Vin pulled up to the curb outside of his apartment building and switched
off the engine. He pulled the key from the ignition and then grabbed a small
bag of groceries sitting on the passenger seat. Stepping cautiously out,
looking for oncoming cars, he skirted his vehicle and headed for the front
door of his apartment building. Suddenly from behind him, an arm circled
around and pressed something against his face. Vin tensed as he dropped his
keys and the bag and reached for his weapon. Another arm grabbed his arm
and held it in place.
Vin could feel his head swimming and immediately figured out what was going
on. He tried very hard not to breathe in but his struggles increased his
need for air. His mind drifted to the countless episodes of the old black
and white Superman series he'd seen where Lois Lane was repeatedly abducted
by various bad guys using a chloroform soaked cloth. "How cliche..." was
his last thought as he fell unconscious.
******* ******* *******
Inez wove her way through the crowd in her saloon. She loved that her place
was busy but it did make it hard to get around. She found the group of men
she was looking for at the table she had expected them to be occupying. The
man she wanted was towards the back of the table and there was no way she
could squeeze back there so she waved her hand until she got his attention.
When he looked up, she raised her hand to her head, her thumb pointing to
her ear and her pinkie at her mouth ...the universal sign for 'you have a
phone call'. Chris nodded that he understood and began to remove himself
from the table.
"Larabee," he said into the mouthpiece, pressing the receiver tightly to
his ear and putting a finger from his other hand into his other ear, trying
to block out the noise from the bar.
"Agent Larabee, this is Collins at dispatch. I've got a boy on the line by
the name of Julio, won't give his last name, and says he needs to talk to
you about one of your team members."
Chris concentrated on the words and sorted them out, suddenly hit by a sense
of panic. "Patch him through," was all he said.
"Senor Chris?" a hesitant voice came over the line.
"Julio? What's wrong? Is Vin all right?" If Julio was calling him, there
had to be a problem with Vin.
"No, Senor , something is very wrong," the boy said in halting English.
"Is he hurt?"
"He is gone."
"Gone? What do you mean gone?"
"His jeep is here, his keys are on the ground but he is no where." Julio
was obviously upset so Chris forced his own voice to calm, hoping his reassuring
tone would help the boy.
"Julio, we'll be right over. Don't worry, I'm sure Vin's okay." Chris hoped
he sounded sure of himself as he replaced the receiver on the hook. He took
a deep breath before he turned to retrieve his team.
******* ******* *******
Julio and several other boys from the neighborhood where Vin lived stood
around the area surrounding Vin's jeep as Chris and his team arrived. Julio
approached the leader of the seven.
"We have made sure no one has touched anything," he informed Chris who placed
a fatherly hand on the young man's shoulder.
"Well done, Julio. Vin teach you that?" he smiled, hoping to relieve some
of the tension.
Julio smiled and nodded as he led the way back to Vin's jeep. The six men
stood and surveyed the scene before anyone moved to examine anything. The
key ring was lying on the ground a few feet away from the vehicle, as was
a small brown paper bag. Chris knelt down beside it and gingerly opened the
bag with the edge of his finger. Basic munchies required in every bachelor's
apartment. Chris smiled sadly, briefly, before he turned to his men.
"Spread out ...see if you can find anything." The men nodded and moved around
to investigate the scene. Chris stood and approached Julio. "Who found all
Julio raised his arm to point at a younger boy standing to the side. "Louis
is the one who came to get me."
Chris stepped up to the young boy and knelt down in front of him. "Did you
see anyone hurt Vin?" he asked in a soft voice.
The boy looked up at Julio who repeated Chris's question in Spanish. He shook
his head and replied in Spanish, which Julio translated for Chris. "He says
he just found the keys and bag beside his jeep. He knew they were his because
of the seven on the key ring. Senor Vin would never leave his keys like that."
Chris glanced at the keys still lying on the ground. The 'seven' was a silver
digit of the number seven that Vin had bought somewhere and said signified
the team. He always said it was good luck. Chris hoped the luck hadn't run
"Chris," Buck called, pulling Chris away from his thoughts. When Chris looked
up, Buck waved him over. Chris pushed himself to stand and jogged over to
where Buck stood at the entrance to the alley that ran beside Vin's apartment
building. Buck led him in several steps and pointed to a couple of objects
lying beside the building amongst the other debris. Both men knelt down and
looked at the two items and without touching them, knew they were Vin's.
His cell phone and his wallet. Chris pulled a pen out of his shirt pocket
and flipped open the wallet with it. There, staring back at them, was Vin's
picture driver's license.
"Get a crime scene team down here," he stated flatly as he stood.
Buck nodded to the command and ran to his truck to make the call.
Chris continued to stare at the items on the ground for a moment then shifted
his gaze down the alley. He'd always hated alleys. It's where so many of
the dregs of society could be found, not to mention the occasional dead body.
Chris closed his eyes and shook his head sharply at the thought. He opened
his eyes and forced his legs forward deeper into the alley, hoping not to
find what he was so afraid he would find.
******* ******* *******
Vin could feel the gentle slaps against the side of his face but tried to
ignore them. He knew that if he woke up, he would be somewhere he didn't
want to be. He didn't know how he knew that, he just knew, so he fought the
attempts to rouse him.
"Mr. Tanner," a voiced crooned softly in his ear. Vin wrinkled his brow.
Ezra? Only Ezra called him that and he didn't even do that very often anymore.
Vin tried to swim through the murkiness that blocked the way to his conscious
mind. His eyes fluttered and he immediately became aware of a cool draft
that gently blew across his face. It felt good and it occurred to him that
maybe waking up wouldn't be so bad after all. It took all of his concentration
but he was finally able to hold his eyes open and begin to focus on his
"Very good, Mr. Tanner. We want you awake for this."
That wasn't Ezra's voice.
Vin looked around and his eyes fell on the shadowed figure that shared the
small room. He tried to twist around to get a better view but couldn't. Turning
back to look down at his body, he discovered he was bound to a chair. His
arms were tied at the wrists and elbows and his legs at the knees and ankles.
He tugged on them futilely.
"Now, now, Mr. Tanner, there really is no point to any of that. You can not
get free," the voice chided.
"Who . . . what do you . . . ?" Vin's weak voice faded as a fog
billowed up behind his eyes. He took a deep breath and tried to reach up
a hand to rub at them. When he couldn't, he looked back down and only then
remembered the bindings. He shook his head a few times trying to clear it.
"You will be told what you need to be told. Right now, you are considered
the biggest inconvenience to my employer and it is my job to remove all
"And who would your employer be?" Vin's mind was growing clearer. He thought
he already knew.
"Oh, Mr. Tanner. I can't tell you that. He can't be implicated." The man's
soft footsteps echoed through the small room.
"Chassen's crazy if he thinks he can get away with this."
"I'm afraid I don't know what -"
"Cut the crap! Chassen's the only one who would consider me an
'inconvenience' right now. I know it's him."
"Believe what you will, Mr. Tanner," the man sighed. "Believe what you will."
Vin took a deep breath. Okay, he knew the who... Chassen. He knew the why...
the trial. But the what. What were they going to do with him? If he were
going to die, he suspected he would already be dead. So what did this guy,
Chassen's employee, have in mind for him? He turned to where the voice had
last come from.
"So, what happens now?"
"I remove the inconvenience," the voice sounded from beside him. Vin jumped
at the unexpected proximity of his captor and spun his head towards him.
He was close enough now that he could see his face in the meager light and
Vin studied it carefully, memorizing each feature.
Soon, the man's movements caught his attention and Vin turned his eyes on
the man's hands. They were setting up a pole beside the chair on his left
and then pulled a small bag filled with liquid out of an oversized pocket.
Oh God! They're gonna OD me on something!
Vin had seen many of the hideous ways drugs could kill a man, even legal
drugs. He pulled vainly on the bindings as fear was overpowering him.
The man stopped his movements and smiled ferally down at his captive before
him. "You're afraid, aren't you Mr. Tanner? What's in there, you're wondering,"
he said, eyeing the bag.
"Why don't you just put a bullet in me?"
"Well, now, where's the fun in that?" The man raised the bag and hung it
from a small hook at the top of the pole. He grabbed the coiled length of
tubing that was attached to one side and pulled it out straight. He stopped
his movements as he glanced back into Vin's eyes. "It's kind of like the
oxygen on an airplane. You must extend the tubing to its full length to start
the flow." He held the tube down as if he were showing Vin. Vin, however,
never took his eyes off the man's eyes. The man ran one hand down the length
of the tube until it was at the end where he began striping off a protective
plastic coating. Vin tensed and only then noticed a place on his arm where
he saw an IV needle already inserted and taped in place. All the man needed
to do was insert his end of the tubing onto the end of the needle in Vin's
Vin began twisting violently but the straps holding him down were too tight
and he only succeeded in hurting himself. The man started a maniacal cackling
laugh as he slipped the end of the tube into place. Vin tried to lean forward
and pull it out with his teeth, only then realizing that there was a strap
across his chest preventing such movement.
Vin tensed up further as his heart raced. He was sure whatever was in that
bag would cause him great amounts of pain and flinched at every muscle twitch
or unusual sensation he experienced. He tried to convince himself that the
anticipation was worse than what was probably going to happen but the fear
of not knowing would not be so easily controlled.
He had to force himself to uncurl his fingers from around the end of the
chair arm and take a deep breath to calm himself. He refocused on the man
who was still in the room with him, watching him intently.
"Do you feel it yet, Mr. Tanner?"
He's just playing with you, Tanner, Vin told himself. You're smarter
than that. You're stronger than that, he kept repeating to himself. He
looked up at the IV bag and saw that it was almost one quarter gone already,
set on a fast drip. You'd be feeling something by now if there was really
anything in there.
"Do you? Cold sweats? Severe abdominal pain? Headache? Anything?"
"Go to hell," Vin snapped.
"Very clever," the man sighed, disappointed. He leaned forward and looked
right in Vin's eyes. "Maybe I'm just setting you up for something yet to
come. A lot of things can be passed along and not discovered for years."
AIDS. Oh lord, he's giving me AIDS! Vin slowly let his eyes drift
The man raised his hand and gently slapped the side of Vin's face a few times.
"Well, I need to be going. I'll just let you sit and think about it for a
while and don't worry," he pointed to the small bag, "there's more where
that came from." With that, the man turned on his heel and left the room.
Vin looked around the room for a moment. The dim light was coming in from
a small window up near the ceiling. He couldn't see anything out of it though.
He looked down and saw that the chair was bolted into place so there was
no tipping it over in an attempt to get the needle out of his arm. His eyes
slowly drifted back to the IV bag, now nearing half empty, and moisture welled
up in them.
"Chris," he said softly, closing his eyes. "Help me."