Title: The List
Disclaimer: See parts 1-5
Author’s Note: Somehow it appears my numbering scheme has gone awry. I skipped part 37. Sorry!
Setting his portion of the report down, Nathan suppressed a shudder. He didn’t believe in evil, at least he didn’t used to. Men were corrupt enough and the thought of a thing, like a disease, called evil that could infect a human had just never sat well with him. He believed too strongly that men were responsible for their own actions. Men could be corrupt, cruel, psychotic, sociopathic, or amoral, but evil? The total absence of anything good or light was something he had doubted until he finished his section of the report.
Looking across the stuffy conference room, he noted the four sets of eyes locked intently on the papers before them, hardened expressions and the hint of fear in each set. Though he knew they didn’t have much longer before the two other members of their team showed up, Nathan wanted, no needed, to discuss what he’d just read. Things were escalating more quickly than anyone had thought possible and their two brothers were in danger, too much danger.
“Josiah?” he asked quietly, not wanting to startle any of the men. He waited as reports were set on the table before continuing. “Have you had a chance to research Fellini’s family and sister or at least what this mental problem of theirs is?”
Josiah picked up on the note of concern and fear in Nathan’s voice. “No, brother,” he replied, his voice heavily laden with his own fears. “I’ve tried, but can’t find any trace of her or her family’s problem. From what little Ezra and Vin have told me, it could be any number of things. I just don’t know.”
“How much,” Buck began, his voice, tight from the strain worry, cracked as he uttered the words. Pausing to clear his throat, he began again. “How much danger are they in from Fellini? What’s he likely to do?”
Josiah leaned back in his chair and sighed. “I’m not sure, brother. Right now Fellini believes that Vin is the future of his organization. They’re still in the early phases of the relationship, building trust and finding out about each other. As long as Vin continues to please Fellini and does nothing to upset him, I’d say he’s in little danger from Fellini. However, then you have the rest of the organization to worry about. What are their feelings going to be about this? How will they feel that Fellini has chosen this outsider, this person who has yet to prove his loyalty as his future replacement? That is a danger I can’t speak to.” He saw the concern in the eyes of the four other men and sighed. They were asking him to profile intelligent people about whom he knew next to nothing. While that description could, more or less, describe his job as Profiler, profiling a mentally unbalanced man and his highly successful organization while worrying about two of his family was a bit more than he felt comfortable handling.
“And Ezra?” JD asked.
Josiah sighed. “Ezra is in a different position all together. Given that he is not in the limelight like Vin, he has more freedom and less danger from jealousy among the ranks, etc. However, as a close friend of Vin’s he is in other dangers as well. Should Vin somehow displease Fellini, Ezra could very well be taken down with him. Should, however, Ezra be the one to displease Fellini, it would be Vin’s life as well. He is going to be under a lot of strain worrying about how his actions reflect not only on himself, but on Vin as well. That said, his reputation as being untrustworthy which the FBI still seems to cling to is both an asset and a liability. An asset because it made it more plausible that he would turn and a liability because it means they will have that much harder a time trusting him. He’s going to have to rely on Vin to help ensure his position while watching Vin to make sure our Texan does nothing to endanger them both.”
An oppressive silence fell on the group. Each shifted in his chair uncomfortably. They faced unspeakable dangers on a regular basis. They’d all been undercover and knew the delicate fabrication of lies was the only thing ensuring their safety. They knew the risks, the dangers and the threats. They knew what could happen if something went wrong. But they had always had each other as a safety net. Now they were too far away to provide that net to Vin and Ezra, not just in distance, but also in people. All of Team 10 and the rest of Fellini’s organization stood as a wall more daunting than any that had existed before.
“Buck,” Chris said, speaking for the first time. “You had the section of report dealing with their handling of other agents sent undercover. What can you tell us?”
Buck paled slightly even as the fire of anger flared in his eyes. “Ain’t pretty, Chris,” he cautioned before leaning forward to describe what he’d read. Taking a deep breath, he continued, “Seems that some of the agencies, DEA, FBI and ATF have gotten a might suspicious over the years. Each has tried sending men undercover. They were all found out pretty quickly.” His face contorted as he thought about the next part of his report.
Seeing his friend’s face, Chris felt his concern rise almost to panic. “Buck?” he asked.
Looking into his friend’s eyes, Buck decided to spare Chris as much pain as he could. His voice harsh, he replied, “They only ever found one, well, parts of one of them, Chris. It was beyond ugly.”
Each man shifted in his chair. They had seen a lot of things in their years of law enforcement, but what Buck wasn’t saying disturbed them all more deeply than almost anything he could say. One thought flooded into all their minds. It was too dangerous. The whole operation was far too dangerous. But they all knew, no matter how dangerous it got, they couldn’t back out now. Had they been aware of the full extent of the danger before hand… But what ifs weren’t going to help them now.
For now all they could hope for was to get through it, to survive.
Looking at his men, Chris knew he would have to get them to set aside their fears and concerns. Right now they had to be there for Vin and Ezra any way they could. Looking at Buck and JD he said, “You two are their best bet. How are the wires coming?”
JD almost sighed in relief at being able to focus on something that he could control. “I’ve been in touch with the people A. D. Travis told me to contact at the other agencies. I’ve got some experimental mics and recorders that might prove handy. Of course, finding the right time to use them is another issue entirely.”
“I’ve got a few places set up where no one will suspect we’re hooking those two up,” Buck said.
“Which ladies’ apartments this time?” Josiah asked, relieved when he saw small smiles on the faces of his friends. They normally relied on Vin or even Ezra to break the tension with a small joke or a little teasing. With both of them gone, there really wasn’t anyone to do that. He nodded as he saw the thanks in Chris’ eyes.
Buck smiled. “Well, now, you all know I don’t kiss and tell…” he began before trailing off. Then turning serious once more, he added, “There’s still a risk with all of it Chris, but we’re doing whatever we can to minimize it.”
“I know you are, Buck, JD,” Chris encouraged. None of them wanted to lose the family they had fought so hard to form. Each would do everything within their power to make sure that family survived intact. “I just hope we get enough on them soon.” Checking his watch, he added, “We’d best get to our desks, Daniels and Connors will be in soon. I’ll update Travis.” So saying, he rose from his seat and the men filed out of the conference room.
It was only Buck’s restraining hand combined with years of training that kept Chris in place as he watched Vin pull up with Fellini in a new Jeep. It was the iron control that he had developed that stifled the roar of rage he wanted to release when he saw the lost, confused and pained look on Vin’s face when Fellini announced the house was his. He knew his best friend too well, knew the trials the young man had endured and the scars left behind – mental, emotional and physical. He could feel his own soul ripping as Vin realized his world had been turned upside down once more at someone else’s whim. His home had been taken, his life removed, his work disregarded, everything he was stripped away by one “kind” act of a doting uncle.
Chris felt his stomach roil at the thought of Fellini and family. Fellini wanted Vin to be his heir, his adopted son. Nothing could be worse. When discussing the options with Ezra, Chris had seen the disgust in the Undercover Agent’s eyes at the mention of it. Ezra was hands-down the best Undercover Man there was. For him to look that repulsed by an assignment, that worried about it, it didn’t give Chris any confidence at all. When he saw Ezra’s flinch at the question of what Fellini would do if he found out about either Vin or Ezra, he fully understood not only what was being asked of Ezra and Vin, but that he might not see either man survive this assignment. Never before had he hated the danger his job put his team in, but this assignment, with the knowledge that lives were truly on the line and the odds favored failure over success, had driven him to hate this assignment. What was he supposed to do without his family? He’d lost one already, he couldn’t lose this one as well.
Harshly shoving aside all thoughts of failure, he motioned to Buck to pass him the second set of earphones.
Earlier that day, Clay, the man who took care of Larabee’s horses when work got in the way, had called saying a man drove up out of the blue with papers claiming he had the right to take Chaucer, Peso, both horses’ tack and anything else belonging to Vin Tanner and Ezra Standish. The paperwork had been in order and signed, so he had called Chris to make sure it was OK. Chris had felt his anger spike at the thought of someone trying to take those horses until Clay mentioned the name of the person who signed the papers. Then Chris had allowed it.
As soon as he’d hung up with Clay, he called Buck into his office. The others were busy, but Chris would take the time to inform them later. Right now he needed to get things going and he needed Buck to start organizing what they would need. The first order of business was to find out what was going on.
Two hours after the initial call, Buck and Chris met again to discuss their findings. They discovered that Frederick Fellini had bought two houses, on in the name of Ezra Standish, the other in the name of Vin Tanner. The houses were across the street from each other. Each house sat on a large spread of land and has everything either man would need in order to make it a working ranch if they so desired.
Calling the rest of the team into the office, Chris and Buck had briefed the men on what they had discovered and then went about deciding what to do. It was decided that they would contact Vin and Ezra to let them know ahead of time what was going on. They would then seek permission from both men to set up surveillance equipment in the houses that the two could control as needed, that way they could turn it off when not in use and no one would detect it. With JD and Buck checking the equipment, Chris went to tell Travis of the new twist and Josiah and Nathan were put in charge of contacting their wayward friends.
An hour later everyone but Josiah had been successful. It appeared he had just missed Vin by a few minutes. None of the men looked comfortable about that knowing how much Vin had to lose, but they would deal with it. After some quick discussion it was determined that the five men would be at Vin’s house when he arrived to get his permission then and make sure he was all right.
Now, as they sat in the dark, listening to Fellini explain about the house, Chris could feel his brother slipping away. He didn’t have to see Vin to know the pained, lost look pouring from the blue eyes. He didn’t have to see Vin to know how devastated the young man would be. He didn’t have to see Vin to know, but he would absolutely see Vin to pull him back. Chris Larabee had made up his mind; he would not lose his brother to this monster; he would not lose Vin Tanner. Glancing over at JD who had taken up position behind the barn so he could have a better view of the front door, he saw the tension in the young man’s face. After a minute, he also saw the signal that Fellini was leaving. They would wait sixty seconds from JD’s second signal, alerting the men that the car had started to leave, and then would enter the house.
As he saw the second signal, Chris realized sixty seconds was too long, his brother needed him now. He was about to rise and start in when he felt a large hand descend onto either shoulder, gripping him so he couldn’t twist away. Turning his head, he glared first at Buck and then at Josiah. He would have snapped had he not ordered silence earlier. He would have taken them down had he not seen how much the wait was tearing into their hearts and souls as well.
Finally Nathan gave the signal and the men made their way as silently as possible to the front door where they found themselves unexpectedly face to face with Ezra.
Making their way inside, the group quickly spread out. They all wanted to see Vin, to assure themselves that he was fine and their fears had been unfounded, but they knew they needed to check for mics, bugs and any other surprises Fellini might have planted. True, Ezra’s house had come up clean and among the six of them they had set up their own surveillance in record time, but Vin and Ezra fulfilled very different roles in the organization and there was no telling what Fellini would do to the man he considered a son.
During the planning stage, Josiah had insisted Chris be the one to approach Vin first. Though he held the degrees in psychology and knew how to deal with the shock and trauma haunting Vin, he also knew that the bond between Chris and Vin might be the lifeline the young man needed. Right now he hoped his assessment was correct. He tried to reassure himself he had made the correct decision and continued with his sweep. They had arranged it so he should be the first one finished so he could lend whatever aid was needed.
Entering the living room, Chris stopped dead in his tracks as his heart flew into his mouth. Vin stood in the middle of the living room, shoulders slumped head bowed slightly. He stood perfectly still, not making a sound, not moving an inch. I better not be too late, Chris thought desperately. Tempering his motions, he approached Vin slowly so as not to startle the Sharpshooter. “Vin,” he called out as he made his way around so he could look into Vin’s eyes. Not receiving a response, his concern grew. Finally standing in front of the younger man, Chris felt his reason shatter as he looked into Vin’s eyes. In those expressive blue orbs he read horrors, loss, desolation, desperation, and fear, but what terrified him most was the complete lack of hope, of life, of anything resembling the Vin he knew.
“Oh, God, Vin,” he whispered, placing a hand on each of the Texan’s arms, “please tell me I haven’t lost you.” Not receiving a response. He glanced behind Vin and saw nothing on the coffee table, gently guiding the young man to a seat on the table, Chris crouched down before him and tried to get the young man’s attention.
“Vin,” he said in a firm, authoritative voice. No response. Tapping the young man on the cheek, he called again, “Vin!” This time he was rewarded with a startled jerk of the head followed by a small shake.
It took a minute for the eyes to return to the present, but eventually they focused on the man before him. In a small, uncertain, confused voice, Vin asked, “Ch… Chris?”
Releasing his breath, Chris felt a weight lift from his shoulders and smiled. “Yeah, Vin. It’s me,” he replied.
“He took everything,” Vin whispered, his eyes wandering around the room, beginning to get lost in the darkness once more.
“No!” Chris cried, unwilling to lose his friend to old memories and ghosts of the past. “He took nothing!”
Vin turned startled eyes to his best friend, feeling a spark of anger begin to grow. How could Chris say that Fellini took nothing? Vin’s life might not have been one most people would have wanted, but that didn’t make it nothing. “What do you mean he took nothing?” demanded the Texan, his anger seeping into his words.
Chris suppressed the smile at the anger. Vin had completely misunderstood his words, but at least there was still some life in him. “Vin,” he began, falling back as the young man sprang up and started pacing the room. Glancing toward the door, Chris met Josiah’s very amused blue eyes. Allowing the Profiler to see his smile, he relaxed, knowing Josiah would step in when need be. In the meantime, he would turn his attention back to the ranting Sharpshooter.
“I know you all hate where I live. I see it in your eyes. I see what you think of some of the people who live there, but they’re good people! I had nothing for most of my life, nothing! And I worked damn hard to build my life – to get a home, to get a job, to make a difference. You may see it as nothing, but it was everything I had. If you can’t see that and if you won’t help me get it back then who needs you!”
Josiah had heard enough. It was time to stop this. “Amen, brother,” he threw out with a smile. He chuckled lightly at the stunned expression on Vin’s face as the young man spun around to face him. “If we were friends like Fellini I would agree with you whole heartedly. But you know we’re not. You know we’re proud of you and would fight for you no matter what.” He could see a touch of shame in Vin’s eyes for the words he had so carelessly flung. Josiah would set aside those fears and then let Vin know exactly where his friends stood. “You know that even if we don’t like where you live we’re proud of what you’ve accomplished.” Moving closer to the Sharpshooter, Josiah looked directly into the wide blue eyes. “And you know we’ve got your back no matter what.” He watched as the last words hit the bulls-eye. Yep, he had Vin Tanner’s number all right.
Placing a hand on the young man’s shoulder, Josiah led him to the couch and motioned for him to sit down. Taking a seat on the coffee table across from Vin, Josiah once more caught the man’s eyes. “Vin,” he said quietly, “We know you’re scared. We know what this… gift has done to you, how it hurt you, because it hurt us too. You’re our family, maybe not by blood, but by choice. When one of our family hurts, none of us are right until they are. Family looks out for each other and we have your back. I have a friend who will be taking over the lease to your apartment and will give it back to you when you’re done here. I’ve spoken to several of the older youths and adults in your building and let them know that you are on an assignment, but will be back when you can, as much as you can. I spoke with the Youth Center and they’ll be fine. Vin, we’ve got your back in this and your neighbors are pulling together for you as well.”
Vin fought the prickling behind his eyes. How could he, even for a moment, have thought he was alone? How could he have thought his friends wouldn’t be there to back him? How could he have lost faith? And why the Hell was he so emotional?
Josiah let out a soft laugh, reading the emotions playing across the normally inscrutable face. “You’ve just been on one gigantic emotional roller coaster ride, Vin. It’s expected to feel a little out of control.” He saw the blush on the young man’s face and laughed again. He noticed that everyone was now in the room. Indicating that Vin should turn and look, Josiah saw the warmth of brotherhood flow into Vin’s eyes as he drew strength from each man. Finally, once those eagle eyes were focused on the Profiler, Josiah offered a wicked smile and asked, “So now that you know you don’t stand alone, what are we going to do about the bastard who tried to take you from us?”
Ezra rolled his eyes. Would Vin never learn to relax in a suit? Honestly you would think someone was trying to torture the man the way he squirmed and wiggled. Finally having had enough, Ezra snapped, “Stand still!” The response was immediate as all squirming stopped. Making the final adjustment to, Ezra stepped back to admire his handiwork. With a nod of approval he said, “Mr. Tanner, I do believe you now present the appropriate image for the role you are about to assume.”
Vin made a face of disgust at Ezra. “Feel like I’m the corpse at a funeral. How’re you supposed ta breathe with a noose around yer neck?” demanded the disgruntled man.
Ezra smiled. He knew Vin was unhappy, his accent always thickened when distressed. Still, he could appreciate the man’s feelings; after all, not everyone was comfortable dressing in fine clothes, especially when he knew there were times in Vin’s life all the man possessed were the clothes on his back. Ezra’s smile took on a bitter hint as the thought of a few times when his mother’s plans didn’t go correctly and the same could be said about him. Still, what was done was done and they would have to deal with the consequences later. “Mr. Tanner. You can hardly expect to present yourself as Fellini’s heir if you do not dress the part. As you can see from your closet,” Ezra said, indicating the large walk-in closet filled with fine clothes, all made for Vin and many just awaiting a tailor to show up for final alterations, “Mr. Fellini has taken great care to provide you all the appropriate attire you will need. Now, it would be rude, indeed, for you not to show a proper appreciation of all his hard work.” Ezra’s speech was rewarded with a snort of disgust and a small chuckle. Satisfied with the response, Ezra glanced at his watch. “Come, Mr. Tanner, I fear we must be on our way.”
As the two men left the Tanner residence, they settled into the new Jaguar Ezra had been given. This model was a step up from his last and possessed several customized features unavailable on most standard models. Both Vin and Ezra had been relieved when that morning they had found their old cars also in their driveway. It appeared they had Anna to thank for the return of their cars, she had managed to convince her uncle that allowing the men to see what they had been driving would help them appreciate even more the gifts they had been given.
Wending their way through the secondary roads, the two men enjoyed the brief ride to the now familiar mansion. Having been given their own entrance codes and an invitation to stop by whenever they wished, Ezra barely slowed as the gates swung open in welcome. As he drove down the tree-lined drive he smiled at the thought of what Maude would have to say to his presence here and his “good fortune”. Indeed, this was more or less the life his mother had dreamed of and taught him how to obtain, and yet it was a life that Ezra would be happy to leave behind him for a while. Yes, he did enjoy the luxury, the cars, the homes, the fine food and superb wine, but his time on Team Seven had taught him that other things held much more value in life; things like friendship, family, caring about others and comfort. Indeed, though far below what he was taught to believe his due, he found comfort in being with his friends and in their homes. Somehow, even the cookie-cutter apartment Vin lived in seemed to carry an element of comfort and home. Wouldn’t Maude be appalled?
Pulling into his usual parking space and suppressing a shudder at the thought that he had a usual parking space, Ezra shut off the car. Hearing the heavy sigh from his friend, he turned toward Vin and allowed his own lack of desire to show in his face and voice. “Are you ready to hob-knob with the high and loathsome?” he asked.
Vin smiled and let out a short bark of laughter. “Ready as I’ll ever be,” he answered, taking off his seatbelt and opening the car door.
As the two headed toward the house, they fell into step walking shoulder to shoulder, unaware of the intimidating image they presented. Walking shoulder to shoulder when headed into a challenge or danger was an unconscious habit among the Seven. Even when there were just two of them, they fell into step. Tonight, Vin and Ezra were unaware of the air of danger and power surrounding them. They were headed into a battle here, a battle they had to win, a battle to overcome prejudices and idea among the upper echelons of Fellini’s organization. Tonight would be a turning point in their infiltration of the organization. It was one thing for Fellini to accept them as friends and equals, it was another to infiltrate Team 10, it was yet another thing for them to convince some of the most powerful people in the nation they were up to the challenge of continuing Fellini’s dream. Tonight the two of them would need every ounce of their self-control, every modicum of poise and every single last one of Ezra’s skills to ingratiate themselves with the people present.
Stepping up to the door, neither man was surprised when it was opened before they could knock. They were both getting used to the butler, a thought that made Ezra shudder. They were getting used to too many things. Greeting Fellini warmly, they were invited into the library for a pre-party drink and so Fellini could tell them what to expect that night and who would be present.
The briefing with Fellini, for that had been what it was, finished just as the first guest arrived. Ezra looked at his friend to gauge how he faired. He could tell Vin was nervous and not at all happy about being put on display tonight, but could also see the coolness and confidence. The Southerner smiled. His star pupil was ready for his largest challenge to date, and he, Ezra Standish, would be right there by his side to make sure he made it through.
As the party progressed, Ezra made sure he kept an eye on the Sharpshooter. So far there had been nothing to worry about, but a dark undercurrent seemed to be running through the room, one he hadn’t quite been able to put his finger on. That inability to discern the unknown bothered Ezra. He couldn’t adequately prepare either himself or Vin for what they would face if he didn’t know what it was. Still, he couldn’t be more proud of his friend and pupil. The Texan’s naturally reserved nature and shy charm had quickly wooed the women present to be his biggest fans while his quick, deductive mind impressed the men. Ezra knew they were gaining the approval of everyone present and began to see hope that they would be able to pull this off and succeed in their quest to further infiltrate the organization.
Deciding he needed just a moment of peace, Vin excused himself from the clutches of the woman he was talking to and slipped out onto the patio. Finding a quiet, dark corner, he leaned back against the wall so that no one would see him. Closing his eyes, he breathed deeply of the clean night air. He felt some of the tension that large gatherings always left in him, leave and thought he might actually be able to go back in and face the crowd. He had just stood when the sound of voices came floating to him. Glancing around, he realized the window to the library was open and the voices were coming from there. Though the window was a ways down from him, Vin wondered what had caught his attention. He didn’t have long to wonder as he once more heard Fellini mention his name.
“Vin is the right man for the job!” Fellini insisted.
Another man responded. Vin couldn’t quite place the voice, though it sounded familiar. “I admit, he is a very impressive young man, Frederick, but that makes him more dangerous. What if he isn’t what he appears to be? What if he’s just acting a part? What if he doesn’t believe in the cause?”
Fellini snorted in disgust. “Honestly, you sound like you don’t trust my judgment. Do you honestly think I didn’t check him out? Do you honestly think I would trust him with all of this if he didn’t check out? I have never met anyone who embodies the very essence of our cause as Vin Tanner does.”
Vin felt sick at the endorsement.
“Frederick,” the voice said, now serious and conciliatory, “we do have the utmost faith in you and your abilities to judge people. You have never led us astray. But you can’t ask us to take such a big step of faith without proof that he stands with us.”
Vin’s ears perked up as his stomach fip-flopped. Proof. It was the one thing he’d been dreading because he suspected exactly what it meant. Leaning forward, he strained to hear any more, but a door opened behind him at that moment and the noise of the party drown out whatever else was said. Still, he would be prepared. It was probably time for him to head back in anyway, before he was missed.
Ezra scanned the room for Vin and noticed the Sharpshooter coming in from outside. Catching his eyes, Ezra raised an eyebrow in question. He saw a dark expression cross Vin’s face and a slight negative shake of his head. Ezra swallowed hard. Something was amiss and he didn’t know what. Whatever it was, though, Vin had caught an inkling of it. He would have to rely on the Sharpshooter to cue him.
Just then dinner was announced and Ezra filed into the large dining room with everyone else. He and Vin were sat across the table from each other, a situation which would ensure Ezra wouldn’t find out what was bothering the younger man until, possibly, it was too late. Settling into his seat, Ezra sat back to try and enjoy the fine meal that had been prepared for them.
It was as dessert was being served that Ezra finally discovered what the unknown factor was. Fellini stood, immediately silencing the table. Clearing his throat he began, “As most of you know, I have been searching for a long time to find someone with the right combination of skills to take my place when I retire. I have finally found the man worthy to be my replacement in Vin Tanner.” Applause sounded around the table. Waiting for it to die down, Fellini continued. “While I feel no further proof of his abilities and loyalty is needed, there are others who rightly demand proof of Vin’s talents and his abilities.”
A low murmur ran through the room. Ezra felt his face pale slightly and called upon every skill his mother and his experience had taught him to remain unaffected. He knew exactly what sort of test this would be. Glancing across the table at his friend, he could see Vin’s placid face and cold, deadly blue eyes. This is what Vin had heard outside. This is what had disturbed him. Fortunately the forewarning had given the Sharpshooter enough time to marshal his defenses and prepare an appropriate façade.
Pulling a folder from beside his chair, Fellini handed it to Vin. “The test of your loyalty will be to … correct a small problem. Think of it as removing a thorn from your side or swatting an annoying mosquito. I have every confidence you will be able to accommodate our friends and pass their little test within the one month time limit they have allotted.”
Vin took the folder, flipped it open and dispassionately scanned the contents. Closing the folder, a cruel smile twisted his lips as a coldness that shook every soul who looked upon it was turned upon the table. Vin Tanner was not a man you tested or trifled with. “It will be done,” he assured everyone.
Everything was in place. It had been three weeks since Vin had received his assignment from the organization. Planning carefully, he took into account the target’s patters as well as the best times to act upon his orders. It hadn’t taken long to formulate a plan, but the waiting had been difficult. The hunter within had been screaming to be set free for three weeks now. Today Vin would release the beast within himself and allow it a moment to revel in the death is caused.
As he had with every mission, he pushed aside the warmth of his soul and embraced the cold darkness that lived within every human, the hunter, the killer, the survivor. If there was one thing Vin Tanner was, it was a survivor and he would do what was needed to stay alive, regardless of whose life it cost.
Settling into position, Vin once more waited. The difference between this wait, though, and the previous one was the knife’s edge of danger and anticipation that cut through him. This was always the hardest time, the wait before the kill. Scanning the area, he noted everything was as it should be. He once more choreographed the scene in his mind, reviewing every detail, every element of the plan. He knew it wasn’t flawless, but it would be good enough. It had to be.
A small tendril of doubt and another of compassion tried to escape the stone sarcophagus in which he had enclosed his heart, but he put a stop to that. He would eliminate the target and cover his tracks. Nothing he hadn’t done before. In fact, there was no one better at it than Vin Tanner.
Pushing aside all thoughts, he focused on the scene unfolding below, confident in his abilities.
As the shooting began, he knew he would have to cover some of the other agents and did so flawlessly. As the gun battle began to lose some of its intensity, Vin quickly set aside his own gun, slipped on a pair of gloves and picked up the second gun.
Lining up his sites, he spotted his target. He would have to wait until the target presented a more opportune profile. Ignoring the bullets flying below him, Vin focused all of his attention on the target. Finally his patience paid off.
Gently squeezing the trigger, he watched as the target jerked at the impact of the bullet. He watched with grim satisfaction as the blond head turned in his direction, as the familiar green eyes opened in shock and pain. He watched dispassionately as the long, lithe body fell to the ground, and ceased moving.
He turned away as the blood began to pool beneath the body. He still had work to do. Moving quickly, he arranged the murder weapon in the corpse’s hands. He had been fortunate the previous night to find a freshly deceased body. The corpse had been a small-time hood with a grudge against Team Seven. He had apparently disagreed with someone and come out on the losing end of a knife.
Turning back and picking up his own gun, Vin aimed and pulled the trigger, blowing a hole in the chest of the corpse that eliminated any trace of the knife wound and sent the corpse crashing to the floor 40 feet below.
Satisfied that things were as set up on the beam as they could be, the Sharpshooter coolly prepared his descent, one thought running through his mind. One shot, one kill, target eliminated.