THINGS TO DO IN DENVER
Two men reach an understanding.
This tale takes place some months prior to "A Birthday in the Present," and refers in small part to "How DID He Get That Car?" and "Auto Observations at Ground Level," all tales by Maria Mogavero, who has graciously granted me permission to play in her universe.
First, Vin is not my favorite character and, as a consequence, I dont know that I am that successful in writing him. I know I've got Vin talking a lot more than he might, but I've tried to make it sound like him. Vinsters, please to forgive and cut me a bit of slack. ;-)
Second, I got the spark of this idea from a line in Laura Brennans "Fishing - ATF Style!" in which she makes reference to the fact that only Chris and Ezra were able to keep Vin calm during a bout with fever. It set me to wondering how these two might have made their peace in the ATF AU.
With thanks and apologies to Walter Mirisch, John Watson, Trilogy Productions, CBS, Warren Zevon, and Maria Mogavero, and proceeding under the assumption that forgiveness is easier to ask than permission....
LeRoy says there's something you should
THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOURE DEAD ~ Warren Zevon
Thick white flakes were falling steadily even now, after a long night in which the blizzard had already blanketed the Denver streets. Ezra Standish tugged his cashmere muffler tighter under his chin with one leather-gloved hand, then hastily grabbed at the wheel of his Jaguar as the low-slung car began a lazy fishtail. Although there was little he missed about Atlanta, the weather was one feature of that city which the southerner frequently lamented leaving behind, particularly between the months of October and May.
Damn you, Vin why cant you live on a snow route in a reasonable neighborhood? Ezra thought as he wrestled the vehicle back into the twin ruts that earlier risers had left in the accumulated snow covering the back street. He peered intently through the translucent coating that his windshield wipers fought valiantly to keep clear, trying to spot the modest brick apartment building where Vin Tanner lived. A dark shape looming out of the white haze brought another curse to his lips, even as he feathered the brakes and manhandled the Jag in an attempt to avoid the snowplow. Ezra popped the clutch into a lower gear and tapped the accelerator with deliberate fury; the car responded like a live thing, clearing the yellow and black striped bumper of the huge machine with inches to spare. The front tires of the Jag crunched into the shallow drift left in the plows wake. Ezra forced the car through the obstacle and across the cleared main street, through the matching drift on the other side, and finally slid to a halt, double-parked next to a battered blue Jeep. A previous plowing had left the topless vehicle half-buried, with snow completely obscuring the seats, dash, and steering wheel. Ezra shook his head.
"Mr. Tanner, if you force me to get out and fetch you in this weather, youll pay dearly," Ezra muttered to himself. As if hed heard the threat, Vin Tanner appeared in the door of the apartment building, blinking at the snow before stepping out into the storm, hunkered down against the wind. He floundered through the drifts toward Ezras car, tugged the door open and flung himself inside.
"Hey, Ezra, thanks," he panted, brushing the snow from his canvas fishing hat and the sleeves of his buckskin jacket. "Couldnt get Old Blue dug out this mornin."
"So I see." The Jags owner frowned at the heavy flakes melting in the toasty warmth of his vehicles impeccable interior, leaving watery streaks on the upholstery. "Mr. Tanner, those are leather seats you are lounging on," he pointed out.
"Yeah," said Vin. "Good thing, too this is a real damp snow." He stomped his cowboy boots on the floor, leaving miniature drifts on the thick pile floor mats. The subtle colors of the Jag logo grew darker as the moisture soaked into the fine carpet.
Ezra sighed, shifted the car into low gear, and began to slowly maneuver down the street. "Next time, why dont you call Mr. Wilmington?" he asked. "Im sure he has enough unused fast food napkins in the back seat of that landfill he calls a truck to mop up after you." It was a rhetorical question to which he already knew the answer.
Vin laughed. "Hell, Ezra, youre always the last to leave in the mornin you were the only one I could catch at home. Sides, I know Buck left early to pick up JD. That boy aint goin nowhere on that bike of his in weather like this."
Ezra nodded to himself. The car swung wide on a corner and Ezra purposely let the skid go a moment longer than he ordinarily might have, smiling in satisfaction as he watched his passenger reflexively grip the door handle before he brought the Jag back under control. To his chagrin, Vin failed to realize the manuever had been intentional.
"Aint used to drivin in this, bein a southern boy, eh? How come you left Atlanta for Denver, anyway?"
Ezra frowned. Hed never asked Chris Larabee, who scant months ago had recruited him into the ATF team he ramrodded, to keep the circumstances of his departure from Atlantas vice squad confidential. However, something in the team leaders manner had led Ezra to trust that he would. In return, the southerner had totally committed himself to the team and its work, making a conscious effort to shed some of the attitude that had colored his professional successes with reprimands for his conduct. Still, although he liked the other men well enough was actually fiercely loyal to them, Larabee in particular Ezra had kept himself socially distant, rebuffing the advances of his co-workers with a combination of wry humor and polite aloofness. The idea of making small talk about his past with Van Tanner made him extremely uncomfortable.
"It seemed a good idea at the time," he said noncommittally, hoping the matter would drop.
"So did steppin out with a gal I knew once," said Vin. "Changed my mind real quick." He shot a sidelong glance at the driver. "You changed yours?"
Ezra didnt seem to react to the question, but Vin noticed the leather driving gloves flex on the pigskin wrap of the steering wheel. "Why do you ask?"
Vin shrugged. "I like to know the men I work with. But I cant get a handle on you," he said bluntly. "We all of us got pasts, Ezra things we don't speak of, most of the time. But we got no secrets between us. And then there's you ... you're just one big secret. You blew off a good job in Atlanta to come here and sign on to a much more dangerous outfit ... no one but Chris knows why, and he ain't talkin'. You drive a flash car that none of us could afford if we were makin' twice what we do, and you won't say how you came by it. You dress better than some of the folks we're lookin' to bust. You don't hang with us after work or on the weekends, you never talk about your past, you never give us the time of day less its about the job we're workin'. I wanna know why."
Ezra felt a chill run through him. Denver was suddenly much colder than the winter storm warranted. It was ending, just as he had expected it would. And after only three months ... a record, even for him. Ezra was surprised at how sharply he felt the loss.
*But I'll damn well go down fighting.*
"I didn't solicit this assignment, Mr. Tanner," he countered. "Mr. Larabee sought me out. Are you questioning his judgement?"
It was an effective parry. The younger man sat in silence, brought up short by the challenge to his own loyalty. For what seemed a long time, the only sound in the car was the subtle shift of the engine's purr as Ezra worked the gears, forcing the Jag through the snow toward the ATF offices. He'd already begun writing the letter of resignation in his mind when Tanner finally spoke.
"Yeah, I am," he said quietly, but without guilt. "Chris Larabee is the best man I've ever known. But he makes mistakes."
Ezra barked a cynical laugh. "And you think I'm one?"
"Maybe." Vin shifted uncomfortably in his seat, took a deep breath, then made a decision. "'Bout three years ago, someone blew up Chris' truck. Killed his wife and son." The Jag slid slightly to the right as Ezra reacted. Vin nodded. "Was a bad business. Never found out who did it, but that dont matter Chris blames himself. Since then, I've seen him give second chances to losers who didn't have 'em comin'. Like he's tryin' to prove to himself that not everyone is as bad as he thinks he is."
Ezra worried the car to a stop at a red light, and looked sideways at Vin. Icy blue eyes met his glance, and Ezra felt naked in their cold assessment. "I watch his back, Ezra," Vin said firmly. "Even when he thinks he don't need it. 'Specially when he thinks he don't need it. And if I have to piss off some stranger with a bad attitude and too many secrets to make sure that man ain't misplaced his trust, I'll do it in a New York minute and not think twice."
"So tell me, Standish ... can Chris trust you, or am I gonna have to take you down? I'll find a way. Don't doubt it."
The light changed to green, and Ezra returned his attention to driving. He coaxed the Jag forward through another snowdrift and left it in second gear for a short block that hadn't been salted yet, then wrestled the vehicle through a dicey turn into the parking garage entrance. He nosed the car onto the concrete ramp and drove to the third level, spun the wheel and braked gently, coming to a stop precisely equidistant between the yellow lines in a space marked "Reserved." He cut the engine but made no move to release his seat belt, staring instead at the snow falling outside the structure. When he spoke, his voice was as soft as Vin's had been.
"Mr. Tanner, when I left Atlanta Vice, it was made clear to me that I would take this job or have no job at all. Mr. Larabee was quite aware of my situation. I am very good at what I do, make no mistake," he said quickly, throwing a defiant glance at Vin. The younger man nodded in agreement, and Ezra returned his gaze to the falling snow. "However, I have some ... failings ... when it comes to teamwork. Those failings are as much an asset in my job as they are a liability. Mr. Larabee felt that my assets outweighed my liabilities, and I made a promise to him, and to myself, to prove that he was correct in that judgement." He looked once more at Vin. "I make that promise to you, too."
"Nice speech," said Vin casually. "Ain't enough to convince me, though. Words are just words, specially comin' from someone who lies in the line of duty."
"I don't make promises lightly, Mr. Tanner."
"I don't take 'em lightly, Mr. Standish."
Ezra nodded, and for a moment looked at Vin with unguarded eyes. "I wonder," he said slowly, "if Mr. Larabee fully appreciates what the friendship of a man such as yourself is truly worth."
The wistfulness in Ezras voice shot straight through Vin's cynicism. In that moment, he remembered what he himself owed Chris Larabee, and knew that the southerner took his debt as seriously as Vin took his own. He smiled suddenly; a genuine grin, which he underscored by clapping one gloved hand on the shoulder of Ezra's leather coat.
"So, you still ain't explained the car."
After a moment, Ezra smiled too. He tugged the key from the ignition and reached into the back seat for his briefcase, then opened the door. Vin did the same, and a chill crosswind whistled through the car's interior. The men slammed the doors and Ezra popped the automatic locks with his key control, then paused, peering intently around the garage. Vin cocked a questioning eyebrow at him, and the southerner frowned.
"Some damn cat keeps leaving footprints on my hood. If I ever catch the little miscreant, he's going to pay."
Vin tried to hide his grin, and Ezra looked at him with suspicion. "The car," Vin prompted.
Ezra sighed, and the two men began to walk side by side toward the elevator.
"My mother, Mr. Tanner, is a remarkable woman," he began. "Sometimes, almost too remarkable for a civilized man to bear...."
~ 30 ~