Playing the Game
Disclaimers: The mag7 belong to Mirish, MGM, Trilogy and all those big names. No profit being
Written of the first (I think) M7 Virtual Season. Somewhere back around 2000!
Comments: The general plot of this is loosely based on some real life events, but of course this is fiction. The original characters were made up by me, as were their names, etc.
Thank you NT for going over this old story and helping me smooth it out.
The tall lean figure stood in the shadowed alley between two buildings, unseen and unnoticed in the early Denver hours. Those passing by were too intent on getting to work on time and avoiding the usual Monday morning delays.
The sun broke through the clouds and the man looked up a moment. Maybe the unusually cold late summer morning would turn into a pleasant day after all. Dirty fingers scratched his bearded face. 'Damn spirit gum,' he thought bitterly. He hated using the stuff, but going without a disguise on his missions was no longer a viable option. After all, he'd managed to stay well hidden for almost four years now.
He glanced at his watch quickly, then allowed his brown eyes to scan the area one last time. Employees were just beginning to pull into the parking lot across the street. The timing would be perfect. He was unable to suppress a smile as he turned and casually walked back through the littered alley. It had been a long time since he'd dared to continue his campaign, but he could feel the time was right. The poor bastards looking for him were still back where he'd left them, chasing their own tails, like the stupid dogs that they were.
He crawled into the cab of his pickup truck and settled behind the wheel. He ran a finger lightly over the small remote in his hand and held his breath as he depressed the appropriate button. The explosion rocked the area and the man laughed lightly,enjoying the surge of adrenaline and excitement as the truck bounced in place. "Perfection," he whispered as he started the vehicle. Nothing would stop him this time around.
The Magnificent Seven ATF office was buzzing. Literally buzzing.
"Buck, if you don't turn that damn thing off, I'm gonna…" Chris threatened his oldest friend.
Buck grinned easily, not at all intimidated by the threat. He reached for the offending toy. "Sorry, Chris, it's not suppose to do this."
"Well, you better make haste in fixing it or I'll join Mr. Larabee in your demise." Ezra sipped at his coffee and frowned. Mornings were bad enough, but Mondays were intolerable.
"Honest, Ezra, I don't know what's wrong with the thing," Buck insisted, trying not to laugh. As annoying as the buzzer was, the fact that it suddenly wouldn't turn off was kind of funny.
"Where'd you get that thing anyway?" Vin asked, turning on his computer.
"It's from JD's game. You buzz it at people on the other team when they say the wrong thing," Buck explained. "It's supposed to only buzz when you hold the button down."
"Sounds like a possessed razor," Josiah said, coming out of the break room with his own mug of coffee.
Nathan was with him. "Have you tried not pressing the button?" he asked sarcastically.
JD laughed loudly, only realizing his mistake when all six men in the office turned to stare at him.
"JD?" Chris growled rubbing at his temples.
"What?" JD tried the innocent look, but Buck and Chris both took a step closer. "Okay, all right," he waved his hands in surrender and looked around, hurrying to explain. "I knew Buck would steal it and be buzzing us all day so I rigged the button."
"So, how do I turn the stupid thing off then?" Buck asked waving the still blaring green and pink object around.
JD rolled his eyes at the others and suppressed a smile.
"What?" Buck stepped forward again.
JD quickly scooted his chair back and rolled around the end of his and Buck's desks, his path to the office door now clear. "You might try taking the batteries out," he giggled.
Buck looked dumbfounded a moment before the obviousness of the solution hit him. Chagrined, he flipped the buzzer over, opened the back and popped the batteries. The buzzing ended abruptly.
"Thank you,Mr. Dunne." Ezra nodded at JD with a wink. Josiah and Nathan chuckled softly while Vin was laughing outright, trying to stay in his chair.
Chris even smiled.
Buck looked around at them all, then zeroed in on the culprit. JD was up and headed for the door in an instant.
A phone rang suddenly.
"Hey." Chris' voice stopped JD and Buck in their tracks. "Work first, revenge later," he ordered, reaching for the nearest phone.
JD and Buck exchanged grins and headed back to their desks. "When you least expect it, Kid," Buck whispered.
"I always expect it, Buck."
Chris snapped his fingers signaling for quiet and a pen and paper from Ezra. Seriousness descended on the office immediately as the others noted his posture and tone as he listened and jotted information down. "We'll be right there." Chris dropped the receiver into its cradle and turned to the others. "The Women's Health Clinic on Third was just bombed. Locals want us there 4 is already on route with the van. We'll take two bureau cars. Let's go."
The devastation to the small medical clinic was obvious to Team Seven, even as they parked their cars in the designated area several hundred yards from the crime scene. The front half of the building was gone, allowing them to look into the guts of the structure. The gentle morning breeze stirred loose medical files and scattered random papers across the asphalt.
Buck let out a low whistle to accompany a curse.
"How many people were in there?" JD asked quietly. Wondering if he ever would get used to seeing the ravages of bombs.
"Initial call said there was one doctor killed as he was opening up the place," Chris answered. "Several employees were injured. Theywere arriving for work."
"How long ago was that?" Nathan asked.
"Half hour or so." Chris checked his watch.
"Shall we proceed?" Ezra was getting restless just staring at the deformed building. He noted that the ATF van was already there and other agents were moving about the scene, identifiable by their dark blue windbreakers with large yellow letters announcing them as ATF even from a distance. He looked at his own jacket slung over his arm and shrugged out of his suit coat to put it on. As much as he hated it, he'd rather not ruin the expensive suit digging through rubble.
Together the seven moved forward, unconscious of the formidable sight they made walking in an almost straight line. They'd made it less than halfway to the scene when chaos exploded with a second bomb.
"Down!" Chris shouted the order as all seven scrambled for cover, arms over their heads in a frantic search for safety against the flying debris. JD cried out as something struck his upper arm with enough force to knock him off his feet.
It was over in seconds.
"JD, are you okay?" Nathan scooted across the pavement to the youngest team member.
"Think so," JD hissed through his teeth, his right hand clasped tightly over his bleeding left bicep.
Nathan pried Dunne's fingers off the wound and checked it quickly. "You got a jagged tear there," he said,pulling a roll of bandages from his jacket pocket. Three years of working with this team had taught him to always be prepared.
"Everyone else okay?" Josiah asked watching Nathan rip open an antiseptic pad.
Everyone answered except Ezra.
"Ezra?" Josiah turned to the Southern agent who sat still and stunned a few feet from him. A telltale cut above his right temple immediately explained the dazed look and lack of response.
Chris was closest to the undercover agent and hurried to his side. "Ezra, look at me."
Ezra turned his head slowly toward his boss, struggling to focus.
"You'll need to get checked out, Ezra," he said calmly, seeing the confusion clearing in the light green eyes.
"I-I'm fine." Ezra stared ahead at what was left of the clinic. "T-the others." He pointed, obviously frustrated with his fumbling speech but able to indicate the urgent need to help the more seriously wounded.
Two hours later the last ambulances were gone, the victims all accounted for. JD's arm had been repatched and temporarily bandaged until he could get to the hospital to get it stitched up. Ezra had been looked over and, though he needed a few stitches as well, the paramedics were more concerned about a possible mild concussion. Since the rest of the team was busy with clean up and the investigation, Ezra was able to convince the EMT's that he would "most assuredly" get checked out later.
Somberly, agents picked through the rubble, bagging evidence and marking the scene. If the damage had effected them before, seeing three members of Team Four rushed away in critical condition from the second bomb fueled their rage to new levels.
"This was low," Buck muttered as he bagged a twisted piece of shrapnel. "Shrapnel and nails, what kind of a person…" His voice faded as he wrote the date and time on the bag.
"How's it coming, Mr. Wilmington?"
Buck looked up sharply at Ezra. "What are you doing here, Ezra? Shouldn't you be in the back of one of those rigs?" He stood slowly from his crouched position suppressing a groan as his knees protested the strain.
Ezra dismissed the question with a flippant wave. "What have you got?" he asked, his eyes focusing on the evidence bag.
Buck handed it over. "More of what everybody else has, bunch of crap metal."
Ezra nodded, then realizing his mistake squeezed his eyes closed to attempt to keep the ground from tilting.
"Hey." Buck saw him sway and quickly grabbed his elbow. "You sure you shouldn't be at the hospital?"
"Quite." Ezra let out a slow breath to steady himself. "Please continue what you were telling me."
"You gonna stay on your feet?"
Buck shrugged at Ezra's scowl,but didn't move away, just in case. "We're still looking for the device, both of them actually." He pointed to where the other agents were working. "Cordoned it off in a grid and we're each taking an area."
"Hey!" JD shouted from his spot. "Got one."
"Whatcha got, kid?" Vin was the first one to his side.
"Definitely one of the bombs." JD pointed to the twisted bundle of metal and tape. "See, right there's a directional plate." Carefully he turned the device over.
"And there's the remote." Vin sighed rubbing his forearm across his eyes.
"You mean the guy waited until people were in place before he detonated?" JD couldn't keep the shock from his voice. He winced as the tear in his arm pulled and tried to mask his grimace, knowing full well that he probably failed miserably.
"Looks like it," Chris said from behind him. Buck, Ezra, Josiah and Nathan had also joined them.
"Steve from Team Four found the second device," Josiah said, exchanging a glance with Nathan and nodded slightly towards Buck as the taller man suddenly reached out and gently held on to Ezra's arm, steadying him.
Nathan rolled his eyes and shrugged.
"Time delayed?" Ezra asked though it was more of a statement then a question.
"Yeah." Josiah's eyes widened. "Did you talk to him already?"
"No, just a feeling." Ezra shook his head then cursed gently as a wave of dizziness attacked. Instantly he knew he wasn't going to win the latest round and succumbed to the darkness.
"Buck!" Nathan shouted a warning, but Buck had seen it coming and was able to catch Ezra as he crumbled. "I knew he should have gone in to the ER." Nathan knelt beside the southerner and checked his vitals quickly.
"We need to call another ambulance?" Chris asked as he helped JD bag the first bomb.
"Naw," Nathan waved away the concerned look. "Probably a mild concussion. He needs to go in but there's no need for sirens."
"JD still needs to go in too," Buck pointed out.
JD scowled. "I'm fine," he insisted even though his arm was killing him.
"Sure you are," Nathan said calmly. "Just like Ezra here."
"What about me?" Ezra stirred and groaned, squinting through watery eyes at the others.
"You're a stubborn pain in the…"
"Let's just get these two in and get back to the office and the case," Chris cut Nathan's tirade off with a grin as he turned to help Buck get Ezra to his feet.
"You want me to carry you?" Buck teased.
"Certainly not" Ezra tried to straighten and steady himself.
Nathan laughed adding, "Well, do you NEED him to carry you then?"
Ezra sighed, "I am quite capable of maneuvering to the car on my own. I hope." He added the latter under his breath. Despite his adamant statement, he did allow the others to assist him.
It was late afternoon before everyone finally made it back to the office. Ezra was still slightly irritated that the hospital staff had insisted on observing him for a couple of hours, but at the same time thankful he hadn't been admitted.
JD, who had been released immediately after treatment, sat at his desk staring at his computer screen as if it held the answers to the mysteries of the universe. Chris was on the phone, while Buck, Nathan and Josiah were at their desks already deep in the process of accessing information for the case. The first task being to pull up records of similar types of bombings.
"Any lab reports coming in yet?" Vin asked.
"Some," JD answered. "Preliminary ones anyway. You all right, Ezra?"
Ezra smiled. "I am perfectly fine," he insisted.
The others merely looked at Vin for the truth. "He's got a slight concussion,but the Doc gave him pain killers and said to watch him. We see him acting any more confused than normal," Vin glanced at Ezra with a mischievous grin, "we need to take him back in."
"I am not returning to that establishment," Ezra stated firmly as he attacked his keyboard, grateful that at least the blurry vision had cleared up.
There was something disturbing about the morning's bombing, besides the obvious. An alarm was blaring violently in his head that he was positive had nothing whatsoever to do with his injury. Lightly he touched the bandage and frowned.
Ezra looked up in surprise at Chris standing beside him, arms crossed in front of his chest.
"Not this," Ezra answered pulling his hand away from his head. "This." He pointed to the printouts on his desk that everyone had received. A compilation if the information they had gathered so far.
Chris' brow furrowed momentarily. "What about it?"
Ezra shrugged and realized the others were listening now, too. "There's just a familiarity to it that I'm not recognizing right now, and I should be," he admitted with frustration.
"I'm surprised you can remember your name right now," Nathan told him. "You took a good hit."
Ezra nodded slightly. "Still, this is an important connection, I can sense it."
"Well, take it easy and it'll come to you," Nathan reassured.
"Just let us know as soon as it does," Chris said, then added in a louder voice, "Just got an update on Team Four. Everybody is going to make it."
"Praise be," Josiah sighed with genuine relief.
"Connor's leg was pretty tore up," Chris continued. "Probably won't be able to return to the field."
"Ever?" JD asked.
Chris just shook his head. "Desk duty maybe, research, but you never know. Stranger things have happened."
Vin nodded, thinking of his own history of injuries. At least so far, he'd always been able to return to work.
The office was quiet a moment, all the men dwelling on the one real fear of having to leave the agency, before a phone rang in Chris' office and brought them all back in focus. Chris picked up the call at Ezra's desk, hanging up after only a few minutes.
"It's official, the case is ours," he told them. "Team Four was moved to a current arson. Let's meet in the conference room in 15. Bring everything you got so far. JD, call the lab and get updated reports. I know they won't have much yet, but I want whatever they do have."
When the information was all gathered and the seven settled around the long conference table, it became evident quickly that there wasn't much yet to work with.
JD went over what he had scraped up. "The lab basically confirms what we already know." He looked up, distracted as Buck ran a hand over his mustache, then continued. "Both bombs were constructed primarily of duct tape, shrapnel and what they think are a brand of roofing nails. They're checking for a brand name on the tape and nails."
"They have anything definitive about the shrapnel?" Chris asked.
"Okay, Buck?" Chris looked at Buck to continue with his part of the report.
"First bomb was set off with a simple remote. Our guy had to have been within a mile to detonate. Second bomb was on a timer. Techs estimate it was set to go off between 30 and 40 minutes after the first one. Both bombs had obvious directional plates."
"I still don't see what the point of the second bomb was," JD admitted, tapping his pen in an irregular beat on the glossy surface of the table.
Everyone looked at Josiah then, who smiled and shook his head as he flipped open a file folder in front of him. "Seeing as no one has claimed responsibility yet, we don't know much." His low voice filled the room, "I'm guessing our suspect is a white male, between 30 and 50 years of age. The target being a women's clinic lends me to think he's far right winged on the political scale. Then again, instead of being a political statement against abortion, he could just have set us up to think that's his motive."
"If he wanted to be political, couldn't he just have bombed the place when it was empty?" Vin asked quietly.
Josiah nodded. "That's what I would think. This suspect deliberately set the bombs to kill and injure though. He waited for the workers to show up this morning before he detonated the first bomb, and I have very little doubt that the second bomb was aimed at us."
"Us?" Buck asked sharply.
"Not us," Josiah gestured to indicate them, "specifically, but the rescue crews, police and ATF in general, yes."
"Dear Lord." Ezra rubbed two hands over his face.
"Ezra?" Nathan asked.
Ezra shook his head. "This is sounding more familiar with each infernal detail and yet I just cannot place it."
Chris looked at his watch; surprised it was already past six. "Why don't we call it a day and start early tomorrow. JD and Ezra need to take it easy anyway. We'll most likely be back out at the site tomorrow so dress for it," he reminded as they packed up their files.
Grimly, Chris smiled as he watched Ezra doze off in the plush armchair he now occupied. File folders littered the carpet around the chair and one lay open across the southerner's lap, precariously close to sliding off.
It had taken several moments of "friendly" persuasion after the decision to send everyone home, to convince Ezra that he wouldn't be returning to his condo alone. Eventually the undercover agent had relented, particularly after Chris threatened to send him home with Buck and JD. Chris hadn't wanted to drive all the way home to his ranch after such a stressful day either, and since he always kept a packed bag in his Ram for just such an occasion, it had worked out all around.
He shifted slightly and flicked through several channels on Ezra's muted TV before settling on the local channel's late night news. He'd turned on the closed captioning and now sat sipping a cup of gourmet coffee while staring at the bombing coverage. Chris felt a wave of fury directed at the pristine looking newscaster. He was thankful he couldn't hear what he assumed was a sickening smooth voice read the work of some grunt journalist off the teleprompter. He couldn't push back the sudden memory of microphones being pushed into his face after the bomb that killed his family, the stupidity of the "How do you feel" question and the rage he felt towards the person asking it.
"You can turn that up if you wish."
Chris turned to look at Ezra. "No need. He's not saying anything interesting, or true for that matter. Ever wonder if these guys just make up a story to go with the pictures?" He focused on his own sarcasm to escape the pain in his heart.
Ezra chuckled softly, pretending to be unaware of Chris' personal battle, as he closed the file on his lap and tossed it onto the floor. "Many times." His head still throbbed,but to his relief,the intensity had lessened somewhat.
"You heading to bed soon?" Chris asked leaning forward and stacking up the left over food containers from a nearby Chinese restaurant. When Ezra didn't answer, he looked at him. The Southerner sat with his head resting on the back of the chair, staring blankly at the ceiling. "Ezra?"
"Probably." Ezra sighed heavily.
"You aren't still fretting over this case are you?" Chris asked as he carried the garbage into the kitchen. He tossed the takeout boxes into the trash and quickly rinsed his hands.
"I'm not sure 'fretting' is the word I would use," Ezra replied.
Chris smiled and skimmed the instructions on Ezra's prescription bottle. "No one normally uses the words you would," he told him, filling a glass with water.
Ezra made a sarcastic face when Chris entered the living room again and handed him the water and medicine. "Thank you."
"Go to bed and let it go." Chris implied the order behind his words. "Whatever's bothering you will come to the surface soon enough, I'm sure."
"We can always hope." Ezra rose from his chair and moved toward his room, careful to hide any signs of the nausea he felt. "Good night then." He paused when he reached the door and looked back at Chris, who was turning the living room lights off. "Thank you again, Chris."
Chris paused a second, taken aback slightly by the level of sincerity in Ezra's tone, before responding. "No problem, Ezra. Get some rest."