Main Characters: Chris, Vin
Disclaimer: We got Mirisch, Trilogy, MGM, CBS, TNN...we got Mog’s universe. I don’t claim anything other than an undying devotion to continuing the dream. If they’ve got a problem with that, they can take it up with me.
Warnings: A little violence, a little language, some mozzarella...
Author's Note: Sort ‘a based on an episode of Starsky and Hutch. This is a Birthday Fic written for Pia, who wanted a Vinjury done in her name.
Webmaster Note: This story was previously hosted at another website and was moved to blackraptor in June 2012.
Chris Larabee yawned, looking across to the man driving the beaten down jeep they rode in. “You’d better be right about this place, cause I’m not in the mood to eat crap this time of night.”
Vin Tanner, Team Seven’s sharpshooter, grinned at the grumpy blond. “Told y’, they make killer pasta, got their own sauce that y’ can’t beat. Plus, there’s this waitress –“
“Ah hell, don’t tell me I’m trusting my stomach’s well-being to your latest conquest!”
Laughing as he pulled into a parking space, Tanner said, “I ain’t Buck, Chris, I wouldn’t do that to y’.”
“You’d better not,” Larabee warned as he stretched his lean frame out of the passenger side door. “I haven’t shot anyone all week, and I’m getting an itchy trigger finger.”
Coming around the vehicle, Vin clapped a hand on the broad shoulder and said, “I’ll keep that in mind, Cowboy. Now c’mon, let’s go eat.”
The young agent led his boss and friend toward a small restaurant. The windows were decorated with lighted signs and framed with red and white checked gingham curtains. Soft music with unidentifiable melodies could be heard as they entered the door. Inside was a series of booths along two walls, as well several tables, covered with the same red and white cloth, scattered around the room. Each table’s centerpiece was a Chianti bottle topped with a half melted candle of red, white or green. Most of the tables were empty, but then it was late. The two ATF agents had just finished a mountain of paperwork, and Vin had suggested they grab a late dinner at a restaurant he had recently discovered.
Looking around, Larabee saw a young couple sitting at one table, and two men sitting at a corner booth. At a small bar in the middle of the quiet room a dark-haired waitress leaned against the dark wood, talking quietly to a man seated on the other side, drinking a beer.
“Well, at least we won’t have to wait for a table,” the blond quipped. His voice carried across the room; the waitress looked up and smiled at the two men.
“Hi guys, come on in. Grab a seat anywhere and I’ll be right with you. Can I get you a drink?”
“Hi,” Vin replied, giving her a broad smile, “couple a drafts?”
“Coming right up.”
The two agents took seats at one of the booths, finding dog-eared paper menus stuck into the condiment tray near the wall. They each grabbed one, checking out the restaurant’s offerings. Neither man looked up until twin mugs of beer were set on the table between them.
“My name’s Pia. Can I suggest anything, or do you know what you’d like to order?” The men looked up into a pair of stunning eyes.
“Well, my friend here was telling me that you folks make a ‘killer pasta’. Is that right?” Chris turned on one of his dazzling smiles.
Her smile growing wider, the woman replied, “your friend’s right, we do. Would you like salad and garlic rolls with it?”
Slipping his menu back into its holder, the blond said, “you sold me.”
Shaking his head at the way his friend flirted without even noticing it, Vin said, “make it two.”
“Okay, coming right up.” She moved away from the booth.
Slouching down into the bench cushion, Vin grinned, waggled his eyebrows, and took a drink of his brew. “Dinner ain’t the only thing ‘comin’ right up’.”
Chuckling as he stretched his long legs along the bench, Larabee shook his head. “I ain’t Buck, Chris,” he mocked the younger man’s drawl.
“Well, I ain’t!” Tanner protested.
Larabee shook his head with a smile, then frowned as his attention was drawn to the two men seated at the far booth.
“What’s the matter?” Vin had caught the man’s change of expression.
“What? Oh...sorry,” the older man apologized. “Just thought I recognized one of the men over there. Think I’ve been working too much lately, I’m starting to see bad guys in every corner.”
Vin smiled, but sought out a wall mirror that would give him a glimpse of the two men. He studied both profiles, the hair on the back of his neck rising as he realized that one of them looked familiar to him, too. Frowning, he nodded to his friend. “Well, maybe it’s catchin’, but the older one looks someone I ought t' know, too. Can’t place him just yet, though.”
The two men were quiet for a few minutes, thinking. Then, feet dropping to the floor, Chris turned to face the other man, folding his hands in front of him. “Do you remember the Fletcher case last year?”
“The gun-runner they found split stem t’ stern out in Blackhawke?”
Nodding, the team leader said, “if I’m not mistaken, the older guy is Tony Frost. He was suspected of being the one that engineered the hit, but nothing was ever proven.”
“Tony Frost,” Vin said, whistling softly. “He’s one nasty piece of work. You think he’s workin’ on a hit now?”
Shrugging, Chris said, “who knows, even bad guys have to eat. As far as I know, there’s nothing open on him right now. I say we have dinner and leave it alone for now. I’ll check in the morning, see if there’s anything happening that might need a mechanic’s touch.”
The agents stopped talking as the waitress brought over two salads and a basket of hot, garlic drenched rolls. “How’re you two doing? Can I get you anything else?” The two men shook their heads ‘no’, both smiling up at her. Returning the smile, she left the booth, going to check on the other customers.
The young couple was finishing their meal and the man asked for the check. Pulling it out of her order pad, she lay the piece of paper on the table, telling them she’d be back for their money in a few minutes.
Stepping over to the other occupied booth, her smile wavered as she approached the two men sitting there. She wasn’t certain why, but they made her uncomfortable. The older one was quiet, his icy pale eyes seeming to bore through everything he set his sights on. His much younger companion seemed to be in motion even while sitting in the booth. He had small, black, eyes that reminded her of a rodent. Telling herself that judging the customers wasn’t part of her job description, the young woman plastered the smile back on her face and stepped up to the booth.
“How is everything?” She asked, noting that the older man had barely touched his food.
“Fine... fine,” the younger man said curtly. “Look, if we need anything, we’ll let you know, okay?”
“Mitchell,” the older man said in a warning tone. “Mind your manners.”
Mitchell glared at his companion, but didn’t comment.
“We’re fine, my dear,” the older man said in a slightly condescending tone. Then he added, “tell me, do you know the two men who arrived just a short time ago?”
Frowning curiously, Pia said, “not really. The one with the long hair’s been in here a few times, but I’ve never seen the blond.”
Nodding, the customer replied, “thank you.”
Hearing the dismissive tone in his voice, she walked away, the uneasy feeling growing more intense. Going back to the kitchen, she retrieved the two orders of pasta to take to the two newcomers. The restaurant had only been open a few months, and they were still working to establish themselves in the area. That being the case, Pia was not only the hostess, but the bartender, waitress and cook for the late evening shift.
Chris was just finishing his salad; Vin’s was long gone. The lanky young sharpshooter was just polishing off the last garlic roll along with his beer. Larabee chuckled as Tanner finished off the beer with a loud belch before noticing the waitress’ approach.
Blushing hard, the long haired man smiled up at the woman and said, “s’cuse me, miss.”
Laughing, Pia said, “I take it as a compliment on the cuisine. Here are your dinners. I hope they’re to your liking.” Winking at the still red-faced man, she said, “I’ll bring out some more rolls. Would you like another beer?”
“Yeah, thanks,” Tanner finally managed to diffuse his embarrassment and replace it with a shy smile.
Chris shook his head as the other man’s blush didn’t completely recede until the waitress had left the booth.
“What?” Vin asked defensively.
“Nothing,” Larabee said innocently. “Nothing at all, Pard.”
“So when’s he due to get here?” Perry Mitchell asked again, as he peered out the window into the Denver darkness.
“Soon,” Frost hissed, “now stop looking out the window, you’re only calling attention to us.”
“Attention from who?” Perry groused. “Now that the love birds left there’s just the waitress, that guy at the bar, and the two at the other booth. They’re both busy shoveling spaghetti in their faces. You know something I don’t?”
Tony said softly, “beyond the obvious, yes... yes I do.” Then he thumped the table with a fist and hissed, “ damn it!”
“What the hell’s your problem?” The younger man yelped, barely catching his beer before it fell from the table.
“Would you keep your voice down? The two gentlemen in the booth...I thought the blond looked familiar. He works for the government. Marshals...DEA...ATF...FBI...I can’t remember for certain, but he is some sort of federal agent. I’d wager that his companion is as well. Damn! We need to re-evaluate the situation, look for other opportunities to finish this contract.”
“Other opportunities hell! You know what Chasten said; we have to get Torelli tonight. He’s turning himself in tomorrow morning, and then it’ll be impossible to blow the bastard away. Look, if you’re sure that they’re Feds, I say we get rid of them now.” The younger man fingered the butt of the gun in his shoulder holster. The jacket covering the weapon moved open widely, exposing the gun.
“Leave that thing where it belongs,” Frost hissed. He had wished more than once that he had not agreed to partner with Mitchell for this job. But, it had been a favor to an old friend, and Chasten was not someone that he wished to have as an enemy. “If you had worked as diligently to research Torelli’s activities as you do bringing attention to yourself, we wouldn’t be so pressed for time.”
Reaching for another garlic roll, Vin’s eyes happened to catch the activity in the mirror. He frowned as he caught sight of something suspicious. His hand hanging in mid-air, he continued to watch the mirror.
“What’s wrong?” Chris asked, hazel green eyes taking in the change in his friend’s demeanor.
“Ain’t for certain, but that dark-headed fella with Frost is actin’ awful nervous. I just saw ‘im startin’ t’ latch onto his piece.”
“You think maybe there’s something going down?”
“Dunno,” Vin admitted. “Ain’t for certain, but somethin’s got my hackles up.”
With a quick smile, Larabee said, “well, I’m not going to argue with your ‘hackles’.” Sobering, he said, “all right look. I’ll go out to the Jeep, like I’m going to get something, so they don’t get suspicious. I’ll give them the once over, and check around outside for anything suspicious. If there’s a need, I’ll call for back-up. You stay here and keep an eye on things, all right?”
“Yep, I’ll hold down the fort, you call for the Cavalry,” Tanner winked.
“Damn smart ass,” Larabee quipped under his breath. Moving with practiced ease, the ATF agent moved toward the front door.
“Where the hell’s he going?” Mitchell was ready to leap out of his skin, concerned that the plan was going to hell. This was a ‘make or break’ job for him; to mess up could very well mean death for the would-be mechanic.
“Settle down,” Frost ordered.
“Settle down, hell!” Mitchell pulled his gun.
“CHRIS!” Vin stood, pulling his gun as he did.
Larabee wheeled around, facing the two men.
Frost smacked the younger man’s arm, spoiling the aim of his shot.
Chris Larabee spun as the gunman’s bullet narrowly missed his head. Crashing against the nearest table, he fell to the floor, stunned.
Danny Murdock, a young construction worker who frequented the restaurant on his way home to his rented room, fell to the floor. Perry Mitchell’s bullet had exploded inside his chest.
The dark-haired waitress watched in shock and horror; blood splattered the bar as Danny fell. Without thinking, she moved around the heavy wood toward the shy young man who often kept her company on quiet nights.
Vin Tanner looked to see the young waitress moving toward the fallen customer, exposing herself to the gunman. He moved from cover himself, fearing for the woman’s life.
Mitchell caught movement out of the corner of his eye, wheeled and fired, catching the young agent with his second bullet.
Tony Frost slumped to the padded seat, cursing as everything went quiet. Glaring at the man sharing the booth with him, he snapped, “you idiot! You’ve jeopardized the entire operation!”
“I’ve saved the operation!” Perry Mitchell shook with adrenaline, his eyes wild with excitement. “They’d have messed everything up. You’re slipping old man... and I’m sure Pauly will be interested to know how weak you’ve become,” he spoke the first name of their boss for this operation with exaggerated care.
Deciding he would deal with the fool later, he said, “then I suggest you go disarm those two, if you intend to live long enough to tell Mr. Chasten anything.” He nodded toward the broken table where he saw faint movement in the black clad legs stretched out on the floor.
Throwing the older mechanic an angry glare, Mitchell stomped across the room, disarming Chris, and then Vin. The young sharpshooter hadn’t moved since being hit, and blood was pooling on the floor near his left shoulder. Returning to where the older man still sat, Perry dropped the agents’ weapons to the table. With a flash of insight, the hit man had relieved the men of their cell phones, and anything else he thought might be used against him, and the pile of equipment followed the guns to the table.
Still dazed, Larabee struggled to his elbows, shaking his head to clear it. The first thing he was able to focus on was the prone figure of his best friend. “VIN!”
Hearing the startled voice, Mitchell spun around, leveling his weapon on the rising agent. “Sit down!” He ordered.
“Actually,” Frost said evenly, “if you gather the surviving members of your ‘brilliant’ scheme in one place, you’ll be better able to gain control of the situation.”
Chris heard the older man’s suggestion, but knew that he would be going to his friend whether or not the other man agreed with it. Slowly easing himself to his feet, he began moving across the restaurant, toward the too still Tanner.
Seeing the movement, the man with the gun ordered, “you! Get over there...now!” Turning toward where the waitress was huddled beside the dead customer, he said, “you! Is that one alive?”
“I...I don’t know,” she answered. “I don’t think so.”
Waving his gun, Mitchell continued giving orders. “You get over there with them, then.”
Kneeling next to his fellow agent, Chris pressed his fingers against the younger man’s neck. Relieved when a pulse fluttered, albeit erratically, against his touch, he gently rolled the lean body onto its back. Blood covered the left side of Tanner’s chest, oozing from just below the his left shoulder. Carefully unbuttoning the Vin’s shirt, he pulled it open to check the damage.
“Hey!” Mitchell’s voice cut through Chris’ concentration. “I want you sittin’ down, now! I didn’t tell you to move him or anything.”
“I don’t give a damn what you did or didn’t tell me. This man is bleeding, and I’m going to do my best to stop it.”
“Look! I’m the one with the gun... I’m the one in charge!”
“You may have the gun,” The blond shot him an angry look, “but you sure as hell aren’t the one in charge.”
Perry started to shoot the loud mouth Fed, but Frost stopped him.
“You fool, you’ve already shot two people, don’t complicate things further by shooting the others.” Turning toward where Chris knelt, continuing his ministrations on his friend, Tony said, “do what you can to help him.”
A hard edged glare accompanied Larabee’s words. “I intend to.” A soft moan took his attention from the two gunmen. Looking down, he saw Vin’s eyes flutter open. “Hey, Pard.”
“Chris? What...what happened...oh, shit,” he complained as pain flared from his shoulder.
“Let that be a lesson, Junior,” the blond teased. “Now, lay still, you’ve been shot.”
Frowning, the younger man repeated, “shot?”
Nodding, the older agent turned to where the waitress sat, her eyes wide with fear. “is that towel clean?” He motioned toward the cloth over her shoulder.
“What? Oh... yeah,” she handed it over.
Folding the cloth, Chris pressed it against the bleeding wound, grimacing when Tanner responded with a pain-filled growl. “Sorry pard, but I’ve got to get the bleeding to stop.”
Fighting back tears of pain, Vin arched rigidly against the floor. He managed to grit out through clenched teeth, “s’okay.”
Pressing down on the wound, the team leader brushed an errant brown curl from his friend’s forehead, then moved down to monitor the pulse at his throat. He knew that, if he wasn’t able to get Tanner to medical help soon, the young man could bleed to death.
Looking at the pale waitress, Chris asked, “are you all right? “
“Yeah,” she whispered, “I’m fine.”
“What about him?” He nodded toward the other customer.
Shaking her head, Pia said, “he’s dead.”
“Damn,” the agent groaned. “If I hadn’t moved... I put him in the line of fire –“
“Stop,” Tanner ordered through clenched teeth. “Y’ ain’t t’ blame...for him dyin’. Th-there’s only one per... person t’ blame here... fella th-that held the... gun.” He groaned, one hand weakly reaching for his friend.
Taking the hand, clasping it firmly, the older man said softly, “all right... boss.”
Vin smiled, his eyes drifting closed, knowing that his best friend would take care of things.
Perry paced, needing movement to work off the surge of adrenaline. He stalked over, righting the table and chairs that the big mouth blond had knocked over earlier. Putting them back where they belonged, he began circling the trio on the floor. The one he’d shot didn’t look good, he was pale and trembling. The hitman’s mouth twitched at the corners in a grin; it didn’t look like the skinny, hippie-looking guy was going to make it. Too bad. Leaving them to huddle together, he took three steps, reaching the dead man. Kicking the lifeless body to make certain he was indeed dead, Mitchell saw the damage his bullet had done. Another grin pulled at his mouth, and he returned to stand over the other three.
Although he kept track of the unpredictable gunman, Chris’ attention focused mainly on Vin. He was relieved to find that the bleeding was nearly stopped. Looking up at the waitress, he said, “can you hand me a couple more clean cloths?”
Pia’s eyes went from the blond to the dark man with the gun and back. Then she looked at the stack of clean napkins and tablecloths behind the bar.
Understanding her reluctance, Larabee looked over at Frost. “Can she bring me some of those cloths?”
“No!” Mitchell bellowed.
“Shut up,” Tony said in a voice filled with boredom and annoyance. Turning to the blond that he recognized as a leader, he said, “go ahead.”
Nodding his thanks, Chris gave the woman a reassuring smile. “It’s okay.”
Still uncertain, Pia decided that she could trust the man’s instincts. If he said she would be all right, then she would. Slowly standing, she moved to the shelf, retrieved all of the cloth there, and returned to where the man hovered over his friend. Kneeling on the other side of the prone figure, she held the cloth out. “Is there anything else I can do?”
“Not right now, but I will need your help in a few minutes.” Pressing a second cloth over the one soaked with Vin’s blood, he continued to press down on the wound.
Tanner’s eyes fluttered open as he pulled himself back from unconsciousness. He frowned, trying to figure out why his friend was leaning over him... why things were so fuzzy... why all he could hear a loud ringing in his ears.
Seeing the confusion on the handsome face, Chris smiled and took the younger man’s hand. Leaning in close, he said, “Vin, can you hear me? You’re gonna be all right, pard. The bleeding’s stopped. I’m going to sit you up and bandage you, okay? Vin, you understand me?”
Tanner continued to frown as the words slowly slipped together in his foggy mind. Finally deciphering what his friend wanted to do, he nodded slowly.
Gently rubbing the other man's arm, Chris moved around behind him and carefully lifted him to a sitting position. As Vin cried out weakly, he leaned his friend against his shoulder. “Take it easy, pard,” he said softly.
Pulling off Vin’s shirt, he pressed a fresh cloth against the bullet wound. Turning to the young woman, he said, “I need your help now. Can you fold one of the tablecloths about this wide,” he indicated the width with his hands, “so we can use it to hold this cloth in place?”
“Sure,” Pia said, glad to have something to do. She felt as if she had been pulled into a bad gangster movie or something. Folding the checkered cloth, she helped the blond man bind the injured man’s wound. She couldn’t help but admire his lean, well-muscled chest as she did.
When they had done all they could to bandage the wound, Chris used two more tablecloths to wrap his trembling friend’s upper body. Rather than returning Vin to the floor, he held the semi-conscious man against him, wrapping his arms around his chest.
Tony decided that he would have to prompt the idiot he had been saddled with further. “Mitchell, has it dawned on you yet how this will all look if our ‘friend’ does arrive on schedule?”
“I told you I wanted to get rid of them, but no!” Perry growled angrily. “Now, you’re worried about having them around? Why don’t you make your damned mind up!?”
“He’s going to enter and find one man lying dead on the floor, and another one bleeding to death. Perhaps you might consider relocating them someplace less obvious?”
Perry Mitchell momentarily considered shooting the old man, but refrained. Frost might be past his prime, but he had connections. If for any reason it was discovered that he had killed the elder mechanic, he wouldn’t be far behind on the road to hell. Restraining his anger, he turned to the blond who was now holding the other guy. “You! Quit cuddling your girlfriend there, and drag this piece of meat back behind the bar.”
“Go to hell,” Chris growled.
Mitchell pointed the gun at the loudmouth and said, “I said, get him behind the bar.”
“And I said go to hell,” Larabee’s voice was low and dangerous.
Perry’s aim moved to the long-haired man. “Do it, or he dies.”
Shooting the man a cold glare, Chris gently lowered his friend to the floor, squeezing his uninjured shoulder as he did. He couldn’t trust that the agitated killer wouldn’t shoot his friend. His eyes never leaving the gunman, the blond walked to the dead customer. Pulling the lifeless body up under the arms, he dragged the man behind the bar. As he did, he surveyed the shelves for anything he could use for a weapon. Spotting a small knife on one shelf, he lowered the body with exaggerated care. As he straightened up, he palmed the knife, transferring it to his jacket pocket in one fluid action, unnoticed by their captors.
Walking back to where Vin lay, Chris dropped to his knees. Vin was trembling with more urgency. The waitress had unfolded the other tablecloths and draped them over the shivering man. Tucking the cloth closer around his friend and pulled the semi-conscious man back into his lap. Checking the pulse at the younger man’s throat, he stroked back the long curls.
“Gonna make... someone a g-good mama... one a th-these... days,” Tanner teased through clenched teeth.
“Smart ass,” Larabee responded as he hugged the body closer.
“If you’re through hugging your girlfriend there,” Mitchell said sharply, “get him up and over in that booth.”
Chris simply glared and remained where he was. Vin moved weakly in his arms, as if trying to get up. “Lay still, Vin,” the blond coaxed quietly.
“I said, get him up and over there. We don’t want anything tipping our friend off that something’s wrong. Do it, now!” To punctuate his words, the man sent a bullet whizzing past their heads.
“I.. I’m okay, Chris,” Vin reassured the other man.
Not finished yet, Larabee glared at the nervous gunman. “If he dies, you won’t make it to prison. Just you remember that.”
His laugh like a hyena’s cackle, Mitchell said, “I’m real scared, okay? Now, get his ass in that booth and put his jacket on so they don’t see anything suspicious. Then you two sit down and keep your mouths shut.”
Lifting Vin into his arms, Chris moved back to the booth where they had been seated earlier. Settling the younger man on the edge of the seat, he removed the tablecloths and eased the light denim jacket on over the shivering frame. That done, he slid Tanner to the back of the booth and eased the long legs across the booth to rest on the opposite seat before he sat down beside the injured man. Resting Vin’s head against his shoulder, he looked up, daring the gunman to say anything more to him.
“M-make a lousy pilla, Lar’bee,” the young agent teased.
“Yeah, well maybe you should bring Josiah to your next hostage situation,” Chris quipped about the big man.
“’R Ezra... him bein’... oh, shit,” the lean body arched as pain ripped through his shoulder.
Folding Vin’s hand in his, Chris said, “squeeze it tight, pard. You hang on, I’m gonna get you out of this.”
Too exhausted to speak, Tanner simply nodded, clinging to the warm hand as hard as he could.
Mitchell had sent the waitress behind the bar and had thrown a runner over the twin bloodstains on the floor. That done, he turned his attention back to the two agents. Seeing that the blond had positioned himself right beside wounded man, anger flaring through the gunman’s body. He bellowed, “you! Blondie, get your ass on the other side of the booth.”
Chris ignored the volatile man, his attention seeming to be on the far wall. He watched from the corner of his eye as Mitchell took a couple of steps closer to their booth.
“I said, get over there...now!” Perry Mitchell had been a bully throughout most of his life, and was used to scaring people with his tone of voice alone. Evidently this man was just too stupid to understand that he should be afraid. Staring back at Frost with a smug smile, he found the old man seemed unimpressed as well. Tony’s ego rebelled at its being ignored, and he stormed toward the two men. “You smug bastard, I want you over there, now!”
Larabee didn’t respond in any way to the rampaging man. Beneath the table, he felt Vin’s hand squeeze his quickly. The younger man was telling him that he would back his play, whatever it was. Squeezing back, Chris slid his hand into his jacket pocket, once more palming the small knife. Mitchell was standing over them, his face purple with rage.
“You think you’re so tough, don’t you? Think you’re some sort of superman ‘cause you’re a Fed? Well, I ain’t –“ His eyes bulged out in surprise.
Working as the team they had been since the beginning, the agents had gotten the drop on the over-confident mechanic. Vin pulled himself up and away from the older agent at the same time that Chris shoved the knife into Perry’s chest. Before he could finish his sentence, the man’s eyes glazed over in death.
Holding the dying man upright with a hand fisted into his jacket, Chris grasped the gun from the lifeless hand. He stood, using Mitchell as a shield, and aimed at the other hitman. “Put the gun down, and stand away from the table.”
Showing the same quiet dignity that he usually conducted business with, Tony Frost complied without argument. Dropping his gun, he raised his hands and straightened from his seat. Following the blond agent’s orders, he moved out, away from the booth.
Calling to the young waitress as he strode across the room, patted down the surviving hitman and positioned him on his knees in the middle of the room, Chris said, “dial 9-1-1. Tell them we need an ambulance and a squad immediately.” Seeing that she was reaching for the phone, he retrieved their things from the table and hurried back to where Tanner was slumped over in the booth. Keeping an eye on Frost, he carefully eased Vin onto the floor. Leaning back against the bench, he once more pulled his friend into his lap, wrapping an arm around the slender frame. His attention never wavered from Tony Frost, his gun trained on the calm figure nearby. He had to admire the mechanic, he had a class that the younger man could never have reached in a million years. The body in his arms shifted slightly, drawing his attention to his friend.
“You g-got ‘im Cow...boy,” Tanner said in a raspy whisper.
“Yeah, we got the bad guys,” Larabee responded. He pulled the tousled head back against his shoulder, brushing a hand across the pale face. “How you doin’?”
“N-never better,” Vin chuckled, the sound quickly disintegrating into a cough. “Oh, shit...th-that hurts,” he complained when he could speak again. His body continued to tremble with pain and exhaustion.
“Hang on pard, the Cavalry’s on its way.” Larabee rubbed a gentle hand along the tight back, talking quietly until the pain-wracked man relaxed. The agent looked up when he saw the waitress coming to kneel next to them. She held up a glass of water. Smiling, the agent nodded, lifting Vin’s head so she could feed him the water.
After a few sips, Tanner lay back against his friend’s shoulder, smiling at the woman. “Thank y’... miss,” he said softly.
“Thank you,” the waitress answered, her eyes going from one handsome man to the other. “I owe you both my life.”
Chris watched the sleeping figure shift slightly on the narrow hospital bed. He smiled as a pair of blue eyes blinked owlishly toward the ceiling. Leaning over the metal rails, he placed a hand gently on the injured man’s shoulder. “Welcome back pard.”
Tongue peeking out to wet dry lips, Vin frowned. “Where... was I?”
Chuckling, Larabee said, “la-la land for the past day and a half. Do you remember what happened?”
His eyes drifted closed for a minute, re-opening with a somewhat clearer focus. “Restaurant?”
A frown of concentration, then, “bad guys.”
“Bingo. At least your mind’s okay.”
“Yeah?” A voice said from the doorway. “Well that’s a first.”
“Sm... smart ass...” Vin said in a raspy whisper when he recognized the big man’s voice.
Buck’s smiling face appeared at the other side of the bed. “Hey Junior, good to see them blue eyes open.”
Tanner smiled, “too bad I ain’t got... nothin’ better... t’ look at,” he quipped. Chuckling softly at the twin glares he received in response, he snuggled back against the pillows. With two of his friends at his side, he closed his eyes to sleep. They would watch his back.
Easing back into the chair with a tired groan, Chris said, “what’s the news?”
“Torelli started giving testimony this morning. They look for him to turn over Chasten and at least three of his lieutenants, along with a couple dozen smaller fish. Don’t expect him to be done for at least two more days.”
Nodding, Larabee said, “Frost?”
Shaking his head, Wilmington said quietly, “someone got to him in jail last night, ice pick through the throat from the looks of it. They’re investigating it.”
With a sigh, the blond said, “he might have been in the wrong business, but the man had a lot more class than most of the young bulls out there. What about the waitress and the man that was killed?”
“Daniel Murdock, twenty-eight, a construction worker. His family’s going to take the body back to Arizona for burial. Pia Martelli,” Buck rolled the name off his tongue, a twinkle in his dark blue eyes. “She’s doin’ fine... mighty fine.”
Chris saw a frown come over the peaceful face on the pillows, but didn’t say anything as the big ladies man continued.
“Think I ought ‘a do some follow-up... make sure she’s okay. Maybe find out more about the restaurant business – “
“Bucklin, y’ best keep yer distance,” the warning was growled from the bed, although the young man didn’t move otherwise or open his eyes. “I catch y’ anywhere near that lady, and yer gonna be the one needin’ the hospital bed.”
Laughter booming, the dark-haired man said, “ah hell, Junior. All the woman wanted to know was if you were all right, where you were, and if she could bring you some pasta. She wouldn’t a noticed if I’d looked like Brad Pitt.”
As Wilmington made his confession, the younger man’s frown disappeared, replaced with a smile that grew wider with every word from the other man. Finally, the agent’s eyes opened. “Reckon she just knows quality when she sees it.”
Chris Larabee slouched down in his chair, propping his feet up on the rail beneath the hospital bed as he let the banter continue. The specter of what could have been -- the loss of his best friend – slipped away. The blond sighed and smiled.
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