Rating: R (for violence and language)
Disclaimer: I do not own or profit from the use of the Magnificent Seven characters. Thanl you to MOG for the creation of the ATF.
Comments: I will say this is going to be different for some readers. It is based on a real incident that happened in Massachusetts. Mucho bowing to my beta, Mog the Magnificent<G>. The song that appears in the beginning is The Promise by Tracy Chapman.
If you wait for me
Vin dropped the volume on the Jeep's radio. At two in the morning he had no desire to listen to a sad song. At least the melancholy feelings pulled his attention away from a much-too-full bladder. That last beer at Chris's ranch put him over the edge and now he couldn't wait to get to the rest stop before continuing home to Purgatorio.
The moon played hide-and-seek with the clouds as he pulled in to the rest stop. A few of the street lights were burnt out; nonetheless, a half-dozen cars sat silently in the lot. A Burger King at the far end of the service road provided food and caffeine 24 hours a day.
Tanner made his way to the bathroom. Walking down the path, the moon revealed itself, casting a sheer blue glow across the wooded area. If not for the shifting of the clouds he would never have noticed the body. He ran off the path and kneeled beside the form. The violence of the crime spoke by way of congealed blood and multiple stabs wounds across the young woman·s chest. Her matted blonde hair covered half her face but failed to hide the pale eyes, still open in death. It took all of Vin·s reserve not to allow a gentle hand to close them. Preserve the crime scene.
Tanner's training took over. Glancing around the body, his eyes strained in the darkness but were still able to pick up the trail of bloody shoeprints left imbedded in the soft earth. Drawing his weapon, he followed to see where they led.
In front of the bathroom he took a deep breath. There was someone in there. He let out the breath and with one fluid movement kicked open the door.
"Federal Agent! Come out!" His weapon pointed to the occupied side. The door slowly swung open; a man, bearded, wearing multiple layers of clothes exited, leaving bloody shoe prints in his path. "On the floor!" The man obliged.
"This is Agent Vin Tanner, Sir, Ma'am. He's the one who apprehended your daughter's killer." The policeman brought the couple to where Vin was giving his statement.
Distraught, the couple hung on each other. Tears intermingled with the shock etched on their faces. The woman seemed barely able to stay standing. Vin rose, offering his seat to her.
"We just wanted to say thank you," the man stated, haltingly. He wiped his face with one hand and placed the other firmly on his wife's shoulder.
Vin nodded, feeling awkward and not knowing what to say. "I wish I could have done more."
"Laurel was our only child," whispered the woman.
The father's hand shook as he pulled a wallet from his back pocket. He shuffled through, finally retrieving a photo. A young woman, beaming a braces-filled smile. "She was finishing up her business degree."
Tanner swallowed. "She was a pretty girl."
"She had her whole life ahead of her." The woman bent her head and began sobbing.
Vin backed slowly away
The sharpshooter sighed when he exited the elevator on the eleventh floor of the Federal Building. It was clear the office was surprised to see him.
"Hey, We heard what happened." Buck rose to greet Vin.
JD stood too, not knowing exactly what to do but following his roommate's lead. "We didn't think you'd be in."
Nathan narrowed his eyes. "Did you get any sleep?"
Vin shrugged. "I'm fine." He cleared his throat. "Are we still on the Docket case?"
Dunne nodded. "We have a meeting in five minutes."
" kay," replied Tanner absently. "I'll be right in." He drifted to his desk and shifted some papers until he found a thin folder of case notes.
If Chris was surprised to see him, he didn't let on. Larabee conducted the briefing on the case, then quietly requested the sharpshooter's presence in his office. Vin nodded, but stayed behind a moment to finish his notes.
With his thoughts secured on paper, the Texan scooped up his own folder plus the copy of the Denver Clairon left by Ezra. He halted when his eye caught one of the front page stories. Dark curiosity pushed his vision down through the paragraphs that gave information on the murder. He rolled the newspaper up tightly and went into Larabee's office.
"They think I'm a fuckin' hero!" Vin threw the paper on his leader's desk. It hadn't mentioned his name, just that an ATF agent had apprehended the attacker. "I didn't do anything." The frustration was evident in his voice as he sank down in the chair.
Chris glanced at the front page. "Why don't you take the day off?"
Vin shook his head, grabbing his hair and pulling it back. "I'll be fine, rather just work today."
"Okay. But if you need anything, let me know." Chris paused. "Anything, Vin, I mean it."
Tanner stood and nodded without a word. But at the door he looked over his shoulder at Larabee. "Thanks, pard."
"Isn't it funny? Vin, isn't it funny? Why don't you think it's funny? Do you think I was pretty? Not model pretty, I know." She licked her lips and came in closer. "I don't think I'm supposed to be here. I'm not supposed to be here, Vin. Can you help me? Help me? Help me?"
Vin jerked awake, tearing the sticking sheet from his body. Breathing hard, he looked around. It was his room, his apartment. He didn't know Laurel. He didn't know her until her parents put a name, a past and a future to their daughter. She was in his nightmares. Laurel was with him.
He worked to get his breathing under control and lay back down
"No·Yep·Yep·No·What time?...Okay." Vin dropped the phone receiver back into its cradle, but lifted it again only to slam it down once more.
"Bill collector?" Josiah put his head up.
Vin allowed a small half-smile to escape at the comment and shook his head. "He didn't do it. The guy has an alibi at the time of the murder. He didn't do it."
Sanchez closed his eyes briefly. "They'll find who did it, Brother."
"Yeah, they'll find him." The sharpshooter gripped his pencil.
Vin didn't go straight home after work. He needed to find the homeless man, Bud Atters. He'd arrested an innocent man; one who, during his time on the street had probably had more negative encounters with police than positive ones. For some reason, Vin felt compelled to talk to Atters, apologize to him.
With traffic, it was an hour back to the rest stop. Tanner spoke to the employee at Burger King but the young man repeated the same thing he'd told the police. Bud was in the restaurant all night. He had just left to go the bathroom. He was always polite and never bothered the other patrons, which is why he didn't want to use the bathroom at the Burger King. "Bud says it's for paying customers." The employee commented.
Vin made his way back to the place he"d found Laurel. There was little indication of the brutality that occurred there. The leaves, once covered in blood, had scattered in the wind. There was no evidence. Driving back to Purgatorio, Tanner scanned the streets, hoping to get lucky and spot Bud in other places the homeless settled. There was no sighting of the transient man.
Exhausted, Vin figured tonight he would sleep. But again the nightmares came.
"Agent Tanner, you look terrible." Ezra crossed his arms, awaiting a response.
The sharpshooter rubbed his jaw, "Ez, you know what you can do in five minutes?" The longhaired man didn't wait for an answer. "Take a shower, make a bed, toast a bagel and put cream cheese on it, read the front page of the paper, drive to the laundry mat. . ." Vin looked up at the clock.
Standish knitted his brows in concern. "What's wrong?"
Tanner looked away from the clock. "If I'd gotten there five minutes earlier, I could have saved that girl's life. That's what the coroner said."
Ezra uncrossed his arms and leaned forward, resting his hands on the desk. "The coroner said what?"
"The time of death, just five minutes and I could have saved her."
"Well the man is an ignorant ass. For God's sake, Vin, he would have had to commit the murder himself to pinpoint time of death that exactly." Standish could see his words were having no effect. "You know better than to listen to Dr. Patrick ·It·s-a-damn-good-thing-I-have-capable-assistants· Allen. I·m surprised the pompous idiot didn't claim to know the killer·s motive as well."
Vin seemed to be looking through the undercover agent. He blinked and studied Standish for a minute. "Can you help me, Ez?"
Ezra slowly nodded. "Anything, Vin, anything. . ."
"I want to find the killer. You're in good with the DPD Homicide guys.Can you use your contacts to get the suspects' names?"
Standish licked his lips. "I'll can see what I can do, but what do you say to talking to Chris first?"
Tanner paused, obviously resistant to the idea. He closed his eyes briefly, then nodded.
The southerner sighed. "Come on."
Ezra softly knocked on the door and entered with Vin following behind. Standish indicated with his eyes to Tanner. "Chris, Vin needs help."
Larabee studied the sharpshooter. The smudges of dark shadows under blue eyes spoke volumes. Vin looked like he was struggling to stand up proud and straight. Chris knew what was consuming the younger man·s thoughts.
"I want to go after Laurel's killer."
The team leader narrowed his eyes sharply when he heard Vin use the victim's name. It all made sense. She wasn't Jane Doe victim. She was now connected to the sharpshooter. "Take some time off." Chris said gently. He would help his friend; take him to the ranch and Tanner would get back to normal and push the victim to a recess in his brain. "ATF doesn't have jurisdiction."
Vin rubbed his wrist, twisting his watch. "I'm doing this with or without your help." The sharpshooter shifted his weight from foot to foot, then stopped the nervous gesture. "I never ask, Chris, never. But, I figure the federal government, they owe me this. Owe it to Laurel too."
Larabee leaned back in his chair. He glanced at Standish, who nodded. "We help you, then you'll let it go?"
Vin bit his bottom lip, then released it. "I just need to finish it, Chris, that's all. Only a few days."
The undercover agent placed a hand on the sharpshooter's shoulder, showing a silent form of support.
"Okay, Vin, okay." Larabee agreed, thinking how he could shuffle the workload.
"Ez found out there's two suspects. Both have sexual assault records from incidents occurring around the area where Laurel was found." Vin was filling Chris in as Larabee drove to the most recent location of the first suspect. Sanchez and Standish were in the back seat. Chris invited Josiah to be a calming force for the sharpshooter.
Ezra added in the other information he'd acquired. "Lane Felipi, alias Jose Rosario, alias Victor Nasta, last address 1025 Wallingford Street. Arrested for indecent exposure, assault, battery and sexual assault."
"What does DPD have?" Chris asked as he maneuvered the Dodge through traffic.
"The detective says they haven't had an opportunity to investigate, but we should be able to find Felipi at the Sayles Bar."
Josiah passed the picture to Vin, who glanced at it for a moment before passing it to Chris.
"And the other guy?" Larabee nodded and placed the picture on the seat between him and Tanner.
"Another asset to the human race. Nicholas David Telker. Arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and sexual assault. According to his parole officer his current location should be 11205 Colin Avenue, L-202 of the Sunrise Apartments.·
Again Sanchez passed a photo.
"The bar is up ahead," Josiah pointed out.
Chris laid out his plan. "Ezra, you wait here in case he comes out the front. Vin, you take the back."
Tanner looked about ready to protest, but instead nodded.
"Josiah, you're with me."
The light breaking into the darkened bar drew the attention of the patrons. In a moment the majority of them had their heads down. Chris approached the bartender, showing him his badge and the photograph. Josiah watched over the room. The bartender gestured to a man at the end of the bar.
"Lane Felipi," Chris said. "We need to talk to you."
The man glanced up and attempted to rise from his bar stool but a large, firm hand from Josiah forced him back down in his seat. "I didn't do anything." Lane announced.
Larabee gave a feral smile as he flashed his badge. "Special Agent Larabee, this is Special Agent Sanchez. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Where were you two nights ago?" The answer was interrupted by light pouring in from a door at the back of the room. "Vin, I told you to wait outside."
Tanner shrugged his shoulders and looked at the wiry man on the bar stool. "Where were you two nights ago?"
Lane shook his head. "I don't know. I don't know," he repeated, his voice getting higher in fear.
"Didn't meet up with a girl, maybe?" Josiah asked, his hand still kept the man in his seat.
"A girl?" Lane shook his head again. "I was at a party, man. What's goin· on?·
Vin fixed Felipi with a cold, dead stare. "A party? Where? Anybody around who saw you at this party?"
The man on the bar stool swallowed reflexively. "Sure, man, lots of people saw me. It was downtown. Look, I don't know what's goin' on but I didn't have nothin' to do with no girl."
"There wasn't a girl?" Chris asked again.
Lane absently wiped his palms on his worn, black corduroys. "No girl."
Vin continued to stare at him. The man shrank back from the attention. "You better hope not." Tanner looked at his teammates and walked out of the bar. Sanchez kept his hand firmly planted, waiting for a sign from Larabee. It came in verbal form, cracking with a soft, icy tone.
"We'll probably be wanting to talk to you again, Mr. Felipi. Make sure you·re around."
Larabee's hard gaze lasted only a second longer, then the head agent turned and strode from the room. Sanchez offered a polite tip of his head before finally releasing the suspect and following his leader.
"So, next criminal?" Standish asked when they were in the vehicle.
They found Nick Telker at home. He welcomed them into his small apartment after they'd showed him their badges.
"ATF? I haven't done anything." He professed, taking a seat on one of the chairs in the room. The agents remained standing.
"No one has said you did, Mr. Telker," replied Standish smoothly. The southerner was trying to come in contact with as little as possible in the disheveled apartment. "But perhaps you could recall to us where you were two nights ago?"
"Here," Nick replied, gesturing with one hand to the cluttered room. "I was here all night."
Ezra kept his voice polite, "And is there any one who can verify that?"
"My neighbor across the hall, Maryann Houde, she saw me when I got home from work. That was around six o·clock.· The man glanced sincerely at the agents in his apartment. "Look, I'm trying to get my life together. My parole officer will tell you I haven't missed a meeting."
Chris nodded. "So you don't know anything about the girl killed at the rest stop?"
The man looked shocked. "No. Rest stop?" He shook his head. "No."
A southern drawl queried him again. "Ms. Houde, your neighbor, is she home now?"
"No, she's on vacation in California. She left yesterday morning. I have the name of the place where she's staying, though. I'm watering her plants while she gone." Telker rose to copy a phone number down and handed the small piece of note paper to Standish.
The agents thanked him for his time. Vin was the last to leave, glancing around the apartment, staring at Telker as if listening for something.
Josiah was waiting for Vin outside. "Don't fit, Josiah." Tanner rubbed the back of his neck.
" Brother, you may have missed your calling." Sanchez said as they caught up to Standish and Larabee.
"What do you think, Josiah?" Chris asked.
"I'd like to look at their files." Sanchez looked back at the place they'd just left. "I don't know."
In the Dodge there was silence. "I'm calling it a day," Larabee announced to all of them but looked at the passenger in the front seat. "Vin, go home, get some rest."
"We'll catch him tomorrow." Ezra leaned forward and patted the sharpshooter's arm.
"Okay, Chris. Thanks." Vin gave a tight smile.
When they reached the garage Tanner was the first out of the truck. He waved back to his teammates as he got into his Jeep. They watched him drive away.
"Josiah, are you sure this is the right thing to do?" Chris asked as they walked to the elevator.
"Vin needs closure." Sanchez explained. "And this is the best way for him to get it."
Chris massaged the back of his neck to work out a knot. "I hope so."
Vin clicked through the television stations for the third time. It had taken five minutes. Tanner covered his watch with his hand, it didn't help. He felt it ticking. His thoughts were broken by the ring of the phone. It had called at him two more times before he reached it. "Hello?"
"Agent Tanner?" The voice asked before continuing. "This is Lane Felipi. They say in Purgatorio you're legit, no frontin'."
Vin rested the phone in the crook of his neck. "Yeah. But I don't cut breaks for murderers."
"I ain't a murderer."
"Prove it." Vin challenged, walking with the phone to the kitchen.
"Me and lil Hector, we, we was out on Broadway doin some business, ya know? Ask anybody."
"All night?" Tanner gripped the back of one of the kitchen chairs. If Lane was out on Broadway and with 'little' Hector Paratas, he was dealing. Vin knew Lane wouldn't be confessing to a break in his parole unless it would save him from grief of a much harsher kind. If Felipi was ruled out that only left Telker or a complete unknown.
"Look, man, we was on Colfax and Broadway at least till eleven. After that we hooked up with a couple jotas who got us in with a rave in LoDo. We was doin all kinds of business there till around four." Lane took Vin's silence as disbelief and offered more of his alibi.
"A couple of the DJ's there know me and lil H both, Timo Mass and K.K. Duke, they'll tell you. Look, I ain't going to jail for something I didn't do." Lane said hurriedly. The sharpshooter could hear the sound of a busy street in the background. "I was straight with you, man, it won't be right if you lock me over a little C n X."
Vin closed his eyes. "Relax, Felipi. If you wanna risk your parole, that's your problem. But you know I'm gonna check out what you said, and if you're lying a little crack and ecstasy are gonna be the least of your worries." He hung up the phone without waiting for a response.
Tanner dialed the number of a former gang member he had helped. "Does Lane Felipi work with Hector?" With the positive answer Vin placed the phone against his head. Telker was his. He had him, damn, he had him - based on 'circumstantial evidence' shit that wouldn't work in court. He couldn't use Lane, no one would believe the man. Vin began to dial Chris's phone number but paused for a second then shut off the phone.
Tanner was always good at trailing somebody. He could disappear into the shadows. He finally had him cornered. "Aren't you going to put up a fight like she did, Nick?" Vin asked, unsheathing the K-Bar knife.
A stuttered reply came back at him. "I...I...I don't know what you're talking about."
Vin stepped closer, dressed in black he blended into the Purgatorio street that he'd followed Telker to. Against the wall with nowhere to run, Nick nearly reeked with desperation.
"When you stabbed her, she fought back." Vin followed the statement with a slash of the knife, drawing blood on Telker's forearm.
Nick grabbed the wound, and the sharpshooter slashed the other arm.
"You can't do this," Telker said, trying unsuccessfully to get around Tanner; he was pushed back. Doubts crept into the sharpshooter's mind. What if he had made a mistake? Maybe Telker had changed? Maybe the police were wrong about making him a suspect? What if it was someone else? Vin closed his eyes and gripped the knife. He had f*cked up. Tanner looked at Telker, an apology forming on his lips. It was then Nick started to laugh. "She begged, you know. She begged."
Vin stepped back in disbelief of the confession.
Nick continued to laugh, dropping to his knees in a fit. "You have nothing. You have nothing."
Tanner kneed him, clipping his jaw, then dragged the guilty man up by his hair.
Telker smiled, blood reddening his teeth. "Done it before and I'll do it again."
The next morning Chris asked Vin to come into his office. When the sharpshooter entered, the leader closed the door behind them. Larabee stayed by the door. "They found the body of Nick Telker." The leader watched his agent carefully. "Cops think he was the killer." Again Chris studied Vin for any reaction. "It's over."
Tanner met Larabee's stare. He was calm and level. He sighed in relief. "Glad someone got to him before I did."
Chris relaxed and made his way to his chair. "You okay?"
"I'm fine." Vin placed his hands in his pockets. "You're right. It's over." Tanner opened the door and pulled it securely closed behind him before adding under his breath, "It only took five minutes."