(Back to Part One)
(Continue to Part Three)
The alarm buzzed loudly in Vin's ear, jolting him awake in a confusing mess of images. A quick search revealed his surroundings, but it was still discomforting to awaken in a place so...opulent. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he rolled out of the huge bed in Ezra's spare room and found slippers waiting on the floor. Arching an eyebrow, he looked at them a moment before trying them on.
Oddly, they fit.
Padding across the room to the bathroom, he took a short shower and dressed in the same clothes as yesterday. Then, still wearing the slippers, he moved across to the large double doors and pushed out into the hall to make his way to the kitchen. A note sat on the table with instructions on how to use the coffee maker. Grimacing, he followed the instructions then sat down to look out the window at Central Park. A breeze brushed across the tops of the trees, and the sky above was heavy with rainclouds. It looked to be a lovely early summer day in New York.
"Morning," said a tired voice behind him. Startled, Vin turned around to see Ezra slip into the kitchen and head straight for the cabinet with the coffee in it.
"I thought you were gone already," Vin replied. "I made coffee."
"I know," the reply was curt, but not mean. "And I wrote the note last night. Just didn't want you waking me up should you get up before me."
"Oh," Vin nodded and leaned back as Ezra reached into the cabinet and pulled down a canister of Assam tea. With the help of the microwave to boil the water, the lawyer soon had a steaming mug and was busy making toast.
"You want something to eat?" Ezra asked.
Vin shrugged, "Whaddya got?"
Ezra threw two slices in Vin's direction. When it appeared that nothing to put on them was going to be offered, the former bounty hunter ate them dry.
At that moment, voices in the foyer alerted the two men that Chris and the others had arrived. The doorbell rang once.
"Don't the guards buzz you when someone is to come up?" Vin asked as he followed a still bathrobe wearing Ezra to the door.
"Told them last night who I was expecting and why."
"Oh," Vin scratched at his shaven face, thinking he had been saying "oh" a lot lately. In front, Ezra opened the doors to let in Chris, Buck and a tall black man Vin had never seen before.
"Vin Tanner," Ezra said, backing up a touch, "Doctor Nathan Jackson."
The black man smiled and held out his hand, "Nice to meet you, Vin. These two tell me that I'm to be in charge of making sure you don't get whacked."
Vin had taken the hand, but the "whacked" comment had him glaring at two grinning detectives in the background. "I am not planning on being whacked, Doc, but I'll try to make sure the rest of you aren't in the way when I take down the guy who framed me."
Nathan chuckled and let go, his strong grip leaving Vin's fingers tingling slightly. He then took to looking around the apartment, and whistled slightly. It was obviously his first time here.
"Nice place, Ez," he said, smiling. "Had to chase a few ambulances to get this one, huh?"
"Oh, I just follow your patients around, Nathan. Sooner or later, they all have thick malpractice suits on their hands."
Nathan frowned a little, then smiled again. "At least I don't charge them their life savings every time they come in for a consult."
"Funny, that's not what I heard from Mrs. Bremminger."
Nathan sent him a sharp look, obviously surprised. Ezra, though, was grinning.
"How do you know Mrs. Bremminger," the doctor demanded tightly, his eyes narrowing. Ezra just grinned more brightly.
"Uh, come on, Nate. I think we best be going now." Buck tugged on the doctor's arm, but Nathan didn't look like he was going to move, his eyes still glued to Ezra's smiling face. Finally, Chris took a fistful of arm and pulled Nathan away.
"How does he know Mrs. Bremminger?" Nathan asked them, still nonplussed. Vin glanced back as Ezra shut the doors behind them, the lawyer still grinning widely.
"Maybe Josiah said something? Did you tell him about her?" Buck was steering Nathan into the elevator, as he didn't look as if he were aware of where he was going. The doctor's eyes narrowed slightly as he considered the possibility, then his frown deepened.
"Oh hell, I'm going to kill Sanchez. Tell your best friend something in confidence, and what does he do? Blabs it to the nearest scheming, low-life he can find. I'll kill him."
By this time, all three others were smiling, even Vin, though he had been trying not to, not knowing the doctor too well. But, by the time the elevator hit the ground, they were all ready to begin the hunt.
"There are a mess of informers that we know of in Chinatown, any of which may have information to sell, but it would have been hard to know which was kosher. But, luckily, we have an idea what it is we are looking for now." Chris was leading the way down the block to the subway with Vin by his side. Nathan and Buck were walking behind.
"Something happened at the Black Rose then?" Vin asked casually, his hands behind his back. He disliked the feel of not having his shoulder holster on; it made him feel somehow undressed, or as if he'd forgotten something important.
"Yup. But we're not sure how it all works yet. That bar is, we think, under the thumb of a serial extortionist named Guy Royal," he glanced at Vin, but no recognition hit the man's face, "and we think that may have been whom Travis was after. Thing is, as far as we know, Royal is not into drugs. It's not his style. But, then again, he may be branching out. I spoke with some friends of mine on the force this morning, and, from what they've heard, Royal has gotten his fingers sticky in the black market recently for some reason. As to what he is buying or selling, they're not sure. Could be drugs, could be guns, could be women, it's not clear to them yet, though they all have ideas. All we really know about the man is that he loves money."
"Don't they all?"
"Yeah, but this one makes Hugh Hefner seem almost subtle in his tastes. Royal is a materialist to the tenth degree. The more stuff he has, the better. Once, back when I was a cop, we raided one of his warehouses, purely by chance, and it was packed from floor to ceiling with furniture, art, clothing, cars....Unfortunately, we couldn't prove that Royal had gotten those things illegally. He said they were all "gifts" from grateful clients. We couldn't even catch him on tax evasion, as he had meticulously included every one on his statements." Chris shrugged, moving down the steps of the subway with Vin close on his heels. "But drugs was never part of his M.O. except as a means of blackmail if he found out someone else did them. He doesn't buy or sell them himself."
"But Eli Joe does."
"Yeah," Chris pursed his lips. "Tell me, is that all he does?"
"According to his sheet and what I've seen while tracking him, yeah."
The subway train pulled into the station as Buck and Nathan caught up with them.
Ezra was pulling down the sleeves on his jacket when the phone rang. For a moment he considered not answering it, as he was about to leave, but, thinking it might be Josiah, he picked it up and cradled it on his shoulder as he straightened his tie in the mirror.
He immediately stopped fiddling with the tie and held the phone tighter. "Who is this?"
"If you keep your license to practice and not get thrown in jail for what you did for Farron, then stay away from the Travis case."
Ezra's fingers tightened around the phone, "I don't take kindly to threats. Who is this?"
But the dial tone sounded in his ear before he'd even finished the sentence. Grimacing, he checked his tie one more time and hung the phone up in the cradle, holding it in place for a moment. Then, lifting it up, he quickly dialed Josiah's cell phone.
After a moment, static met his ear and his partner answered with a tired hello.
"It's me. Has anyone called you this morning about the Tanner case?"
"What?" A sound like a yawn accompanied the question.
"Tanner's case. Anyone called you?"
"You mean like one of Larabee's boys?"
"No. I mean, like someone warning you off."
Josiah was silent for a moment, "No."
"All right. Listen, I'll see you down at court."
"You going to tell me...?"
"Yeah. See you in a bit." Hanging up, Ezra shook his head and sighed. Damn.
As Buck had promised, upon reaching the heart of Chinatown, they went into one of the bakeries and came out with free breakfast. The girls behind the counter, just as had the ones the night before in the bar, and the nurses at the hospital, were all completely infatuated with Buck. All he had to do was smile, and they would have done anything. Shaking his head, Vin ate his sesame ball with silent amusement as he dodged the thick crowds on Canal Street. He tried to remember when he'd seen so many people in one place.
Chris finished the coffee he had gotten and adjusted his shoulders inside the long black leather coat he wore. "Buck, you and Nathan look around here and check in with Harry, Jake and Lee. Vin and me will head down towards the bridge and find some of the others." Buck and Nate nodded agreement and headed west, while Chris tilted his head for Vin to follow him as he walked down Mott Street.
The constant dodging of the heavy pedestrian traffic was beginning to get on the bounty hunter's nerves when Chris abruptly turned down a small alleyway. The quietude of the alley was such a stark contrast to the street they had just left that, for a moment, Vin wondered if they'd stepped into a time warp. Unawares, Chris walked down a ways, then ducked under a fire escape to knock on a low back door. The word "deliveries" was written on the back in both English and Chinese.
A quick short burst of Chinese echoed out of the still closed door, to which Chris replied with his name. Nothing happened for a while, as whoever was inside went to consult someone else. A couple of minutes later, the door opened and Chris ducked inside with Vin on his heels.
They stepped down a series of steps into a cold basement, the damp, black walls emitting a sickly light where they reflected four naked hanging bulbs. Beneath one, the Chinese man they had been following turned around and crossed muscled arms. His dark eyes darted between Chris and Vin with the speed of a weasel, and his lips curled slightly in derision.
"Whaddya want this time, Larabee?" he asked.
"There's been talk about Marshal Yates and the Collector getting together. I want to know what you've heard."
The Chinese man pursed his lips and scratched at his nose. Looking down at the blackened concrete floor, he shrugged. "How much?"
"This is darker stuff than the usual. Murders of big DA's are darker."
Chris smiled, happy to have found confirmation without having to dig. The smile didn't last long. "One and a half."
"I don't have that kind of money."
"Word is your working for the bleeding heart and the green snake. Green snake has money, doesn't he?"
Chris shook his head and caught Vin's eye. The former bounty hunter was busy pretending to inspect his shoes.
"Pro Bono, Tee, you know how that is. And you know perfectly well that Standish's money is a silkscreen. One and a half."
"Then you get one and a half information." Tee smiled, showing off several gaps. Chris's eyes narrowed.
"Fine. See you later Tee. There are plenty more like you around, who maybe aren't so greedy."
The Chinese man's smile fell, and he shrugged. Without seeing them out, he disappeared out of another door in the basement room and was soon lost to the hearing. Vin arched an eyebrow.
"Tee's one of the best," Chris replied to the unspoken question, "but he isn't the only one. Lots of people know many things, and besides, he did give us confirmation, whether he meant to or not. Makes it a little easier."
Vin nodded and backed up as Chris led the way back to the stairs to the alley.
A couple of hours later, they found someone who was willing to talk for the "usual amount." Unfortunately, what they learned wasn't much. The informer was an old grandmotherly type who ran one of the dress shops on Mullberry street. She tended to sit in the alley at the back of her shop while her children actually ran the store, and her eyes and ears caught far more than anyone realized. Anyone, that is, except Chris. He'd done a favor for her a long time ago, when he was still a cop, by helping one of her kids avoid a jail sentence, and she reciprocated with information. But this time, she had to admit to not knowing as much as she'd like.
"Most of the news is second hand," she whispered, rocking back and forth in her chair and working on an embroidery. "Whatever is going on, it's outside the credit unions down here which, you well know, is a rare thing. So, I've only heard the rumors."
"What are the rumors, Zhang?"
"Oh...that someone set up some southern boy to take the rap on that DA's murder. The handsome one, you know? Something Travis."
"And are they saying who that someone is? Or why they might have done it?"
She smiled slightly, lifting up the folds of skin that rested around her lips and jowls, and her eyes sparkled a bit as she looked at Vin. "Are you the poor southern boy?"
Vin smiled wryly, but didn't answer. She chuckled, her hand pulling the needle through the tiny embroidery. It looked like it was turning into a butterfly.
Chris sighed, trying not to be impatient, "Zhang?"
She smiled at him and set the embroidery down, "Well, they say the Collector's got his hand stuck in a cookie jar he wasn't supposed to be in. I think he tried to muscle in on some of the Russian aid money being embezzled out from the banks, but ended up on the wrong end of a drug deal somehow. He cashed in and got out, but left a lot of fingerprints. Not surprising seeing as he don't know what way is up in that market. Anyway, when the feds broke the Russian ring couple of years back, they found the suggestion of a link to the drugs and to Royal. But they didn't have proof. Travis, they say, found proof. And he went to that bar to find it."
"Proof. Do you know what the proof was?"
She continued to rock in her chair, smiling at them. After a moment, she picked up the embroidery and started again. Chris nodded and motioned to Vin that it was time to leave.
"Thank you," the Texan said, meeting her eyes and nodding. If anything, her smile grew wider.
"Sweet looking boy," she nodded at him, "Detective Larabee will help you, don't worry. And, when its over, you come back. I'll fix that hole in that jacket of yours." She nodded to the small tear in Vin's coat, something he hadn't noticed himself. Fingering it, he smiled again at her and wandered away after Chris.
They met up with the others again in a buffet place around the corner from the intersection of Broadway and Canal. Buck and Nathan were already there, looking a bit disgruntled but not completely unhappy. After Chris and Vin sat down, they spent a few minutes comparing notes before Josiah walked in with Ezra, the two lawyers both wearing very dark expressions. When they sat down, Nathan asked Ezra if he'd sold someone else down the river, and the sarcastic banter the two shot back and forth oddly seemed to cheer both men up.
"So what have you got?" Josiah asked finally, wiping the sauce from the corner of his mouth. Chris chewed on an unlit cigar and answered slowly, his voice low inside the loud cafeteria.
"From what we know now, the mess stems from Guy Royal. By some mishap, he got caught up in a drug deal he didn't want to be involved in, and didn't get away clean. Travis learned about it, probably from the feds, and, seeing as he'd been trying to shut down Royal's operations for a long time, decided to try and attack him from this new angle. Our guess is that he thought he found something."
"Something that led him to the Black Rose," Nathan nodded. "We think it may have to do with the Wells family."
"Miss Casey Wells has been away at school for much of this year, but her aunt Nettie owns the Black Rose, and, from what we can glean, Royal was using her bar as a sort of headquarters for a while. Our guess is, whatever proof Travis hoped to find there is either long gone or never existed. It might simply have been an opportunity for Royal to take down a DA that was too honest, and who was a constant nag on his operation." Pulling the cigar out, Chris played with it in his fingers.
"Any idea what proof Travis may have thought he found?" Ezra asked, leaning back in his plastic chair, his own food barely touched.
"No. But there is another rumor floating out there, one which may be even more useful," Buck said, leaning in. "One that concerns our friend here." As one, the five men looked at Vin, who shrugged. This was something Nate and Buck had learned, but he didn't want to get his hopes up.
"What are you talking about?" Ezra asked, watching the cowboy carefully.
"Word on the street," Nathan said, "Is that there was a witness to the murder. A woman."
JD shuffled around the office, poking through files and sniffing at the unfortunate accumulation of dust. He seemed to be doing a lot of shifting lately, shifting this pile to that side of the room, shifting that pile to this side of the room, without much success. Oh, in his mind, he knew he was organizing, but from the objective perspective of an outsider...he was just shifting things.
At least, that's how it looked to Casey Wells as she watched.
Larabee's office had been empty, not even a secretary, but the small law office next door (also the only other occupied office on the floor) was wide open. She wondered if the young man (the very cute young man with rather nice hazel eyes and, as he bent over to pick up something, a very nice...ahem, try not to think of such things Casey), well, she wondered if the young man was airing out the place for spring cleaning. All that paper must create quite a lot of must. But problem was, he was doing absolutely nothing about the trash.
She watched him for a few more minutes before finally working up the nerve to knock on the open door.
Startled, JD turned, looked...and dropped the box of files he'd been holding on his foot.
"Jesus Christ!" he shouted, dropping to the floor to grab at his toe. Darting inside, Casey started apologizing and pushing the box to the side, then she remembered that it was his clumsiness and not hers, so she began to remark on that fact as she buzzed around looking for something which might have ice in it. The small fridge under the coffee maker however, yielded no such wonder. When she turned around, she found that he was just staring at her, a little dumbfounded as she held up a water bottle.
"It's cold," she suggested, bringing it across. She blushed as she realized how stupid that statement was.
"If I were thirsty instead of in pain, I'm sure I'd be glad of that," he answered, frowning and putting his hands under himself to get up. She held out a hand, but he studiously ignored it. Brushing off his knees, he straightened and looked around for something to lean on as he took the water bottle and placed it on his desk.
"Can I help you?" he asked, hopping over to where his chair sat. He leaned on the back of it and raised his eyebrows.
Casey blushed, "Oh well, um, I'm not sure. I was actually here looking for the detective down the hall, and, well, he's not there and I saw your door open and...." She floundered a bit, waving her arms a bit, "And, well, I thought, since you're on the same floor, you might know where...but that's silly. Why would you know? You're just on the same floor, right? So, um, I'm sorry to bother you, and I'm sorry about your foot, though, really, I mean, I don't know what I exactly did to make you drop it, but I don't really think it's my fault that you're so clumsy and, um, I did try to find some ice; its not my fault you don't have any, just bottles of water and well, if you think about it, you really did this to yourself...." Smiling suddenly, she stopped talking, and tried to decide whether it would be more or less dignified to turn away now and start running, or to wait for him to say something...and then start running.
JD couldn't resist a small smile back. The reason he'd dropped the box was not because she'd shocked him, but because he had been instantly taken by her. She was pretty, no, more than pretty, with long brown hair tied loosely back in a pony tail, and the sweetest looking face he'd ever seen. Faces like hers didn't exist in New York City, or, if they did, they never lasted long. She was wearing a short patterned blouse over long brown pants, and, believe it or not, cowboy boots. Upon first sight, he'd fallen hard. Literally.
He felt a bit less taken now. She talked a bit too much. And what was with that attitude?
But she was damn cute.
"Actually," he said, standing up a bit straighter and straightening his shirt to make himself seem older, "I know Chris Larabee pretty well. He works for us from time to time." The attempt at a snobbish tone was not lost on Casey, who frowned slightly in puzzlement.
"This is a law office, Standish and Sanchez, L.P."
"Limited Partnership. In fact, Chris and Buck are working on a case of ours right now."
"Ours...," she looked him over and raised an eyebrow, "You know, you don't really look like a lawyer. You're not old enough. Certainly can't be older than me."
Like a storm rushing in over the water, JD's face darkened instantly. "I'm older than I look," he replied petulantly. "And, speaking of ages, I can't understand why a kid like you would be talking about that sort of thing. You can't possibly be old enough to afford the services of detectives."
Casey raised both eyebrows at that one and actually smiled after a moment. "Ah. Well then, excuse me for disturbing you in all the important legal work you were obviously doing." She looked pointedly at the box he had dropped, then around at the chaotic room. JD followed her gaze, and, as is true of anyone when faced with a half lie, the synapses in his brain snapped, and he became even more arrogant.
"Look, miss...whatever your name is, is there some message I can give them or something? Or are you just hanging around to get on my nerves?"
Casey's face fell then, blanching slightly as she remembered why she was here. Curiosity and some guilt niggled at the boy at the sight. When it looked as if she really would leave then, he took a step forward, wincing slightly as he landed on his bad foot.
"Wait, I'm sorry. I'm being a bit of an ass. You did make me drop a box on my foot you know." When her face regained some of its color at the remark, suggesting she was about to argue again, he quickly started speaking again. "Anyway, Chris Larabee really is working on something for this office right now, and I'm sure to see him later. If you leave your name, I promise he'll get the message."
"You know, I don't think I can," she said, backing away. "In fact, I really shouldn't have come at all but...." she trailed off as the sound of someone walking loudly the hall interrupted her. Instinctively, she shied inside the room, dodging behind the door. Confused, JD started towards her then looked up as Josiah, Vin and Buck walked into the office, all looking tired but not too unhappy.
"Kid, coffee, on the double!" Buck roared plopping himself down in JD's chair and propping his feet up as Vin went to lean on a nearby bookshelf. Josiah headed on into his office without as much as a second glance.
"Buck!" JD grinned and looked back to the door. Casey had tried to make herself really small as she looked at all the new people. Buck followed his gaze, and grinned broadly.
"Well, hell, JD, I didn't know you had a girl!" Jumping to his feet he slapped a large hand against the kid's arm. JD winced and blushed while Vin regarded the scene quietly. There was no recognition on either his or Casey's face as to each other.
"Uh, no, Buck. This here is, um...." he looked at Casey, but she shook her head. "Anyways, she came up here looking for Chris."
"For Chris?" Buck's smile fell a little, as he looked at her more carefully. "Oh, well, sorry miss, if I offended by suggesting you'd be interested in this boy."
Casey frowned, and, almost simultaneously with JD, angrily said, "He's not a boy." For the life of her, she had no idea why she'd suddenly said that. JD glanced at her and gave a quick grin. She blushed, and Buck laughed.
"No, I 'spect he's not. Sorry, Mr. Dunne," Buck tipped his hat at JD, his eyes sparkling. Looking back to Casey, he lightened the wattage somewhat. "Anyways, miss, I'm Chris's partner, Buck Wilmington. You probably saw my name on the door under his. Can I help you?"
She stared at him, then at JD, and back again. "I, well, no. It was Chris Larabee I wanted to talk to. Is he...will he be here soon?" she swallowed thickly, and moved around the door, as if about to bolt. Buck frowned briefly, watching her movements.
"Not for a few hours. Really, miss, I am his partner. I'm pretty sure that, if it has to do with one of our cases, I can help. But, look, even if you don't trust me, at least tell me your name, so that I can tell him you were here."
She looked at her shoes, as if thinking about his offer, then sighed. "Casey Wells," she said. "I met Mr. Larabee...."
"Last night," Buck finished calmly. "When he accidentally used your room to hide."
She looked up, eyes wide. Then, slowly, she nodded. In response, Buck's own features had become completely serious. Standing, he walked over to stand next to her at the door and held out his hand.
"I was at your aunt's place too, just downstairs. I can guess why you are here, Miss Wells, and I can help, I promise." She watched him warily for a moment, then took the hand and shook it. He smiled. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that both Vin and JD had straightened up, as if to follow, but he shook his head at them. Looking at Casey, he motioned towards the corridor.
"How about we go back to my office. It's less crowded, and you can tell me what you want in privacy. Chris should be calling in soon, in any case." He smiled again, and she found herself smiling back. Waving a quick goodbye to JD, she turned and followed Buck back to his office.
"Buck always gets the girl," JD whispered under his breath, not sure why he suddenly felt really annoyed at the older man. Vin glanced at him and grinned, shaking his head slightly.
At almost the same moment, Josiah stuck his head out of his door, and looked towards the former bounty hunter.
"Vin, I received a handful of faxes and a messenger delivery of photos that I'd like you to look at. See if you recognize anyone in these shots." As quickly as he had appeared, he disappeared back into his office before Vin could say a word in acknowledgement. Shrugging, Vin noticed the unopened water on JD's desk, against which the kid was morosely leaning, one foot lifted slightly off the floor as if it were in pain. He pointed to the water as he moved in the direction of Josiah's door.
"Hey kid, you gonna drink that?"
"What are you thinking?" Ezra asked casually, walking down west 10th street with Chris and Nathan. He was in the middle, his hands clasped behind his back. He was five foot ten, more than average height, but between Chris and Nathan, both well over six feet, he felt strangely small.
Nathan looked over at the question, and, seeing that it was directed at Chris, returned to checking out the doors on the pretty brick houses that lined this area of the village.
"I was thinking about the supposed witness to Travis's murder," Chris replied. "A woman, the rumors say. If it's true, I may have met her last night. Or perhaps it is her aunt."
"You mean the Wells?" Ezra asked.
"Why not. Maybe that's why Spikes and Yates were there last night, to make sure the old woman and her niece were still keeping quiet."
Nathan shrugged, "Maybe. But, from what we heard, the woman who saw what happened wasn't old...or a kid. You said the niece was just a girl."
"She seemed that way to me, but then," Chris smiled, "Pretty much anyone under thirty five seems a kid to me."
Nathan and Ezra looked at each other. They both fit into that category. They wondered if Chris knew that.
Chris glanced at them and smiled slightly.
Yeah, he knew.
"Smart ass," Nathan muttered, striding forward to walk in front of them. He turned left on Bank Street and started measuring numbers. After a few more steps he stopped and looked up at a pretty but fairly nondescript brick house. It was three stories high, with impatients and ivy trailing from window boxes on the second and third floors as well as crowded around a curtained bay window on the first floor. A plain gold knocker sat on a black painted door, and a black wreath hung from it. On a black and gold plaque next to the front door were the words, "The Clarion Press. Mary Travis, editor."
"Here it is," Nathan said, somewhat unnecessarily.
"Pretty," Chris said, as Ezra jumped up the three stone steps to the front door. The word stopped the lawyer from actually knocking, and he turned to look with a curious glance at the two detectives.
"Did he just say 'pretty?'" he asked Nathan of their black-clad companion. The MD grinned and looked to the ground as Chris did his best to glare.
"Just knock, Standish," he said. Bowing slightly to him, Ezra turned and, after raising his hand to knock, noticed the glowing doorbell. Changing his mind, he reached down and pressed it.
Nothing happened for a few minutes, and Ezra frowned up at the wreath. He was about to press it again when the door opened to reveal a rather austere looking man in his late fifties. What was once dark red hair was silvered at the temples, and what could only be described as a steely eyed stare took in Ezra and his companions through a pair of old fashioned spectacles.
Ezra smiled, "Hello, sir. My name is...."
"Ezra P. Standish," the man completed for him, causing Ezra's mouth to drop open slightly. "You're representing Tanner."
Ezra's eyebrows shot up, and he turned around to look back at Chris and Nathan, who were both frowning deeply. He turned back to the man in the doorway. For some reason, an image of this man standing on a dusty street in the old west holding onto a double barreled coachgun on him came to mind. Shaking the image from his mind, he squinted slightly and tried smiling again.
"Ah, sir, I'm afraid you have me at a bit of a disadvantage. You seem to know me but...."
The old man snorted and opened the door wider. "Forgotten me already, eh boy? I never forget anyone who has been in my courtroom, even if you were only there once or twice. Once under less than reputable circumstances, if I remember correctly. You were damned lucky Sanchez was there representing you at the time."
Ezra swallowed thickly, and took a step back down the steps. "Judge Travis, of course. I should have...uh...It's good to see you again, sir. But, erm, you know what? I think this is probably a fairly bad time, so, if it's all right with you, I'll, uh, come back later. Or perhaps, not me, but Josiah. Yes, that seems a much better idea." Ezra had been backing down the steps slowly, while Chris and Nathan watched, not sure whether to be amused or worried.
"Grab him!" the judge commanded, and, oddly, Chris did just that. He snatched Ezra's arm and held him in place. Ezra gave him a look of utter betrayal, to which Chris just shrugged slightly. Nathan decided at that point that he was far more amused than worried, and started grinning widely.
"Get in here, all of you. There is no better time, Standish, as I'll be staying here with my daughter-in-law all week, so you may as well come in now. I expect you'll be wanting to see my boy's papers, and meet Mary." He turned around and stalked away inside, leaving the door open. The three men looked at each other, then, with Chris still partly dragging Ezra, they went up the steps and into the house.
Down the street, the tinted window in a small, dark green sedan closed, hiding from view the figure that had just been taking photographs of the meeting. The butt of a cigarette was thrown out just before the window closed completely.
Casey Wells shifted a little in the leather seat, looking around at the cramped office Buck called his home away from home. It was decorated in an overtly southwestern style, with objects so trite it was almost blinding. She kept expecting to turn around and see the horns of a longhorn sitting above the doorway. Instead, there was an old Remington rifle, aged sometime late last century. That was the only interesting object. Everything else was gas station chic.
Buck sat at his desk, pushing aside papers looking for a legal pad with some empty pages in it. After a while, he gave up and pulled out what looked to be a small tape recorder out of his desk.
"Can I record this?" he asked, smiling kindly. She shrugged and nodded. Sighing with relief, he thanked her and, after testing to make sure it had tape in it, set it down to record.
"I take terrible notes," he said, "More like scrawl, really. Chris got me this to make up for it. Nice, huh? Getting a bit beat up though."
"You've had it a while?" She said, looking at the recorder. She could see dents in it, and what looked to be mud crusted on one side.
"Yep. Almost three weeks now."
She lowered her head to hide a smile, then looked up again. He had leaned back and had his boots propped up on the desk.
"Miss Casey Wells, just finished junior year at Vassar. Your aunt Nettie runs the Black Rose in Queens." His eyes watched her carefully, noting that her smile had gone again. She was nodding again.
"Vassar....You must be clever, huh?" he said, trying to put her at ease. She shrugged again.
"My friends used to love telling me I was very smart," she replied, "but that I had no common sense. I run into walls a great deal." She laughed slightly, nervously, and looked up at him.
Buck was smiling, "Yeah, well, running into walls is not a crime. My mother used to complain because I was always losing my things. I'd always tell her they were stolen, which of course wasn't true, and she knew it. Finally, one day, she replied by telling me I should become a cop. Then I could be the one finding things, instead of having them stolen."
Casey smiled, "Smart woman."
"Miss Wells, why are you here?"
She sighed and leaned back in her own chair, making her seem even smaller than her already tiny frame. "Because I think my aunt is in more trouble than she is telling me."
"Trouble with Guy Royal?"
Casey nodded, "Yeah. I figured out last Christmas that he was blackmailing her for something, when I found him living in the Rose with us. We used to rent those upper rooms, but now he controls all but mine and my aunt's. But my aunt always told me she was almost free of him. All this semester she wrote me letters to that effect. But when I came home this time for the summer...it was worse."
"Not only was he still here, but my aunt looked scared out of her wits by something. Twice, she sneaked into my room, telling me I need to get away, go hide with my uncle in Michigan, but...I couldn't just leave her. Finally, I agreed to go away for a weekend, to see a friend in Connecticut. When I came back, it was to find the Rose surrounded by yellow police tape and my aunt being questioned about a murder."
"So you weren't there?"
"No. And, as I learned, neither was my aunt. Royal had told her to go visit a friend for the weekend too. She was so under his thumb that she agreed. He'd told her this would be the last time he'd need to use her place. That, when she came back, all would be free and clear." She snorted angrily, "free and clear my ass. Royal kills that DA, blames it on some yokel, and...and Royal's still NOT GONE. Sure, he went away for a week, but he came back two nights ago." She shook her head, annoyed at the fact that she could feel tears in her eyes. She was not going to cry, damn it.
"Just call me Casey, okay?"
"Okay, Casey. Guess that makes me Buck."
She smiled, "That your real name?"
"'S'far as anyone knows it is," he smiled back. Then he pursed his lips, and leaned forward again, "Miss Wells, I need to know something. Has your aunt...do you know if she has anything to do with drugs?"
Casey's face went from shocked to angry to apoplectic in less than five seconds, but before she could say anything, Buck held his hand up to forestall her.
"That's okay, your expression answered my question already. Moving on, do you know what Royal has over your aunt?"
This time Casey just shook her head. Buck sighed.
"Well, okay, last question. You say you know that Royal killed Travis. Do you have any proof?"
Casey sighed, "No. Well, not exactly."
Buck frowned, "not exactly?"
"That's why I am here," she said, sitting up a little straighter. "My aunt's bartender is missing. Her name is Inez, and she's been with my aunt for almost a year. She was to run the bar while we were out of town. When we came back, she was gone. I...I'm afraid she's dead too."
Buck was frowning deeply now, and he scrambled around until he found a stack of post it notes in his desk. Pulling them out he wrote down the name "Inez."
"Inez what?" he asked.
"Roscillos. Inez Roscillos. That's why Yates is always hanging around out there. He had a thing for her. I think...I think he may have her somewhere. And I think she may have witnessed what really happened."
Chris chose to stand as Ezra and Nathan sat down in the glass conservatory at the back of the house, facing a tiny garden with a high wooden fence almost one and a half stories high. He stared out at the small expanse of green with a strangely wistful expression, his eyes cataloguing the handful of children's toys scattered across it, including several tonka trucks and what looked like a handful of little army men laying siege to them. He turned around as more people entered.
Mary Travis walked before her father-in-law, her arms drawn tight across her chest, and sat down in one of the empty chairs. She no more looked at Chris than she would a fencepost. Light blond hair was gathered tightly back into a twist behind her head, and pale green eyes blinked inside lined skin that probably hadn't been lined a week before. Every muscle on her face looked stretched out, as if she'd spent the whole day tensing her jaw. And, of course, she was dressed head to toe in black.
"Mrs. Travis," Ezra licked his lips and sat forward, "My name is...."
"I know what your name is. You're here to find out who killed Stephen, correct?" Her stare would have bored a hole in a normal man, but Ezra had switched into his lawyer mode. Very little could touch him there – if he'd been a gambler, no one would have been able to touch him at poker with that face.
"In a manner of speaking," he replied calmly. "In actuality, I and my partner Josiah Sanchez are representing Vin Tanner. He is the...."
"Please, Mr. Standish, do you think I'm an idiot? He is the man accused of killing Stephen. Believe me, I am well aware of that poor man's name. I am also perfectly certain that no slapdash bounty hunter was behind my husband's murder, not unless he was paid an enormous amount of money." She looked at them, and, seeing their expressions, knew that Vin had not been paid to commit the murder. Nodding, she sighed and dropped her hands to her lap.
"The police came by asking me questions about Mr. Tanner, about Stephen's latest dealings, about any relationship they might have had. It's ridiculous, really. They've made their minds up that your client did this, and seem disinclined to look any further into the matter. Meanwhile, whoever really did this gets away scot free." She looked up, as if seeing them for the first time, "But then, that's why your here."
"Yes ma'am," Ezra agreed.
"So, are you looking for reasonable doubt, or are you going to find Stephen's killer?"
Ezra frowned slightly at the remark. Of course he was looking for both, but, in his heart, he knew that reasonable doubt was what he needed most. Finding Travis's real killer would simply be a bonus.
A bonus that, if the phone call he'd gotten this morning meant anything, could destroy him.
Shaking off the thought, he met Mary Travis's eyes and said, with total conviction, "My loyalty is to my client."
She frowned, then sighed sharply. "Well, I suppose I can't expect any more than that." Looking up, she glanced at Nathan, then at Chris. She frowned again at seeing the older dtective, her eyes sparking for a moment as if in recognition. He simply met the gaze. After a moment, she looked over at her father-in-law, who was standing off to one side.
"Orrin? Do you think you could show them to Stephen's study? I'm afraid I still have some work to do if I'm going to get that book off to the presses tonight."
The former judge nodded, and they all watched as she stood, straightened her dress, and glided back out of the room.
"She's working?" Chris asked, looking across at Travis. The older man nodded.
"Hasn't stopped. She runs her press from the second floor of this house. It's not large – she maybe puts out ten books a year – but it is her passion. That is the only thing keeping her going at the moment. I would like her to stop, if only for a little while, but...well, you know how it is."
Chris, tensing his jaw slightly, nodded. Yes, he did know how that was. He knew exactly how that was.
Moving towards the door, the former judge indicated for the men to follow him. As they filed out after him, Ezra glanced around at the various papers he noticed scattered along the tables in the conservatory. One was a copy of the statement he'd filed at court this morning about becoming Tanner's lawyer. Old judge Travis works fast, he thought to himself. Probably been keeping up to date on the case from the beginning, he realized.
Bet he knew how much Tanner's bail was set for.
Smiling now, as if he'd just guessed a fun secret, Ezra caught up with the others as they entered one of the side rooms on this first floor. It was piled high with papers and folders and boxes, and the judge settled himself against what might be a desk in the middle of it.
"I've been sorting through this for three days," he said sadly, "but it's such a jumble. I imagine it will take several more before you boys find anything useful. Still, three sets of young eyes have to be better than my old pair. Good luck." And he wandered out. They stared after him for a moment, before Ezra went out after him.
"Judge Travis," the lawyer called, turning the other around before he made it back to the conservatory. Travis raised his eyebrows.
"Um," trying to ignore the same nagging nervousness that had hit him outside, Ezra plunged on, "We may need to ask you and Mrs. Travis some questions later. Will you be around?"
The judge rolled his eyes, "Of course, boy, where else would we be."
"Ah, okay," Ezra paused, during which time the judge turned away again. Ezra coughed, "Oh, but, just one more question. About Mr. Tanner's bail, did you pay...?"
"Of course I did, Standish. Unfortunately, your partner found Tanner before I was able to secure the boy a decent law firm to defend him. I suppose now I'll just have to put up with you. Do not disappoint me, young man, I'm warning you." With a shake of his head, Travis turned away for the final time and disappeared back into the conservatory. Ezra, still standing in the hallway, watched him leave with a strange expression on his face.
"A decent law firm, eh, Judge?" he whispered to himself, his tone touching on angry. "Well, Tanner did better than decent. He found the best." Pivoting around on one foot, Ezra ducked back into the office to find Chris and Nathan already cutting up the papers into two piles.
"Only two piles?" he asked curiously. Chris looked up, and a dark smile crossed his face.
"Of course, one for you, and one for Nathan. You've got the legal pile, and he has the rest."
Ezra frowned, and not just because the legal pile was already looking heftier than the non-legal pile. "And where will you be, Mr. Larabee?"
Chris's smile deepened, "I'm going to go talk to the lady of the house." Walking around the lawyer, he disappeared down the hall and headed towards the stairs.
Ezra looked at Nathan, his index finger upraised as if he were about to point something out. Nathan stopped him.
"Yes, we all know that, technically, you are in charge, Ez. But we also all know, when it comes to the actual detecting, Chris is the leader."
The lawyer frowned, and Nathan grinned happily at the expression. Gathering up a pile of papers, he shoved them into Ezra's hands to start sorting. After a moment, Ezra started doing just that.
Didn't mean he was happy about it.
Nathan decided this was a good day.
Chris walked slowly up the stairs as he took in the photographs on the wall. Mostly they were of Mary and a young boy that Chris surmised to be Billy Travis, her son. There were only a couple of pictures with Stephen Travis in them, probably because the DA had been the one to take most of the pictures in the family. Some of them, Chris noticed, were smudged with fingerprints, as if someone touched Stephen's face every time they walked up the stairs.
Looking up towards the landing, the detective saw the shadow of someone waiting for him at the top of the stairs. Considering that he hadn't attempted to hide his movement up the creaky wooden steps, he wasn't surprised. Putting on a wry smile, he quickened his step and reached the top to find Mary waiting for him, her arms crossed angrily across her chest.
"Are you lost detective?"
Chris's smile grew at the words while he looked around this second floor. The narrow landing led to an equally narrower hallway littered with boxes. At the end, he could see the sunlight streaming into what had to be a large front room, probably where she kept the bulk of her work. The smell of ink and paper was strong up here.
"Where is your son staying?" he asked still looking around curiously. She frowned.
"At his grandmother's. Listen detective, I'll be more than happy to answer any questions you may have at a later time, but right now I'm very busy. So please, return to the others." She glanced pointedly back at the stairs he had come up. Chris ignored her.
"Word on the street is that there was a witness to your husband's murder. A woman."
Mary's jaw tensed and her brow creased slightly in surprise. "Really," she stated after a moment.
Chris nodded even though she had not meant it as a question. "I thought maybe you might have an idea who she might be."
She flexed an eyebrow, as if debating whether to tell him to leave again or not. Finally, she lowered her pale green eyes to the carpeted floor, silently admitting that she was too intrigued by the tidbit of information to let it go.
"A woman," she repeated carefully, fetching a loose curl of blond hair that had fallen forward with her hand and wrapping it behind her ear. "There...were several women involved in the case Stephen was building against Royal."
Chris smiled again, hearing the caution in her voice. "I assume you have informed the police of all of their names?"
In response, she nodded slowly. Then, looking back up at him, she met his eyes and sighed.
"Stephen had a handful of informers, one of whom was Nettie Wells, the owner of the Black Rose. Unfortunately, Nettie could not get in touch very often because Royal kept very close tabs on her. Plus, Nettie's niece sometimes made things difficult. As I understand it, Royal often made veiled threats about Casey's vulnerability, often resulting in Nettie not getting in touch for weeks. Then, last year, Nettie found someone else to help her."
"She hired a young Mexican woman to be her bartender, a very clever woman named Inez Roscillos. Inez essentially took over Nettie's role and even added to Ms. Wells knowledge of Royal's organization."
Chris's eyes were narrowed, "I assume she is the name you have kept from the police?"
Mary sighed, nodding. "Yes. Inez...is illegal."
"Mr. Larabee, I admit I did not know that much about what Stephen was up to. He tried to keep me out of it because he considered it too dangerous for me. However, I learned of Inez and, through her, Ms. Wells, because I accidentally caught him having dinner with Inez in an east village restaurant one night. He had phoned me to say he was working late, so I went with a friend to a show out that way." She blushed, betraying what she had initially thought the meeting to be. "Inez is...very pretty, detective. When I jumped to the wrong conclusion, Stephen was forced to tell me the truth about her involvement in his case against Royal." She shrugged.
"When was the last time he saw her, do you know? Or the last time you heard from her?"
She breathed deeply, "Um...maybe a week before he...uh," she swallowed thickly and met his eyes again. "I haven't heard from her since."
Chris was pursing his lips, trying to recall the faces behind the bar at the Black Rose. He was certain there had not been a women there. Mary watched him a moment as he thought, then tilted her head.
"I seem to remember you from somewhere, detective, but I can't recall where."
The statement returned Chris's thoughts back to the present. "I doubt it, Mrs. Travis. I do not travel in the same circles as you and your husband. So, is there anything else you would like to tell me that wasn't in your report to the police?"
She watched him a moment longer then shook her head. "No, and I doubt your friends will find much in those files of Stephen's either. The reason they are in such disarray is because they were the first things the police went through when they came. They took them all with them, returning them only a couple of days ago, informing my father-in-law that there was nothing they could find that was pertinent. Of course he didn't believe them and planned to go through them himself. That is, until you showed up."
Chris pursed his lips, "And he had no other files anywhere that you know of?"
"Well, there were the files at his office as well, but those have mostly been sealed. The rest were brought here and are with the others. But...well, I doubt Stephen would have kept his file on Royal at the office. He didn't trust the security there."
"But if his file on Royal isn't at his office, or here, then where...?"
She shrugged. "As far as I know, Stephen didn't have a safe deposit box or anything of that nature. But then...there are a number of things I didn't know about Stephen's life. It was not until the night he was killed that I even knew that he was in Queens and not in Baltimore, where he told me he would be." Her voice shook a little and she turned her head away.
"He said there was a conference there. Left a couple days before his murder. And, before you ask, no, I have no idea where he was staying in reality. But, like I told the police, I suppose he might have had another place where he stayed here in the city, and maybe that is where he kept his important documents." She leaned against the wall, looking suddenly very tired. "Is there anything else, Mr. Larabee?"
Chris tried smiling softly, then gave up. "No Mrs. Travis, thank you. I do have some friends on the force, so I assume that, had they found this other place of your husband's, they would have told me."
She nodded slowly, then sighed. "They don't seem to be looking that hard."
"The police are very busy, Mrs. Travis. I'm sure that, had they thought it was vital, they'd be scouring the city for it. I'm guessing they have some junior people looking, because finding your husband's file on Royal is something they want, but most of the force are probably already focused on the next case."
"Good people, Mrs. Travis."
"Yes." She looked at him again and pushed herself off the wall. "Are we finished, detective?"
Chris smiled, "For the time being, yes. Do you mind if I look around some more?"
"Go ahead. Just don't damage anything. Unlike the police, Mr. Larabee, I can sue you."
Chris shook his head as she walked away down the hall to the end room, then turned to look in the first side room he found off the hallway.
came back down stairs to find Ezra and Nathan still pouring over documents,
neither of whom seemed to have made much progress. Ezra had slowly been
sorting his documents into smaller piles while Nathan was simply reading and
tossing. The older detective cleared his throat to get their attention,
something to which Nathan responded immediately.
find anything out?" Nathan asked.
we may have a woman to track down."
"Maybe. How're you doing?" Chris leaned forward to peer at the document in Nathan's hands. Nathan grimaced.
well, about as expected. I mean, there are receipts and records and all
that kind of stuff here, but nothing has jumped out at me yet."
"Well," Chris said, "here's something to look for. Looks like Travis may have rented another place out here in Manhattan, or maybe had a storage place somewhere not related to work. See if you can find it. I'm guessing the police already looked through for the obvious, so...."
"Look for the unobvious. Gotcha."
Ezra perked up at that, looking across at the detective in training, "'Unobvious,' Mr. Jackson? Is that a word?"
"It is one now," the man replied, smiling broadly. Ezra did his best not to sniff derisively.
"What about you, Standish," Chris said, leaning back against the door frame, "You find anything?"
"Um," the lawyer shuffled around a bit, then picked up a handful of papers, "I don't know. I need to ask Judge Travis a question about his son's past time. It may be nothing."
"Well, I have a handful of legal briefs and memos here that don't seem to correspond with anything that Stephen Travis would do as a DA."
there are housing court filings, some probate filings and even an environmental
justice memo. It's probably just some
sort of Pro Bono work he did on the side, but I thought I'd check."
Nathan snorted, "Anything that seems Pro Bono is suspicious to you, huh Ezra. After all, the concept of doing legal work for someone for free who needs it is such a foreign concept to your money minded brain."
Ezra flexed an eyebrow, "How droll, Mr. Jackson. I'll have to repeat that comment to Mr. Tanner when he gives me my next fat paycheck."
"Oh come one, admit it. If it weren't for Josiah, you'd never even looked have at Tanner twice."
"Excuse me, Mr. Jackson, but am I to understand it that we have acquired your services on this matter out of the goodness of your heart?"
"That's different. I need the money."
Ezra sighed, "Of course, and I don't."
"Boys," Chris's voice was stern and a little tired, "Mind of we table this until you are alone?" This was obviously not a new argument. Both men on the floor looked up, glares fading as they watched Chris run his nose between thumb and forefinger. Ezra shrugged and looked back down at his papers, while Nathan sighed and leaned back against the desk.
"This is going to take us a while, Chris. We could use more help."
"I'll go ask the Judge if we can take this with us," Chris nodded. "I'm sure the boys back at the 4C are more than ready for some extra work."
"Ask him about these too, will you?" Ezra said, pointing to the papers he'd set aside. Chris smiled.
"You want to ask him yourself? You could come with me."
Ezra opened his mouth, then shut it. "Well, if you're already going, I don't see the need to...."
Chris laughed, "You really are a chicken-shit, you know that Standish?"
Ezra smiled crookedly, "I prefer to think of myself as prudently avoiding an unnecessary ordeal, Mr. Larabee. The less I see of Judge Travis, the better off we'll all be."
"Chicken shit," Nathan agreed with Chris, causing them both to laugh as a scowling Ezra went back to his papers.
hung up the phone angrily, the prattling of Travis's former secretary still
buzzing in his ears. Most of the time he found secretaries to be clever people,
oftentimes cleverer than their bosses, and, more often than not, he found them
to be nice. Patsy Reingold was not one of those people.
She had begun by telling him that he was not allowed access to any of Stephen Travis's documents, and then refused to answer any questions about what she knew about his dealings. The fact that Josiah was the lawyer to the defendant in Travis's murder and thus had the right of access to those documents and to ask her questions meant nothing to the woman. In an hour of arguing, he only succeeded in making himself so angry he wanted to punch something.
he hated to admit it, Josiah's greatest failing was that he had a violent
temper, something he had spent much of his youth trying to repress. As a
teenager, that temper had landed him in jail several times, and he'd been
trying to curb it ever since. He'd
tried everything, including attending a seminary for a while between college
and law school, thinking that he could find peace in the church, but it was
never his calling. In the end, it was
age that finally mellowed him to the point where it now took a lot to get him
angry, but when he was, he still had a tendency towards taking out that anger
with his fists. Today, his anger had been building slowly since Ezra had
told him about the threat he'd gotten that morning, and hours on the phone to
petty bureaucrats like Travis's secretary to gather information this afternoon
had him close to the breaking point.
Patsy Reingold was lucky that she was on the other side of the phone.
But not so lucky for the person who just knocked on the door.
"WHAT!" Josiah shouted, spinning around to find himself faced with a pimply faced courier, the kid's bicycle helmet still strapped on his head. The courier jumped back a few feet and nearly dropped the envelope he was carrying. Quickly, Josiah tried to calm himself down and ended up sitting down heavily in his chair.
"Sorry, kid, sorry. Just a little annoyed." He looked up to see that the kid was now standing half in and half out of the room, cowering slightly. Josiah tried smiling. It didn't work. "Can I help you?"
"Um, I'm sorry to disturb you, Mr. Sanchez, but, um, your secretary seems to be out and...."
"JD's gone? That's odd." The lawyer rubbed at his temples, "So what have you got?"
"Same day delivery from Chase Manhattan Bank." The courier held out a manila envelope with Sanchez & Standish handwritten on the front. Josiah took it slowly.
"Need me to sign for it?"
"Well okay then. Thanks."
"No prob. Nice building you got here, by the way. A real maze. Person could get lost for hours in here."
smiled thinly and nodded to the boy, signaling goodbye. Moments later he
was opening the envelope, curious as to the contents. Chase was not their
bank - they used Citibank - and as far as he knew, none of their clients or
adversaries used it either.
Inside was a letter and a Polaroid snapshot:
The messenger lied to you, this is not from the bank. We know that you have not heeded our warning regarding the Travis case. Reconsider. This is your last warning.
The picture showed JD and Vin getting lunch from the deli across the street.
Dropping it to the ground, Josiah burst out of the office and stared around at the empty hallway. The light "ping" from the elevator in the distance started him running to reach it in time. Buck looked up as the large man lumbered loudly past the detective's office door and Casey, still sitting in her seat, twisted around.
The lawyer careened around the corner and down the two steps to the elevator bank, just in time to see the doors shut on the messenger's smiling face. Grimacing, Josiah ran to the stairs and bounded down, taking them two at a time. In moments he was at the bottom and into the lobby, waiting for the elevator to reach the bottom.
The elevator carrying the courier pinged, the doors opened slowly.
There was no one there.
Turning around, Josiah found JD and Vin watching him curiously from inside the front door to the building. They were both carrying deli bags.
"What's going on?" Vin asked, seeing the redness in the older man's face.
"You went to get lunch," Josiah replied, matter-of-factly.
"Yeah," JD was frowning now, "we just went to the deli across the street. Hell of a long line, but...."
"You don't leave here again without telling me or Buck, understand? I want Buck, Chris, me or Ezra with the two of you at all times from now on."
"We just went...."
"Don't argue, JD." Reaching into his pocket, Josiah pulled out his cell phone while Vin and JD looked on, puzzled. Behind them, the elevators pinged again to reveal Buck and Casey, the girl hiding slightly behind the older man. Buck had his gun in hand and a scowl on his face.
"What's going on?" the detective demanded, watching Josiah dial. The lawyer looked up, his dark blue eyes shadowed beneath his creased brow and shook his head.
"They're trying to scare us," he said quietly, "and it's working."
On the other end of the line, Chris picked up his phone and listened as Josiah hastily explained what had just happened. Ezra frowned as he saw the expression darken on the detective's face, and started gathering the papers together to be taken with them.
God, oh God," Casey was pacing the office floor when Chris and the others
returned, each carrying a couple of heavy boxes of files. Josiah was sitting on the edge of JD's desk
while Buck, JD and Vin hung out together near the coffee maker. The
envelope with the latest threat was sitting on JD's desk.
"Ms. Wells, nice to see you again," Chris greeted softly as he put his boxes down. She stopped pacing and watched him carefully, her eyes widening slightly as if she hoped he seemed more than he was. Perhaps something about his demeanor did calm her because her shoulders relaxed slightly and she managed to nod back.
"Mr. Larabee. I came because...."
Chris held up his hand, "I know. Buck told me on the phone already."
"Well then you'll also know that Mr. Royal and his men will probably know I came here by now."
Chris nodded and shrugged. "Yes. I'm sorry Ms. Wells."
"I knew I shouldn't have come. I can't go back now, and my aunt, she's going to kill me! What am I going to do?"
Chris pursed his lips and looked over at Buck. "I think you need to go stay with some friends or relatives for a while Ms. Wells. Is there anyone...?"
"What, just call up someone from school and ask if I can spend the summer with them out of the blue? I bet there parents would love that!"
"You have a better idea?"
"I..." she frowned, huffed, and leaned against the desk, "but what if they find me? I'd be putting someone else in danger." She brought her hands up to her face. "And my aunt. What will she do without me? What if they threaten her because of me?" Her eyes started to burn behind her hands and she had to bit down on her lip to stop herself from crying. Buck wandered over and leaned on the desk next to her, placing an arm around her shoulders. Over by the coffeemaker JD poorly repressed a pang of jealousy.
"Casey, darling, it'll be all right. There may be another option. We know some good people that you can stay with. For example, I know some folks in Boston who could set you up very well and keep you safe." Buck gave her a tight squeeze.
She sniffed and looked up at him, "Boston? I...I could...I like Boston."
"I know some folks there too," JD said quickly, earning him an odd look from the others. He hunkered down again and hid slightly behind the taller Vin. Casey glanced at him and smiled briefly, then looked back at Buck.
"What about my aunt?"
"We'll make sure she's taken care of too, don't worry."
Casey nodded, seeing the confidence in his eyes. Gathering herself together somewhat she shook herself slightly and looked around at the others.
"How long?" she asked.
"As fast as we can, Ms Wells," Chris answered. "We have some solid leads now. It won't be long, I promise. With any luck, by the time you head back to start school again."
She smiled up at him.
"Let's call your aunt," Buck said. "I don't think you should head back there at all, even to get your things. Chris and I will go over later and pick up anything you may need for the summer."
Casey paled slightly, but nodded and somehow managed to hold onto the smile.
JD decided he was most definitely in love.
It was dark by the time Chris and Buck got to the Black Rose, wherein they headed straight into the office to speak with its owner.
Wells surprised them by not yelling and merely listened as they explained what
had happened with Casey, her sharp blue eyes darting between them without blinking.
She was older than they had expected, in part because Nettie was not Casey's
aunt but her great aunt, the youngest sister of Casey's grandmother. Her
face was stern in appearance, strong and intense, and had an intelligence born
of experience backing up her attitude. Still, despite these outward signs,
there was a tremor of fear that clearly underlined her every movement, every
"So you won't tell me where you're taking her?" she asked calmly, tucking a loose strand of white hair behind her ear.
"It's better for her, Ms. Wells."
"Nettie. My name's Nettie, detective."
"Nettie," Buck smiled, but, unlike his usual reaction, there was merely a slight sniff of disdain from the woman.
"I suppose I don't have much choice in the matter," she said, turning to look at Chris. He didn't answer, simply stared at her coldly. There was blame in that gaze, and, after a moment, she had to drop her gaze, outmatched. "I see," she whispered.
"She'll be safe as houses, Nettie," Buck assured her.
She nodded and looked back down again at the note Casey had written to her, explaining what had happened. Casey trusts these men, she told herself, so you will have to too. Looking at them again she thought she could see something of what Casey must have seen the night Chris wandered into her room. She could see their honesty.
"You will take excellent care of her, correct?"
"I'll have to take your word on that. Her room is second on the right at the top of the stairs. If you come with me we can pack her things." Standing, she led the way out of her little office downstairs to the stairs. She was a small woman, perhaps no more that five foot two in height, much like her grand niece, but she had a definite presence.
On the way up the stairs, a man came down, stopping on the third step when he saw Chris and Buck. He was tall with a nondescript face and a rather stocky build.
"Nettie?" he asked. "Are you hiring detectives now? The Larabee agency seems to be everywhere these days." The knowing look he gave them got lost in the glares they sent at him.
The woman frowned, "These men have come for Casey's things, Mr. Smith. She's going away from here until the end of the summer."
"I don't know. They won't tell me."
The man's eyes narrowed, "You don't know? Isn't that a little strange?"
Nettie sighed, "Casey is 20 years old, Mr. Smith, and capable of making her own decisions. I had little control over her as a girl after her parents died and I have even less now. If you wish, you can ask these gentlemen yourself where Casey is going but I doubt they'd tell you anything. Isn't that right Mr. Larabee?" She looked at Chris.
"Mr. Yates here, or should I say Smith, would most definitely be hard pressed to learn anything from us, Nettie," Buck answered for his friend. Chris just raised his eyebrows slightly in agreement. "Now if you'll excuse us, the smell on the stairs here is getting a bit thick."
Pushing past Yates, the three continued to the top of the stairs to Casey's room. The former marshal watched them go with a dark expression, his false smile fading. As soon as they were around the corner he took out his cell phone to call the mole he had stationed watching the 4C building. The boy on the other side of the line told him that the girl had not left yet.
In Casey's room, Chris passed Nettie another note as she bustled around getting things together. She read it quickly, then looked up, all pretense of pride gone. Grabbing a pen off of Casey's small writing table, she wrote a quick answer and passed it back.
To the question of "Where is Inez Roscillos?" Nettie had written, "She's been missing since that night. I'm terrified that they've done something to her. Please find her if you can." At the bottom, she scribbled an address.
"Where are we now?" Casey asked, holding tightly on to the back of JD's shirt. They were somewhere under the city, walking carefully through what looked like dirty unused basements and storage spaces.
"Oh, let's see," JD looked around for some distinguishing mark. The walls vibrated suddenly and a loud screech of a train came from somewhere below and behind them. Casey gripped his shirt even more tightly and JD smiled. "Probably just past the 4,5,6 subway line," he told her.
"Are you sure? Maybe that was a train going into Grand Central." So far every room they'd come through looked the same – the same damp, cement walls, ugly thick pipes and boilers, disused trash and naked bulbs hanging everywhere. It was like a forgotten world down here. She couldn't tell if they'd gone north, south or straight west since descending into the rooms below the 4C building.
"Josiah and I know where we're going," the kid assured her, nodding to Josiah walking steadily before them. Casey looked ahead at their tall leader, then back at the equally tall Nathan bringing up the rear. She felt very small.
"I just don't understand where we are," she muttered softly, failing to hide her nervousness.
"The buildings aren't merely a maze above, Casey, they're a mess below as well. This was the only we could get you out with no one seeing. I doubt they could find us right now if they had a bloodhound. There's so much filth down here it'd mask any scent."
The girl grimaced, "that makes me feel so much better," she hissed, stepping over something she hoped wasn't a dead rat.
"We'll be up and out of here soon, I swear," the kid told her. "And when we do, you'll see we're only a few blocks from the bus station."
"Remind me, why am I taking the bus instead of the train?"
JD smiled, "Because we're paying for the ride, why else."
She sniffed, not appreciating the joke, "I can't believe this is happening."
JD's smile faded and he glanced back at her, "It'll be all right, Case, I promise," he whispered.
sat in Ezra's office watching the young lawyer reading through a sheaf of
papers he'd brought back from the Travis's, his fingers tapping restlessly on
his knee. Next to him was a box of papers Nathan had handed to him to
look through, to see if they could find some indication of where Travis might
have been staying the week he died. Vin had glanced at a few pages them
stopped. He was not made for document reading.
Ezra shut his eyes, more than aware that Vin was staring at him.
"Mr. Tanner, I would appreciate it if you did not do that."
Ezra opened emerald eyes to stare intently at the man across from him. "Stare at me."
"Was I staring?"
"Sorry." The ex-bounty hunter looked down at his knees and started flexing his fingers. His knuckles cracked occasionally. Ezra tried to get back to his reading...and failed.
"I wasn't staring."
Ezra shook his head, "You told Mr. Jackson that you would be willing to help with the documents."
"I know....I know, I just...I can't keep sitting still like this, Ez. It's too quiet. Nathan's gone with Josiah and JD to take Casey to the train station, Buck and Chris went to the Black Rose to get her things to send to her, and we're stuck here reading papers."
Ezra sighed, putting down the file he'd been looking through, "That's what lawyers do, Mr. Tanner. We read. That's how we find out things."
"Seems useless to me."
"Oh? And what would you be doing instead?"
"I'd be out looking for that barmaid! Inez what's-her-name! Or trying to find out where Travis was staying by checking out the hotels and things. It's useless just sitting here! Christ, we found out more this morning in a couple hours of legwork than you've done in a whole day of reading papers."
"Perhaps the fact that you only did legwork, as you put it, tracking Eli Joe is part of the reason you are in your current predicament, Mr. Tanner."
Vin frowned, "That was low."
"But was it incorrect?"
The Texan continued to frown, but he didn't disagree. He probably should have done more research, but he was tired when he got to New York and daunted by its size. Besides, paper trails were never his forte.
"Also, and this may be somewhat obvious, Mr. Tanner, New York is enormous. Nine million people live here spread across five boroughs, and millions more arrive to work and visit here every day. You want to find where Travis was staying, simply polling every hotel or short term lease by legwork would take you more years than you have left."
Vin frowned more deeply, trying to remember why he thought he had come to like the man sitting across from him. The didactic tone was getting wearing.
"Besides..." Ezra looked down at the file he was working on and a small smile spread across his face, "I wouldn't have said that I haven't found anything in these papers. In fact," he looked up, "I think I've found exactly what we're looking for."
Vin straightened in his chair, his frown forgotten.
"How long do you think we have to wait?" Buck asked into the small walkie talkie he had in his hand. On the other side, Chris replied with static and a grunt. Buck smiled. His partner never did have much patience for asinine questions. He remembered Chris's expression once when they'd been on vacation with Sarah and Adam, and Chris's son asked for the third time in fifteen minutes how much longer it would be. Chris's knuckles had been white as he gripped the stick-shift, replying to Adam's question with a steel gaze. The five year old boy hadn't been daunted, simply grinning his gap toothed smile and asking again. The kid had been the only person, other than Chris's wife Sarah, who had never reacted to the infamous Larabee glare. Chris could only answer the question and pray that the boy wouldn't ask again. Never worked.
Buck's smile fell slightly as he thought of the beautiful woman and her son, thinking it had been far too long since Chris had mentioned them last. They'd been dead now fro almost five years, killed in an apartment fire in Jersey City where Chris used to live. Chris never talked about them anymore. But the man still wore black. Mourning black. Buck considered trying to bring them up in conversation soon, to try and relieve some of the depression he knew his friend still harbored.
"Buck, head's up. Yates is leaving by the back."
The tall cowboy said a quick ten-four into the walkie talkie and moved stealthily down the alley to get their jeep. After Nettie had given them Casey's things, Buck had left in a cab to take the suitcases back to Brooklyn while Chris watched for Yates. When the cowboy had returned, he'd brought the jeep back with him and proceeded to watch the front while Chris watched the back. It was Chris's idea to watch for Yates, since Casey had told them the former marshal had a thing for Inez. Plus, it was always a good thing to know where the rats were hiding these days, to make it easier to exterminate them when the time came.
Yates sidled out of the bar and down the alley, walking right past Chris's position without seeing him. The detective had hidden himself up on a fire escape, using the age old truth that no one ever looks up.
After a few minutes, the detective judged it safe to drop down, and he quietly started to follow Yates. Looking around, he couldn't see Buck in the jeep but knew the man wasn't far.
When Yates reached his car, Chris hailed a cab to follow him. He kept up a constant rapport with Buck in the jeep, who remained out of sight. After about ten blocks, Chris had the cab turn off so Yates wouldn't get suspicious, and Buck came out of a side street to take over the chase. The cabbie occasionally looked back at his oddly acting passenger, who was now giving him directions on a street by street basis as they essentially paralleled Yates's movements, but chalked it up to this being New York.
Trading off, Chris and Buck continued to follow Yates towards the edge of Queens, until he pulled onto the Douglaston parkway and headed for the water. A more affluent neighborhood than its neighbors, Douglaston had plenty of large houses and secured communities, and it looked like Yates had joined their ranks.
Fewer cars on the roads and very few cabs made it difficult to follow Yates closely. They almost lost him a few times. Finally, Chris had the cab drop him off and Buck pick him up. By pure chance, they managed to spot Yates' car before he disappeared down a dead end street. Pulling over to park, the two detectives followed the rest of the way on foot.
Yates locked his car and walked up into a large old Victorian on one side of the street, the house hidden inside several large oaks and a handful of maples. Treading carefully, the two detectives searched for an alternative entrance.
Bypassing several trip wires and other silent alarms, they found a way into the house via a balcony in the back. The room beyond it looked dark, but the glass doors leading to it also seemed to be slightly ajar, probably to let air in on the hot summer night. Smiling, they boosted each other up and, with the artistry of professional thieves, broke into the house.
It was a bedroom.
And someone was sleeping in the bed.
Someone they'd just woken up.
Chris nearly swore out loud. Twice in two nights he'd done this. Fuck.
Buck leaped onto the bed to hold the person down as she started to scream, holding a hand roughly over her mouth before she could. She fought like a cat under him, trying to shove him off, but he was just too big. She did, however, manage to free her face.
"You bastard Yates! Leave me alone!" she hissed, pressing a hand into Buck's face to try to push it away. She stopped fighting immediately when she felt his moustache. "Madre de Dios," she said, "Burglars!" and heaved in a huge breath in order to scream.