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
Buck clamped his hand down hard again over her mouth, stifling the woman. She fought under his hold, but he only positioned himself better to keep her still.
Chris had gone to stand by the closed door to the room, his gun in hand as he listened for anyone whom might have heard the scuffle.
“We’re not burglars,” Buck hissed in the woman’s ear. “We’re detectives. We’re following Yates, and we used your open balcony door as way in. We’re not going to hurt you.”
The woman squirmed a little less, her eyes trying hard to make out the man’s features as he sat on top of her.
Buck tried to hide a small smile, his seven second mind thinking that, had the situation been a bit different, this would have been fun.
“Listen, unless you promise you won’t scream, I’m going to have to knock you out, and I don’t want to do that.” Buck loosened his hold slightly to show her he meant to let her go, she squirmed a little less. “You promise not to scream?” he asked.
Her eyes glistened with unshed tears in the pale moonlight, but she eventually nodded. Buck offered her a small smile and gently lifted his hand away.
“What do you want?” she whispered, staring up at him, her Mexican accent thick with nervousness. “You obviously know who’s house this is, but are you aware how dangerous he is? If Yates finds you here….”
“He won’t, not unless you give us away.” Buck gently lifted himself up off of her so that he could sit on the side of the bed. She quickly sat up, drawing the bedclothes up in a protective fashion, and watched him with bright eyes.
“What do you want?” she repeated, still whispering.
“We’re looking for someone,” Buck replied. “Her name is Inez.”
The woman on the bed flinched slightly, her brow furrowing.
“Two reasons. One, we think she may be in trouble and we want to help her.”
Buck spoke slowly, watching her reactions. She swallowed at his words, and the blankets were gripped a little less tightly around her midsection.
“And two," he continued, "we think she may have been a witness to a murder.”
The blankets were instantly tightened again, and she brought her knees up to her chest under them.
“I don’t know who you are talking about,” she said quickly. “There is no one with that name here.”
Buck watched her large eyes switch rapidly back and forth between himself and Chris, and couldn't help a slightly crooked smile. Could they have been so lucky? She frowned at the expression, momentary annoyance glinting in her eyes despite her situation.
"Are you sure?" Buck asked.
"Absolutely, senor. Now, leave, before I change my mind about screaming." She shut her mouth tightly and tried to look stern. Buck shook his head, and decided to take a chance.
“Inez,” he whispered, “please...we can help you.”
Her jaw tensed and she shook her head. “You are wrong,” she said.
“Inez,” Buck tried again, but she just glared at him.
“I am not Inez,” she hissed. “And even if I knew where she was, I know that you cannot help her. Yates will kill her if she even looks at him wrong, understand? He knows too many people, has too many friends. You couldn’t protect her. If she left this house, she would be dead within a day, and her friends would suffer because of it.” Her voice was trembling as she watched him, her eyes locked on his.
“Yates is not the only one with friends, Inez. And he is not as powerful as you think he is. In his business, every man can become a weak link, and, right now, because of all that has happened, he knows he is not as strong as he would like. They’ll cut him off as soon as he becomes a liability, and you can make him a liability. Plus you can help yourself and another friend of mine in the process.”
Her fingers gripped at the blankets, her eyes watching him with such intensity, it almost made him want to look away. Finally, she turned her own gaze downward.
“You need to leave,” she said quietly. “I can not help you. I can not help your friend, or even my friends, and I most certainly cannot help myself.”
“What do you mean, your friends?”
“Casey Wells is already safe, Inez. And we can make sure Nettie is as well.”
Inez turned back to him with wide eyes, “Casey is safe? But I thought I heard….”
“She is safe. And Nettie is very worried about you.” He watched her carefully, seeing hope in her eyes for the first time. She opened her mouth to respond, when Chris suddenly pulled back the hammer on his gun. The noise seemed unnaturally loud in the still room.
“Buck,” Chris indicated the door with his head. “I can hear movement.”
Buck turned to look back at his partner, then returned to looking at Inez.
“Does he sleep here?”
She shook her head. “Not yet. I…I told him that my religion forbade it before marriage. For some reason, he is honoring that. For now.” She looked down at her hand, raising it up for him to see. The diamond on her ring finger glinted dully in the pale light. Buck met her eyes, and she quickly looked away.
“You must leave. He’ll check on me before retiring. You must go now.”
“Is there somewhere you can hide us?”
She looked surprised by the question and shook her head.
“No. Go. Please.”
“How about the closet?” he said, ignoring her plea and looking over at the tall double doors where she must keep her clothes. She shook her head again.
“Buck!” Chris’s whisper was more urgent, and he backed away from the door, his gun gripped in both hands. Inez shivered and looked at Buck.
“Get under the bed. He doesn’t check there. Hurry!”
Buck grinned and instantly dropped to roll under the bed. Chris swooped down to get in under the other side. Above them, they could hear Inez hunker down to look as if she were asleep.
Footsteps rang down the corridor outside until they stopped in front of the door. Quietly, it opened, and two sets of feet walked in. One went to the bed and sat on the edge, while the other went straight to the closet to look inside. Chris, lying on his stomach, followed the moving feet with his gun.
“Inez,” Yates’ voice said quietly from where he sat, “Are you awake, my beautiful one?”
Inez murmured something incomprehensible in response, and Yates chuckled. The other set of feet walked over to the balcony doors and shut them, the lock clicking closed. Yates sighed.
“Inez, you know you must keep those closed. I can’t fully set the alarm with them open.”
“It is a warm night, senor,” Inez replied. “And it gets stuffy in here. I am sorry. I meant to close them when I went to sleep, but I forgot.”
“You know I only do it to protect you, love. There are those who would take any chance to kill you if they could. You are only safe so long as you’re with me, but I can not protect you unless you follow the rules.”
“Yes, senor, I know.” She sounded so meek, it made Buck want to take out his own gun and shoot Yates’s feet off. Chris, feeling the cowboy tense up next to him, pressed a foot against his leg in warning.
“Good.” The bed creaked as Yates leaned over and, from the sounds of it, kissed Inez. Then he stood up and looked over at the other man.
“All right. Go down and set the alarm. I’ll be in my office, waiting for word from the kid watching the 4C. Lights are still on, but they must be planning on moving her soon.”
Buck watched as Yates’ feet turned to face in the direction of the bed one last time. The other man waited for him at the door.
“Goodnight, Inez,” he said, his voice soft.
“Goodnight, senor,” she replied coolly, the formalness in her tone not lost on Yates. He stood a moment longer watching her before finally turning and heading back to the door.
As soon as he shut it, Chris and Buck crawled out and Chris went back to stand guard at the door. Buck looked down at Inez, who was watching him with a steady expression.
“Come with us,” he whispered urgently.
She didn’t answer.
Chris listened to the footsteps recede, then jogged to the balcony doors. They had to get out before the alarm was set on the lock. He looked back at Buck and held his breath as the cowboy held out his hand to Inez.
“Trust me,” the detective whispered. “It’ll be all right.”
Suddenly, Inez grinned. Still without answering, she jumped out of the bed, her nightgown almost slipping from her shoulder, and jogged barefooted over to the closet. Ripping it open, she pulled out a long black sweater with a tie at the waist and threw it on. Then she pulled on a pair of boots and grabbed a full carpet bag near the back of the closet.
Still grinning, she ran over to the balcony doors and opened them. Turning around, she looked back at Chris and Buck, who both looked dumbfounded.
“When I make a decision, I stick to it,” she whispered hastily, looking at Buck. “For some reason, I do trust you senor, though I’m not sure why.” She shoved the carpetbag into his hands, then climbed over the balcony’s banister. When they still hadn’t moved, she almost laughed. “Bailey is going to turn on the alarm to this door in about ten seconds. Don’t you think we should get the hell out of here? Now?”
Both detectives scrambled to follow. Just as they shut the door, a faint electronic beep sounded to indicate that the alarm had been turned on.
Moments later, they were at the jeep and speeding away down LIE, heading back into the heart of Queens.
Back at the house, the wind started to pick up again, blowing at the still unlocked but closed balcony doors.
"You have a sneaky mind, Ezra," Vin said, the smile on his face growing as Ezra pointed out another piece of the puzzle in Travis's documents. "I'm not surprised the police didn't see this. Hell, I'm surprised you even saw it!"
"My mother taught me a thing or two about how to hide things," Ezra replied quizzically, also smiling.
The phone rang on the desk, and the lawyer grabbed it absently.
"Sanchez and Standish," he said, cradling the phone on his shoulder as he took back the papers he had given Vin and shoving them into a box. He nearly dropped the phone as he listened to Chris's hurried message, and his wide eyes caught Vin's.
"My God. Yes, of course. We'll be there when you arrive. Be careful." He hung up the phone and grinned stupidly at Vin. The bounty hunter opened his mouth the ask a question, but Ezra waved a finger and dialed another number. The ex bounty hunter tried not to frown in annoyance.
"Yes, this is Ezra Standish in 19A. Two gentlemen, Mr. Chris Larabee and Mr. Buck Wilmington, will be arriving there in the next half and hour accompanied by two women, one young, one older. Please send them up to my apartment, will you? Do you recall what those gentlemen looked like? Yes...exactly," he chuckled slightly, nodding and still smiling at Vin. "Wonderful. Thank you. Oh, and a Mr. Josiah Sanchez and Mr. JD Dunne should also be arriving soon. Do the same for them?...Yes. Thanks. I'll be home when I can."
Vin opened his mouth again, but Ezra shook his head and dialed another number.
"Josiah? It's me. They found her. Yes, I know...No, I have no idea how. But they're taking her to the Westmoreland. Did Casey get off okay? Good, okay....yes, we will. Bye."
When he hung up the phone, he just shook his head and laughed. "It's unbelievable," he said to Vin. "You must have an angel on your shoulder, Mr. Tanner."
Across from him, Vin was afraid to join in, afraid to assume what he hoped had happened. Finally, when Ezra started picking up papers again, the ex bounty hunter slammed his fist on the desk. Startled, Ezra caught his eyes.
The ex bounty hunter shook his head, "Wait, wait. Are you saying Chris and Buck found...?"
The lawyer shrugged, and arched an eyebrow. "What can I say? You hired the best, Tanner." He grinned from ear to ear and started pulling more papers together on the desk.
Vin's mouth fell open, and his heart started to catch in his throat. Ezra stopped smiling when he looked up again and saw the expression.
"What? What's wrong? This is the break we needed. She may be able to tell us what happened the night Travis was killed. She could exonerate you!"
"Yes," Vin nodded, "but she could also have seen nothing, or...." He swallowed harshly, unable to admit that she might instead corroborate the fact that he killed Travis. Ezra shook his head.
"We need the truth, Vin. If she knows it, for good or ill, we need to know it."
Vin shut his eyes, and nodded. Then another thought entered his mind. He looked up at Ezra.
"What happens when they find she's gone?" Vin asked quickly. The lawyer's face fell completely at the idea. His hands started gathering papers more quickly and stuffed them into the box on his desk. He pointed at one of the three boxes of Travis's papers.
"Grab that box," he ordered. "We've got to get out of here."
Back at the house in Queens, the wind through a particularly hard gust at the house, and the balcony doors flew open. The alarm screamed through the house.
Yates's man, the red-head "messenger," kept his binoculars trained on the seventh floor office, watching as Ezra Standish, who'd been sitting with his back to the window at his desk, started moving around very quickly.
"Something's happening," he smiled. "Finally!" He pulled out his phone to call Yates that they were on the move, and was surprised to have it ring in his hand.
"Danny here," he answered as he held it up to his ear. His eyes darted up to the office building window just in time to see the light go off. "Yes sir, Marshal Yates. Yes sir! Their light just went off. Yes sir, I'm on it!"
Running across 42nd street, barely missing being hit by a cross town bus, Danny ran up to the building's door and fumbled around to find his stolen key to get inside.
Chris screeched to a halt outside the Black Rose, watching as Buck jumped out and ran into the building. It being almost four in the morning by this time, Nettie had closed the bar an hour before. They'd called the bar-owner right after calling Ezra, and she had agreed to meet them. The fact that she was not yet at the door was not the best sign.
"Where is she," Chris muttered, tapping his hands on the steering wheel. In the back, Inez kept her head down, while shivers ran down her spine.
"Nettie!" Buck opened the office door to find the room empty and the lights off. Grimacing, he turned and started for the stairs.
He was halfway up when he smelled the smoke.
Turning the corner on the landing, he came to an abrupt halt at the sight of black smoke billowing out from under the two doors at the end, from the rooms that Guy Royal had used as his offices with Yates and Spikes. The two doors creaked and bent, the hot air from the fires inside trying to get out.
Buck started banging on the other doors, opening those that felt cool, hoping to find the older woman in one of the rooms. Last he reached the final two doors. Shaking now, he kicked in the first door and jumped back as the fire escaped in a flash. Shaking even more now, he ducked under the smoke and peered inside, looking for Nettie and calling her name. A quick glance showed she was not in there. Coughing now, he reached the second door and kicked it open.
Breathing a sigh of relief, and nearly choking, he ran down the stairs to the main part of the bar, looking around him.
There had to be something.
A faint banging sent him in the direction of the back room, but he had already checked it, hadn't he? He yelled Nettie's name again.
Smoke was billowing down the stairs now, and he could hear Chris honking madly from the car. The phone in his pocket was also ringing, and he knew it was Chris wanting to know what was going on. The fire was probably raging on the top floor now, and when it got to the basement, the alcohol would make the place a firebomb.
He turned in circles in the backroom, the sound of banging more evident. Was he going insane? There were no doors here!
He turned around again, and pulled the phone out of his pocket.
"Chris! I can't find her! I think they took her." He was shaking, and the heat from the upstairs was beginning to affect him. The banging got louder as he walked in circles. "No, I'm not sure. I...I think I can hear banging! Ask Inez, is there another door? A back room, something?" He closed his eyes as he waited for Chris to ask the question, hoping to focus more clearly on the banging. His eyes opened wide as he realized where it was coming from at the same time that Chris answered his question.
"Trapdoor!" Chris said quickly.
"She's under the floor!" Buck yelled at the same time, bending down to look more closely at the ground. He threw back one of the ratty rugs and saw the hole in the floor. A black bolt was set in a lock next to the iron rung. Dropping the phone into his pocket, he pulled on the old black iron bolt, releasing it, then grabbed the rung with both hands. With a single heave, he pulled the door upwards.
Nettie smiled back at him, the two barreled shotgun's butt facing away from him. It was with the shotgun's base that she had been banging away on the door with to get his attention.
"Thank God!" She said, clambering up the ladder to grab Buck's hand. "I hid down there with my shotgun when I heard them all moving around, thinking that maybe they were finally going to get rid of me. Well, they did me one better by simply locking me in there! I could have been down there for days before...." she stopped, and sniffed. Her eyes widened, "Is that smoke?"
"We've got to leave, Nettie, now," was all Buck would say. She looked ready to argue for a moment, then clammed up as she saw the smoke coming in through door.
"Oh Lord...my home," she whispered sadly. Buck grabbed her hand and forcibly pulled the somewhat dazed woman out of the bar. As the got outside, they could hear the sirens of New York's finest on their way. Nettie climbed into the jeep, saw Inez and braved a smile.
"They found you," she said simply as Chris pulled out, avoiding the fire trucks as they came in.
"Yes," Inez replied, looking up at the fire blazing in the upstairs windows as they tore away, "and, unfortunately, it looks as if Yates knows that too." Her eyes teared up as she looked at Nettie. "I'm so sorry," she whispered.
Nettie shook her head and drew Inez close. "No, Inez, I'm the one who is sorry. So, so sorry. But we're going to make this right. We have to."
On the fifth floor of the 4C building, the elevator doors pinged and slid open. The distinct swear of an irate southerner floated out and broke the silence of the hallway. Holding the doors open, Vin watched as the lawyer continued to paw through the box he had ordered the he bounty hunter to pick up.
"What? What's the matter?"
"Its the wrong damn box! You picked up the wrong box!"
"These aren't Royal's files!"
"Not...well what's in the box you took?"
"Yates and Spikes. Damn it! I must have mixed up the boxes when I was sorting the files. I made you take the wrong box! I'm such an idiot!" Kicking the box out of the elevator and into the hallway, Ezra reached back and hit seven.
"Take my box and that one to the other elevator bank and take the next elevator down to the subbasement," he ordered the bounty hunter. "Wait five minutes, and I'll meet you down there."
"Five minutes?" Vin asked, still not releasing his hold on the doors. Ezra nodded and gently pushed Vin's hand away.
"Five minutes. If I'm not down in that time....call Josiah." He pulled out his cell phone and tossed it to Vin. "And be careful." The doors slid shut on the elevator before Vin could reply.
Standing alone in the hallway, staring at the closed elevators doors, the ex bounty hunter sighed. Looking down at his watch, he nodded.
"No, they're gone sir," Danny paced inside the dark offices. He was playing with the book of matches in his pocket. He listened for a moment, and shook his head. "No sir. There's no way. This place is a maze. I nearly got lost when I was trying to get lost before! No...yes...right....yes sir, Mr. Spikes. I've got it. I'll meet you next to the Westmoreland."
Hanging up the cell, the kid pulled out a match and struck it. He smiled wickedly as he looked at the chaotic paper-strewn rooms.
"This is too easy," he laughed, tossing the lit match at the nearest pile. A small blaze began almost instantly.
"NO!" Ezra's yell broke the quiet, spinning Danny around.
Ezra noticed the gun in the boy's hand a second too late.
Ezra jerked left just as the first shot rang out, feeling the burn of a bullet hit his right arm as he ducked behind several boxes of files. More shots followed from the semi automatic, peppering the packed boxes and causing paper and cardboard dust to float in the air. The tiny particles were drawn quickly into the growing fire in the center of the room, causing it to flash and flare, and black smoke filled the room rapidly.
Multiple sparks floated upwards and caught at the edge of Danny's dark denim jacket, and his gun hand jerked as he felt the burn seep through his clothing. Three shots in succession went straight into the ceiling.
On the floor, Ezra had pulled the small berretta he kept attached to his leg and, upon seeing the erratic shots, took a deep breath and, without looking, pointed the gun in the direction of where he had last seen the boy. The small weapon only had six bullets in it, and he sent all six in rapid succession at where he imagined Danny was standing.
Danny ducked to his right at the first shot, narrowly missing being hit by one of the berretta's bullets in the small space. The others went right over him as he slipped on some papers and fell on his back near another set of boxes. Looking up, his eyes widened in panic as he saw the fire was just inches from his face and moving quickly. With a yell, he scrambled backwards like a crab, losing his gun in the process.
Ezra risked looking around the corner of the boxes at the yell, then acted swiftly when he saw that Danny had lost his gun. Coming out of hiding, he dove for the weapon before Danny could and kicked it across the floor into the fire. Danny, angry and beginning to get frantic, jumped up and tackled Ezra, shoving the lawyer into the bookcase on the side wall. Both men fell to the floor as several large text books showered down around them, the tomes knocked loose by the impact. One, a particularly heavy volume of tax laws, smashed heavily on Danny's head, knocking him to the side, though he kept his grip on Ezra's bleeding arm.
The smoke was disorientating now, coating everything, the thick acrid flavor burning both men's eyes and throats. Ezra's arm was killing him, and it refused to react at all except to send messages of blinding pain to his skull as Danny gripped it and twisted. Gut reaction brought Ezra's left fist around to smash into the boy's face followed by another. Danny grunted as his vision blurred at the blows, and he let go.
The respite gave Ezra enough leverage to push himself backwards, and, now holding his arm close, he kicked out with his feet and connected solidly with Danny's head and chest. The kid rocked backwards and rolled, whimpering as his vision went completely black.
Using the bookcase as leverage to get back up to his feet, Ezra looked around and nearly choked on the smoke as he tried to pull in a breath. His eyes were puckered with tears as he tried to remember where the fire extinguisher was.
The fire surrounded them on almost all sides now. He and Yates's man were in the middle of an inferno, and though the door to the hallway promised escape, the lawyer could think of nothing but getting to the box he'd left behind in his office. He couldn't let it burn, not now. Everything Travis had on Royal was in those boxes, everything....
On the floor, Danny opened his bruised eyes and tried to clear his vision. All he could see was fire and black, and a single shadow staggering across the room, heading God knows where. He coughed violently, discovering to his horror that he couldn't breath. All that entered his lungs was burn, not oxygen. His hands scrambled around the carpeted floor, searching for something he could use as a weapon so that he could kill that son of a bitch and get the hell out of here before it was too late.
His fingers found Ezra's gun. Grinning, he lifted himself up and pointed it at Ezra's retreating back.
Empty clicks answered his squeezing of the trigger.
Screaming angrily, Danny somehow found the energy to surge to his feet, and he threw the useless weapon at Ezra's back.
The lawyer had heard the scream, and he fell sideways into the doorframe of his office as the hard object whipped past his face. Danny fell forward with the throw and landed hard on his knees. Ezra could hear him swearing angrily under his breath. Then Yates's man simply slumped down, unconscious, the smoke and the blows to the head overcoming him.
Ezra blinked for a moment, watching. Shaking his head, he moved forward next to the kid and bent down. His left hand gripped the back of the boy's jacket, taking both that and the boy's shirt in his hand. Pulling backwards, he somehow got the boy onto his side, and Ezra dragged him backwards, towards the hallway. At the door, he gave one final mighty heave and pulled the kid into the cool lobby.
Panting, trying to take in some of the still clear air here, Ezra pulled Danny across to the far side of the hall, the smooth marble floor out here making it much easier. Laying the boy on his side, the lawyer wiped some of the sweat from his brow, then headed back into the burning office, intent only on getting that last box of files.
Vin put his boxes down on the floor of the subbasement then looked at his watch. Grimacing, he got back into the elevator and hit floor five. He wasn't going to wait the full five minutes. Like an animal sensing the change in the weather, he could feel the weight of something terribly wrong.
Nathan was lagging behind Josiah and JD as they emerged from the subway onto Central Park West. Whether he was just tired, or there was something else, he didn't know, but he wasn't looking forward to making it to the Westmoreland. Josiah and JD hurried ahead, moving quickly with the anticipation of meeting Inez, there quiet conversation about what she might know and what it would mean for Vin and the others an excited murmur. Nathan meanwhile, fell farther and farther back, his head low as he considered his role in this whole thing. So far, Buck and Chris had done the bulk of the detecting without him, and he was wondering whether this would always be the case. He was supposed to be their apprentice, but they tended to use him more as a bodyguard for their clients and as a paper chaser than for any real work. Now they'd done it again, solved the case without him.
Squealing tires broke him out of his reverie, and he looked up in time to see a black SUV screech to a halt at the corner of the block where JD and Josiah were about to cross. Quickly, Nathan moved to the side, to hide in the shadow of the buildings as he moved up quickly to join them, hoping the owner of the SUV couldn't see him.
Josiah instantly shoved JD behind him as the SUV's passenger door opened, revealing a semi-automatic pistol pointed directly his chest. The gunman, a woman with short brown hair, stepped out the SUV slowly, a small smile on her weathered face. On the other side, the vehicle's driver pulled out his own gun and got out to join her. Together the two gunmen flanked Josiah and his secretary.
"What do you want?" Josiah demanded angrily, still trying to cover JD, who was contrarily trying to get around Josiah to help him.
"Mr. Sanchez, you and Mr. Dunne are to come with us," the woman said. "We have been waiting for you. Our employer believes you know the whereabouts of several things that belong to him."
"You employer can go to hell," JD replied angrily, and Josiah pushed him back again.
"Please excuse the boy," Josiah said slowly, "sometimes he acts before he thinks."
The woman nodded, and jerked her head to the SUV. "Inside, both of you."
"Both...?" JD began, his thoughts suddenly wondering where Nathan had gotten, but Josiah shoved an elbow in his stomach before he could vocalize the idea.
"JD, after you," Josiah said tightly. The kid coughed a little, one hand rubbing his chest where Josiah had hit him, and stepped between the driver and the woman to the SUV's back door. He turned and looked back at Josiah, then over the lawyer's shoulder. He couldn't resist a small smile.
The driver's eyes flicked to the side to see what JD was looking at, but he wasn't quick enough to move before Nathan's throwing knife embedded itself into his gun arm. Yelling, he dropped the gun and grabbed at the knife's black hilt, his only thought to pull it out.
Reacting to the threat, the woman twisted her weapon around to face Nathan, giving Josiah the opening he needed. In two steps he had his arms around her, throwing her bodily to the ground on the sidewalk, her gun discharging uselessly into the night. The breath got knocked out of the woman, but she somehow managed to slip out of Josiah's hold. As she reached for her dropped gun, she found herself being tackled by someone lighter and even quicker, and this time she found herself pushed onto the road behind the SUV, her head impacting badly with the unyielding pavement.
The driver, meanwhile, had pulled out the knife and was leaning down to reach for his gun with his left hand. JD simply opened the SUV's back door really fast and slammed it into the guy's head. The gunman went down like a sack of feed.
Just as Josiah got back to his feet to help Nathan, a navy blue sedan roared up behind the SUV, nearly hitting the apprentice detective as he jumped backwards out of the way, the woman forgotten as she lay stunned just inches from the sedan's bumper.
Before Nathan could duck, gunfire from the sedan's window knocked him backwards, one shot to the arm, the other to his side as he fell into Josiah, knocking both men down.
JD dived into the empty SUV and moved up into the driver's seat, thankful that it had been kept running, and slammed it into reverse.
The woman on the ground rolled out of the way just in time to stop herself from being sandwiched between the SUV and the sedan. The much larger truck instantly crushed the sedan's hood, and the smaller car was roughly shoved backwards into the parked car behind it. JD didn't hit the brakes until the backdoor was opposite to where Josiah was gripping Nathan's unconscious body in his arms.
"Get in!" JD yelled at Josiah, snapping the older man's head up. Without time to think, Josiah heaved Nathan up and shoved him into the back seat just as another hail of bullets smacked into the SUV's rear door and window. Bulletproof glass held up under the onslaught, and Josiah clambered in after Nathan and yelled at JD to move it.
The SUV surged forward, and JD squealed down Central Park West, heading for downtown.
Behind them, the sedan bucked and stalled, the damage to its front radiator and core too severe for it to keep running. The two men inside got out, ears cocked to the wind to listen for sirens. The driver was a bald man with a patch over his eye, and he gripped his hands into fists. Pulling his own gun from his holster, he shot the unconscious driver that JD had knocked out, then indicated to the woman, who was dazed but on her feet, and the other man to follow him as he jogged across the street and into the park. As they moved, he pulled out his phone and hit redial.
"Yates, this is Spikes. Sanchez got away. I know. How's Danny doing? Fuck. All right. We'll keep covering this damned area, but we've left alot of blood around. Not sure how much longer it'll take before the cops come. This ain't Queens you know. Yeah. Fine."
In moments, all three were lost inside the dark trees and bushes of Central Park.
Josiah gripped at Nathan's side, his eyes wide with horror as he tried to staunch the flow of blood. JD, his eyes narrowed and determined, careened down the nearly empty streets towards Roosevelt hospital. He'd learned to drive in Boston, and the way he flew past cabs and other cars as if they were merely tumbleweeds reflected that. Right now, he owned these streets. A cop came up behind them, sirens blaring, obviously disagreeing with JD's ownership, but the kid ignored him.
In moments, he pulled into the emergency area and jumped out, yelling for a doctor. The police car pulled in behind him, and, when the cop's partner saw Josiah and the bleeding man inside the car, immediately started to help. The other tried to get to JD to get answers as to what the hell had happened, but the kid was already doing his best to tell the doctors and nurses about Nathan's history and what he had seen. The policeman stepped back and waited, listening with half an ear, but never letting JD out of his sight.
As Josiah followed Nathan into the emergency room, he found his way blocked, prevented from going any farther by a nurse asking him to wait outside. Seeing the blood on his clothes, she asked if he was all right, and he nodded dumbly. Patting him on the arm and whispering assurances, she left him there and went after the doctors.
Josiah stood staring at the swinging doors for a moment, before thinking to turn and look for JD. He saw the kid speaking with a police officer. At that moment, he also noticed that another police officer was standing next to him, watching and waiting. The policeman was not too tall and quite wide in girth, with a long, kempt beard and a solid looking face. As Josiah noticed him, the officer nodded back.
"Can I...can I make a phone call?" the lawyer asked the policeman quietly. "It's to his family."
The policeman nodded, "Sure, Mr. Sanchez."
Josiah blinked, not wondering how this man knew his name, and pulled out his phone to call Chris, then Nathan's father.
They were just minutes from the midtown tunnel when Chris's phone rang. Buck picked it up, his face cast in shadow, and even from the corner of his eye Chris could see Buck's expression redden in anger as he listened to whomever was speaking on the other side. Then the cowboy sighed and put a hand to his eyes.
"Roosevelt hospital? Where is that, 59th? Christ. And you think they're more waiting for us to show up at the Westmoreland. Damn. You called Ez? No? Sure, yeah, we'll do it. You going to call the police?" Buck snorted, "Well, that's impressive. What's the officer's name? Garner? Yosemite Garner?" Buck gave a short laugh. "You sure as hell got lucky, Josiah. Trust him. I know the man. Yeah. He probably knows you too. Yup. All right. Get protection, we'll be there after we get Ez and Vin."
Chris glanced over at Buck, his eyes worried. Buck shook his head.
"Nathan's been shot. They were ambushed on the way to Ezra's, right on Central Park West. Yates has probably been staking it out ever since those bastards found out Ezra was on this case, and attacked Josiah, JD and Nathan on their way there tonight. We probably can't even get close without suffering a similar fate."
"Nathan going to be all right?"
"I don't know. Josiah's at the hospital with JD, waiting on word. Get this, by pure luck, Yosemite followed them in. He and his partner, whom I'm guessing is Weathers, should be able to protect them for now."
Chris nodded, his expression getting even darker. In the distance, he could see the light from the tolls to enter the tunnel.
"Better call Ezra now, we'll be in the tunnel in a minute. They're probably in a cab halfway to the Westmoreland by now."
But Buck had already dialed, and was holding the phone to his ear.
His expression got even darker as the phone rang and rang, without picking up.
As the elevator slowly rose from the fifth to the seventh floor, the smell of smoke became more and more obvious. Vin started to breath more quickly, his imagination easily guessing what was happening. He'd heard about Bob Spikes from Buck - the man was a serial arsonist. Whatever he couldn't have, he burned. It was as easy as breathing to the man. If Spikes, Yates or one of his other men was up there with Ezra....
The elevator came to an abrupt halt as the power was cut off. The lights flickered, and Vin grabbed the bar on the side as the small box bounced a few times before coming to a halt. At the same time, the sound of the fire alarm coming to life cut through the metal box from the outside, charging the silence and making Vin recoil in sudden panic.
"No!" he screamed, his fists slamming at the unopened doors. His claustrophobia flared into life, choking him, and he rapidly turned in circles as if another way out would suddenly materialize if he just looked hard enough.
Desperately, he started hitting the emergency buttons and the open door button, already knowing they wouldn't work. All the doors did was breath for a moment.
Screaming swears, Vin slammed a fist into the panel.
The doors slid open an inch.
Vin's mouth fell open, surprised. He could see through the crack that the doors had halted just slightly off from the seventh floor. Smoke from the hallway started to fill up the top of the elevator, excited to find a new space to fill.
Vin stared wild-eyed at the smoke, and then remembered Ezra. Focusing on that one idea -- that he had to get to his friend -- he somehow managed to forget his fear for a few moments. Putting his hands inside the small opening, he pushed and pulled at the doors, yelling with each inch of give he got.
Bit by bit, the doors opened until, with one sudden hiss, they opened completely. The abrupt release caused the ex bounty hunter to fall into the opening of the hallway, the landing's floor at his knees.
Vin almost started laughing, but quickly lost the urge as he saw the black smoke rolling across the seventh floor's ceiling.
In a single fluid move, he jumped up onto the landing and started running straight into the smoke.
Buck tapped the small cell phone repeatedly against his leg as they drove through the tunnel, his nervousness and anger displaying themselves in the repetitive motion. Chris simply gripped the wheel tighter, his eyes focused on the rear lights of the vehicle in front of him.
The midtown tunnel emptied out right into 42nd street. In moments they'd be right under the 4C building.
In the back, Inez and Nettie gripped each other's hands, feeling their hope slipping away. A blackness had filled the older woman's heart, and she felt certain that it wouldn't be long before this whole horrible cycle came to a terrible end.
Damn Royal, Yates and that bastard Spikes. It was probably Spikes or his men that had set fire to her home and business. Her whole life, gone.
Inez gripped Nettie's hand tighter.
The old woman sighed and nodded. I know, she said silently to the Mexican woman next to her. It's too late to turn back now. Much too late.
The tunnel exit appeared at the far end, the black and orange night sky a welcome sight. Almost there.
Chris pressed on the accelerator, getting closer to the car in front. Finally the other car moved over, getting into the lane that would send it down 2nd Avenue. Chris smiled grimly as they shot past the smaller vehicle and out into the night.
And immediately screeched to a halt to avoid ramming a police car.
Red, yellow and blue lights filled the sky as fire trucks and police cars blocked off the wide street. More fire trucks arrived as Chris watched, and all he could do was stare open mouthed at the sight of fire and smoke billowing out of the seventh floor windows of the Four Corners building just a block down on the left.
A cop walked up next to the halted vehicle and indicated for Chris to turn around, but the blond man ignored him. Gunning the accelerator, Chris drove forward past the startled officer and down the street to join the fire trucks, winding in and out of the arriving police cars. The officer that had been sent to direct traffic blew hard on his whistle and ran after him.
Bringing the jeep to a halt near the building's front, Chris jumped out after yelling at Buck to stay with Inez and Nettie, and ran for the building.
A fireman tackled him from behind, and Chris kicked him off. Two more firemen grabbed him as he got up, and though Chris fought hard, they somehow managed to force him to his knees.
"What the hell are you doing!" another fireman yelled, kneeling down in front of Chris. His helmet marked him as a captain.
"Two men are up there! On the seventh floor! I have to help them!" He pulled at the arms restraining him.
"Two men?" The fireman's eyebrows rose. "Are you sure? It's half past four in the morning!"
"They're in there! You have to let me get to them." Chris pulled again, trying to get free. "Damn it, Let me go! Let me GO!"
Several police officers had joined them now, and one of them said something about getting out the cuffs. The captain shook his head at them, then looked back at Chris.
"If they're up there, mister, we'll find them." Standing up, the captain and motioned four of his men over. He quickly explained the situation to them, and the four firemen nodded and ran off to get their air masks and other gear. Then the captain looked back at Chris.
"Listen to me," the captain said, "calm down. If your men are up there, we'll get them out. It's what we do, understand? You have to stay here." The captain stared hard at Chris's eyes for a moment, then nodded when Chris finally lowered his eyes in acquiescence. He captain motioned for the men holding the detective to let him go.
"Now, where are they?"
Chris shook a little as he explained the way to the seventh floor, and to Standish and Sanchez's office. He completed the description with a plea for the captain and his men to hurry. The captain nodded, then went to talk to his men. In moments, the firemen were in the building and making their way to the seventh floor.
Chris stood and backed away a few steps. His legs felt like jelly as he watched the flames. It was happening again. He was going to lose to the fire again.
Something snapped inside the detective, and his legs gave way beneath him. He never even noticed as Buck came to his side, Inez and Nettie right behind him. The small group of people stayed close together, Buck asking Chris to say something, but all Chris could do was stare upwards. Soon all four were staring hopelessly upwards, waiting for some sort of sign.
The police flanked them. Buck had done his best to explain what was happening before going to join Chris, and now, after getting some conformation for his story from Yosemite Garner and some of the cops from Buck and Chris's old precinct, the police had taken up the role of protectors.
Josiah watched as Yosemite put away his radio, the stout officer's expression grave. A few minutes before, a call had come in for the man, and he had left Josiah to answer it. Now, as he came back, his brown eyes watching Josiah carefully, the lawyer knew something more was wrong.
JD was leaning against the wall, one foot tapping on the toe of the other. When he heard Josiah's voice he looked up. Then he too looked over at Yosemite.
"Mr. Sanchez, Mr. Dunne....I'm sorry to have to tell you this, especially now, but there is a fire in the 4C building, on your floor. It looks to have started in your offices."
JD frowned, standing up straight, "A fire? How bad?"
Josiah simply pulled out his cell phone and looked at it. No messages. "He hasn't called me yet," the lawyer whispered. "Why hasn't he called? Chris said he'd call him."
"How bad?" JD repeated, looking at the officer.
"I'm not sure. Its sounded pretty localized," Yosemite answered. "Not enough to harm the building. Probably just your floor."
Josiah looked up, "Do they know if anyone was still in there?"
Hearing the fear in the older man's voice, JD put a hand on Josiah's arm. "It's all right, Josiah. Ezra called us to say he and Vin were leaving, remember? That was ages ago. They're probably meeting up with Chris as we speak."
Yosemite made a strange noise. Sort of like he was being strangled.
JD frowned more deeply, then looked back at the cop.
Yosemite was fingering the radio, looking uncomfortable.
"Is there more?" the kid asked quietly.
"I was just asked to confirm the story of Chris Larabee that he and the people with him needed protection. They arrived in front of the 4C Building at almost the same time as the fire trucks. And...I was also asked to support his belief that two people may still be trapped on the seventh floor."
Yosemite lowered his head as Josiah shut his eyes, and JD fell back against the wall he was leaning on.
"I'm sorry Mr. Sanchez," the cop said. "I know how...." He stopped as the doctor in charge of Nathan's case pushed through the swinging doors.
Upon seeing the men there, the doctor made a beeline for Josiah, his face grim.
Vin had his plaid shirt over his mouth as he pushed down the hallway. He'd picked up the fire extinguisher from the alcove near the stairwell and was holding it before him as much as a weapon as for safety.
He spotted Danny first, the kid still lying on his side against the wall opposite the lawyer's office. Kneeling down next to him to check for a pulse, Vin recognized the face from the description Josiah had given earlier of the "messenger." He was impressed by the bruises and the bloody lip and nose. Someone had given the kid a good battering.
But if it was Ezra, where the hell was he?
Leaving the kid for now, Vin turned to look into the office, keeping his head low. The heat emanating from the room was powerful, nearly knocking him down where he stood. He could feel his energy ebbing as he contemplated going in there.
Stubbornly gritting his teeth, he raised the fire extinguisher up and plunged into the blackness.
Smoke surrounded him like a blanket, though it parted here and there to allow him to see a little. The fire helped some, ironically; at least it shed light and helped him to discern shapes. Moving around, it didn't take him long to discover that Josiah's office door was still closed, and that Ezra's was wide open. Squatting to see better, Vin looked through the open door and saw him.
The lawyer was lying face down on the floor in front of his desk, his head turned away from Vin.
"Ezra!" Vin moved swiftly, forgetting how hot and tired he was, forgetting the smoke in his lungs and the ache in his limbs. Pushing through to the office, spraying the fire extinguisher to make a clearer path, he got inside and knelt down next to his friend.
Pressing his fingers against the man's cool neck, he was thankful to feel a slow if erratic pulse. Looking him over, he frowned when he saw the blood soaked arm. He had no idea how much blood Ezra had lost, but he prayed it wasn't too much. Pulling off his plaid shirt, he wrapped the arm tightly, then turned Ezra over. Pulling the lawyer up, he got the unconscious man to his feet, then tipped him over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. Gingerly, Vin also somehow managed to kneel down and grab the fire extinguisher he had dropped in order to pick Ezra up.
Spraying foam before him, he knocked enough of the fire back to get out of the small room and back into the main office.
Fire flared up suddenly before him, blocking his path and sending him sideways.
Somehow the fire seemed to have gotten worse, or perhaps his fears were finally starting to overcome him. Either way, Vin found himself strangely disoriented as he tried to see through the billowing smoke towards the front door of the main office. If he could just bend down, he thought, he could see under the smoke, but between the burden he carried and the fire at his feet he knew he couldn't. He turned in a circle, not remembering whether the way out was on his left or his right. Was Ezra's office on the right or the left?
The heat was getting worse, and his lungs were threatening to collapse. Ezra was getting heavier by the minute.
Oh God, he thought horribly, we're not going to make it!
Then the smoke parted. Just briefly, but it was enough. He saw the door!
Staggering now, he nearly collapsed as he pressed through the opening and felt the smooth surface of the hallway beneath his feet. His legs dragging, he turned right, towards where he knew the stairs were.
He'd get Ezra out of there. He'd get them both out of there.
Just moments later, he felt Ezra being pulled away from him and the sound of voices. The thought that Yates or Spikes was there, trying to take Ezra away, to kill him, entered his fuzzy mind, and he fought with the voices. He even swung the fire extinguisher around, and felt someone easily grab it away from him.
Then Ezra was taken.
Crying out, he tried to take one more blind swing at the people surrounding him, but without sight or breath he was too weak. He felt someone grab his fist and someone else pushed him down.
And that was all he knew.
Chris regained his feet as he saw the firemen re-emerge from the building, three burdens thrown over their shoulders. Dumbly, he saw the paramedics swarm in and take over, checking over the three men.
Mechanically, he headed over to see if any of them were alive. If Ezra and Vin were dead and the other wasn't....Chris's frown became so deep on his shadowed features it made him look demonic. Nettie sighed and followed him, feeling at a loss as to how to help him.
Buck had an arm around Inez as he followed the other two over to where the paramedics were working. She didn't seem to mind. They saw Vin placed on a blanket, and a red headed young man placed next to him. When asked of their identities, Buck could only properly identify Vin. Inez tilted her head as she saw the former bounty hunter, her memory of the last time she had seen him coming back in full force. Not noticing her bleak expression, Buck walked her over to the messenger and fought the urge to kick him.
"This red headed one is probably the one who started the fire," Buck informed the paramedic attending him. The woman just nodded and went back to her work. Fault meant nothing to her at the moment.
Ezra was placed on a blanket on the other side, and, in the sickly orange streetlights, the blood soaked arm looked ghastly. Another paramedic knelt down next to him, checked the arm then pressed her fingers to his neck.
"No breath, no pulse," she quietly informed her partner, causing Buck to grip Inez's shoulder fiercely. The other paramedic looked up from where she was attaching an oxygen mask to the red head and instantly ordered one of the firemen to get the shock kit from out of the ambulance. Then she joined her partner in administering CPR.
What happened next was a blur to Buck, as bags were ripped and orders yelled. Someone asked him to step back, and he felt Inez lay a hand on his chest to encourage him to do as he was asked. He barely registered that she was there, though he was leaning quite heavily on her now. She never complained.
On Ezra's other side, Vin started to come around, and he did so fighting. He called out for Ezra, demanding to know where they had taken him, but nothing the firefighters said seemed to get through. Eventually, Chris got down next to him and put his face right in Vin's line of sight, one hand on his chest.
"It's all right, Vin. He's safe."
To the firefighter's amazement, that was all it took. The ex bounty hunter settled down immediately, and, after a moment, seemed to fall asleep.
"Heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation," the fireman said to Chris as the private detective stepped back again. "He should be fine. Got a lot of fight in him."
Chris nodded, then looked over at Ezra. They had the shock paddles out now, and the detective had to look away. Facing down 42nd towards the Chrysler, he thought about Josiah, and what he would have to tell him if...if....
"Clear!" the paramedic called, applying the paddles.
"No conversion," her partner stated. "Do it again."
Chris's hands gripped into fists. What would the older man do if he lost both Nathan and Ezra tonight? What would any of them do? How much had he come to think of the seventh floor of that building as his family...and now it was burning.
The Chrysler seemed unusually bright tonight. Very white against the darkness.
"Clear!" the paramedic yelled again, applying the shock paddles for the second time.
"Got a pulse!" the paramedic called to her partner, her hand on Ezra's chest.
All around them, New York's finest breathed a sigh of relief. Buck closed his eyes and Inez felt him loosen his hold on her. Nettie stood watching Chris. She had seen his body flinch when the paramedic yelled out that Ezra had a pulse, but he hadn't turned around yet. He was still staring over at the Chrysler building as if he could see something more in the bright shining lights at its top.
In the background, the paramedics rapidly prepared the three men for transport. As they were lifted up onto the gurneys, Buck asked where they were being taken.
"NYU," the paramedic replied.
"Can you take them to Roosevelt instead? There are people there...."
The paramedic cut him off, "I'm sorry. Your friend there," she pointed to Ezra, "can't afford to wade through the early morning traffic. NYU is the closest. As soon as the doctor's say he is stable, we'll see about moving him. But perhaps you could get in touch with his family? They'll need that at the hospital."
Buck sighed, and nodded.
"Does anyone want to ride in the ambulance with them?" she asked the four people.
"No...we'll follow in our car," Chris said, finally turning around again to join the conversation. "Thank you."
The paramedic nodded, and went to rejoin her partner at Ezra's side. Both he and Vin were being placed in the same ambulance. At Buck's suggestions, the red-headed arsonist was getting his own.
Chris pulled out his cell phone to call Josiah as Buck led the way back to the jeep. The older lawyer was Ezra's family, for all intents and purposes. Legal next of kin, Ezra had named him.
The police ghosting them were barely even noticed now.
Over the phone, Nathan's father had given the okay for the doctor to operate, and, after promising to find Josiah as soon as it was over, the doctor had disappeared back through the emergency doors with an assurance that Nathan would be all right. One bullet had merely grazed the detective's arm, but the other had impacted his stomach. They were going in to repair the damage and had every reason to believe that the operation would be a success. Damage seemed minimal, and the bleeding under control.
Nathan would be all right. It would take him time to recover, but he would be all right.
He was very lucky, the doctor had said.
"It's going to be all right, Josiah." JD was gripping his arm in the waiting room, repeating that phrase over and over like a mantra. But Josiah was somewhere else.
When his phone rang, JD had to answer it. Reaching across Josiah's vest, he pulled the phone from the lawyer's breast pocket.
"Hey Chris...NYU medical, huh? Okay. How...?" JD's eyes shut, and he sighed heavily. The he opened them again. "I'll tell him. Nathan? Doctor says he was lucky....Yeah, I know. They're going to remove his spleen. He'll be here a while. Yeah...Yeah....I'll tell him. Okay. Right."
Hanging up, JD swallowed and saw that Josiah was watching him now.
"Ezra...," JD paused, then plunged on, "They're both alive, Josiah. Vin breathed in too much smoke and got hit by the heat. Ezra has the same problem, but worse. He was...he was also shot, Josiah. But, they've got him stabilized. He's on his way to NYU. The doctor's there will probably be calling you soon here."
Josiah blinked, listening to all of this very carefully. Then he leaned forward and buried his head in his hands.
JD's lower lip trembled, but he stilled it, set his jaw and started rubbing Josiah's back fiercely.
"It'll be all right, Josiah. I promise. It's going to be just fine."
When he first opened his eyes, he couldn't understand what he was looking at. He could see white tubing and some other very bright things, but he didn't know what any of them meant.
He was also painfully aware that he hurt. His throat hurt the most, then his arm, and then his feet. Why his feet hurt, he didn't know. Probably because he could barely move them. And his back hurt. Everything hurt.
A tear leaked from one eye.
Sounds assaulted him next, including some odd beeping and, in the background, voices. He tried to hear what the voices were saying, but they were muffled. Behind a door. He heard someone laughing. Someone else sounded like they were shouting.
Where was he?
He tilted his head and tried to see more of the room. He exulted when he managed to move not just his head, but his body as well. His legs shifted and some of the pain in his back lessened for a moment.
At the same time, he realized that there had been something warm holding his hand. He noticed it because it went away when he moved. His fingers curled, wanting the warmth back but afraid because he didn't know who had been holding his hand.
Without conscious thought, he lifted his arm and reached out, and he felt Josiah take his hand again. Then the man in question leaned over and placed his other warm hand on Ezra's forehead.
Ezra wanted to smile, but all he could do was stare up at Josiah, and hope the other man could read his gaze. Josiah smiled. He could.
"You're in Roosevelt Hospital, son. Nathan is in the bed next to yours. You both got banged up a bit, but you are also both going to be okay." Josiah lifted his hand and brushed Ezra's hair back from his forehead. Ezra just continued to watch him.
"You've been here about four days," Josiah continued, "and I've had this conversation with you before. But, this time, I think you can actually hear me now. Am I right?" He looked down at Ezra, and the lawyer blinked once, slowly. Josiah smiled again. It looked like a yes to him and he put both his hands around Ezra's.
"Good. Listen, you need your rest, but I wanted to let you know that Yates is in custody, along with most of their flunkeys, and Bob Spikes is on the run. Those papers you had Vin take downstairs had a wealth of information in them. Once Vin showed me how you deciphered them, it was a piece of cake to read through the rest." He took a breath, and Ezra blinked.
"Inez Roscillos has also given her statement," Josiah said, unconsciously rubbing Ezra's hand to warm it. "The INS is letting her stay in the country pending a hearing on a motion I've submitted to get Vin's case dismissed on the basis of the new evidence, and pending the trial of Yates and Spikes. I've also instituted the papers to try and get her a visa, ostensibly in return for her testimony. I believe that, if we sponsor her, there should be no problem." Josiah shook his head as Ezra's face screwed up a little at the idea, but luckily the man couldn't argue in his current state so the older lawyer plunged on.
"Anyway, Nettie Wells has also promised to testify, though I'm not sure how much help her testimony will be. Seems she stayed as much out of the loop as possible to protect Casey. Still, she'll do what she can. The best news is, there is every sign that Vin may not have to go to trial after the hearing. But even if he does, I doubt it the prosecutor will make much of a case. When you're better, I'll tell you about it."
Josiah stopped, as, somewhere around the news that Vin may not have to go to trial, Ezra had closed his eyes again. Sighing heavily, he sat back down in his chair.
"I know you can't hear me anymore, but I wanted you to know that it's all right that you couldn't save Travis's papers on Guy Royal. The man is slippery, son. And he's still out there. But, at the moment, he's no longer interested in us. Vin's free, or just about. We're just going to have to be satisfied with that." He nodded to himself, as if he were trying to convince himself as much as he was trying to convince Ezra.
Josiah looked up at the clock then back at Ezra. In a few moments, JD would come and replace him so he could go and work some more on Vin's case, but for now he was happy just to watch Ezra breath.
Over next to the other bed, Buck was sitting with his feel propped up on Nathan's bed, asleep in his chair. He'd been switching off with Chris in watching over their apprentice. Nathan seemed to be recovering quickly, far better than Ezra. He was already in physical therapy, and Buck and Chris had been told he was already moving well beyond what the doctors had expected. It seemed he was especially responding to the fact that Buck kept calling him a hero. Though Nathan pretended not to care what the other's thought of him, having JD gushing over him and both Buck and Chris praising him had kept a smile on Nathan's face.
Truth is, Nathan was actually awake and listening alternately to Buck's snoring and Josiah's quiet speech to Ezra. The apprentice smiled, thinking how glad he was that all his friends were still on one piece. They'd done good, he thought, using one of Buck's favorite phrases.
And from the sounds of it, Ezra would soon be able to start arguing with him again.
Yeah, Nathan decided, this really was a good, good day.
Vin stood in the blackened offices, his gray eyes taking in the charred bookcases and the piles of ash at his feet. Josiah's door was open, revealing a fairly intact room only damaged by smoke, but Ezra's office was practically impassable. After almost a week, water still dripped from the walls in places and the smell of burning was overwhelming. Even with all the windows open to allow in the summer breeze, the rooms couldn't shake the smell of fire.
As he kicked a bit of burnt paper, Chris wandered in and leaned against the ruined doorframe. The detective sniffed, coughed and gave Vin a slight smile.
"Place never looked neater," he remarked dryly, crossing his arms. Vin raised an eyebrow, and shook his head.
"Luckily," Chris continued, watching as Vin knelt down to sift through some of the blackened rubbish for anything intact, "Buck's and my office is unscathed. Fire was contained in here. Everything smells a bit, but other than that...;" he shrugged. Vin stood up and walked over to Josiah's office to look inside.
"I'm responsible for this," the ex bounty hunter said quietly. "All their work, their papers...Ezra and Nathan in the hospital."
Chris shrugged, "Yup."
He smiled as Vin gave him a dirty look.
"Look Tanner," Chris said, walking inside and shifting some of the mess with his feet, "Most of this stuff JD had transferred to the computer. The hard disks were safe in the closet in Josiah's office, and the rest is stored on the office's network that the kid set up. It's been his life for a year now, ever since they hired him. Sure there are some things they won't get back, but Ezra and Josiah are very clever. Somehow they'll work this to the advantage of their clients and themselves. I promise you."
Vin just shook his head.
Chris leaned down and picked up a Sanchez & Standish business card that somehow escaped with only a burnt edge. He rolled it around his fingers.
"You can't escape fate, Vin. You didn't set this all in motion, you know. Not even Travis did that. You're just another unlucky jerk in the wrong place."
Vin snorted, "Maybe, but if I hadn't hired Josiah and Ezra, you and the others wouldn't...."
"What? You'd have gone to jail or even the chair for a crime you didn't commit? Let Yates and Spikes get away with it?"
Vin shrugged. Chris scowled.
"Suppose you'd gone with the public defender's office, Tanner. How much time do you think they have to investigate each of their clients? The police had already given up on you, and once they do, the PD's office often just makes do. They have no time, no money and even less patience. With no one to interfere, Inez may never have run from Yates; And when Royal and Spikes got tired of Nettie and Casey, who would have rescued them from beneath that burning trapdoor?"
Vin just shrugged again. Chris sighed.
"Ezra and Nathan are alive, Vin. Yates is going behind bars. Spikes is on the run, and Royal's taken a low profile. Inez Roscillos has a shot at living here legally, and Casey and Nettie Wells have the chance to start anew. Those are all good things."
Vin shrugged, and looked around again.
Chris watched him for a moment, then walked over to stand in front of him in order to catch Vin's eye.
"Believe me, Tanner, things could have gone far worse. You did everything you were supposed to. And you were there to get Ezra when he needed you."
"Yeah?" Vin challenged, meeting his eyes, "What do you know about it? If I'd been just a minute later, Ezra would have died in this fire! Then how would you feel about me, Larabee?"
Chris just stared at him hard for a moment, until Vin looked away, abashed. Then the detective walked back to the door.
"Let's just say I know something about not being on time, Tanner," he said darkly.
Vin shut his eyes, feeling, as usual, that he was missing something. As he tried to figure out what it was, Chris sighed and looked down at his watch.
"It's time, Vin."
The former bounty hunter was stirring some of the ashes with his foot. At Chris's statement, he looked up. Chris's face had gone stony. Any openness the detective had shown him a moment before was gone. For some reason, Vin knew he had really screwed up somehow.
The detective frowned, looking back at him, "What? Why?"
Vin gave him a wry smile, "For being an idiot."
Chris watched him a moment longer, then smiled as well. "Yeah well, you're in good company on this floor." He tapped his watch, "We need to leave, or there won't be enough time to get you to your hearing."
Vin took in a deep breath and nodded, "Then let's get this over with."
"This is a hearing regarding the People versus Vin Tanner," the judge said, reading off the document in front of him. He looked up at Vin, "You have been accused of the murder of Stephen Travis, former District Attorney for the city of New York. This hearing is to determine whether, in the light of new evidence, there is still enough to warrant a trial."
Josiah patted Vin's shoulder as the judge looked over at the prosecutor.
"Mr. Staines?" the judge asked.
Russell Staines stood up and shuffled some of his papers. He looked tired, as all government lawyers generally do, and somewhat withdrawn.
"Your honor, at this time the people are still not certain as to the veracity of the new evidence. The defense's primary witness is an illegal alien, clearly a crime of fraud and dishonesty. Consequently, her credibility as a witness is seriously undermined and the State would argue that a jury would need to weigh that...."
"Yes, yes," the judge waived a hand. "The point is obvious. No," he leaned forward on his bench, "what I want to know is, what about the new evidence that there were others in the Black Rose that night? Men with actual motives to kill DA Travis as well as opportunity. I have read nothing here to establish that you have a motive for Mr. Tanner. Or am I wrong about this?"
The prosecutor wiped a hand over his eyes and sighed, "At this time, your honor, we have not pinpointed an actual motive. However, we can not rule out the possibility that Mr. Tanner was an accomplice at the very least, perhaps for money. The evidence of the gun in his hands and the powder on his hands along with the convenience of his memory loss and his proximity to the body suggest...."
"Yes, thank you Mr. Staines. I can read. I just wanted to see how vehemently you could defend your position, which, I might add, is not particularly deep. Now, Mr. Sanchez...is Mr. Standish going to be joining us today?" The judge looked questioningly at the older lawyer. Josiah stood and sighed.
"I'm sorry, your honor, but no."
"Don't tell me he's trying to withdraw without leave again," the judge said wryly. Josiah's eyes flew up from the paper he held in his hand to stare fixedly at the judge's face. The judge's small smile fell.
"My partner is in the hospital, your honor. And I would appreciate it if you did not bring up his past history again."
The judge's eyes narrowed slightly, and he shifted in his seat. Next to Josiah, Vin frowned, confused, but didn't say anything.
"Well, regardless, Mr. Sanchez, Mr. Staines has brought up some valid points."
"Yes your honor, he has. However, I believe that, despite Mr. Staines' arguments to the contrary, our witness's credibility will be obvious on the stand, and that her testimony will overcome all doubt as to the innocence of my client. She is the only witness to the events of that evening, and her story corresponds with the evidence the DA has, including filling in all his holes. There will be little or no fact finding for a jury to do once they hear her, which is why I would argue that a trial is, in the end, simply not necessary. And, finally, of course, as you yourself have already pointed out, your honor, there is still no motive in this case."
The judge nodded and looked behind Josiah. "Is your witness here, Mr. Sanchez?"
"Yes your honor." Josiah looked behind him as well. Inez sat wrapped in a shawl over a simple dress. Chris sat on one side and Buck on the other. She looked small, a little apprehensive, but also somehow proud.
"Well then, let's hear her," the judge waved Inez up. She looked at Josiah, surprised.
"Hearing's tend to be a little informal, Inez," the lawyer assured her. "Go on."
Nervously, she stood up and walked past Chris to the aisle. In moments she was sitting next to the judge and he swore her in.
"Ms. Roscillos," the judge said, smiling at her, "do you understand why you are here?"
"To tell you what happened?"
The judge shook his head, "Close enough. Go ahead."
Inez looked at Vin, then at the floor before she started speaking. Taking a deep breath, she looked up and began.
"I met Stephen Travis well over a year ago, when he was introduced to me by Nettie Wells. She owns the bar I managed," she explained. The judge nodded at her to continue.
"Anyway," she continued, "I knew that Mr. Travis was looking for information on a group of gentlemen who worked for Guy Royal, a lodger – if you can call him that – of the Black Rose. Marshal Yates and Bob Spikes both worked for him. I suppose that, because of my...status as an illegal, they didn't have much problem talking around me. With Nettie's encouragement, I took what I learned to Mr. Travis. I rarely learned anything concrete, but I suppose some of what I could tell him was useful, as he used to pay me well for it. He was a good man." She sighed and looked at Vin.
"The last piece of information I gave Mr. Travis concerned a new arrival in town, someone Marshal Yates had mentioned he was very excited to see. An old friend, Yates called him, Eli Joe. When I informed Mr. Travis, he seemed particularly interested in this. I guess this Eli Joe was a notorious drug runner and killer, not too mention being wanted by the police. Mr. Travis thought that perhaps this was the connection he was looking for to tie Guy Royal to some sort of drug deal. And the only way Mr. Travis thought he could definitively make that connection was to come to the Black Rose and try to overhear their conversation." She shook her head.
"I did try to talk him out of it, but he wouldn't listen. I told him that Royal knew the bar too well, that even if I could sneak Mr. Travis in, where would I hide him?" She shrugged, "In the end, it didn't matter what I said. Mr. Travis came about three days before he died and I hid him in the bar's basement. It was all I could think of. I figured, so long as I could stop anyone else from going down there for supplies, it would be all right. So, for two days Mr. Travis listened at the pipes, waiting for Eli Joe to arrive, at which point, I was supposed to find a way to get Mr. Travis upstairs and into the room next to Royal's office."
She stopped, her voice having cracked on the last sentence. Wiping a tear from her eye, she took another deep breath.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. The judge nodded and handed her a handkerchief. She smiled at him, then returned to her story.
"Anyway, about the same time that I hid Mr. Travis in the basement, Mr. Tanner there arrived at the bar. I remember watching him, because he always seemed to be waiting for someone. He came every night at the same time." She nodded at Vin, while he studiously examined the grain of the wood of the table in front of him.
She shook her head then. "Three days later, Eli Joe arrived. He walked in like he owned the place, shook hands with Marshal Yates, and disappeared upstairs. As I was going to fetch Mr. Travis from the basement, Yates stepped over and blocked my way. He just smiled, and told me that he would fetch my burden for me. Before I knew what was happening, I saw Stephen Travis at the door to the storeroom, looking very worried. Bob Spikes was at his back, and I am guessing there was a gun in his back. As Mr. Travis was taken upstairs, Yates joined me behind the bar. All I could do was stand there as he took over. That was when Mr. Tanner there arrived again." She paused and swallowed hard.
"Mr. Tanner sat at the bar, ordered a drink and went about his business as he always does. I saw Yates uncork a bottle of whiskey and pour Mr. Tanner a drink. Then, when Mr. Tanner's back was turned, hr dropped something into it. I...I wanted to say something but...." she shook her head, and her shoulders trembled.
"Mr. Tanner was barely conscious when Yates ordered me to help him upstairs, and I could hear that they were whispering in his ear about Eli Joe being upstairs. When we got there, I saw they had bound Mr. Travis to a chair. Mr. Tanner was sat opposite him, though I don't think he was awake any more, and Eli Joe drew Mr. Tanner's gun, still whispering in his ear that he was going to shoot Eli Joe. At that point, I was led from the room. Yates led me back downstairs and out the back. As he had me get into his car, I heard the shots from upstairs. I knew then that...."
She stopped, her breathing coming out in gasps as she recalled the image of seeing Travis staring at her with those pleading eyes. She might as well have killed him herself. It had all been a set up, and she had walked right into it. More tears fell down her face, and she had to cover it with her hands to hide her shame.
"So...you did not actually see DA Travis's murder," the judge commented.
Inez shook her head, lowering her hands to her lap. "No. Yates took me to his home, and I was kept there until Mr. Larabee and Mr. Wilmington came to get me." She looked over at the two detectives and tried to smile. Then she looked back down at her hands in her lap. "But there is no way Mr. Tanner could have pulled the trigger in the state he was in without help, your honor. They pulled that trigger for him, then set him up. Of this I am certain."
The judge watched her a moment, then looked across at the prosecutor.
"Mr. Staines, do you seriously doubt the credibility of this witness?"
The prosecutor stood up upon being named and stammered a little. "You honor...."
"It seems to me that what she says makes a great deal of sense, don't you think? It certainly explains all those holes you had. I also believe her role as Travis's informant has been amply corroborated both by paper evidence, by Mary Travis and by Nettie Wells. Do you seriously think a jury will not see the truth of her statement?"
the prosecutor stood watching Inez for a moment, then looked down at his papers.
"No your honor."
"Also, am I right to say that you are also yourself counting on Ms. Roscillos' testimony in your trial against Marshal Yates and Bob Spikes, once the latter is apprehended?"
"So, she speaks the truth one day and lies the next, is that it?"
Staines didn't even bother to reply. The judge shook his head.
"Well, then, I guess it is a lucky thing that the trials will be simultaneous, generally preventing the jury from knowing how two-faced the prosecutor's office is being."
"Yes, your honor," Staines replied perfunctorily. The judge watched him a moment, then clicked his tongue and looked back down at the papers in front of him.
"Unfortunately," the judge said, "I can not be the final word on what a jury would say. However, Mr. Staines, may I recommend that your office spend some more time deciding whether they really want to continue with this case against Mr. Tanner? I for one believe it will be a colossal waste of time and money on your part."
The prosecutor sighed, and nodded. "Yes, your honor."
"Good. You may step down Ms. Roscillos." The judge nodded at Inez, and she smiled slightly at him before moving to return to her seat. The judge sighed again and looked at Josiah and Vin as soon as she was seated.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Sanchez, although I would very much like to say your new evidence is undeniable, there is still some questions that can only be determined by a jury. This case is held over for trial." And he rang out the gavel.
Vin's shoulder's slumped. Josiah frowned. Inez buried her head in her hands again, and Buck patter her back. Chris just leaned back and looked at the ceiling.
The prosecutor watched the small group with tired eyes, then shook his head. Reaching over he held his hand out to Josiah. The lawyer looked at it a moment before taking it.
"Nice job, Russell," the lawyer said quietly.
Staines shook his head. "I'll see what I can do about getting the office to back off, Josiah," he promised, just as quietly. "The judge is right. There is no point in this."
Josiah's smile returned in full force.
"They dropped the case?" Ezra was grinning as Josiah wheeled his chair down the corridor of the 4C building. Vin was scratching at his head and nodding.
"They called this morning," Josiah answered for the still amazed Vin. "With Inez's testimony and the fact that Bob Spikes was captured last night, they don't need Vin anymore."
"Spikes was captured?" Ezra leaned his head back to look up at Josiah. The older lawyer chuckled.
"Cried like a baby, so they say," Buck said, holding open the doors of the elevator. "Spilled his guts about Yates and Eli Joe like a stuck pig. He clammed up about Royal, though. Guess he's not as dumb as he looks. Still, I wouldn't warrant him lasting long when they finally send him down the river."
"Wow," Ezra shook his head as Josiah wheeled him into the box. Vin tipped his fingers at them, then walked away with Chris to go take the stairs.
"Yeah, pretty amazing," Buck agreed.
"No, I was talking about your ability to use a cliché in almost every sentence. Do you practice that? Or did you just watch too many John Wayne movies as a kid?"
Buck scowled as Josiah started to laugh so hard he went red. Ezra continued to grin, and finally Buck had to join in. Nothing kept the gregarious cowboy upset for very long.
"So," Ezra said as the elevator ground to a halt on the fifth floor, "What about Royal and Eli Joe? Is anything going to happen about them?"
Josiah shook his head as Buck answered, the cowboy holding the elevator doors again.
"Nah, Royal's still out there. He'll probably lay low for a while, but, as far as anyone knows, he's still clean. At least, although he's pissed off at us, I don't think he's worried we'll do him any harm now. Should leave Vin and us alone. As for Eli Joe, my guess is he took off as soon as he did his part in murdering Stephen Travis. He's probably hiding out someplace way out there, like Idaho, Alabama or Worcester, Mass. Price on him will go up, though."
Ezra's brow creased as Josiah pushed him towards the second set of elevators to go up to the seventh floor.
"Yeah. That's where crazy people live," Buck informed him seriously. "Why do you think Freud and Jung spent so much time there? And don't get me started on those other places...."
Ezra was blinking furiously now, "Freud and Jung? How do you...."
"Son, some things are best left unexplored," Josiah interrupted sagely. At that moment, the elevator to the seventh floor opened and they got on. Ezra did his best to stifle his curiosity.
Moments later they were rolling down the marble hallway, and Ezra's nose crinkled at the smell of turpentine and paint. The walls were still stained by smoke, but someone, probably the building's owner, had begun to paint them over. There were paint cans against the wall.
The lawyer's hackles began to rise as they neared the office, and he tried to hide his fear of remembering his last moments here. Clearly he did not do as good a job as he thought he did, as Josiah laid a hand on his shoulder and Buck had gotten more serious.
Shutting his eyes, he let Josiah push the chair through the door before he opened his eyes.
JD looked up from where he'd been shoveling ash into a can. Vin and Chris were standing and looking around, as if trying to determine where to begin.
"My God," Ezra breathed, his eyes wide, taking in the black. "It's really...it's really destroyed."
"We'll rebuild, Ezra," Josiah said confidently. "It'll take time, but...."
"With what?" Ezra said sharply. "We were already low on funds, Josiah. We haven't the money to repair this place, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if the landlord took this opportunity to...."
"He won't," said a new voice from the door. It was an older voice, and Ezra cringed upon hearing it.
Great, the young lawyer thought, just when you think it can't get worse.
"Judge Travis," Chris greeted, walking over and sticking out a hand. "It's good to see you again."
"Likewise, Mr. Larabee," Travis replied, pushing up the glasses on his face and taking the hand, "and to see you as well, Josiah."
"Orrin," Josiah had a hand on Ezra's shoulder. The young lawyer shook it off and got to his feet. He was weak, but he wasn't an invalid. The judge raised an eyebrow.
"Please, Mr. Standish, no need to stand on my account."
"All rise," Ezra said quietly, "it seems wrong to break the tradition."
The judge pursed his lips, then started to chuckle. "Have it your way, Mr. Standish. Now, where is Mr. Tanner?"
Vin was standing next to Buck, his face unreadable at meeting Stephen Travis's father for the first time. As the judge mentioned his name, he stepped forward, his mouth opening, ready to apologize for his part in Travis's son's death.
"Judge Travis, I'm....."
"Ah, Mr. Tanner, it is good to finally meet you," the judge said, his smile fading to a steady gaze. "I understand that you are something of a hero?"
Vin's eyebrows shot up. That was not what he was expecting to hear.
"From the police reports I read on you, I saw that you not only intervened in saving Josiah's life a few weeks back, but that you rescued Mr. Standish from the fire that ruined this office." He looked around the black walls, then at Ezra, who looked a bit surprised at the news (no one had told him that), and then back to Vin. The former bounty hunter was still looking puzzled.
"Mr. Tanner," the judge stepped forward, "I came because I wanted to tell you that I know you had no part in the death of my son. I paid your bail for that reason. I am also," he looked around at the others, "thankful to both you and to the men you hired for finding out who did kill him. I am extremely grateful that both Marshal Yates and Bob Spikes have been brought to justice. I admit, I would have wished for my son's sake that Guy Royal had joined them, but that will come someday, I am certain."
Vin swallowed then smiled, "I...uh....thank you....Judge Travis."
Travis shook his head, "Thank you, Mr. Tanner."
Vin continued to smile and shook his head, backing up to stand next to Buck again.
"Judge Travis?" Ezra was leaning on Josiah a little now, but still on his feet. The judge looked over at him.
"For Heaven's sake, boy, sit down before your partner has to catch you again," Travis said sternly. Ezra's face went red, and he simply stood up straighter, taking all his weight off of Josiah.
"Judge Travis, I was merely going to inquire as to what you meant when you arrived. You intimated that our landlord would not...."
"That is because he won't. Your landlord, Herbert Conklin, is an old friend of mine. I convinced him that it was in his best interests to let you stay." He gave a wry smile, indicating that the idea that Conklin was an "old friend" meant that he was as much a friend as Ezra was.
Ezra sighed, "Oh. Well then, thank you."
"Oh no, on the contrary," the judge wandered further into the room and kicked at some of the ash. "I merely consider it to be only part of the fee I owe."
Josiah frowned, "fee?"
"Certainly. Upon Mr. Tanner's bail being returned to me, I have decided to use that money to pay for your services." The judge held up a hand as both Vin and Josiah appeared about to object, "Now, this does not mean that I ever believed myself to have been your client, sirs, but as an interested third party, I am willing to pay on Mr. Tanner's behalf. Now, let's see...." He reached into his pocket for his wallet, at which point Vin stepped forward again.
"Please, Judge Travis, I wish you wouldn't...."
"Now, now, Vin," Ezra finally chose to sit back down, and he smiled up at the former bounty hunter, "If the judge wishes to do this, I don't see a need to dissuade him." He smiled broadly, and for the first time, Vin noticed the man had a gold tooth. Vin couldn't resist chuckling, the snake-oil salesman he had first met was back. Luckily, the judge didn't seem to notice.
"I believe that a fair price would be twenty thousand, plus expenses," the judge said. "Now, between the price of the medical fees, the damage to your office and the price for the services of the Larabee Agency, I would assume that the total would reach closer to forty thousand." He put the checkbook down and scribbled the amount onto a check. Ripping it off, he handed it over to Josiah. The older lawyer stared at it a moment, before looking up with a broad smile, almost wide enough to challenge Ezra's earlier one.
"Thank you, sir," Josiah said. The judge shrugged.
"Put it to good use," the judge replied, "and you may find there will be more work coming your way as well. I plan to put a good word in for you." The judge tipped his hat at them, and looked at Ezra. "Including you, Mr. Standish. Believe it or not, though what you did to come before me those few years ago was reprehensible, I did understand why you did it. I am the only reason you held onto your license sir. Today I am glad I did."
Ezra just stared, his mouth slightly open.
"Well, gentlemen," the judge turned and shook both Vin and Chris's hand again, "Thank you again, and good luck." Tipping his hat again, he turned and ghosted back out the door.
Josiah looked down at the check in his hand and started laughing. JD walked over and took it from him.
"I'll take this down to the bank," the kid smiled, heading towards the door. "We'll be needing it for all the construction we're going to do."
"Don't forget our fee," Buck replied, following him. "I'd best make sure you do that right."
"Buck, JD, wait," Chris said, causing the men to pause in the door. Buck raised an eyebrow, and, when Chris nodded, the cowboy smiled. Draping an arm across JD's shoulder, he forced the boy to wait with him in the doorway.
Chris turned to Vin, "I was wondering, Tanner, what you were planning to do now?"
Vin frowned, looking at Buck and JD then back at Chris. "I, uh, well, I guess I hadn't really thought about it."
"You going back to bounty hunting?" Buck asked, raising his chin.
Vin shook his head, "Are you kidding? No. I've had enough of that life. I don't know...maybe I'll head back to Texas, find out what I'm qualified for and try to get some sort of job...."
"What exactly are you qualified for?" Buck needled, "And why go back to Texas? You got people waiting for you there or something?"
Vin frowned more deeply, not liking the man's tone. "You trying to say something there, Buck?"
"What he's trying to say, Vin, is that you seem pretty qualified for what we do," Chris said, watching Vin carefully.
"What you do?"
"We were wondering how you'd feel about joining us? Getting your PI license?"
Vin's frown fell instantly, and he stared at Chris like the man had just offered him a piece of a goldmine.
"Are you serious?"
"We talked it over with Nathan at the hospital yesterday, and he loved the idea." Buck said. "Of course, he was in a pretty good mood since we told Mr. Jackson that we submitted his name to get his license himself. By the end of the week, we'll be without an apprentice. You want to take his place?"
Vin laughed, shaking his head, "Well...what does it pay?"
Chris smiled, "I don't know. What do you think, Buck, dollar a day sound fair?"
Buck chuckled and Vin stepped forward with his hand out, "Sounds more than generous, Larabee. I'll take it."
Chris laughed and took Vin's hand, shaking it firmly.
"Well all right!" Buck said, slapping JD on the back. The kid staggered forward a little, and turned around to hit Buck on the arm.
Vin, meanwhile, moved to shake Buck and JD's hands, then turning to face Ezra and Josiah. "Well, looks like you guys are never going to be rid of me."
"Guess not," Josiah grinned, reaching out to shake the new apprentice's hand. At the same moment, Ezra held up a finger and looked askance at the others.
"Wait, wait, I have a question," the lawyer said, causing them all to look at him. "If Mr. Tanner is staying.... Where exactly will he be living?"
Vin just grinned, and Ezra groaned.
Outside, a few people looked up as the sounds of howling laughter drifted down from the open windows on the seventh floor of the Four Corners building. Shaking their heads, they continued on their way down 42nd street as the sounds of New York crowded in to absorb it all.
Just another story in a city full of them.
The End...for now.
Thanks for reading! And tell me what you think! Please!
P.S. I know I left loose ends. What would a good pilot be without some loose ends?