Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven belong to MGM, The Hallmark Channel, and other big companies. I make no claim on the characters, except for those that I created, and I intend no copyright infringement.
Rating: PG-13 (language)
Characters: Chris, Vin, Ezra
Summary: Chris Larabee finally has a chance at peace - and a chance to catch the man who killed his wife and son.
"Back the fuck off, Tanner."
Vin hesitated at the cold glint in Chris Larabee's eyes, withdrew his hand from Chris' shoulder. But still he persisted. "Look, Chris, I'm just saying maybe you shouldn't go in there. Let the rest of us handle it. You're..." He hesitated again. Didn't want to say it. Had to. "You ain't got a good handle on things right now." He maintained eye contact, waited for Larabee's reaction. Didn't have to wait long.
Larabee didn't get mad. He was beyond mere anger now. His was a cold rage that had been burning for going on four years. His gaze flicked away from Vin's as he fastened the last strap on his Kevlar vest. "Thought I could count on you, Vin," he said, voice flat, hard. "But you can either watch my back or you can stay here. It's up to you."
And without a backward glance, Larabee walked away, barking commands into his headset.
Vin stared after him, ran a hand through his hair. Anger warred with compassion for his boss, his friend. Anger won out. "Larabee, you God-damned stupid son of a bitch," he muttered and kicked the closest thing he could find, wishing it was Larabee's ass.
The two-story duplex was cheap, old. The concrete porch steps were crumbling, the stucco plaster cracked and peeling. The gutter overflowed with moldy leaves. A rusted Chevy with three tires claimed half the gravel driveway.
A bitter November wind ruffled Chris Larabee's hair, tried to penetrate his blue ATF windbreaker. He didn't notice. He studied the house through a pair of issue binoculars, searching for movement.
The duplex was in the middle of a run-down street. The two intersections at either side were blocked by half a dozen unmarked cars. More cars and agents were stationed along the block behind the house, in case the suspect decided to flee. No lights, no sirens. No need to warn the bastard.
Around Chris, field agents performed final weapons and communication checks. In his peripheral vision, he saw the rest of his team, waiting for his order. In a nearby van, Chris knew, JD Dunne coordinated all communication among the FBI and ATF agents. He wasn't worried about communication problems; JD would take care of it.
In fact, the only thing Larabee was worried about was the possibility that the man in the house would get away. Chris had come too far, had poured what was left of his heart and soul into investigating every avenue surrounding the murder of his wife and son. And here was the culmination. The man who had been hired to kill his family, a petty arsonist and gun-for-hire named Cletus Fowler, was holed up in that shitty puke-colored house, and Chris Larabee was going to drag him out, by any means necessary, and find out who had ordered the hits.
He spoke into his headset, and various agents began to fan out. Some crept up on the house by cutting through neighboring backyards. Vin and another agent set up sniper points on nearby roofs. Josiah and Nathan closed in around the back of the house. Chris approached the front, weapon drawn, Buck and Ezra behind him.
On the small porch, Chris would've preferred to just shoot the front door off its hinges. Instead, he followed procedure. Pounding on the door, he shouted, "Federal agents! Open up!" He waited two and a half seconds, then nodded to two nearby agents wielding a heavy battering ram. They stepped up quickly and in no time the shattered door burst inward. At the rear of the house, a crash signaled the entrance of more agents.
Chris went in first, ducking low, swiveling to the right. His weapon followed his gaze as he scanned the room. Buck entered after him, crouching to the left. Weak morning light filtered through broken Venetian blinds, casting milky shadows around a surprisingly large living room.
By the time Ezra ducked inside, Chris was on the move.
By the looks of it, the separating wall had been knocked down, converting the duplex into one unit. As a result, the floor plan was symmetrical. On the two opposite ends of the living room, two swinging doors undoubtedly led into the kitchens, while two smaller doors led to either bathrooms or closets. Two straight staircases on the farthest exterior walls led upstairs.
From the outside, small half-windows peered onto the street at ground level. Judging by the noises coming from the kitchen and Josiah's quick explanation over the headset intercom, they had discovered the entrance to the basement and were investigating with caution.
Moving quickly, Chris, Buck, and Ezra checked the entire living room and the two small doors, which indeed led to tiny bathrooms.
The air smelled of dust and stale cigarettes.
Chris glanced at Buck and Ezra, at the two other agents who'd entered after them. "Upstairs," he said.
Ezra shut the door to the small bathroom after assuring himself that it was unoccupied. He shuddered. Just that quick scan had been enough to convince him that the room had not seen a sponge or mop in perhaps months.
Sharing a grim smile with Buck, who had checked the other bathroom, Ezra gripped his gun in both hands. "Clear," he said.
Chris nodded. He stood still for a second, appeared to be listening intently. Ezra listened, too. Then he heard something. A footstep.
Just as Chris said, "Upstairs," Ezra spun to the right-hand staircase, where he had just a glimpse of a man with long hair and a very big gun.
"Chris!" he shouted, only vaguely aware of the other agents jerking around at his warning. As soon as the word left his mouth, the man at the top of the stairs fired twice. Ezra fell to his knees, breath knocked from his lungs, returning the shots with two of his own. In that fleeting instant, he was immensely grateful for his bulletproof vest, and even more grateful that Fowler did not seem to possess hollow point ammunition.
And then Ezra felt a stinging in his neck, annoying, like a bee sting, but quickly getting worse. His breath hitched in his lungs, and suddenly the sting was like a thousand needles piercing him again and again. His gun slid to the ground and he clamped a shaking hand against his neck.
He watched Chris order the other two agents up the staircase to the far left, watched as he and Buck ran over, watched their lips move as they shouted questions at him, as they shouted into their headsets. But the only thing he could hear was the rushing of blood in his ears. He closed his eyes for a moment, and then Buck was there, shaking him, speaking to him.
Ezra couldn't answer. The already dim room seemed darker. The cloying scent of stale cigarettes clogged his throat. He tried to cough, couldn't, watched as bright red drops trailed down his hand to the floor. A shiver that was both cold and hot wound its way down his spine.
Then he raised his eyes and saw Chris at the base of the stairs by which Ezra knelt. His face was troubled. Ezra looked him in the eye and mouthed a soundless "Go." This was Chris Larabee's only chance for resolution, redemption, and they both knew it.
Hesitating no further, Chris nodded once and ascended the stairs, gun at the ready.
Buck looked mad, and Ezra could tell he was yelling after Larabee. He wanted to tell Buck it was okay, but it was all he could do not to vomit on his Kevlar vest.
The stairs creaked under Larabee's feet, and he wanted to curse. Didn't. He wanted to look back, make sure Ezra was okay. Didn't.
He only looked forward as, bit by bit, the upstairs landing came into view. Most likely, Fowler was there, waiting to blow off the next head that came into view.
The short hallway was empty. Doing a double take, Chris realized that while the ground-floor wall that had separated the duplex units had been removed, the upstairs one had not.
On the one hand, this meant Fowler couldn't escape down the other set of stairs. On the other hand, this meant that Jiminez and Allwine, the two field agents whom Chris had sent upstairs, could not provide him cover. They would have to go back down and up the other staircase.
He wasn't going to wait for them.
There were four doors in this hallway, two on either side. Three were closed. One was not.
The door on the right side of the hall, down near the separating wall, was ajar about six inches.
The instant Chris realized this, he threw himself to the left, grabbed the doorknob of the nearest door and ducked inside. A bullet splintered the doorjamb as Chris pushed the door mostly shut. He flicked a light switch and found himself in a windowless bathroom. He quickly flicked the light off again.
"Chris, what's happening?" Josiah asked over the headset.
Chris quietly explained the situation, finished by saying, "Do not come up the stairs, I repeat do not come up the stairs. The suspect has a clear shot of the top of the stairs."
"Understood," Josiah said.
"Vin?" Chris said into his headset. "Got a visual?"
Another shot pounded the plaster near the door to the bathroom. Chris peered down the hall, thought he saw a shadow of movement in the open door down the hall, fired off a shot of his own.
After a few seconds, Vin's voice said, "Second rear window. Curtains are open about six inches." He paused, continued. "Negative. No visual on the suspect."
Chris nodded to himself. "If you get a visual, notify me and wait for my signal."
Another pause, then, "Yes, sir," with a tone in his voice that Larabee didn't have time to decipher.
Chris didn't want Fowler dead. Yet. He wanted to arrest the bastard and find out who the hell hired him. Then he wanted the death sentence.
Chris realized he was sweating. From the adrenaline, the stuffy bathroom, the bulky riot gear. Maybe all three. He wouldn't let himself acknowledge that maybe he was nervous. Maybe he was afraid to finally have the answers he'd been looking for.
Maybe, once he knew who had killed his family, he would be forced to move on with his life.
That was a scary thought that Larabee didn't allow.
He shut down that portion of his mind. Tapped into the river of cold hatred that flooded his veins.
"Fowler!" he roared. "Do you know who I am?"
"My name is Chris Larabee."
"Three years and ten months ago, you murdered my wife and son." The word "murdered" caught in his throat, but he forced it out. "We've got you nailed. If you come out and cooperate, tell me who hired you, you might be able to make a deal." Over my dead body, you little shit, Chris added silently.
"Larabee?" the man down the hall said. He sounded surprised.
Chris peered down the hall. "That's right," he said. "Now you can come out and cooperate or I can kill you. You decide."
He saw no movement, heard nothing.
Then, Vin's voice in his ears. "Chris! He's at the window! I have a visual."
Chris cursed, jerked the door open, pounded down the ten feet to the last door on the right, shouting into his mic, "Hold your shot, damnit, hold your shot!"
He burst through the door, found himself in a small beige bedroom. Fowler was at the window, struggling to raise the sash. Briefly thanking God for crappy construction, Larabee charged.
Fowler started to turn when the door burst open, and he fired a shot. It soared harmlessly over Larabee's head as he ran forward in a crouch.
Ducking under the reach of Fowler's gun, Larabee crashed into him, grappling for the weapon. The gun went off, discharged a round into the cracked, water-stained ceiling. White dust rained down on them, and Chris hoped it was plaster, not asbestos.
Blocking the trigger guard of Fowler's weapon, Chris grabbed the other man's wrist, swiveled, brought Fowler's elbow down hard over his shoulder. He heard bones snap. Fowler cried out, kicked him in the back of the knee. Larabee went down. Fowler went to the window. With one good shove, the sash opened the rest of the way. Fowler was half over the sill by the time Chris surged to his feet and tackled him.
There was no balcony or fire escape. Just a pipe that traveled up the side of the building. Theoretically, someone could safely shimmy down the pipe to the ground. But the area was surrounded by federal agents. There was nowhere for Fowler to go.
As he crashed into him, Chris didn't waste time pondering Fowler's motives. He grabbed a leg with one hand, but the momentum of the collision carried Fowler all the way over the sill, dangling head first. Only Larabee's grip on his leg kept Fowler from falling, but Larabee himself was halfway out the window, balanced precariously on the sill.
Fowler's gun had dropped to the ground. Now, Chris dropped his as well and tried to grab onto Fowler's other leg with his free hand. But the criminal was heavy, maybe twenty pounds heavier than Chris, and he was flailing his arms and legs.
"Don't drop me," Fowler screamed. "Don't drop me!"
"Stop moving!" Chris yelled back. He felt his weight shift as Fowler dragged him another few inches out the window. He tried to brace his legs against the wall, tried again to grab onto Fowler, got a kick in the face for his efforts.
Below, agents swarmed.
"Hold on, Chris, we're coming!" Buck. In his earpiece.
Grimacing against the pain in his broken nose, the metal edge of the window frame digging into his pelvis, Chris ground his teeth. "Hurry," he muttered. He shook his head to clear the black spots dancing before his eyes and his grip slipped a little. "Shit! Hurry!" Now he had Fowler by the left ankle.
Fowler continued to scream. "Don't drop me! Don't drop me!"
Seizing the opportunity, legs trembling from the strain of holding his and Fowler's weight, Chris shouted down, "Who hired you to kill my family?"
"What?!" Fowler shrieked.
Chris deliberately let his grip slide half an inch. Fowler screamed in panic. "Who. Hired. You," Chris repeated.
"I don't know. I don't know. Some broad. She - "
This time Chris's grip slipped unintentionally, and both hands scrabbled to get a hold of Fowler's ankle, but now the man was really panicking and moving too much and - Damnit! Why didn't he just stay still! - and Chris couldn't get a hold of skin, just Fowler's loafer, and now the loafer was slipping -
And suddenly Chris held nothing but an empty shoe. "No!" he yelled as he watched Fowler hit the ground. Then, quieter, a whisper of denial at the opportunity lost, "No."
"Chris!" Buck skidded into the room, another agent behind him.
Chris sagged by the window, watched as several agents, one of them Josiah, approached Fowler. After a moment, Josiah straightened, looked at Chris and shook his head.
"Shit, Chris," Buck said softly. "Did he... did he say anything?"
Chris shook his throbbing head and shut his eyes. A siren drew closer. Fowler didn't need an ambulance. Chris' eyes shot open, and he looked up at Buck. "How's Ezra?"
Buck pursed his lips, and anger flashed in his normally kind eyes. "Took one in the vest, another in the neck. Nathan's been with him. Thinks the bullet nicked an artery. Been bleeding a lot, but it's slowed some."
"But he'll be all right?" Chris asked.
"Probably," Buck said. He didn't look at Chris. Stared out the window.
No thanks to you.
The words remained unspoken, but they were there.
At 6:30 that evening, Chris was still in his office. The door was closed. On his desk was Cletus Fowler's file. Chris stared at it blankly, having long ago memorized its contents.
On the floor by his chair was a small cardboard box. It contained the fern JD had given him last year, his favorite coffee cup, various papers and things. He'd spent all day in meetings and debriefings. And now he'd spend next week at home while his involvement in Fowler's death was investigated.
Chris sighed. His nose throbbed in response, and he sighed again. He searched his desk drawer for the bottle of aspirin he usually kept, shook two into his hand. Opened the bottom file drawer. There, in the back, behind a number of green hanging file folders, was a pint of Jack Daniels. The bottle was almost full. He held it in his hand for a moment, then put it back. Instead, he downed his aspirin with a mouthful of bitter coffee.
Outside his office, all was quiet. He didn't know who was still working. The blinds on his office windows were closed. The rest of his team, besides Ezra, had taken turns drifting in, meeting with the brass, and writing reports.
He knew that they'd taken turns visiting Ezra. He knew that Ezra was going to be okay. But he hadn't yet visited his undercover agent. He'd been up to his eyeballs in shit all day, and had in fact had his ass chewed by Travis, the Director, and by Internal Affairs.
He felt like he'd been drifting, treading water for the last four years. And now, the rope that he'd been struggling to reach, that would lead him to the answers he sought, had disappeared. Any minute now, his head would go under.
A knock on the door. Vin walked in without waiting for an answer and tossed a manila folder on Larabee's desk. "My report," he said without emotion.
Chris stared at it for a moment, then looked at Vin. "Thanks." He glanced out the open door. "Everybody gone?"
Chris leaned back, scrubbed his hands over his face, avoiding his nose. Sighed again. "Vin," he began, then hesitated. He didn't know what to say. "Can I buy you a drink?" It was lame as far as apologies went.
Vin looked at him for a moment, his gaze indeterminate. Then he turned away. "Don't think so, Chris." At the door, he turned back, and his stance softened. Just a little. "Go home, Chris. Get some sleep. And go see Ezra tomorrow." He left, and Chris heard him gathering his coat and turning off lights. Then all was quiet.
Chris sat there for a while longer, listening to the silence. He didn't want to go home. Didn't want to sleep. Didn't want to wake up tomorrow and decide what the hell he was going to do with his life.
He had no other leads. No other information. Fowler had killed his family, Chris was sure. But he felt no satisfaction in the man's death, because with him had died the one chance for peace: the chance to find out who was behind it all.
He got up, grabbed his coat from the hook by the door, slipped it on. He picked up the box, turned off the desk lamp, and closed the door behind him as he left.
The floor was dim, only a few fluorescent lights lit the way to the elevator. Halfway there, Chris suddenly turned around, walked back into his office, reached into the bottom file drawer and pulled out the bottle of whiskey. He set it in the box next to the fern, retraced his steps to the elevator and turned up the collar of his overcoat.
It was supposed to snow tonight.
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