenty-five Calicos? That includes my brokerage fee," he added quickly, seeing their surprised looks.
Nunzio and Parker both nodded, understanding. Nunzio was about to open his mouth when the sound of gunfire was heard from the back of the building.
Before the federal agents could even draw their weapons and shout "ATF, FREEZE!" the buyers had scattered.
He knew it. He just knew it. That awful feeling that leaves the hair on the back of your neck standing on end came and made Vin get out of his vehicle. He looked around quickly for his partner.
"Banks! We got trouble!" he shouted as the van came barreling up the alley.
He dove out of the way just in time as the van impacted the passengers side of the government vehicle. Still searching for his errant partner, the young Marshal felt the breeze of the first bullet as it whizzed past his ear and ricocheted off the pavement.
"Banks!" he shouted again for his partner, weapon in hand, returning fire at the van. "Goddamn you, EJ!" he swore, ducking behind a bunch of garbage cans, hoping for cover as well as concealment. "Where the fuck are ya?!"
Suddenly, the van pulled back and began backing down the alley, away from Vin. He looked up to see the reason why, hoping beyond hope that his partner may have actually had a hand in its departure. But instead, he saw the men exiting the back of the dance club. They were shooting their way out the door. He recognized them from the case file hed read. They were the buyers the ATF was hoping to bust and the wanted men the Marshals office planned on taking.
Vin broke from cover. He watched as Sylvio Gatero followed his boss, Nunzio, out of the building, closely followed by two ATF agents. His eyes met with the blond agent. They nodded to one another, acknowledging each other in some way. Vin couldnt describe it later on, but right then, he knew that this stranger trusted him to back him and the other agent, a tall black man, up. Seeing that Banks was still safely behind the dumpster, he joined the ATF agents in their chase.
The three federal officers had run about three blocks following Nunzio and Gatero, when they were led into an alley that dead-ended. They pressed themselves against the walls, keeping themselves bladed as they began their slow search. They got to a point in the alley where the trash was piled out high and away from the building. Nathan began to move out into the center when a movement caught Vins eye.
"Nathan!" Chris yelled in warning as he, too, had seen the movement.
But before the other agent could react, he felt himself being tackled to the ground. The man that did the tackling didnt stay on top for very long, because Vin continued his rolling momentum, shooting off four rounds from his handgun. He took out not only Gatero, the one who had moved to begin with, but Nunzio as well, who had reacted to the actions taken by the officers. He rose up from the crouch hed ended up in and cautiously approached Gatero as Chris checked on Nunzio.
"Nathan, you alright?" the ATF leader called over his shoulder as he toed over the fallen arms buyer.
"Im just fine, thanks to him," he said, nodding to Vin, who was disarming Gatero. "Thanks," he called to the sharpshooter.
"No problem," Vin replied, standing up.
Chris walked over to where Vin was standing.
"Chris Larabee, ATF," he said, offering his hand.
"Vin Tanner, U.S. Marshal," was the reply as he shook the offered hand.
"Nathan Jackson, grateful ATF agent," the black man added with a smile.
Vin shook his hand as well before saying, "All part of the service."
He looked at Chris, then. He had that same feeling again, that indescribable feeling of trust, understanding, knowing ¼ Something about the man made Vin feel safe all of a sudden. Then it hit him. Larabee reminded him of Charlie, Vin realized.
Chris broke the gaze and pulled out his radio.
"Buck, whats our status?" he called.
"Were all okay here, boss," Buck replied. "Is Nathan with you? Were missing Nunzio and Gatero."
"Theyre all with me," Chris replied. "Nathans fine and Nunzio and Gatero are dead."
"I gotta check on my partner," Vin said, pulling out his own radio. "Banks, you there?" he called.
"Yeah, Tanner. Im here with the ATF team," Banks returned.
Vin thought he sounded somewhat disappointed to hear Vins voice. Deep down, Vin was disappointed to hear Banks. Then the events of the past ten minutes hit him. Realization.
"God damn you, Banks!" he swore quietly, running back toward the dance club.
Chris and Nathan looked at each other, then at the retreating form of Vin Tanner.
"Stay here," Chris ordered and took off after the Marshal.
Chris arrived in time to see Vin pull the other Marshal away from the team. Not wanting to intrude, but yet somehow needing to find out what was wrong, he ducked around the corner of a building, within earshot of the Marshals, but out of sight.
"You fuckin set me up!" Vin growled.
"What the hell are you talking about, Tanner?" Banks replied.
"Ill tell you what the hell Im talkin about, EJ," the young Marshal returned, trying to keep his voice down. "Im talkin about you conveniently needin to take a piss, just before that van tried to take me out!"
"What?" EJ balked. "I didnt set you up! I had to go!"
"So how the hell did the van just happen to find us?" Vin countered.
"Were at a fucking gun bust, Tanner! They made us!" he shouted back.
"Then why the hell werent you returnin fire?" Vin asked.
Banks opened his mouth, but it took a second for him to respond, "I was behind cover! If I came out, Id have been shot!"
Vin picked up the delay. He knew he was right. Vin stared at the man in disgust, shaking his head. Banks set him up. But he had no proof, just his word against Banks. The young Marshal knew how far that would get him. He spit on his partners shoe and looked up at him.
"If you ever try anything like that again, I swear I will take you out," he threatened. "And if I ever get proof that you did this, your ass will be in jail quicker than you can say that aint my soap," he added, turning on his heel.
As he headed over to the ATF team at the rear of the dance club, Vin turned his head and nodded to Chris.
Vin pushed the stop button on his cassette recorder and sighed. Leaning against the trunk of the crumpled government vehicle, hed been writing his report on the bust. Watching the ATF team as they continued their part of the investigation and clean up work, hed realized how much he missed being part of a productive and cohesive team. He envied those men across the alleyway. He saw how well they worked together, not only because they were a well-practiced team, but because they were friends, as well. Vin had no doubt in his mind that these men were the types that not only worked together, but also spent off duty time together, too. Vin also knew that the reason this team melded so well was because of one man Chris Larabee. He glanced over at the team leader. The veteran agent just exuded confidence. Not only in himself, either. It was obvious that he had the utmost confidence in the men that worked for him.
Vin remembered when he had been a member of such a team. Before Nealson recruited him. Hed been reluctant to leave his post in Texas. But the opportunity to come back to Denver and work for Nealson, who had the reputation of having the best run Marshals team around, lured him back. If hed only known what a mistake that was going to be. Nealson said he had hand picked him for not only his marksmanship and expertise in weaponry but for his knack for tracking down fugitives. Vin was beginning to realize that there must have been other reasons as well. Yeah, because I was quiet. Did the job, didnt make waves. Didnt get involved with the bullshit, he thought.
"Hey, Tanner," Larabee called, getting Vins attention. "Weve pretty much got it all wrapped up here. Need a ride back to the office?" he asked, nodding to the car.
"Sure," he replied, pushing off the trunk. "Just as soon as Im done gettin my ass chewed," he added, looking at the gray Ford that had arrived on the scene.
He watched as Banks made a beeline for the supervising Marshal.
"Lets see, EJs makin up somethin about me abandonin him when I went with the ATF guys," Vin thought aloud, belatedly realizing that Chris had heard him.
Chris just raised his eyebrows at the younger man, intrigued as he recalled the earlier confrontation between the two Marshals. He watched Nealson approach.
"Jack," he greeted the man.
"Larabee," Nealson returned.
"You sent us some good men," Chris began quickly, before Nealson could light into Vin. "Tanner, here, saved me and one of my mens lives today, taking out a couple of bad guys."
"Was that before or after he left his partner behind?" Nealson put in, glaring at Vin.
"He had plenty of protection behind that dumpster he was pissin on," the young Marshal argued. "Especially since the bad guys were goin in the opposite direction!"
Nealson looked at Vin and then at Chris, who had an expectant look on his face.
"My office, Tanner. Nine A.M," he ordered. "Well be discussing your future with the U.S. Marshals office," he added before he turned to leave.
Banks smirked at Vin, knowing that his young partner was soon to become his ex-partner, before joining Nealson and leaving the scene.
"Fuck!" Vin swore, pounding his fist on the car.
"Seems to me like youre not very popular with the boss," Chris remarked.
"You could say that," Vin replied absently.
"Come on, Ill give you that ride," the ATF leader said, putting a hand on Vins shoulder.
Vin nodded and followed the man to his car.
"So tell me about those assholes you work with," Chris asked, looking over at Vin as he drove.
Vin couldnt help but laugh at the ATF leaders remark.
"Asshole is the correct term," he began. "Been workin with em for about six months. Thought Id be movin up in the world. Banks is a squirrelly son of a bitch. Hes got higher ups in his pocket, so he dont get in trouble when he screws up. Only found out recently that Nealson must be one of em," he continued with a sigh.
He looked at Chris suddenly. Beginning to tell this man, whom hed only met a couple of hours ago, about his troubles at work had been so easy. Why? He shook his head, decided not to question it further and continued.
"I dont know what theyre into," he continued. "Never was one for office gossip and politics. But they must think I know somethin or someone, cause I know they set me up today."
"Did you get the plate number on the van?" Chris asked.
"Nah," he replied, shaking his head. "None on it."
Chris pulled up in front of the office building where the U.S. Marshals office was housed.
"Hey. Me and the boysll probably wind up at Inezs Saloon later tonight," Chris said. "Why dont you join us?"
Vin looked up sharply at the man. The invitation was totally unexpected and Vin didnt know what to do.
Finally, he nodded his head, saying, "Sure. Soon as I get my paperwork done."
"Great," the ATF leader said, looking at his watch. "By the time we get these guys processed and the paperwork at least mostly done, itll be at least six. Come by around eight, we should be there."
Vin nodded and got out of the car.