"Oh for God sakes! Mr. Tanner. It's just a bath tub," Ezra's exasperation carried through the dingy hollow rooms of the abandoned warehouse. It had at one time been converted to apartments but that had been years ago. A relentless depression, years of disuse and more recent recession had left the large building virtually uninhabited. Except, maybe, for the slithering knotted mass of snakes at the bottom of the tub.
The porcelain bathtub sat nestled up against the West wall. The plaster had long ago disappeared from the wall, revealing the two by twos and studs. Mortar had chipped and fallen due to the ravages of time. The toilet had fallen to thieves. Empty plumbing receptacles sat vainly waiting for a seat.
It would not happen, not any time soon at least.
"Ez, ya'll jist go on ahead," Vin looked nervously over his shoulder quietly fingering his Sig.
Ezra snorted with derision, "I think not, Mr. Tanner." Though the prospect of fleeing the building seemed like an exceptionally fine idea, Standish would not leave without the Texan. "Vin, just step across," the undercover agent stared imploringly at his partner.
"No way in Hell Ez," Tanner bit out backing away from the tub.
"Oh Good Lord Man!" Standish stomped his foot in impatience as he shifted weight from foot to foot, "they're just snakes .harmless tiny little reptiles surely you are not frightened by such miniscule things?" To make his point Standish reached in and simply picked one up. The snake curled and twisted in his grip. "You see Mr. Tanner .harmless"
"You put that damn thing down or I'll shoot your sorry ass where you stand," Tanner felt a cold sweat chill his skin. He backed away.
Ezra sighed and dropped the small reptile back in with its brethren, "They're not dangerous .just close your eyes and step over."
Tanner flashed the undercover agent an angry glance, "Shut up Ezra."
"They're snakes Mr. Tanner, not mythical demons," Ezra reiterated wishing desperately to escape the maze of a warehouse. Men searched the area for them, men with automatic weapons and severe anger issues.
"Yeah? well you would know all about snakes, now, wouldn't you?" Vin bit out with enough venom to match his blind fear. Gawd damn he hated those things .just something stone cold about them.
Ezra took a breath and closed his eyes briefly. Though the remark from Tanner was sprung from anger and adrenaline, a life time of such taunts still held a sting, no matter the reason behind their utterance.
"If you believe it to be true," Standish squared his shoulders and used the slight to his advantage, "then take my word that those slithering reptiles can not harm you in any way."
"Gawd Ez, I'm sorr "
"Mr. Tanner we don't have time for maudlin sentimentalities," Foot steps echoed on an iron stair case somewhere down the hall. They didn't stand a chance against automatic weapons, not out in the open.
"Listen Ez," Tanner took a tentative step toward the doorway. Debris blocked the hall just to the left, their exit. The hole through the wall just beside the tub was their only way out. From there, all they had to do was cross two more rooms, get to the outside wall and hit the fire escape. They would be free and clear.
Vin had the lay out memorized. This had been his escape plan. Heck, things were going great up until now. Who would have thought there would be a bathtub full of snakes in the way?
"I'll lead them away, give you time to get out," Tanner liked that idea. He would give those idiots something to chase after and give Ezra time to get out.
"I don't think so Mr. Tanner," Ezra hissed back, his anger mounting. If Vin disappeared out that door then he was a dead man either way. Killed by the loony moon shiners that used this old warehouse as a hideout for their distillery or he stood to be mangled and destroyed by Mr. Larabee, Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Sanchez's hands. They three lived relentlessly by a simple motto. You never left anyone. All or none .no piece meal surviving. Accept maybe in the case of young Mr. Dunne. He had too much ahead of him a bright future that none of the others would see destroyed if they could avoid it.
Things quickly climbed the scales of desperate. They needed to disappear and now.
"Listen Ez, I ain't got any intentions of getting my fool head shot off," Tanner liked the sound of his words. They made perfect sense. Ezra was a smart guy, he would understand the logic.
"You will not risk getting your appropriately named Fool Head shot off if you would just skewer up the courage and get your yellowing hide over here." Standish's ire laced every word.
"You calling me a coward?"
"It seems to fit at the moment."
"Listen here you two bit lying sack of shit," Tanner stalked toward the tub and the undercover agent with fire in his eyes, "you ain't got the stomach to handle the shit I have to do .to damn fancy, a freakin' sissy hidin' behind yer dumb ass suits and piss ant vocabulary." Vin paused letting his anger steam roll, "ain't no fuckin' wonder yer ma ditched your pathetic ass every chance she got ."
"Though that maybe true, Mr. Tanner, she did have the decency to marry my father and give me his name," Ezra returned hotly stepping back away from the hole in the wall, creating distance between the far side of the tub and himself, "and though I may have my short comings, I can truthfully say I do not hide behind an easily accommodated disability " there was a pause and a long suffering sigh, "Are there any other hang-ups you suffer with that Mr. Larabee feels the need to protect you from? ." Standish quirked his eyebrow in a cocky fashion flashing a superior half smile.
"Why you filthy, no good, rich, son of a bitch," Tanner leaped over the tub in a single move. He hit the composite floor on the side and sprung at the undercover agent dragging him to the floor. Years of taunting, years of struggling and fighting just to keep his head above water in series of school systems too busy and too over crowded to help or care about one foster child, suddenly bubbled to the surface. Tanner saw every school yard bully, heard every frustrated sigh uttered by a tutor, reread every failing grade that ever passed his hands. He recalled every house he lost because he wavered between special needs and 'regular' kids.
With balled fists, he punched every last one of the faces that controlled his destiny with cold disregard for a small boy with no one in the world to truly care for him.
He struck out with vengeance for every time someone laughed or mocked him because he straggled behind others. He flailed his arms pummeling the target trapped beneath him.
Sweat beaded his forehead, his arms slowly became leaden. He dragged in great heaves of breath as he sat back on the midsection of the man that lay below him. Standish kept his arms up, covering his face.
"Gotcha!" The voice that rasped behind them thrust Tanner back to the present. The musty smell of the warehouse suddenly invaded his nostrils. The weak sunlight streaming through tears in the corrugated metal focused as old school yards faded away. Illegal alcohol laced with lead they were suppose to be trying to escape the stupid warehouse .
The cocking of an automatic weapon had Tanner freezing. He stared at the blue coated arms that still weakly covered the yet unseen face of the undercover agent.
"Ez?" Tanner's soft question held more fear of his own actions than the of the gun pointing at his back.
"Hands in the air Fed," The moonshiner laughed at the ease in which he caught the two feds. ATF agents apparently weren't too smart.
Vin slowly raised his hands out wide from his body. His skinned knuckles started to throb slightly.
"Ey! .I got'em .In here!" The bearded man shouted over his shoulder to unseen people. He then turned his attention back to the two men and motioned with the barrel of his gun, "ok stand up nice and slow like."
Tanner never took his gaze off Standish's hidden face. The Southerner for his part never moved.
"Come on Cop! What are you dumb?! git up!" The impatience in the voice bordered on hysterical.
Vin slowly climbed to his feet putting a little pressure on either side of Standish's chest. A soft groan and a quiet southern laced, "move!" was his reward.
Tanner dove to the side, as Ezra swung his arm down firing the Sig he still held in his hand.
Twin shots reported. The moon shiner sailed backward as the slug from the sig. slammed into his chest. The automatic jerked and sprayed the ceiling in sporadic dance inspired by the reflexive grip caused by sudden death.
Vin covered his head with his arms and kept rolling out of the way. Once the gun fire stopped, he scrambled toward Standish.
"Come on Ez," the Texan pulled Southerner by an arm and hauled him to his feet. The two men ran for the fire escape weaving and stumbling as they scrambled over and around scattered debris.
The window over the fire escape had been broken out years ago. Shards of thickened, wire meshed, glass littered the floor.
"Come on Ez, through the window," Vin shoved his partner at the window. Standish hesitated for only a moment before lifting a shaky leg up and through.
"We ain't got time for this Ez," Tanner shoved the undercover agent the rest of the way. Standish stumbled onto the platform with Tanner stepping quickly over him.
Ezra staggered across the platform and slipped down the diagonal ladder to the next landing, Tanner's insistent hand never leaving the small of his back.
"Keep movin' Ez," Tanner grabbed the undercover agent by the coat collar and pushed him in the direction of the next corrugated ladder. This continued for five floors.
The last ladder rested heavily on the platform. Ezra struggled and kicked at it to no avail. Years of rust and disuse cemented it in place.
Voices from five floors up started shouting, "There they are! .shoot the bastards!" Metal pinged and threw sparks into the air as bullets suddenly started raining down on the two ATF agents. Vin dropped to one knee and returned fire.
"I'm covering yer slow ass," Tanner shot another round. Someone fell back from the window, "now jump!"
Standish sat at the edge of the platform contemplating the pros and cons of falling the relatively few yards to the ground.
Vin rolled his eyes and gave the Southerner a hard shove. Standish toppled from the fire escape. He hit the pavement in a tuck and rolled a few feet toward a dumpster.
Tanner fired a few more shots and nimbly leaped down. He and Standish scrambled behind the relative safety of the dumpster.
The two men sat side by side fighting for breath. Tanner gazed to his right and stared at the rapidly swelling and bleeding features of Standish.
"Sorry Ez, I kind of lost it up there," Vin spoke softly, choosing his words carefully.
Ezra sighed and sat forward fingering his busted lip and swollen eye, "I provoked you Mr. Tanner, on purpose "
"Still Ez it ain't right," Tanner leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. How could he get so angry so fast .Easy. It was Ezra, damn man knew how to push buttons. He manipulated people for a living. Tanner sat quietly and listened as the rest of their team rushed their side of the building. He heard Larabee shouting orders, Josiah and Nathan calling out. Sirens wailed in the background as more feet pounded pavement. The Calvary had arrived. Vin had half a mind to key his mic and report in.
"Vin?" Chris's voice rang over the small ear pierce. Tanner closed his eyes and let his head bang off the wall. Everything had been recordered.
"Not to worry Mr. Tanner," Ezra slowly pushed himself toward his feet, "they will find no fault with you."
Standish slowly limped away heading toward the front of the building but managing to avoid the heavy foot traffic of the army of officers.
"Shit Ez," Tanner sat quietly for a moment and watched the Southerner slowly melt into the background. Vin could appreciate the ability, he too had developed the same habit to avoid bullies and others seeking an escape goat.
"Hey, you boys alright?" Larabee's voice pulled Tanner back to the present. The leader suddenly materialized at the side of the dumpster.
"Yeah," Tanner accepted the extended hand and let Chris pull him to his feet.
"Where's Ezra?" Chris searched the immediate area. He found his undercover agent just as the man turned the far corner and disappeared around the building. "Ain't yer fault Vin."
Larabee heard the conversation over the mics, just as everyone else did. Standish got Tanner over the snakes .he did a good job.
"Can't figure how you come to that?" Tanner side stepped Larabee and headed for the front of the building taking the shorter of the two routes. His fiery countenance had others backing away from him.
"You think if that was a tub full of bees, Buck would have crossed it? .or if it had some kind of over sized rat that Ezra would have?"
"Don't matter none Chris," Tanner bit out angrily.
"Course it don't," Larabee bit back with some venom of his own, "Damn Tanners are impervious to every thing and anything."
"Shut up Larabee," Tanner warned without looking back.
"Why? You gonna slap me around too," Chris challenged provoking the tracker even further.
Vin spun around just in time to get slammed into the side of the building by Larabee, "Listen up you knot head," Chris's words hissed between clenched teeth, "Ezra knew exactly what he was doing in there .did it on purpose, cuz he wanted to save yer sorry ass " Larabee relaxed his grip slightly but did not relinquish it, "he could give a flyin' fuck about the punches ."
"Yeah well tell'im that," Tanner whispered out with mocking disbelief.
"I don't have to," Larabee slammed Tanner back against the wall, "you and 'im ain't said or done anythin' to each other that someone else hasn't already done," Chris nailed Tanner with a cold look, "only difference is ya both feel bad about it."
With that, Larabee jerked his hands off the front of Tanner's leather fringed coat.
"If you boy's are done with your little melodrama," Buck's voice chuckled over the small earpieces, "we'd all like to go get something to eat."
"And git some ice for Ez's face," JD's voice piped up, "he's gettin' ugly fast."
In the background, muffled by the fact that either his mic no longer worked or was removed, a very irritated Southern voice could be heard, "Mr. Jackson will you desist in touching me!"
The 'Shut up Ezra' from Nathan rang clear across headsets. Chuckles could be heard.
"Brothers, don't make me start slapping heads together," Josiah's schooling voice rumbled over earpieces.
"Hold on Ez I'll be there in a sec," Tanner pushed himself off the wall and followed Larabee back around to the front of the building.
The swirling lights of muted sirens strobed the area. People milled about, each with their own assorted tasks. In the mix, sitting in their own little island of impenetrability stood Team Seven. Buck spoke with a female office just at the invisible line separating Larabee's team from the rest. JD collected equipment from the members of his group, discreetly removing wires. Josiah laughed leaning his head back at some spoken or mentioned folly. In amidst of this commotion, Standish sat on the tail gate of Larabee's ram and blocked and parried Jackson's hands as the medic tried to inspect the new collection of bruises and cuts on the undercover agent's face.
As Vin and Chris drew closer, the others stepped aside out of habit.
"Mr. Tanner will you please explain to Mr. Jackson that you pulled your punches ." Ezra's words were lost in a quickly developing lisp.
"Nathan, I pulled my punches," Tanner spoke without any conviction.
Standish rolled his eyes in a dramatic fashion, "Thank You Mr. Tanner for that convincing rendition of the facts." Ezra leaned heavily against the back of Larabee's truck.
"No problem Ez," Tanner allowed a smile to light his face. JD suddenly appeared, not bothering to touch the sharpshooter, but waited instead for Vin to hand over his head set.
Larabee stood behind Nathan, "He need a Doctor?"
"Nah, Vin hit'im in the safest place possible for Ezra," Jackson slapped a cold pack against his hand softening it some, "in the head."
"Thank you Mr. Jackson, your bedside manner is something to aspire too."
Chris ignored the bantering and caught Standish's swelling eyes, "Good job, Ezra."
Standish tugged at an imaginary hat brim in acknowledgement.
Over the radio an unseen voice crackled, "Someone get Animal Control up here or someone from the Zoo we got a tub full of venomous snakes."
Larabee keyed his radio as he lifted it off his belt, "You sure about that, Henderson?"
There was a pause and a chuckle, "Oh yeah, My old man's a Herpetologist .these little fellows in here are potent...kill a grown man in a matter of minutes."
Vin paled and pushed Standish on the shoulder, "Harmless? "
Standish smiled weakly, shrugging his shoulders as the world began to spin out of control. His face paled under the bruising, just before his eyes rolled and he folded forward and to the side, into Nathan. Jackson shook his head in mock frustration.
"Guess he didn't know either," Buck chuckled, as JD and Josiah helped Nathan lean Standish back into the truck.
Larabee threw his hands up in the air and walked away.