Disclaimer: Don't own the original characters (MGM et all have that privilege) and I most certainly don't own New York (who does?), but other than that, yeah, I guess it's my setting and interpretations, for what that's worth (can we say zippo? How YOU doin'!).
Parts: TWENTY THREE
Archive: Sure. In fact, I think it already is. Thanks guys!
Open/Closed: Open. As if anyone would be mad enough to follow me into the streets of New York.
Description: This is a new AU I'm writing for the Mag7 boys. It's modern day, takes place in NYC, and is a world where the men are lawyers, detectives and the like. In this introductory piece, they're coming together to help a certain ex-bounty hunter who has been falsely accused of murder.
Note: Equitable Action is a legal term. It is no longer used, but it meant to seek an equitable, or a fair and just, remedy to one's case that was not necessarily found in the strict usage of the laws.
COMPLETE December 9, 2001.
One – Vin Coming In
Two – The Lawyers
Three – Vin's Story
Four – The Detectives
Five – A Thickening
Six – Museums and Mausoleums
Seven – The Black Rose
Eight – Chinatown
Nine – Brunettes, Blonds, and a Redhead (gone a bit silver)
Ten – Mary
Eleven – Papers and Polaroids
Twelve – Hiding Casey
Thirteen – Finding What's Hidden
Fourteen – Breaking In
Fifteen – Breaking Through
Sixteen – Breaking Down
Seventeen – Fire
Eighteen – Ambush
Nineteen – Smoke
Twenty – Ashes
Twenty One – Stirring the Embers
Twenty-Two – The Hearing
Twenty-Three -- Equitable Action
Every step he took seemed to slow time more. Every smell, every flash of light off of a windshield, every screech of someone’s tires seemed to drive him a little more insane.
New York City.
He had been carried out of the Port Authority Bus Terminal in a wave of stinks and elbows, his mind unable to turn him in any other direction than that which life had forced him. For several blocks, he’d dodged the traffic and pedestrians, barely looking up as he skittered across Times Square, never seeing the handsome façade of Grand Central Station, completely unaware of the Chrysler building soaring above his head. He followed the lines in the sidewalk as if they were a trail, leading him to his goal. Eventually, he made it to his destination, unfolding the crumbled and stained piece of paper in his pocket as he checked the address:
42nd and Lexington.
Law Offices of Sanchez and Standish, L.P., 7th floor.
He peered at the nondescript doorway, stuck in between a small deli and a travel agent, and bit his lip. The only sign on the door was a small sticker that said, “Ring several times. Buzzer is on the fritz.” Grimacing, he hit the little white button for the seventh floor…and waited.
A crackling sound interrupted the blur of traffic.
“Law Offices, may I (garbled)?”
He leaned forward, licking his lips.
“Yeah, um, My name is….”
“Speak up, could you? This damned thing is (garbled).”
He grinned slightly, and sucked in a deep breath.
“MY NAME IS VINCENT TANNER!” he yelled into the rusty console. “I'VE GOT AN….”
The door buzzed open before he finished. Vin caught it and held it open with a foot. He pressed the console again.
“No prob. Take the elevator to the fifth floor, then walk down the hall to the next building, and hit the next set of elevators to get you to 7. Then walk back. When you reach the broken door (garbled), and then turn left. We’re there.”
Vin blinked, and raised an eyebrow. “UM, WHAT DO I DO AFTER THE BROKEN DOOR?”
“I’ll meet you at the elevators on the 7th floor.”
“Uh huh.” The console beeped a nasty tone and Vin jumped slightly, almost causing him to lose his hold on the door. He swallowed, and stared out at the gray and brown city, blue-gray eyes scanning the people walking past with a slightly glazed expression.
So many people.
Pushing the glass door open a little wider, he slipped into the hallway and walked down the dark, fluorescent lit hall.
His fingers were drumming rapidly on the legs of his jeans as he watched the ancient elevator click upwards from 5 to 7. Creaks and groans accompanied the slow movement, and the small part of him that was claustrophobic wished he had taken the stairs.
As the metal box chunked to a stop on 7, he straightened the light brown sports jacket, smoothed down his blue shirt and made sure his long brown hair was still tucked firmly into a pony tail behind his ears. Satisfied, he straightened his shoulders and prepared to meet the person on the other side.
He wasn’t expecting a kid. His face fell.
Slouched against the wall opposite the elevators was a young man with black hair covering half of his face, his arms crossed over a plain white shirt. The boy stood up as Vin got off, and tilted his head.
“You Tanner?” he asked, stepping forward.
Vin frowned slightly.
“Yeah, and you are?”
“JD Dunne. I’m the office's legal secretary. Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Standish are waiting for you.” The kid smiled, and Vin surprised himself by smiling back. When the boy started walking, Vin fell in comfortably behind, checking out the 1920s décor that had clearly seen better days. They stepped up at one point, crossing back into the building that Vin had entered, the Texan unable to hide his confusion at the round about directions they were taking. JD glanced at him, and laughed slightly.
“Lots of New York buildings are like this, Mr. Tanner. They all stick together, so folks had the bright idea to knock down the adjoining walls and make more space. If you ask me, I think someone just liked the idea of creating mazes out of skyscrapers. Things are a little less crazy where I’m from, though not much.”
“Oh? Where are you from?”
Vin nodded, “I been there. Stayed in Chinatown.”
JD grinned, “The Combat Zone? That was brave of you. Me, I grew up in the North End.”
“Nah, Irish, my mom just liked the food. Besides, for her, it was really close to work. She was a chamber maid at the Boston Harbor Hotel.”
Vin whistled, “Beautiful place.”
JD’s face fell slightly, “Yeah.”
“Your dad work there too?” Vin asked.
“We’re here,” JD said, indicating another glass door. Smiling, he pushed it open and led the way.
Vin stood on the threshold for a minute, the dread coming back as he remembered exactly why it was he was here. He became stuck to the ground, his whole world freezing, a strange blackness filling his vision and blocking out all sound. The only awareness he had was his sense of touch as the air conditioned air blew out of the room to tickle his face and lift stray strands of lanky light brown hair from off his face.
"Mr. Tanner?" JD frowned, reaching out a hand to touch the immobile man's arm.
Vin blinked and adjusted his shoulders, "Yeah, kid, I'm here." Shaking his head, he stepped into the office.
It was like walking into a whirlwind.
Papers, boxes, folders were everywhere, piled up against walls and against the small desk off to one side. JD grinned and walked ahead of him, weaving his thin frame through the anarchy with a familiar ease. Trying not to seem surprised, Vin followed him, looking away when he caught empty boxes of krispy kremes and dunkin donut boxes scattered around. There were also fast food restaurant bags, both coke and pepsi bottles, empty paper cups, and other bits and pieces of what looked like late night meals.
"Sorry about the mess," JD said, "We used to store some of this stuff, but the storage bay the bosses were using flooded, so we're keeping it here. And as for the food – you'll soon see that Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Standish have conflicting views on everything, so I usually have to compromise by doubling everything. Mr. Sanchez, for example, he only drinks Pepsi, while Ez, I mean, Mr. Standish, he only drinks Coke. Really drives me nuts." With a put upon sigh, the young man, whom Vin figured was probably just old enough to be out of college, made his way to one of the two wooden doors leading off this first room and knocked loudly.
Sounds of shuffling and moving around met the knock, and, after a moment, a low booming voice called for the knocker to come in. JD opened the door, shoving a little as the wood stuck on the old carpeting.
"Josiah? Tanner is here. Want me to get Ez?"
"You call him Ez and he'll have your head, kid. But yeah, get that lazy sob over here, will you? And send Tanner in." It was a comforting voice, despite the rather gruff undertone, and Vin already felt a little better. JD backed off, allowing Vin entrance, while he moved away to go knock on the other door.
Vin peeked into the room, and wasn't surprised to see even more chaos. Piles of papers, bookshelves crammed with storage boxes, and, on one set of shelves, books stuffed into every conceivable space, bindings worn on almost every one. In the middle of it all sat Josiah Sanchez, pushing away from his desk to peer over the papers on his desk at the newcomer.
Josiah was about fifty, well built and tall, with a well-worn face and bright blue eyes that looked as if they saw through walls. He wore a green striped grandfather shirt, open at the collar, atop dark brown slacks with a dark coffee stain on the right leg. Reaching over the desk, since it was obviously easier than extricating himself from the small section of non cluttered space where he had his chair, Josiah stuck out a huge callused hand and smiled.
"Vin! Good to see you again. I see you found us all right."
"Yeah...Pretty easy, as you said. Straight shot from the bus station. Hardest part was this building you're in."
"Yeah, it's a wonderful place, don't you think? So full of character!"
"The only character in this dump is you, Josiah," said a cultured voice from the door, a decidedly southern accent coloring the tone. The hackles on Vin's back rose, instantly finding something unsettling about the icy voice. He turned to see a polished looking man standing at the door in an Italian suit, his arms crossed casually. Green eyes as icy as his voice looked Vin up and down, a small mocking smile gracing the handsome face.
"Ez, sometimes I wonder where your soul is," Josiah huffed, sitting back down to lean back in his chair. The man in the doorway lowered his gaze and smiled.
"My soul? Well, it wasn't boiled away with the rest of my brains during the summer of love, is that's what you mean," the southerner replied. Then he looked at Vin as Josiah shot him a dark look, "I take it you are Mr. Tanner? The bounty hunter?"
"Ez-bounty hunter," Vin corrected.
"Ah, yes. Of course," Ezra Standish wandered in stepping around the papers with surprising grace. When he reached the desk, he leaned himself on the corner and looked at Josiah, "Perhaps we should conduct this interview in my office? The chairs in there are free of...stuff."
Josiah grimaced, then nodded. Ezra grinned, then looked across at JD. The young man had followed him in from the outer room, and was perched on the threshold.
"Mr. Dunne, did you call Larabee?"
"Yep, him and Buck are going to swing by in about an hour, just as you asked."
"Not Mr. Jackson?"
"Nate wasn't available. He's at his other job."
Ezra nodded, standing, "Well, then, if you will follow me, Mr. Tanner, I think you will find my office a little more conducive to actually being able to sit down."
Tanner frowned, watching the impeccable man slither (yes, slither was the right word, Vin thought) out of Josiah's office and in the direction of his own. Vin looked over at Josiah, watching as the older man stood and stretched. The lawyer grinned at Vin's expression.
"Don't judge on appearances, Tanner. Trust me on that."
Vin shrugged, hoping that Josiah was right. Usually he felt himself a good judge of character, and this snake-oil salesman partner of Josiah's had him uneasy, but he was also aware that his choices were limited at the moment. It was either Josiah and his partner, or the court appointed fanny-pack wearing woman that the police had first said would represent him. She's taken one look at him with her jaded eyes and asked him whether he had any information she could use to lighten his sentence. Apparently, his vehement exclamation that he was innocent had meant nothing to her.
"Of course you are, hon," she'd said, glancing at his file, "but we like to cover all our bases in case the jury doesn't agree, you know?"
The same night that she'd stomped on his hope, he'd gotten drunk in a bar somewhere down in the east village, and vaguely recalled watching a fight break out on the street outside. Two teenagers got into a fight, and one pulled a knife. Then this behemoth of a man – at least that's what Vin had first imagined he saw when Josiah appeared – came out of nowhere and tackled the kid with a knife. It was a stupid thing to do, and, if Vin hadn't been there, it is likely that the shop owners would be hosing Josiah's blood off the sidewalk now. But Vin had been there, and when the teenager got the advantage and tried to take a chunk of skin out of the intervening man, Vin had grabbed a metal trash can and chucked it at the kid, bringing him down. The police arrived a moment later and took the kid away. After both men had given their statements down at the precinct, Josiah had bought Vin a drink in thanks. Not too much later, Josiah had promised to represent him.
"My partner and I are the best," the older man had said, "the rest of the world just doesn't know it yet."
Now, looking around the crazy office, still unhappy with the "partner," and wondering if he hadn't just walked into some sort of alternative universe, Vin followed JD over to the other office.
Ezra Standish's office was very different from that of his partner's. While it may have contained the same amount of papers and books, they were neatly stacked and carefully placed around the room, creating the illusion of space. For all that, it also seemed sparse and somehow cold, much like the man who occupied it. His discomfort increasing again, Vin moved across to the large picture window facing the building opposite and leaned his forehead against the cool pane. Out of the corner of his eye, the Chrysler building glittered in the morning sunlight.
Behind him, Josiah and Ezra settled into chairs, while JD stood in the doorway, expectant. Ezra shook his head at the kid and waved him off. JD nodded, knowing the rules well enough now to understand that strictures of confidentiality. He shut the door behind him.
Vin looked up as the lock clicked close, to find Josiah watching him curiously and Ezra looking at him like a lab specimen. There was a barely suppressed look of impatience on the younger lawyer's face, and Vin sighed.
"So you've been accused of murder," Ezra said curtly, beginning the conversation when it appeared that neither of the other two men would.
Vin snorted, and looked up at the sky. It seemed closer than usual. Everything seemed closer together in New York, not like where he grew up in Texas. He wished he were back there now.
"From what I've gleaned from the papers," Ezra continued, watching Vin carefully, "the man who was murdered was Stephen Travis, a prosecutor in the DA's office and son of retired Judge Orrin Travis. He left behind a wife, Mary, a freelance journalist and owner of a small publishing company, and a young son, Billy."
"Yes," Vin said, not looking over.
Ezra nodded, "The murder occurred a week ago, on the night of May 14, in a bar in Queens called the Black Rose. When the police arrived, the found you by the body of Mr. Travis, gun in hand and Travis's blood on your trousers. Your first words, apparently, were to say that you must have shot him, though, when prompted, you couldn't tell them exactly how. You later recanted this statement, saying that it was a mistake. You remember firing, maybe, but you were not trying to kill Travis. Instead, you were after the bounty on a man by the name of Eli Joe, and that Stephen Travis must have somehow got in the way. You don't know how Travis came to the bar, or how he got in the way, or even what happened to Joe, whom you insisted had been there that night, though no one else in the bar would support this." Ezra paused in his recitation, his eyes narrowing slightly as he noted the depression blanketing the man at the window. Ezra frowned, his green eyes absorbing the body movements and facial expressions with the skilled eyes of a man who made his living reading people. Then he looked across at Josiah.
The older man nodded back. See, Josiah was saying to him silently, I told you he was innocent. Ezra arched an eyebrow.
"In any case, ballistics matched the bullet in Travis's back to those in your gun, and there was powder on your hands, indicating that you had recently shot the weapon. All these facts would lead to almost incontrovertible evidence that you shot Mr. Travis. The only question for the DA is, whether it was premeditated. The prosecution will hope to show intent, and convict for first degree murder. Unfortunately for you, Mr. Tanner, Stephen Travis was not only a prominent citizen, but he was a significant member of the system which you now hope to survive. Frankly, at this point, I would be surprised if they do not call for the death penalty in their opening statement."
Vin pressed more of his forehead against the cool glass, shutting his eyes as a headache started to beat against his skull. Ezra frowned, his voice softening.
"Now, if it wasn't premeditated, then there is still second degree murder, the penalties for which will undoubtedly be equally as severe. Of course, If they fail to show any intent or reckless behavior, then the crime may be ratcheted down to manslaughter, but I find that unlikely, Mr. Tanner. You are...were...a bounty hunter. That suggests a certain degree of training and background, meaning that the standard for negligence or mistake will be higher for you."
Vin shrugged, "What does that all mean?" he asked finally.
"It means that it might be easier to sneak you out of the country than get you off," the young lawyer replied. Vin looked at him askance, not hiding his disappointment. Ezra pursed his lips, his eyes still scrutinizing.
Josiah stood and walked over to where Vin stood at the window and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"We will do our best for you, Vin. I told you as much that night at the bar. If you choose to officially take us on as your counsel, we will take everything you tell us into the strictest confidence and use every weapon in our arsenal to make sure the right verdict is found. Now, Ezra here may come off as a bit cold – hell, that recitation would have chilled a arctic wolf – but he knows what he is talking about. You just have to tell us what you want."
Vin leaned away from the window and looked squarely at the older man, "What I want...is for none of this to have happened."
Josiah grunted, "Yeah...I've heard that before."
"Are you innocent, Mr. Tanner?" Ezra stood up and leaned against the edge of his desk. There was a strange undertone to the cultured voice this time, something that made Vin look across at him in surprise. The voice held nothing but a demand for the honest truth, as opposed to disdain or arrogance. Vin realized that something subtle had changed in the lawyer – it was almost like he was a different person. The snake was gone, along with the cold attitude. The green eyes no longer scrutinized...they were open.
The bounty hunter nodded, watching Ezra carefully, "Yes. I didn't shoot Travis, Mr. Standish. I'm sure of it."
Ezra nodded once, "Well then, I suggest we get to work finding out who did."
Vin expelled a quick breath, "You believe me, don't you?"
Ezra shrugged, "As they say, Mr. Tanner, it doesn't matter what I believe, but..." he smiled, "it certainly helps to believe in one's client. If, indeed, you are our client?"
"Are we your counsel, Vin?" Josiah asked.
"Yeah, just tell me where I sign," Vin looked back at Josiah, and the older man smiled back. For the first time since he first set foot in this city two weeks ago, the bounty hunter felt like he had done something right.
For the hour that they sat together in the closed room, Vin told them everything he could about what had happened, about the man he'd been tracking, and anything else about himself that might help the two lawyers defending him.
His full name was Vincent Randolph Tanner, born in 1972 in Amarillo, Texas. Father died when he was a baby in a bar fight, mother when he was ten from Leukemia. He was bounced around the foster care system, moving all over the place, until, at the age of sixteen, he ran away, hiding on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma until he was eighteen. Over the next few years, he had a variety of jobs, including spending a couple of years at the police academy, until, when he twenty five, he got his license to be a bounty hunter. Four years later, he took on the job to take down a notorious Texan drug runner named Eli Joe. Vin tracked him across ten states, eventually bringing him here to New York City. It was the bounty hunter's first time here, but, priding himself on being able to adapt to anything, he had blended in and followed Joe into the heart of Queens, to the Black Rose....
"How did you know he was going to be there?" Ezra asked, looking up from his pad. Vin shrugged slightly.
"I'm an unknown in these parts; I simply portrayed myself as a buyer." The bounty hunter leaned back in the chair he had taken, looking up at the pockmarked ceiling. "By this point, I knew what Eli had and what he needed, and I made sure I fit both parameters. Before here, he had not stopped in a single place for longer than a few days, meaning I just kept missing him, but I quickly found out he had roots here, and I took advantage of them."
"Apparently, he learned of your manipulations," Ezra said, scribbling down some more notes. Vin gave him a crooked smile and nodded.
"Yeah, he knew I was coming. It's the only thing I can think of. He set me up."
"Eli Joe....I don't know that name," Josiah muttered. "I was twenty years inside the public defender's office, you'd think I would at least have seen that name attached to something once. Does he have an alias?"
Vin shook his head, "He liked to call himself the Pickaxe, but all the informant's I talked to simply referred to him as Eli Joe."
Josiah frowned, "The pickaxe. No, I don't know that one either. Ezra?"
"Just something else to look up. How long before Larabee gets here?"
Josiah turned his wrist to check his watch, "Ten minutes."
"Who is Larabee?"
"Head of a detective agency a couple doors down," Josiah answered. "He and his best friend, Buck Wilmington, opened it up at almost the same time that I set up my own practice here. In fact, this whole floor pretty much got filled in at the same time, once it was cleaned up by the new owners. A small doctor's office moved in as well, but it went defunct quickly. One of the younger docs who worked there, though, he ended up working part time for Larabee. Chris has a habit of ending up in dangerous situations – Ezra here thinks he has a death-wish," Josiah glanced at his partner, and Ezra returned with a look that said, don't you? Josiah shook his head, "Anyways, the doctor got into the habit of patching him and Buck up. Larabee hired him on as an apprentice. Nathan Jackson, his name is. He still works as a doctor part time in a clinic in Brooklyn, but spends the rest of time working with Larabee, getting his own PI license."
"Nathan hates me," Ezra grinned, putting his hands behind his head and leaning back to regard the ceiling.
"Hates you?" Vin raised his eyebrows.
"With a passion."
"You provoke him," Josiah chastised.
"I know," Ezra grinned wider.
"You're a real prize, ain't ya," Vin said, shaking his head. The more he spoke with this man, the more he was amazed at how wrong his initial take on him had been. Or maybe, Ezra Standish was just allowing him to see who he really was now.
"The girl at the travel agency thinks so," Josiah grinned, waggling his eyebrows. Ezra's grin fell and he stared daggers at his partner.
"In any case, Mr. Tanner, we often hire Larabee and his partners on to investigate matters that we would otherwise not have the time to look up. Believe it or not, your case is not the only one we will be juggling, although it will have top priority. Fact is, Mr. Sanchez has a habit of picking up hard luck and pro bono cases all the time," He shot a look at Josiah, who smiled back. "That's the main reason we never seem to make any profit, and have to suffer this rather horrible setting."
"Now, son, you know perfectly well...."
"I do, and that familiar appellation is even less appreciated than the rather heinous nickname you have saddled me with. You know I hate being called Ez."
"He's angry because I brought up the girl at the travel agency," Josiah said to Vin, putting a hand to the side of his mouth in a mock aside. Ezra rolled his eyes.
"How many cases are you working on, then?" Vin asked.
"Eight, at the moment. Only one other is more pressing that yours. It goes to trial in the morning. The rest are scattered along the calendar, and I'm almost certain yours is the only other one which will actually see a jury."
"Ezra is the plea bargain and settlement king," Josiah smiled. "Because of the often indigent nature of our clients, he tries to avoid court as much as possible. Too expensive. And the occasional well paying client's fee usually doesn't last long in the face of...."
"Josiah's big heart," Ezra sneered. "Why I ever agreed to partner up with him, I will never understand."
"Now, now, Ezra, you came to me, remember?"
"Don't remind me," Ezra rubbed at his eyes and smiled crookedly up at Vin. "Now, the way I see it, we have two main avenues of investigation – Eli Joe and Stephen Travis. The Larabee agency will deal with the primary investigations, while we follow up on what they find. Though I think I will have to insist on one of us going along when they visit the Travises."
"Agreed," Josiah said seriously, "But you know that Chris will not be happy if you dog him."
"Josiah, last time I let them go off on their own to meet with the Castilles on the upper west side, we nearly got slammed with three different suits for defamation, emotional distress and assault. I doubt I've talked faster in my life!"
"Buck and Chris can be a bit rude," Josiah nodded.
"Rude? No, rude would be a improvement. I'm saying they scare people. Damned fools can be worse than General Sherman on a Georgia plantation," Ezra rubbed at his neck. "No, I think when we deal with the Travises we will need a more subtle approach."
"Subtle?" Josiah smiled.
"As a fine wine," Ezra nodded.
"Just make sure it's not Blue Nun," Josiah leered. Ezra crossed his arms again in annoyance.
"Um, listen, what should I be doing while all this is happening?" Vin asked, interrupting.
Josiah rested his chin on his hand, "Fortunately for me, though not so much for you, I know that you are not the type to sit still," he said. "While we would appreciate it if you stayed out of it, we can not stop you from trying to clear your own name. As such, we're going to recommend that you work with Larabee, so that he can also protect you. But, do us a favor and do everything he tells you. Also, try to remain vigilant and in his line of sight at all time. And, of course, no weapons."
"They took my gun," Vin said tiredly.
"Don't find another one," Ezra said. "Larabee will protect you."
"You place a lot of trust in this Larabee," Vin noted, his eyes narrowing slightly.
"More than in myself," Ezra said quietly. Josiah snapped blue eyes on him, and Ezra grimaced. "Sorry," he muttered to the older lawyer. Josiah looked annoyed at the younger man for the first time since they arrived, and Vin was instantly curious. He wished he could find a way to nail down Standish's personality, but he seemed to change from icy cold, to good-humored, to submissive, as quickly as Vin blinked.
"Moving on," Josiah said, "Where are you staying, Vin?"
"Hostel up in Washington Heights."
"Too dangerous, and too open to attack," Ezra said. "We'll...."
A knock at the door interrupted them, and, before even waiting for Ezra to say "come in," JD opened the door.
"Knocking normally means you are meant to wait for permission, Mr. Dunne," Ezra admonished, leaning forward again in his seat. JD blushed.
"Yeah, well, I'm sorry Ez, I mean, Mr. Standish, but, um, Chris and Buck are here."
Ezra's eyes narrowed, "Mr. Dunne, if you call me 'Ez' one more time, I will force this lummox of a partner of mine to fire you, got it?"
"Yes sir, Mr. Standish," JD replied, looking to the floor.
"This is your fault, you know," Ezra said to Josiah. "If you didn't insist on shortening my name that way in front of the help, no one would...."
"Hell and Damnation, Ez, get off your high horse!" A tall man called loudly, shoving in behind JD and propelling the kid into the room. JD stumbled and looked back, his face completely open as Buck Wilmington strode over to the desk. "Your name is Ez, and you may as well accept that. For a whelp, you are way too uptight."
Ezra's mouth fell open, "A...a whelp? Did you just call me a...?"
"Yep. You, the kid there, and...who's the new whelp?" Buck smiled at Vin, and the bounty hunter stared back, his mouth set in a firm line.
The detective was tall, maybe 6'4", with black hair and a thick black moustache that had been carefully groomed to cover a mouth accented with laughter lines. Buck wore a white cowboy hat, pulled low over his forehead to shadow dark blue eyes, and an outfit reminiscent of Vin's – a tweed sportscoat over jeans. Though he insisted on calling them all whelps, it was unlikely that the man was much over forty years in age.
It was also fairly obvious that JD Dunne was in serious awe of the man. The secretary's pupils had dilated, and he looked ready to back Buck up no matter what he said. If there was a reason the kid called Ezra Standish "Ez," it was because that is what Buck Wilmington called him.
Meanwhile, "Ez" had puckered his lip in annoyance. "Mr. Wilmington, may I introduce Vin Tanner, our new client," he stated sourly.
"Hi," Buck said, sticking out a hand. Vin took it, wincing slightly at the strong grip.
"What did he do?" asked a quiet gravelly voice from the doorway. Vin peeked around Buck as the detective stepped aside, and raised an eyebrow. Leaning against the door frame stood a man in dark blue jeans, dark maroon shirt and long black leather coat. Messy blond hair topped a grizzled face and blue almost black eyes absorbed the room. Chris Larabee stared back at Vin, looking as if he could see into the man's soul.
"What did he do?" Chris repeated, looking at Josiah.
"Got framed," Josiah replied.
"Framed?" Buck asked, looking Vin up and down, "for what? Being from Texas?"
"Hey!" Vin said quickly, straightening, "How did...?"
"The style of boots, whelp. I'd recognize them anywhere. You get them in Lubbock?"
Vin looked nonplussed, but nodded.
Buck smiled, "I'm from Abilene, originally. My mother's still there, though I moved here a long time ago."
"You'd never know it," Chris said wryly. "You can take the boy out of Texas, but...." he left the statement unfinished.
"Well, that makes three southern boys in one room in The City, that's gotta be significant of something," Buck said slapping Vin on the arm. The bounty hunter stepped backwards a bit and leaned back against the window, his arms crossed.
"If I'm included in that, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra said quietly, "I would just like to point out that I am most certainly not from Texas."
Lips mocking the words "not from Texas," Buck moved to lean on Ezra's desk.
"If we may get back to the business at hand?" Ezra said. He turned to Chris, "Mr. Tanner has been framed for murder."
"Tanner..." Chris frowned, his eyes reading the carpeting, then he looked up again. "You're the bounty hunter they've accused of murdering DA Travis."
Ezra nodded, "Accused, but not guilty, Mr. Larabee. We plan on finding out who really did do this nefarious deed. To that end, we need you to find a man by the name of Eli Joe, and we need to find out what Travis was up to."
"Who is Eli Joe?" Buck asked. He pulled a small black notebook out of his pocket and had pulled a pen.
"Drug runner, size of operation unknown. Mr. Tanner believes he works out of Queens."
"Queens? Well, better than Chinatown, I suppose." Buck looked over at Tanner, "What can you tell us about him."
"What do you need to know?" the bounty hunter rejoined.
"Everything," Chris said, pulling out his own notebook, "what he looks like, who his contacts are, where his neighborhood is, who you had contact with, and so on."
Vin nodded, and supplied them with what information he knew. Buck wrote furiously in his notebook, taking down almost every piece of information, while Chris mostly just listened. He watched Vin carefully, as if trying to figure something out.
"Yates was Eli's main contact, huh?" the blond detective smiled, "Now there is a name I know. Former marshal, went under the wire about ten years back." He looked at Buck, and the other man scowled. Ezra arched an eyebrow, but underlined the name in his own notes.
"When does the trial start?" Chris asked, looking across at Josiah.
"How is it you're not in jail?" Buck asked, looking over at Vin. "I'm surprised the judge even offered bail, much less set it low enough for a bounty hunter to pay."
The bounty hunter rubbed the back of his neck, "It was set and someone posted it," he shrugged. "They wouldn't tell me who."
"Really?" Ezra raised his eyebrows, and looked at Josiah, "Did you know this?"
The older lawyer shook his head, "I assumed that Mr. Tanner posted his own bail. That is, until I learned that the amount was set and $50,000. I was planning on asking Vin about it, but I forgot."
"$50,000?" Buck whistled. "Someone must really like you." He looked across at Ezra.
"Something else to add to the list, Mr. Wilmington."
"Still want us on the Delacroix case?" Chris asked, tilting his head.
"No, I think we have all we need. Oh, and I have your payment for the work you did on the Niscian case. Mr. Dunne has the check."
Chris nodded, then looked up as Ezra cleared his throat.
"Mr. Larabee, due to the sensitive nature of this case...uh, Josiah and I have agreed that, uh, one of us should accompany you when you look into the Travis side of this case," Ezra's green eyes flitted to touch Chris's, then flitted away to look at Josiah, as if seeking strength. The older lawyer had his face set in a firm expression.
Chris frowned, looking at the two lawyers with less than trusting eyes, "You both agreed to this?"
"After what happened with the Castilles, yes," Josiah said, not looking the slightest bit nervous at the menacing quality in Chris's voice.
Chris's right eye twitched, but that was the only outward sign that showed he was at all annoyed. Pursing his lips, he nodded once. Ezra blew out a held breath and smiled.
"Good, great. Now, the only other piece of logistics is where Mr. Tanner should find his domicile. He needs constant watch, as I do not want anyone to be able to take advantage of his current state of emancipation. "
Buck blinked, and rubbed at his forehead, "Ezra, do you speak that way just to annoy me?"
"Why doesn't he stay with you?" Chris asked, looking at the younger lawyer.
"Oh, well," Ezra frowned, "um, ethically speaking..." he looked at Josiah, but the older lawyer just shrugged.
"Yeah, you have that big apartment, certainly bigger than mine and Chris's," Buck said, "not to mention you are all by yourself."
"Gentlemen, please, this is not what I intended when I brought up..."
"I don't want to put anyone out," Vin interrupted.
"You wouldn't be putting him out," Josiah told him. "He's got plenty of room."
"Josiah!" Ezra turned betrayed eyes on his partner.
"Josiah!!" Ezra actually slammed the desk this time.
The older lawyer laughed.
"You didn't have to come with me, you know," Vin said quietly, as JD slid his metrocard through the scanner and passed through the turnstiles into the subway under Grand Central. The younger man smiled and shrugged as he waited for Vin to do the same, then looked quickly around for the directions to the shuttle to Times Square.
"Not a problem. Besides, Ez told me to go with you. I'm supposed to take you to get your stuff, then take you to his apartment, where he'll meet us in an hour. And I always do what he tells me," the kid replied, setting off for the S.
Vin smirked, "Yeah, everything he tells you except not calling him Ez."
JD threw him a wicked grin.
"So...how did you end up down here and not in Boston?" Vin asked as they walked lazily down the platform. The bounty hunter wrinkled his nose at the smell while JD absently scanned the tracks for mice.
"Oh, just needed to get out of Boston for a while," came the reply. "I mean, I love the city and all...but there were too many memories there."
"Yeah...," JD's hazel eyes looked at Vin then turned quickly away again, "my mother died suddenly a year back, the day I graduated from college up there. Then there was all this mess with her debts and our house and no insurance and everything..." he sighed, stopping to peer in the direction where the train would enter from. "I felt like everything was happening so fast, and I couldn't keep up with all the legal stuff, and I almost...." he frowned. Vin held his hands behind his back and stared at the yellow line at his feet, vaguely wondering how he'd managed to open this kid's past so easily. Obviously, JD was in the mood to talk about it.
The kid shook his head, "Anyways, this woman friend of my mom's, a lawyer who worked near the Hotel, she came by one day to offer her condolences, and, when she saw the state I was in, she just took over, you know? Somehow, she sorted everything out and saved my sanity. Literally. Made me want to be like her, but I couldn't afford to go back to school then, or even to live, really, not to mention that I really needed to get out of Boston, and she went and fixed that too. She got me this job with Josiah, including convincing him to let me bunk with him until I could afford my own place down here."
"She must know him well," Vin noted absently.
"Yeah," JD smiled, "she's his ex-wife. Anyway, I did just that. Moved down here, bunked with Josiah for a couple of months, then got my own place. Now I'm saving to go to Law School."
Vin whistled, "Law School, huh? And here I thought you wanted to be a detective like Buck."
JD snorted and shook his head. Vin gave him a crooked smile, then looked up as the Shuttle pulled into the station in a wave of squeals and exhaling brakes.
They rode the subway in silence, not speaking even when they changed trains to head up to Washington Heights. It wasn't until they were walking down a potholed sidewalk on the way to the hostel that Vin asked another question.
"So, um...how long have Ezra and Josiah been partners?"
It was obviously a pregnant question as JD didn't answer immediately. When the kid finally cleared his throat to speak, Vin loosed some of the tension that had been building in his shoulders, wondering if he hadn't said something wrong.
"I guess a couple of years. Josiah took Ezra on after...after Mr. Standish had some trouble at the Firm he was working for."
"He doesn't talk about it. Ever. But I'm pretty sure Josiah saved him from something pretty awful, and then he agreed to take Ezra on as a partner since Ezra had nowhere else to go."
"Wow, really," Vin tucked a strand of hair behind his head.
"Yeah. Listen, don't say anything, okay? Ez...Mr. Standish...it's a real sore spot, you know? Once, this other lawyer visited us, Mr. Farron, I think his name was, and, I swear, Ezra's face completely blanched upon seeing him. The guy just walked past Ezra and into his office, and Ez followed him without a word. Just looked lost. Mr. Standish is never at a loss. I mean, he could talk a suicide victim down from a ledge and sell the guy a lifetime subscription to People at the same time without even breaking a sweat, you know? But this guy who visited....I don't know what happened, but when I told Josiah about it after he got back from lunch, well, Josiah just stormed into Ezra's office, breaking the lock on the door, punched Farron out, then carried him out of the building over his shoulders in a fireman's carry. I've never seen Josiah like that – he never gets that angry at anything, and Ezra just watched like a zombie. It was...bad."
Vin arched his eyebrows, taking this in with an amazed expression. "Huh," he muttered, "Did Josiah get in trouble for that? I mean, that's battery."
"Strangely, no. Never heard another word. This was, like, six months ago? We've heard nothing." JD shrugged, and looked up at his surroundings, taking in the decrepit brownstones with an unhappy expression. This was not the best neighborhood for a stroll, even in the middle of the day. "We almost there?"
Vin stopped, then turned around, and laughed. "Oh, sorry. We passed it!" Walking quickly, he stopped at the bottom of a short set of stone steps and pointed up at a building. The only thing marking it as different from the ones around it was the small green triangle next to the door with YHA emblazoned on it.
"I'll be right back," the bounty hunter said, taking the stairs two at a time and heading inside. JD sat down on the steps with a sigh, absently brushing some dirt off his khakis.
BANG! CRACK! Ka-BANG!
JD sat bolt upright as gunshots exploded over his head. Instantly moving to the stone wall edging the stairs, he grabbed the black railing and stared up at the building behind him with wide eyes.
Ka-BANG! CRACK! Ka-BANG!
The crack of the bullets ricocheting against plaster dislodged the kid from his hold on the rusted metal railing and he backed up into the road, his eyes trying to discern what the hell was happening inside. He could hear a woman screaming somewhere on the third floor, and some short shouts from the first.
Swiveling his head left and right, he searched for help, but anyone who had been on the street minutes before had disappeared.
More gunshots were fired, and a bullet shot through a window on the second floor.
"Vin!" JD gripped his hands into fists, frozen in place. He didn't know what to do.
Suddenly, two bodies crashed through an upper story window, shattering the glass into a hundred glittering fragments as it cascaded down around the figures. JD leapt backward as the man "in front" landed hard on his back, the gun in his hand skittering away across the pavement. Vin landed heavily on top of him, using the gunman to break his fall.
Dazed, the bounty hunter picked himself up and almost fell onto JD. The kid grabbed his arm, and pulled him upright.
"Run," Vin whispered hoarsely at him, blood dripping down on one side of his face.
Gunshots ripped into the old pavement near JD's feet, and he scampered backwards, pulling Vin with him, getting them to cover behind an old, beat up VW parked on the far side of the street. Bullets impacted on the old metal with sharp pings, tiny showers of sparks displaying where they hit.
Daring to glance through the windows of the VW to the building, JD caught a glimpse of another gunman, dressed all in black and sporting black sunglasses, standing on the front stoop and firing in their direction. The driver's side window shattered, and JD ducked down again before the gunman could do the same with the passenger side that JD and Vin were hunkered down beneath.
Horribly, the kid realized that they had nothing to protect them. The gunman could just walk around the car and....
What a beautiful sound!
JD couldn't believe it. Someone had actually called the police!
The gunman on the stoop lowered his weapon and looked down the street as a cruiser sped towards him, lights flashing and siren blaring. Quickly, he ran across to his associate and bodily lifted him off the ground.
From a nearby alley, a navy sedan squealed around the corner and pulled to an abrupt stop in front of the gunmen. JD watched with wide eyes as the second gunman shoved the body of his partner into the back, then ran around to climb into the passenger side door. Seconds later, the car was gone, tearing down the street and leaving behind the noxious smell of burnt rubber. It screeched to a halt near the next corner, narrowly missing impacting with another cruiser coming in the opposite direction. Spinning, the police car executed a perfect U-Turn and chased after the sedan.
As the other police car pulled up next to them a second later, a still shaking JD was laying an unconscious Vin down on his back, desperately calling out the bounty hunter's name. A cop ran up next to him, calling for an ambulance over his radio.
The bounty hunter remained oblivious as neighbors came boiling out of doors to tell their stories of what happened.
Vin woke up slowly, his mind buzzing angrily and his stomach curdling as his senses returned. With a heavy sigh, which turned into a groan, he risked opening his gray eyes to find out where he was.
First thing he saw was florescent lighting.
Then he smelled the antiseptic.
Aw Hell...he was in a hospital.
"Hey, Chris, our bounty hunter's awake," someone said near his ear...and not quietly.
Turning his head, Vin caught sight of Buck sitting in a plastic chair near his head, the tall man's feet propped up on the hospital bed. The New York cowboy grinned, and tipped back his hat. Shuffling indicated that someone else was standing and walking over, and soon Vin found Chris Larabee staring down at him with those blue-black eyes.
"How're you feeling?" the detective asked, frowning slightly as Vin blinked up at him. Confused, the bounty hunter's eyes narrowed as he tried to take stock of what had happened, then they widened as the memories flooded back.
"Shit! Is JD okay? What happened?" he asked quickly, his voice rough.
Chris arched an eyebrow, surprised at the concern for the kid over his own health. It made him smile, and the expression calmed Vin down some.
"JD is fine, Tanner. The police arrived before the assassins could do anything more damage. You got jarred around a bit, and whacked on the head a touch, but you'll be all right too."
Vin frowned, and looked over at Buck. The detective nodded, flashing a bright smile. Turning back to Chris, he blew the air out of his cheeks.
"How long have I been here?"
"Couple of hours. Woke up several times, but I think this is the first time you didn't fall asleep again immediately."
Vin smirked, not too surprised. He'd gotten whacked enough times on the head to know the rules. Sighing, he shifted up in the bed and looked more carefully out at the two men with him.
"And why exactly are you two here?"
"Ezra has us babysitting you," Buck said, leaning forward on his knees.
"Babysitting?" the bounty hunter couldn't hide his incredulity at the term.
"Protecting," Chris rephrased, his smile deepening.
"Though from the story JD told us, you could probably protect us," Buck chuckled. "Two armed assassins and no gun? I am impressed at your ability to dodge, though the window might have been a little extreme." The grin on his face could blind the sun.
Vin shrugged, and touched his hand to the bandage stuck to the side of his head, "Where are Ezra and JD?" he asked after a second.
"Ez did some fast talking to make sure you'd only have to make a statement before you are released to his and our custody, then he took off to go finish his other case. Josiah's with JD down at the precinct, clearing all the loose ends up. Probably take a while – cops can be very slow when there's been a shooting. Believe it or not, it doesn't happen as often as people think. City has been real calm for a while now, and the Heights have been working to clean up their image. You pissed the cops off up there something strong," Buck leaned back in his chair, tucking his hands behind his head. Vin just pursed his lips at the news, then looked up at Chris.
"So the cops will need to talk to me."
"Yup. We're to stop at the precinct on the way to Ezra's, to meet Josiah and JD. You'll make your statement, then we're outta there. Josiah'll make sure they're quick, then he and JD should be right behind us."
"So I'm still staying at Ezra's?"
"Yeah. You'll see why when you see his place. You'll be safer there than with any of the rest of us. Plus, believe it or not, the guy can handle himself."
Vin nodded, turning to face the door as a nurse pushed in. She smiled at him.
"Good, you're awake," she said, checking on the IV attached to his arm and the dressing on his head. It was merely a large bandage, covering about half his forehead on the left side.
"When can he leave here?" Chris asked, straightening up to face her. The nurse's smile faltered slightly as she met his dark gaze, and she looked away quickly.
"Um, well, that will be up to the doctor, but...." She shrugged.
The nurse grimaced, and returned to smiling down at Vin. "She would have preferred you stay overnight, sir, but, due to the sensitivity of your situation, she has relented to your release with an AMA order. Looking at you now, I'm guessing it won't be long...." She patted his shoulder, and Vin tried not to sigh to heavily.
"So, lovely lady, what does that mean in real time?" Buck pushed himself up off his plastic chair and walked over to her, a lothario grin in full force. She blushed, and backed up a little.
"Um...soon. I think. Now that he is awake. The doctor will ask him some questions, but I'm pretty sure that, um, that if you, uh...." she was blushing furiously now as Buck sidled closer to her and smiled charmingly, blue eyes shining. She bit her lip, then, backing up quickly to the door, stammered out something about getting the doctor for them immediately. Moments later, she was out the door and Buck was chuckling. Chris shook his head and rolled his eyes.
"Wow," Vin said admiringly. "You did that with a smile, huh? You gotta secret?"
Buck winked in Vin's direction, "Pure animal magnetism, my friend."
Vin grinned back, oddly pleased at being called friend by this man.
It was late evening when the taxi pulled up in front of a large apartment building on the upper west side, not too far from the Natural History Museum. In fact, the taxi had swung around the beautiful museum, giving the bounty hunter his first view of the huge, new planetarium all lit up against the darkening sky. He'd not had a chance to sightsee at all, and, between driving past the huge park and seeing the museum, he was seeing why this city was considered so amazing.
The building they stopped in front of was enormous, rising straight up from the sidewalk like a castle. It faced the park, and as he turned, Vin could hear the soft sounds of music and laughter coming out of the trees, the soft whisper of the trees almost driving out the sounds of the city.
At least, if you could ignore the cars boiling down the road.
Buck took his arm, pulling him forward when it appeared that Vin wasn't ready yet to move.
"Impressive, isn't it?" the tall man whispered in his ear. Vin nodded dumbly as the cowboy steered him to the entrance.
Before him, the dark green awning and blood red carpeting marked the main door, and there were heat lamps attached to the underside of the awning. Of course, it being summer, they were unnecessary, but it still impressed Vin to see them. A doorman stood waiting for them, his eyebrows raised disdainfully.
"Can I help you gentlemen?"
"Chris Larabee, Buck Wilmington and Vin Tanner, for Ezra Standish."
The doorman looked them up and down, then held his hand out. Chris handed him their identifications. Checking them over, the doorman nodded, handed them back, and backed away to grant them entrance.
The foyer was a study in striped red marble and dark mahogany, as impressive as any palace. Plush heather green carpeting sprang happily underfoot as they headed to the front desk. Another man smiled up at them, though the expression was somewhat forced. His eyes glazed over the square bandage on Vin's forehead and the small butterfly strips down the left side of his face as if they weren't there. The blood specks on his shirt collar were equally ignored. After all, that was what he was paid to do.
"Messrs Larabee, Wilmington and Tanner, welcome to the Westmoreland. You have the use of elevator two, down that way." He pointed to the right, where an elevator sat open. Vin cocked a curious eyebrow, but didn't say a word as the other two hustled him across to it.
The elevator had a couch.
Vin just blinked as both Buck and Chris sat down – the tall man leaning back and spreading out, while Chris leaned forward, his forearms resting on his knees, hands clasped before him. Thinking that they must be expecting him to hit the button, he turned as the doors closed and stopped.
No control panel. Just an emergency panel.
The elevator shifted slightly, indicating movement, and Vin's eyes widened.
"They control it from down below, kid," Buck said, sighing as he leaned deeper into the couch. "That way, they make sure you go to the floor they designate."
The bounty hunter just shook his head, too amazed to speak.
Chris looked up curiously as Vin's hands clenched slightly. Man doesn't like elevators, the detective realized with an amused smile. Looking across at Buck, it was obvious no help to ease the bounty hunter's discomfort would be forthcoming, so he sighed and caught Vin's eyes.
"So how many guards did you spot down there?"
Vin looked back at him, absently rubbing his hands on the side of his jeans. "Four...two by the door, with the doorman, and two in the lobby, guarding the guy at the desk."
Buck whistled, nodding approvingly. "Impressive, Tanner. You missed two, but you did better than me when we first came here. Chris, of course, spotted all six straight off."
"And both the doorman and desk clerk are trained specialists," Vin said.
Chris grinned at Buck, "He's got a good eye."
Vin smiled at them, then staggered a little as the elevator stopped. The dial above the door read nineteen.
"Not the penthouse?" Vin said cheekily, stepping out of the small space. He stopped dead again as he looked at the entrance hall. It was as elaborate as the one downstairs, except the marble was a paler shade, and the dominant color was pale green, complete with a large number of spider and pothos plants.
"Will this do, sir?" Buck said, grinning as he sidled passed. "I'm sure Ezra's mother would have preferred the penthouse as well, but I'm afraid someone even richer than her lives up there."
Vin raised his eyebrows, "Ezra's mother?"
"A woman with more lives than a cat, and the conning skills of a shapeshifter," Chris said curtly. "This is her place. Ezra lives here when she's not in town, which is most of the year."
"My God," Vin shook his head, "lucky guy, isn't he?"
Buck's smile fell some, and Chris's stony countenance seemed to darken. Vin frowned, surprised.
"Trust me, Tanner," Chris said, "you would not want that woman as your mother. Compared to her, a barracuda seems like a goldfish."
"Oh, come now, Chris," Buck smiled, "she does love him, you know, in her own way."
"Doesn't make it right," the blond replied angrily. "If it were up to me, I'd lock her up and throw away the key. Lord knows she...."
"Gentlemen!" Ezra greeted heartily, opening the double doors in front of them, "You've finally arrived."
As he walked through the large apartment, stopping several times to gaze with wonder out the numerous picture windows facing the park, Vin noticed that there was a real sense of disuse to most of the apartment. If he were to guess, he would say that Ezra really only used about three of the rooms in it – the kitchen, living room and his own bedroom. The rest of the rooms, including a dining room, den, two guest rooms and what could pass as an office were all covered with a fine sheen of dust.
Ezra brought them into the living room, where he swept back a large pile of papers and books from off the long table and indicated for them to sit. Wandering into the kitchen, he returned with a tray of glasses and Sam Adams, and one iced tea.
"How are you feeling, Mr. Tanner?" he asked, setting a glass in front of him and cracking open one of the beers to pour into it. Vin raised an eyebrow, thinking that, because of his injuries, he was the one going to get the iced tea.
"Fine, headache and some sore bruises, but otherwise, fine," the bounty hunter said, watching as Ezra finished handing out the beers then took the iced tea for himself. Buck propped his feet up on the table, something which got him an annoyed look from Ezra. Chris reached across and knocked the feet off.
"Good, good," Ezra took a sip, "I would have been there myself, but I'm afraid I had another case to finish up. By tomorrow, however, I should be able to put all my energies into dealing with your problem."
Vin frowned, disliking that man's tone. Ezra had slipped into lawyer talk again, and he found the speech aggravating. Not noticing, Ezra stared vaguely at the papers at the end of the table, looking as if he were calculating the amount of time it would take him to distill them into a workable format. Buck started tapping his fingers on his legs.
"When are the others getting here?"
Ezra looked startled for a moment, as if they had broken his concentration about something, "Oh, um, not long. Josiah just called me from the subway station, just before you arrived. In fact..." At that moment a light chiming sound came from the direction of the doorway, and Ezra smiled. Getting up, he wandered away. The faint sounds of people talking floated back, sounding a bit as if they were coming over speakers, then they heard the unmistakable sound of Ezra opening the door.
Chris put a hand over his face, "Oh Lord, he heard us talking before we came in."
"I'm sure your remark about his mother went over very smoothly," Buck laughed. Vin shook his head, then looked up as JD and Josiah walked in. The young secretary was by his side in moments, peppering him with questions about his health. Vin answered them as best he could. Buck and Chris asked Josiah about the police station, while Ezra disappeared once more into the kitchen to get more drinks. When he returned, he had another beer and a steaming cup of coffee. Josiah grabbed the coffee and took a long draw before sighing contentedly, and JD took the beer.
"Coffee, Josiah?" Vin asked, grinning, watching as Josiah cradled the mug close to his chest.
"Nectar of the gods, Vin," the lawyer replied charmingly.
"Excrement of the gods, more like," Ezra muttered, drinking his tea.
"Explain this to me, Vin," Josiah said with a grin, "have you ever, in your life, met a lawyer who didn't drink coffee like water?"
"Well, you have now. Meet the freak of the legal circles, Mr. I-hate-coffee Standish."
Ezra rolled his eyes and wandered to the end of the table where he had his papers. In minutes, he looked completely absorbed in the work and oblivious to his guests. Josiah sighed and sat down in the chair that Ezra had vacated. He was about to say something else when he saw Vin turn his head to look at Buck and JD, the bounty hunter having heard his name mentioned.
"What I don't get, is why they were trying to kill Vin," JD was saying to Buck, his fingers tapping on the tabletop.
"It's hard to defend a dead man," the detective replied darkly. "Vin is the cops' only suspect, and, at this point, the case would probably just die away if he were to be killed."
"The City is angry, but it is also cheap, JD," Chris said coldly. "They'd be willing to convict posthumously. Vin being dead would solve a lot of people a lot of problems."
"Excuse me," Vin interrupted, "but, if you don't mind, could you not talk about me as if I had died already?"
Chris smiled at him, but it was Josiah who laughed first.
"Oh don't worry Vin," the lawyer said, "Ezra and I would still make sure you were exonerated, maybe even memorialized, wouldn't we, son?"
"Sure," Ezra said absently, his eyes scanning some document or other, "In fact, if Mr. Dunne would be so kind as to go into the building with you next time, he might be able to get a dying declaration out of you declaring your innocence if you were killed." Green eyes shone with amusement as he looked up briefly, "Presumption of truth, don't you know. Then you could be a true martyr to justice."
"I think I could be a very vengeful ghost," Vin hissed back at him. Dimples creased themselves across Ezra's face as he turned back to his papers.
"Well, now that we've deposited the package, we just wanted to let y'all know that we plan on visiting the Black Rose this evening before heading home," Buck said casually. Vin straightened in his seat, all mirth gone from his face.
Chris shook his head at him, "Don't even ask, Tanner. You're not coming. You want them to see us coming?"
Vin gritted his teeth, but he nodded slowly.
"Tomorrow we plan on hitting some of the snitches around town. You are welcome to join us then, so long as you promise not to be too obvious. Wear a T-shirt and jeans, and we'll get you a cap to cover up that hair."
"Canal Street?" Buck asked, scratching at the five o'clock shadow on his face.
"Yeah, good a place as any to start," Chris looked back at Vin. "Chinatown is thick in terms of drugs and gambling, and there are people there who will be able to tell you not only what is happening in the drug scene in Queens, but the scenes in Miami, LA, Detroit, you name it. Besides, Buck has a crushes on some of the girls in the bakeries down there, and some of them reciprocate with free food," he grinned. "Free breakfast."
"Yes, the women down there are really something," Buck sighed happily. "So much beauty in one place." In the background, JD rolled his eyes.
"Both Ezra and I will be down at the courts tomorrow, care to meet us for lunch?" Josiah asked, finishing his coffee. Ezra's eyes flitted up, then returned back to his papers.
"Sounds like a plan. Call us when you get out of court. Where will you be?"
"We'll both be at 60 Center Street, so we can walk up to Chinatown and meet you there."
"Deal," Chris stood, grabbing his beer by the neck and downing it quickly. Following his lead, Buck did the same.
"See you in the morning, Tanner," Buck grinned, tapping Vin on the shoulder. "Have fun staying here at the mausoleum."
"Ha ha, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra said, not looking up.
"What time?" Vin asked.
"Are we leaving too?" JD asked Josiah. The lawyer shook his head.
"Nah, can't leave Vin alone on his first night here, now, can we? I say we take advantage of that huge TV in the den that Ez never uses and check out what's on."
Vin grinned, especially at the slightly pained expression on Ezra's face. Leaving the young lawyer alone with his papers, the other three wandered away into the other room.
"How come you don't have to prepare for tomorrow, Josiah?" Vin asked as they settled down on a large couch. JD started to look for the remote, pushing aside old magazines, books and tapes in his search.
Josiah smiled, "Oh, I'm only going to get come continuances and make a few simple motions, nothing serious. I cleared my plate to help with your case, as did Ezra. He's been working nearly non-stop since I told him about you, trying to get through his stuff. I usually have more cases, but right now they're all small – housing court, arraignments, juvenile hearings, that sort of things. These days, I let Ezra take the large cases, since he loves the challenge of them. Me, I'm too old."
"Too old?" Vin snorted, "You can't be much over fifty." He stood when JD started digging into the couch looking for the remote.
"Twenty years as a defense lawyer in New York can wear a man down, Vin. When I finally went into private practice six years ago, I promised myself I would try to be more relaxed, take on less explosive cases." Josiah stood next as JD looked at his seat.
"And yet, here you are taking on my case," Vin frowned, sitting down again with the older lawyer. JD had moved on to a different chair.
"What we wish for and what we actually want are rarely the same, Vin," Josiah replied sleepily, his smile deepening, "I got what I wanted."
"Found it!" JD said happily, holding up the remote.
It being a weekday night, and fairly early in the week, the area around the bar was quiet, but inside things seemed to be thumping. Loud music and a rolling beat pumped out from the black facade, while neon lights advertising the bar's vendors in the dark tinted windows and a large purple sign announcing the bar's name over the door pulsed almost in time. Shouting and laughter from somewhere inside the bleak place further belied the rather dismal setting.
"Sounds like a fun place," Buck said, pulling his hat lower over his eyes. Both men were back in the shadows of an alleyway close to the entrance, watching and waiting to see who entered and left.
"We're not far from Flushing, Main," Chris replied, pulling out the unlit cigar in his mouth and pursing his lips. "It's a good location. Probably does pretty well for the area."
Buck humphed, thinking about the area they lived in down in Brooklyn, and their own bars. They rarely came up to Queens, except on jobs, and the cowboy had never gotten used to it, disliking everything from the people to the supposed "smell" of the borough. Even the courthouse here, a historic landmark and an attractive building in its own right, seemed an ugly thing to him. Chris called it neighborhood prejudice. The blond detective had grown up in Bayside, Queens, a nice area close to the water not far from here, so he felt as comfortable in Queens as anywhere. He was even a Mets fan. Buck rooted for the Yankees, in part because he loved to mock the other's "ugly-ass purple stadium." Subway series were always a fun time at their place.
"How much longer you want to wait out here? Last call will be in a couple of hours," Buck noted, scratching at the five o'clock shadow, "and I wouldn't mind a snifter."
"I haven't seen anyone I recognize yet. I want to know who comes here. Maybe then we can figure out what Travis was looking for," Chris frowned, "and who Eli Joe was working for."
"So you're sure that Tanner was set up," Buck asked casually.
"Ezra and Josiah both believe so."
"Yeah. But you seem to know." The remark was quiet, but the emphasis Buck placed on the word know was blatantly obvious. Chris looked over, arching an eyebrow. Eventually, he sighed lightly and nodded.
"Something about him. S'true I've never met him before, but I trusted him instantly, like I'd known him for years. Never known anyone like that. Not even Sarah...not even you."
Buck smiled slightly, "Yeah, well, I'm all too aware it took you way too damn long to trust me. For the first six months we were partnered together on the force, you looked at me like a damn rottweiler waiting for me to attack. I swear, I think I even saw you bare your teeth at me several times."
"Well, how was I supposed to know there was a poodle under all that Texan grit?" Chris was grinning now, the smile widening as Buck snorted.
"Poodle? I change my mind. You weren't a rottweiler, Larabee, you were a chihuahua. All yip and no class."
Chris had to cover his mouth to stop from laughing, shoving Buck in the arm when the cowboy's smirk threatened to become too obnoxious. After a moment, he was calm enough to whisper "yip, yip," in Buck's ear. His partner had to cover his own face to stop from laughing.
"Nice bit of surveillance we're doing," Buck muttered through his hands, taking deep breaths.
But Chris was no longer listening. All the mirth was gone from his face as he stared intently at the doors to the Black Rose. Sensing the change, Buck dropped his hands and followed the gaze.
"Yates just went in. But that ain't the worst of it. He was with Bob Spikes."
"Spikes...." Buck frowned. "Then we're talking Guy Royal."
"Yep. The Collector himself."
"Well," Buck pushed his hat up and smiled thinly, "I think it's time we went and got that drink, don't you?"
Chris went in first, head down, blond scraggly hair tucked up inside an old beat up Mets hat. For tonight, he had traded in the usual black threads for a dun brown leather jacket and old blue jeans. Nothing about him signaled him out, except the intensity of his glare, so he kept his eyes pointed downwards for the most part. After quietly ordering a Bud, he retreated to a corner near the office door and made it plain he didn't want to be disturbed. Still, one woman, having seen him enter and liking his build, started to walk up to him. One dark look with those intense blue-black eyes had her turning in the opposite direction.
A few minutes later, Buck wandered in and went straight for the woman Chris had warned off. She was sitting with three others, and he soon had them all in conversation. Like Chris, he blended in, just in the opposite fashion. No one saw Chris, because he hid in the shadows, and no one saw Buck because the cowboy hid in plain sight. Both men, without seeming to, watched the room like hawks.
After a while, Chris disappeared, edging around the corner to the back stairs and silently making his way up. Buck had pulled the women over to the bar near the office door with the promise of buying them all the most expensive drinks they could think up using the spirits they could see there, and allowed himself to be pushed up almost against the office door. With one well trained ear, he strained to pick up anything that might be going on inside.
He picked up the strains of an argument between two people – a man and a woman. The man he could hear had a thick Brooklyn accent, which would be Bob Spikes, the woman, though, was clearly from Queens, and her voice had a scratchy quality to it – as if she were a much older woman.
Just then, one of the girls he was courting said something, and he grinned and pulled out his wallet as the bartender wandered over.
Chris crept down the corridor above the bar slowly, his feet not making a sound on the concrete flooring. At each room, he listened and waited, making sure the lack of light he saw coming out from under the doorframes really meant the room was empty. Just as he was about to reach the last two rooms, one of which did have light coming out from under it, he heard the unmistakable sound of someone coming up the stairs behind him. Checking each knob, he quickly found an open door and ducked inside just as the person came round the corner.
Leaning against the now closed door and trying to calm his breathing, he listened as the person on the other side walked past, probably down to the room at the end. Several swift knocks and an order to enter came floating down, and the end door opened and shut again.
Judging the coast to be clear, Chris was reaching to turn the knob and exit when a noise behind him startled him into pulling his gun. In the blue-black shadows of the room, the music of the bar below thumping up through the floorboards, he slowly discerned the shape of a bed...and someone sitting up in it.
"Who are you?" A young voice -- a girl's voice, he realized -- asked the question in a shaky whisper. Lowering the gun, Chris did his best to search the room for anyone else, but the darkness was too complete. He heard then the girl fumbling for what was probably a light-switch.
"No, please!" he whispered, much more loudly than he intended. The girl stopped, then started fumbling again. Chris threw a hand across his face as the room burst into light so that it wouldn't blind him. When he lowered it, a girl of maybe sixteen was squinting at him, her brown mousy hair framing a heart shaped face. Instead of scared, she looked...angry.
"Who are you," she demanded again, pulling her bedsheets up over a thin nightdress. "How did you get in here? The door was locked!"
"Uh...no, it wasn't," Chris tried smiling, but the look did nothing for him. If anything, the girl became angrier. Then, suddenly, she tilted her head.
"You a cop?"
The question was so surprising, it completely took him off guard. "What?"
"If you're hiding from them, then you're either a cheat that double crossed them, a loser than bungled something important up for them, or a cop. You don't look pathetic enough to be a cheat or a loser." She spoke slowly and confidently. Frowning, he reassessed her age, as she now seemed much older. He also noted that she kept her voice in a whisper, though she could easily have yelled out by now.
"I'm not a cop," Chris replied, "though I was once, not too long ago. I'm a private detective."
She nodded, "Ah, I see. And your name?"
Chris hesitated, and the girl sighed. "All right, I get it," she said. "Look, I don't know what you're up here looking for, but, believe me, you don't want to find it. My aunt's in enough trouble with those men down the hall, and, honestly, unless you promise to leave quick, I have no qualms about turning you in if it means I can do something good for her."
The girl frowned, then raised both eyebrows. "You telling me you don't know who my aunt is?"
Chris matched her look, "Uh, well...."
"Some detective," she snorted. "My aunt's the owner, Nettie Wells. I'm her niece, Casey. I live here when I'm not in school."
"College. Vassar. Just finished Junior year. American Culture major. Anything else you need to know?"
Chris attempted his smile again, "Well, uh, you could tell me if Yates is down that hall and who he might be talking to." The smile on his face faded as Casey lowered her eyes and shook her head.
"I think you need to leave now."
Chris's expression darkened, "Is it Guy Royal?"
Her face flinched, and she stared back up at him, her gaze steady. "I said, I think you should leave now."
All attempts at lightness gone, Chris met her gaze, drowning her. She lowered her eyes again as he nodded agreement.
"I'm gone. But I can't promise I won't be back."
"Figured as much. Just try to keep me and my aunt out of it, okay?"
Chris nodded again, though she didn't see it as her head was still lowered. She drew her bedclothes up higher and the innocence returned to her demeanoe. Reaching over, she turned off the light and buried her head.
Once more in the dark, Chris listened again at the door, and, not hearing anything, twisted the knob. The latch clicked, but before he opened it, he looked back to the lump on the bed.
"Larabee," he whispered across the room. "My name's Chris Larabee. Seventh floor of the 4C building on Lex. You need help, you go there."
Whether she heard or not, she never made a sound as he slipped quietly out again.
In the corridor, he noticed that the room at the end of the hall was now dark; no light shone from under it. Frowning, he listened for a minute, then made his way back down into the bar below. With a nod to Buck, the two men left and headed home.
After a few blocks, they hopped a cab and settled back.
"Spikes, Yates and Royal," Buck muttered quietly, "Talk about a motley crew. But I don't remember Royal being deep into drugs. Last I heard, he was still making a killing off of his extortion rings."
"I'm guessing the woman who owns the Black Rose is one of his victims. I ran into her niece upstairs and, though she tried to hide it, it was easy to see how scared the girl was for her aunt and herself."
"Her niece," Buck risked a sly grin, "Was she cute?"
"Buck...." Chris nearly rolled his eyes, instead he just pulled the brim of his cap lower.
The cowboy grinned wider. "Just checking, stud."
"She's just a kid. Not much younger than JD. Sounds pretty smart too." Chris shook his head, "You know, if the aunt loves Casey as much as Casey loves her aunt, then I wouldn't be surprised to know that Nettie Wells would do almost anything to keep that girl safe. Maybe even help in a murder."
Buck's smile had faded as he took in the information. Outside the car windows, the dark buildings of Queens turned into the dark buildings of Brooklyn.