Main Character: Vin-centric, but all 7 get a prominent role, plus several canon and one fanon characters are referenced.
Alternate ATF Universe - MCAT
Summary: Vin has toothache. Vin is ignoring his toothache. Chris takes the typical action of autocratic command style – after all a quick trip to the dentist…what could possibly go wrong?
Rating – K+ or PG…depending on if you want to make people leery of dentists, but nothing nasty here.
Webmaster Note: This story was previously hosted at another website and was moved to blackraptor in April 2013.
Patrolman Pedro “Pete” Garcia cautiously eased of his motorcycle and squared his shoulders. This was his first day on the streets as a fully-fledged traffic control officer and he was determined to make Sarge proud, flicking back in his mind through the older man’s patient instructions and picturing the man in his mind’s eye to imbue confidence. Very big, very bulky, but without any fat, Ron Josephs was one of the most respected men in Denver PD, despite having not risen above the rank of Sergeant in his twenty-five year career. His ability to train up rookies into fine, honourable officers was legendary, and Pete knew he was the latest in a long line of graduates of the Josephs School of Life. He certainly wasn’t going to flunk now!
With just a hint of satisfaction, Pete knew himself to be one of Sarge’s favourite trainee partners. Ron Josephs had married a younger Hispanic woman at a time when inter-racial marriages garnered more hostile reactions than just disapproving looks and enjoyed two blissfully happy years of wedlock until his wife died of undiagnosed leukaemia the day after their second wedding anniversary. Since then, Sarge had dedicated his life to the PD, his colleagues knowing he was patiently awaiting a reunion only death would bring.
Following the litany of instructions he could hear inside his head - in Sarge’s voice – he cautiously approached the man standing on the sidewalk who had been staring at the display in the jeweller’s window as if it held all the secrets of the universe. Pete’s hand was on his gun and he was prepared to use it – traffic cops and meter maids tended to bear the brunt of other people’s frustration about the crappy day he or she was having; and for their own safety had to assume everyone they met was a homicidal maniac.
He’d gone on a training course with Sarge, who despite his reserved nature had gotten on well with Sergeant Dan Williams – a loud-mouthed New Jersey street cop from Weehawken, and to his own surprise Sarge had nodded in sage agreement to Williams’ rant that having a wife and baby daughter, whom he clearly adored, he was not going anywhere near the motorcycle division as immortalised in CHiPS because traffic officers had a mortality rate five times higher than any other division. On the way back home, Sarge had reinforced Williams’ view by suggesting that Pete stick with traffic only ‘as long as you have no family responsibilities’. As ever, he had taken the words to heart.
As Sarge taught him, he swept his eyes over the man’s body, seeking concealed weapons and clues he could use to anticipate the man’s moves.
The flat-heeled Western boots were scuffed and well worn in, the denim jeans faded and soft with lengthy wear, their tight fit showing he carried no weaponry there, unless he’d got one tucked into his crotch…but that would have to be in a very painful location, so no – not even the most viciously macho thug was psychologically comfortable with having a deadly weapon next to his most loved anatomical feature. The tasselled tan buckskin jacket was too bulky to be able to detect a weapon underneath but it too was definitely headed towards battered. His head was bare, but his hair was long, almost to his shoulders in a dark gold-bronze tumble.
Now take a second look, Sarge said in Pete’s head, and see all that don’t fit. Unconsciously Pete nodded to himself, seeing the incongruities – scuffed and worn boots yes, but genuine leather and expensive, tailor-made items when new. Jeans and jacket worn and faded, but like the boots, clearly very clean and laundered. The jacket itself was genuine buckskin, not some fancy chain store imitation, and you could see the quality of the stitching in the seams – genuine Indian manufacture made for tribal member or someone accepted as such, not the commercially ‘pseudo-authentic’ Native American pap palmed off on the tourists.
His hair was shiny and brushed, not lank with grime, and what skin Pete could see – one hand and his face in profile – was a healthy brown colour, not sickly grey or covered with an unhealthy sheen of perspiration which would have indicated ‘strung-out-druggie’. The unevenness of the tan told clearly that this man spend considerable time out of doors in the real world, not in some fancy gym’s sun shower. Not a vagrant, and his confident stature lacked the furtiveness of the small time crook, the petty, opportunist criminal who would take the risk of tossing a half-brick through a jeweller’s window, grabbing what he could before running for it. In which case, what was so fascinating?
“Sir, could you step back from the window?” Pete spoke loudly and clearly.
The guy turned to look at him and his face broke into a wide, incredibly sweet smile. “Hi! Ain’t them colours pretty? All swirly…”
Uh-oh. Pete’s instinctive response to return that incredibly gentle, somehow irresistibly nice smile was aborted as he met the deep sapphire blue eyes. The man’s body was present and correct, but his brain was AWOL. The eyes were twinkling and happy and terrifyingly vacant of anything resembling rational thought. He’s so high he’s practically in orbit with the International Space Station, Pete realised and swallowed the sudden lump of alarm in his throat. His first day on his own patrol and he had to find this!
“Uh sir, could you come over here a minute? I’d like to talk to you?” Pete eased back to where his bike was propped by the kerb, wondering if he should jump the guy immediately. He decided against it as the guy immediately followed him like a puppy without a qualm. Right now this guy was calm and friendly, but if Pete messed up the take down he would go berserk.
“Uh, can you tell me your name?”
“Viiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnn!” The guy beamed at him with that damned infectious smile, “Vinnie-Vin, Vino, Vinton, Vincento, Vinnebago Vin Vin!!”
Okay…Vin what? “Vin…?”
Okay… “Vin do you have any ID?”
The blue eyes were blank; ID was obviously too complex a concept –
“Oooh – this yer bike?” The man gazed adoringly at the big, polished police motorcycle. “It’s right purty!”
“Thanks!” Purty, yer bike? Pete finally pegged the man’s peculiar accent – the base was Texas, overlaid with Colorado and several mixed layers of other places in between. The guy had obviously been in Denver for long enough to pick up that peculiar hybrid tone. “Hey, Vin, look what I got!” He waved his driver’s licence in front of the man. “Do you have one?”
“Yeah.” Blue eyes continued to make love to the bike then turned to focus on him. “Can’t let ya see it, pard. Cowboy’ll be mad at me; he yells ‘n’ stomps like an ornery prize-bull when he’s mad at me!”
Cowboy? Hmmm. “Betcha don’t!”
Scowl. Followed by a pout that could not be described, even by a red-blooded American male like Pete Garcia, as anything other than ‘adorable’. “Do too!”
“Yeah!” Pete scoffed, uncomfortably reminded of the fights he used to have with his bossy big sister.
Hands scrabbled frantically for several minutes as his fingers and his spaced out brain tried to co-ordinate with each other on the concept of “pockets”, but finally ‘Vin’ produced a black wallet thing that he beamed down at.
“This is very nice,” Pete admired, deftly removing it from the guy’s palm. “Very nice indeed –” He stopped as he saw that he had no need to keep up the patter, the man’s attention was back on his bike. So who are you, my goofy frien-
The world stopped. Pete stared down at the shiny badge and laminated card in the wallet, identifying ATF Agent Vinton Tanner. Pete looked at his bike and the radio, then at happily smiling Vin Tanner and an overwhelming sadness made him blink. Damn. Making a decision, he moved to the payphone only a foot away, keeping a weather eye on Tanner, who merely continued to mysteriously commune with the motorcycle. He dialled the precinct and asked for Sarge.
“Pete?” The word was curt and edged with worry, the unspoken question, ‘Why was Pete not using his radio or work cell phone?’ clearly audible.
“Sarge…” Taking a breath, Pete filled him in.
Over the line came a heavy sigh that Pete echoed, as he glanced sadly at the tall ATF agent now babbling nonsensically to his bike’s gas tank. Pete was young, but not stupid. American law enforcement agents had the highest rate of alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide in the Western world. Grossly overworked, shamefully underpaid, they did a near impossible job with such incredible courage that it was often forgotten that they were only ordinary human beings like everyone else, in full knowledge of the fact that their only reward for their heroism would be either an early grave, permanently debilitating injury, or growing old alone after spouses and children finally moved to new pastures.
Denver was the base of several law enforcement agencies – the FBI, US Marshals, DEA and the ATF; a few years back that had expanded to include then new Supreme Court Justice Orrin Travis’s ten elite “unconventional” ATF teams – after 9/11 those teams had been expanded into MCAT – Major Crimes Anti-Terrorism. Sure, there were incidents of friction with the Police Department, but no law enforcement agent worthy of the name rejoiced when he or she discovered a colleague that had become a battle casualty of the eternal war between good and evil.
“Should I call a squad car?” Pete asked grimly.
“No.” Sarge sighed, “You know how the tabloid vultures – and the left-wing liberal bigots - monitor the police bands. Let’s not destroy what’s left of him by having him plastered on News at Eleven – ‘junkie ATF agent taken to the precinct in cuffs’. Does it say what ATF department he’s with?”
“Uh…MCAT Team 7.” Pete read aloud and heard the Sarge’s bitten off curse. “Sarge?”
“I guess it had to happen. Even the Magnificent 7 are only human.” Sarge said in a tone of weary defeat.
Pete’s eyes widened. “Hold it, you mean – that ATF Team 7, the MCAT ATF Team 7? He’s one of the Magnificent 7?” For a moment the enormity of the tragedy could not be comprehended. ATF Team Seven, nicknamed the Magnificent 7, were building a legend from the Canadian border to the Rio Grande in law enforcement circles. Created originally as one of Orrin Travis’s ten elite, nationally-operating ATF teams, right from the start they had been the most controversial, unconventional, dangerous – and successful. When Travis upgraded and restructured the ten teams as MCAT ATF their reputation and success rate only increased.
Their team leader Larabee – no other name was needed – was a black-dressing alcoholic infamous for his psychotic fury and unpredictable, volatile rages. Team 7 seemed to spend as much time snapping and snarling at each other as they did at the bad guys. Larabee and Ezra Standish had had several actual, brutal fights that required minor hospitalisation! Josiah Sanchez had tried to throw one of his teammates from a four-storey window. They were a savage, growling wolf pack that could not be controlled by anyone or anything except the black-clad hellhound that ruled them with iron fists and on at least two still talked about occasions, well-placed bullets. But the way they tore at each other was only matched by the insane, psychotic over-protectiveness they displayed. Any outsider who threatened one was immediately and mercilessly turned upon and savaged by the entire group. Some hadn’t lived to regret causing harm to one member of the bizarre but unbreakably bonded together group.
And now one of them was strung out in broad daylight in the middle of Denver. Pete shook his head as Sarge quietly ordered him to stay put and said that he would discreetly give the nod to Team 7’s leader, Chris Larabee; Pete tried to imagine the intolerable pressures that had crushed and drained and exhausted Tanner’s spirit to the extent that he sought solace in narcotic oblivion –
“HEY! HEY!!” Pete yelled futilely, belatedly aware of Sarge’s loud demands for a report. “Sarge, Tanner’s got my bike, he’s gone! He’s got my bike!”
“WHAT??!! ARE YOU CRAZY? WE’LL BE THERE IN FIVE!!”
Chris Larabee came storming out of his office, his face positively Mephistophelian with rage, to find five men standing ready to depart. They fell into step with him as he charged out of their office on the twelfth floor of Denver’s Federal Building and ran down the stairs, yelling as he did – “Some lunatic in the Denver PD is claiming Vin’s a junkie who’s stolen his bike!”
Not breaking their racing stride down the steps to the parking garage, the other six voiced various exclamations of astonishment at such a notion and made unflattering comments on the mental state of Vin’s accuser. Vin had been late for the past three mornings due to road works on the beltway and was no doubt stuck in a traffic jam somewhere.
Chris’s Dodge Ram, with Buck in the passenger side, tore out of the parking garage with a black Jaguar only seconds behind it and other vehicles following, tearing through Denver with sirens at full blare. More than one person, knowing the reputation of Team Seven, looked at each other in concern. Racing downtown, Chris brought the Ram to a tyre-smoking stop and jumped out with Buck and the others behind him, stalking to where a traffic sergeant and assorted other PD officers were standing near a phone booth. There were assorted squad cars stationed along the street, engines idling. The officers drew back as the man with the blazing green eyes bore down on them. It was a cold day in Denver and the man’s long black duster swirled around him like the Devil’s own cloak.
Chris’s eyes flashed as he heard the words “APB’s out on Tanner” and the rabid wolf howled. “WHO’S THE DELUSIONAL IDIOT –”
All eyes turned to the young Hispanic patrolman, obviously no older than JD Dunne, who stepped forward and met Larabee’s furious eyes head on.
Pete’s hands were ice-cold and sweating with fear, but his voice was clear. “And more than anything right now, Agent Larabee, I really wish I was a delusional idiot rather than be instrumental in ruining the career of a fellow officer,” Pete had to force the words past his tight windpipe, and his stomach was burning with fright, “but the fact is that Vin Tanner was standing right in the middle of this sidewalk so strung out his eyes were pinwheeling in their sockets!”
Larabee seemed to swell up, to enlarge, and he opened his mouth to spew forth slicing, slashing venom –
ROOOORAAAAWWWWWAHHHHHH!!!! Heads snapped round as Pete’s bike came roaring down the street, weaving effortlessly between vehicles; raising a hand, Vin waved cheerfully at his friends, then did a wheelie down the street before roaring off.
For a moment, Pete admired the absolute picture the faces before him made, then Chris dove for his Ram and everyone scrambled for their cars. Chris scrambled in the driver side, Buck jumping up beside him. Suddenly Buck yelped as he was pushed almost into Chris. Two more figures clambered into the confines of the Ram’s cab, Pete a slender reed next to Buck with Sarge’s imposing bulk squashed next to the passenger door he hadn’t closed when Chris’s took off.
Larabee didn’t care who was in the truck with him as he raced after the speeding bike, peripherally aware of the black Jaguar on his right and Josiah’s truck on the left, with Nathan in the passenger seat of that. Buck’s truck was back in the Federal garage, which meant that JD – a Kawasaki motorcycle smoothly powered alongside, JD bent low to minimise wind resistance. Chris gave an approving nod at JD having the forethought to don his work jacket with ATF clearly stencilled on the back so the police squad cars alongside and behind them knew he was one of their own.
Ahead of them, but always tantalisingly out of reach, roared Vin on the stolen motorcycle. Chris could feel the painful thud-thud of his heart. Vin was the finest horse rider Chris knew bar himself, but also with a motorcycle Vin had the ability to transform it from a collection of shaped metal into a living beast with which he shared a psychic union. Now Vin was tearing along at 60 miles per, apparently high as a kite, wearing no helmet or protective clothing, chased by what seemed to be half the Denver PD.
Ahead of them, Vin weaved in and out of the traffic, taking his hand – both hands - off the wheel to play with the bright buttons on the bike. He hit one that crackled nicely and he began to sing.
All four men in the cab jumped a mile as a loud, happy voice yodelled forth. “BOOOORN TAAAA BEEEEEE WILD!! BOOOOORRRRRN TA BEEEE WILLLLLD!! GOT MA MOTA RUNNIN’ –”
“Charlie 1-4, Charlie 1-4, this is Despatch, please repeat?”
Obediently, Vin warbled out, “HEAAAAAAAD OUT ONTA TH’ ‘IGHWAY, SEE WHA’S GOIN’ MAAAAAAAAAA WAAAAEEE!”
Chris was the only one who had had a police scanner/radio fitted to his Ram, on the off chance it might come in useful during an assignment. Now he ordered Buck, “Get the others on their cell phones so they can listen in.”
Buck did so while Sergeant Josephs reached over and picked up the radio, informing Despatch of the situation and ordering all the Denver PD to keep monitoring this frequency. Chris licked his lips and sent a fervent prayer that Vin didn’t turn off the radio as accidentally as he’d activated it. In the Jaguar and Josiah’s truck the cell phones were placed open on the dash, allowing the men to hear everything issuing from Chris’s truck cab. JD raised one hand and tapped the side of his helmet, shifting his jacket up to show the wire up his back; once again Chris nodded approvingly of JD’s foresight in putting on a headset/lip mike apparatus so that he could still follow any developments despite being on his bike. They began to approach the city limits and JD gradually eased his speed up a notch, trying to gain on Vin without appearing to do so.
The young Texan appeared happily oblivious as Team 7 and the entire Denver PD were treated to an actually quite melodic rendition of Born to Be Wild. Chris picked up the radio with one hand - they needed to end this, fast, before it ended in a media circus, or worse – if Vin came off that bike at this speed…
Vin finally paid attention to the nice crackling thing and after a few aborted attempts that made the bike swerve dangerously and six men’s hearts leap into their throats, he picked it up. “’LO?”
“Vin! It’s Chris-”
“Hiya!” Vin beamed happily at hearing his friend’s voice. Chris was such a nice fella, never really had anyone he could count on before Chris –
“Vin, listen, somehow you’ve been hurt.”
“Nope, fine!” Vin tried to reassure, nodding vociferously after having a good look down at himself.
“You got yourself drugged, Vin.” Chris said carefully, “Ya need to pull over, can ya do that? Vin? Cowboy-”
“No I ain’t!” The indignant tone sounded clearly over the airwaves. “Cowboy, cowboy, cowboy! It were yer fault! Ya made me!” Vin increased his speed, mumbling angrily to himself.
There was a pregnant pause that seemed to echo in every police precinct in Denver and the Federal Buildings where men and women huddled around communications apparatus, listening to the unfolding drama.
“You gave him the stuff?” Pete suddenly realised that he had actually said the words aloud as Chris Larabee pierced him with a look that made him sweat; Larabee’s thumb was still pressing the radio – Oh hell, I just accused him of supplying his own man with drugs and the entire PD heard it. I am dead, so dead, so totally and utterly dead…
Taking a deep breath Chris said, “Vin, I don’t understand, what did I do?”
“Yer fault!” scolded Vin, “Ya yelled at me, ya mangy dog! Ya made me go, an’ ah tole ya whut’d ‘appen but ya wunt ‘ave it no Mr Almighty Larabee knows everythin’ – dunt know nuthin’. Ah tole ya what them anna-annas-anniz-thicks does ta me, but ya wunt let it drop, ya tole me ya’d shoot me, so's ah went, an’ ah tole ‘im, but he laughed at me an’ sez ah wuz stupid! An ‘ee hurt me!”
Chris desperately tried to follow the distressed flood of words, all spoken in the working-class Texas drawl of Vin’s childhood, his brain striving to inject vowels, consonants and delete the accent to make the words make sense –
“H-h-e hurt me, Chris.” The stuttering, plaintive whisper was somehow louder than all the previous bellowing and singing and seemed to echo in the air.
Chris Larabee’s sudden low inarticulate snarling raised the hairs on the backs of the necks of people safely in police precincts ten miles back.
“The dentist!” Buck, always far more intelligent and perceptive than his constant exuberant bonhomie made him seem. “Damn it, Chris, he musta gone to the dentist this morning!”
“I want that dentist!” Chris spat, “’Siah, Nate –”
“Chris, this is Ryan Kelly, Team Leader of 8,” Kelly’s calm voice came over the airwaves. “I’m with a PD squad car now; we’ll pick up the dentist. Any ideas which one is Vin’s?”
“Fredericks on 4th and Salt.” Chris ground out. “Vin kept telling me he couldn’t go to the dentist ‘cos he’d had reactions to the anaesthetic, why didn’t I listen?”
“Chris, that tooth had to come out, it’s been making him sick for weeks!” Buck cut across the self-recrimination. “He warn’t eatin’ a damn thing and hell he was too skinny by half before!”
Pete realised he too could help stop the self-flagellation he could see writ large on Larabee’s face, speaking clearly so his words carried clearly over the radio to the listening officers, “Agent Larabee, having a reaction to dental anaesthetic is one thing, but what the hell did this Fredericks jackass think he was doing? Giving someone a little too much happy juice and making them ill is bad enough, But Agent Tanner’s practically in orbit! What was Fredericks doing, spoon feeding him the stuff raw? And how in hell could anyone remotely medically competent allow their patient to leave their surgery in a state like this?”
Chris blinked rapidly and despite the situation Pete felt himself relax slightly as the self-anger dissipated from Larabee’s face as the older man accepted the truth of Pete’s words; more importantly, he could feel the waves of approval emanating from Sarge, crammed into the truck’s cab next to him. A good cop honoured the spirit of the law, and didn’t cling to the merciless lettering.
Abruptly the radio came to life again, Ryan Kelly’s harsh tones coming loud and clear to the many listeners-in. “Chris, it’s Ryan. We’ve found William Fredericks and we’ve arrested him.”
“You can charge him?” snarled Chris like an angry cougar, Vin’s “He hurt me, Chris” still echoing in his ears.
“Hell yeah we can charge him,” retorted Kelly, “We got folks who can testify that Vin told Fredericks twice about his problem-”
Abruptly there came a scuffling sound and a new, strident voice suddenly cut in. “You best believe it, white boy!”
The voice was female and sounded like a middle-aged black woman. “Ah’m Maisie Simmons, Mr Chris Larabee, an’ ah’m tellin’ ya nah ah’ll be acomin’ afta yer hide if anythin’ happens to that boy after you done sent ‘im down ‘ere on his lonesome! Poor Vin came in here lookin’ like he was gonna be shot to death. Twice he told that pompous jackass Fredericks ‘bout his reaction t’ the anaesthetics an’ Fredericks just tole ‘im he was bein’ stupid an’ it didn’t do such things to a body. Ah could hear him gaspin’ in pain through the door and when that boy came outa Frederick’s office he looked like he’d gone five rounds with Mohammed Ali! And Fredericks just let him walk out when it was obvious to a blind fella that boy was feelin’ right poorly! That boy don’t know what’s the ground an’ what’s the sky right now. That boy’s acountin’ on ya t’ bring him home safe!”
Chris’s eyes flashed. He would die to protect Vin.
There was more scuffling and a muffled yelp, and then Ryan Kelly’s breathless tones were back on air. “Like I was saying, Chris, we’ve got Fredericks nailed, and Vin can sue him personally to boot. We’ve got six eyewitnesses including the dental nurse who are all willing to testify that Vin warned Fredericks at least twice and was ignored.”
“What we gonna do ta stop him, Chris?” Buck asked the question that most of those listening in were currently trying to find an answer to.
Again Pete and Sarge exchanged glances, almost psychically aware of what was going through the minds of the officers in the police vehicles that were still pursuing the motorcycle speeding along dangerously fast ahead of them. Denver city proper was now behind them, the highway beginning to rise as they entered the mountains and wild countryside of Colorado. Still wide and smooth, they would soon start hitting the highway’s tight bends as it wove its way through the mountains and then south towards Grand Junction and everyone knew that inevitably Tanner would fail to make one of those curves; at his current speed and without protective headgear or clothing, death was inevitable.
The problem was how to safely bring him to a halt? Chasing after and taking down a strung-out, brain-fried crackhead who was likely to mount a sidewalk and snuff out innocent and far more valuable lives than his own parasitic one was one thing, but that mode of operation did not apply when the person in question was an innocent, law-abiding human being whose current condition had been forced upon him...Even more so when he was one of their own.
“Vin? Vin, cow-” remembering just in time that was how he got into trouble the last time, Chris amended it, “Pard, can ya hear me?”
“Yeaaah!!” The happy yell, completely devoid of its previous scolding sounded loud and clear.
“Vin, we got that bad dentist. He’s locked up good now.” Chris tried to soothe.
“I knew ya’d get him!” Vin chirruped back and then his voice became uncertain. “Ya sure he cain’t hurt me again?”
“William Fredericks will never hurt you again, Vin. I promise.” Chris’s tone was soft and hissing.
Ron Josephs, Pete and indeed many people listening exchanged glances and involuntary shudders as the awful promise of violence in Chris Larabee’s tone made their skin prickle.
“How about ya pull –”
“WAAHOOOH!!” Vin’s jubilant yell made the men in the cab wince at its volume and incredibly the bike put on a spurt of speed as Vin’s suddenly excited voice came again, “CHRIS! CHRIS! Come on, we’re nearly there!”
“Vin? Vin?” Chris tried to get through the narcotic haze again.
“We ain’t anywhere?” Buck turned his head left and right. Denver City was growing in every direction bar this one; too rugged for housing, commercial developments or crop growth and too expensive to clear for animal grazing, this part of Colorado state was still untamed wilderness, with majestic mountains towering over thick, lush forests. There was no “there” to get to unless Vin meant Grand Junction, which was a good six hundred miles away-
“Come on Chris!” Again the joyful voice sang out, “This bike is cool! It can take Widowmaker Peak!”
Gasps of alarm and outright fear were the drugged man’s only response had he not been too lost in his own world to hear them.
Colorado State was hugely popular for “outdoor” holidays. “Dude” or tourist ranches catered for those who wanted a taste of life on the open range but not the saddle sores and blisters; skiing, mountain-climbing, horse-riding, camping, snowboarding, canoeing, all were popular sports that brought visitors flocking to the state – hell, even Navy SEALs and Delta Force Army Rangers trained in these mountains. Also popular was quad biking, off-road racing, and cross-country motorcycle riding and just the chance to potter around with a camping trailer and view God’s scenic beauty as He intended.
All these things brought money to the state and major efforts had been made to protect the countryside. The one part of the Denver surround that everyone would have been happy to see turned into condos or office blocks, however, was Widowmaker Peak. A “hill” that was nearly sheer in it’s angle and brutally uneven from the many protruding rocks and shale, Widowmaker Peak had been the nightmare of every sane person over the age of twenty for decades. Back in the 1950s, a 14-year-old kid determined to impress his older drag racing brother had stolen the elder sibling’s motorbike and by some inexplicable miracle, rode it to the top of then Farview Peak, both he and the bike surviving the insanity.
To this day, nobody knew how he had managed the feat – the problem was those that kept trying to duplicate it. Every year at least one person was killed and half a dozen more seriously injured or permanently disabled trying to replicate what the kid himself had called a “pure one in a million” fluke. Like much of the surrounding area, Widowmaker Peak wasn’t owned by Denver City Council, who could be made liable, or by some rancher who could be prevailed upon to dynamite the monstrosity. Vin would have had no chance sober, never mind drugged out of his mind.
“VIN!!” Chris cried out in alarm, but the bike suddenly surged ahead.
Instantly the Dodge Ram leaped forward as Chris chased Vin, trying frantically to think of some means to stop the bike without injuring his best friend, but Vin was going too fast!
“Oh god.” Buck’s voice was a constricted whisper of terror as the road swept gently around to the right to straighten out with Widowmaker Peak dead ahead and Vin racing straight towards it at top speed. JD was trying to catch him up, but even if he did, he dare not try and knock Vin from the bike at this speed – it would kill the Texan.
Chris’s heart momentarily stopped then began to hammer frantically as it blocked his windpipe, his mind screaming at him to act – some way, somehow – as Vin sped inexorably closer to certain death.
Deep, deep down in Chris Larabee’s brain there existed a memory long forgotten. Many years ago LA SWAT Commander Chris Larabee walked into the den of his home just after three-year-old Adam Larabee had picked up the big, pretty, shiny gun on Daddy’s desk. The thunderous bellow that had roared from Daddy had had Adam shaking in fear of his father for over half an hour. Daddy had held him and rocked him and Daddy’s big hands cuddled him, but Daddy’s eyes had been stern and his voice still carried traces of that terrifying noise. Once he got over the shock, Adam had relaxed – he had known that Daddy would never hurt him.
But Adam Larabee had never, ever under any circumstance again even attempted to pick up a firearm unless Daddy was present and gave him permission to do so.
From deep within the ancient memory gave the all-consuming need to again protect a loved one the means by which to accomplish its task.
“STOP RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!”
The awesome roar was pure, undiluted fury and it bellowed over the airwaves like the heat blast from an exploding volcano. It was a force of nature that could no more be disobeyed than gravity.
Brakes shrieked in their own inanimate pain, locked tyres smoked, gravel spewed and dust billowed in clouds. For a moment the cacophony echoed off the surrounding hillsides, then fell a thick, heavy blanket of total silence. Not even birds sang.
Chris opened his eyes and carefully relaxed his white-knuckled death grip on the steering wheel.
Beside him, Buck Wilmington gave a faint, weak, relief-filled snicker.
Chris slowly blinked and forced himself to look through the windshield, his lips twitching involuntarily as he and Buck exchanged glances almost hysteric with relief. Broadcast over the police radio, the tone of absolute command had brought an instantaneous reflex response as every driver automatically hit the brakes and skidded to an abrupt halt. Like a diamond surrounded by lesser jewels, the stolen motorcycle with it’s rider perched atop it sat motionless at the very base of Widowmaker Peak, the Jag, Kawasaki, Josiah’s truck, the Ram and the skewed squad cars making an almost protective corral.
Chris scrabbled down from the truck, his long strides eating up the distance to the bike. Peripherally he was aware of his team mates and the Denver PD converging, but they were wise enough to hang back, and no officer was stupid enough to put his hand anywhere near his gun.
Chris attempted to swallow the big ball of fear lodged in his windpipe as he approached Vin with all the caution of a lion-tamer going near a hungry lion. Under normal circumstances, Vin would never do anything to hurt Chris, but any person who was high on drugs was capable of literally anything – up to and including Mother Theresa!
With any of the team other than Vin, Chris would have distracted him while two or three of the other members jumped him, dog-piled him and cuffed him, Chris would have been secure in the knowledge that his friend would forgive him and the others once the poison was out of his system, understanding the need to contain him.
* With Vin, that was not an option. Everyone knew that Vin Tanner did not tolerate any kind of physical restraints. He would go totally ballistic, completely, irrationally crazy – and act out accordingly.
Only once very early on in their friendship, during a bout of horseplay in the ATF parking garage, had Chris grabbed Vin’s arms and pinned them behind the Texan’s back as he loudly called for a pair of handcuffs. Vin had gone insane, nearly breaking Chris’s arms as he fought like a lunatic. Other agents had come running with guns drawn as Tanner went totally off his head and turned into a snarling, wild-eyed, out-on-the-edge raging maniac. Barely even seeming to recognise his teammates, Vin had held them at bay as he tried to escape from the confines of parking garage.
Harshly ordering everyone to stay well back, Chris had had to move closer to Vin one careful step at a time, his arms widespread away from his body. Keeping his voice low and soft, never losing eye contact, he had talked Vin back from the Texan’s massive, obvious panic attack, apologising over and over for his prank and softly whispering pleas for Vin to forgive him for his stupidity. Lucidity had slowly returned to the gasping, trembling, hyperventilating young man, rational thought seeping into his eyes…true, then his fist had slammed in Chris’s jaw with enough force to snap Chris’s head back, but Chris had known they were okay again.
Nevertheless, the lesson was learned. Everyone knew enough not to make light of Vin’s phobia about being restrained, recognising it as a holdover from something dark and terrible in the young man’s past. Nobody ever made fun of Vin about the situation, or joked about confining him.
Abruptly Chris became aware that jumping the Texan would not be necessary. Vin’s eyes were huge sapphire saucers in an utterly white, drawn face. Those eyes were brimming over with tears and Vin’s lips were visibly trembling - he looked like a small, frightened child. Chris felt like a complete and utter bastard, fighting the urge to drop to his knees at Vin’s feet and beg forgiveness as two fat tears rolled down Vin’s cheeks, barely aware of his friends around them.
“Good Lord, this is what it feels like to be pond scum.” Ezra muttered beside him.
Everyone wore similar expressions of self-dislike, even the cops, as Vin stared at them with open fear.
Inching forward, Chris stretched one arm, speaking carefully, “Aw Vin, I’m sorry, did I scare ya?”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you, Vin. I was frightened that you were going to fall and hurt yourself. You don’t want that to happen, do you?”
Easing closer Chris kept his tone gentle like he had with Adam when his son had been frightened and his words simple and clear as Vin was incapable of understanding anything too complicated right now. “I’m sorry I scared you. Hey, would you like a ride in my truck to make up for it?”
Vin looked past him at the big, black Dodge Ram, a tentative smile coming to his face. “Really?”
“Yeah. It goes real fast.” Chris encouraged.
“You won’t scare me no more?” The eyes were big and trusting and Chris hated himself.
“Not ever.” Chris promised solemnly.
Finally, thankfully, Vin hesitantly stood up from the motorcycle seat and looked at the truck again. “Ya won’t let him hurt me, willya?”
Chris looked straight into Vin’s eyes, his tone taking on a note that made more than one of those listening shiver involuntarily, “He won’t ever hurt you again, Vin.”
Like summer sun suddenly bursting forth from behind a cloudbank, Vin’s face almost disappeared into nothing but a huge, glorious smile. Before Chris could move, Vin embraced him in an enthusiastic bear hug. “CHRISSIE!!”
“Chrissie.” It was a slurred but happy declaration as Vin buried his face in the shielding chest.
Automatically, Chris’s arms came up to return the…cuddle. There came a soft, muffled snigger and Chris Larabee’s head snapped around, his eyes pinning the culprit with a glare cold enough to freeze hell. The man blanched and dropped his eyes; Chris’s gaze swept around; not a smile showed on any face, and nobody’s eyes met his, everyone having suddenly discovered the meaning of life written on their shoes.
“Come on, cowboy.” Chris gently eased Vin towards the truck, rewarded when Vin docilely followed. The young Texan suddenly paused and gave a massive yawn that had his jaw popping and gave half the contingent an up close view of his tonsils.
“Now he gets sleepy.” muttered Buck ruefully.
Chris got Vin into the passenger side of the Ram, where the young man yawned hugely again and immediately snuggled down, his eyelids drooping. Carefully closing the door, Chris went back to where people were beginning to leave now the crisis was over.
“I’m going to take the day, get Vin to the ranch and let him sleep it off.” Chris announced. “Buck, you’re in charge, you can ride back with Ezra. All of you get back to Ryan Kelly – I want Fredericks ass nailed to the wall six different ways till Sunday!”
They nodded, all too well aware of how close the situation had come to ending in death for Vin and possibly other, innocent people whose only mistake had been in being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Chris turned his attention to the Denver PD, determined to protect his agent from any harassment.
Ron Josephs gave Chris a respectful nod as returned from arranging a ride back to town for himself and Pete. “There won’t be any further action taken, Agent Larabee. Agent Tanner wasn’t in control of his actions and there are plenty of eye witnesses willing to confirm the fact that he did everything possible to avoid this situation.”
Pete Garcia had been waiting quietly in the background and knew his chance to make amends had come. He had seen the raw terror on Larabee’s face as Vin Tanner sped towards certain death on Widowmaker Peak. “A- A-Agent Larabee. Please pass my regards on to Agent Tanner and don’t let him fret about the bike.”
Chris Larabee looked at him in a considering manner, the challenge leaving his eyes, but it was Josiah who rumbled, “What makes you think he’ll worry?”
Pete smiled and shrugged. “My father is a police officer in Puerto Rico. His favourite proverb is, “There’s many a true word spoken in jest” followed by “Wine brings honesty.” I never understood why so when I was sixteen, I asked him. He explained that just as many unpleasant home truths inadvertently slip out when we’re joking, so too if you really want to know someone’s true personality, watch them when they’re blind drunk or stoned.”
“And this has what to do with Vin?” Chris Larabee challenged.
“It has to do with how you’re very lucky to have a friend who is as good as Vin Tanner is on the inside.” Pete replied coolly, not backing down. “My father told me to look out for the supposedly nice guy who turns into a foul-mouthed wife-beating thug after a six pack, or the good fella who becomes a swaggering braggart or ranting bigot following a few funny cigarettes. My point is that Vin Tanner was completely out of his mind, and all it did was make him…playful. He didn’t try to take out a shopping mall with an Uzi, or go after a playground full of pre-schoolers with a machete. All he wanted to do was ride my bike. People that good are very rare.” Pete finished softly.
He was treated to something that he instinctively knew was very rare and a great honour – an actual smile from Chris Larabee. “I know.” The blonde’s tone was equally gentle and filled with affection for the man now snoring away in his Ram’s cab.
Considerably mellower, Chris went back to the Ram and climbed in, closing the door as Vin stirred, his eyes completely glassy as he yawned again. Vin was entering the “crash and burn” stage. “Home?” Vin slurred.
“Yeah.” Chris put the Ram in gear.
Almost immediately Vin fell into a deep slumber, for which Chris was extremely grateful when the stoned sharpshooter snuggled close and then laid his head across Chris’s lap, snoring softly. Chris felt the embarrassed heat coming off his own face and was grateful that the highway to his ranch was traffic-free as usual. No man’s head - and not that many women’s for that matter - had ever been this close to the currently soft, extremely intimate part of Chris’s anatomy that Vin was blithely using as a pillow! Taking one hand off the wheel, Chris carefully brushed Vin’s hair back off his face, easing his fingers under Vin’s head and carefully moving the young Texan so he didn’t get a crick in his neck and also wasn’t pressing so hard on Chris’s – down there.
Vin was deep in Morpheus’ embrace by the time they got to the ranch. Chris opened his door and slid carefully out, lowering Vin’s head to the seat. He opened the ranch door ready, sharply calling a boisterous Sam to order while the old black Lab, Diablo, merely watched curiously at his master’s early return. Going back to the Ram, Chris gingerly managed to ease Vin out and into his arms, not wanting to cause the bruising of a fireman’s lift. Carrying the unconscious sharpshooter against his chest, Chris carried the limp form into the ranch house and slowly upstairs till he got to “Vin’s room”, the guest bedroom that the sharpshooter used when he stayed over at Chris’s. The other members of Team 7 had one also, but Vin was the most frequent guest.
Gratefully he deposited his best friend’s form on the bed, ruefully aware of why most guys rolled their eyes at overwrought Gothic romance novels and those adrenaline-drenched thriller novels where the hero casually picks up the heroine or his best friend and carries them heroically to safety in full-on Hollywood movie scene glory without breaking a sweat, or an arm bone or slipping a disc/trapping a nerve. Carrying any bulky item inanimate or otherwise was hard on the arms and the back and the legs, and carrying a limp human being was like trying to haul around a giant sack of potatoes and was the sort of thing to put a man in traction after the first 30 seconds.
Vin remained inert on the bed as Chris stripped off his buckskin jacket and boots, and then carefully rolled him to one side as he turned back the covers, knowing Vin needed to sleep off the drug’s effects. He hesitated, knowing that Vin would be uncomfortable sleeping in his clothes, but equally uncomfortable being undressed, even by such a close friend as Chris.
Deciding Vin’s embarrassment would be the lesser of two evils, Chris carefully tugged off Vin’s sweater, shaking his head as he saw the shirt underneath and the round-necked T-shirt that peeked from beneath that. Vin tended to feel the cold, and a lifetime of living in poorly insulated accommodation he could not afford to heat had left the Texan with the habit of layering up. On any given day, it could be safely guaranteed that Vin was wearing two tops.
Ruthlessly, Chris removed shirt and T-shirt, ignoring the way Vin muttered and flinched at the feel of the cold cotton sheets against his bare torso. Hesitating again, Chris bit the bullet and undid the button and fly on Vin’s jeans, easing the denim apparel down Vin’s legs and removing his socks as well, so the Texan remained in nothing but a pair of Christmas tree-decorated boxer shorts that Chris recognised, having bought them as a joke present for Vin. He frowned disapprovingly – without all the layers on Vin’s lankiness was always a surprise.
Chris rolled the Texan back over to the uncovered side of the bed so he could tuck Vin in, his eyes flashing angrily and lips compressing despite having seen the scars before. Vin’s torso, back and inner thighs were dotted with very small, very old, very faint scars - some thin, perfectly straight and white, as if nicks made by a knife and others more pink, smooth and round, like cigarette burns.
One scar, however, was a long, twisting jagged snake of a thing that started just beside the nape of Vin’s neck and wound down the left side of his back, bisecting his buttock and hipbone before ending just as it curved down the inside of his thigh, perilously close to his genitals – and the femoral artery that would cause you to bleed to death in less than a minute should it be cut. Vin had received that when his drunken foster-father had thrown him through a plate glass window. Chris was still trying to persuade Vin to name the man, and when the Texan finally capitulated to Chris’s persuasion and did so, the guy was going to understand the meaning of “hell on Earth” courtesy of Christopher Larabee.
Chris tucked the covers up snugly around Vin’s chin, gently stroking his hair until Vin settled down to sleep without the frown marring his forehead. That act of violence had been the trigger that made Vin flee the social care system. He had spend the next half-decade on the streets before finding a caring, substitute family on a Comanche reservation, but had had to run again after some nosy “Indian Affairs” social worker finally noticed the blond-haired blue-eyed boy amongst his uniformly black-haired and brown-eyed family.
He’d spent the next few years dodging back and forth between the Kiowa and the Comanche nations to steer clear of Child Protection Services until they caught him and dragged him, literally kicking and screaming, away from the only real father he had ever known. Again, Chris would have given his right arm for five minutes alone with whichever sanctimonious, politically correct social worker had been responsible for that trauma. Vin had promptly disappeared from his “proper, state approved” foster home – i.e., non-Indian – living on the streets again until he joined the Army as a way to get food and shelter.
Chris tiptoed out and closed the door, leaving it ajar so he could hear Vin should he become distressed. Vin had a wicked sense of humour and as a noted prankster, several good ways of getting his revenge. Chris would have to do some fast talking to avoid being “punished” for forcing Vin to go to the dentist in the first place!
Vin cracked open one eye and realised the white expanse was the pillow his face was buried in. Risking both orbs he cranked up his eyelids and flopped over onto his back with a groan. It wasn’t fair. His mouth no longer hurt for the first time in months but now the inside of his skull was hosting Aerosmith in Concert. He recognised “his” bedroom at Chris’s ranch. Maybe he should just get Chris to shoot him now?
He vaguely remembered going to the dentist’s yesterday, which would explain why he now had this monster headache and a mouth like the inside of a chicken coop. He had tried to tell Fredericks what that stuff did to him but nooooooo – nobody listened to ole Vin!
Finally he managed to get all limbs moving in the same direction at roughly the same time and shuffled into the small bathroom, stripping of his boxers and standing under the water for several minutes to let it pound him back to consciousness; he knew it was unlikely he would use all the hot water and frankly didn’t give a damn if he did. Vin knew Chris was secretly pleased that the big old ranch house was once again used by people – not that the grumpy cuss would ever admit it – and his friend had made several alterations to make things more comfortable for his six most frequent houseguests, such as a specially large water heater to cater to seven showers of a morning.
All of Team 7 kept changes of clothing at the ranch and Vin was a frequent enough stay-over to have built up an entire second wardrobe. Changing into fresh jeans and shirts, Vin pulled on his boots and made his way downstairs as the scent of fried sausages grabbed his taste buds and frogmarched the rest of him towards the kitchen.
As he had surmised, Chris was already up, dressed in jeans and T-shirt that were – well, not white. Chris turned and Vin smiled as he saw that this black T-shirt was his recent present to Chris. Under an exploding mushroom cloud, the T-shirt bore the ominous warning: Armageddon has nothing on me.
“Sit down,” growled his imperious leader, placing a big mug of aromatic coffee and a plate heaped with cholesterol-laden fried pork products in front of Vin. “You’ll eat all it.”
Hiding a grin, Vin picked up his knife and fork and tucked into what appeared to be the components of two entire deceased pigs – bacon, sausage, ham, gammon, plus biscuits, beans and tomatoes. Vin knew he had always been underweight for his height even as a small child when his mother was alive, a situation not improved by foster carers who chose to spend his upkeep money on booze, cigarettes and/or their own kids, followed by his time as a homeless street kid.
One of Vin’s quirks was a tendency to wash his hands immediately after a meal, something he had never given any thought to until Chris brought him into Team 7. He had been getting a mite worried about the way Nathan Jackson seemed to follow him to the men’s room after the group had had a meal, until the African-American delicately broached the subject of eating disorders, having been worried that Vin was leaving the table to regurgitate his food. Everything had been sorted out, but of course a shamelessly eavesdropping cuss named Chris Larabee had made it one of his missions to put some meat on the Tanner bones.
As a matter of fact Vin had to admit that Aerosmith seemed to have left the cranium and he began to feel more human as he ate the deliciously cooked food. Over the past four years since Team 7’s inception in March 1998 and especially since Vin had joined it eight months later, Chris had gradually rejoined the living, easing away from his shadow-world of devastating loss and pain, though he would always bear the marks of such overwhelming grief. Chris was now able to remember happy times with his wife and son that were not accompanied by soul-tormenting agony.
During one such reminiscence he had let slip that he had actually done most of the cooking. As a kindergarten teacher, Sarah had a busy schedule and while she did not mind doing most domestic chores seen as traditionally female – ironing, cleaning, etc., - she drew the line at cooking, declaring it boring and too messy to bother with; only Sunday dinner, ‘the day of dumplings’ did Sarah cook, following the tradition of her mother, it had appeared. Sarah had found a ready ally for her cause of “perpetual take-out” in the form of Buck Wilmington, and so it had been left to Chris to get nutritious food from all the food groups down their gullets, instead of just pizza, Chinese and Indian.
“Can I go play now, Daaad?” Vin whined in perfect imitation of a six year old once he’d cleaned his plate.
He sniggered as he received a silent one-fingered reply, taking his coffee into the other room and settling down on the big old couch as he flicked the TV on and began to channel-hop. Diablo came and flopped down beside it, the more agile Sam clambering up and sprawling across Vin’s abdomen, enjoying the chance for a bit of fussing before his master entered and ordered him back onto the floor.
About to reach for his coffee, Vin’s attention was caught by the words, “… dramatic arrest of Denver’s Danger Dentist…” Sitting further up, he hit the volume increase button on the remote and watched in astonishment as a local TV news station filmed a familiar looking figure on a police bike. He looked up at Chris Larabee who was lounging against the kitchen doorframe. “This is for real?”
Vin turned his attention back to the TV. The video footage of the “chase” wasn’t very clear, as the media had been kept well back, but Vin certainly recognised himself on the bike being tailed by Chris’s Ram as the TV reporter’s voice-over described how George Fredericks DDS had been arrested yesterday after ignoring an “unidentified ATF agent’s repeated warnings” that he “was violently allergic” to the anaesthetic and then compounding his hubris by letting the agent leave his premises while high from the drug’s effects.
Vin winced as the reporter related how the agent had stolen a police motorcycle and led the ATF and Denver PD on a high-speed chase through and out of Denver City, shaky footage of the TV news van bouncing along in the wake of the pursuit vehicles flashing on screen. One enterprising sound man managed to tune into the police band in time to hear Vin’s excited encouragement to ride up Widowmaker Peak and Vin recoiled as Chris’s awesome bellow to stop sounded over the TV speakers.
“Ah wuz gonna try the Widowmaker?” He muttered incredulously, such a stupid stunt having never ever entered his head.
“Yeah.” Chris’s tone didn’t disguise the remembered fear.
Vin watched the remaining fuzzy footage, but then choked and turned to look at Chris with an expression of absolute horror as his address to Chris was clearly delivered into the room. “Ah didn’t…?”
“Yes, you did.”
Vin groaned and flopped back onto the couch as Chris turned off the TV. It was a miracle Chris hadn’t shot him! But…maybe… “Can ah point aht that this is really all yer fault, since you wuz th’ one who made me go t’ th’ dentist in tha first place?”
Walking back into the kitchen, Chris stopped and then turned slowly to face Vin’s self-righteously pleased expression.
His eyes narrowed. “Tanner, you called me Chrissie. In public.” He let the naked edge of steel tinge his voice. “Twice.”
Vin watched him walk back into the kitchen and fell back with a fresh, deeper groan. Aw hell…
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If the *paragraph has familiar-seeming wording, you are not imagining it – I wanted to put in something regarding Vin’s phobia about being restrained, then found the paragraph I have reprinted below in an ATF story on the Blackraptor site - I thought it was so well written that I decided to use it here - although I have “split” the paragraph up and made some minor word/grammar changes. A big thank you to Jodi who emailed that she had found the story I describe below. The author is Heather F, the title Changes In Attitude and the quote below is about halfway down page 2 of the story.
Everyone knew Vin didn’t tolerate any kind of restraints. He would go ballistic, completely irrationally, mad and act out accordingly. No one ever made light of the fact, no one even dared make fun of the Sharpshooter and no one ever even joked about confining the young Texan.