Chapter 3 - After Action
The five remaining members of Team 7 climbed solemnly into Larabee’s black ATF pool vehicle. Buck grabbed the keys from the stony- silent team leader and drove as fast as he dared from the scene while JD, Josiah and Ezra followed Chris’ quiet example. Buck tensed with each mile at the uneasy atmosphere.
Somewhere between the scene and the hospital, JD broke the silence. "I made copies of the video feeds," he said softly. "And the chatter. I put 'em on a thumb drive before Wilson from Team 5 seized the surveillance van."
"That was very astute of you," Josiah replied. "I hope it helps."
"So you saw the same thing?" JD's tone was wary.
"Perhaps we should wait to see Mr. Tanner's status before engaging in any debate," Ezra interjected softly, tipping his head in their leader's direction. Chris' shoulders rode near his ears with tension and Buck gave Ezra a thankful glance in the rearview mirror.
"There was so much blood." JD ducked his head and twisted his fingers together as he whispered the words. He didn't get any reply.
Once at the hospital, the men fell into a flying V formation as they followed Chris, who marched ahead, mute and dangerous. The Emergency Room door swooshed open and they slowed, forming a loose cluster in front of the check-in desk. The moderately boisterous waiting room fell quiet with the arrival of the intimidating five. A battle-worn nurse eyed their approach and moved to the window. “And you are here for . . ?” the nurse began.
“Tanner. Vin Tanner. Ambulance brought him in.” Chris’ voice was tight, raspy.
The nurse took them all in with once glance. “The Federal officer. We’re expecting you. Who is the patient's supervisor?”
"Me," Chris snapped. Before he had a chance to erupt, the nurse shoved a clipboard into his hands and pointed toward the entry door. Chris took the board and stepped up to the door, shoving it open when it buzzed. The rest of the team stared as it swung shut, their grouping drifting quietly apart afterward.
“Well,” Ezra noted before turning to an empty chair in the far corner. “It appears that we shall wait.”
“Yeah,” JD said, a weary slump to his shoulders.
“Gentlemen,” Josiah started after scanning the room. “Let’s take this moment to clear our thoughts.”
“Amen,” Buck agreed, heading to the exit. “Outside.”
The four men regrouped in the ambulance bay, forming a semi-circle by the large entry doors emblazoned with “EMERGENCY” in red letters. Wire-laced security windows allowed limited sight inside the emergency room.
Josiah started the discussion. “This is what I saw. I was monitoring the video out of sight, so I could not see anything outside the frame of the camera. Munos was facing Ezra and was the first one down.” His face fell when the others agreed. “There goes that hope that something happened outside my field of sight. Ezra? What happened?”
Ezra’s soft southern twang held a bewildered edge. “I did not read anything in Munos that would have initiated that kind of reaction from our illustrious sniper.”
“So you’re sayin’ Vin shot him without a reason?” JD’s ire made his voice louder than he wished. Frowning, he stepped in closer and forced his voice lower. “That he up and murdered Munos? Is that what you’re sayin’?”
“No, that is not what I said, Mr. Dunne. I said I didn’t see any threatening motions from Mr. Munos or his behemoth bodyguard. I did not, however, have a visual on the other two miscreants.”
“I did,” Buck said. “I had a clear shot of them from my position, but I couldn’t see beyond them.”
“JD? Did you hear anything?” Josiah's mellow voice held a thread of hope.
Somewhat calmed, JD thought back. “I had on headphones and could hear everything clearly. My video was at a 90 degree angle from Josiah’s, which covered what was behind those guys and I didn’t see anything either. Heard the first shot and saw Munos drop. Vin didn’t shoot him!”
“Well, it sounds like we’re going to have a hard time proving that,” Buck concluded. “Ideas? Did anyone get a good view of the impact? Was it from Vin’s direction?”
“Had to have been,” Josiah muttered. “I can’t see how it could have been from any other direction.”
JD’s eyes inflamed once again. “But Vin didn’t do it! He wouldn’t!”
“Then who did?” Buck looked at each one of them, confirming the importance that they stick together for Vin’s sake. “Ideas?”
Ezra cocked his head in thought and frowned. “I know that our Mr. Munos has enemies. None that I am able to confirm are here in Denver, however.”
“Where are they?” Josiah asked.
“Mexico, with the majority of the Carnicero Cartel,” he replied. “I understand that there is a smattering of loyals in San Diego, but I do not have names. If we are working on a second shooter scenario, gentlemen, where did said person conceal themselves?”
Buck stroked his mustache as his mind worked, and then he turned to JD, resting a hand on the kid’s shoulder. “Unless we can provide an alternative, this is all going to fall on Vin. Hypothetics aren’t going to get us very far. We need facts, and some idea of spin. . . something . . . to buy us time.” They all nodded agreement. “Chris is gonna blow sometime, too, so be prepared. Now let’s check on Junior.”
"I am surprised our leader has not exploded yet," Ezra noted.
Just as the men moved toward the entry doors, the first news van arrived. It jerked to a stop and a suit-clad reported jumped out, pointing at the dish antenna as he barked orders to the driver and technician still inside the vehicle.
"Ah, hell," Buck growled, knowing their wait just got ugly.
Chris stepped into the curtained off cubicle farthest from the lobby, nodding approval at Nathan’s arrangement. His first glance at his friend startled him; Vin looked pale in this light, his skin a sickly hue. He looked dead and Chris had to force his gaze to the heart monitor to believe otherwise. Nathan’s head shot up from where he checked an IV and he backed from the bed and gave Chris his full attention. His voice was far away in Chris' ears.
“He’s doing okay so far, Chris. They got him to x-ray right away. Some cracked ribs from the two bullets that struck the vest, another one tore along his side just under the edge of his vest, and he cracked a vertebra from hitting the end of his tether. It’s a good thing he had that or it would be a different story.”
Eventually, Chris raised his eyes and acknowledged Nathan with a nod.
“He will probably have whiplash-type soreness, too. His body got quite a shock.”
“That why he’s still unconscious?” Chris approached the gurney and rested his hands on the cold metal rail, the forgotten clipboard clutched between elbow and side. His eyes locked onto Vin’s wan face.
“He must have whacked his head on a joist when he fell. There’s a good sized lump near his temple. They think that’s why he’s still out.”
“We will remedy that after I stitch up his side.” A young doctor stepped through the curtain, pulling on rubber gloves. A nurse followed close behind and readied an implement tray. “I could use a little more room.” The doctor looked pointedly at Nathan.
"Yes, of course." Nathan turned Chris by his elbow and gathered the clipboard from under his boss' arm. "I'll take care of his check in and fill in the guys. Stay out of the Doctor's way, okay?"
Larabee nodded, unable to tear his gaze from Vin’s slack face. He heard Nathan's footsteps fade as he watched the procedure begin.
“Okay, then, let’s get started. Annie, we’ll need more gauze to clean this.” He pulled the sheet back and exposed a ragged, bloody rent in Vin’s side. “The bullet skipped across his rib, under the skin and basically flayed him open. Ugly, but easy to fix. Shouldn’t be much of a scar.” Chris saw the physician give Vin’s chest a quick sweep with his gaze. “Obviously, he’s not a stranger to scars.”
“He’s had a rough life,” Chris said quietly, surprised as the truth fell automatically from his mouth.
“After this, we’ll take him for an MRI to check that knock on his head, just to be on the safe side.” He tied off a few stitches. “I’m Dr. Morgan, by the way.”
“Larabee. Chris Larabee. Vin’s my teammate.” Chris thought a moment. “Did you examine him thoroughly? I mean, where there any wounds or anything that would indicate - uh, I’m not sure what I mean to say.” Chris massaged his neck and took a deep breath. “Could someone have been holding him from behind? Threatening him, say, with a knife or something?”
Dr. Morgan spared Chris a glance. “No, nothing like that. No other marks other than what you see now. The head wound is toward the front and is consistent with a fall and brush against a beam. I got the impression that there wasn’t enough room for two up where he was.”
“No, there wasn’t.” Chris sighed and rubbed his eyes. “I had to ask.”
Chris silently watched Dr. Morgan complete a neat row of 25 stitches and pull off his gloves. “After his MRI we’ll keep him for the night.” He glanced down as Vin’s breath caught and his heart rate stuttered. “Ah, it looks like he’s waking up. Let me know when the imaging room is ready,” he said to the nurse as she disappeared through the drapes.
“Vin?” Chris called, leaning down while Dr. Morgan lifted each of Vin’s eyelids and brushed his eye with light.
“Equal and responsive. Good. Keep talking.”
“Wake up, Vin. Can you hear me? Vin?”
Vin’s head rolled slightly aside and he groaned. Chris could see him working to open his eyes, and he was finally successful after a few disjointed attempts. “C - ssss?” he managed to hiss. “Wh'r'm I?”
“The hospital, Pard. You fell off the joist. You remember? You hit your stubborn head on the way down.”
“Oh.” Vin squinted in Chris’ direction. “Ev'rything hurts.”
Chris cracked a sad smile. “Yeah, I’m sure it does, Cowboy.”
“Try to keep him alert. I’ll be back.” Dr. Morgan departed then, leaving Chris alone with his friend.
Chris carefully leaned against the cold metal of the gurney and bent over into Vin’s line of sight. “You’ll be fine, Vin. Looks like most everything’s superficial.”
Vin frowned again and blinked hard. “What happened?”
“You fell off a joist and dangled like Miss Muffet’s spider.” Vin gave him a confused look. “You don’t remember anything?”
Vin winced with an aborted try to shake his head. “No,” he whispered. “’n stop hollerin’.”
Chris smirked and patted Vin’s shoulder. “Sure, buddy.”
They waited in silence until the nurse returned and then proceeded to roll Vin down the hallway. “I’ll be waitin’ here for you, okay Vin? I’ll be here.” Chris saw confusion in his friend's eyes as he was taken away.
Even in his concussed state, Vin knew something was wrong – his pained blue eyes made that very clear. He knew Chris was holding back because the eerie mental link they shared from their beginning made hedging impossible. Outside the pains that plagued his body, Vin Tanner knew that something very, very wrong.
At that moment, watching Vin disappear down the hall and feeling that first jolt of questioning suspicion along their link, Chris knew for sure that Vin was innocent. The problem would be to prove that to the rest of the world.
Chris soon found that standing by Vin’s side as he drifted in and out of awareness was the quieter place to be. In the waiting room, hospital staff finally directed Security to keep the arriving media at bay. The Media Relations Agent finally showed up just as Chris was ready to storm the door and start shooting, and it looked like most of the team would be out there backing him. Once the Media Agent gave his statement in the ER parking lot, the reporters ditched the scene to prepare for the respective broadcasts.
As they parted, Ezra made a cutting comment about how Vin was polite enough to get hurt just in time for the nightly news.
“Has Travis called yet?” Buck asked Chris during one of his waiting room visits.
“Dunno.” Chris pulled his phone from his pocket and looked at the screen. “Eight missed calls. Guess he has.” With a tired sigh, Chris turned aside, separating from the group. “I’ll bring him up to date.”
It was close to midnight before Vin moved from the chaotic E. R. and into a room. Exhausted, he fell asleep as soon as the door swung closed and muted most of the hospital noises. Chris continued his solo vigil that began in the E.R., leading off a quickly scheduled rotation now that Vin was in a room. Each member departed to clean up and start reports. Chris knew he had to leave sometime, but he had a nagging feeling that if he did, Vin would disappear. His tension grew with each passing hour.
Unable to sit any longer, Chris moved just outside the door and paced a small circle. Nathan eventually showed up to relieve him and offered his boss a large cup of coffee - good coffee, based on the cup logo.
“He finally asleep?”
Chris nodded before he tipped the cup and took a careful sip. “Just got tired. They didn’t give him anything.”
The two men stood side by side in silence for several moments before Chris turned and looked down the hallway. Nathan followed his boss’ line of vision and saw their supervisor, Orin Travis, approaching them with an unreadable expression. Another man followed close behind.
“It’s about damn time Travis showed,” Chris muttered.
“Ain’t that Becker from Internal Affairs?” Nathan asked lowly.
“Yup,” Chris replied, his eyes still tracking Travis. “Surprised it’s taken this long.”
“Chris.” Travis extended his hand and Larabee shook it briefly. “How’s he doing?”
“Could be better,” Chris said, his eyes now pinning Becker.
“Um, he’s got a mild concussion, broken ribs, a cracked vertebra and a couple dozen stitches in his side,” Nathan offered
“He was shot, then?”
“Yes.” One sideways glance from Chris stopped any further comments from Nathan.
“He’s asleep now,” Chris said.
“I will be back to check on him tomorrow,” Travis said. “I understand he’s getting released in the morning, so I will be here early.”
“Why?” Chris snapped.
Chris Larabee had the knack of intimidation but Travis was one of those rare men that seemed to be immune to Chris’ dark nature. Whereas Becker shuffled back a step, Travis held the line and met Larabee’s icy stare.
“I think you know why,” Travis replied. “I am honestly concerned with any of my agents’ health, as you know, but this situation is different. Questions need to be asked.”
Becker finally spoke up. “You will get your turn, Agent Larabee, but not here. I need to speak with Agent Tanner in private.”
“And with his attorney or Union representative present,” Nathan shot back.
Becker nodded shortly. “If he thinks he needs that.”
“Then we’re done here,” Chris growled. “As I said, Tanner’s asleep.”
The four men exchanged silent looks before Travis turned and spoke softly to Becker. “I’ll meet you in the lobby.” Becker didn’t look happy, but he nodded and walked away. Travis turned to his two agents. “Chris, I need to know what Vin has to say. I think you realize the problem we have.”
Chris pressed his lips together and nodded once. “You’ll need to interview the whole team.”
“Yes. Tomorrow, at the office, starting at 0900. Agent Becker’s team will contact you in the morning.”
“What about Vin?”
“Becker and I will speak with him here before he’s released and inform him of his rights.”
“Rights?” Nathan asked. “He’s under arrest?”
“Not those rights, his rights as a Federal Employee under investigation.”
Chris stood straighter. “Charges can’t have been filed already!”
“No, this is still the preliminary investigation on whether he violated protocol,” Travis explained. He set his hard gaze on Larabee. “You know this does not look good so far. I’ve gone over the video and audio of the incident several times, Chris. We have to be careful and thorough.”
“I want copies of the reports.”
“As your supervisor and an involved member of the team, I can’t allow that.” Travis held up his hand at the instant protest. “I will keep you informed with whatever I can. We both know this is atypical of the Vin Tanner we know.”
“But in I.A.’s eyes, it’s possible of any Agent.” Nathan flatly delivered the statement.
Travis nodded. “Yes. It is. You know it’s how they are supposed to look at things. I expect full cooperation.”
Chris, his jaws flexing with pent up anger, could only nod.
“Then I will see you tomorrow. Gentlemen.” Travis turned and left the two bristling agents.
When they heard the elevator doors close, Nathan sighed. “I would not want to be in his shoes right now.”
“I don’t want to be in my own shoes right now,” Chris sighed, rubbing his eyes.
Nathan slapped Chris’ back. “Go on, Chris. Try to get some sleep. Ezra’s spellin’ me in four hours.”
Chris’ shoulders slumped as he nodded and sighed. “Okay. I’ll see you in the office tomorrow morning. After that, I’ll plan on takin’ Vin home.”
The men shook hands and parted, both knowing that the next 24 hours would be harder still.