Vin woke the next morning on the couch. The last thing he remembered was eating dinner with Chris. He sat up and winced. He looked down at his right side to see a huge purple bruise. He felt his left cheek and cringed. He got up and headed for the bedroom. He went straight to the closet and grabbed a pair of desert camouflage fatigues and tan T-shirt. He went over to the dresser and got a pair of briefs and headed for the bathroom. Vin turned on the shower and stripped. He stepped in and let the hot water fall on his shoulders and back. He finished washing his hair just as the water started to get cold. He turned off the shower and stepped out. Vin wrapped a towel around his waist and step in front of the mirror. He pulled it open and grabbed the Tiger balm on the top shelf. Vin opened it, dipped his finger in the ointment and scooped out a generous amount. He rubbed it into the bruise on his ribs.
"Need some help with that?"
Vin dropped the jar and went into a fight stance. Chris jumped back ready to defend himself.
"Shit, Chris, you scared the hell out of me," he cried as he stood up. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"You were gracious enough to fall asleep on the couch so I took the bed. I didn't feel like driving all the way back home."
"I'm getting soft. I didn't even notice you in the bed," he said as he fished the jar out of the sink.
"Let me take a look at that," said Chris as he moved closer.
"Whoa, think a person could get dressed first," Vin protested stepping back.
"Suit yourself," Chris smiled.
Chris went out to the small living room and waited. Ten minutes later Vin walked out and had a seat on the couch. Chris grabbed the first aid kit and sat next to him. He cleaned the wound on his bicep and placed a dressing over it.
"I can do this myself ya know," said Vin.
"Quit complaining and move your arm."
Vin sighed and moved his arm. Chris noticed he had been guarding the bruise with his arm. He took the Tiger Balm and began to rub it in.
"Damn it! Not so hard!" Vin complained as he pulled away.
"You're worse than a five-year-old," said Chris as he grabbed the younger man and finished what he started. "There, all finished."
"You enjoyed that," accused Vin.
"Oh yeah," smiled Chris. "Mind if I borrow some of your clothes and take a shower?"
"Sure if you can find something to fit in."
"It's only until we get to the office. I have a change of clothes there."
Chris rummaged in his closet until he found a pair a sweat pants. He grabbed a T-shirt and was heading for the shower when he decided to make a call first. When he was done he continued into the bathroom. After his lukewarm shower Chris joined Vin in the kitchen.
"I just love taking cool showers," said Chris as he took a seat at the small kitchen table.
"Sorry about that. The kids all get up for school at this time and use up the hot water."
Vin placed a plate of scrambled eggs and toast in front of him. He poured Chris some coffee and brought it over to the table. He went back and got the sugar and milk.
"Aren't you eating?"
"Ate while you were in the shower."
Chris watched as he cleaned up the kitchen. He started on his breakfast. Chris added sugar and milk to his coffee and took a sip and spit it back into the mug.
"God, that's awful!" he cried.
"Sorry, I like it strong."
"We better head out. We'll take my Ram. There's no sense in taking both vehicles."
"Fine with me, but it's only eight o'clock."
"I have to make a stop before we go in."
"For coffee," Vin laughed.
"OK make that two stops."
Chris watched as Vin disappeared into the bedroom. He sat on the couch and pulled on his sneakers. Vin came out carrying a pair of combat boots. He sat down at the kitchen table and Chris watched as he tucked the end of his fatigues in the boots and laced them up. He then clipped on his Sigs. He went back to the bedroom and pulled the door shut. He locked it with a dead bolt that Chris had noticed earlier.
"You lock your bedroom but not the front door?" Chris asked puzzled.
"My guns are in there. The kids come in to use the computer. I didn't want to take the chance that they would wander in."
Chris shook his head as he followed Vin out the door and to the elevator. They went out the lobby and walked to Chris's SUV. He unlocked the passenger side and watched Vin climb in. Chris noticed he was still holding his right arm tight against his side. He walked around to the driver's side and got in. He pulled away from the curb and headed for his first stop. Twenty minutes later Chris pulled in front of a medical clinic. Vin gave him a suspicious look.
"Why'd we stop here?"
"I made an appointment to have those ribs x-rayed."
"I ain't goin!"
"Yes, you are," said Chris in a voice that brooked no argument.
Vin got out cursing. Chris was surprised to find out that Vin also knew some of the gang languages. He led the way inside and down the hall to one of the offices. He opened the door and walked up to the receptionist.
"May I help you sir?"
"Appointment for Larabee."
"Yes sir, right this way. The doctor is waiting for you."
Chris grabbed Vin's left arm when he saw the stubborn look on his face. He pulled him down the hall following the nurse. She opened the door and told them to have a seat, that the doctor would be with them shortly. Chris led him over to the examination table.
"Sit! Give me your guns," said Chris as he held out his hands.
Vin gave him a dirty look, but handed over the weapons. He took a seat on the table and ignored Chris. He didn't know why Vin was being so obstinate. Well now he knew if Vin ever got hurt he'd have to be watched. Just then the doctor walked in.
"Hello, Chris. It's been awhile."
"Tom," Chris said shaking his hand. "This is Vin. He got into a fight last night and has been guarding the ribs that got punched."
"Let's take a look shall we," he said as he walked over to Vin. "Can you remove your shirt."
Vin pulled the T-shirt over his head and tried not to wince. The doctor saw the huge bruise and whistled. He pressed two fingers along Vin's ribs. Vin was determined not to react. Chris shook his head as he watched Vin clench his teeth. The doctor finished and he pretended he was fine.
"Some one got you good," said Dr. Landry. "I can't tell if they're broken or not. I'll just call for an x-ray. Why don't you relax Mr. Tanner. I'll be right back."
"Why are you being so stubborn?" asked Chris after the doctor left.
"I don't like to be fussed over," growled Vin.
A few minutes later a technician came in with a wheel chair. Vin gave Chris a deadly look but got in and was wheeled out of the room. Chris waited twenty minutes until they wheeled him back. He got out and sat on the table. They waited another twenty minutes until the doctor came in holding the x-rays. He walked over to the viewer and flipped the switch. He inserted the x-ray and had a look.
"Well, they're not broken," he announced. "They're not even bruised."
"I know how to take a punch," Vin replied giving Chris an 'I told you so' look.
"So there's nothing you can do for him?" asked Chris.
"I could wrap them. The support from the bandages might ease the pain."
"That's OK, Doc, I don't need it."
"All right, it's your choice. Chris, it was good to see you again."
They shook hands and Chris waited while Vin got dressed. When he was done he handed Vin his guns. They walked out and back to the Dodge. They climbed in and Chris headed for the office.
"Where do you know him from?" Vin asked.
"He was a medic I knew when I was in the Navy."
Ten minutes later they pulled into the garage. They went up to their floor and got off. As they were walking towards their office Chris heard everyone commenting on Vin's bruised face. Vin ignored them and walked into the office. The others looked up when they entered.
"What the hell happened to you?" asked Buck when he saw the bruise under Vin's left eye.
"Nothing," he said and had a seat at his desk.
"That ain't nothin' kid," Buck said exasperated. "Now what happened?"
"I rescued him from five thugs in an alley who wanted to rearrange his face," said Chris.
"Why the hell do you live there, kid?" asked Buck. "It's dangerous."
"It wasn't anybody from the neighborhood," said Vin defensively.
"No, it was some goons that followed him back from the wharf."
"What!" shouted Nathan. "You shouldn't have gone there by yourself."
"But I got the info we needed."
"Doesn't matter, son," said Josiah. "You're part of a team now. You don't have to go alone."
"They can't have only punched him once," Buck said as he walked over to Vin. "How bad is it?"
"Oh so he gets testy when he's hurt," teased Buck as he poked him in the ribs.
"OW!" squealed Vin as he punched Buck.
"All right, lets see," demanded Nathan as he advanced on Vin.
Vin looked at Chris in panic. He just smiled and sat back to enjoy the show. Nathan had grabbed his shirt and pulled it up to reveal the huge purple bruise. He touched it and Vin growled. Buck laughed and shook his shoulders saying it was his own fault. Vin finally gave in and accepted the attention.
"Chris, these could be broken," said Nathan.
"They ain't!" cried Vin.
"He's right Nathan. They aren't," answered Chris." I dragged him kicking and screaming to get them x-rayed this morning. That's why we're late."
"It might be a good thing that Vin got some useful information," said Josiah. "The informant was a bust."
"So what did the Lone Ranger find?" asked Buck.
"The smugglers are running the goods out of the warehouse on Williams St. They will only be there for the next few days then they move to a new location."
"Hey Vin, you going to be able to qualify this afternoon with that bruise?' asked Buck.
"I don't think that's a good idea," said Nathan.
"Oh, he'll be fine," said Buck.
"Just cause you got a bet riding on Vin getting a perfect score doesn't mean he has to do it," argued Nathan.
"A bet?" asked Vin. "How much?"
"Put me down for fifty," said Vin.
"Chris talk to him," said Nathan.
"His choice," said Chris.
"So have you told the FBI the good news yet?" asked Josiah pulling the conversation back on track.
"Nope, going to let them know now," he said as he walked to his office.
Before Chris called the FBI he changed out of the clothes he borrowed from Vin. Then he let them know what they had found. Agent Konklin said it was impossible, they had just staked out that warehouse. Chris told him to check again, that his information was reliable. Buck walked in and heard Chris arguing on the phone. He heard him tell someone that his agent was beat up for this info so there must be some truth behind it. He slammed down the phone and glared at Buck.
"Don't you knock!" he growled.
"I did I guess you didn't hear me," Buck smiled.
"Hey, I'm used to it... This kid really got to you, didn't he?"
"God Buck, when I saw those five guys beating on him I wanted to kill them."
"I think it's great."
"What, that I wanted to kill five men?"
"No. That you finally found someone to care about. And that the bad-ass Chris Larabee has a heart."
"He's just another member of the team," Chris said defensively.
"No he's not 'just another member of the team' and you know it," Buck disagreed. "Wait I get it. This is scaring the hell out of you."
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Chris and started to shuffle papers to avoid looking at Buck.
"God damn it Chris! You're scared to death to admit you care about him. I hate to tell you, Pard, but he already knows. He can read you like a book."
"Shit, Buck, I didn't want this. You're right I'm scared to death something's going to happen to him. I don't think I could handle that."
"Look Chris. I'm glad he came along. I've been watching you die slowly over the passed five years. Suddenly this cocky blue-eyed bounty hunter comes along and he saves you. Don't push him away, Chris."
"I don't think he'll let me," admitted Chris.
"I don't think you want him to," Buck smiled as he got up and walked out.
Noon rolled around and they all went to get something to eat. They went to the corner deli and had sandwiches. Vin was too wired to eat and he just picked. Vin wanted to know if they were all coming to watch him qualify. When they said yes he groaned about the pressure. Buck forgot and elbowed him in the ribs. Vin yelped and shoved Buck out of the booth to land on the floor. This caused everyone in the place to laugh including Buck. Chris just shook his head and mumbled something about children. Josiah patted him on the arm and told him to have patience, they'd outgrow it. When they were done they headed for the range. Buck was being his usual boisterous self and drew McBride's attention.
"Oh Lord! The whole crew came down. Thanks, Tanner."
"Wasn't my idea," he grumbled.
"I'm sure it wasn't," he smiled. "What the hell happened to your face?"
"Walked into a door," he smiled.
"Uh huh, right," McBride shook his head. "So Wilmington are you here to try again, seeing as how you failed the first time?"
"HaHa McBride, you're a laugh riot," said Buck. "Just because I shot the dog on one of the innocent targets doesn't mean I failed."
"You shot the dog?" asked Josiah.
"Yeah I shot the dog," Buck laughed.
"And one of the ladies handbags, and the bag of groceries," McBride added to the list.
They all laughed and recalled their own experience with the moving targets. Fifteen minutes later the group of rookies walked in. When Forester saw Vin he came over and stood by him. Chris and the rest of them team moved out of the way. Buck started placing bets on Vin.
"OK children this is your next test. See this area behind me?" McBride asked as he gestured to a spot piled with boxes and other debris. "Your targets are going to pop up from behind the stuff you see behind me. They aren't going to stay in one spot either. That's why this is called the "moving target test." Not only will they be moving there will also be some other surprises. Not all the targets are going to have guns. You only want to shoot those. Some are going to be innocent people. You don't want to shoot those. You can also move around the area yourself. You don't have to stay in one spot. Do I make myself clear? Good! Who's first.
Vin hid a smile. McBride liked to talk to them like they were five-year-olds. No one stepped up to go first so Vin volunteered.
"I'll go first," he offered.
"I don't think so Tanner," disagreed McBride. "You'll shatter their confidence. You go last."
Finally McBride picked a victim. The tests went fairly quickly. There were fifteen targets and they were given to speed loaders. The first few that went didn't get all the targets. Vin also noticed for each person the targets popped up in different patterns. The one target no one shot at was the one of a bad guy pointing a gun but holding an innocent person in front of him. All that was visible of the bad guy was his head. So far no one had shot any of the innocents. Vin looked up to where Chris and the others were watching. He could see a crowd had formed to watch. Obviously this was a favorite pastime for the veteran officers. Vin shook his head as he saw Buck taking bets. He knew Chris was watching him and looked towards him. He was standing next to Josiah and Vin could see he had total confidence that he would do fine. Finally there was only one more person to go before Vin and he checked his guns. Everyone else had only used one.
+ + + + + + +
"Alright boys he's next," cried Buck. "Still taking bets that Tanner gets a perfect score. Any takers?"
"I'll take a bet Wilmington," said Rory Eastern from FBI. "It's next to impossible to get a perfect score."
After that a bunch of other bets came in that Tanner couldn't do it. Buck gladly accepted them all. Chris gave Buck a look and he smiled. He walked towards Buck. All the other officers backed away. They knew Chris's reputation.
"Put me down for $100 that Vin gets a perfect score," Chris said then walked back so he could watch.
They all looked in shock at Larabee's retreating form. The all turned to Buck and he smiled.
+ + + + + + +
"Alright Tanner you're up," called McBride. Vin walked over a stood next to him. "Try not to embarrass them too much."
Vin smiled and walked into the area. The bell rang and he waited for his first target. It was a woman with groceries. He held fire and dived behind a box and took aim at that next one that popped up. It was a guy in a ski cap holding a gun. He double tapped it and the target fell back. The next few targets varied and Vin double tapped all the "bad guys." Next he was surprised when two popped up at once. Both were bad and he instinctively pulled his second gun and fired them both at the same time. He didn't remember double targets popping up for the others. He waited and again two popped up. One was bad and he double tapped it with the gun in his left hand. The other was a little girl. He held fire with his right. Vin figured they had to make this a little challenging for him to make it fair. He decided to roll over behind another box. He winced as he hit his bruised ribs. As he rolled a target popped up right in front of him. It was another bad guy and Vin took him out. He finished rolling, came up on his knees and waited. He figured he had to be almost done. Just then two targets popped up. A bad guy and the infamous "hostage" one. Vin fired both guns at the same time. He got the single bad guy center mass and the target fell back. The hostage one he shot the bad guy in the head. The target stayed up and the bell rang ending the test. Vin stood up put the safety on his guns and holstered them and then walked out of the test area.
"Damn boy!" McBride cried. "That was a hell of a run. I figured you would shoot the hostage one in the head. Nice work."
The other rookies all congratulated him. He smiled and said thanks. Vin looked up to see Buck collecting his money. He didn't see Chris. He felt a tap on his shoulder and he turned around. Chris was standing next to him.
"Nice work," he said holding out his hand. Vin shook it.
"Thanks," he said with a smile.
"Son, I don't think I've ever seen such a performance here at the range," said Josiah shaking his hand. "Now we know why Chris picked you. I just have one question. How far can you shoot?"
"Fifteen hundred yards. Give or take a few feet," he answered. "But I need a really good rifle."
"Fifteen hundred yards!" said Nathan. "Now that I'd like to see,
"Hey Vin," Buck called. "Here's your share. Yours too Chris."
"You bet on me to?" asked Vin.
"I always go with a sure thing," answered Chris.
They went back to the office for the two that were left of work. Chris was sitting in his office when the phone rang.
"Larabee..........So the info was right?........We're taking them down the day after tomorrow, got it."
He hung up the phone and walked out of his office. He saw Josiah and Nathan at their desks, but Vin and Buck were missing.
"Where are they?" he asked.
"Went to get coffee," answered Josiah. "That was a half hour ago."
Chris walked out the door and down to the break room. He found them there, all right, along with a crowd. Buck was telling everyone about Vin's test at the range. Vin looked up as Chris approached and he could tell the younger man wanted to be anywhere but there. Chris cleared his throat and startled a few of them.
"Don't all of you have work to do?" asked Chris in an authoritative voice. They group scattered under his glare.
"You sure know how to clear a room, Pard," Buck laughed.
"I was looking for the two of you. Let's go back to the office. I've got news," he said as they followed him back.
"The FBI just called me," stated Chris as he walked in the door and took a seat. "We're going to hit the warehouse day after tomorrow."
"So they did find something?" asked Vin.
"Yeah they found something," Chris smiled. "The warehouse was full. Konklin had to eat his words."
"I'm sure that hurt," laughed Buck.
"I want everyone here tomorrow to check over the equipment," said Chris. "I want everything perfect."
"So who wants to head over to Inez's for a bite to eat?' asked Buck.
"You just want to go over to harass that poor girl," accused Nathan.
"I'm not sure it's the only reason Buck goes over there," said Josiah. "She serves the best chili."
"She sure does," agreed Vin. "I'm game."
"I just have to finish up a few things," said Chris. "I'll meet you there."
A half-hour later Chris walked into The Saloon. He saw his team sitting at the usual table and walked over. Inez was clucking her tongue over the vivid bruise on Vin's face. Chris noticed she had brought him an extra helping of chili. They spent a couple of hours laughing and drinking before they left and went home. Chris dropped Vin off at his apartment and headed back to the ranch.
+ + + + + + +
The next morning Chris was heading for the elevator in the parking garage when he heard the unmistakable rumble of a Harley. The bike rumbled around the corner and pulled into Vin's spot. He put down the stand and turned off the engine. He got off the bike and walked towards Chris pulling off his helmet. Chris just smiled. The women in the office were going to love the outfit he was in. He was dressed in faded jeans, sparkling white T-shirt and worn cowboy boots. Over that he had a black leather biker jacket.
"Howdy, boss," Vin said as he got closer and tucked the helmet under his arm.
"That thing's a menace," he indicated the bike.
"I know," he said with a smile and got into the elevator.
"So what do you want me to do today?" he asked as they went up.
"I want you to check all the extra back-up weapons," he said. "Clean them and make sure they're in working order."
The elevator stopped a few times to let people in. Chris noticed Vin wedge himself into the corner. He caught the younger man's eye and he gave Chris an apologetic smile. One of the women on the elevator smiled at Vin and Chris could see he wasn't comfortable with the attention. The elevator came to their floor and they got out. As they walked to their office Chris heard a few comments from the secretaries. He had guessed right; they liked Vin's outfit. He looked at Vin and could see he didn't notice or pretended not to. They entered the outer office and Chris closed the door.
"Vin I need to know something."
"Are you claustrophobic?"
"All depends on what that means."
"You don't like small spaces or lots of people around."
"Not fond of small places," he admitted. "Doesn't mean I can't go in them, just not for a long time."
"I'll have to remember that," said Chris. "Come on, I'll show the weapons closet."
By the time the others walked in Vin had the weapons spread out on the small conference table. Chris had also said he wanted the binoculars and other equipment checked. They walked in to find Vin stripping the shotgun.
"Mornin," he said with a smile.
"I do believe he likes his job," commented Buck.
When Chris heard the other he gave them each an assignment. Josiah was to check the binoculars and other visual equipment. Nathan was in charge of the radios and other listening device and Buck was to give Vin a hand. They each went about their tasks. Buck told some of his more outlandish stories. They had been going for a few hours when Josiah checked the binoculars. He looked through the lenses to make they were all right. When he took the binoculars away his eyes were ringed with black. Josiah had no idea but when Buck saw he burst out laughing. He leaned back in the chair laughing, causing it to fall over. Nathan and Vin laughed also. Chris finally came out to see what was going on. He took one look at Josiah and realized their practical joker had struck again. After Josiah looked in a mirror he joined in the laughter.
"So gentlemen it would appear we have a practically joker amongst us," said Josiah as he wiped his eyes.
"Yup, looks that way," agreed Vin.
"I'm glad you agree Mr.Tanner," said Josiah as he walked towards him. "Because I believe you are that person."
"Me? Why me?"
"I think Josiah's right," agreed Buck. "It started when you got here."
"Wait a minute," he protested. "Just because they started when I got here, don't mean it was me. Besides I've been here almost a month now. Nothing's happened since that day with the snakes. Could be any of us. Including Chris."
"He's right Josiah," said Nathan. "There's no proof."
"Alright since we had our little fun do you think you can get back to work?" asked Chris.
The rest of the morning was spent finishing the tasks Chris had given them. At 1:00 pm they were to meet with the FBI team to go over their place in tomorrow's bust. They went down to the 7th floor and into the conference room. Most of the FBI agents were assembled. They took seats along the wall and Chris noticed Vin sit so he could watch both doors. One of the female agents smiled in their direction and Buck nudged Vin in the ribs. He growled and punched Buck in the arm.
"Sorry, Pard, I forgot," smiled Buck. "Her name's Molly Henderson. I think she likes you."
Vin looked up to see Molly looking at him. She smiled and he quickly looked away. Buck laughed which drew attention to them and Vin looked down at his feet. Konklin walked in and called for everyone's attention. He explained what was expected of each team. They would surround the warehouse covering all possible exits. He told Chris that his team would be responsible for the west side along with five other FBI agents who would be put under Chris's command. Konklin went on to describe the bust in detail. Three hours later the meeting broke up. The five agents assigned to Chris introduced themselves. Chris told everyone what he expected of them. He broke everyone into pairs. Buck was paired with one of the female agents. Chris told her if he got out of line she had his permission to hit him. She said she could handle Buck. The others he paired amongst themselves. Chris and Vin were a team and so were Nathan and Josiah. He said he looked forward to working with them and they'd see them tomorrow.
+ + + + + + +
The next morning, Chris waited with his team as they heard the final instructions. The gear was all checked for the last time. Josiah ran a radio check with the main dispatch for the sting. Chris noticed Vin standing off by himself. He was dressed all in black. His pants were tucked into his combat boots. He also had on fingerless gloves. They all wore bulletproof vests. Chris just shook his head. He looked like a kid getting ready to play paint ball. Except Vin's guns were a little more deadly. He had added to his Sigs a Glock and an assault rifle. Konklin called for them to mount up and they all loaded into the vans. Vin sat between Josiah and Chris. He fidgeted with the vest.
"Damn," he said. "I hate these thing. They're too constrictive."
"When the bullets start flying you'll be glad for its protection," said Josiah.
"There's a lot of places a bullet can go to get around these things," commented Vin.
'Thanks Vin, I needed to be thinking about that," said Buck as he smacked Vin's leg.
"You nervous?" asked Chris
"I'd be stupid not to be," Vin answered.