The phone is ringing.
I drag my way back into consciousness and glare at the glowing alarm clock
on the night stand. A blurry Two A.M. glares back.
I only went to bed an hour or so ago, after a ten hour stakeout with the
team, and now someone was willing to take their life into their hands and
call me. It must be important.
It better damn well be important.
For a moment the thought that it could be Buck or JD crosses my mind and
I burrow my head beneath two pillows, and hope that theyll go away.
I cant take another bat incident like last week, when one
of the flying rodents found its way in through the kids open window.
It made it out of the cold and right into their Christmas tree. The creature
of the night had Buck in an uproar, yelling something about the kid getting
rabies, and me unknowingly driving across town to play the unwilling
The image of Buck decked out in his blue M&M flannels, wielding a baseball
bat, and attacking a helpless Christmas tree enters my mind and I cringe.
Not only had that horrible night earned them the current nicknames of Batman
and Boy Wonder, it had won me a new office arrangement. Fifty or more plastic
bats hanging from my ceiling, entangled with tinsel and twinkling lights,
greeted me the next morning. Thanks to an innocent looking sharpshooter and
southerner, no doubt.
The phone is still ringing.
I untangle myself from the sheets and throw my pillow to the floor before
grabbing the handset. If its the Caped Crusaders, I vow that they will
die horrible, miserably slow deaths.
At first, there is no reply and I start to slam the offensive object against
the wall when a childs trembling voice speaks up. Mr.
My heart quickens and a chill passes over me, not unlike the sensation I
had experienced more than five years ago when Id received a fateful
call at work. Something about this call brings those vanquished memories
to the surface. This is Chris Larabee, I take a breath and will
myself to calm down, Who is this?
Alyssa....Alyssa Montez. The girl finally manages.
It is obvious she is crying and I feel lightheaded as the name registers.
Alyssa is one of the children from my best friends neighborhood. In
fact, Im pretty sure her and her family live in the same run down building.
I vaguely recall meeting the ten year-old at one of the clean-up
operations that Vin had organized and roped the rest of us into.
Whats wrong, Alyssa? I ask, my chest tightening.
It...its...Vin, Mr. Tanner...he..
He what?! I demand, somehow already knowing what the little girl
is going to say next. .
Hes hurt...he.told me to call..you.
Shit. What do you mean hes hurt? How? My voice grows harsh
and a part of me realizes that Im speaking with a child, but another
part, the biggest part, screams at me to find out what I need to in order
to help Vin.
There was a fight tonight, she whispers, between the Sangrias
and the Demons. Mr. Vin had been talking with Carlos, my brother, and trying
to convince him to break from the gang. Some of the Demons found out and
came after Carlos. She paused to take a shuddering breath. Mr.
Vin was in the middle of them when it started. He was stabbed when he jumped
in front of Carlos.
I force the icy lump that has sprung to my throat back into the pit of my
gut. Alyssa, where are you?
At Mr. Tanners apartment. Joseph brought him here.
Did you call an ambulance or the police? I ask, knowing how the
natives of Purgatorio feel about the law.
The little girl doesnt reply and I can hear her whispering something
on the other end. Alyssa?
No, Mr. Larabee. Vin says only you. No police.
Sonuvabitch, I growl, realizing exactly why my best friend
doesnt want anyone else involved. He doesnt want more trouble
for the kids hes always trying to protect. Well, the police
are the last ones he should be worrying about. If I get a hold of them,
theyll wish someone had put them behind bars a long time ago.
Alyssa, you tell him Im on my way. Tell him to hold on,
I slam the phone down, struggle out of bed and grab the same jeans I had
tossed to the floor just a short time ago. Its as if my body has kicked
into automatic pilot, the old familiar feeling of adrenaline pumping through
my veins. How many times are we going to go through this, Cowboy?
I dont even bother with socks as I pull my boots on and slip my gray
sweater over my head. The familiar lump springs to my throat as I remember
Christmas, when Vin had given it to me, jokingly saying it would brighten
up my black wardrobe. Had it only been three days ago? Of course I should
know better than anyone how life can change in an instant, in one painstaking
Funny, how we tend to forget things like that.
I push the surge of emotions back behind my usual stone defenses and grab
my cell phone and keys. I havent got time to feel, Ive got to
get to Vin.
Hitting the speed dial for Nathan as I pick up my gun from the kitchen counter,
I head for the back door. Jackson answers on the second ring and he doesnt
sound much happier than I had earlier. Buck, I swear the kid dont
have rabies, he mumbles, and I remember that I wasnt the only
one our fun-loving, over protective ladies man summoned last week.
Nate, its me.
Chris? I hear a tinge of fear behind his voice and a crash as
he apparently reached for the lamp and missed it.
Vins hurt. Im coming to get you. Bring your medical bag.
Without giving him a chance to reply, I click the power off and jump in the
For a moment, I consider calling 911, but even my worry wont let me
break a trust that has saved my own life countless times. As much as I hate
it, Ill just have to have faith that it will also be enough to save
my best friend. At least for now.
+ + + + + + +
I jump out of the truck before Nate even has a chance to get out of his seatbelt.
The ride from his apartment had been a short interrogation, him asking me
what Vin's injuries were, how long ago they had happened, and why in the
hell weren't we calling the paramedics.
What could I tell him? Some would say that I am tight-lipped in the best
of moods, so throw in a situation like the one at hand, and I'm reduced to
grunts and growls. Still, I try.
"He was stabbed. No more than an hour ago. It has to do with some of the
Short, and anything but sweet.
Nates only other words had been heartfelt reassurances that Vin would
be fine. Of course, he would be just fine. We both knew they were unfounded.
This was Vin we were talking about, after all. The only other person I know
who can attract more trouble is tucked safely away right now, in a loft across
town, under the watchful eye of his big brother.
As I slam my door shut, I wonder if there is anyway that I could convince
Vin that he would be much happier living at my ranch. The barn loft could
be transformed into a decent apartment. It could be a New Years project.
With that irrational thought swirling around in my brain, I take off at a
run, not even paying attention to the usual patrons of the stoop outside
of Tanner's building.
Little Al, a seven year-old boy with an attitude from hell, calls my name
but I continue on in, and up the stairs. The idea that it is 2:30 in the
morning registers somewhere, as I wonder where in the hell Little Als
parents are, but there is no time to spare for that or his password games.
He's one of the many of my best friend's rehabilitation efforts, a good example
of what one caring person can mean to a child's life, but at the moment,
the only person I care about could be bleeding to death because of his damn
That thought propels me up the last flight of stairs and the first person
who greets me as I rush through the fire door is a little dark-haired girl,
with a dirt-smudged face and wide, unblinking eyes.
"Alyssa." I nod, but keep up my momentum to make it to Vin's door. Im
vaguely aware that she is following behind me, and, even in my rush, I
havent missed the haunted look on her face. I've seen less suffering
and turmoil in the eyes of a soldier. It's then I realize that Vin will never
leave this place for my ranch.
A tall lanky teen in a Denver Broncos jacket is standing sentry at the entrance.
Its Joseph Logan, one of the few boys in Purgatorio who has refused
the Sangrias, the Ravens, and the Demons, choosing rather to help Vin and
his patriots clean up the place.
"It's about time," he tells me, a look of relief slipping past his tough
exterior, and flooding into his expressive green eyes. "He's messed up bad,
I choose not to comment on his last sentence. Instead, I place a hand on
his shoulder and nod in the direction I have just come from. "A friend is
on his way up, Logan. Make sure he gets here."
I do this partly to give the teen something to do and mostly because Nathan
isn't a regular around these parts. The locals recognize me and JD, Buck
too, since he rarely allows the kid to come to this part of town alone.
Can't really blame him. Just as the Sheriff of Nottingham hated Robin Hood,
the local drug dealers and other predators despise Vin.
After all, he does steal from them in a way. He does it by taking away their
biggest revenue- that being the future users and pushers they plan to create
from innocent children. I wont even entertain the fact that he is also
an ex-gang member, with all the nasty baggage that comes with that.
That's why although being Tanner's friend may get you access to the place,
it could also get you killed.
The impact of that steals my breath as I enter my friend's home and instantly
catch sight of his motionless form on his faded yellow couch.
A slight, older Latino woman is leaned over him, but her frightened gaze
locks on me as I quickly stride towards them and she starts to get up.
"Don't be scared, Mrs. Montez. He's not as mean as he looks."
The Texas drawl is softer than usual, weak even, but the hint of humor behind
it is music to my ears.
Unfortunately some of my short-lived relief fades when I round the coffee
table and spot a pile of towels on the floor.
Towels soaked with Vin's blood.
Hey, cowboy. Took ya long enough.
His words bring my eyes from the mess on the floor up to meet his.
Our silence communication never fails to amaze me. With a shared look hes
answered about twenty questions.
You know me, I reply, sidestepping Mrs. Montez to take a seat
on the edge of the coffee table, I had to stop for gas, a midnight
snack, Nate, all the essentials.
He forces a smile. I told Mrs. Montez youd be here.
Lo siento, senior, the woman says when I look at her. She
doesnt meet my eyes as I gently remove her hand from the towel that
she is holding against Vins side and replace it with my own. Im
sure she is Carlos and Alyssas mother or grandmother. The look of guilt
and remorse on her face is a dead give away.
Its all right, Teresa, Vin starts, but his words are cut
off by a gasp of pain as I push much harder on his wound than Mrs. Montez
had been willing to.
Shit, Chris! He tries to sit up to push my hand away, but I use
my free one to shove him back to the couch.
Easy, cowboy. Ive got to get this bleeding stopped. Now.
That icy lump is back, threatening to steal my breath, as he reluctantly
relaxes back against the cushions but gains a death grip on my arm in the
Damn, that hurts, he hisses, as I lean in closer to him to add
I know, Im sorry. My voice is a whisper now, although I
dont know why. The old woman has moved away from us now, wearing the
same dazed expression on her face that Alyssa had displayed earlier. The
little girl has joined her.
Vin opens his eyes and stares up at me. Serves me right, huh?
A small hint of his usual cocky-ass grin plays at the corner of his mouth
and I shake my head.
Damn straight. I cant believe you got me out of bed at this time
He winces again and I swear I feel a sharp pain lancing through my own gut.
Least you wont need your cross and wooden stake this time.
Before I can reply to his smart-assed comment, Nathan bursts through the
door startling the both of us.
Took you long enough, Nate, I growl, stealing Vins words
Our sharpshooter squeezes my wrist as if to tell me to, in JDs words,
Whatd he do, doc, make you park his truck on the better part
of town and walk?
Jackson sighs as he slides to a halt beside of me. Hardly, Id
probably still be down on the sidewalk trying to guess the secret password,
if that kid, Joey, hadnt come and pulled that pint-sized doorman off
Capone, Vin and I tell him the magic word at the same time and
he throws us a withering glare.
That explains the accent, but not where the hell his parents are
he says, as he opens his medical bag and kneels in front of the couch. His
dark eyes rest on Vin and he instantly transforms from our good-natured partner
to the hard as nails medic that he can sometimes be. Tell me exactly
Jackson nudges me out of his way, and although I gladly relinquish my task
of hurting Vin, I dont release all contact. My hand rests lightly next
to his head as I move around behind the sofa.
Some of the kids were fighting, I got in the way, Tanner replies
casually, and Jackson looks up to gauge my reaction.
So what youre saying is that the gangs were having a little
territorial battle and you overstepped your boundary.
Something like that. Vin grins, but flinches when Nathan pulls
the towel away from his side.
God, I hate to see him in pain.
I need some water, Jackson looks at me again, but my best friend
seems as reluctant for me to go as I am to leave.
I will get it, senior, Mrs. Montez speaks up softly, and I watch
her disappear into the kitchen.
This wound is deep. Its going to need quite a few stitches. We
should take you to the hospital.
No. Vin tries to sit up again, and it is Nathan who pushes him
down this time.
Lie still. Jackson shakes his head at me as if I could control
the patient. Ive seen him give Buck that look before, but this isnt
JD were dealing with. Youre going to start bleeding again,
and then well have no choice but to take you to a 'real' doctor.
Theres always a choice, Tanner sighs, and I dont
miss how quick he gave up his struggles. Besides, Nate, youre
practically my family physician. How much more real can you get?
Nathan gives him a stern look. You know my training, Vin. I was a medic,
not a doctor.
Teresa returns with a pan of water and some more towels, sitting them at
Nathans feet, before scurrying back to the corner to wait with Alyssa.
I trust you, doc, Vin gasps, as Jackson pours some of the liquid
over the gash in his side. Its just a scratch. He jerks
again as Nate repeats the action; this time using gloved fingers to probe
at the wound.
Its not a scratch, its deep. Nate gives me another
look before continuing his inspection.
Take it easy, Vin. I let my free hand rest on my best friends
forehead and he glances up at me.
I'm okay, Chris. You know I cant go to the hospital, right? Too
many questions. Mandatory paper work. His eyes leave me for a moment
and he looks toward Teresa Montez. Carlos is on probation. One more
strike and hes gone. Hes all that Alyssa and Teresa have.
Nathan is staring at me again also, as if I have the final say. I want to
reassure Vin, to let him know I understand that he wants to protect the people
here, because he was once where they are; but my first priority is his well
Doesnt he realize hes all that I have.
Our partner shakes his head. Like I said, its deep, and I
dont know what could be going on inside. He opens his bag and
pulls out gauze and bandages. There could be a bleeder. He places
the bandage on my best friends side and starts to unroll the gauze.
He really should go to the hospital.
Vin glares at Nathan as he works. Just stitch me up, Nate. Youve
done it before.
When it seemed Ive had no other choice, I have. Our partner
glances up at Vin, but continues to work. But like you said there
are usually choices, some of which I have now. One being, we can put your
sorry ass in the truck and drive to Mercy and the other being I can call
911. Its as simple as that.
They both look at me now and speak at the same time. Chris?
Sweat has beaded on Vins forehead and his eyes are a brighter blue,
as pain mixes with frustration. I cant take chances with your
And what about their lives? Vin motions to where Teresa and Alyssa
stand, clinging to one another. This isnt their fault.
Weariness and anger mix just under the surface and I have to clinch my fists
to keep my temper in check. Still my voice causes Alyssa to lean closer to
her mother. Its not yours either, damn it!
Vin closes his eyes, and swallows hard, and I know hes in more pain
than he wants us to know. If Carlos goes to jail, this was all for
My best friend is nothing if not smart, and did I mention, manipulative,
when he needs to be.
I should have just let them stab him, cause hes as good
as dead if he goes inside.
Alyssa has started to cry now.
Nathan looks up at me, and I see his determination waiver slightly.
You could be just as dead if I let you lie here and suffer from blood
loss, or infection.
I turn my gaze to Teresa. Im sorry.
The woman holds her daughter tighter and nods her head in forgiving acceptance.
Es tu hermano.
I feel Vins eyes on me, even though Im still watching Teresa,
and I can almost hear his voice in my head. Brothers trust one another.
I take a deep breath and try to find my balance, before turning back to Nathan.
Is Rain on duty?
He takes a deep breath himself and rakes a hand over his short hair, frowning.
She wont like it.
Call her. See if she can come. If she can, have Ezra go by the hospital
and get her.
Shell tell you the same thing about the hospital.
I shrug my shoulders. Let Tanner use the wounded deer eyes
Women really like deer. Vins voice is weaker now, but the
grip he has on Nathans arm is strong. He smiles slightly. Rain
wont get in trouble, Nate. My best friend glances at Teresa.
No one will.
But someone should. Nathan sighs. It isnt right what
goes on down here, what kids get away with.
Nobodys getting away with anything.
Vin quickly looks up at me. Dont even think about it, Chris.
He attempts to push himself up to a sitting position, but Nate stops him.
This aint a police matter. We already decided that.
Decided? When the hell did I decide anything?
I gently put my hand on his shoulder to keep him from going anywhere. Bending
down to where our eyes are level, I let my hand slide to his neck and squeeze
gently. Dont worry, cowboy. Im not on duty. He rolls
his eyes. Right now, Im not a cop at all. Just a man.
His eyes now go to our medic for assistance. Nate?
Dont look at me. I think youre both crazy.
I stand and look at the only other occupants in the room. Mrs. Montez,
could you help Nathan with Vin until I get back?
And Alyssa, well need someone to inform Lil Al that well
have friends coming soon.
Si, Mr. Chris. She smiles slightly at me, and Im
not sure if she understands all that is going on, but I notice she has stopped
crying. She turns from me and runs out the door.
This aint your fight, Chris. Vin gasps as Nate helps him
to his feet.
I cant help but to wince. Didnt stop you.
Vin shakes his head and gives me a devil be damned look, knowing hes
not got the strength to do much more. Thats different, stubborn,
sonuvabitch. The last few words are mumbled, but I still hear them.
That sounds a might like the pot calling the kettle black. I
carefully hook my arm around his waist and take part of his weight from Nate
as we make it towards his room.
You should consider keepin late hours more often, Larabee. It
does a world of good for your sense of humor, Vin tells me through
gritted teeth, and I worry again about my decision.
Easy, Nate kicks a basketball and some shoes out of the way before
his patient can trip over them, and we finally make it to the bed.
Grab those extra blankets, he points to a chair in the corner
of Tanners room, but before I have a chance to move, Teresa is getting
them for us.
We need to keep his feet up, and keep him warm, Nathan is talking
more to Mrs. Montez now, but I dont know how much she comprehends.
Keeps him from going into shock, while we get the bleeding stopped.
After we have gotten Vin on the bed. Nate looks at me. Ill go
call Rain, but I cant promise anything.
I nod. If she thinks hes in danger, tell her to do what she needs
Im still here, you know. Vin grounds out, through gritted
teeth. I can hear and speak.
Too bad you cant dodge.
Vin starts to say something, but Nathan shakes his head. You two are
worse than Buck and JD. Before he leaves the room, he places Teresas
hand over the make shift bandage he has applied to Vins side and smiles
His eyes meet mine. Can I see you outside?
I hold Vins gaze for a moment, its all the conversation we usually
need in times like these, but something brings me to actual words.
Ill be back. Dont go anywhere.
He smirks. As if. Docs liable to hog tie me if I even mention
how I could really use a pi...., he catches himself and smiles
apologetically at Teresa, well, you know how Nate is.
I nod and start for the door, when his next words have me faltering slightly.
I was him once.
I turn and despite the fact that the boys mother is there, I dont
shield the heat behind my words. I dont believe that for a minute.
But because you are who you are, Ill show him some mercy.
Mrs. Montez doesnt turn to look at me, but I see her shoulders relax
as if she is releasing a long held breath.
Vin merely turns his eyes from mine.
When I reach Nate, he is just closing his cell phone.
Ezra says you owe him two now.
Two? Hows he figure?
Nathan grins. Hes counting Christmas Eve when you and Vin both
got drunk and he had to play chauffer.
I sigh. I guess it wouldnt do one bit of good to point out that
Buck was suppose to be designated.
Shaking my head, I try and gauge his expression. You think this is
a bad idea, dont you?
Does it matter what I think?
Hell yes, it matters. Youre the expert. I rub at my tired
eyes. Will he be all right?
Its his turn to shake his head. Rain is going to come, but she
asked why in the hell you didnt bring him to the hospital yourself?
And you explained?
He has the decency to look chagrined. Nope. I lied.
I frown, my mind picturing the woman in question. She has more often than
not put me in my place when work has conflicted with their home life, but
I wouldnt want her any other way. Shes your wife.
And you all are family. Shell understand.
But will she forgive you?
At that he smiles. With some groveling on my part, and some stretching
on my credit cards part. His face grows serious. But what
I dont understand is why in the hell you dont take him to the
He needs to do this thing his way.
Nathan throws him hands up. Then why you going after that punk?
Because, I need to do this thing my way.
Of course. Nathan sighs and rolls his eyes. Why do I even
bother? If its not one thing, its bats.
We both laugh.
Thats what you get for being the Florence Nightingale of our
Yeah, well, better her than the Dirty Harry. His eyes hold mine
for a moment. Its hard being the heavy all the time.
Its my turn to sigh. We all have our roles, Nate.
With a nod towards Vins room, I place my hand on his shoulder. Take
care of him for me.
Thats a given.
I start to go, but then stop and look at him once more. Its now I notice
hes still wearing Pajama bottoms with his ATF jacket. And Nate,
if I didnt say it before, thanks.
Thats a given too.
Again I start for the door, but cant resist tossing another comment
over my shoulder as I go. And here I thought Bucklin was the only one
whod wear flannels out in public.
These happen to be lounge pants, he calls back as I slip out
the door, and I cant help but to smile.
Lounge pants, my ass.
+ + + + + + +
It isnt hard to track Carlos down, especially after Logan gives me
the 4-1-1, as he calls it. The Ditch, is a quaint little establishment, full
of pool tables, run down video games, and really bad furniture.
The local kids love it.
It falls in neutral territory somehow, and it is used as recruiting ground
for most gangs.
It is here that I find Carlos Montez.
Hes sitting with another boy about his age and two girls, wearing too
little in the clothes department and too much make-up.
All four look up as I approach, but I get the distinct satisfaction of seeing
fear flash through Carlos eyes. I know its him because Logan
had described him to a tee, right down to the 9-gauged silver loop in his
ear, and Demon colors he was wearing rapped around his head.
Whos asking? He finds enough bravado to save face with
I take my badge out and flash it, more to scare the others away than anything.
I promised Vin that this wouldnt be an official visit. Special
This about the other Fed? Its the other boy who speaks
up, and I dont even glance his way.
Ill give the rest of you three seconds to vanish before I consider
this meeting a conspiracy.
Shit! One of the girls grabs her hot pink backpack and her friend.
See ya around, Hoja.
It only takes a moment for the boy to follow, but he does it with a little
Dont take any of his shit, Hoja. Hang tight.
Once hes gone I wrap my hands in the smug kids black jacket and
haul him to his feet. Hoja? I practically spit the words out
as I drag him through the small room and out a back door I spotted on the
way in. Hoja? I say it again as I push him away from me. Nice
name. Means knife or blade or something along that line doesnt it.
He straightens himself and brushes his hands over his dirty jean jacket.
I take it youre good with a knife then?
He stands a little taller, puffs his chest out more. I can handle my
Like you did tonight? Seems to me that someone else wanted to show
you that they were a little better.
Dante dont have nothing on me, man. Hes a lackey,
not even initiated yet.
I rake my hands through my hair to keep them away from the kids throat.
Maybe teaching you a lesson was going to be his way into good
You see whos still standing?
I dont give a fuck about whos standing. The only thing
I care about is whos laid up because of your twisted little kid
I know who you are now, man. Ive seen you around the barrio.
He gets some of his courage back. Youre Tanners partner.
Lucky for you.
What? You think I need Tanner to protect me? I aint one of his
kids. I dont need nobody.
That doesnt explain how my partner ended up with a hole in his
gut and why youre health without a scratch.
He shrugs his shoulders and actually has the nerve to laugh. Like
I told you before, Im a man; I can take care of myself. Maybe Tanner
should have brought you along for back up to look after him.
I cant help myself as I grab hold of him and push him against the wall.
You dont have a clue as to what a real man is.
He scoffs, but I see a slight twinge of fear return to his dark gaze. A
man can stand alone. Hes unbreakable, like the hardest stone.
Its my turn to sneer. Youve never been alone, kid. Totally
and completely, helplessly alone. If you had, you wouldnt treat your
mother the way you do. Youd cherish your family.
He roles his eyes and tries to pull away from me. The Demons are my
Nice family. I release my grip. And by the way, stones
wear away after a while, turn to dust, Carlos, I take a step back from
him, especially if theres nothing to buffer them from the storm.
A family like the Demons doesnt offer much shelter.
I dont get you, pig. He spits at my feet. Youre
not my father. Youre nothing to me.
Thats right. So, I guess youre lucky I know a man when
I see one. Men have to answer for their deeds; kids get a second chance.
I dont want anything from you, his bravado is brought back
by his injured pride, and I dont want anything from El Cuervo,
Whether its hearing my best friend referred to as one of the Ravens,
or the mocking, smart ass look on the kids face, I snap. This time
I dont hold back anything as I shove his punk ass against the cold
stone wall behind us.
I pull my gun, really not sure if I plan on using it or not. I shove it roughly
under his chin. Vin Tanner saved your miserable life. He already gave
you something. Now you owe him. My face is mere inches away from his.
You understand a blood dept dont you, Carlos? Even the lowest
of gang scum understands that concept.
I feel him try to swallow, aware that Im cutting off some of his oxygen.
I smile. Anything happens to him, and I have a right to collect on
The mans got enemies, he manages to get out.
All the more reason to have a friend on the inside. I press the
gun harder. You keep your eyes and ears open, if theres even
a murmur of something happening to Tanner, I better hear about it first.
Im no snitch, man.
Just think of it as self-preservation.
Youre a cop, you cant kill me.
Im not talking about killing you, Carlos. There are things worse
than death. I finally take my gun away from his throat, but tap him
on the head with it. Prison is calling your name, son, and there are
men in there that will tattoo theirs across your ass.
He rubs the red spot on his neck, but still gives me a slight look of defiance.
I didnt ask him to help me.
He tends to do selfless things, like jump in front of bullets, knives,
help out kids who dont deserve it. Its in his nature. I
slowly put my gun back in its holster and look him hard in the eye.
Dont worry though, its not in mine.
What do you want me to do?
First, I want you to go see your mother, and let her know youre
all right. Then, I think there are some things that Agent Tanner may need
help with until he recovers completely.
My homies wont like me hangin with no cop.
Your homies didnt save your life. Vin did. I pat my gun.
He swallows hard and rubs at his throat again. Ill pay my
I catch his eyes and nod. Thats what men do.
+ + + + + + +
Ive been sitting in the dark, watching the steel gray of dawn turn
from light blue to a soft pink for a while before he starts to stir. Ive
watched the colossal giant sentries of stone be washed in light to become
run down buildings once more before his eyes finally open. When he looks
around the room and focuses on me, the sun finally rises.
I have to swallow hard before I trust myself to speak. Hey,
He looks out the window, surprise that it is morning registering on his drawn
features. Nate gone home?
I move from the hard chair to the corner of his bed. Nope. Sacked out
on the floor. He must have lost the coin toss with Ezra for the couch.
Doesnt he know better than to let Ezra use his own coin?
He pushes himself up in bed, one hand instinctively going to his side.
I swear he has one with double heads.
I turn my head; not wanting to see any weakness in the person I try to pretend
is invincible. Im amazed hed leave the Jag here
At this he actually laughs. He paid Logan fifty dollars to watch it.
Our eyes meet once more. Let me guess, Ill be picking up that
He nods. That and his dry cleaning bill. Little Al refused his
Water balloon filled with ketchup?
A slight imitation of Vins cocky-assed grin makes an appearance.
Good one. I shake my head, thinking of the Armani. It could
have been worse.
Vin snorts. Yeah, Ez could have shot him.
I drop my head and rub at my tired eyes. Good thing he has a soft spot
The same could be said about you.
When I look up his blue gaze is boring into me. Hows that?
He gives a small shrug. Well, Im bettin you didnt
I thought about it. But prison blue isnt my color.
I hear some places are going back to traditional black and white.
I shake my head. I hate stripes.
He attempts to laugh, but grabs his side instead, closing his eyes for a
I place a hand on his leg. You okay? Do I need to get Nate?
His eyes open quickly. No. Im okay. Rain did a good job of stitching
I move my hand and rake it through my hair. Yeah, just like those kids
did a good job of messing you up.
He sighs, and I lift my eyes back to his. Were not going to agree on
this subject and we both know it. It wasnt Carlos fault.
Hes got a hard surface, but theres something good underneath,
You really believe that, Tanner?
His eyes cloud over with an emotion I cant quite read, though Ive
seen it there before. I want to. More like he thinks he has to.
I hope youre right, Cowboy. I hope hes worth this.
Not too many things worth spillin blood over, Larabee. Thats
somethin the kids down here dont understand. They dont
To me, there would be nothing worth him being hurt. You think spilling
your own will change that?
Theres the hint of a grin again. Wasnt my first plan.
I fold my arms over my chest. Yeah, Plan B usually sucks.
Yeah. He yawns and I can tell whatever medicine Rain has given
him is calling him back to healing sleep. "In case I fade out on you, I just
wanted to say thanks again for coming, Chris. For cutting Carlos some
I reach out to fix his pillows as he tries to get comfortable.
Wasnt my first plan.
Yeah, but you arresting him or killing him wouldnt have done
much good. For neither of us.
He winces and I catch myself rethinking my moments with Carlos. Im
not so sure you saving him will either.
When hes settled once more, he looks up at me. You never know,
maybe I bought him some time.
To change. To get a little smarter.
Shaking my head in frustration, I find something interesting to look at on
the floor. Well, I didnt do what I did for him.
I know. Vin waits for me to look at him again. And I appreciate
I just hope he does, Cowboy. I just hope he does.
As he falls back asleep, I pull the covers up around him, and let my hand
rest on his covered chest for a moment. Long enough to feel his heart beat.
Long enough to remind myself of why I am here. Of what I owe him.
I think again of my meeting with Carlos and of what I had told him.
A man aint made of stone.
Its true. I know.
But there are times.
Times when I also know that everything I am is at risk, that the very people
who make me who I am, the people who I love, are so easily lost, that I wish
God, I wish I were.
When I remember... remember what its like to have part of you torn
away, and the rest of you left to bleed. When I remember that shock. That
anger that comes quickly and the misery that follows for so long after. And
the longing, and the loneliness, and the heart-wrenching grief...
When I remember that... on nights like these, I really, really wish I were
as hard and as cold as some people think I am.
If only... I were made of stone.