NOT A GAMEWinner of GAMBLERS AND GUNFIGHTER'S 2011 Susan Fulton Award

by Kathy M

 

Winner of GAMBLERS & GUNFIGHTERS' 2011 Susan Fulton Award

 

 

 

A/N: ATF AU. Featuring all 7. Not Beta'd.

 

 

“What a huge colossal waste of time,” ranted Chris Larabee, SAC of the Denver ATF team known as The Magnificent 7, as he walked out of the Justice building with Josiah Sanchez, one of the members of his team. “I told you that new assistant district attorney didn’t know what he was doing.”

 

“Now Christopher, he’s new and just trying to be thorough. Can’t really fault him for that,” said Josiah in his deep rumbling and calming voice.

 

“I heard that he’s been out with Mary a couple of times and I bet someone told him I used to date her. He’s probably trying to put me in my place or intimidate me, like that’s ever going to happen. Besides they weren’t really dates, mostly just events she talked me into accompanying her to.”

 

Josiah usually insisted they walk to these meetings if the weather wasn’t too bad. He’d go on about fresh air and exercise but Chris knew Josiah hoped the walks would help calm him both before and after these types of encounters. Mostly it just gave him the time get the ranting out of his system, something the rest of team seven was very thankful for. Nearing the corner slightly ahead of Josiah and still in mid-rant Larabee was unprepared for an oncoming bike courier taking the corner sharp and fast and it careened right into him, knocking him sideways into the brick building. His shoulder hit hard and he fell forward landing solidly on his bad knee with his hands taking the brunt of the rest of his forward motion. The courier had managed to put his feet down to break his fall and hadn’t even dropped his bike.

 

“Really sorry Man, didn’t even see you. You should be more careful,” was all he said as he pushed off and sped away down the street.

 

Josiah dropped down onto his knees next to Chris who had pushed himself up into a kneeling position. “You ok? Maybe you should sit for a minute.”

 

“I’m fine,” he growled, wincing as he stood up using one hand to brace himself on the wall as Sanchez helped him. “Although I probably should phone and give that courier company shit, wonder if I should sue? Did you even notice which company it was?”

 

“No, I was too focused on you bouncing off the wall. Wait here and I’ll get my car.”

 

After Chris insisted strongly that he could walk they continued their way back to the Federal building. Walking a lot slower than usual and with an increasing limp Chris looked up at his largest teammate. “I’m fine, really Josiah, no need to even mention this minor incident to Nathan or any of the others.”

 

“As if they won’t notice your torn trousers and bloody knee. Are your palms still bleeding?”

 

“They’re just scrapes, no need to make a big deal about it. I’ve got spare clothes in my locker in the gym; I’ll just take a quick shower and get changed.”

 

“I bet your shoulder’s going to be bruised and stiff in the morning too. Did you really think I wouldn’t tell Nathan?

                                                                                                                  

“Honestly, no I didn’t think so, but it was worth asking.”

 

“What the hell happened to you?” asked Buck as Chris limped into the office followed by Josiah.

 

“Told you they would notice even though you cleaned up and got changed,” smirked Josiah, then he told the others what happened since Larabee’s only response had been a level eight glare.

 

“Let me see your knee,” advised Nathan. “You know what they said last time, that you could need surgery if it got damaged again, or even worse it could get bad enough to keep you out of the field. I know you don’t want that. Now you either let me look at it or we’ll take you to a clinic, and don’t think that we can’t. What with Josiah, Buck and me we can pick you up and get you there.”

 

“Fine, take a look, maybe I should ice it.”

 

“Chris,” said Nathan after much painful poking and prodding, “this is bad, probably torn tendons or worse. I’ll drive you there myself, and you may as well give someone else your truck keys, you won’t be driving yourself for awhile.”

 

“Buck,” started Chris only to be interrupted by the smiling lothario who knew his boss wouldn’t leave until he was updated on what was going on with their newest case, they were all hoping to get some leads soon on a suspected arms dealer that was selling armor piecing weapons.

 

“Yes, I’ll let the other guys know the briefing on the Jamison case is delayed. Vin and Ezra are out talking with some of their contacts right now trying to dig up some more info and JD’s over talking to somebody in the property registration office, something about searching records on their intranet that are not available through the public records on the internet.” At the frown on Larabee’s face he quickly added, “I know, you probably didn’t want to know that last part, so just go already, get checked out, we’ve got things covered here.”

 

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ATF team seven hoped this would be a straight forward bust but so far hadn’t been able to get any proof to link the suspected top man to the guns on the street. Even though Ezra had successfully managed to be accepted as a broker ready to buy weapons for an unknown buyer there was nothing to connect Jamison to the people Standish was dealing with. Coming home quite late from a date a few nights later Buck was surprised to find JD still up and on his computer on a work night.

 

“Jeez kid, you caught up in a new computer game again? You’re going to feel like a bag of shit in the morning, now shut that down and get to bed. At least I got me a good excuse for being up late,” he winked, bobbing his eyebrows as JD looked up.

 

“Hey, I didn’t even hear you come in. No, it’s not a game; I’m still trying to find some connection between Jamison and that new Madison Club. Ez’s snitch is usually reliable so there’s got to be some reason that Jamison spends a lot of time there. Maybe that’s where he meets with buyers or where he keeps the weapons.” At this stage in the case it was too risky to actually tail Jamison.

 

“You’ve got to stop obsessing on that. Chris said to try another avenue; that was an exercise in futility; if there’s anything it’s buried too deep.”

 

“I know there’s something and don’t worry, it’s all untraceable, I’ve just got to find it. It could make the difference between life and death for Ez now that he’s been able to get in with them!"

 

“Alright, if there’s anything you’ll find it, but your brain needs sleep to function. Why don’t you program it to run some searches while you sleep?”

 

With a heavy sigh JD nodded. Within minutes he had set up a new search on the public internet looking for a connection between Jamison and real estate in the surrounding area and was asleep as soon as his head hit his pillow.

 

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“Quitting time,” stated Vin, leaning on JD’s desk the next afternoon. “You still trying to dig up more dirt on Jamison?”

 

“Yeah, I just know he’s got more property holdings here than we know about. Companies inside corporations but I know I’m getting close. Got one more search finishing now.”

 

JD peered at his screen then jumped up and did his happy dance. “Guys, I found it! He owns that gas station with the large automotive repair shop down the block from the Madison Club! That would explain why he’s always seen around there.”


“Great work finding that JD,” praised Chris. “Definitely worth watching, maybe this is the break we need if he meets with some of the other dealers there.”

 

 “So how did you finally find it?” asked Buck.

“It wasn’t really that hard, well it would have been for some people, not saying that I’m the greatest hacker or anything, but it just takes time, lots of it, and knowing everywhere to look, and how to look deeper. So I checked Jamison’s flag corporations and found out all of the companies they owned and finally found this Stars and Stripes Company that owns that gas station.”

 

“OK, Buck, go check it out with JD and Nathan.” decided Larabee. “I want a surveillance schedule set up to watch for any unusual activity and check out everyone that goes in and out of there.”

 

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“There’s no good spot for the surveillance van,” stated Buck the next day. “The best locations to see the gas station are either no parking or customer parking only with a time limit. With a bunch of warehouses at the other end of the street there’s mainly just truck traffic.”

 

“Yeah,” agreed JD, slumping into his chair. “We’d be too obvious.”

 

“It’s not the type of neighborhood where you see a lot of people walking around either, or even homeless people hanging around so those options are out too,” explained Nathan.

 

The Madison Club was only a block away from a newly renovated area close enough to downtown to be popular for young working people to live, eat out and socialize at places like the trendy Madison Club, but the other end of the block where Jamison’s gas station was situated was still mainly a warehouse and light industrial area that had yet to be revitalized.

 

“Rent a room maybe?” suggested Vin, remembering previous operations that had the team occupying an apartment close enough to the target to still be within the visual and listening ranges of their surveillance equipment.

 

“I got it!” declared Nathan. “I saw a small office with a large front window for rent almost right across from it. We need to figure out a business that would have a few people coming in and out, but not a store or something that would attract drop in customers.” 

 

“An accountant,” suggested Josiah. “You don’t usually get people just walking in, and they get the same clients over and over.”

 

“Great idea!” agreed Chris. “JD, you’d be the receptionist or intern assistant or whatever. We’ll get you and your computers set up at a desk facing the window with the surveillance gear hidden.  Now, who to be the accountant?”

 

“Chris, I think you should be the accountant,” recommended Nathan. “Your knee’s still swollen; you’re still limping so you’ll be on desk duty awhile yet. You are still wearing the brace aren’t you?”

 

“That won’t work; I can’t be away from this office all day everyday, too many meetings and coordinating to be done here. Of course Ezra can’t do another undercover role; Buck and Josiah need to be kept available as bodyguards. Vin, I want you to try and get a job in the gas station.” The sharpshooter nodded and Chris continued.

 

“Actually Nathan, you would be the best choice. How’s this scenario? Your accounting business has grown enough that you’re finally moving it out of your house and into an office and taking on JD, a co-op student from the college. Nathan, contact the rental agency and set up a meeting for the two of you to view the place and rent it.”

 

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“Will the office do? Did you get it?” asked Chris when Nathan and JD returned.

 

“It’s kind of small, the reception waiting area where JD will be, one office, a bathroom and a small back room for storage,” reported Nathan. “But it’ll do so we rented it and can move in Monday. We can put my desk facing the office door and when it’s open it has a clear view through the front window to the gas station, just like JD’s desk will.”

 

“Vin, any luck on getting a job at the gas station?” Chris asked later when their sniper walked in wearing greasy old jeans, black motorcycle boots, a faded tight black Harley Davidson t-shirt with a worn leather jacket and a bandanna tied around his head.

 

“Nope, pushed my bike the last block there, bought just a bit of gas with change, hung around asking for a job, letting them know how experienced I was at pumping gas and basic mechanics, how desperate I was for any work and that I would do anything, but they had no openings.”

 

“Buck and JD get photos of all their employees,” ordered Larabee. “Run them through the database, one of them must have a warrant or hang around known felons. We’ll get DPD to pick somebody up, hold them long enough that they’ll be a no show for work and they’ll lose their job. We’ll create a job vacancy for you Vin, and you’ll conveniently be hanging around when they need someone.”

 

“Good plan, Bossman,” smirked Vin immune to the glare Larabee tossed his way.

 

“I love it when a plan comes together,” said Buck in his best, but still not very good, imitation of the A team catchphrase.

 

Within two days Vin had a part-time position as a mechanic’s helper and was able to report that Jamison had an office upstairs.

 

“JD,” suggested Chris at their next team briefing. “There’s a snack bar in the gas station. As a student you’d probably take the bus to work every morning, when you get off you can go there to pick up that supersize cola you always drink and start getting to know the staff as a regular customer. Nathan, maybe you’ll get to the office earlier than JD and pick up a newspaper there every morning.”

 

After some coaching from Ezra on his role and how to act natural along with repeated reminders from Buck on how serious being undercover is and that ‘it’s not a game’ JD started his first day as Nathan’s accounting assistant by stopping at the food bar in the gas station that they would be keeping under surveillance.

 

"This is so convenient, my new job starts today. The accountant I’m working for is moving into that office right across the street. I'm doing that accounting program at the college and they got me this work experience job,” JD told the cashier as he paid for his purchase. “I can get my favorite slushy and drinks here and you've got so many pastries and donuts, even sandwiches. I’ll probably get breakfast here every day. My name's JD by the way, guess you’re Tom,” he said reading the young man’s name tag.

 

“Uh, yeah, nice to meet you,” he replied handing JD his change.

 

“I gotta go, don’t want to be late on my first day, and some guys are scheduled to install the phone and internet today, yeah right, as if they’re ever on time, but I better go, see you later.”

 

“Uh, sure, bye, see you later,” mumbled Tom with that deer-in-the-headlights look that was known to appear on many faces after one of JD’s rapid fire conversations.

 

The office came with two parking spots, one for Nathan and one for a client. Nathan brought two computers with him and within an hour Buck had shown up in his guise as an installer, complete with a local utility company sign on their surveillance van. He moved in the rest of their equipment and helped JD set everything up. Vin had managed to get a bug planted on the stairs to the upper offices and between that and their long range listening devices JD was pleased with the quality of the sound they were able to pick up as well as the images from the cameras they had hidden outside their rental office as well as the mini ones that Vin had been able to install in and around the gas station and its attached auto repair shop.

 

A pattern quickly emerged with Jamison usually spending a couple hours in his office most afternoons taking care of his legitimate business concerns before make other more suspicious calls or holding meetings with several people that the team were able to identify as local undesirables including the middleman, Darrow, that Ezra had been dealing with thereby finally getting some proof that could connect Jamison to the illegal weapons. By the second week Ezra had succeeded in being invited to meet with Jamison himself at the Madison Club and at the second such meeting a deal had been struck. While unsuccessful in managing to arrange it so that both Jamison and Darrow would be at the buy the team was confident that they had enough evidence, along with Ezra’s testimony, that they would be able to convict Jamison once the deal went through and they were all looking forward to stopping the latest flood of weapons and armor piercing bullets onto the streets of Denver. They were only waiting for Standish to receive confirmation as to when and where the exchange was to happen. Standish finally received the information and in a rare stroke of luck the deal was to take place later that evening in an empty warehouses at the end of the same block where the gas station and the team’s rental office were. JD was happy to report that the range was more than sufficient for the almost undetectable small listening devices that the team would be wearing and the other small cameras they were successful in quickly hiding on nearby buildings to provide adequate visual feed as well.

 

After their regular office hours ended Nathan and JD met the rest of the team back at the ATF offices for a last minute team briefing with take out Chinese food. Buck would be with Ezra as his bodyguard and Vin had already managed to scope out the warehouse itself and would be heading there soon to get hidden up in the rafters.

 

“JD, you’ll be nice and safe with all the surveillance gear in the accounting office, and Chris you’ll be in there too, Nathan, you’ll be with Josiah outside,” instructed Buck.

 

“Why the change? The plan had me with Josiah. Tell me how this makes sense,” demanded Larabee. 

 

“You’re still limping, there’s no way you can move as fast as anyone else,” explained Buck.

 

“I’m fine! I’m in charge here, since when do you change plans?”

 

“He doesn’t, I do,” declared Vin. “I’m second in charge and when the agent in charge is injured I take over. If you don’t want to be in the accounting office with JD then Nathan will declare you off field duty and you can wait back in the ATF office.”

 

Vin met and held Larabee’s glare and after a long moment Chris nodded.

 

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With hours to spare Vin was hidden in the rafters of the warehouse, Josiah and Nathan were respectfully covering the front and the back of the building and Chris and JD were both in the accounting office down the street sitting in front of the monitors watching the entire area, collecting everything on both audio and visual, including JD’s usual offsite backup feed to the ATF office itself.

 

At the appointed time Ezra, carrying the briefcase containing the money for the buy, and bodyguard Buck were waiting outside as agreed when Darrow and associates arrived and they walked towards the large blue sedan after it backed into the warehouse.

 

The trunk was popped open and they could see a large assortment of weapons displayed. The driver stayed in the car while Darrow and a bodyguard exited from the back seats of the vehicle. Ezra peered into the trunk with Darrow while the bodyguard, carrying an assault rifle, went over and stood beside Buck. Ezra inspected the weapons then after a brief discussion laid the briefcase inside the trunk and opened it to expose the money inside.

 

The bodyguard swung the butt of the rifle hitting Buck in the back of the head while Darrow smacked Ezra’s head hard into the back of the car. Shoving the unconscious man away he slammed the trunk shut and climbed into the car. The bodyguard dove into the back and the car sped out the warehouse doors.

 

Vin lay motionless in the warehouse rafters watching the scene below him unfold. He had a bead on Darrow until he opened the trunk effectively blocking both him and Standish from his view so he switched his gaze over to Buck and the bodyguard, both of them standing back with slightly bored expressions as they watched what appeared to be an ordinary exchange. Vin settled into the waiting part of the bust, his sniper rifle scope aimed at the forehead of the bodyguard and listened for Standish to say the phrase that would set them into action when without any warning the bodyguard swung the butt of his assault weapon up into the back of Buck’s head dropping him like a stone.

 

“Buck’s down and I can’t see Standish,” Vin hissed into his mouthpiece, just as the trunk slammed down on the sedan and Darrow and his bodyguard dove into the car and it screeched out of the warehouse.

 

“They’re both down,” screamed Vin quickly disconnecting his safety wire and running along the rafter and down the narrow catwalk, leaping the last half dozen feet to the floor.

“How the hell did this happen?” he yelled as he saw Josiah and Nathan run towards the two downed agents. Vin lifted his rifle, aimed at the departing car and took his shot.

 

Stunned by the images on the monitors Larabee and JD both looked up and out the office window in time to see Darrow’s blue sedan fly around the corner onto the street in front of the office at the same time as a delivery truck turned into the narrow road. The truck moved over trying to avoid the oncoming vehicle but was unable to avoid the speeding car and plowed into it sending it careening into the building.  

 

“Shit,” JD yelled as he fell off his chair landing hard on his wrist, his head hit the wall beside him as the front wall of the building collapsed inwards. “Sure Buck, I’ll stay inside, nice and safe, yeah right,” he grumbled as he tried to get up. “Chris, you ok,” he called out but there was no answer from the unconscious bleeding man slumped on the floor next to him, pinned down by the door frame. “Chris!” he screamed again, wiping blood out of his eyes with his good hand while trying to untangle himself from the broken monitor and other equipment strewn over and around him amongst broken window glass and parts of the broken wall.

 

Knowing Josiah and Nathan would see to their fallen comrades and confident his bullets had hit their marks Vin raced after the speeding car in time to see it crash into the building. Horrified he called the DPD for backup knowing Nathan would have already requested emergency vehicles for their injured men.  

 

Hearing the crash Josiah and Nathan both looked up. Shocked at the sight of the crashed vehicles Josiah raced off as Nathan assured him he would stay with Buck and Ezra until help arrived. The truck driver was trying to open the car doors when Vin ran up and he quickly backed away at the sight of the sniper’s rifle. Immediately identifying himself as ATF Vin, with the help of the truck driver, quickly determined that the driver was dead and that although stunned and injured it didn’t look like either Darrow or his bodyguard were seriously injured. Frustrated at not yet being able to check on the condition of his friends inside the damaged building Tanner knew he had to secure the criminals and that removing the weapons from the men had to be his first priority but with Josiah’s help they soon had that accomplished and were able to move aside enough of the collapsed wall to find their friends.  

 

Within minutes both police backup and ambulances had arrived and it wasn’t long before everyone’s condition had been checked and stabilized for transport. Buck and Ezra had both sustained concussions, but not severe, and both men had come around within a few minutes which Nathan said was a very good sign. Buck had also broken his arm when he fell onto the concrete floor but both men were treated and released from Denver General within a few hours, as was JD who received a few stitches to a small cut along his hairline from when he hit the wall, and like Buck he was also sporting a cast, in his case for a broken wrist. Chris also sustained a minor concussion, several cuts from the shattered window that required stitches and numerous contusions. However he had also received further damage to his already injured knee as the desk and a heavy beam had landed on his leg and he was scheduled for surgery the following morning.

 

Darrow and the bodyguards’ injuries were only slight and they were currently locked up pending arraignment the following day. Josiah was able to report that they had enough evidence that a warrant had been issued and Jamison had been picked up so the bust was considered successful from that point of view.

                        

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The next day Buck walked into Larabee’s room where Vin was waiting for his best friend, his soul mate, to wake up after his surgery. He’d been moved from post-op over an hour ago so he should be waking anytime soon. After checking for himself that Chris was still asleep Buck walked over to where Vin stood staring out the hospital window watching the shadows lengthen in the winter afternoon while the injured man in the hospital bed remained motionless.

 

"Not your fault."

 

"You don't know that, Buck! I keep seeing me shooting the tire and the driver then the truck hitting the car and it crashing into the building."

 

"Like that groundhog day movie where the day keeps repeating over and over again. I know what that’s like. Seriously, the car was speeding too fast for that corner, probably would have hit the truck anyways. All we can ever do is our best. You make your decision based on the situation as you see it and you can't ever second guess yourself.”

 

“Not your fault,” agreed the faint voice from the bed and Buck and Vin both smiled to see a weak glare on their leader’s face, and Vin rushed forward to hand Chris some much appreciated water. “I was going to need the knee surgery sooner or later,” stated Chris as the rest of the team walked into the room.

 

“That’s true,” declared Nathan. ”I spoke to your doctor earlier and he feels the surgery was a success, and it actually was probably better that this forced you to get it done now before any further strain or deterioration. So how are you feeling, really? Any pain, I could get the nurse, probably should.”

 

After assuring Nathan that he wasn’t in pain, and even though he had seen everyone last night and again this morning before surgery Chris still double checked with everyone else that they really were alright, and got the latest updates on the conclusion of the case before he addressed the whole team.

 

“What happened was nobody’s fault. Sometimes shit happens. Like Buck said to Vin, all we can ever do is our best, we make split second decisions based on the situation, no use second guessing or thinking what if’s, and like Buck keeps telling JD, it’s not a game, we all know the chances we take on every case. You all did good; we got the bad guys, and some more guns off the street, case closed. So when can I get out of here?”

 

The End

 

 

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Kathy M  2011