Ezra straightened his tie and knocked twice on Chris' office door.
Hearing Chris's voice, Ezra opened the door slowly and stepped inside. Chris motioned to the chair in front of his desk. Ezra sat and waited for Chris to finish what he was reading.
Chris Larabee was frustrated and angry at his very creative and clever con man. Ezra had long been a thorn in Chris' side that he tolerated because there was no one better at his job. With his style, language and quick intelligence, Ezra was able to set up deals and improvise if the 'bust' didn't go as planned. On the other hand, he was irritating with his lateness, his constant habit of "disappearing" for hours only to come back with the information the team needed. He needed this man's talents. He just couldn't figure out how to control the man. Now if what Nathan said was true, Ezra had injured one of their own by his carelessness. Chris knew Ezra felt terrible about what happened, but Chris felt he had to address the issue.
"Ez? What am I gonna do with you?" Closing the folder he was reading, Chris sighed and leaned back in his chair.
Ezra looked at his hands and shook his head slowly. "Mr. Larabee. I am truly, truly sorry for the incident with my car this morning. I was wrong. I was, as is my want, running late and let my attention wander from the task of operating my car." Ezra paused for a breath and Chris cut him off.
"Standish. You were speeding. You were late and you injured one of our own agents. A replacement sharpshooter for Paul. We've got a bust tomorrow evening and you manage to take out the only replacement high man in the area." Ezra started to open his mouth.
"Don't Ez. You know you were wrong. I understand that your jacket was damaged in an effort to make Mr. Tanner more comfortable after you hit him. Now that may seem a terrible price to pay for you, but we both know you aren't that shallow." Chris stopped as Ezra raised a hand. "Something you want to say?"
"Mr. Larabee. I am acutely aware that I was responsible for this incident. I am more than willing to make reparation to Agent Tanner." Ezra raised a hopeful smile on his face.
"Reparation? Hmm... Yeah I like that. A new pair of jeans shouldn't break your clothing allowance. No, I'm thinking that you need to be Agent Tanner's personal assistant tonight. I want this young man to be able to climb up nine flights of stairs and lay on a rooftop and protect your ass tomorrow night. I'm assuming you want that too?" Chris watched
Ezra nod his head.
"I will be more than happy to give Mr. Tanner a ride home. Purchase a pair of jeans. Or assist him in any other way to heal." Ezra didn't like the feral like grin Chris was displaying. Calculating that his next twenty-four hours were going to be dedicated to the personal care of the injured sharpshooter, Ezra closed his eyes and simply nodded his head. "Whatever you desire, Mr. Larabee. I am at your disposal."
"No, not my disposal but Vin Tanner's. Nathan says he's got a badly bruised hip and cheekbone. He refuses to take any pain medication because he doesn't want it to interfere with his job tomorrow." Chris glared at Ezra until the con man lower his eyes. "You've got a personal masseuse. I'm assuming that you have an appointment with him tonight. You usually do the night before a buy, am I right?"
Ezra was beginning to get the picture and not liking the way it was going. "But ...I need that massage. I...I can't be tense. I depend on my routine to help me with quick thinking and on the spot..."
Chris cut him off. " Yeah well you had better hope that your personal masseuse can accommodate both of you. Get my drift?"
"I understand completely Mr. Larabee. Agent Tanner will recover sufficiently under my administration." Feeling that the subject had been covered Ezra stood and started to leave.
"Oh. And one other thing. Check out an ATF unit. Your Jag stays in your parking lot until tomorrow when you need it." Chris turned his chair away from Ezra so he could hide the smile he was wearing.
"Mr. Larabee, I really must protest. This disregard for my image...The status I must maintain in my role as..." Ezra got no immediate reply from Chris. That made him even more nervous. So he stopped talking.
Chris turned his chair slowly toward Ezra. "Sorta like the disregard you had for Agent Tanner when you ran him down?"
Ezra caught the car keys Chris tossed him and left the office with out further comment. If his mother had taught him anything, it was to cut his losses. This seemed like one of those times.
Ezra was settling himself at his desk at the moment when Nathan and Vin Tanner stepped into the door of the office. Nathan held the door for Vin as the sharpshooter moved inside. Taking short steps and keeping his left knee straight, Vin was able to tolerate most of the pain in this method.
Nathan showed him to Chris's office and Vin reluctantly stepped inside.
Coming around his desk, Chris took in the pale face and the blood stained jeans of his new agent. "Vin? You okay?"
"I'm fine." Vin looked Chris straight in the eyes not flinching. "I'll be ready for tomorrow night."
Chris let his gauze move to Nathan. "Nathan?"
Nathan shook his head and held out Vin's discharge papers. "He's supposed to be resting and staying off that leg. He should be taking Motrin for inflammation and codeine for pain. Instead he's up walking and talking about going out to the range after our meeting." Giving the papers to Chris, Nathan just shook his head.
"He all right?" Chris asked Vin studying the papers before him.
"Agent Larabee. I've been taking care of myself since I was small. I've been hurt before and I know what I can handle. I can handle this." Vin held Chris's gaze.
Seeing Nathan smile, Chris cocked his head in the paramedic's direction. "Nathan?"
"I think Vin knows what he can do, Chris. I know he wouldn't put any of us in danger. I've got a few things in my bag for him later." His smile grew larger when Vin gave him a suspicions look.
"Okay then let's get started with this meeting. Vin? Agent Standish has arranged for you to have a massage later and will be driving you back and forth to your apartment tonight." Seeing the look of horror on Vin's face, Chris smiled and put a reassuring hand on Vin's shoulder. "Don't worry. I took away his silver toy. Our agency cars have trouble getting above thirty-five. Okay, brunch is in the conference room. Let's get this meeting started."
Vin eased himself out of the chair and followed Nathan and Chris out of the door. Taking a big breath, he tried to calm his nerves at meeting the rest of Team 7.
Vin settled himself in the seat Chris indicated. He was placed between Josiah and Nathan and Vin knew that Chris was trying to make feel more comfortable. He already knew these two men and recognized Ezra by the accent in his voice. Vin nodded and returned the young agent called JD's silent greeting. Vin didn't recognize the tall handsome man at the far end of the table glaring at him. Vin broke contact with the man's eyes when Chris cleared his throat.
"Okay let's get the introductions over." Chris indicated Vin with a nod of his head and continued. "This is Vin Tanner. He's our sharpshooter for this job. Everyone but Ezra and Buck has had a chance to meet Vin officially. Ezra sort of ran into him in the garage." Chris watched as the entire team chuckled at Ezra's expense. Vin lowered his eyes and tried to sink into the chair. "So Mr. Standish? Officially meet Mr. Tanner." Chris gestured and Vin returned Ezra's nod. "Buck, this is Vin Tanner. Vin? Buck Wilmington." Buck briefly met Vin's eyes and then made a display of pouring himself a glass of water.
"We gonna get on with this Chris? We're already behind cause of Tanner's trip to the emergency room." Buck ignored Nathan's glare and caught Chris off guard.
Chris studied Buck and gave him a questioning look. He hadn't seen Buck react this way about anyone before. Buck was usually the most open and receptive. As far as Chris knew Vin and Buck had never meet. Picking up the papers in front of him, Chris began a minute by minute breakdown of what was supposed to happen tomorrow.
Vin eased himself off his left hip and stifled a groan as the bruised areas of his body were stretched. A glass of water appeared in front of him and he took it gratefully from Josiah's hand. Gulping the water he focused on the display board as Chris went over again the positions for each man. Vin still didn't like the position that had been picked for him, but he knew he would have to let it ride this time.
"Okay, that's it. Any questions?" Chris let his gaze fall on each of the team. Josiah reminded each man to check out communications equipment and extra batteries before leaving. Nathan looked pointedly at Ezra and threatened anyone not wearing body armor with acute and prolonged pain.
Buck quickly grabbed JD and led him out into the outer office. Gesturing wildly, Buck kept giving Vin sideways glances. JD shook his head and turned away. "Buck. You're so full of shit. You don't know if any of that is true." Sitting down JD booted his computer and checked his email.
Vin remained sitting after everyone had left. Pretending to study pictures of Ezra and JD's targets, he waited until he thought everyone was out of sight before getting up. Wincing he paused as he eased his weight onto his left leg. It hurt more than he wanted to admit. Cursing his luck, Vin walked slowly to the door and started toward the elevators.
Chris saw Vin moving with great care from the conference room. Getting Nathan's attention, Chris frowned. "He gonna be okay? Looks like he's hurting."
"Pretty stubborn. Like someone else I know. You still gonna turn him over to Ezra tonight?" Nathan raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah. I've had his masseuse work on my back a few times. Fingers can really work wonders. If he won't take any pain medications at least he'll be able to climb those stairs tomorrow." Seeing Vin punch the down button, Chris scooted past Nathan and went to catch him.
"Vin? Wait! Hold up!" Vin stopped at Chris's voice. "You going to the range?"
"Yeah. That still okay?" Vin held the elevator door open.
Chris stepped close and placed his hand next to Vin's on the doorway. "Yeah, sure. Do you mind taking JD with you? I'd like to have something for him to do ...keep his mind off things. You know? Sides you need a driver." Chris turned his head to motion to JD.
"Larabee, I don't need no baby sitter. Especially one that's younger than me." Vin started to let the door close and Chris grabbed it.
"Vin? Look. This is his first time up front. I know he needs to get out of here. Take him with you? You don't have to make conversation; just let him watch. Be outside. I want him busy." Vin listened to Chris and the concern he had for JD in his voice. Vin knew Chris was using him but he didn't mind. He wasn't looking forward to working the clutch on his jeep all the way out to the range anyway.
"Okay Chris. I'm gonna get what I need from the jeep. Have JD meet me down there." Vin started to close the door but Chris caught it once more.
"Oh, yeah. On your way back? Stop by your place and get a change of clothes. You're not sleeping at your place again. I'll explain later." Seeing the objection starting on Vin's face, Chris smiled and let the door slide closed.
Vin pulled his gun case and tote bag from a fake hole in the back of the jeep floor. Closing it, Vin made sure the security box couldn't be noticed by the casual passerby.
JD pulled the Ford F-150 along side the Jeep and smiled as Vin settled his rifle in the passenger foot well and eased himself up into the cab. "A little sore, Vin? I sure feel bad about what happened this morning." Vin returned JD's offer of friendship with a shy smile. "Glad I could give you a ride."
"Appreciate it, JD. Hip was starting to get stiff on me. Larabee gives a thorough briefing." Closing the door, he eased over on his right hip as they started the trip to the range.
"Oh, well that's Chris. He runs a tight ship." Seeing the frown of concern on Vin's face, JD hurried to finish. "Oh, but he's cool. You know he makes it so you can do what you need for your part. He just makes sure everything is covered. He, Buck and Josiah been doing this a long time."
Vin grinned, "How about you JD? How long you been with the team?"
JD's eyes began to shine as he told of graduating with a master's degree in computer science and being recruited by the FBI. On a visit to the headquarters in Washington, JD had noticed the ATF Headquarters and went in out of curiosity. "The rest is history so to speak. I mean I was really in the right place at the right time. How about you?"
"Nothing special JD. Grew up in Texas. Joined the Army after high school. Kicked around got enough college in the Forces to get into the ATF academy. Just been waiting for an assignment. Teaching over at the Range mostly. Turn here." Vin indicated a side road. "It's a short cut to the range."
"Chris says your good. Says Jack Baker says you're the best he's seen." JD parked the truck behind the safety shack.
"I heard that too." Vin laughed. "But you're only as good as your last shot." Grabbing his stuff, Vin eased himself over to a locker in the range shack.
"Vin?" Jack Baker caught the sharpshooter's attention.
Vin returned Jack's wave and handed JD another rifle bag. "Jack. Gonna check out some angles. You finished for the day?"
Jack was standing in the doorway of the range master's office. "Yeah, was.'' Looking at Vin, JD and all their equipment.
Vin remembered his manners. "Oh, Jack Baker? This is JD Dunne." The two men shook hands. "I'll lock up if you want."
"That would be great, Vin. So how'd that assignment with Larabee's group go?" Jack grabbed his bag and eased past Vin heading to his car.
"Fine, Jack. It's off to a smashing start." Vin saw JD start to laugh as he grabbed a set of keys to a golf cart. Tossing them to JD, Vin joined him. "A really smashing start."
With Vin directing JD the two men ended up at a wooden tower at the far end of the range. JD remembered the tower from qualifying. Helping Vin unload the rifles, JD looked up. "You gonna climb this? That's along way up? Are you sure you can make it with your hip?"
Vin shook his head 'yes' and turned with his equipment and began the slow climb to the top of the tower. He was determined not to show how much it hurt to bring his left leg upward to take the next step. He felt hands easing his tote and one rifle bag off his shoulder. "I'm fine JD. You don't need to carry anything. I got it. Used to carrying my own stuff."
"Yeah, well no sense in you banging up that hip anymore than you have to today. Tomorrow you get to carry your own stuff." JD returned the smile Vin gave him as they worked their way up the tower platform.
Reaching the top, Vin eased his rifle down on the table next to the other rifle and bag that JD was handling. Vin stood at the table and began unwrapping his rifle.
JD watched in fascination as Vin's slender fingers began slipping the rifle pieces together. JD noticed Vin staring at the target area down range as he quickly assembled the rifle together. Hearing JD draw in a breath, Vin turned his attention to JD. "You okay, JD?"
JD continued to watch Vin trying to find the right words. "Geez, Vin...how do you do that? I mean, you're not even watching. Buck makes me wear a blindfold and put my 9mm together and take it apart, but what you're doing is... like art or something." Seeing the surprise on Vin's face, JD nodded and pointed to the assembled rifle before Vin. "You learn that in the Army?"
Running his hand along the stock of his HS Precision Pro Series 2000 HTR, Vin thought before he answered. "Well, I've always seemed to have a talent for handling guns but the Army made me think about why I needed to improve my skills." Smiling Vin went on. "They take you out on a cold rainy night. March about five miles at a jog. Then they have you step in this pool of murky muddy water chest high." Seeing JD's eyes get bigger, Vin leaned against the table enjoying the effect his story was having. "After about three hours of standing in the water keeping your gun and ammo dry by holding them over your head, they let you step out on the edge of the pool."
"Then they let you go back to the barracks, right? I mean." JD stopped when Vin held up his hand.
"Nope. Then they have you pull out your rifle and scope and put it together without looking cause you're checking out the area for the enemy. When you're ready, you lock and load and run another two miles to the "towers". They're sort of like these but they don't have stairs." Vin paused.
"No stairs? How did they expect..." Realization suddenly hit JD. "They made you climb up a rope to the top carrying all your stuff? Geez, Vin."
"Yeah up the rope and when you reached the top then you had two minutes to shoot a target 100 meters away on the ground. Six bullets in an area the size of a nickel. Fail to do it and you go back down the rope and try again." Vin reached over and started carefully placing his Leupold Veri-X III 4.5 x 40mm Scope on his rifle. After checking it carefully, Vin eased himself down on the floor of the tower. He groaned slightly as he felt the pressure of the wood on his bruised hip.
Vin indicated a large pair of binoculars that JD should use. JD stretched himself out along side Vin. "But what if you can't do it. Shoot that good and everything?"
Vin kept his eye looking through the scope as he continued to level and adjust the scope. "They made you a cook or driver or something. The job is to find targets and eliminate them and to watch the backs of your team mates." JD watched as Vin settled his cheek against a duct-taped piece of foam attached to the stock of the rifle.
"Why do you have that thing taped there?" JD pointed to the foam piece.
Keeping his eyes focused through the scope, Vin quickly fired off three shots moving the bolt so quickly and smoothly that he was finished before JD realized he had begun.
Staring at the smoke coming from the muzzle of the rifle, JD let out a small gasp. "Geez, Vin! You might warn a guy."
Vin sat up slowly and made deliberate eye contact with JD. "JD. That's the point, isn't it? You give them no warning." Vin picked up a small thick notebook from his bag and made some notations. Seeing JD staring at him as he wrote, Vin held up the notebook. "The foam is to rest my cheek bone on. Manufacturer's stock not quite where I want it." Closing the notebook Vin continued. "Always make notes after I shoot. Wind directions, corrections on the scope. Angles used. Stuff like that. Every shot I've made is in here. My own code of marks and stuff." Putting the notebook down, Vin worked his legs slowly around grimacing as he eased his left leg in front. Sighting down the scope, Vin concentrated again, hearing his own heart beat and gauging his breathing to match it.
"Vin? Can I ask you a question?" JD picked up the binoculars not looking at Vin.
"Sure." Vin whispered in time with his breathing. He continued to focus the scope, sighting on several points in front of him.
JD took a deep breath and blurted the words out. "How many men have you killed? I mean...huh, targets? Is that it?"
Vin finished sighting his spots. Slowly lowering his rifle, Vin looked at JD again. Seeing the sudden embarrassment on the young agent's face, Vin smiled gently. "There's no answer for that question JD." Vin paused looking JD straight in the eyes. Making a decision, Vin said quietly. "But maybe you should ask yourself why you want to know, huh?" Vin sat quietly until JD started to get up and leave. "JD. Wait." JD looked back at Vin as he held up the other rifle bag. Seeing no anger or judgment on Vin's face, he turned back to where Vin was still sitting. "You haven't seen the new rifle a buddy of mine sent me." JD paused as Vin gestured to the other rifle bag. "Go on. Open it."
JD looked at Vin. He couldn't believe he had asked Vin about the men he had killed. Now Vin was acting like nothing had happened. Confused, JD sat down next to the rifle bag and began to open it.
Seeing the look on JD's face, Vin grinned. Diversion. Yep, the Army was right. Worked every time. Leaning forward Vin slipped out the rifle stock. "It's the new Tango-51. TAC-Ops barrel threaded for a suppresser built on the Remington M700 action but with a lighter trigger pull 2.5 lb and with an accuracy guaranteed of .25 MOA." Seeing the puzzled look on JD's face, Vin continued. "Just think of it as a circle the size of a quarter."
JD nodded and listened to Vin talk on about the gleaming rifle in his hands as he quickly assembled it. JD didn't understand half of what Vin was talking about but he felt comforted by the soft drawl in the Texan's voice and the assuring movements of his hands. If Vin was disturbed by his questions, he wasn't showing it. Gentle. That was the word that came to JD's mind. Vin was treating him like a skittish colt. Covering the awkward moment with soft words and teaching. The binoculars landed in his lap. "Spot me I'm gonna work with this new rifle for a while, okay?" Vin eased himself down expecting JD to follow him. JD looked at Vin for a minute. Shaking his head, JD lowered himself to the wooden floor. He decided that he liked the lean sharpshooter a lot despite what Buck had said. Picking up the binoculars JD focused them on the first target.
JD and Vin came through the elevators. JD was chattering on about something but from where Buck and Chris sat in his office, they couldn't make it out. "Vin that's so full of shit. That's science fiction stuff about two men firing a shot at the same time and both bullets hitting each other."
Vin just grinned as he settled the rifle bags and his tote on a vacant desk. "Well, the way you shoot we'll never have to worry about testing it, will we JD?" Vin happily grinned as JD sailed a computer manual in Vin's direction. Vin reached out to grab it and banged his left hip against the desk in the process. Dropping the manual, Vin involuntarily grabbed for his thigh. The pain knifed down his leg and for a moment took his breath away.
Nathan was across the floor and at his side before JD could move. "All right you two. Settle down." Leaning down he talked to Vin softly. "Vin? How ya doing? Why don't you sit down a second?"
Vin lifted his head a slight sheen of sweat on his face and nodded. "I'm fine. Just need a second." Seeing JD looking down with concern, Vin grinned. "You throw like you shoot JD."
"VIN!" JD tried to show indignation but failed. "Well I got pretty close with that one shot to the target." Seeing the look on Nathan's face, JD stood up tall. "Well I did, didn't I Vin." Nathan gave Vin a questioning look.
Vin grinned slightly. "Well, JD I think with some work we can get you closer. A lot of work." Vin made to duck JD's swipe with the discarded manual but was stopped by Nathan.
"Okay. Enough. JD, Ezra had some things he wanted to go over with you." Watching JD move toward Ezra's desk, Nathan turned back to Vin. "I've still got these. Need some?"
Vin saw the pill box that Nathan showed him. "Really, Nathan. I'm fine. Just need to sit here and clean these guns." Nathan patted Vin on the shoulder and went back to his desk.
Buck finished watching the exchange and turned back to Chris. "See? He's already got JD shooting sniper rifles and thinking about shooting and stuff. Chris I want this guy away from him. He's trouble. Why Sam Johnson in Intelligence said..." Buck stopped when Chris put up his hand.
"Buck what the hell is wrong with you? JD is an ATF agent. Guns are a part of his life." Seeing that Buck was not convinced, Chris continued. "I've seen you protective of JD before, but telling vicious tales based on gossip isn't like you. What to let me in?" Chris sat back on the edge of his desk and crossed his arms waiting.
Buck pulled out a folded piece of paper from his back pocket. Handing it to Chris, Buck started to point out highlighted paragraphs. "Look here it says he brought in 22 fugitives in less than two years. He worked as a bounty hunter Chris. Sam Johnson says that his take home for those should have been close to 75,000 bucks. But his bank account doesn't reflect that."
Chris pulled the paper away from Buck's hands. "You looked into his bank account? What? What is wrong with you?"
Buck looked at Chris and reached again for the sheet. "I'm looking out for the team. Something someone else should have done. There's obviously more to Tanner that is in his profile." Turning back to look at JD, Buck continued. Chris glared back at Buck.
Buck took it as an agreement and continued. "So my question is, what happened to that money? He use it on fancy guns? Think he spent it on another fancy motorcycle? With the long hair and the leather jacket and bike, he could be supporting a meth lab. And he lives in an apartment in Purgatory. What's a..."
"Enough. Buck this is crazy. This doesn't prove a thing. Why don't you concentrate on keeping JD focused tonight? I want you both here in the morning dressed and ready at 7am. Just drop this. That's an order. If you want to question Tanner about this after the job, fine. That's between the two of you. But the job is the thing right now. Understand?" Chris unfolded his long legs and stood up. Looking Buck straight in the eye, Chris waited.
Buck broke off eye contact and stared out the office window at JD. "Okay Chris I'll watch over JD and have him ready in the morning." Buck started out the door but stopped at Chris's voice. "And Tanner?" Chris waited until Buck turned back his head. "I don't trust him, Chris. But I'll drop it for now if you say so." Buck opened the door and moved through it.
"Buck? I say so." Buck didn't look back as he heard Chris's voice. Chris sighed wearily and walked back to his chair. Easing himself down he watched the new sharpshooter patiently explain to JD how the guns were cleaned and oiled. JD hung on every word. Chris saw Buck get JD and headed him towards Ezra. Angry, Chris tossed a paper ball across the room.
Chris walked to the lounge for more coffee and crossed to Vin's desk. The sharpshooter was just finishing the cleaning of his last rifle but looked up as Chris approached.
"You finished up?" Chris set a cup of coffee down in front of Vin and eased his hip against the desk.
"Yeah, got what I needed. Gonna finish up looking at those photos and then head home." Vin looked at the coffee and back at Chris. "Thanks but I don't drink anything with caffeine this close to a job." Vin started to stand and Chris stood with him.
"You bring those overnight clothes?" Chris said.
"Yeah, why? Look I wanna sleep at my place tonight. Got some things there I need." Vin stood in front of Chris looking him straight in the eye.
"What thing's Vin?" Chris regretted the words the moment he said them.
Vin studied Chris's face for a second. "Where's all this coming from? I been with this outfit not even two days and I'm not allowed to go to my apartment either night to sleep. Is this standard fare for new teammates? Or just for me?" Vin broke off eye contact with Chris and bent to pick up his rifle bag.
Chris put out a hand to help but Vin turned his back to block Chris. "Vin? Hmm... Look, Buck...he's been talking with Sam Johnson in Intelligence..."
Vin turned quickly back to Chris. "Sam Johnson? Always thought having him in the Intelligence section was one of ATF's biggest mistakes." Vin saw the look on Chris' face. "Had to work with him on a couple bounties I collected. You'd think the reward money was coming out of his own pockets. Wanted a dollar by dollar accounting of what I did with the money. I told him what he could do with his method of accounting."
Chris smiled at the remarks and decided not to press the matter. Changing the subject, Chris nodded toward Vin's leg. "How's that hip injury? You gonna be able to move on it?"
Vin hoisted the rifle bags on his shoulder. His left hip felt the weight but he refused to show it on his face. Chris read it in the quick shifting of Vin's weight from left to right. Reaching out to take Vin's equipment bag, Chris eased it to his own shoulder.
Vin felt the tote bag being lifted. "I got it. I'm fine. Can take care of myself. Been doing it a long time." Vin turned to face Chris. "And I'll take care of your team if you'll let me do it."
Studying Vin for a moment, Chris saw the commitment in Vin's eyes. Nodding his head, Chris started toward the elevators. "Okay, one thing. Ezra's got a masseuse who can work wonders on stiff muscles and such. He called the guy and he's gonna see what he can do about getting the kinks out of your hip and leg. Ez is gonna pick you up and then drop you off at your place." Seeing Vin about to protest, Chris raised his hand. "Vin do this for me. You can use the treatment and it gives me a little pleasure in knowing that Ezra is going miss his massage." Chris saw Vin give in and let Chris lead him to the agency car assigned to Ezra.
Ezra was finishing talking to Buck and JD as Vin and Chris approached. Buck said nothing as he picked up his things and headed toward his truck. JD shrugged his shoulders in defeat and followed Buck. Looking back he called out to Vin. "Hey Vin ...thanks again!"
Vin looked up from placing his bags in the car trunk and waved. "Anytime JD... anytime." Joining Ezra in the car, Vin nodded to Chris. "See ya in the morning."
Ezra gave Chris a short salute and eased the car down the ramp. Heading back towards the elevators, Chris headed back to his office to make a few phone calls.
Vin and Ezra rode in silence. Ezra pulled up along beside a gym that was close to Vin's apartment. Easing the tan Buick into an open slot, he parked it and grabbed a small bag from the back. Vin pulled out his bag and slide out of his door. Looking around, Vin raised an eyebrow at Ezra. "Doesn't look like your taste in workout joints."
"Mr. Tanner. I try only to use the best of everything. Mr. Johnson is the best masseuse in town. Where he chooses to practice his talent is his own decision. He is expecting you. I will avail myself of the establishment's sauna." Ezra headed toward the entrance.
When Vin didn't follow Ezra stopped and turned back. "Please, Mr. Tanner. If you don't go inside then you will not be fit for tomorrow's undertakings. And if you are not ready then I will have to face the wrath of Agent Larabee. And" Ezra stopped when Vin held up his hand. Shaking his head, Vin moved to follow Ezra inside.
Both men crossed the gym heading toward the locker room. Ezra motioned Vin inside as he stepped the desk. "Hi, Jack. Baker here?"
A man dressed in a pair of sweat pants and T-shirt nodded and leaned into the back and called out. "Baker! Mr. Fancy Pants is here." An elderly man dressed in sweats stepped out with clean towels and a sheet.
"Mr. Standish. Ready? You look a little more tense than usual. Why don't you get changed and I'll met you in the rubdown room?"
As he started to turn away, Ezra caught him on the arm. "Mr. Baker. Tonight much to my regret I am unable to avail myself of your wonderful services. A team mate of mine was accidentally stuck by a car and I offered your talented fingers so that he might recover with greater efficiency." Ezra gestured toward the locker room.
"Well, then get him in the room. I got lots of other clients tonight. I like that word, Standish. Clients...yeah." Tossing his cigar aside, Baker made his way into the locker room.
Vin Tanner was sitting on a bench dressed in sweat pants staring at his hands. He could see the abrasions from this morning's accident turning purplish and started working them to keep the stiffness at bay. Vin turned at the sound of Baker's footsteps.
"Hey, you Fancy's pants' friend?" Baker stopped and stared at Vin turned to face him. The middle aged boxing coach looked into his past. "Ah...hey, you.... Did you used to live around here? Long time ago?"
Vin looked at Baker. Recognizing the man from his days on the streets, Vin stared unable to speak.
"Timmy...nope, that's not it." Taking a second look at Vin, Baker smiled slowly. "Made the worst coffee I ever drank. But had a mean left jab." Baker crossed the room to see Vin closer. Smiling hugely, he shook Vin's hand. "Still got it Vincent?"
Vin looked at Baker and remembered the kindness at the man's hands. "What? The coffee or the left jab?" Vin returned the handshake and felt himself taken in a big bear hug by strong arms. Wincing as he was set down, Vin stared at William Baker. "Billy" as the street kids had called him. Always a warm place to sleep when the mission's were full or a few chores to do for a sandwich and hot drink. Vin had learned his first steps in self-defense from this man and he was almost overwhelmed at the memories the familiar face brought him.
"So you and Fancy Pants work together? You a federal agent, Vincent?" Baker took the towel from his shoulder and gestured Vin into the rubdown room. Turning to Ezra, Baker smiled. "Go get one of your foamy coffee things, Standish. I'll work you in after Vincent."
Vin eased himself down on the side of the rubdown table. Baker turned to him and gestured. "Okay, well you're still skinny and as down right handsome as ever. See that mark on your cheek. You had worse when I was teaching you to fight so let's see what the deal is."
Vin knew better than to waste time with Billy so he lowered his sweat pants exposing the large deep purplish bruise on his left hip and thigh.
"Geez, kid! That must hurt some. Well, as I remember you aren't one to complain so let's see if I can work some magic to get ya moving without as much pain." Pointing to the table he helped Vin ease down on his stomach and began by placing a warm towel across Vin's lower back.
Vin settled his head on the pillow turning his injured cheek away from the rough fabric. Closing his eyes he tried to wipe out the hectic events of the day clear from his thoughts. He felt himself drifting to sleep but the door to the room opened. Starting to lift his head, Vin felt a soft hand press his head back to the pillow.
"Stay put youngster. Got a lot of work to do." Billy placed two big jars on a table next to the rubdown table. Seeing Vin eyeing them warily, Billy chuckled. "God, kid. You were always suspicious of everything." Opening the smaller jar, Billy poured a generous amount of the liquid in his big hands. He rubbed his hands together before placing them gently on Vin's neck. "Thought I told you to get a hair cut." Billy smiled at the grin on Vin's face.
Reaching up with his hand, Vin pulled the hair away from his neck letting Billy continue. The big hands worked magic on his neck and shoulders. His body flinched involuntarily as Billy found spots Vin didn't know should hurt.
"So ya went and did what you said, huh?" Billy made conversation as he worked his way down the lean wiry back of the sharpshooter.
"What?" Vin said drowsily.
"Went to college. Got a real job as an ATF agent." Billy found a hard knot low on Vin's back and worked it with the heel of his hand. Reaching for the other jar, Billy continued after seeing the quizzical look on Vin's face. "Figured if you were here with Fancy Pants and Chris Larabee calls me to check up on you, then you gotta be an agent, right?" Vin would have sat straight up on the table if Billy hadn't held him down.
"Larabee called here? How? Shit!"
Billy smacked Vin on the back and pushed him back down. "Watch your mouth. You ain't too old for me to wash it out with soap. Did that once remember?"
Vin let his body fall back on the table remembering the time about ten years ago that Billy had taken Vin to task about his street language. Vin had pushed Billy one step too far and had ended up with a mouth full of DIAL soap. "I remember. But, Billy? How does Larabee know you? Cause of Standish? Why would he call about me? I gave him my word I'd come here." Vin was as confused as his voice sounded.
Billy heard the near panic in Vin's voice and continued with the rubdown adding balm from the second jar. "How long you been a part of Team 7?"
Vin considered the question as the heat from the salve began to ease his pains. "Hmm... Two days?"
Billy laughed. "Two days? So you're the one."
"One what?" Vin tried to turn and look at Billy.
"Get down! Word's out about a hotshot sharpshooter that's joined up with Team 7. Story is one of his own teammates ran him down with a Jag in the ATF parking garage. Now Fancy Pant's generosity makes sense." Billy continued to chuckle as he kneaded the muscles of Vin's shoulders deeply. "Lots of police types come around here. Remember?"
"Ow..." Vin moaned feeling the fingers work the pain and stiffness from his body. "But Larabee? How? Why?"
"Larabee's been coming here for ten years. He's the one brought Fancy Pants here. Man's one of the best boxers I've seen. Told him time and time again I could get him some serious matches. He just keeps putting me off. Comes around couple times a month to help with the kids boxing program I got going." Stepping back to wipe his hands, Billy leaned over to see Vin's face. "You know the one that got you in here."
Vin nodded listening intently to Billy's words. "Thought I wasn't ever gonna see him back after his kid and wife were killed. But he kept coming to work out. So angry sometimes I thought he was gonna break that punching bag. He quit showing up at the kid's boxing night for a long time. Couldn't blame him. Then suddenly last year, he just showed up again. Keeps mostly to himself but is a great example for the kids." Continuing to rub Vin's back and side, Billy finished his story. "You must be special. Him calling on ya that way. Seemed really concerned I work on ya good."
Stunned by Billy's statement, Vin shook his head negatively. "Nah. I'm the only sharpshooter left in the Denver area. He's gotta use me." Vin felt Billy start to work on his left leg. "Awww..." He tried to move away from the warm hands of the coach.
"Stop that!" Billy grabbed more salve and worked it slowly into the large bruised area on Vin's hip. "Larabee don't do anything he don't want to. Trust me. That man is one of the smartest, most professional ...ya know. One of those guys who seems to have it all together and if he didn't no one would ever know."
Vin felt tears come to his eyes as Billy's hands brought pain to the bruised and stiff portion of his hip and thigh. "Ah, Billy! Can ya? Please...give me a sec..."
Billy eased his hands off Vin's leg and moved to the head of the table. Seeing the sting of tears forming on the young agent's face, Billy reached over and ran a washcloth under cold water. With great care he washed Vin's face and draped the washcloth over Vin's eyes. "Sorry. Hurts pretty bad, huh?" Vin caught his breath and nodded his head. Billy took some of the balm again and worked it into his hands. "How long since you took something for pain?"
"Didn't." The muffled voice of the former boxing student was barely heard in the room.
"What'd ya mean? Didn't?" Billy paused looking at the bruised area. "Didn't they give ya anything at the hospital? Or at least some Motrin or Tylenol?"
"Can't. Gotta have a clear head tomorrow. No medications. Nathan tried to give me some stuff he had when I told him I wouldn't take the pain pills they gave me." Vin let his head fall completely on the pillow. His body felt so tired and so sore he thought he might start crying if he talked anymore.
"Nathan Jackson? Black guy in team 7. Paramedic?" Billy quizzed Vin. When Vin nodded Billy laughed. "Should have taken him up on it, kid. Who's stuff do you think I'm rubbing in your skin? Let's see, ah Yarrow root, burdock poultice, comfrey root and wormwood leaves. The other stuff is marigold and olive oil. Works great. Larabee had this stuff with him one night after he worked out. Was trying to rub it on a bruised rib cage. Told me one of his friends worked with herbs and stuff. I finished working on him and he gave me the stuff. Been getting it from Nathan ever since. About three years now." Billy shook his head as he remembered Chris stabbing at his side trying to get to the injured area with the balm.
"Hurts." Vin's tired and painful voice filled the small room.
"Know it does youngster. Gonna have to trust me. If I tell ya you'll be as sharp as a tack in the morning will ya drink some tea for me? I know ya gotta be 100 percent." Ruffling Vin's long hair, Billy leaned down to his ear. "Have I ever lied to you before?"
Vin felt himself being carried back ten years. As a cold and very tired teenager living on the street, Vin had endured a long day on the street. Pickings were poor at the local dumpsters and his ticket for a bed at the mission had been taken from him by four guys who jumped him in an alley. He had slumped in an abandoned doorstep across from a local gym. There were a lot of expensive cars that usually parked outside and he had sometimes been able to panhandle a few dollars off some of the men who worked out inside. The next thing he knew a hand was shaking him awake. He stood up half asleep knowing it was a cop making him move along, but was stopped by big strong hands. Looking up he had gotten his first look at Billy Baker. The man hadn't said a thing but had taken Vin inside the gym and put him in a small room that was obviously an eating area. Too tired to move, Vin had huddled inside his thin jacket trying to make himself less conspicuous. A big bowl of stew and a piece of cheese bread appeared in front of him. A glass of milk was followed by Baker taking a seat next to him at the table.
"Name's Billy. Better eat up before it gets cold." With that the man left to go back to the gym. Looking around Vin saw no one else in the room. His hands flew to the bowl and he forked the tasty stew into his mouth protecting it with his body in a habit he still found hard to break. That was the first day Vin Tanner had trusted Billy Baker.
Blinking his eyes against the memories, Vin stared at the warm drink Billy held out before him. Billy smiled encouragingly and helped Vin drink the sugar-sweetened mixture. Sighing Vin let his head drop and his eyes closed almost immediately.
Billy lingered, looking at the young man before him; remembering the teenage boy that had been. Whispering Billy dimmed the lights "You sleep a while Vincent. I'll be back and we'll get ya better." Adjusting a warm blanket over Vin, he checked the poultice he had placed on Vin's hip. Satisfied Billy stepped outside the room shutting the door quietly. Slipping into his office, Billy dialed a number from his roll-a-deck.
"Larabee." The strong soft voice answered.
"Agent Larabee? Billy Baker here. I got the kid to take some of Nathan's tea just like you suggested. Know him pretty well, don't ya?" Billy listened to Chris's answer and smiled. " That well, huh? Stubborn is one word I'd use, Agent Larabee. But it isn't the best one. Baker paused and listened to Chris laugh softly. "Well, I'm gonna do the dude and keep the kid here tonight. I'll work on him a couple more times tonight and in the morning before I let him loose." Listening again, Billy smiled. "No problem. Vincent has a way of hitting the soft spot in a lot of people. I won't mention any of this, if?" Billy smiled. "That's if you give that demonstration to the kids on footwork I've been begging for." Grinning hugely, Billy laughed. "Okay then. It's a deal. Thanks."
Hanging up the phone Billy pulled out a drawer and fingered through some old photos. Pulling one out he stared at it closely until he saw the figure he wanted. Smiling Billy stood up and walked to the door. "HEY! Fancy Pants!
Get your butt out here! Times a wasting!" Closing the door he left the picture of Vin Tanner standing with a group of boys. Smaller than the rest, the boxing gloves on Vin's hands almost covered his chest as he held them proudly in a boxer's stance. Billy Baker stood in the doorway and looked back trying hard not to smile.
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