The Last Straw


Disclaimer:  I do not own the Magnificent Seven nor profit from writing about them.
Rating: PG-13
Comments:  Since JD is supposedly from Massachusetts-I have mentioned some Boston area cities.  Thank you to my cousin for the translations.  A huge thank you for MOG and Shawna my betas. Another thank you to those who helped-Tannersgirl and Mattie.

The misting rain outside darkened the air.  JD went to turn on another light to illuminate the living room populated by the team. Josiah and Nathan were flipping through some old magazines they had found.  Ezra was playing solitaire on the kitchen table, and Buck and Chris were talking in a corner.  They were waiting for Vin. JD could see Chris was nervous.  The sharpshooter was usually punctual and he was now fifteen minutes late. He also had a penchant for finding trouble. As Dunne turned the switch on the lamp, the phone on the end table began ringing. Answering it, he noticed the group's attention focused on him.

"Hello? . . . Hold on a minute," he placed his hand over the mouthpiece and informed the others. "It's Vin. The Jeep won't start.  He can fix it, but it will take time.  He doesn't want to take out the Harley cause of the rain." JD was waiting for a decision.

Chris, his relief evident, stepped near the phone, "Tell him we'll pick him up on the way there." Dunne relayed the message, although Vin had already heard it.  JD looked at his wristwatch.

"Come on, we're going to miss tip off," he said excitedly.  He loved hanging out casually with the guys. Work was great, but it was work, this was different.  Ezra, through some connection, had gotten sky box seats for the  Nuggets basketball game.

Buck grabbed his jacket, which he found buried under some laundry on the kitchen chair. "Great, we are taking a little detour into hell." The clothes he had moved toppled to the floor.  JD stepped over them, it was clean laundry and he would pick it up later.  He grabbed his leather bomber jacket and headed out, ready to root for the Nuggets. Of course deep down inside he would always be a Celts fan.

Chris pulled the Dodge Ram across the street from Vin's building. Nathan's Ford Explorer pulled in behind.  The headlights of the Ford blindingly illuminated the Dodge, Chris waved back at Nathan and he shut off his headlights. JD had been there many times, with Buck always accompanying him.  Wilmington didn't want the young agent going to the worst section of Denver alone. Buck didn't understand.  When JD's mother had died he had to leave the Chestnut Hill mansion, where she had worked as a maid, and find his own place.  All he could afford was a small apartment in Mattapan.  Then, while he was a cop in Boston he got assigned to the worst areas-Dorchester and Roxbury, places infamous for their illegal activities.  How could he ever explain to Buck, his protector, that he wasn't some naïve, innocent kid.  It wasn't going to happen.

Sitting with Buck and Chris in the Ram, Dunne could see Tanner outside talking to some neighborhood teenagers. He recognized some of them as being part of Los Lobos, the youth group Vin had formed.  The sharpshooter waved as he saw them.

From the car behind, Dunne heard Standish yell out, "Chauffeur service Agent Tanner? You are stepping up in the world."

As JD rolled down the window to call out to Vin he heard one of the teenage boys saying something to the agent.

"Se neccesitan seis hombres para levantarte? The youth chuckled.
<subtitle  "It takes six men to pick you up?">

Vin kept on walking toward the vehicles. "Sube Eduardo,yo escuche a tu madre llamandote."
<subtitle "Go upstairs Eduardo, I heard your mother calling for you.">

The group of teenagers began to snicker and poke fun at Eduardo, imitating a high pitched woman's voice calling him.  The young man blushed red in embarrassment.

"Where are the assault weapons fellas?" Vin said as he came up to the vehicle. JD rolled up the rear window.

"Come on Vin, get in," Chris said as he flicked a switch in the vehicle, unlocking the doors.

Vin slid into the front seat and buckled his seatbelt.  His hair was darkened by the dampness outside. They pulled away leaving the kids still congregating by the building.

Chris was asking Vin about the problem with the sharpshooter's vehicle, "Spark plugs?"

Tanner nodded, "That's what I think."

"Why don't you get a new car?" JD asked believing the resolution was easy.  That's why he had a motorcycle.  Effortless to fix and affordable.

Buck  grabbed the ever-present newsboy cap off of his roommate's head, and quickly hit the back of Dunne's head with the hat. "JD doesn't seem to understand how a person becomes attached to his car-take Lady."

Dunne rubbed the spot on the rear of his head, trying to take the stinging sensation away. "I wish somebody would.  I taped a fifty to the dash board and still no takers."

They all laughed.  JD saw Vin lose his grin and his head turn as he followed a red Camaro, which had caught his attention. "Chris stop the car!" Dunne heard Tanner yell. When Larabee didn't respond quickly enough, Vin pulled the emergency break.  The vehicle screeched and skidded on the wet, shiny pavement.  In the meantime, Vin unbuckled and jumped out, rolling on the slick surface before getting up, and running in the same direction they had just come from, gun drawn. The Ram finally halted, throwing JD  against his seatbelt.  Buck had put on his left arm to stop the young agent from propelling forward.

JD heard the car door slam from behind, and the patter of footsteps running towards them.  Ezra looked into the open door, checking to see if everyone was all right. They were stunned, but fine. "Was that Agent Tanner?"

Chris gathered his wits about him, and growled giving Ezra a look which said, 'Let's turn around.' Then they heard gunfire.

Vin ran, his feet making quick work of the pavement to reach his apartment building. His lungs were burning; he could feel an aching and fiery sensation on his side.  He probably had some scrapes and bruises. He pressed onward.  He was only a half a mile away. He had to protect the kids, that was his job.  He wanted them to feel secure and safe, not grow up fearing to go outside.  He would be there in moments.  He saw the Camaro slowing down in front of his building, and the nose of a gun going out the window. Everything seemed to slow down for an instant. He wasn't going to let them down.  He couldn't.

"Eduardo get down!" Vin yelled as loud as his lungs allowed him too, with all the desperation he had left.

Eduardo turned to Vin's direction, uncomprehending what was happening as the first bullet entered his body.

"Nooooo!" Vin fired off three shots into the red car.  It momentarily accelerated and then turned sharply to the right, colliding with two parked cars.  Panting, Vin dropped by Eduardo's side.  The group of teenagers gathered around him in shock.

"Josephine, go get his mother now!" The girl's face was contorted with emotion and grief as she saw the blood blossoming on her boyfriend's chest.  The cotton, flannel material was saturated as the shirt absorbed as much of the blood flow as possible.

The girl ran into the building yelling, "Rosa," through the stairwell. It echoed through the street in competition with the horn of the Camaro, which shrilled in the air. Vin placed his hands over the wound, trying futilely to stop the red life force from leaving the young body.  The sharpshooter heard the 'thump, thump,'  sound as Chris's Dodge went up on the curb by the scene.  It was the same sound he felt in the slowing heart beat beneath his palm.

Vin sensed someone else next to him. From his peripheral vision he saw it was Nathan. The former medic placed his dark hand over the sharpshooter's bloodied ones. "We called an ambulance. I need to take a look."

Tanner hesitated, he felt as though he was the one keeping Eduardo alive.  If he just kept his hand over the gaping wound then Eduardo would be fine. He felt pressure under his armpits; Chris was physically removing Vin away from the boy's side so Nathan could put his medical training to work.  The younger agent was silent for a few minutes, feeling the blood dripping down his fingertips, splattering to the ground.  He felt the cool, night air caress his leg through a tear in his jeans. He saw Buck and JD checking out the smashed red car and its three occupants. Both of them grimaced at the grizzly sight. Josiah, stretching out his arms wide and using his large size, was trying to keep onlookers from crowding in on the sickening site. Standing away from Eduardo, he could see how large the hole was in his chest, the paleness of the young man and pool of blood forming and mingling with the rain on the ground. God, they could use a miracle.

"What happened?" Ezra asked, handing the longhaired man a pristine white handkerchief to wipe his hands on.

"Eduardo's girlfriend, Josephine, used to go out with Rico, head of  Eightball  Posse, " he glanced at the shocked kids who had come to Vin's side in hopes of some solace from the shooting that had happened before their eyes,  "and this is retaliation."

Vin heard the anxiety in Nathan's voice as he harshly whispered, "Where is that ambulance?" He felt for a pulse, "shit!" and began to do compressions.  Vin knelt down and  began  emergency breathing in the airway.  Jackson kept pounding on the chest as Tanner forced air in the unresponsive teenager. After a minute, the former medic stopped and shook his head.  The sharpshooter continued to breathe, watching Eduardo's chest rise, because of his breath.  Please, he kept thinking, please. Nathan put a hand on Vin's shoulder, leaving a red handprint in his wake. Tanner blinked noticing there was blood everywhere. Nathan, as a medic, was telling him that there was nothing left to do. God wasn't coming to Purgatorio today. Vin fell back on his haunches and closed Eduardo's eyes, smearing blood on the eyelids.

"Oh Dios!" Rosa screamed to the heavens, as she stood frozen in the doorframe. She saw her son's eyes close forever.

Chris saw Vin leading Rosa, Eduardo's mother, dressed in somber black, by the elbow from the limousine to the tented cemetery plot.  She was distraught, going between crying and regaining composure.  Every few moments she would turn to Vin. "El era un gozo, la luz de mi vida." <"He was a joy, the light of my life." >

Vin would pat her on the arm not understanding how it was for a parent to lose a child. Chris knew her history of how her husband had left her, and how she was trying to make a life for her son in the tough streets of Purgatorio.

He would never forget her eyes going wild at the prone form of  her son, lying lifeless on the sidewalk. Her face contorted as she threw herself over her boy's body weeping for the light, which had been extinguished in her life.   Overnight deep lines had become etched in her face. Chris had never believed that expression until Sarah and Adam died. He rubbed a hand over his chin, feeling slight stubble. Grief had worn on his features too.

Vin sat at Rosa's side, his blue eyes covered by dark sunglasses. The team was there also paying their respects-they were dressed in their funeral garb, which Chris had seen on many occasions-for fellow agents and friends of the seven.  He never thought they would be mourning the loss of Los Lobos; since Vin had formed the group he had made sure nothing had befallen them. They took care of each other.  This was the first death  of one the gang's members.  At the funeral home, Tanner had placed the colored bandanna of the gang, kissing it, before placing it  in the casket with the still body of Eduardo.

Chris listened as the service came to an end. The hydraulic hum signaled the lowering of the casket, and the priest  said his final prayer.

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me  beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

The priest stayed at the makeshift pulpit. "White roses have been provided for the members of Los Lobos.  You can take the rose home or place it on the casket."

Chris watched the youngsters. In single file each member of the gang took a rose and went by the graveside, stepping on the fake green grass which had been placed there to cover barren earth.  Each one deposited the rose in the grave. The last person was Josephine, Eduardo's girlfriend, tears streaming down her face silently.  She took the rose, and let the soft petals wipe the tears off her face before tossing the bloom into the freshly dug grave.

"Mi amor, mi corazon siempre derramara lagrimas por ti."<"My love, my heart will always cry tears for you." >One of the male members of Los Lobos placed an arm around her and escorted her away from the gravesite.

The cars followed in a caravan back to Rosa's apartment. The neighbors had taken care of providing food and coffee for the mourners, even though no one was in the mood to eat.  The food couldn't get by the knot that had formed in everyone's throat. Chris lost sight of Vin, the mothers of the building were taking care of Rosa, offering sympathy and making sure she ate something.  Chris looked away knowing exactly what was being said to the mourning woman.

"You have to keep your strength up." One of the mothers said to her, placing a plate of food  by her.

Rosa looked at the deli meats disgustingly. "Why? For who?" She asked the mother, who was trying to show support with a gentle hand, which stroked the other woman's back. Rosa had no one; the mother rubbing her back still had her children.  Life was still worth living.  Chris understood Rosa; she was a mirror of his past.

As he turned, he saw Tanner was sneaking out of the crowded apartment. Chris didn't want to disappear without alerting one of his agents.  He spied Ezra in a corner doing card tricks to amuse some younger children. "I'm going to check on Vin, tell the others in case they are looking for us."

Standish nodded and gave Larabee a two-finger salute to signal that he had comprehended the message.

Chris went up the flight of stairs to the third floor, down the well-lit hall. He found the door open as usual.  It was because of Vin the apartment building had changed from being a place of shame to a decent place to live.  He did so much for these people; losing one of the Los Lobos was eating his soul.  Chris paused as he heard a familiar sound coming from inside. He knocked before opening, finding the sharpshooter hitting the twenty-pound heavy bag.  Just last year he had built the beam work necessary to hang that type of equipment.  He had adjusted the archway of the kitchen and the clean, oak planks now formed the entry.  In the middle was a hook from which Vin hung the chain and then the bag, both pieces were kept in his locked room for fear of the children having an accident.  Tanner said it was a bitch to keep dragging the bag in and out, but it was worth it to keep the kids safe.

Vin stood  shirt, jacket and tie gone, wearing his pants and a tee shirt.  Sweat was already on his chest, seeping into the rim of the white tee. Larabee could see the myriad of purple, blue and brown bruises, dotted with red, angry broken blood vessels, which had formed on Tanner's arm.  He had impacted hard against the pavement, and the leader winced at each movement the sharpshooter took.  The bruises looked painful, but knowing Vin, he was not going to complain.  Chris got behind the bag, holding it steady, so Vin could hit it without the bag moving around from the force of his punches. "JD did some research on the rifle."

The sharpshooter grunted as he hit the bag with a front kick. "Oh yeah?"

Chris dug his shoulder as the force of the kick almost sent him back. "Seems like it was purchased originally at Guns and Ammo."

Tanner did a series of punches ending with a bottom fist strike. "They were underage. They had a  record so a straw purchaser had to be involved."

Larabee stuck his head around the bag. "We're going to track them down."

Tanner rested his head against the bag for a moment, catching his breath.  With his teeth, he pulled on the black Velcro to release his hand from the glove. He did the same for the left hand. "Chris, nice thought, but it's crazy." Vin lifted the bag up and removed it from its hook, carrying it into his room.

Chris grabbed the chain and followed. "You think it's too tough to find them?"

"I didn't say that," Tanner rested the heavy bag against the wall, Larabee placed the chain on top. The sharpshooter took a few steps toward the door.

"Vin, we want to do it." Chris lay his hand on his friend's chest to stop him.

Tanner stayed put and his eyes drifted to the corner of the bedroom. "This still 'cause of the Cuoco case." Chris followed Vin's line of sight and saw the Tachi sword Ezra had purchased soon after the infamous assignment. The sword was called Sword of the Samurai and it symbolized the mystical code of honor observed by the Samurai. Standish had believed the gift fitting since they were called the Magnificent Seven, which originated from the film 'Seven Samurai'.  Ezra said it meant the team was going to live up to a code of honor and not waste the opportunity to prove that they trusted Vin and he could trust them.

Chris dropped his hand, and shook his head. "No, this is because we are ATF agents and the gun was purchased illegally." Vin walked out the door. Chris followed. "And I can't have an agent going off half cocked, through his own channels, seeking revenge."

Vin took the key out of his pocket and locked the door because of the weapons kept in the room. "Fine," he said with his back still turned.

"Fine?" Chris said puzzled at how easily Vin was giving in.

Tanner slipped on his shirt and proceeded to button the small-pearlized buttons. "I guess for once, cowboy, I'll do it your way."

Nine o'clock in the morning was just too early to have a meeting.  The latte hadn't even had a chance to hit Ezra's nervous system.   Standish slipped into his leather chair at the conference table, and read the folder he had picked up at his desk just a few minutes earlier. The others were already there, and watched silently as the undercover agent flicked through the papers.

"Since we are all here," Chris said, staring at Ezra.  Standish felt the eyes boring into him, but as usual he ignored the comment directed toward him concerning his tardiness.  Larabee had obviously not gotten enough sleep; his demons must have been churned by the murder of a few days ago. And honestly, was it his fault that his early morning regime was a little more involved than taking a shower, brushing teeth, and throwing on some clothes? He chose his clothing wisely each day in reflection of his fastidiousness. He momentarily tuned the leader out.  He was reviewing the information JD had retrieved concerning the purchase of the gun used to kill the youth member of Los Lobos, Ezra had already heard it.

The gun had been purchased at Guns and Ammo in December of 1997, making it a fast time to crime, which meant the time it took for a gun to be purchased and then used illegally thus coming into the polices' hands.  The gun was practically new, but that was the trend. Young killers wanted their guns still in the shrink-wrap. Through a straw purchaser the gun had made it into the hands of an underage, juvenile delinquent by the name of Sam Baiduo. The team was going to go after the straw purchaser, the ingrate who had the nerve to illegally sell guns to those who could not acquire them through legal channels. He closed the manila folder and concentrated on what Chris was saying.

"So you two," Larabee gestured to the Buck and JD, "are going to check out Guns and Ammo." Chris slid a folder down the glossy, cherry wood conference table.  Effortlessly, it stopped in front of the two roommates.

"God, back to hell again?"  Buck answered. Ezra smiled, Guns and Ammo happened to be situated in Purgatorio.  Standish  understood Wilmington's response.  The two times he had visited Vin, he  arranged to use a vehicle from the car pool.  He did not want to see his hood ornament around the neck of some young thug.

"You are taking some company along too," Chris continued, ignoring Buck's response.

Wilmington crooked up an eyebrow. "Protection?" He asked hopefully.

Larabee enunciated each word, which was a signal to Buck that the lead agent was losing his patience. "Inspector Thompson. He knows the shop in question."

 Nathan glanced at the others, wondering what they would be doing to aid in the situation. "What is everyone else up to?"

Josiah, sitting next to Jackson, swiveled his chair to face his partner. "Brother Tanner and I have a meeting to attend."

"We are going to play bad ATF agent and worse ATF agent," Vin said, his right hand holding a pen, which he had been maneuvering in a circular motion. Something in that folder had gotten his full attention. "Josiah agreed to come since he has been working at the mission and knows some of the families in the area."

Standish noted Tanner's attire du jour. "Let me guess. . . you are worse?"

Vin was wearing ripped jeans, and an untucked denim shirt.  Ezra would never understand why men had to show their leg hair.

The sharpshooter smirked back and pretended to dust off his denim shirt in offense. "A meeting with all gangs was called. There has been 5 months of no shootings and we want to go for a record."

JD piped in. "What was the previous record?"

 Tanner looked down at the folder. "Five months."

Dunne moved around in his seat, noticing the awkwardness in the room. "Oh."

Josiah went on to explain and break the mood. "The police are going to be there too. Rob Greene, the agent who runs the training program for G.R.E.A.T., is also attending."

The Gang Resistance Education and Training program had only started in Denver a few months ago.  But, Ezra had heard about the ATF project while he was still officially with the FBI in Atlanta.  A  program  designed to intervene at the middle school level to inform children that they have choices other than belonging to a gang. "They have an seventy percent success rate."

Sanchez gave the undercover agent a nod; impressed he had knowledge of the program. Ezra sighed to himself.  His theory was to keep the team on their toes, and only divulge his knowledge at certain times.

"Don't have too much fun," Buck said, now happy with his assignment.

"The rest of us will be finishing the paperwork from the bombing case,"  Chris said, picking up his paperwork, and shuffling it into a pile.

Ezra groaned, and slowly got up from his chair, following the others out.  He needed to make a detour to Starbucks.  It was going to take at least another latte before he was able to do paperwork.

Buck, JD and Inspector Colin Thompson parked the Ford Crown Victoria in front of Guns and Ammo.  Outside of the store, huge concrete blocks had been erected to stop thieves from driving a truck through  the wall to get the guns.  Heavy metal bars were placed on the windows.

"Seems like a real friendly place to work," Buck said as he noticed the film of rust over the bars and the orange tinge to the concrete. JD exited the back seat and solidly slammed the door.

Colin, the stocky, forty-five year old inspector, laughed.  "Well, at least they are cooperative."

They entered and a buzzer rang, signaling their arrival.  Wilmington looked around the interior of the store.  There was a huge glass counter, which held a nice selection of weapons.  Buck noted almost immediately prices ranging from $99.00 to $1,000. The cheaper ones disgusted him, most notably the infamous Saturday Night Specials made by the Ring of Fire companies.  The walls were covered with dark wood paneling, making sure that any sunlight that  entered the store was quickly dampened.  Adorning the walls were military style weapons, mounted animal heads and an American flag.  The constitution guaranteed the right to bear arms, and Guns and Ammo wanted to show that the founding fathers gave their blessing to each purchase.

Buck wondered what JD thought of this place. He glanced over at his young partner, who seemed to be smaller in the gloom of the shop's decor.  He always had an eye on the young man. The others called it mother henning, but  someone had to keep an eye on the boy.  He attracted trouble.  JD caught his eye and shook his head.  He gestured to the plaques on the wall.  One said, 'No loaded guns in the store!' and right below another sign, 'We don't dial 911.'

Great, Wilmington thought to himself, they were dealing with some good ol' boys.

Inspector Thompson began making introductions. "Agent Wilmington, Agent Dunne, I'd like you to meet Wade Botts.  He and his brothers own this place."

The balding, skinny, man with the beard smiled from behind the counter. "We are like the three banditos. On the other hand, since you're ATF agents make that- we are like the three amigos."  Wade stretched out his hand to Buck, who shook it firmly.  Botts hesitated  slightly before accepting JD's handshake.  Wilmington had noticed 'the look' the gun shop owner gave his roommate.  The one that said, 'You look too young to be an ATF agent.' The ladies man had told his young friend to grow a mustache.  People would think he was older, plus women loved ol' Buck's facial hair.

"Colin, how can I help you today?" Wade dusted off the counter with the sleeve of his shirt. "Cause it's not annual inspection time."

JD cleared his throat and spoke up. "A gun used to murder a kid was traced to your store."

Botts shook his head. "And because I am so cooperative and keep great records, you want to see who made the purchase."  Wade glared at the two agents and waved his hands in frustration. "Sure, you know, I follow the law.  I do the FBI Insta check and  I even turn people away."

Buck snickered and rolled his eyes. "You're a regular humanitarian." He was surprised the Star Spangle Banner or America the Beautiful wasn't playing in the background.

"Look," the gun shop owner began to list his reasons for his supposed persecution. "We sell a lot of guns.  We are the closest  gun shop to the center of Denver.  There's no competition and there's easy access from the highway."

"You were just born under a lucky star," Buck retorted.  He heard JD snort beside him. He was probably thinking the same thing as Buck; this guy is blowing smoke. Wilmington wondered if he sh** ice cream too.

"My mama would say so, but the ATF helped when it cracked down on the kitchen table dealers." Wade was right.

 The ATF had tightened the requirements to become a licensed gun dealer; this had resulted in a large number of dealers voluntarily turning in their licenses.

JD interrupted the verbal sparring. "You sold it to a straw purchaser."

Wade still tried to sway the agents, and cover up a mistake he may have made. "A gun is used more times for good than to hurt. An honest person oughta be able to buy a gun."

Buck understood what Botts was saying. He was just yanking the chain  of the gun shop owner.  A gun was a gun and someone had to sell them.  It was a living. It just would be nice if the bad guys didn't have so many.

Inspector Thompson had obviously been through the same conversation with Botts on many occasions. "Wade, thanks for the NRA propaganda, and Charlton Heston would be proud, but can we take a look at the records?"

The gun shop owner nodded and motioned them to the gate on the side of the counter.  He buzzed them in.

JD followed directly behind Buck, "I wonder how Josiah and Vin are doing?"

Wilmington was wondering the same thing.

Patience was a virtue and Josiah was watching Vin Tanner lose the battle.  Tanner usually  kept an air of calmness around him, but as the meeting with the leaders of the gangs dragged on, Vin was starting to tense.  Rigidly, he sat in the metal folding chair in the local high school gym; his hands were clasped in front of him on the long card table.

Sanchez scrutinized the lost children before him, heads of the ruthless gangs in Purgatorio: The Insane Deuces, C-Notes, Park Avenue Players and Eightball Posse.  The gang representatives were wearing their colors, green, black, red and white.  Trying to show with their splash of color that they were united and strong. Josiah shook his head ruefully.

The large man had been working at the mission trying to provide as much guidance as possible to the inhabitants of Purgatorio. He stared at the man next to him who had grown up in these very streets. Sanchez was surprised Tanner was an officer of the law instead of a criminal.  It seemed to be a normal route in this part of town. Vin could easily have slipped, but he had strong will and determination to succeed.  Josiah should have recognized that attribute in the Cuoco case.   And he should have recognized they both had the same fundamental belief, underneath the tough talk and hard living that these kids were just looking for a place where they belonged and were safe.  The sharpshooter had done that with Los Lobos.

The young agent hadn't spoken much about the loss of Eduardo. Yet, it was easy for the team to see what was reflected in the stormy blue eyes of the sharpshooter-guilt, anger and sadness. Vin had thought he had given hope to another kid, given the young man a future to hold on to. Created guilt was a heavy burden, inflicting a worn, shadowy  visage on the sharpshooter. Sanchez watched as Tanner crossed his arms over his chest and listened to  Denver Police Chief Sawyer speak.

"We are here today to tell you it stops."

The Chief pounded his hand against the podium.  With the help of the ATF." Sawyer gestured to Josiah, Vin and Rob who were sitting at the other end of the table. "We will be tracing all guns we come across. This means we will be making more arrests." The Chief looked up to make sure he had the attention of his audience.  "It doesn't end there, if something happens here-a shooting, a fight, anything, then we are coming down hard."

The local law enforcement officials nodded, showing support for their leader.

"You won't even get a chance to think about doing a crime, and we'll have your asses hauled off to jail." The Chief said forcefully, spit accompanied his words.

Josiah had thought Sawyer was being effective at putting the fear of God into the gang members.  They slouched in their chairs, which Sanchez believed was because they felt uncomfortable with the scrutiny, until the leader of the Insane Deuces yelled out.

"You think you can come here and change things?" The teenager said rolling his eyes up toward the red bandanna that covered his hair. "Pfff."

The large man looked over at Vin. Tanner leaned forward, menacingly in his chair, glaring at the teenager.

"You are nothing!" Javier, the representative of the Eightball Posse, said from the other side of the room, waving his arm in the air, gesturing toward the men before them. "We own the streets." He brought his arm back down and thumped his chest.

Vin's eyes grew narrow.  This was the gang that had killed Eduardo. "You talk big, little man."

The boy flamed red in embarrassment over his diminutive size. At 5 feet 3inches, Javier did not look the least bit sinister. "First Eduardo, then the rest of Los Lobos." He growled out, elbowing his friend sitting next to him, knowing he was getting to the agent.

Vin suddenly sprung off his chair, and tossed it at the young man.  The folding chair landed with a clatter in front of the teenager.

"You want a piece of me, you little sh**?" Tanner had one booted foot on the table, readying himself to get to Javier.  The gang representatives were coming forward, eager to meet the challenge head on.  This was becoming an episode of Jerry Springer and Sanchez was more of an Oprah fan. Josiah swiftly grabbed the irate agent around his waist, slamming him against the painted, cinder block wall of the high school gym.  Sanchez heard the gun shot and the silence entered the room.  Shards of plaster clattered on the table.  With one hand holding Vin against the wall, Josiah turned around to see the officers standing up; white dust forming a film on the table and eight guns aimed at the gang members.

"We obviously needed a demonstration to prove our point." Chief Sawyer yelled out, his voice stronger without the microphone.  "Take your seats!"

Scraping of metal against the worn wooden, planked floor reverberated.  Solemnly, the representatives took their seats.  Everything seemed under control so the large agent turned his attention back to the sharpshooter. He let his arm drop and pulled a sullen Tanner into an alcove away from prying eyes.  Their footsteps echoed as they made their way across the gym. Vin leaned against the wall, and Josiah stood before him, feet firmly planted doing his best Chris Larabee imitation.


Vin pursed his lips inward sealing them together, with a glance to Josiah he let his lips relax, licking them before finally divulging the truth. "I'm pissed."

"The chair tossing was a clue." Josiah turned his head and saw the meeting was continuing under more subdued tones. At least, the scene had been effective in getting the kids to listen.

Tanner leaned against the cool wall. "Eduardo was a good kid, and those little sh**s took him away, and I couldn't stop it." Vin avoided looking at Josiah, as if he was ashamed of what he was going to say next. "The reason why I didn't put up a fight with Chris is because I couldn't think straight. I don't know what to do with this." He looked at his hands, which he had balled into tight fists.

Sanchez squeezed Tanner's shoulder causing the man to reflexively let his hands go slack. "You have a right to be angry.  You helped Eduardo see the possibilities available to him.  You gave him a chance."

Vin gave him a twisted, self –deprecating smile. "Some chance, he's dead."

"And the ones that killed him are dead, too," Josiah replied.  They were pronounced dead at the scene. Sanchez had not paid attention as the paramedics extricated the bodies from the Camaro and he later learned their burial had taken place the day after Eduardo's.

"So, life sucks-then you die," the sharpshooter said, his hair falling forward, covering his face slightly as he leaned his head forward and bent his leg so his foot was against the wall.

"No. You showed those kids of Los Lobos that they have a place where they belong and life is worth living, even in Purgatorio." Josiah pointed his thumb behind him at the other occupants of the gym.  "Those punks envy them.  Maybe in time the Deuces, C-notes and the Posse will see they don't need weapons to take care of each other.  They just need each other."

"Maybe." The sharpshooter pulled his hair back, Josiah could see Vin's blue eyes.  They were unreadable.

The older agent did not want to be placated. He wanted to help the young agent. "You have a place where you belong, too. The team and myself are here to help."

Vin needed to know he had friends he could trust and they would be there. Blue eyes met brown.  A throat clearing brought the staring contest to an end.  Rob interrupted them. "The Chief wants to continue the show of force and have the motorcycle police lead us out."

Vin let his eyes flicker at the two men waiting by the door, tight beige pants and matching shirt wearing shiny black boots. "Great, Ponch and Jon are leading the way out of Purgatorio. They look real threatening." He pushed himself away from the wall and began walking ahead.

Josiah laughed heartily at the sharpshooter's sarcastic humor and looked at Tanner's retreating back.  He could only hope it wasn't a defense mechanism and maybe he had gotten through to Vin.

Vin thought he had a handle on himself, but when that little assh***  mentioned Eduardo he felt the eruption and the loss of control.  He was hoping Buck and JD were going to return from the gun store with good news.  He had to shake this foul mood so he could think straight and help. He had to find the straw purchaser, and know there was someone beside himself to blame. Chris was giving him concerned, wayward glances.  He tried not to meet the leader's green eyes as the team sat at the conference table sharing their information.

 Buck leaned back in his leather chair. "The Dukes of Guns and Ammo gave us the name of the original purchaser of the gun."

Mimicking his roommate, JD continued and also reclined back in his seat, which squeaked. "He used the name of  Juan Perez."

Vin let his chin drop at the news. "Why didn't he just use John Smith?"

"We know." Wilmington looked at his best friend before turning to face Tanner directly. "We tried to trace the person, but it lead to a dead end.  We can go further.  It will just take time."

The sharpshooter nodded, appreciating the lengths the two roommates had gone to, and were willing to go, in order to see justice done in this case, but if they went that route then the straw purchaser would never be found. Vin began to tap his pencil hoping a solution would present itself. He ended up divulging what he had found out.

"I talked to a few people," Chris gave him a hard stare. He had promised not to do anything drastic, he did not promise he wouldn't sniff around. "The guy is new in town. His catch is he finds ya, and he only sells to people in Purgatorio."

"That's a limited target market," commented Ezra.

Vin continued. "Think about it? He figures they know how to keep their mouths shut." Living and growing up in Purgatorio he saw first hand that ninety- percent of the crimes did not get reported.   He glanced at the men, everyone was thinking about the information he had told. Then his eyes fell on Chris, and suddenly knew just what the next step was.

Buck had seen the smiles come across the faces of their leader and Tanner and knew a plan had been hatched. "Okay Wonder Twins, we know your powers are activated, ya mind clueing the rest of us in?"

"Someone needs to go undercover," Chris said, looking at his agents one by one. "Someone who is not familiar in Purgatorio."

All the men shook their heads.  They were known in Vin's  hometown.  Chris frequently visited the sharpshooter at the apartment. Josiah worked at the mission; Nathan had come numerous times to patch up someone so they would not get in trouble.  When JD visited, Buck followed since Dunne needed a bodyguard by the name of Wilmington. That left only one person.

Ezra cleared his throat, and brought six sets of eyes on himself. "Well, since  my existence in the ATF is based on my position as an undercover agent,  I guess I fit the bill."

Vin, sitting next to Standish, slapped him on the back. The undercover agent had no idea what he had just gotten into. "Glad you feel that way Ez."

Ezra seemed to be basking in the knowledge that only he could do this job. "So you want me to be a straw purchaser."

"No, that might take too long," Chris replied still standing at the head of the table.

Standish raised his eyebrows in puzzlement. "And your suggestion?"  Ezra always decided what persona he was going to take in an assignment.

"You are going to try to purchase a gun." Larabee slowly sat as he spelled out the plan.  "But, you'll have a record, so you can't.  Maybe you'll attract some attention." He was leaning back now, and smiling.  Vin noticed the rest of the team had an understanding of what was going to occur.

Buck picked up the plan next; his eyes were twinkling. "Course that ain't gonna work right away."

Chris nodded, and grinned. "So you're going to have to live in Purgatorio."

Vin brought his attention back to Ezra to see his reaction.  The bomb had been dropped. Standish paled, and his green eyes grew wide.  He had lost the power of speech.

"But, but. . ."

Larabee continued speaking, ignoring Standish's meek protests.  "I'll arrange for Ezra to use one of the city's safe houses. He'll have 24 hour surveillance."

The men nodded, understanding they would be taking turns providing surveillance.  The meeting was adjourned.  Ezra was not moving.  The others patted him on the back as they left.

The sharpshooter sat on the table so he could look directly at the shell shocked man.  "I have some stuff for you."  He thought he saw Ezra gulp, and his Adam's apple move up and down his throat.  Vin squeezed the undercover agent's shoulder.  He felt terrible about Ezra having to go to Purgatorio.  He'd owe Standish big time if he could pull this off.