Standard fanfic warning that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law. These aren't my characters. I'm just borrowing them for, um, typing practice. Yeah, that's it, typing practice. Originally published in Magnificent Deaths #1, from Neon RainBow Press.
Susan M. M.
"Damn!" Frustration made Special Agent Ezra Standish's southern accent stronger than usual. "Five weeks of undercover work wasted."
"Could be worse," Special Agent Chris Larabee, leader of ATF Team Seven, tried to console his subordinate. "At least you got out alive. Could've been a lot worse than a blown cover and a few bruises."
Josiah Sanchez, Team Seven's profiler, nodded. "I hate funerals."
"Don't worry, Ez," said sharpshooter Vin Tanner. "We'll get Swetlany another way."
"Svetlanov," Ezra corrected automatically.
"Travis won't be happy," JD Dunne predicted. The former Boston police officer was the youngest member of Team Seven, and their computer expert. "Up till now, the Russian Mafia's been confined to the coast. This is the first we've seen of them this far inland."
"Nobody bats a thousand; Travis knows that," said Buck Wilmington. The tall, dark-haired man had been Larabee's friend since high school, his partner when they were both in the Denver Police Department, and was now his second in command of ATF Team Seven.
Nathan Jackson, the team's medic, turned to look at Larabee. "So what do we do now, Chris?"
Chris sighed, brushing a wisp of blond hair away from his hazel-green eyes. "Come up with Plan B."
The door to their office opened. Assistant Director Orin Travis, chief of the ATF's Denver office, stepped in. The middle-aged man looked far older than his years.
The seven agents suddenly straightened. Buck and Josiah somehow managed to 'sit at attention.' Chris and Nathan, both Navy veterans, and Vin, a former Army ranger, assumed military posture in their supervisor's presence. Ezra looked up at him, then quickly looked away, well aware of his failure and embarrassed by it. Even JD stopped his usual fidgeting.
Steeling himself to the necessity, Ezra inhaled deeply. Immediately, his bruised ribs made him regret that. "Sir, I apologize most profusely for –"
"We have more important things to worry about, Standish," Travis interrupted him. "I just got a phone call from Kolya Svetlanov."
"Cheeky bastard," Ezra muttered.
"He has Mary and Billy," Travis continued, his face pale.
Chris turned almost as pale as Travis. Mary Travis, the assistant director's widowed daughter-in-law, was the only woman he had dated seriously since his wife was murdered. And he was fond of Billy, Travis' grandson, although 'twas difficult to look at the boy and not see Adam, his own son, who'd been killed with Sarah Larabee by a car bomb meant for Chris.
"He wants us to back off," Travis informed his top crew. "I was ordered not to inform the FBI or the police."
"You don't need them," Chris replied. "You've got us."
His teammates nodded, unanimous in their support.
Buck barked out orders like a drill sergeant. "JD, pull up every scrap of data we have on Svetlanov." He turned to Ezra. "Where is he likely to hold hostages?"
The green-eyed southerner thought a moment, "He owns several properties. As to which he would consider the most secure for imprisoning innocent women and children … I am not sure."
"Well, think, man!"
Chris stared at his second in command. Granted, Buck was more open about his emotions than Larabee was, but normally he had more self-control. Still, all of them thought of Mary as a friend, and regarded Billy as an honorary nephew. And as career law enforcement officers, none of them liked seeing innocents in danger.
Ezra snapped his fingers, "His dacha."
"His what?" Josiah asked. The profiler was a tall man with sandy hair and blue eyes.
"A dacha is a Russian vacation cottage," JD explained.
"It's also what Svetlanov calls his ski lodge. Nobody would be using it this time of year. He might hide them there," Ezra suggested.
Chris nodded. "Vin, Ezra, check it out. If they're there, report back and we'll start working on a rescue plan. JD, what are you still doing here? Get on your computer, like Buck said. Josiah, give him a hand. Nathan, get the AD a cup of coffee." Left unsaid was the order that Nathan discreetly check out Travis. He'd had a major shock.
"We had best take your Jeep," Ezra said as they took the elevator down to the garage. He concealed the distaste he felt at riding in such a vehicle. "I suspect it would handle the mountain roads better than my Jaguar."
When the elevator stopped, the sharpshooter led the way to a battered blue Jeep. On the back was a red, white, and blue bumper sticker with the words 'Misplaced Texan' and a stylized state flag.
"You show me where this ski lodge is." Vin buckled his seat belt. "Once we get there, you watch m' back while I check things out. Nothin' personal, but I'm better at sneakin' than you are."
"I defer before the expertise of a master." When dealing with high society, whether the international jet set or the upper echelons of the Mafia, Ezra was the expert. But he was a neophyte in the wilderness, and knew it. He could only slow Vin down if he tried to keep up with him in the woods.
Normally, Vin and Ezra would've chatted all the way up into the mountains. Last night's game between the Denver Nuggets and the Cascade Jaguars, or what was on the History Channel – both were Civil War buffs – or the women they were dating. Today they made plans of how they would handle their mission, then fell into a worried silence.
"Whatcha got, JD?" Chris asked an hour later. "Kolya Svetlanov: full name Nikolai Ilich Svetlanov. Thirty-five years old," the young computer expert reported. "Born in Leningrad, came from the Soviet Union to New York twenty-five years ago. His father, Ilya Svetlanov, and his uncles Boris and Pavel and their families, all came over at the same time. They were involved in organized crime in the old country. State department's guess is that they bribed or blackmailed someone to get their emigration permits." JD looked up, brushing a wisp of dark hair out of his face. "That's strictly unofficial, by the way, but that's what my cyberbuddy at State says."
"And here in the U. S.?" Nathan asked.
"Papa Svetlanov and his brothers settled into the family business in New York: prostitution, drugs, numbers running, etc. About ten years ago, Boris and Ilya moved to San Francisco, where they set up a branch office."
"So nice when families work together," Josiah muttered sarcastically.
"Papa Ilya's been in prison for three years," JD continued, "with Uncle Boris running the west coast operations. Kolya moved to Denver about a year and a half, two years ago. Started with drugs and prostitution, fencing stolen property, etc. Then he got into weapons dealing, and that's when we were called into the case."
Chris turned to face the assistant director, a heavy-set, graying man. "We've been investigating him for three months. Agent Standish was undercover for the past five weeks. Unfortunately, his cover was blown; he was lucky to escape with his life."
"And once Svetlanov realized that the ATF was after him instead of the Denver PD, he decided to do something to stop us," Travis said wearily. "He knew he couldn't buy off the ATF, so he grabbed Mary and Billy."
Nathan looked sympathetically at the AD. His fiancée, Rain, was a friend of Mary's. He knew from her that Mary's husband, Steven, had been the judge's only son. A reporter, like his widow, he'd been murdered when he got too close to the truth of a story he'd been investigating. If Travis lost his daughter-in-law and grandson as well as his son, it would probably kill him.
Ezra paced along side Vin's Jeep. "I wish I hadn't given up smoking," he muttered under his breath. A cigarette might calm his nerves. However, visions of Smokey Bear cartoons from his childhood – 'only you can prevent forest fires' – , the chance of Svetlanov's men noticing the smoke, and worst of all, dread of Nathan's lectures, kept the idle thought completely idle.
He glanced up the unpaved mountain trail that led to Svetlanov's ski lodge, wondering how his partner was doing. As if in answer to his prayers, the walkie-talkie clicked twice.
Ezra breathed a sigh of relief. Two clicks: all well. He clicked his own walkie-talkie once, acknowledging Vin's signal. Then he sighed again, knowing he had twenty minutes of boredom to look forward to until Vin's next check-in, unless the sharpshooter ran into trouble or he saw Svetlanov's men coming. He began to pace again.
Chris Larabee looked up when Vin and Ezra walked in the door. "Why didn't you report in by phone?" They'd called to say they were on their way back, but had refused to report any details over the phone.
"Ain't no decent signal for a cell phone in the mountains," Vin reminded him.
"And once we were closer to civilization, we remembered that cell phones are less than secure. Given Svetlanov's fondness for technological toys, we decided it was safer not to risk his eavesdropping on us electronically," Ezra explained.
"Well, what did you find?" Buck demanded impatiently.
"Didn't see Mary or Billy," Vin reported. "But there were three cars parked up there – awful lot for a ski lodge in summer, wouldn't ya say?"
The others nodded.
"Did you get the license plates?" JD asked.
"Of course," Vin said.
"Mr. Dunne, would it be possible for you to hack into the county planning commission's offices and find a copy of the blueprints for Mr. Svetlanov's ski lodge?" Ezra inquired, raising a dark eyebrow.
Josiah smiled – the first time any of them had smiled in hours.
Unfortunately, it proved impossible to hack into the appropriate records. The planning commission had not yet entered the 20th century, let alone the 21st, and still kept all its records on paper. However, Travis had been a federal judge before accepting the appointment as assistant director of the local ATF office, and he still had many friends on the bench. It didn't take long to obtain first a subpoena, and then the records.
Chris and his team studied the maps leading up to the dacha and the blueprints of the building. They suggested plans, discarded them, made new plans, refined them, until all were satisfied they had a workable plan for rescuing Mary and Billy. Travis' friend issued a search warrant for the property and arrest warrants for Kolya Svetlanov and his top henchmen, as well as several John Doe warrants.
Buck raised a dark eyebrow at the sight of Svetlanov's dacha. Two stories tall, it reminded him of a cross between a Swiss ski chalet and the Cartwrights' home on old Bonanza reruns. "You could fit two or three families in there, easy," he whispered.
"In my neighborhood, ya could fit five or six families," Vin retorted. He had an apartment in Purgatorio, one of Denver's more economically challenged neighborhoods.
"Hush," Chris ordered. He looked at the sentry on the porch, then at JD. He nodded.
JD threw a rock into the bushes. The sentry ignored the noise.
Vin frowned as he hefted the unfamiliar weapon to his shoulder. He missed his Winchester.
JD picked up another rock and threw it. It landed mere inches from the first one. This time the sentry turned his head and took a few steps toward the edge of the porch.
Vin kept the sentry in his sights, waiting until the man was no longer in front of the dacha's windows. Then he gently squeezed the trigger. The tranquilizer dart hit the sentry in the neck. A moment later, he collapsed.
Chris Larabee and his team held their breaths. Would anyone inside hear the sentry fall? When no one called out or came outside, Chris silently signaled to Josiah and Buck. In a low crouch, they half-crawled, half-ran to the porch. They pulled the sentry off the porch, hid him in the bushes, and bound and gagged him. Josiah waved to Chris.
"Let's go," Chris whispered. "You know what to do."
Reluctantly, Nathan found a good thick bush and hid behind it. Because of his medical training, he'd been chosen to wait in reserve. If the rescue attempt SNAFU'd someone had to survive to tell the Assistant Director Travis. And even with bulletproof vests, the odds of someone getting hurt on this mission were pretty good.
Chris checked his watch as Ezra and JD headed for the back of the ski lodge. Timing would be critical; everyone's watches had been synchronized, just like in a James Bond movie. After a moment's wait, Buck and Vin headed for the sides of the building, tear gas launchers in hand.
Ezra suppressed a sigh as he and JD snuck past the porch with hot tub. It was empty, which made sneaking past much easier, but capturing some of Svetlanov's henchmen soaking wet, clad only in Speedoes … it would've made a wonderful picture for the newspapers.
Chris checked his watch again. Only two minutes had gone by; it felt longer. He couldn't help worrying about Mary and Billy. He loved her, er, thought very highly of her, and was doubly fond of her son: both for his own sake, and because the boy reminded him of Adam. If anything happened to them … he would take it nearly as hard as Orin Travis would.
Chris forced his mind on the mission. Worrying about Mary, instead of paying attention to the situation before him, could get Mary and Billy killed. He pulled his gas mask on, then signaled Buck and Vin. The two pulled their triggers simultaneously.
"Federal agents," Chris shouted. "Come out with your hands up!"
Ezra and JD took positions on either side of the kitchen door. Both braced themselves against the building, their guns drawn, and their backs to the wall. JD risked a peek through the window. He held up one finger. Ezra nodded his understanding: only one man in the kitchen.
JD checked his watch. A second later, they heard the sound of the tear gas canisters breaking the side windows and Chris yelling. Ezra and JD broke through the kitchen door in the back.
A man making a sandwich stared at the gas-masked figures who'd just burst through the door. The mayonnaise jar slipped from his fingers and fell to the floor, smashing into smithereens.
"Hands up," JD yelled.
"Where are the Travises?" Ezra demanded.
In the living room, three men had abandoned their card game. Desperate for fresh air, they headed for the doors and windows. When they saw Chris and Josiah come through the front door, they reached for their guns.
Chris was faster. The first of Svetlanov's henchmen crumbled to the floor.
"Bozemoi!" he swore. Chris's bullet had shattered his kneecap. "Nekulturny sonovabitch."
"Weapons on the ground," Chris ordered. The gas mask muffled his baritone voice. "Outside with your hands up." When they did not instantly obey, he added, "I only need one of you alive to tell me where the hostages are."
Upstairs, two men guarded Mary and Billy. One stood outside the bedroom where the Travises were locked in. The other was in the bedroom with them. The guard outside the door heard the noise.
"Sacha, stay here. I'll go check it out." He ran downstairs to investigate. Almost immediately, the tear gas blinded him. He coughed. He slipped and fell down the stairs.
Buck and Vin rushed into the ski lodge, ready to support their teammates. Vin's rifle barked once, hitting the shoulder of a thug who wasn't surrendering quickly enough to suit Chris. Buck just laughed at the sight of the guard sprawling on the stairs.
"I thought these guys were supposed to be tough," Buck said.
Chris pointed his Smith and Wesson at the third cardplayer. "Where are they? You don't get out in the fresh air until I get answers."
Svetlanov's men were coughing too much to answer.
"Go ahead and shackle these miscreants," a southern voice drawled from the doorway. Ezra announced, "They're upstairs."
One of them swore, verifying the truth of Ezra's words.
As Chris and Buck raced upstairs, Vin, Josiah, and Ezra faced down the one unwounded man. Overcome by the tear gas, staring at two pistols and one rifle, he reluctantly lifted his hands.
As the ATF agents began handcuffing the four, Ezra explained, "Their compeer has informed us that those whom we seek are detained upstairs. Agent Dunne has taken him prisoner and led him outside."
"Mary! Billy! Where are you?" Chris yelled out when he reached the top of the stairs.
"Up here," they heard her call out.
"Cover me," Buck ordered. Before Chris could react, or urge him to caution, he kicked in the door at the top of the stairs. The room was empty. "Mary!"
"You trying to get yourself killed?" Chris scolded as soon as he caught up with him. "Wait for cover, you idiot."
Buck took a deep breath and nodded.
Chris pointed to the room on the left. "According to the blueprints, that's the master bedroom. We'll try there. And we'll do it by the book."
Only slightly chastened, Buck nodded again.
Each one on either side of the door, Chris yelled out, "Federal agents! Mary, Billy, are you in there?"
A man's voice responded. "Come in and they're dead."
"Yep, they're in there." Chris looked at Buck. "Ready?"
"Let's do it," Buck replied.
Chris tried the doorknob. He wasn't surprised to find the room locked. This time, he kicked the door in. Quickly, he withdrew from the line of fire. Cautiously, he and Buck peered in the door, guns ready.
Sacha Pavlov, a tall, beefy man, had one hand over Mary's mouth. In his other hand was a Colt .45, pointed at her head. She and Billy looked slightly disheveled, but otherwise unharmed.
"One move and she dies," the gunman threatened.
"You shoot her, you don't live to see the electric chair," Chris warned.
Billy stood next to the gunman. Apparently Sacha'd thought that threatening the boy's mother was enough to get him to cooperate, that the child didn't need to be bound and gagged.
"Billy, you and your mama all right?" Chris asked.
Billy nodded. Just the sight of his grandfather's two best agents gave him courage. "Am now that you're here."
"Out. They are my hostages. Put down your weapons and get out of my way," Sacha ordered.
"I don't think so," Chris replied.
"I am not bluffing. I will shoot her."
"Maybe," Chris agreed. "Then we shoot you before you have a chance to hurt the boy. She'd be dead, but so would you. Svetlanov paying you enough to die for him?"
Larabee's cold-bloodedness stunned the gunman. Billy took advantage of Sacha's momentary distraction to kick his ankle. Automatically, he turned to face the boy.
Mary bit his hand. Wishing she were wearing high heels instead of sneakers, she raised her right foot three inches, then brought it down on his foot – hard.
The next thing Sacha knew, both Chris and Buck had their guns mere centimeters from his head. Suddenly, surrender didn't seem like such a bad option. He made no protest as Buck first disarmed him, then handcuffed him.
The normally undemonstrative Chris gathered Mary and Billy into a hug. "Are you both all right?"
Mary nodded, too overcome to speak.
Chris glanced at a door to his left. According to the blueprints, it was a bathroom. "Get a couple of towels. There's tear gas downstairs. You'll need to cover your faces until we get outside." He raised his walkie-talkie to his lips. "Team Seven, hostages are safe. Repeat, rescue successful. Hostages are safe. Let's go home."
In the basement, Yuri Denisov was facing the most important decision of his life. Just before the ATF agents had arrived, he'd gone downstairs to bring up another six-pack of beer. When he heard the ruckus, he'd had the good sense to stay in the basement. Crouching on the stairs next to the door, Yuri wondered whether to stay out of sight and hope the ATF agents wouldn't check downstairs, or to do something to help his colleagues. He drank the beers as he thought.
The basement acted as a store room: Kolya Svetlanov's ski equipment, a deep chest freezer with a half a deer (the venison somewhat the worse for wear due to freezer burn), and several cases of the Xan 310, the new compact submachine gun that Xanatos Industries wasn't supposed to sell in the United States. Yuri hadn't drunk enough beer to be really drunk, but he'd had enough to be less prudent than he normally was. Alcohol has the same effect on courage as it does on lechery: "it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance …it makes … and it mars."* The sound of gunfire made him want to stay hidden in the basement. A dead hero, he knew, was of value only to sculptors who needed models for their statues. But as he drank the beers he'd intended to share with his colleagues, thoughts of glory filled his head: taking the federal agents by surprise, earning Kolya's praise and a higher position in his organization, displaying his courage and prowess by killing the ATF agents and recapturing the hostages. And he knew the feds didn't have anything like the Xan 310.
Yuri listened carefully. It sounded like things were calming down. If some of the feds had gone outside, he could easily take out the ones that were left with a Xan 310. And then he could get the ones outside while they were distracted. He'd show the feds that no one messed with Kolya Svetlanov. And he'd show Kolya that no one messed with Yuri Denisov.
JD came back in. "Prisoners all secured, Chris. Nate's taking care of the wounded. You and Buck need a hand?"
"Let's get these two into the fresh air," Chris said, as he shepherded Mary and Billy through the living room.
Yuri burst out of the basement door. The Xan 310 spit bullets.
JD went down. Although his bulletproof vest saved his life, the force of bullets knocked him down. He hit his head on table corner as he fell.
Frightened, Billy cried out at the sight of all the blood pouring forth from JD's head.
Yuri turned to the sound of the boy yelling. Buck saw where he was aiming. He threw himself in front of Mary and Billy, knocking them to the floor, covering them with his body. Yuri fired. A veritable hailstorm of ammunition struck Buck.
Chris' pistol barked once.
Yuri fell to the floor, a single bullet piercing his skull.
"Buck, how could you possibly do something so brave, so reckless?" Mary thanked and scolded the dark-haired ATF agent simultaneously.
"Chris isn't the only one who loves you," he replied.
Chris stared at his friend. Although his voice was weak, it had a serious note that surprised him. He'd known Buck since high school, and he was never serious. Not about anything, but especially not about any particular female. He'd been the class clown, and once he became the school football hero he used his status to chase after every pretty girl in sight, but he'd never been serious about any girl. Inside his gas mask, Chris gulped, realizing that Buck held back, saying nothing to him or Mary because Buck knew how Chris felt about Mary.
"Officers down! In here, guys!"
Josiah and Vin rushed into the dacha.
"Call 911. And fetch Nathan," Chris ordered. "Our men need him more than the bad guys do."
Josiah hurried to the telephone. Vin took Mary's arm and led her and Billy outside. Chris knelt beside his oldest friend, to see how badly he was hurt.
Ezra swore under his breath. The hospital parking lot was crowded, and it took him several minutes to find a parking space for his Jaguar. Almost before the vehicle had stopped moving, Chris hurried out of the car. Ezra quickly followed him, just as eager to check on JD and Buck's condition.
They found Vin, Nathan, and Josiah huddled around the coffee machine in the waiting room.
"Excellent news, gentlemen! Mary and Billy have been reunited with the AD, to their mutual joy and relief. Svetlanov's henchmen are singing like the proverbial canaries, indeed, like larks or linnets…" Ezra stopped in mid-sentence, seeing look on his colleagues' faces.
Chris stared at them. "JD? Buck?"
"JD has cracked ribs, no concussion. He'll be okay," Josiah reported. The news did not seem to cheer him up.
Vin took a deep breath, hating to be the one to broke the news. But he'd been the one who convinced the others to wait, that Chris should not get the news by phone. "Buck bled to death on the way to the hospital."
"My God!" Ezra breathed the words more than spoke them, and whether they were prayer or profanity no one could tell, not even he himself.
"His vest?" Chris asked, unwilling, unable to take the news in.
"Several of the bullets missed the jacket, pierced unprotected flesh," Nathan explained. "Two of them ricocheted against the bones. He …he died of internal bleeding en route to the hospital."
Chris inhaled sharply. His hazel-green eyes watered.
Vin enfolded his friend and CO into his arms. For the first time since he'd buried Sarah and Adam, Chris cried.
Many thanks to Mog, for creating the ATF AU and letting the rest of us play in her sandbox, to Brate, for inspiring me to write this story, and to my husband, for helping me with the plotting and for his patience as a "keyboard-widower".
* Macbeth, Act II, Scene 2. W. Shakespeare.