ALMOST DOESN'T COUNT

By Sarah (winks7985)

 

Word Count 6581

Rated R for Language and Violence.

2009 Ezzie Nominee for Best ATF Gen Short Story
Nomination Category: Best ATF Gen Short Story

 

 

 

 

Vin rested his elbow against the door of the car, his forehead against his palm.  God, he was tired.  The gentle movement of the car as it traveled the dark streets almost lulled him to sleep.  A steady rain hailed from the sky, and the windshield wipers beat a soothing rhythm while accomplishing their task.

 

Ezra glanced over at his passenger, beating back his own exhaustion.  Two nights in a row he and Vin had pulled stakeout duty together, and both nights were unbearably long.  This wasn’t even their case.  Team 3 had requested help with surveillance after two of their number had been pulled away to review their big case going to trial involving a local arms dealer , and the prosecutor was ripping his hair out with the last minute details.  It had been a big bust for Team 3, retrieving nearly 200 assorted weapons and preventing them from hitting the streets.  No one wanted anything to slip through the cracks and be thrown out on a technicality.   

 

The prosecutor was new to the Denver office, and even though the review was probably excessive, all the Denver ATF teams wanted to have a good working relationship with the prosecutor.  After all, they would all be working closely together in the future, hopefully for a long while.

 

Team 7, only slightly less busy than Team 3, was volunteered to help out any way they could.  Chris didn’t know that that would entail a long-ass stakeout for all members of his team.

 

Nathan and Josiah had been on duty that day for 8 hours prior to Vin and Ezra, and Buck and JD had taken over, pulling the graveyard shift.  The assignment was to watch an apartment building suspected of housing a local all-around thug, Patrick O’Leary, who had ties to bigger and better players in a Denver based gun trafficking ring.  However, Pat was a slippery son of a bitch, and had only been seen twice since the stakeouts had begun a week ago by Team 3. 

 

Team 3 had been keeping tabs on O’Leary since the man had recently made bail.  O’Leary had been picked up for possession of a controlled substance, but had been granted bail.  Team 3 was hoping to find something damning that they could use against the man in order to get him to roll on the bigger players. 

 

It was a slow, painful process.  For everyone.  But at least after Buck and JD completed their current shift, Team 3 could take back the tedious chore, and Team 7 could go on with life.  For Ezra and Vin, who were now released from their obligation to Team 3, the end hadn’t come nearly quick enough.

 

Ezra stifled a yawn.  It was just past midnight, and he was driving Vin back to his home in Purgatorio.  Ezra decided that after that was done, he would just drive the bureau car to his home for the evening and return it in the morning, trading back for his Jag.  Right now, he was too tired to drive back to the Federal Building just to swap the cars back.  The thought of hitting his bed for a full night’s sleep was just too good to put off any longer.

 

The bureau cars had been chosen because they were just ordinary enough that they would blend into the residential neighborhood where Pat O’Leary lived.  Or was rumored to live; Ezra and Vin had had no sightings of him during their two shifts watching his apartment building. 

 

Ezra let out a long breath and rolled his neck from side to side, trying to relieve the tension in his body.  This car, while functional and practical for their needs, was in no way near as comfortable as the Jag.  They drove in silence, not bothering with the radio, and enjoyed the quiet between them.  They had found out earlier that day that this particular car only received the AM frequency, and with the weather as it was nothing came through except static anyway.

 

“Are we there yet?” Vin asked, his tone laced with humor.  He hadn’t moved from his position when he spoke.

 

“As insufferable as this day has been, it will end shortly I assure you.”

 

Vin continued to rest his head on his hand, eyes closed, but he knew exactly where they were.  They would pull up to his apartment building in the next couple of minutes. 

 

He sat upright, remembering something.  “Hey Ez, watch out up here there’s a big ol’ pot ho-”

 

BAM!

 

Both men cringed as the car slammed through the pot hole.  It was bone-jarring.

 

“Ouch.”  He turned to the Southerner.  “I hate that thing. ” .

 

“ Yep.”  Ezra had to make an effort to unclench his teeth after the impact.  The hole had been flooded with this evening’s rain, so he hadn’t had a chance to avoid the obstacle.  He never even saw it.  But he thanked god they weren’t in his car.

 

Ezra’s thoughts focused on the run down section of town that Vin lived in, and if he hadn’t been so tired he would have laid into the Texan for the quality of the streets in his ramshackle neighborhood.  And Vin’s choice for living in such squalor.  As it was, Ezra just breathed and reminded himself that it wasn’t Vin’s fault.

 

Vin noticed the clipped tone of the Southerner.  “I’m sorry Ezra, I forgot about it until we were…”

 

“It’s fine Vin, ” Ezra replied.  “It’s just been a long couple of days and I, for one, cannot wait to be back to our own mundane cases.”

 

Vin snorted.  “You can say that again.  At least when we’re doing our own shit, it ain’t so bad.  We’re helping ourselves.  This just sucks.”

 

“Well, I don’t think Chris knew what he was offering when he agreed to help.”

 

Vin half smiled.  “Aww, that’s right sweet of ya Ez.  You never give him the benefit of the doubt,” Vin teased.

 

“Well … I’m tired.”

 

Vin held his smile and looked back out the windshield.    His building came into view when they took the next corner.

 

The car had no sooner straightened out when a large obstacle slammed into the windshield and rolled off to the passenger side.  Ezra immediately hit the brakes and the tires squealed as they suddenly stopped moving.  The windshield was spiderwebbed and dented inwards just to the driver’s side of center.  The shattered safety glass held together in a web of light cast from the nearby street light.

 

“Fuck!” Vin yelled when the obstacle hit.  His hands instinctively went to the dashboard to brace himself against the onslaught.

 

“Jesus Christ!” Ezra shouted at the same time.  He jammed his wrist against the steering wheel when he tensed at the impact.

 

“Vin, you okay?” the Southerner nearly shouted as he undid his seatbelt and reached for the door.

 

Vin was already a step ahead of him and had his door open and was getting out into the rain. 

 

“Jesus Ezra, you hit him!”  Vin knelt down beside the crumpled form in the street, heedless of the rain. His jeans were instantly soaked from mid thigh all the way down to his feet. Vin looked around.  There were no other cars around at this time of night, and there was no indication of where this kid had come from in such a rush.

 

“God is he alive ?”  The Southerner joined the Texan on the passenger side of the car, crouching down next to the unmoving form.

 

Vin reached out to the young man’s neck.  As soon as his fingers touched the young man’s skin, the kid jerked and yelped.  Both Vin and Ezra jumped in surprise.


“Help me please,” the kid looked up with wild, pleading eyes.

 

“Hold still, we’ll get help.” Vin had already pulled out his phone and had started to dial.

 

“No, Jesus get me the fuck out of here!!”  The kid tried to stand, yelping in pain as he did so.  Ezra and Vin both reached out to hold him and prevent him from doing any further damage to himself.

 

Ezra took his hands away from the man’s chest after he quit attempting to gain his feet , and stood up, putting his hand on the hood of the car to steady himself.  He looked around, just as Vin had done, searching for what frightened this kid enough for him to risk further harm to get to his feet.  Something scared him enough to attempt to continue his escape.

 

“Ezra!” Vin spoke harshly at his friend.

 

Ezra returned his attention to Vin, with a questioning look on his face.

 

“Are you hurt?”

 

Ezra followed Vin’s gaze to the fender of the car and saw where the rain was washing the bloody handprint away.  Then it clicked.

 

Ezra quickly stooped back down and rolled the kid enough to let the meager street light illuminate his unmoving form .  “Jesus Vin, he’s been shot in the chest.”  Ezra stood back up again, his body and senses on full alert.  He drew his gun.

 

Vin looked at the man’s chest.  “God, more than once…”  Vin’s hand also went to his gun.

 

As Ezra scanned the immediate area, gunshots rang out.  Ezra and Vin both took defensive positions behind the fender of the car, aiming over the hood towards the area that the gunfire originated.  Another burst of gunfire exploded in the night.

 

“Fuck that’s an automatic,” Vin said as he fired several shots towards the origin of the gunfire.  The shooter still had not shown himself .  “Short bursts.  Whoever is usin it is wingin it.  I don’t think they know how to use it right.  Sounds like it could be an uzi.”  Gangs ran rampant in this section of Purgatorio, but there had never been gunplay with such a powerful weapon.

 

“Well, he’s doing a damn good job for not knowing how to use the damn thing!” Ezra yelled at Vin.  “We gotta get out of here! ”  Ezra chanced a glance at the kid laying unconscious next to the car in the poor light.  “He won’t last long like this.”

 

Vin nodded his head in agreement just as more bullets sprayed through the night, hitting the car on the driver’s side front panel.  Ezra and Vin both took cover and reached for the kid.  “Get him in the car Vin!!” Ezra yelled at the Texan, shoving the unconscious form towards Vin, while popping back up to return fire at their unseen enemy.  Without a presentable target, Ezra was only hoping to keep their attacker from advancing . 

 

Vin grabbed the limp body and half dragged, half carried him to the rear door of the car, opening it, and shoving him inside.  Ezra continued to fire over the shattered windshield, and opened the passenger front door.  Vin stood, the back door still open, and fired over the roof of the car.  Ezra used Vin’s covering fire to get in and crawl over the seat to the driver’s side.  He started the car and turned over to where Vin was standing and shouted amidst the gunfire “Vin get in the car!”

 

A pulse of gunfire hailed towards the car, spraying from the nose down the entire driver’s side to the rear bumper.  Bullets peppered the vehicle; metal screeched and pinged as it was pierced.

 

Vin caught a glance of the assailant at the end of the alleyway opposite them when he had opened fire.  The muzzle flare gave away his darkened position.  Vin fell back towards the ground taking cover behind the car’s mass.

 

Ezra had ducked down when the hail of bullets came, the glass from the door windows shattering and raining down on him as he lay across the front seat, face down, head toward the passenger side, arms instinctively wrapped around his head.  When the burst stopped, he looked anxiously in between the seats towards where Vin had stood a second before, seeing only an empty doorway, and panicked.  

 

“VIN!” he yelled.

 

Vin poked his head up from where he had fallen and looked at Ezra through the open rear door.  Ezra inwardly sighed in relief that his friend alive, and at least looked ok, then sat up and looked across the street.  The kid had just changed out the magazine for a full one.  He was staying in the shadows of the building next to him.

 

“Vin, get in the fucking car!”

 

Vin rolled to his side and dropped to his belly, looking under the car at the assailant who had just slammed the new magazine home.  The sharpshooter took aim and fired three times, hitting the man in the lower leg from his position on the ground.

 

Ezra reached for the gear shift and had his hand on it as Vin fired from under the car.  The assailant shouted in pain, then made to release another burst of bullets. 


“For Fuck’s sake Vin, NOW!” As Ezra was yelling, Vin flung himself into the back seat on top of the wounded, motionless kid, taking aim through the now broken backdoor window, firing as Ezra slammed on the gas pedal. 

 

The car tore out of the area as the retaliatory burst of gunfire slammed into the metal of the car.  Ezra bounced the car off of two parked cars while making good their escape.  Both passenger side doors slammed shut when they impacted the first car, and thankfully Vin was clear of them.  They had slammed so hard that they would probably never be opened again.

 

The whole scene took less than two minutes.

 

Vin had his phone out, relaying the scene to the police on the other end, less than a minute after they lit out of the area.  He reached over and felt for a pulse in the wounded kid’s throat, and found a faint thready one, already weakening.

 

“Hurry Ezra, we’re gonna lose him!”  Damn, the kid looked so young.

 

Ezra said nothing, but nodded once.  Vin held his hand on the wounded kid’s chest, trying to stem the flow of blood.

 

Ezra drove as fast as he could, trying to get to Mercy General faster than anyone had a right to.  Adrenaline flowing through his veins, nerves on edge, he took corners on two wheels.  He laid on his horn when he came across the scant few cars on the road, crossing the yellow lines to get around them.

 

“Fuck! Ezra, I lost him!” Vin straddled the man and began chest compressions. 

 

Ezra looked in the rear view mirror at Vin trying valiantly to save the life of a kid neither of them knew.  “What happened?” he yelled, and started to cough.

 

“That son of a bitch shot him through the car door! He took one in the head!”  Vin looked up at Ezra driving like a mad man.  And coughing.  Then it hit him.


“Shit! Ezra you hit?!”  Vin slowed compressions on the mortally wounded kid who lay on the back seat beneath him.  “Ezra!”

 

They were a block from Mercy.  Another thirty seconds and they would be there.  Ezra couldn’t speak.  He could barely breathe.  He locked eyes with Vin in the rearview mirror. 

 

Vin saw the Southerner fading.  “Dammit!” he yelled, abandoning the kid in the back seat as he grabbed the steering wheel, cutting it harshly to the left as they flew through Mercy’s parking lot, narrowly missing a parked car.  “Brake Ezra!  Brake!”

 

The car slid to a stop ten feet from the doors at the ambulance bay.  It slid on the rain-slick surface and both the passenger side tires hit the curb hard enough to break the rims.  The car rocked up off its driver’s tires a good six inches before slamming back down onto terra firma.

 

The commotion caused several people to come running out of the emergency room.  People were calling for help even before the car came to a rest on all fours.


Vin lay on the arm rest between the two front seats, hands still clutching the wheel.  He look up at Ezra, who was painstakingly trying to draw enough breath.  Vin reached up and put his hands on the Southerner’s ribs, feeling for something, but hoping there wouldn’t be anything.  Then he felt it.  A hole in his ribcage on the left side where a bullet had either entered or exited.

 

“Ezra?  Oh God, Ezra?”

 

“Vin…” he rasped out, then started to cough again.  Vin pushed harder on the bullet hole. 

 

Ezra coughed so hard that he spewed blood at the windshield, the tiny droplets hitting the shattered glass in a macabre Jackson Pollock rendition. 

 

“I… ca… breathe…” he rasped out.  “Drownin…” he said as a question.  Small rivulets of blood ran down his chin from the corner of his mouth and where the spewed droplets ran together.

 

The door to the car opened and hands removed the Southerner from Vin’s grasp.  Vin was still between the two seats on the armrest, and struggled to right himself.  Hands pulled him into the backseat and many voices fired at him at once.

 

“Are you hurt?”

 

“Don’t move.”

 

“Wait, sir, let us help.”

 

Vin ignored them all and worked his way over the now dead kid in the back seat of the car.  He staggered into the Emergency Room, trying to follow Ezra, all the while insisting he was fine.  And he was.  He was a little roughed up, but he was whole, and had no holes in him that he wasn’t born with.  The blood that covered him wasn’t his.  It was that kid’s.  And Ezra’s.

 

Fuck.

 

***

 

Chris rolled over and groped about in the dark for the cell phone.  Fuckin thing was always just out of reach.  When he did finally grab it, which was only on the third or fourth ring, he stared at the caller ID.  Tanner.  Or it could have said “Famen”.  His eyes were blurry.  Glancing quickly at the clock, he read the time.  1:47 AM.


Instantly awake, he snapped open the phone.  “What’s wrong?”  Concern laced his normally hard voice.

 

“Chris…”  Vin’s voice was almost a whisper.  He couldn’t get the vision of Ezra coughing blood onto the windshield of the mangled car out of his mind.  He had been thinking about it so long that his remembrance was actually much more gruesome than the actual event was.  And the more he thought about it, the more gruesome it became, the more blood he saw hitting the windshield in his mind’s eye.  The more blood he saw coming from Ezra’s mouth.  The more blood he saw coming from the bullet wound.

 

“Vin, what’s wrong?”  Larabee flung the covers back off of his pajama-clad legs, heading for the house phone to call Buck. 

 

“You need to come to Mercy…”

 

Buck’s cell was ringing. 

 

“Vin, what happened?”

 

“Ezra…”  He broke off. 

 

“Stud Muffin Dating Service,” Buck’s jovial voice answered on the land line. 

 

Chris swung the mouthpiece of the house phone’s receiver towards his mouth to address Buck, but never took the cell away from his other ear.  “Buck, get to Mercy.  Vin and Ezra are there.  I’ll meet you there.  Call Nate and Josiah.”  Larabee’s words were rushed and ran together.

 

“Shit,” Buck replied.  “I’m on it.”  With that, Buck hung up.

 

“Vin, Vin listen to me.  I’m on my way.  Buck and JD will be there soon.”  Chris was pulling on jeans as he spoke.

 

“Shit Chris… He was drowning in his own blood.”

 

***

 

“Jesus Buck, slow down!” JD yelled as they took a corner on what seemed like two wheels.

 

“Not now JD.”  Buck had one thing on his mind… Hospital, NOW.

 

“You don’t wanna show up dead do you?”

 

Buck glared at JD.  Kid had a point, but right now, that didn’t matter.  As soon as the phone call with Chris had ended, Buck peeled out of the parking space he was in while watching Pat O’Leary’s place.  The hell with the surveillance.  In the middle of an impressive u-turn, he ordered JD to call Josiah and Nathan and tell them to get to Mercy NOW.  JD did so without question.  When JD had called Josiah, he said he would get Nathan, and for Buck and JD to just get to the hospital.

 

Ten minutes passed since Chris’s phone call, and Buck and JD screeched into the hospital parking lot.  Buck slammed the car into park before it stopped moving, coming to rest in a fire lane.  He and JD were out and heading for the Emergency entrance. 

 

A security guard started to follow the two, shouting after them “You can’t park there.”

 

JD turned around, never breaking stride, and continued backwards, yelling at the rent a cop “Then fucking tow it!”  With that, he spun back around and kept pace with Buck.  Buck never strayed from his course.

 

As JD and Buck got closer to the entrance, the two of them faltered in their step as they saw the destroyed Bureau Car.  The windshield was smashed inward, and the driver’s side was peppered with bullet holes from bumper to bumper.  Both door windows were shattered, and both driver’s side doors were open, revealing a limp, unmoving figure in the back seat, face up but obscured by a sheet.  The sheet was soaked through with blood in several places.

 

Denver PD was on scene and taking pictures of the crime scene and of the body in the back seat.

 

“Jesus… That’s not…?” JD let the question hang.

 

“It’s their car JD.”  They walked up to the detective on scene.  “What happened?” Buck asked him before reaching where the man stood.

 

“It’s not them,” Detective Paul Murphy answered Buck, holding his hands out in a placating gesture of surrender.  He knew that was what Buck wanted to know, first and foremost.  He had worked with these men enough to know how close they were.  He could see the relief on Buck’s face, and answered the next question before it was asked.  “Vin’s in the waiting room Buck.”

 

“Thanks Murph.”  Buck turned and headed into the ER. 

 

JD turned to the detective as Buck jogged off.  “Murph, what do you know?”  JD came close to Murphy so that the detective wouldn’t have to yell and so that no one would overhear anything they weren’t supposed to.  This was, after all, a police investigation.

 

“Kid in the back is a banger, we think he’s a Diablo, but we’re not sure.  There’s no ID on him.  He’s young, maybe sixteen.  Three to the chest, one to the head.  Headshot was through the car door.” 

 

“How do you know he’s a banger?” JD asked.

 

“We’ve seen him before.  He’s been down the station a few times for small stuff.  We found this,” he held out a plastic bag with a bloody bandana in it, “in his jacket pocket.  It’s Diablo colors.  Course, he could just be some punk who was in the wrong place at the wrong time who liked this color.”  He held up the bag for emphasis.

 

JD nodded as the information was relayed.  He snorted as Murphy stated the last bit.  “Doubt it.”  He turned and looked towards the hospital.  “What about Vin and Ezra?” 

 

“Standish was shot through the door as well.  Tanner wasn’t hit.”  Murphy paused.  “Tanner called it in as they left the scene.  This happened in Purgatorio, near Tanner’s apartment.  I don’t think he knew Standish was hit while he was relaying the information.”

 

JD nodded once.  He stuck his hand out and shook Murphy’s.  “Thanks Murph.  Keep us posted .”

 

“No problem kid.”

 

JD turned and went to find Buck and Vin.  He knew where they would be.  But he also wanted to understand the situation and be able to tell the rest of the guys when they got here.  He knew Ezra wouldn’t be able to tell them anything right now.


And he wasn’t sure what Vin would be up to discussing or relaying right now, no doubt shook up.

 

 

PART 2

 

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