It is easy to be brave from a safe distance.---Aesop's Fables
Ezra had been in the hospital for exactly 43 minutes when he made his discovery.
He knew how long it had been, because he had looked at the clock on the wall when the medical personnel had unloaded Chris Larabee off the ambulance and wheeled him through the doors of Trauma II. It was one of those oversized military clocks that displayed 24 hour time. And it hung directly to the right of the swinging doors that hadn't moved since 14:12 pm.
Buck paced up and down the corridor, while JD sat on his feet in an overstuffed chair below the TV. Any other time, Ezra might have pointed out to the young man that his wet Reeboks were probably at this very moment soaking through not only the tapestry on the chair, but his jeans and shorts as well. But Ezra was too busy studying the other occupants of the room. Nathan listened intently to every question asked by the admitting staff, answering slowly and carefully, and once opening the wallet--Chris Larabee's wallet--to give a group number off his insurance card. Josiah sat quietly, praying, Ezra surmised. It never failed to amaze Ezra the amount of clarity in the large man. Faith. How could one have faith in so precarious an occupation as an ATF agent? Justice work did not seem to Ezra to be a meritable place to have and to keep faith.
Buck was getting truly annoying. Ezra knew it was his concern for his boss, his co-worker and his friend of more than twelve years; nevertheless, the man's pacing was causing a great deal of irritation since his wet Nikes squeaked in a most displeasing way with every step. Like fingernails on a blackboard. And it certainly wasn't going unnoticed by the last member of the team. Ezra wondered idly if Vin Tanner had reloaded his Glock after the altercation this afternoon. He could tell by the way Tanner was watching Buck that with every step Buck Wilmington came closer and closer to finding out.
Then JD sighed another, loud, drawn out sigh, and Tanner turned to him.
"He'll be OK, JD. Anybody else hungry?" His voice was light.
Five heads turned to the suggestion. And all five shook their heads slowly. No. Perhaps Ezra should be wondering if Mr. Wilmington had reloaded his weapon.
"Well, I am. I'm gonna go find somethin' to eat."
Nathan drew a cell phone out of his coat pocket and held it out to Vin.
Vin stared at the phone. A long, silent moment passed. "No, I'll be around." He turned and lifted his eyes to the signs on the wall. Looked up and down the next hall and then walked towards the elevator.
Josiah caught Ezra's eye and flicked his own towards Vin. Ezra raised his eyebrows in disbelief, then took the phone from Nathan and followed Vin down the hall. But he had already stepped onto the elevator and the doors had shut when Ezra stepped towards them.
Well, at least I don't have to ride the elevator with him.
Small talk was Ezra's forte when it came to undercover work, but his achilles heel when it came to his co-workers. He waited for the next elevator and punched the second floor to let it take him to the cafeteria. The doors opened and he almost ran into Vin's back because he was standing just off the elevator, staring into the cafe. He seemed startled to see Ezra, then turned back to the food court.
"You hungry after all?"
"Yes. Well, perhaps something to drink."
Vin nodded and the two men walked to the a la carte line. Vin picked up a tray and began to load it with food. A turkey sandwich. Chips. Jello salad. Pie. Finally, a Mountain Dew. He motioned for Ezra to put his coffee on the tray and placed it in front of the cashier. He drew out his wallet and handed her a bill. And they both looked at his bloody hands. He laughed uncomfortably, rubbed them awkwardly on his jeans, dropped his change on the tray and carried it to a table by the window. After he put the tray down he stared at his hands for a moment, then slid into the chair with a solid thump. Ezra sat across from him. Would it be appropriate to tell a co-worker to wash his bloody hands? he thought to himself. No. He still may have a loaded gun.
Vin looked down at the food in front of him and picked up the sandwich. He held it briefly before him, and Ezra watched as the color drained from his face. He stood up so quickly, he nearly knocked the drinks over, bumping the table, mumbled " 'Scuse me," and disappeared.
Well, perhaps he'll wash his hands after all. Seems disgustingly calm about this whole mess.
Ezra waited. And waited. He took another look at the clock on the wall. The one he knew would be right over the doors because there was an identical clock over each door. He mused that perhaps the clientele would be a bit more managable were the clocks fewer. And he waited. Finally, Vin Tanner returned.
His hands were clean, and his face was freshly washed. He sat silently and stared at the food.
"You want some of this?" he offered.
Ezra shook his head in disgust.
"I guess I ain't hungry after all."
It was precisely then that Ezra made his discovery. It took him so much by surprise that he started, and Vin looked over at him.
Vin Tanner is afraid.
The thought was all consuming. The man with no fear, the man who challenged life on a daily basis, who lived in the worst part of Denver and thrived there, the man who had survived over and over again--was afraid.
"Somethin' wrong, Ezra?"
"No. Of course not." Your friend and boss is lying upstairs in the ER, his lifeblood pouring out of him, while you sit in the food court two floors down. No, nothing is wrong. But you, YOU, MY FRIEND, YOU are afraid.
Vin rose and lifted the tray. He set the can of Dew on the table, carried the rest to the trash can and dumped it. Went back over to the table and picked up the can.
"I think I'm goin' outside for a while. OK with you, or are you 'sposed to be watchin' me?"
"Perfectly all right with me, Mr. Tanner. I think I shall give Mr. Jackson a quick call, then I will join you."
Vin nodded, and walked out the glass doors into the courtyard, into the falling rain.
A man afraid. That is precisely what he is. And pretending, quite admirably, to be confident that Mr. Larabee will be just fine.
Ezra pulled out the cell phone, flipped it open and dialed. Buck answered.
"How is our illustrious leader faring?"
"Nurse says he's stable. Lost a lotta blood, but doin' okay. Vin have a nice meal?" The tone was bitter.
"No. Don't make any hasty judgments, Mr. Wilmington."
There was a brief pause, and the tone softened. "OK. Yeah. All right. You coming back up?"
"I'm not sure. Mr. Tanner is outside. Keep me posted if anythin' happens." Ezra hit clear and closed the phone.
He peered out into the falling light, through the water-soaked glass, at a man standing alone, leaning on a sapling. Gathering strength.
Ezra pulled his coat tighter around him and walked outside.
"Buck says that Chris is stable. We should be able to go see him shortly. They'll be moving him to ICU, and once they get him settled, he'll be able to have a few visitors for a brief time yet tonight."
Vin nodded. "I don't think so, Ez. I'm tired. Can I borrow the...no, I guess not." Vin smiled at the idea of parking Ezra's Jag in Purgatory.
"I'd be happy to give you a ride, Mr Tanner."
Vin nodded again.
So why does he still look so frightened? And why won't he go see his friend?
It seemed like a long ride to Purgatory from the hospital. Vin had begun to shake uncontrollably shortly after getting into the car. Ezra turned on the heat, hoping against his better wisdom that the man's wet clothing wasn't going to totally ruin the leather seat. When they pulled up in front of Vin's apartment building, Vin turned to him. "I'd invite ya up, but I know you don't wanta leave the car down here. So, guess I'll see you t'morrow?"
Ezra peaked out under the windshield and looked up at the darkened building. "Tomorrow?"
"At the office."
"Oh. Yes. I suppose so. Your jeep is still in the parking garage, though, isn't it?"
Vin nodded. "Yeah. I'll find a way down there."
He opened the door, leaned down and looked into the car.
"Of course. You are welcome, Mr. Tanner."
Ezra watched Vin walk towards the brick building. He pressed the electric window so that it buzzed downward on the passenger side. "Mr. Tanner, I'd be happy to pick you up, give you a ride tomorrow morning, if you'd like?"
"No, that's OK."
He raised the window, watched until the man disappeared into the building, and then pulled out into the street. He drove almost all the way back to the hospital before turning around and heading back to Purgatory.
Ezra circled the block several times upon his return to find a place to park where he thought he could see the Jag from Vin's window. Then he pulled his coat over his head and made a quick dash for the door. When he got inside, he shook off his wet coat, and started up the stairs.
Four floors. Ridiculous. Simply ridiculous. Why would anyone live on the fourth floor in a building with no elevator? Why would anyone choose to live in this god-forsaken building in this god-forsaken neighborhood in this GOD-FORSAKEN RAIN?
Ezra was winded and disgusted by the time he got to Vin's door. He knocked, but he didn't expect an answer. He knew the answer he was looking for tonight was not going to come directly from Vin Tanner. He would have to use his excellent powers of deduction to figure out this riddle. He knew now that Vin was afraid. But of what? Vin knew that Chris was stable, so it wasn't fear for his friend. At least, not now. No, now it was something else.
Ezra turned the knob and opened the door. The apartment was dark, but he could see a figure sitting on the couch, facing away from him, resting his head on his hands, his elbows resting on his knees. He was in the same wet clothes he had come home in.
Home. This isn't anymore a home than . . . than my apartment is. My sterile, clean, modern apartment. But NOT a home.
Ezra stood in the open doorway. From experience, he knew you didn't just walk up on an armed man.
"What'd ya come back for, Ezra?"
"I don't know, Mr. Tanner," he lied.
Ezra walked over to the window and looked down on the Jag. From there he could see that Vin had removed his guns and they laid on the coffee table in front of him.
And suddenly Ezra knew.
Vin Tanner was afraid, yes, that his friend would die. But it was more than that. Vin Tanner was afraid that if something happened to Chris Larabee, that HE wouldn't survive the loss. And Vin Tanner was nothing if not a survivor. He had survived a terrible childhood, and bullets meant for him time and time again. He had survived being thrown through a plate glass window, and bombs, and having his cover blown. He danced with death, defying it, challenging it, even. But he was afraid.
And just as Ezra knew it, Vin knew when he looked up at him, in the darkness, that Ezra knew it, too. Because Ezra had spent so much of his life that way; moving, always moving, never lighting anywhere, for fear if it became home, it would be lost.
Ezra went to the bathroom, retrieved a towel, and returned to the living room. He threw the towel across Vins shoulders and went back to the window. He watched his car, and Vin, as he dried his hair. Then Vin got up and went into his bedroom. When he returned, he had on a dry T-shirt and sweats. He came and stood beside Ezra at the window.
"Anybody botherin' it?"
"As yet, no."
"Chris still OK?"
Ezra nodded. "And so are you. And you will be, regardless. You are a survivor, Mr Tanner. As am I."
This time Vin nodded.
"Ah, but I know."
The next morning, five visitors had made their way in and out of Chris Larabee's room. His condition had rapidly improved with several transfusions of blood, and he was lying quietly, the head of his bed raised ever so slightly, when Ezra visited.
Ezra waited until the others had left. And Chris waited, too.
Chris raised his eyebrows. "From what?"
Ezra smiled. "From you. From this." He motioned his hands to the monitors that lined one side of the bed. "Running. As in jogging, is what I meant."
"I'm sure he'll be up. Just give him time."
"He doesn't have to come up here to see me."
"Yes, he does." Ezra said it with such finality that Chris let it go.
Late in the afternoon, while Nathan visited with Chris, recounting the progress of the reports of the previous day's work, Vin came to the door. Nathan looked up at him, and without saying a word, nodded to Chris and left. Vin's hair was in a pony tail, a ball cap pulled down low over his eyes.
"You look like shit."
"Hey, thanks. That makes me feel a whole lot better. 'Least you aren't lying."
Vin shook his head. "Never."
He pushed a chair to the foot of the bed, and ignoring the one Nathan had been sitting in, the one closer to Chris, sat down.
"You figger out what went wrong?"
"Think so. Josiah thinks Craven just got a little nervous and trigger happy. Lucky for me, he's a lousy shot, and you're a good one."
Vin nodded, remembering.
"Ezra been here?"
"Yeah. He said . . ."
"He said you'd be up."
Chris watched him. The stone face. The slump of the shoulders that gave him away. The exhaustion across his face. The tension from the fight. The fight of holding on to his sanity when he teetered on the edge. And was instantly sorry. He knew the feeling, and Chris desperately wanted Vin to step back from the edge. Perhaps because he needed him to.
"So, when you gonna be up for a run?"
"I don't know. Doc'll be around in an hour or so, maybe he'll tell me."
Vin leaned back in the chair and carefully put his feet up on the edge of the bed. Nestled in and got comfortable. "Reckon I'll wait, iffen you don't mind."
"I don't mind."
"Ok then." Vin pushed the cap up a little so his eyes weren't shadowed. "Wake me if they bring food, 'k?"
"Thought you were gonna keep me company?"
"Me?" He snorted and smiled.
"Yeah, what was I thinkin'?"
Ezra walked into the room quietly, and noticed Chris watching Vin, who appeared to be asleep. He looked up as Ezra entered, and nodded. Ezra moved to the other side of the bed, and they spoke quietly.
"He said you gave him a ride home last night."
"Is that all?"
"Yeah, pretty much."
Ezra nodded, and smiled. "At the risk of sounding grateful, you have survived another round, Mr. Larabee..."
"I don't know yet. But I will."
"Yes." He went to stand beside the window, and looked out at the still falling rain. "Well, it is terrible weather for running, anyway. But he still owes me two custom wheel covers and a hood ornament."Keep your fears to yourself but share your courage with others.
| Back |