ATF Alternate Universe
The assignment had been simple enough when Chris Larabee had announced to Team 7 what was going to take place tonight. A number of sources had indicated that something was going down at the Beaumont Gallery that involved a new player in town who was equip with hardware that was imported illegally from out of town. Normally, it would be a FBI matter or a customs job but the nature of the imports was artillery and that did make it a matter for the ATF. Unfortunately, other than the location and a time, there were no other details and each member of Team 7 felt like they were going in blind.
They could have let this one slip by but Chris was eager nip this in the situation in the bud before the following Monday, when Team 7 would have the company of a journalist who would be observing them for an entire week for an article she was writing. Although she claimed that she was not writing any expose on the workings of the ATF, no one including Chris, despite how obvious it was he was attracted to the stunning blond, was willing to let anyone have that much free rein over their operations. Therefore, treading against the side of caution, it was agreed that the team would move in now despite the lack of information.
Chris had implemented a full team alert, with all seven being present, armed to the hilt and staking out every exit point out of the gallery perimeter while Chris himself was hiding in the shadows in the entry way of a building across the street. The man was almost unrecognizable as he was garbed in the shabby clothing of a street vagrant and looked the part as he was huddled on the floor, reeking of alcohol and turning the stomach of anyone who happened past.
"I must commend Mr Larabee," Ezra Standish found himself commenting as he observed the Team leader from behind the windscreen of Vin Tanner�s Cherokee Jeep.
"Why is that?" Vin drawled, feeling as bored as Ezra felt at this moment and could not blame the man for shifting in his seat continuously throughout the length of the stakeout. Whatever was meant to happen had not taken place and was starting to look increasingly like it would not. He supposed there were always days like this when rumour and leads did not lead to the conclusion they were meant to.
"He really does make an excellent performance as a vagrant." Ezra retorted, wishing to be anywhere but here at this time. It was Friday night and there had to be a thousand things he could be doing then being stuck here, waiting for an increasingly non-existent criminal to appear.
"I�ll be sure and tell him." Vin smiled faintly and had to agree with Ezra on that point, when suddenly the shrill sound of a cell phone sounded in the car. Vin glanced at Ezra since the sound appeared to be coming from inside Ezra�s perfectly tailored suit. The sharpshooter how the man could be so inappropriately dressed for occasions like this.
"Hello," Ezra spoke into the phone once he had retrieved it from inside the folds of his coat. He listened for a moment and then replied. "No, we have not sighted the felon at this time. Are you boys having any better luck?"
Ezra shook his head and indicated to Vin that nothing had changed since the last time Buck Wilmington had checked in with them. "What are our fearless leader�s thoughts on the subject?" He listened carefully to the answer and then answered finally. "One hour then." He agreed and then terminated the call before looking at Vin again.
"As you might have guessed, that was Mr Wilmington," Ezra informed Vin smoothly. "It appears that the evening is not going to come to fruition. Mr Larabee suggests that we give it another hour and then we are to depart. Thank god."
"Good," Vin said with a smile glancing at his watch. It was just early enough for him to pay a call on Alex who knew that he was working tonight and would be on the late shift at the hospital herself. If he left here in an hour, he would be in time to meet her when she came off duty.
"I suppose you will be rushing off to see Alexandra," Ezra teased slightly, knowing that it irked the sharpshooter to no end to be taunted about the young woman when it was obvious how deeply he felt for her.
"Something like that." Vin shrugged uncomfortably, not really wishing to talk about Alex because it still embarrassed him after how strenuously he had denied to everyone how he felt nothing for her.
"She must be worth it," Ezra added. "After all, you did shoot me to acquire her."
"It was an accident!" Vin reacted immediately. "My gun went off."
Ezra chuckled and Vin shoved him, not all impressed by the joke although after a moment, he found himself laughing with the gambler. "Any luck with your mystery woman?"
Ezra stopped laughing and frowned. "Not at all," he grumbled.
Just about everyone in Team 7 knew that Ezra had been searching for the woman who had purchased him at the auction and then mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Ever since that day, Ezra had been trying everything he could think of to deduce her identity but the lady whoever she was, had more skill hiding herself than Ezra ever possessed to find her.
"But it's just a matter of time," Ezra retorted. "She�ll turn up. I know it."
+ + + + + + +
High above the building Chris Larabee had chosen as the venue for his performance as a vagrant, the woman stepped out of the shadows took a view of everything transpiring in the street below. She had seen the cars and knew that the stakeout in progress could not possibly be for the gallery. Something else was taking place here tonight and it might work to her advantage if she was to get into the building quietly. In any case, there was no question that the job had to be done tonight. Tomorrow, the Monet would be moved to another city and that would require redrafting of an entirely new plan and wasted outlay in preparation for this one.
Reservations aside and she always had them, she knew that even in a worse case scenario, that is setting off the alarm system; she could escape without any difficulty. The risks were worth the painting and the challenge was even more priceless. Delaying and longer, she stepped out of the shadows and slowly made her way to the edge as she glanced at the watch on her wrist and set the timer to begin its countdown. She had twenty minutes to get it done and get out of the building. Anything more than that was just plain sloppy.
She stepped onto the stone palisade and reached for the handle of the pulley that would take her across the building she was on, to the gallery that was on the opposite side of the street. Earlier that evening, she had tethered the line that was linked to a small stake firmly embedded in concrete and fired its end at the gallery roof top, where a grappling hook would latch on to the first available ledge it came across. The line had a tensile strength capable of withstanding half a ton of pull and was thin enough by onlookers who might see it to be mistaken for electrical wire.
Clad from head to toe in black, she placed her gloved hands on the hand grips of the pulley slide on and stepped of the ledge, feeling a sudden whoosh under her as her weight propelled her forward on the small measure of slack provided by the line. She glanced down at the street below as she slid towards her destination and made a note not to let go. There was nothing worse than death by falling into the middle of a police bust, the humiliation alone would kill her if not the fall.
She reached the other building when she saw a wall coming at her and pulled her legs up to stop herself when she reached it. Her feet impacted softly against the concrete surface and allowed her suitable grip to climb over the ledge onto the roof of the building. Like the one she had been on earlier, the roof was empty and quiet. A few birds resting on the ledge had taken flight at her arrival and she bid them farewell with little more than a glance in their direction as they disappeared into the bright, New Mexico
She ran softly across the rough bitumen paved ground, her eyes scanning the area for anything that might be perceived as a danger to her and the job she had to do. As expected, the night ensured her anonymity as she moved across the roof, appearing like a shadow in her black jump suit and soft soled boots. She carried a knapsack across her back, which contained the few tools she might need this evening.
The door to the inside of the building was locked but she had anticipated that. The mechanism was expensive and state of the art. Obviously, the gallery was not averse to spending good money on security. She studied the device for a few seconds, having never seen one of these devices before this occasion, although she was aware of its existence even before she had stepped onto the roof. She had pulled up all the construction plans and blue prints on the building prior to this day, not to mention having dinner with a rather naive programmer who worked at the same company providing the gallery�s security. A quick whisper in his ear and a promise of incredible sex if he would just show her what he did and he was willing to show her around the company headquarters and drunk enough to be unaware that she had downloaded all information on the gallery�s security system. Within twenty-four hours, she had devised away around all the gallery�s security measures.
Reaching into her backpack, she found the tools she had brought with her to disable the system. It took her no more than a few minutes to bypass the mechanisms trigger device before moving into the innards where more delicate work was required. Finally, the system yielded in defeat as she heard a slight click that indicated that the locking mechanism had opened for her. Replacing her tools back into her bag, she reached for the door handle and twisted gently, poised for trouble if her tampering had failed.
Nothing happened and the door came open in her hand without any further difficulty. She slipped into the darkness of the steps that led downwards into the top floor of the building. The corridor was dark and she did not wish to risk alerting anyone to her presence so she slipped a pair of night-vision goggles over her eyes before continuing any further. Immediately, the lenses turned everything before her a shade of green and allowed her full perception of every obstacle before her.
There were security guards around the place but she expected that. There were bargain basement cops who relied mostly on the technology to do their work rather than actual physical competence. As she made her way to where the Monet was kept, she side stepped them and slipped through their supposedly net of awareness without even being the least suspicious she was there. However, she was not stupid enough to get cocky. Aware before she had even entered the premises where all the hidden surprises were nestled, she took the stairs to the seventh floor where the Monet was being kept and was barely breaking a sweat by the time she reached the room in question.
Now it got interesting. The Monet was kept in a room with motion tracking devices, infrared and sonic detectors. She was surprised by now of it and prepared for all of it, having invested a considerable amount of personal capital to acquire the technology that would see to it that she could safely pass the obstacles to her prize. Pausing as she reached the doorway of the room, she reached into her backpack and removed the sonic emitter she had purchased in Germany and had shipped here under the tightest veil of secrecy. Flicking the switch on the device, the emission it sounded was not audible to human ears although anything canine would be losing its mind if it were anywhere within five hundred yards of the building. However, it would also disable the sonic detectors surrounding the Monet and allow her to pass through that particular safeguard without setting off its alarms.
With that task completed she stepped onto the floor of the room. The Monet was at the end of the room, handing languidly on the wall, with almost supreme confidence that no one could breach its velvet ropes to spirit it away. Taking a deep breath, she glanced at her watch and knew she had no time to waste. She had to get moving. There was only one way to circumvent the motion detectors in the room and that was to move through the room four inches at a time, anything faster and the alarms would bring the entire security company down around her ears.
Time for some art appreciation.
+ + + + + + +
Dogs were barking.
Ezra looked at the animals at a nearby alley and saw them howling into the night. As he strained to listen closely because there was nothing else to do, he could not understand the reason for this annoying display. There were not merely barking, they were howling, some even yelping in pain. Even Vin had started to wonder about this.
"Someone is really working over time with their dog whistle," the sharpshooter commented.
"An extremely powerful whistle," Ezra retorted and could not help but feeling as if there was something in that incessant noise that he was missing. Flipping open his cell phone, he pressed redial on the face of the device and waited patiently for an answer.
"Mr Wilmington," Ezra started to say when Buck beat him to it. "Yes I hear it too. No, Mr Tanner and I have no idea what is going on. What does Mr Larabee say?" Ezra questioned.
Ezra did not have time to hear his answer because Chris Larabee had emerged from the shadows and was motioning them forward. The leader of Team 7 was right in the open and did not appear to care that he might be blowing his cover.
"What�s going on?" Vin leaned forward against his steering wheel trying to discern Chris� intentions when Ezra finally turned to him, his expression somewhat shocked.
"Ultrasonics," Ezra declared. "Someone is using ultrasonics."
"Hell," Vin swore starting to climb out of the car at that revelation. "You mean its going down after all?"
"I do not believe so," Ezra replied doing the same as he rounded the front of the jeep and joined Vin as they made fast tracks towards Chris who was now striding purposefully towards the gallery. "However, I think we might have stumbled onto something entirely different."
+ + + + + + +
The Monet was only a few feet away.
She could almost touch it. So far everything had gone according to plan and if luck held out she would soon be on her way out of the country for another six months in St Moritz, enjoying a well-deserved vacation. She wondered if anyone had any concept of how difficult it was to move slowly when danger compelled the human animal to be swift. However, she was a professional and she knew the virtue of patience. The body suit she was of the same material that deep-sea divers used for their wetsuits. Its ability to trap heat within its fabric had masked the infrared cameras and thus allowed her passage over yet another obstacle.
One foot away and she would be able to reach it with her hands.
Suddenly, she became aware of sounds. Voices that were becoming louder with each passing second. Had she been discovered? Impossible, there was no way she could have been detected. She had taken every precaution, how could that be? Yet despite what logic told her, those voice were becoming louder as were the footsteps that approached in tandem with the sounds of speech. She glanced anxiously at the Monet, trying to make the decision to leave now and get out alive or continue her attempt to steal the painting.
The voices made the decision for her.
"Goddamn it!" she swore angrily and turned on a her heels and started running. The moment she did that, alarms began screaming all around her, lights illuminated the floor and were no doubt doing the same all across the gallery. It did not matter any of it.
The only thing of importance now was escape.
+ + + + + + +
Chris was in the lead, with Ezra and Vin following close behind him. Buck, JD, Josiah and Nathan were covering all the alternate exits. The activation of the alarm system had shut down the elevators and so the only way to the origin of the alert was by the stairs. They hurried up the stairwell, having left the startled security guards who had no idea at all what was happening until Chris dutifully informed them that someone was using some kind of sonic disruption equipment in this building. Considering what was kept in here, it did not take a genius to deduce that a robbery was in progress. While technically, this was not in ATF jurisdiction, Chris could hardly see those Keystone Cops handling the situation with any efficiency.
"They're probably going to go out through the roof," Chris barked. "If I�m not wrong the elevators shut down the minute the alarm goes off."
"Hell," Vin snorted, wondering how an intruder could have gotten past them in the first place. They had seen no one approached the building. "Probably how they got in too."
"It appears we have a true professional in our midst," Ezra commented as they burst through the door and immediately saw a slender figure running across the floor away from the painting that was the centerpiece of a this particular room.
"Hold it!" Chris who had his gun out swung immediately at the stranger�s direction.
The figure reacted with almost lightning speed, kicking a leg out so fast that the gun flew from his hand before the leader of Team 7 was aware of it. It clattered against the wall as another kick landed firmly in his chest and he staggered backwards, falling into Vin and toppling them both to the floor. Wasting no time, the assailant continued up the stairs.
Ezra leapt over his comrades, not bothering to pause and see if they were all right. Certain that they were because no bullets had been fired and sure they would soon be behind him in pursuit, Ezra hurried up the staircase after the thief. He saw the shadow move up the stairs, leaping over three to four steps at a time, making incredible progress in his ascent. Ezra kept pace well enough though, determine that he was not about to let this person go at any costs, particularly how the intruder had managed to slip past all their surveillance to get inside this building virtually undetected. "Stop!" Ezra shouted. "Do not make me shoot you!" he called out.
The intruder paid little or no attention to his demands and kept going, picking up the pace if it were possible.
Ezra started firing, sending a barrage of bullets upwards. The sound shattered whatever serenity was left in the staircase and filled the narrow space with the powerful roar of exploding bullets.
+ + + + + + +
Damn, their response time was fast!
She had no more time to pull out her own gun to fire when the hail of bullets came flying at her. She had to jump to avoid them, landing painfully on the stairs but ignoring it because she had to keep going. The bullets from her pursuer�s gun tore through the wall behind her savagely. Plaster and concrete flew in all directions as she scrambled up the stairs. In the wake of gunfire, she could hear more footsteps coming up the staircase, joining the one who was following her. She turned a corner and saw the door to the roof only a few feet ahead. No sooner than she had cast her eyes on it, another barrage of ammunition followed, sending more fragments of concrete in her direction as she held her head down and tried to avoid being hit.
It suddenly occurred to her that she was not going to escape the roof the way she had planned. Her only choice was to delay the man following her and take her chances during the narrow margin of time between her incapacitating him and when his friends reached the roof.
She had once chance at this and she had no choice but to take it.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra lost sight of him when the intruder turned the final corner of the staircase. Below him, he could hear Vin and Chris in close pursuit and felt relieved knowing that he had back up. Ezra ascended the final length of stairs and saw the door that emptied out onto the roof. Without thinking twice even though he would kick himself about it later, Ezra went through the door without taking the precaution of looking behind it first.
The leg came out of nowhere and his gun flew out of his hand as easily as it had been taken from Chris. The intruder stepped out and met him face to face. Ezra stared astonished because he recognised the person before him and felt some gratified knowing he was not the only one who was similarly surprised because judging by the redhead�s open mouthed stare, she had been caught just as unawares as he. It was the woman he had been chasing all week, the one who had bought him in the auction and then disappeared without a trace!
Unfortunately, she recovered faster than he did and swung hard with her fist. The blow almost knocked him of his feet but he managed to stay standing. Unfortunately, the leg sweep she used to kick his legs from under him finished the job. Ezra collapsed to the ground in an uncomfortable heap. However, instead of turning to run, she dropped her knee on his chest while he was on the floor and pulled him up partially. He groaned as he felt the pressure against his chest and looked up to find himself staring at those incredible emerald coloured eyes once again.
"Oh you just keep popping up in the strangest places don�t you Mr Standish." She smiled faintly; silken lips just as perfect as he had imagined.
"You seem to have me at a disadvantage," he grunted.
"Get used to it," she said tautly and then offered him a faint smile before pressing her mouth against him in a kiss of searing passion. He felt her tongue slip past his lips, probing the roof of his mouth, devouring him until all he could feel was the bolt of electricity she had sent through his body. He barely noticed when she had released him.
"Ezra, are you okay?" Vin Tanner shouted as he and Chris burst through the door after him. By now, she had left Ezra and was nearing the edge of the roof.
"Freeze!" Chris warned again, this time aiming his automatic weapon at her and not intending to miss. "Move and we�ll fire."
She stood at the edge of the stone edging and seemed to consider her options. She could not be arrested, under any circumstances. Taking a deep breath, she met his gaze and replied with a smile, "I guess you�ll just have to fire."
With that, she stepped of the edge into the night.
"Shit!" Chris swore as he ran to the ledge, with Vin and Ezra following closely behind him.
Instead of expecting to see a dead body at the foot of the building next to the sidewalk, they saw a very live one, making good time as she proceeded to a motorcycle that was parked on the other side of the street. The fall should have killed her but fortunately the windows below the ledge she had jumped came equipped with awnings. Each one of the bright orange awnings was torn through the middle, halting her speedy descent with each impact. By the time she had broken through to the last awning, there was not even enough velocity to break the plastic.
""I don�t fucking believe it!" Chris swore as they watched helplessly as she climbed onto the vehicle and revved the engines. As it roared to life, she directed the cycle to pass directly under them as she made good her escape.
The last thing they saw was her smiling face as she waved goodbye and disappeared into the night.
"Who was that?" Vin asked no one in particular. "Catwoman?"
"You okay Ezra?" Chris asked, taking note of the gambler�s stunned expression and immediately felt concern about his welfare.
"I am fine," Ezra said still staring into the darkness where she had gone. "I think I need to sit down for awhile, I am sure you can handle things on your own here. If you do not mind Mr Larabee, I need to go home."
"Sure Ezra," Chris said uncertainly, not willing to let him go because he did not seem fine at all but could offer no objection to make him stay. "Take it easy," he called out to the agent as the man departed.
"What�s with him?" Vin asked.
Chris could only shake his head in answer. "I have no idea."
Ezra did not hear their ruminations as he walked through the door that allowed him to leave the roof, thinking to himself that he had this strange feeling that he had suddenly captured a tiger by the tail.
The hell of it was, he did not want to let go.