Disclaimer: This story is the product of different minds coming together to have some fun. We have ownership over any new characters but the rest belongs to others (such a shame!).
Authors' Note: A friend of mine put up a little challenge - to write a story off the word switchblade and this is the story that developed. Of course Vin had to have a main part and some h/c, angst amongst the boys never goes amiss.
There was a quick knock on the door before JD burst into the office. Chris looked up from his desk, and seeing the expression on JD's face asked, "What's up kid?"
"There's been another murder. They think it's Lasser, the police are on their way to the scene now," JD informed Chris and the rest of the Team that had gathered when he'd practically ran to Chris' office.
Damn, Lasser he was one of Preston's suppliers. There was no doubt Johnny Preston was the culprit, even though he probably didn't do the dirty work himself. "Where, JD?"
"In an alley off Fairfield Street."
Chris headed out of his office towards the elevators, suppressing a grin when he realised that the other five members of his team were right behind him, "Not you Ezra, Preston's men might still be hanging around. I don't want them to see you arriving with the rest of us."
"Of course," Ezra conceded, he had to prepare for his meeting with Preston tomorrow anyway.
* * * * * * *
They flashed their ID's and were allowed past the police tape, being careful not to disturb anything. Chris looked down at the victim, it was definitely Lasser, as he walked over to one of the detectives who asked, "Is this a Federal matter already?"
Chris shook his head, "Not really, but this guy used to supply weapons to Johnny Preston, who we've been after for a while."
"The detective looked thoughtful, "It looks like a professional hit, you think Preston has something to do with it?"
"There's no doubt, the Christianson murder last week, Christianson was one of Preston's competitors, there's your connection," Chris said.
The detective nodded, "Preston's cleaning house. We'll never be able to prove it. Bet Preston's never been to this alley, and even if we catch the goon who did this, no-one would ever testify against him."
Chris knew the detective was right, he looked over to his team who were milling around, occasionally speaking with the police, or bending down to check on some evidence. They weren't likely to find anything that would link Preston to this, although Preston was becoming cocky and when he finally made a mistake Chris was determined to be there.
Buck noticed JD hadn't been able to stop staring at the body lying on the cold, grey concrete, one bullet wound to the head and two to the chest. Lasser was probably already dead after the shot to the head, but whoever did this made sure and fired two more bullets, at close range, to his chest. JD was looking a little green, Buck placed a hand on the kid's shoulder, "C'mon, there's nothing more we can do here."
JD followed Buck passed the tape, grateful to be leaving the image behind, although he didn't think he'd forget it too quickly. Nathan and Josiah held the tape aside as Chris also stepped away from the scene.
"I have a feeling this case will go unsolved," Josiah observed.
"Even though we all now whose behind it," Nathan added.
"I still think it's worthwhile paying Johnny a visit," Chris stated.
Buck saw the determined look in Chris' eyes, "I'll join you."
"C'mon JD," Josiah said. "We should get back to the office."
"Yeah, the police know to call us if they find anything that links Preston with this," Nathan agreed.
* * * * * * *
"Well, well. If it isn't my favourite Fed and his partner," Preston announced when he saw Chris and Buck walk into the club. "You know we don't open until six."
Both Chris and Buck strolled towards the bar where Preston sat on a stool, immaculately dressed as usual in a light grey suit, a bored blonde sitting on a stool next to him. The bartender was already there, stocking the bar and supplying Johnny and his girlfriend with drinks as requested. Two of Preston's minders were behind the group, each on opposite sides, and both dressed in the same black suits. Their clothing was the only similarity, one of them had a crew cut, sprinklings of grey peppered throughout his hair, he was quite short but built like an ox, and although he was a large man most of it was muscle and very little fat. On the other hand the other minder had his long hair tied back, he was taller than his counterpart and much leaner, but there was no mistaking the strength that emanated from him. Preston had hired good help, neither man would be someone you'd ever deliberately pick a fight with.
The older minder was standing completely still, he almost looked as if he were made out of stone, his hands clasped in front of him, the only movement coming from the alert eyes that were darting in every direction. The younger man was slouching slightly, flicking a switchblade in one hand, running it over his fingers as the blade sprang open, and then flicking his wrist forcing the blade back in place.
"This isn't a social call," Buck stated and directing an irritated gaze at the younger bodyguard added, "Do you have to do that, it's bugging me."
A sly grin creased the young man's face, but the knife never ceased it's movement. Preston turned, seemingly interested in what had annoyed Buck, he lifted a hand to indicate he also wanted it stopped. Vin flicked the switchblade once more to shut it and laid it on the bar, contenting himself with glaring at Buck instead.
"Joe Lasser was murdered early this morning," Chris stated flatly.
"Now there's a loss to society," Preston observed. "And before you ask, I was in all night as this young lady will attest to." The blonde nodded her head dully, looking as if she was so doped up she wouldn't remember anything anyway.
"What happened? Was he overcharging? Or maybe he knew something about the Christianson murder. We know that he sold weapons to Christianson as well, and we know you've had business dealings with him," Chris wished he was allowed to wipe that smug smile off Preston's face, the man always looked like he was taunting him.
"Business dealings?" Johnny was the picture of innocence as he waved his arms around indicating the club, "I admit that these places sometimes attract less than savoury characters, but that is as far as our association went. Of course, I did now of Lasser's reputation as a gunrunner, however my clubs are perfectly legitimate, and so far you haven't proven otherwise."
Chris took a threatening step closer to Preston, eliciting predictably twitchy movements from the bodyguards, "I know all about your business and I know you had Christianson and Lasser killed. I don't care how long it takes, or if I have to shut every one of these clubs down one by one, you're going to pay."
Johnny Preston threw his head back and laughed, his unconcerned manner relaxing his bodyguards a little, "What makes you think you can do all that now, when you weren't able to eight years ago."
Chris' fists clenched and Buck stepped forward, "C'mon Chris let's get out of here." Buck knew Chris had always hated the fact that Preston slipped through his fingers before, and when the Judge had handed them the file for his new team to have a crack at, Chris had jumped at the chance.
"Yes, wouldn't want to have to report you for harassment," Johnny smirked at the retreating forms.
* * * * * * *
"How'd it go?" Josiah asked as Chris and Buck stepped off the elevator.
"I want to start hitting his clubs. Shut them down for selling liquor to underage kids, fire hazards, anything, I don't care what. I want to fucking get this guy."
Everyone was silent while Chris continued ranting, obviously it had gone very well.
"Hopefully we can get him for gunrunning," Nathan said when he thought it was safe. "Ezra's still going in tomorrow as a potential buyer."
Chris spun around to face Ezra, "I don't like you going in without a wire. This Preston's getting used to killing anyone he doesn't like, and getting away with it."
Ezra sighed, although he did like the fact that they worried about him, "Mr Tanner has already informed us what Mr Preston does and doesn't like, he also advised us that Mr Preston checks for wires when first meeting someone." Chris still wasn't looking too convinced, "Hopefully Mr Tanner will be one of the bodyguards there, if something goes wrong we can back each other up."
Chris relaxed a little, he knew everything Ezra said was right, and the man had been doing undercover work for a long time. Trusting Ezra or Vin wasn't the problem, trusting Preston was.
Feeling their leader's mood change, JD piped up, "Did you guys get to see Vin?"
"Yeah, Buck grinned at JD. "He hasn't changed, still a pain in the ass."
Everyone smiled, they all knew only being able to speak to Vin when he was able to sneak away to a pay phone was wearing on Chris' nerves, hell it made them all antsy. Chris had been right, paying Preston a visit had been worthwhile, especially considering Chris and Buck had been able to see Vin was alright for themselves.
* * * * * * *
Chris was pacing, looking at his watch every so often, Ezra was late and Chris wanted to know how the meeting went.
Nathan approached, "The police called, there's been another murder."
Chris paled, "Jesus Christ."
Just then Ezra appeared from the elevator, and Chris slumped into the nearest chair.
"It's Fischer," Nathan said kicking himself for not having named the victim straight away, he should have realised Chris would jump to conclusions.
"Fischer?" Josiah asked. "Isn't he Preston's accountant?"
JD nodded, "That's right, but I thought Preston was pleased with him."
"When did this happen?" Chris wanted to know.
"Maybe an hour or two," Nathan answered.
Picking up what the conversation was about Ezra stated, "It must have occurred while I was meeting with Mr Preston. Which, by the way, went well. We'll be exchanging goods for cash next week."
"Which makes you his alibi," Josiah said.
JD shrugged, "Preston always gets one of his goons to murder people for him anyway."
"How'd Vin look?" Buck asked.
"Mr Tanner didn't make an appearance, neither did his normal partner," Ezra couldn't remember the other bodyguard's name.
"Roy," Chris answered without having been asked the question. "Did Preston say why?"
"I couldn't very well ask Mr Larabee. I'm not supposed to know his usual attendants."
"The police are picking Preston and some of his men up for questioning. They said we could meet them at the station," Nathan wanted to get all the information he had out.
Chris was getting ready to move, "Three shootings in as many weeks. This is just great."
Nathan shook his head, "This guy was stabbed to death."
Buck stared at Nathan, "With a switchblade?"
Nathan's face registered his surprise, "Uh, yeah."
Buck and Chris glanced at each other.
JD noticed the exchange, "How did you know Buck? What does that mean?"
"Nothin'," Chris growled. "It means nothing, let's just get down to the police station."
* * * * * * *
Chris watched Josiah and Nathan coming towards them. Finally, some answers, the detective in charge had taken one look at Chris' face and hadn't let him anywhere near the interrogation room. However, the detective had allowed his two other agents to sit in on the questioning. "Well?" Chris asked. "What did Preston have to say this time?"
"I don't think he was behind this," Josiah stated.
Nathan nodded, "Yeah, he had no reason, and he seemed completely bewildered."
"Bewildered," Chris scoffed. "To get out of trouble Johnny Preston can look totally angelic."
"It still doesn't make sense," Nathan defended himself. "Why kill his own accountant?"
"And why have him stabbed?" Buck added. "You'd think he would have had Fischer killed by the same person who shot the other two."
"It does sound more like one of Preston's competitors getting even," JD stated quietly, not wanting to attract too much of Chris' attention.
"Or someone on his own staff," Josiah suggested. "Apparently they've just hauled Roy and Vin in, they're being questioned separately," he added indicating the end of the hall.
Chris cursed as he stalked towards where Josiah had pointed.
Buck faced the others, "Wait here, I'll go with Chris."
* * * * * * *
"...and why weren't you at the meeting with Johnny Preston?"
Vin barely registered Chris and Buck quietly entering the small room, "He gave us the morning off." This was a waste of time, Vin had already admitted he didn't have an alibi, he just wished this cop would get passed it.
"Agent Tanner, you've been working undercover for a while. Why bring a switchblade with you. Apparently, according everyone on Preston's staff, that is your preferred weapon."
"It was Johnny's idea. He thought it was the right look for me."
"Where's the knife now."
Vin lowered his eyes, "I lost it."
Buck groaned as the policeman continued, "You lost it?"
Vin wasn't about to repeat himself, he reached over and grabbed the pen in the centre of the table, tapping it lightly on the table, "I have no motive, I barely knew Fischer."
"Maybe Fischer found out you were a Fed, maybe you had to shut him up. Fischer's a criminal after all, it wouldn't be like stabbing an innocent citizen."
Vin laughed, he couldn't think of anything else to do, that actually sounded quite plausible.
"I want to speak to my agent alone," Chris interrupted the questioning.
The policeman was about to object, until he saw the look in Chris' eyes and Buck shaking his head behind the formidable Federal Agent. "Fine," he mumbled as he walked out the door.
Chris glared at the other cop silently standing in the corner, until he also left without a word.
"I hope you're not going to ask me what I was doing between 10.00 and 12.00 this morning," Vin drawled.
"I don't like this," Chris stated.
"I agree," Buck said. "And I'm sure you do it just to annoy me."
Vin realised Buck was referring to the continuous tapping of the pen, but didn't stop, "Of course, I live to irritate you," he grinned.
Chris stared at both his friends, what the hell was wrong with them, "I want to pull you out. We won't have to see Preston, he'll just think you got spooked and ran off. You can come with us now, and we will sort this whole mess out."
Vin rolled his eyes, "Good solution. Do you actually think I'm guilty, or do you just want to make it seem that way?"
"That's not what Chris is saying," Buck spoke before Chris could. "We're just worried about you. It's one thing for the cops to suspect you, but if Preston does..."
"I can handle it. Ez's meeting with Preston early next week, which is really just three days away. We should go on as normal, if Johnny's staff start disappearing he'll think people are on to him, whether it be cops or competitors, he might call off the meeting." Vin hated having to plead with anyone.
Chris glanced at Buck, obviously still unsure. So Vin continued, "Ezra will be wearing a wire on Monday, and you guys will be close by, if anything happens before then I'll get out of there myself. Don't let these last few months be wasted."
"He has a point," Buck knew how much Chris wanted to put Preston away, and so far this was the closest they'd gotten. "Monday's our best chance to catch the son of a bitch."
"Alright," Chris conceded reluctantly. "But if there's even the slightest change of plan, you're out of there."
Vin nodded in agreement, and then glared at Buck when he asked, "What about the Fischer murder?"
"We'll have to deal with it later," Chris said.
"I hate to sound like the guys we try to lock up, but you have no proof," Vin added.
* * * * * * *
"Everything's clear outside," Vin stated as he walked into the back room of the warehouse where Johnny and Roy were waiting. "We should get into position before Mr Smith gets here."
"You don't need to worry about getting into position," Johnny said.
Vin's eyes narrowed, "What do you mean?"
Ignoring Vin's question, Preston asked, "Who killed Fischer?"
Vin couldn't believe this, Preston hadn't said one word to him about the murder, Vin had overheard him making inquiries about his competitors and it had seemed that Johnny thought the threat had come from outside, "I'm not sure that this is the right time to be talkin' about this."
"Any time's the right time when I've been ripped off," Preston stated. "I've been looking through the records Fischer was working on when he died. It seems someone's been stealing from me. Roy here was quick to point out that this only began to occur when you joined us."
Vin stared at Roy, who leered back at the young man. Damn, he should have known, Roy had that Friday morning off as well, he would have had access to Vin's room to steal the knife, and he'd been to enough deals to know when it was safe to slip some money off the top.
Preston was still talking, "Where's your switchblade?"
Vin knew it was useless to accuse Roy, he just hoped the others would get here soon. "I lost it," he answered as he reached into his jacket to pull out his gun.
Preston already had his weapon aimed at Vin and fired. There was no pain and for a moment Vin thought that Preston had missed, but when he heard his own gun clatter to the ground and realised his legs were giving way, Vin suspected he was wrong. He reached for his chest and when he felt a wet, sticky substance run over his hand, Vin had his proof.
Just as Preston was about to shoot Vin again, there was a tap on the door, letting Johnny know that his buyer was here. "Take him around the back and finish him off there," Preston said to Roy as he walked through the door carefully shutting it behind him.
Ezra was worried when he couldn't spot Vin anywhere, damn where was he this time. Ezra knew this bust was going to go down quickly. As soon as JD heard the exchange over the wire, two teams were ready to swarm in, but it still wouldn't happen fast enough for the undercover agent, especially since they'd obviously have to look for Vin.
"Do you have the money?" Preston was asking.
"I want to see the merchandise first," Ezra answered automatically, his mind still on other things.
* * * * * * *
Roy opened the back door and looked out, he'd been trained to be observant and he noticed the movement out the corner of his eye. He watched the road, and saw the vehicles moving slowly but steadily towards this warehouse. This was some kind of raid, he wasn't really surprised, Preston was getting too sure of himself and the cops had to have been watching him for some time now. He went back inside and quietly opened the door to the front of warehouse slightly. All he could make out was Preston speaking to somebody he couldn't quite see. Roy didn't care about Johnny Preston, he had the money he'd stolen safe in an account, so leaving Vin where he was, Roy snuck out the back door, carefully avoiding the police not quite hidden from view and getting ready to run in through the front of the warehouse.
* * * * * * *
JD gave the signal and Team 7 and Team 2 poured into the warehouse. Preston gained his composure after the initial shock, and he and his men weren't going to be arrested without a fight. Ezra drew his gun and ducked out of line of the gunfire, pushing one of the guards that was aiming at Josiah.
Vin heard the commotion and manoeuvred himself closer to the door which Roy had left ajar, placing one hand against it, Vin wasn't able to swing it open, instead he let his hand slide to the floor.
That small movement caught Ezra's attention. He got to his feet and heedless of any danger, ran towards the door.
Chris watched as Preston aimed his gun at Ezra who wasn't paying attention. Chris lurched forward, firing continuously until Preston crumpled to the ground.
"Dear Lord," Ezra mumbled as he reached Vin, red fluid still gushing out of the chest wound. He quickly crouched down gathering Vin into his arms while he tried to stop the flow of blood. "I need an ambulance," he shouted through the door.
The movement and now the exertion of trying to speak, was causing waves of pain to roll over Vin, "Rroy sta.....he Fffisch."
"Shh, Vin don't try to talk," Ezra soothed.
Recognising Ezra's southern shout, Chris rushed towards the sound. He reached the room in time to see Vin close his eyes and his body collapse against Ezra's. "No," he whispered as he fell to his knees beside his best friend.
* * * * * * *
Chris stared at the figure lying in the hospital bed through the window. The gunshot wound had punctured one of Vin's lungs, he'd spent four hours in surgery and now he had a tube lodged down his throat to help him breath until his wounds repaired themselves. The doctor would only allow one person to visit at a time, and Chris steeled himself as he headed towards the entrance, walking passed his friends who were also staring through the window.
Chris sat down in a chair next to the bed, gently taking one of Vin's hands in his own. Vin's eyes fluttered open and Chris, as well as the five men outside, leaned forward. "Cowboy?" Chris whispered.
Vin's eyes didn't register recognition, in fact the only emotion that showed was pain, and he slowly closed them again.
* * * * * * *
Ezra quietly entered the hospital room. This morning Chris, Buck and Nathan were visiting Vin. Ezra glanced at the bed, at least Vin looked better without the tube down his throat, his lungs were finally strong enough to allow Vin to breathe unaided, although sometimes the painful rasps that issued from the young man left Ezra wondering whether that was true. Vin was beginning to wake up more often, however his conscious moments never lasted very long and he only occasionally recognised who was in the room with him.
Team 7 came to the hospital sporadically, dividing their time between the office, home and the hospital. All except for Chris, no-one ever saw him leave the hospital and he was alway sitting beside Vin when anyone entered, although occasionally he was wearing a change of clothes.
Ezra ambled over to Buck, "How is he?"
"Much the same since I've been here," Buck replied.
"Can I talk to you," Ezra motioned towards the door, "Outside."
"What's up?" Buck asked when they were both standing in the hall.
"Roy, the bodyguard partnered with Vin, is back in town. He's been asking about business deals on the streets," Ezra stated.
Buck shrugged, "So, he wasn't at the raid, even if we pick him up he'll just say he had nothin' to do with it."
"I realise this," Ezra said. "But I'm almost positive that Vin was trying to tell me that Roy was responsible for Fischer's murder."
Buck looked at Ezra, the police were still looking into that murder, and Vin was still a suspect. Chris had almost knocked a cop out when he'd asked if Vin was well enough to answer some questions. "I doubt Roy will confess just to get Vin off the hook."
"No, but I have an idea," Ezra tilted his head and looked back into the room. "Do you think we should let Chris know."
Buck followed Ezra's gaze, "Chris is likely to lose his temper if he lays eyes on this guy, and if we tell him he won't want to be left behind. Besides, he still needs to stay close to Vin."
Ezra nodded, Buck would know, that's why the undercover agent had wanted to talk to him first.
* * * * * * *
Ezra sat at the bar for a few moments before heading outside to meet with Roy. "What can I do for you?" Ezra asked as he sauntered into the alley Roy had chosen for this little meeting.
"I heard some guys in the bar talkin'. You're Mr Smith, right?" Roy had recognised the name as one of Preston's buyers.
"Perhaps, but it is a common enough name," Ezra replied cautiously.
"I used to work for Johnny Preston," Roy informed him.
"Well, I'm afraid that's where our association will end," Ezra stated. "The last time I was in acquaintance with Mr Preston, Federal Agents appeared. Luckily I was just an innocent bystander."
Roy smiled slightly at that, "Preston was a fool and was beginning to get sloppy. After I realised it wouldn't take long for him to get caught, I decided to go into business for myself. I just need some more investors."
Ezra chuckled, "A bodyguard with visions of wealth and prosperity."
Roy wasn't quite sure whether Ezra was mocking him, "Hey, I knew enough to avoid the bust."
"So it seems."
When nothing more was forthcoming, Roy continued, "You wouldn't have to invest much, I took enough from Preston to make a moderate start, I just need a little extra cash until I'm established."
Ezra cocked and eyebrow, "Mr Preston paid his minders that well."
Roy grinned, "Not exactly."
Ezra looked suitably impressed, "So you were never found out."
Roy didn't want to sound to sure of himself, but he did want to prove he could handle problems on his own, "Well, when Preston's accountant worked it out, I was able to take care of the problem."
"Again avoiding police interference," Ezra drawled.
"Yeah well, it's easy when you pin the murder on someone else." Roy spun around when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
Buck grinned down at him and held up his ID, "You're under arrest..."
"What the hell," Roy stared confusedly at Buck who he recognised as an agent and then turned to Ezra.
Ezra just held up his own ID and shrugged, "You confessed to murder in front of two Federal Agents."
* * * * * * *
When Buck and Ezra returned to the hospital, the whole of Team 7 were gathered in Vin's room.
"Where'd you two to go?" Nathan asked.
"Solving a murder," Ezra answered.
Everyone continued to stare at the two agents, so Buck filled in the blanks, "We arrested Roy for the murder of Fischer. Vin's completely off the hook."
"What? How?" Chris didn't even bother trying to construct whole sentences.
After Buck and Ezra had finished their stories, each embellishing their own part, Chris leaned over close to Vin, "Did you hear that cowboy? Buck and Ezra got that son of a bitch."
Six men faced the unconscious man, willing him to stir, awaken, or even miraculously jump out of bed at the good news. But Vin lay completely still, the sound of his shallow, jagged breathing the only indication that he was still with them.
* * * * * * *
It took another couple of weeks for Vin to start waking for longer periods, and begin to hold conversations with his visitors, and it would still take a few more months for him to recover completely.
Buck grinned as he walked down the hospital corridor towards Vin's room. Vin was obviously still in a lot of pain, but Buck and the rest of Team 7 had been greatly relieved when he'd started bitching about having to stay in the hospital.
Buck entered and saw Chris sitting in his usual place, Ezra in a chair on the opposite side of the bed, and Nathan, Josiah and JD scattered around the room. Vin was taking a tentative sip of water, refusing help when both Chris and Ezra reached for the glass to help him.
"Hey Buck, where you been?" JD asked.
"Getting us something to eat," Buck replied holding up the bag he'd been carrying. He noticed Vin's eyes light up at the prospect of real food, "Sorry pard, you have to eat what the doctors give ya."
Vin grimaced and began playing with the straw in his glass.
"Ezra's just been telling Vin how he caught Roy," Josiah stated.
Buck glared at Ezra who was grinning at him, "I'm glad I'm here then, now I can tell you what really happened. You see if it wasn't for me..." Buck's eyes drifting to Vin's hands as he continued picking and flicking at the straw.
"Sorry, I'm bothering you," Vin's voice was huskier than usual and his breathing was still somewhat irregular. Also, as much as he tried to hide it, his friends still noticed that Vin winced slightly every time he spoke.
"You are," Buck grinned. "But I wouldn't want you to stop now, especially seeing as how you live to irritate me."
Send us some vibes on what you think of the story!!!
More Ladysmiths Stories here
Divider Bar courtesy of BOON DESIGN