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Vin Tanner sat in his chair with his feet propped up on his desk. He wrapped both hands around a steaming mug of coffee appreciating the warmth of the mug. He took a sip, grimacing slightly at the bitter taste. The boys might have a point about my coffee making skills. He lowered his feet and swiveled his chair around so he could look out the back window at the lightly falling snow. He had always enjoyed sitting quietly and losing himself in thought while watching snow fall. Most people he came across grumbled about Colorado's cold winter climate and frequent snow but to him this time of year was one of the state's most enduring qualities. He continued to gaze out the window as he heard the elevator's ding announcing the arrival of one of his teammates. He sighed deeply as the footsteps he heard coming down the short hallway stopped right outside the office door and a loud sneeze and muffled curse interrupted what remained of his peaceful solitude.
"Morning, Chris," he greeted without turning from the window.
Chris sat on the edge of Vin's desk. "How'd you know it was me?" he asked, his voice much deeper and huskier than normal.
"Don't know many folks that end their sneezes with god-damnit," Vin chuckled softly. He swiveled his chair around to look at Chris. The older man's entire face was pale, the green eyes red and weepy, and his nose equally red and runny. "Damn, Larabee, why aren't you home in bed? I've seen dead people look better than you do."
In spite of himself, Larabee grinned at the sharpshooter. "Life may be full of uncertainties but I know I can always count on you to lift my spirits, Tanner."
"You know I'll never lie to you, Cowboy," Vin deadpanned in mock-sincerity; however, his deep blue eyes held concern for his sick friend. He noticed a shiver run through the man's lean frame. "Seriously, Chris, why don't you go home? We'll take care of things around here."
"Can't. I have to have those surveillance reports from Friday on Travis' desk by noon. I had planned to work on them over the weekend but I didn't. Besides, it's just a cold." Chris pointed to the window. "Is that stuff supposed to lay?"
"Nah, only a dusting." Vin studied the snow for a moment then looked back at Chris quizzically. "I've never met anyone that hates snow as much as you do. How come?"
Chris, himself, watched the falling snow for a moment, lost in reminiscent thought. "When I first joined the ATF, it seemed like I spent all my time on stakeouts. I was either perched in a warehouse rafter praying I wouldn't fall or stuck outside behind a building hunkered down with my ass in the snow. So, I just don't like the stuff. On the other hand, though, Adam loved it. He thought it was so cool that Daddy got to play in the snow at work. We had to fight with him all the time to come in. He woulda stayed outside for hours."
Vin saw that Chris was falling into a mood he did not need to be in so he tried to lighten the mood. "Well, I suppose being promoted to Team Leader has its advantages. I've never seen your ass in the snow. Don't think I'd want to, either," he smirked.
Chris started to laugh but it quickly turned into a deep cough that threatened to take his breath. Vin jumped up and began rubbing his back in a gentle circular motion. "Sorry, Chris," he muttered, "I only want to make you feel better."
"Not your fault, Cowboy," answered Chris after he caught his breath. He began to say something else when a sneeze erupted from him. "God-damnit," he growled, "What a way to start a Monday. I better get started on those reports," he said as he rose from Vin's desk and stalked to his office.
"Chris, when are you going to the doctor?" asked Nathan Jackson as he stood next to Larabee's desk.
"Don't you start on me, too. Vin has been trying to get me to go since Monday. I don't need a doctor," answered Chris in an extremely hoarse voice. "It's just a cold."
+ + + + + + +
Nathan eyed the team leader critically taking in the dark circled, red-rimmed eyes and too pale face. "Vin, is worrying himself sick over you. Have you looked in a mirror lately? Or heard yourself? In case you haven't noticed, you're breathing through your mouth and not your nose." He leaned over and placed his hands, palms down, on the desk. "Chris, it's more than a cold. If you keep screwing around with it, you could do a lot damage. I'm not giving up, you know." He laughed at the look Chris tried to give him. "Sorry, boss, but that glare is more glassy than icy today."
"All right, Nate, point taken," growled Chris.
"So, I repeat, when are you going to the doctor?" the ex-medic persisted.
Chris sighed in defeat. "I'll call him in the morning..."
"You'll let me call him now. That way I'll know it's taken care of," stated Nathan firmly.
Larabee shook his head then groaned inwardly as the movement caused his head to throb even more furiously. What are you trying to do, Larabee, split your own skull? He wrote a name and number on a piece of paper and handed it to Nathan. "Like I said, Nate, why don't you call my doctor for me? Here's the information."
+ + + + + + +
A few minutes later, Vin stuck his head around the doorway. "Hey, Cowboy," he greeted, "your doctor is filling in at the emergency room today. The office suggested you check in over there. Want me to drive you?"
"I'm not going to the emergency room," Chris sniffed.
"Don't argue, okay? Please? Nathan said you could mess up your lungs if you're not treated. C'mon, Chris, let me drive you. I'll stay right there with you."
Chris looked up into the concerned eyes of his best friend and capitulated. "All right, let's go."
"I hate hospitals and I don't need to be in one," grumbled Chris. "I never would have agreed to this if I'd known that they'd want to admit me."
"You heard Dr. Nelson," Vin explained patiently for the third time, "you need to stay here at least 24 hours to get anti-biotics and fluids pumped into your system." Raising a hand to halt yet another protest, he continued, "Monday, you said you had to turn in reports to Travis by noon. Why didn't you go to the doctor or at least go home after that? Why did you come to work yesterday or today? You've made yourself sicker by pushing yourself. It's your own damn fault, Larabee, so stop your complaining."
Chris glared at the younger man, unwilling to give in. "There's things on my desk that has to be done. Plus, I haven't made rovisions for my horses." He pushed himself to a sitting position in the bed and swung his legs over the side. "Vin, I can't stay. Where are my clothes?"
Vin stood and walked over to the bed, locking eyes with his best friend as he placed his hands on Chris's shoulders. In a voice that brooked no argument, he said, "Cowboy, if you get outta that bed, I swear that not only will you be back in it before you know what happened but you'll be in it handcuffed. How many times is it gonna take to get it through your head that you're in danger of pneumonia and you're dehydrated?" He removed his hands and sat back down in the chair, staring at the older man, silently challenging him.
Chris studied the intense look on his sharpshooter's face. Vin was perhaps the most patient, calm, and even-tempered man one could ever hope to meet; however, that patience had come to an end. There was no doubt in Chris's mind that if he disobeyed, he would be handcuffed to the bed. He lay back down and gave Vin a grin of surrender. "Damn, Tanner," he said, "you're getting pretty good with those glares yourself."
"Look who's my role model," Vin laughed. His expression grew serious as he thought about the man across from him. Most people saw Larabee as made of ice and quite possibly hatred. Granted, for most, Chris was difficult to get to know and God knew that he could be hell to work with, but beyond the ice and hard shell was a warm, caring man that Vin was proud to call brother. He allowed his mind to wander back to a period in his life he would rather forget. The time before he knew the man in black had been lonely and without color. Everything was black and white, cut and dried. He existed and survived but he did not live. Then one day, in a cold, damp warehouse, he found what he had been searching for all his life, even though, he had not know it was missing. In one short moment, his world exploded in color and contrast as he found the other half of his soul. For not the first time, Vin wondered if the other man truly realized the impact that his very existence had on one longhaired sharpshooter.
A weak, hoarse voice brought Vin out of his reverie. "I'm sorry, Chris, what'd you say?"
"I asked if you would check on the horses for me."
Once again, Vin stood and walked over to the bed. This time, he placed one hand on the blonde's shoulder and leaned over to make eye contact. "Will you stop worrying? I'll take care of the horses and chores. I'll call Josiah and ask him to take over for a few days. I'm sure he'll call you if there's anything he needs help with. I'll also call the rest of the boys. I'll take care of everything. I just want you to concentrate on getting well. It scares me to see you like this."
"Vin, don't be scared. You heard the doctor say I'm gonna be fine." Chris reached up and grabbed the front of Tanner's shirt, pulling the younger man closer to him. "I promise I'm not going to leave you," he whispered into Vin's ear.
Tanner's blue eyes brightened with tears. "You better not. Don't you know you're all I got?" He straightened up, slightly embarrassed. "You can count on me. You should know that."
Chris reached up and placed his hand over the one still resting on his shoulder. "I do know it; never doubt that. It's just..." his voice faltered.
"You don't have to say it, Chris. A million memories run through your mind when you're in the hospital. Believe me, I know. I've been here enough."
"That's what I'm thinking about...the times you or one of the others have been here, I mean. I thought I was gonna lose you a few times, Vin."
Vin looked at him slightly puzzled. He may have wondered if Chris understood the impact his friendship held, but he failed to realize the impact he had on Chris. It amazed him that a man as strong and sure as Larabee would fear losing him; therefore, he did not know quite how to respond. Finally, he said, "You just do what you're told and let them help you start to get better. I'll be here tomorrow to take you home."
A nurse entered the small cubicle. "Mr. Larabee, we have a room available for you now. We'll be moving you upstairs shortly." She glanced over at Vin and said, "He'll be in room 215. You're welcome to go up with him but you won't be allowed in the room while they get him situated. You might want to go home and come back later or in the morning. By the way, Dr. Roberts will be seeing you while you're on the floor. The regular E.R. doctor is sick so Dr. Nelson is filling in for him. Will seeing Dr. Roberts be a problem?"
"No problem. I've seen him a couple of times. Roberts is in the same group as Nelson," he explained to Vin. "Why don't you go get some rest and hopefully, I'll do the same. I'll see you in the morning."
"If you want, I can come back and stay with you after I take care of the phone calls and the ranch," Vin offered.
"There's no point in you staying tonight." He reached out for the younger man's hand. "It's okay, Vin. I'll see you tomorrow."
He felt the hot tears that dripped onto his skin as his child clung to him and buried his small face into his neck. Adam's soft voice hiccuped as tears once again overwhelmed him.
"Go with Mommy, Adam. Daddy promises to join you in a few days. I love you."
Sarah hugged him and pressed soft kisses against his cheek. "Don't worry about us. We'll be fine and will see you soon. I love you, Chris."
He watched as his family got in the car and pulled away. His son's words haunting him forever as he witnessed the car exploding, taking away his only reasons for living..."Daddy, I don't want to go. Let me stay with you..."
"Mr. Larabee, wake up. It's just a dream. You're all right."
Chris heard a voice speaking to him from far away. He did not understand the words, as he could only focus on the breaths that came in shallow, painful gasps. "No, Sarah, Adam...No. Wait. Please don't go," he whimpered.
He thrashed around trying to fight against the oxygen mask that was being placed over his mouth and nose. "Mr. Larabee, you have to calm down. You were having a bad dream. Everything's all right."
As his breathing eased, Chris awakened fully. He recognized the nurse that had tended to him earlier. She placed her hand on his arm and asked gently, "Are you feeling better now?"
He nodded then closed his eyes drifting back to sleep. The nurse finished checking the i.v. drip and adjusted the oxygen mask to a more comfortable position before leaving the room.
"Daddy, don't make me go. Let me stay with you."
"I love you, Chris."
Chris awoke once more with a start, his heart beating furiously in time to the pounding in his head. He sat up in the bed and glanced around the room not recognizing his surroundings for a moment. He felt a sharp pain in his left hand and, after examining it, saw blood staining the back of it. He swung his legs over the side of the bed then stood on weakened legs and lurched over to the window seeking fresh air. He leaned against the window with his face pressed against the pane, relishing the feel of the cold glass against his heated skin. He raised his head and looked out at the night sky then glanced down at the brightly-lit parking area as a movement caught his eye. What the hell? Oh, my God...
Dr. Nelson and another man, whose back was turned to Chris, stood at the back of a car. Judging by their body language, it was obvious they were arguing. All of a sudden, Dr. Nelson stepped backward, his hands raised in front of him as if to ward off a blow. Chris was able to see an expression of intense fear cross the doctor's face; an expression that quickly changed to one of utter disbelief as the man looked down at the shirt that was growing red before clutching his chest and slumping to the ground. Chris's attention was diverted to the second man...the man that stood as still as a statue holding a gun in his hand.
Chris felt blackness overcome him and a heavy fog settle in his mind as his legs gave way. Vin, need Vin. He'll help me was his final thought before sliding to the floor unconscious.
Vin opened one eye as he heard the phone ring and blearily looked at the bedside clock. Better not be a hang-up.
"Mr. Tanner? This is Tori James at Four Corners General. I'm Mr. Larabee's nurse. He has become highly agitated and since you are listed as his next of kin, I was wondering if..."
Vin cut off anything further the nurse had to say. "I'm on my way."
+ + + + + + +
Twenty minutes later, he stepped off the second floor elevator and headed to the nurses desk.
"Can I help you, sir?" asked one of the nurses.
"I need to see Tori. She called me concerning Chris Larabee."
"Tori is waiting for you in Mr. Larabee's room."
Vin thanked the nurse and hurried down the hall toward Chris's room. He entered the darkened room and quietly walked over to the bed. He immediately picked up Chris's left hand and held it within his own. His concern grew as he took in his friend's even paler features and the bandages on the hand he held. There appeared to be a fragility that had not been there earlier. He turned questioning eyes upon the nurse who had risen from the chair to greet him.
"What happened to him?" he asked.
"Around 11:30, he became very agitated after having a nightmare. I was able to calm him down and he fell back to sleep quickly. I checked back in on him about an hour later and found him on the floor next to the window unconscious. He came to as an orderly was putting him back to bed. He kept trying to tell us something and became very upset when we sedated him. He fell asleep asking for you. He'll sleep the rest of the night."
"He's all right, though?" Vin asked.
"Yes, he's fine. My guess is that he had another nightmare and got out of bed when he awoke."
"And his hand?"
"He pulled out his i.v."
Vin settled in the chair next to the bed. He continued to grip the hand within his firmly, willing Chris to sense his presence. He looked up at the nurse and smiled. "Thank you for calling me, Tori. I'll stay with him the rest of the night."
+ + + + + + +
A few hours later, Vin shifted uncomfortably and glanced out the window. He saw that the night sky had given way to the first rays of morning. He sighed deeply as he gave up on the thought of any sleep. He returned his attention back to the man lying in bed as Chris began to stir restlessly. He stood and took Chris's hand firmly in his own then leaned over the bed and gripped a shoulder shaking it gently.
"Chris," he called very softly. He was rewarded with a low moan.
"It's time to wake up now, Chris," he said as he shook the shoulder a bit harder, smiling as this time he was graced with a low curse.
"All right, Cowboy. Don't say something you're gonna regret so early in the morning."
Larabee opened his eyes and lay still for a moment waiting for the heavy fog that had curtained his mind begin to disperse. He saw his best friend leaning over him and remembered the events he had witnessed in the moment it took his eyes to focus. He abruptly sat up and grabbed Vin's arms, holding them tightly.
"Damn, Chris. Don't do that," exclaimed the clearly startled man.
"Vin! Thank God you're here. We've got to...." Chris began excitedly.
Vin gently disentangled himself from the other man's grip. "Whoa, Chris. Just settle down. You sound better this morning. How are you feeling?"
"Never mind that," Chris snapped sharply, "I have to tell you something. Listen to me."
"Okay, I'll listen only if you settle down. If you don't, a nurse will be back in here shooting your ass full of sedatives. Lay back and take it easy. Then you can tell me whatever it is you need to."
Chris lay back against the pillows. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. When he reopened them, they were as clear as ever and just sharp. Though still hoarse, his voice held the steady, even tone that his team members were accustomed to hearing. "Vin, Dr. Nelson was murdered. I saw it."
Immediately, Vin's law enforcing instincts kicked in. "Take slow and tell me what you saw."
Chris rested for a moment then began to recite what he had witnessed. "I remember having a nightmare sometime in the evening. A nurse woke me up and helped me. I must have fallen back to sleep easily because the last I remember was her asking me if I felt better. I remember having another nightmare. This time, I was alone when I woke up. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me and I was smothering. I got out of bed and pretty much stumbled over to the window looking for fresh air. I leaned on the window and looked outside. I don't know what time it was but it was fully dark. A movement caught my eye. I looked down at the parking lot and saw two men standing at the back of a car. The lighting was very bright making it easy to recognize Dr. Nelson. The other man's back was turned toward me so I don't who it was. They were both in each other's faces and waving their hands so I assumed they were arguing. The next thing I knew, the man whose back was to me, pulled a gun and shot Dr. Nelson."
"What about the car?" Vin asked.
Chris shook his head. "It was a dark color but I couldn't see the plate."
"What happened next?"
"I saw him falling and the shooter just standing there. The last thing I remember is that I needed you. I knew you would help me. The next thing I knew some big guy was putting me back in bed." Chris's face flushed with anger. "Damnit, I tried telling them what I saw but they wouldn't listen."
"Okay, take it easy," soothed Vin. "You know I'll always help you. You don't even have to ask. I'm gonna go down to the nurses station and see if the nurse that helped you is still here. Maybe we can figure out a timeline from your first nightmare and when she called me. I'll also go downstairs and look around. As for you, Cowboy, you're still sick in case you've forgotten. Get some rest. I'll be back later."
+ + + + + + +
Two hours later, Vin went into the hospital lobby to use one of the pay phones. As he waited for the party to answer, he glanced at his wristwatch, surprised that it was only a little after 8:00am.
"Hey, Buck. It's me. Listen, I'm at the hospital with Chris."
"Is he okay?" Buck asked quickly.
"Yeah, he got upset after having some nightmares." Vin fell quiet for a moment.
"You okay, Junior?"
"I think so. Uh, Buck, Chris is okay, but we have a problem. Will you get the guys together and meet me in the hospital lobby?"
"Just wait for us. We'll be there soon."
Vin hung up the phone then wandered over to the waiting area. He sat down in one of the more comfortable chairs and leaned back closing his eyes. It's gonna be a long day. The next thing he knew, someone was tapping his cheek.
"Wake up, Junior."
Vin opened his eyes and focused on Buck's troubled face. He glanced around, seeing the other four men standing near Wilmington. "Didn't I just call you?" he muttered.
"Forty-five minutes ago," answered Buck. "I hate to be the one to tell you, pard, but you look like hell."
Vin managed to give Buck an evil look as he sat up to accept the coffee JD was holding for him. "Thanks, JD."
"Mr. Tanner, have you had any sleep?" asked Ezra.
"No," Vin sighed tiredly, rubbing his eyes. "Have a seat guys. About 1:30 this morning, Chris's nurse called me that he was agitated and asked if I would come down and stay with him. She called me because he had gotten upset over some nightmares and because he passed out after getting out of bed. They sedated him after getting him back to bed so he was sound asleep when I got here."
"Has he awakened since you've been here?" asked Josiah.
"Yeah, he woke up about an hour and a half ago. He's hoarse and weak, but he's doing better. Except for one thing." Vin looked around at his friends not sure how to proceed with the situation and the information he had gathered.
"Vin?" prompted Nathan. "What one thing?"
"He thinks he witnessed a murder. He described what he saw in such detail."
"Thinks he witnessed a murder," Ezra repeated. "Is it safe to assume that there is a question concerning what he thinks?"
A tall man with graying hair entered the lobby and walked over to Vin. "I see your friends have arrived, Mr. Tanner. Are you ready to go see Mr. Larabee now? I'm working in the E.R. again today, so I need to get back as quickly as possible."
"I appreciate you taking time to go see Chris this morning. Guys, this is Chris's physician, Dr. Nelson. He's also the man Chris saw murdered."
"Oh, hell," breathed Buck, "We have a problem."
Chris was sitting up in bed when Vin entered the room. "What took you so long? What did you find out?" He smiled slightly as the rest of his team trailed in behind Vin. "Boys," he greeted.
"How are you feeling, Chris?" asked JD.
"I'm doing okay, JD. Have you filled them in, Vin?"
Vin knew what he had to tell his boss would not go over well. "Uhm, yeah, I did. Have you seen Dr. Roberts, yet?" he asked.
"No. No one has been in since you left. You did notify the police, didn't you? It'll be their case, but I'd like to do some follow up. We could..."
Silently, Vin breathed a sigh of relief that he had remembered to call the nurses' desk and ask them to keep everyone out of Chris's room. "Chris," Vin interrupted, "there's something I need to tell you."
Chris frowned at the sharpshooter's reluctance when Vin did not immediately speak.
"Vin, please, what do you need to tell me?"
Vin walked over and sat on the side of the bed. "Chris, Dr. Nelson isn't dead."
Larabees' eyes narrowed into slits. "What are you talking about, Tanner? I saw him shot. I know what I saw."
"Chris, when I left earlier I went down to the emergency room and he was there. He's still filling in for a sick doctor. Last night, his shift was over about 2:00am but he came back around 7:00 this morning because they are so short-handed."
"You saw him?" asked Chris in disbelief.
"Yes, I did." Vin answered softly.
"Chris, it's possible that you..." Nathan began.
"Don't say it, Nate. I know what I saw."
Nathan stepped to the other side of the bed and moved closer to Chris. He tried to reason with his boss. "I know what you think you saw." He stopped momentarily taking a deep breath before speaking gently, "This sickness and fever have weakened you. You combine that and different medications that are prescribed and things can happen."
Chris looked over at the window and stared out for a long moment. When he turned his face back to his friends it was set hard as stone. Usually, the six team members were comfortable with their leader, however, an uneasy silence filled the room as the temperature dropped several degrees and all six found their own eyes locked in a gaze of green ice. When he spoke, Chris's voice was low and lethal. "Do not tell me what I did or did not see. I know what I saw. Never patronize me like I'm a damned child. I won't have it and I can guarantee the next time you try, there'll be hell to pay. Any questions?"
Ezra stepped forward ignoring the daggers being thrown in his direction. "Surely, you realize that we have more sense than to patronize you, Mr. Larabee. We are all very much aware that an error of that magnitude would prove most treacherous to our own personal well being. That said, you are a man that deals with facts. How do you explain the fact that Mr. Tanner could find no evidence of any wrong doing in the parking area? No skid marks, no bloodstains, no signs of a struggle. Also, how do you explain the fact we have seen and spoken with a dead man? As I said, there is no evidence to support the belief of a true crime, however, we all know that you do not make allegations lightly. Are you absolutely certain that you saw Dr. Nelson? Could it have been someone else? "
Chris met Ezra eye to eye. "I know what I saw. No, it could not have been anyone else. I'm not going to say it again. You can believe me or not. Your choice." He glanced at each of his men, unhappy with what he read in their faces. "Vin, where is this person you talked to?"
Vin rose from the bed and nodded at Buck. Wilmington opened the door and motioned for the doctor to come inside.
Chris stared hard at the man that had treated him for several years. He shook his head and slumped back into the pillows. He placed his hands over his face and rubbed his eyes. "I don't understand. It can't be," he muttered to himself.
Nelson walked over and sat on the bed beside Chris. "Mr. Larabee, look at me, please. I know you truly believe in your heart what you think you saw. I can't say that I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I am very sorry that I have played a part in upsetting you. If you remember, after I treated you yesterday, I told you that you were on the borderline of pneumonia. That isn't something to be taken lightly. You were and still are extremely ill. You admitted to me you haven't been sleeping. I told you that you needed to stay hospitalized 24 hours. My preference was for you to stay longer; however, I knew how uptight you were about being at the hospital for even a short while. I thought that a full period of rest, fluids, and anti-biotics would get you to the point of being able to recuperate at home. I assure you, this is not the first time a patient has imagined seeing or hearing something that is simply untrue. You are not the first person this has happened to nor will you be the last." He stood and held out his hand to Chris, smiling at the ill man. "Granted, most patients don't imagine seeing their doctor murdered and stuffed into a trunk. Must be because you are a law enforcer."
Chris accepted the outstretched hand. "I don't know what to say. It was so real. I was positive in my belief of what I saw."
Dr. Nelson waved his hand at Chris in a dismissive gesture. "Don't think another thing about it. It happens. My shift will be over at 5:30. I'd like come back to check on you unless you prefer Dr. Roberts. If your temperature continues to decrease and you're feeling better, I'll release you. Otherwise, I'd like for you to stay one more night."
Chris looked to his men and found understanding and compassion in their faces. He also saw the silent challenge each one issued him if he tried to argue. Chris returned his attention to the doctor. "I have a feeling I'm outnumbered, so I'll do what I'm told. For now."
After the doctor left the room, Chris searched his men's eyes. "I don't understand. I was so sure. I'm sorry," he said plaintively.
Josiah walked over to Chris and placed a hand on the man's arm. "Forget it. Things happen. Chris, you're not feeling well and you've been under a lot of pressure. Your mind released the stress you've been under the only way it knew how by playing a nasty trick on you. You do understand and agree that it was your imagination, don't you?"
"Yeah, I think so. Thank you, Josiah," he whispered. "God, I'm so tired."
"Then we'll leave you to get some rest. We'll check on you later this afternoon," replied the deep voiced agent.
Vin walked his friends to the elevator. "I'm going to stay with him this afternoon. I'll see you guys later."
Buck hung back from the group and placed an arm around Vin's shoulders. "You need to get some rest, too. Why don't you let me stay?"
Vin smiled tiredly at the mustached man. "Thanks but no, Buck. Chris needed me last night and I wasn't here. Maybe this mess wouldn't have gone so far. Anyway, I'd just feel better being with him for awhile."
"What happened wasn't your fault. Chris just needs to learn that he's human and that he can get tired and sick just like the rest of us. You call me if you need me."
"I will. Bye, guys."
+ + + + + + +
Vin opened the door to Chris's room and looked in before going entering. He wasn't sure whether to be grateful that Chris had fallen asleep so easily or worried as hell because he had. He went inside and sat back down. He rubbed a hand over his tired eyes but willed himself to stay awake. He was determined to keep vigil at his sick friend's side.
A couple of hours later, Vin became aware of eyes upon him. He looked up to see Chris watching him worriedly. "Hey, Chris. How are you feeling?"
"Hey, yourself. Are you okay?"
"Sure, never better."
Chris laughed softly. "Liar. You're exhausted. Why don't you go home? I'll be fine."
Vin raised up and leaned over, placing his elbow on his knees. "Chris, I'm sorry things happened like they did. I feel like I humiliated you."
"No, Vin. You didn't. Bringing Dr. Nelson in here was the only way to make me believe that he was alive. You did nothing wrong. I would have done the same thing. I say we all forget about it." He reached his hand out to Vin. "Deal?"
"Deal," agreed Vin taking the outstretched hand.
+ + + + + + +
An hour later, Vin stood at the window looking out. It had begun to lightly snow again. His gaze wandered to the parking area below. What is it that's bothering me? He kept replaying the events of the last several hours in his weary mind coming up with nothing new. He looked over at a soundly sleeping Chris as a sudden thought hit him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cellular. He dialed Buck's extension and waited for an answer. "Buck, I need a favor." He glanced at Chris once more and walked across the room to go out to the hallway. "I need some information..."
"You gonna tell me what that was all about?" asked Chris when Vin re-entered the room. He chuckled, as the younger man was visibly jumped. "You need to do something about that condition, Tanner, you're too nervous."
"Smartass, you like to play possum just so you can scare folks."
"It's nothing, Chris. Just something Buck is checking on as a follow up for me. Something I forgot."
The two men chatted amiably for a while when Vin's cell phone rang. He answered the phone and listened intently. "Thanks for taking care of that for me, Buck. He hung up the phone and looked at Chris.
"We need to talk."
Chris was asleep when Dr. Nelson entered the room. The doctor silently moved over to the bedside and stared down at it for a moment. He pulled a prepared syringe from his pocket and reached for the i.v. drip line. The moment his hand came into contact with the i.v., he felt the cold barrel of a gun against the back of his neck. "Touch him and die," spoke Vin Tanner, his voice just as cold and lethal as the gun he held.
Nelson hesitated for a moment and chanced a glance to the man standing behind him. Quick as a flash, a hand snaked out from under the covers and pulled the syringe from his hand. "Looks like we gotcha, doc," said a very wide-awake Chris Larabee.
The doctor looked around the room as he heard the door open and the rest of Larabee's men entered the room, guns drawn. "What the hell is going on here?" he demanded.
"Come now, Doctor," said Ezra, "I believe even in the medical field the term murder means the same."
"Murder?" Laughed Nelson incredulously. "Why are you insisting on slandering me? I'll have your badges for this. Perhaps your supervisor will be most interested in hearing about the ravings of a mad man, Mr. Larabee. I'm sure one who suffers hallucinations wouldn't be able to hold down your type of job."
Chris handed the syringe to Josiah. "Find out what's in it. First of all, Doctor, threatening to go to my supervisor doesn't scare me. He already knows about my mad man ravings. He's put up with 'em for years. However, if you wish a meeting with him, it will be arranged. And, If I'm wrong, you can gladly have my badge. I'll hand it to you personally. Secondly, you're under arrest. I'm sure you know all about your rights to remain silent, that anything you say will be used against you, and that you're free to contact your attorney. So, do you want to answer questions now or call your attorney?"
"Ask your questions. I have nothing to hide."
Vin moved from behind the doctor and stood at the side closer to Chris. "Okay, Doc. You just step away from the bed and we'll talk. Why don't you tell us about Alec?"
"C'mon, Doc," admonished Vin. "You know, the man you murdered last night. Your twin brother, Alec."
Nelson paled visibly. He searched the eyes of the men standing protectively around the man lying in bed then lowered his head as if in deep thought. When he raised his head once more, his eyes were glistened with tears. When he spoke, his voice faltered and held deep regret. "Growing up, my brother and I were very close. We were not only brothers but also the very best of friends. We knew that no matter what happened we could always count on each other. We both graduated high school with honors. We went to college together, both studying medicine. Again, we graduated with honors. During our residency, though, things began to change. Alec couldn't cut being on call at any given time, the normal long shifts and the unexpected double shifts. He dropped out in his second year. He was never the same after that. We were never the same. I tried everything I could to help him but rebuffed any gesture I made. We lost all contact when he disappeared. For years, I've heard nothing about him. That is, until eight weeks ago when he contacted me. Apparently, he had been involved in gambling for many years. Only, his luck ran out. He became heavily indebted to people he should never have owed money to. I felt sorry for him. I gave him money to pay off some of his debt. It wasn't anywhere near enough but it was all I could do. I started getting phone calls from his "creditors". Apparently, Alec told them he had gotten money from me so they decided I should take responsibility for his debt. They kept forcing me to pay them." He stopped to take a deep breath.
"Why didn't you just notify the authorities?" asked JD.
"They threatened my family. I have a wife and two daughters to think about. Anyway, I started carrying a gun for protection. It was an old gun with a silencer that had belonged to my father. Last week, I took most of my savings and paid off his debt. Late yesterday afternoon, Alec called and asked if we could meet in the doctor's parking area after my shift. I told him it would be late night/early morning before I left, but he was adamant about meeting. Dear God, they were squeezing him for more money. I told him I was through. I would give him no more money. We argued. He told me that if I didn't help him, he would go to my wife and the medical board and tell that I had been the one gambling and had spent money on my addiction. He knew I could deny the allegation all I wanted but the withdrawals of money would tell a different story. I don't know what happened. I lost all control. One minute we were arguing and the next, the gun was in my hand and I was firing. The parking area was deserted and there was no one around the buildings. I never dreamed anyone witnessed it. How did I give myself away?"
Chris studied Nelson's face for a moment then nodded to Tanner. "Vin remembered you saying that most patients don't imagine seeing their doctor stuffed into a trunk. I never told him that. I didn't know what happened because I passed out after Alec fell to the ground. I didn't see what you did with the body."
Nelson nodded his head. "Good memory. You'll find his body still in the trunk of my car. It's locked up in my garage. My family is out of town so I knew there was no risk in leaving him there today." He rubbed his hands harshly over his face and tears began streaming down his face. "Everything spun out of control when I shot him. I didn't know what to do so I took him to my home. It occurred to me that I should go about my normal business so I wouldn't attract attention to myself. So, after I got home last night I went to bed. This morning, I walked to work, which is not uncommon, as I live only a mile away. After my shift this evening, I was going to drive up to a cabin my family owns that's about two hours from here. I was going to take what I needed and bury him there. The area is isolated so I was going to take my time in cleaning the car of all evidence. I knew he would never be found." He laughed sharply. "I even knew that if you investigated and found out I had a twin and that I had paid a gambling debt for him, there was nothing to worry about because Alec had dropped out of my life once before without a trace. It was nothing new. It almost worked."
"Yes, it did," agreed Chris. "There's something I don't understand. You nearly committed the perfect crime. Though I'm fairly sure there would be a flaw somewhere, other than myself, that would have tripped you. Why kill me? How did you plan on getting away with my murder?"
"I used surgical gloves to lift the medication I needed from another floor. I used the service elevator to travel between floors and sneaked in here. No one saw anything. The medication in the syringe would interact adversely with the anti-biotics you're currently being given. You would have had a massive stroke. There again, that would not be uncommon with the temperature you've had. I told you I would be checking in on you after 5:30pm. You were supposed to be dead by the time I got here. Nothing could be traced to me."
"Let me assure you, sir. That scenario is weak at best. We would not allow Mr. Larabee's death go unchallenged. We would not stop until the perpetrator was brought to justice and you would have topped our list," stated Ezra.
Vin's deep blue eyes bore into the eyes of the doctor's. He never wavered as he said, "If you had hurt him, the hounds of hell wouldn't have been powerful enough to stop me from tracking you down."
Chris's own eyes welled with tears at the loyalty he heard in his friends' voices and the emotions in their faces. He coughed and said a bit shakily, "Boys, take him downtown. Vin, can you get a nurse to find Dr. Roberts? I'm going home. I've got to get some rest. I'm a sick man, you know."
Vin grinned cheekily at his friend. "You can go home if he says it's okay." He leaned over Chris and whispered evilly, "I still have those handcuffs."
"Do you know you rave like a mad man, Cowboy?"
"All right, I'm going."
When Vin walked out of the room, Chris couldn't help but burst into laughter as he heard the sharpshooter curse god-damnit after sneezing loudly."