Chapter 2 - Take Down
Tucked neatly into his sniper nest high up in the warehouse’s cold, metal rafters, Vin shifted and adjusted the harness lines one more time. The bulky equipment made it tricky to maneuver in the tight space but it was his only insurance against squashing like a ripe tomato on the concrete and boxes below if he fell. He chuckled at the repulsive visual image that flashed in his mind. “Like tomato sauce,” he thought. “Marinara a la Tanner.” He shook his head with the stray thought shoved it to the back of his mind as he wriggled each limb one at a time to keep blood flowing. “Damn, Tanner, get some focus here!” he chastised himself. It was coming up on an hour and a half since he’d been in his snug aerie and his body was starting to complain.
“Falcon, you all right? I saw ya move.” JD’s voice sounded concerned but Vin couldn’t help but wonder if he was getting bored, too.
“I’m fine, Rabbit. Just tryin’ to keep loose.”
“Keep sharp, everyone,” Hound Dog Buck broke in. “I just spotted Lynx comin’ in from the east.”
“It’s about time. My butt’s asleep.”
“Not the time for it, Bunny,” Mantis Josiah scolded in a playful tone.
“It’s Rabbit, not Bunny,” JD grumbled. “Wait until it’s my turn for code names, Hound Dog.”
“Quiet!” Grizzly Chris snapped, also clearly tired of waiting. “Lynx’s company’s comin’ in from the south side.”
Lynx Ezra’s long anticipated meet was just minutes away. All Vin’s aches and pains vanished and he visually swept the area below a final time. The storehouse was huge, full of dirty crates and plastic-wrapped boxes. Cobwebs dangled everywhere up here and Vin was sure there were remnants in his hair, but this was the only unfettered spot that had a clear sight picture of Ezra’s staging area. With practiced ease, his mind sharpened to absolute focus and his senses took over when he settled his cheek to the rifle stock. Vin’s world was now a tight circle marked with cross hairs.
“Four males entering on foot,” he heard Buck report. “Dark green van out front, license 132 AIV, Colorado plates.”
“Copy that, Hound Dog.”
Vin heard the click of JD’s keyboard as he spoke.
“Lynx and Badger incoming.”
A few moments later, Agents Ezra Standish and Nathan Jackson, A.K.A. Eli Stanewich and Nelson Johnson, stepped into Vin’s sight circle and looked toward the warehouse door. Moments later, four men came into view, stopping a few yards from the undercover agents.
“Good job, boys,” Vin muttered to himself as his teammates shifted positions and forced the four newcomers to face the sniper. Ezra’s voice carried clearly through the microphone in his collar.
“Senor Munos, always a pleasure. You have met my associate, Mr. Johnson.”
The best dressed of the four suspects nodded and then indicated with a flick of his wrist that one of his men pat down the agents.
“I assure you that we are unarmed,” Ezra said coolly, raising his arms without fuss. Nathan did the same.
“Consider me careful,” Marko Munos said.
Based on their research, Vin knew the truth of that statement. The man was like an eel - slippery, always managing to squirm his way out of formal charges and personal buys. Getting the weapons dealer here had been a real coup for Ezra and Nathan. Vin had to wonder at the viability of the Carnicero Cartel - had the sons’ squabbling set up this victory?
Easily picking out Munos’ personal bodyguard of the remaining three, Vin fixed his sites on him. The other two men were muscle to move crates. Not known to carry a weapon, Munos usually had more than adequate protection and what Vin saw below was no exception. He rattled off the weaponry he could see.
“Can’t see anything on boss man but Blondie has a shoulder holster, right side, Brown Suit has a shoulder holster, left side, and the big fella carryin’ the metal briefcase and stickin’ close to the boss has one on each side and a suspicious lump on his waistline in back.”
“Copy that, Falcon,” Buck acknowledged softly.
Snaring Munos - even with his armed entourage - should be a done deal. Vin centered his mental zone and watched the proceedings through the scope, satisfied that the entire building had been secured the moment Munos and his men stepped in the building. Team 7 covered the inside while Mitchell's Team 5 locked down the exterior. Munos was already theirs, really.
Talk on the warehouse stage was brief and strictly business. Voices murmured in Vin’s ear bud, blending with the muted sounds of his own soft breathing and steady heartbeat. He watched Nathan open a gun crate for Brown Suit and Blondie while Ezra hammered out details of the order and negotiated payment with Munos. Big Fella stood with them, slightly to one side, eyes in constant motion as he looked for threats while he flexed his fingers nervously. The metal briefcase now sat on the ground at his feet.
Finally, Ezra and Munos shook hands. Big Fella handed the metal case to Brown Suit and Nathan accepted it from him. Then, Nathan moved aside to open it, staying out of Vin’s target picture. In his periphery, Vin got a glimpse of cash when Nathan lifted the lid. Anticipating Chris’ order to surrender, he braced for action
An unexpected cold tingle at the nape of Vin’s neck sent gooseflesh rippling down his spine. He sucked a quick breath and lifted his head just enough to clear his eye from the scope for a broader visual scan of the staging area.
In that fraction of time, something burned across the top of Vin’s right ear and Munos dropped like a theatre sandbag.
A single, sharp pop of gunfire pierced the air.
All hell broke loose.
Honed instinct took over. Vin twisted aside, gaining room to swing around his rifle. In that hot second, he turned and fired in one, well-practiced motion, recognizing a wild shot even as he took it; his body performed automatically as well-honed self defense kicked in. A barrage of bullets from below forced his attention away from the shooter behind him and back to the warehouse floor.
“SHIT!” Vin yelped, tucking into the joists for cover. A glimpse showed Big Fella raking the air with a concealable Uzi - the suspicious lump from his waistband. Stinging shrapnel nicked Vin’s exposed hands and face. He squeezed his eyes shut.
“ATF!” Chris’ strong voice cut into the gunshot-punctuated melee, followed by shouting and swearing below. The assault on his post lessened enough for Vin to expose himself and get off two more shots - one missed Uzi-toting Big Fella by millimeters but the second took down Blondie. Vin saw Big Fella go down with another’s bullet but he still shot crazily in Vin’s direction with surprising accuracy. Folding his body deeper into the small, cold space to make a smaller target, Vin’s one, simple hope at this point was to survive. He had absolutely no place to go and the narrow rafters offered little protection. All he could do was listen, pray and think small.
“Throw down your guns! ATF!” Vin recognized Buck’s bellow in the chaos. In reply, the shooting grew more furious.
Vin jerked when a pair of strikes hammered his body armor, driving the air from his lungs a heartbeat before fire consumed his left side. He shied away from the pain and another sharp force shoved him backward. Vin dropped his rifle and tried to grab something, anything, but found only open air.
Automatically, he twisted, cat-like, in midair followed the path of his beloved rifle. Vin watched as the weapon hit the edge of a crate with a sickening crack before exploding into a million pieces.
“VIN!” Chris’ hoarse voice rose above all of it just before Vin slammed into darkness.
Where the sight of his best friend and teammate falling from the rafters stilled Larabee’s heart, Vin’s reaching the end of his tether and jerking to a gut-wrenching stop jump-started it again. Chris bolted from cover, vaguely aware of Munos’ surrender and his team convergence on the suspects because his eyes locked on Vin turning slowly in the air just out of reach. Completely limp and obviously unconscious, blood dripped at a steady pace from his beltline. There was a frighteningly large crimson pool on the concrete in the fleeting, few seconds it took Chris to get under him.
Getting Vin down became a difficult and heartbreaking struggle. Team 5 moved in and took custody of Munos’ crew - those that were alive, anyway - freeing Chris and the rest to get Vin earthbound. By the time JD reached Vin’s aerie and released the safety line, Chris heard the sirens of the paramedics. JD lowered Vin enough for Chris to embrace and guide him to the floor. Once there, time seemed to slow down.
Chris stepped back and watched, numb, as Nathan cut away Vin’s harness, jumpsuit and vest to find the gaping wound that scored his friend’s side. The vision of his falling body replayed in silent horror in his mind. Buck’s firm grip on his shoulder finally stopped the mental circle of events and his friend’s solid presence shifted Chris’ mind into gear.
He glanced over to Munos’ still form where he saw a paramedic kneeling, shaking his head. Chris then followed an invisible line from Munos to Vin’s aerie in the rafters, and once again, pieced together the sequence of events. Once done, the perplexing conclusion convinced him that he must have missed something. He stared at Munos.
Buck’s voice redirected his disturbing thoughts and he became aware of the pain in his hands from clenched fists. Chris forced his fingers open. “What did you see, Buck?” he asked lowly.
Buck’s hesitation sharpened Chris’ instinct. He snapped his head aside and met his oldest friend’s wide eyes. “Nothin’ that would explain this,” Buck replied quietly, motioning toward Vin. “I suggest keeping our opinions to ourselves for now, Chris. There are too many ears about.” Buck tilted his head slightly toward Team 5. “Mitchell has already called Travis. This is going to be ugly, and you know how I hate ugly.”
Chris started toward Chet Mitchell, the leader of Team 5, when Buck grabbed his arm and stopped him. “Don’t go over there. The less said right now, the better. Let’s take care of Vin, Pard. We all need to have a parley before Travis gets here.”
“So we can get our stories straight?” Chris snapped, managing to keep his voice low. “So we can come up with some reason why it looks like Vin shot Munos in cold blood?”
“Shhh, Chris, don’t do this.” Buck knew he was the person to reason with the team leader because the only other person ever able to calm a riled Chris Larabee was currently unconscious and bleeding. “Not here. Let Mitchell take over and let’s go with Junior. It will be better at the hospital.”
Chris shook off Buck’s hold and watched with growing fury as Nathan prepared Vin for transportation. When the gurney finally arrived, Vin was whisked away with Nathan at his side, leaving the remaining teammates to warily regard their leader. Not one of them uttered a word; even JD lips pressed into a tight line. All Chris had to do was indicate an exit with a tip of his head and they quietly filed out with Chris bringing up the rear. The last thing he heard was Mitchell asking for the Range Master to respond and collect evidence with the Forensic team.
A chill zinged up Chris’ spine as he stepped from the cold warehouse into the sharp, autumn air and the uneasy feeling that his world just forever changed quickened his step.