Chris wasn't sure why he happened to look across the alley at just that time, just the feeling that he was being watched. He was startled and concerned when he spotted the kid watching him intently from a doorway. He was a scrawny thing, messy brown curls held back by a bandanna and large, blue eyes that seemed to look right through him. Chris figured he couldn't be much older than fourteen or so. Chris was about to motion for the kid to get away when he saw the expressive eyes widen in fear. A tingle of alarm jolted through him, and he started to turn when he felt something crack solidly against his head and everything went dark.
Vin stared, horrified, at the downed blond, and then he brought his gaze up to the man's attacker. Vin recognized him as one of the "enforcers" for Samuel Benson, local drug lord. The enforcer had dropped the two-by-four he'd used to drop the cop. There was no doubt in Vin's mind that the blond was a cop, and the enforcer's next words confirmed it.
"Not so tough now, are you, Pig? Well, now I'm going to stick you and listen to you squeal," the enforcer taunted, drawing out a switchblade and flicking it open.
When Vin heard the knife click into place, he knew he had to act or the cop was dead. Darting out of his hiding place, he grabbed for the gun that had fallen and slid half way across the alley when the cop went down. Not pausing to consider his actions, Vin brought the gun up just as the enforcer had grabbed the cop's hair and pulled the man's head back so the vulnerable throat was exposed. The knife had just made contact with the delicate skin when Vin pulled the trigger, and the enforcer fell back, losing his grip on both the cop and the knife.
Chris moaned softly as someone yanked on his hair, causing his head to throb mercilessly. Struggling to open his eyes, he peered blearily in front of him, trying to make sense of what was going on. He could vaguely hear a voice behind him, but couldn't quite make out the words. What did catch his attention, however, was the kid. The teen had moved out of the doorway and was now holding a gun... Chris' gun. Before that thought had fully formed, Chris felt something prick his neck and then he was dropped forward as a gun shot rang out. Closing his eyes, Chris fought against nausea and the encroaching blackness that hovered on the edges of his vision. He took a deep breath and squinted his eyes open just in time to see a scene that would soon take center stage in his nightmares for weeks to come.
"Chris!" Buck called out as he ran toward his downed partner. His heart was in his throat as he saw the blond was on his hands and knees, blood dripping from somewhere. As he scanned the scene, rage filled him as he spied the punk standing in the alley with a gun pointed in Chris' direction. From the bandanna, Buck took the kid to be part of a gang, and his voice was fierce as he spit out the order. "Police! Drop the weapon!"
Startled out of the shocked stillness he'd been in, Vin turned toward the new threat, the gun automatically turning with him. There was a dark-haired man bearing down on him with blood in his eye and a gun in his hand, and Vin reflexively started to squeeze the trigger.
"No!" Chris shouted out.
That voice, with the fear and desperation behind it, registered within Vin and he began to lower the the weapon until he caught a glimpse of another enforcer running down the alley with a gun drawn and aimed at the dark-haired man.
Seeing that the punk was straightening his stance in preparation to shoot, Buck swore to himself and pulled the trigger. He saw the kid jerk as the bullet struck at the same time he heard another gun shot, then he found himself kissing the ground as something slammed into his back. He was still trying to figure out how that had happened when another shot rang out, and he heard the clatter of a gun hitting the pavement behind him.
Chris stared in disbelief at the tableau in front of him. Somehow, the kid had managed to take out the man who had shot Buck, even after being shot himself. "Hey," he rasped out, trying to capture the kid's attention. Chris could see that the kid was shaking, and the gun was no longer steady in his hand.
Once again, the voice penetrated the daze into which Vin had fallen. Finally lowering the gun, he took a deep breath and then fell to his knees as the pain hit him. Fire was streaking out of his shoulder and, when he looked down, he was shocked to find that he was bleeding. Eyes widening, he realized that he'd been shot! He could hear sirens in the distance, and the instinctive fear sent a jolt of adrenaline through him that roused him to move. Gritting his teeth against the pain, Vin forced himself to his feet, steadfastly ignoring the spots floating in front of his eyes and the blackness that kept threatening to darken his vision. Moving slowly, he approached the blond cop who had been speaking to him, letting the steady green gaze draw him nearer.
Holding his breath, Chris kept silent, not wanting to scare the kid off now that he was actually coming his way. Haunted blue eyes burned into him, and he could see the tears the kid was refusing to shed. Without a sound, the kid slowly knelt down, placing the gun gently in front of Chris' hand. There was a groan, and Chris turned his head to check on Buck. At the movement, pain exploded in his head, sending him silently back into unconsciousness.
Cursing, Buck managed to get his knees under himself and push to his feet. His back felt like it had been trampled by an elephant, but he was still confused about what had happened. A glance behind him, however, provided a clue. He scowled in consternation as he took in the dead body with the small, neat hole directly in the center of his forehead, gun still clutched in his hand. Swinging back around, he found that the punk he'd shot had disappeared, but Chris was down. "Chris?!" Buck shouted and then began stumbling towards his partner.*****
The first thing Chris was aware of was the sledgehammer that was mercilessly pounding his head. The next thing was that his hand was being held and the soft voice of his wife was speaking to him.
"That's it, Cowboy, open your eyes," Sarah coaxed.
Reluctantly, Chris pried open his eyes and then immediately slammed them shut again as the bright light sent a shaft of pain straight through his skull. Groaning softly, he brought up his free hand to cover his eyes, wincing as the movement caused the IV to bite his hand. "Sarah?" he croaked out, and then licked chapped lips.
"Yes. Here, it's water. Sip it slowly," Sarah instructed as she held the glass to Chris' lips, tipping it slowly so as not to choke him.
After he'd drunk his fill, Chris leaned back with a soft sigh and squinted at his wife. "What happened?" he asked, and then his memory caught up to him. "Buck! And the kid! Sarah, are they all right?" he asked, gripping her hand firmly in his agitation.
"Shh, calm down. Buck is just fine. In fact, I'm sure he'll be bursting in here any minute to see what all the yelling is about. His back is a bit bruised, but that's it," Sarah reassured him, stroking his arm in an attempt to comfort her husband.
Chris heaved a sigh of relief. Thank God, Buck must have been wearing his vest. "But what about the kid? He was shot..."
Sarah frowned. "Kid? I don't know who you're talking about. From what your captain said, you and Buck were the only ones in the alley except for the..." she trailed off, not wanting to mention the dead bodies for fear of further upsetting Chris.
"Except for?" Chris paled. The kid didn't die, did he? If not for that boy, Chris was certain he and Buck both would have been killed by the drug runners. "God, Sarah, he was just a kid. Probably not even old enough to drive yet..."
Shaking her head, Sarah was quick to correct his assumption. "No, Chris, he didn't mention any children. Just the bodies of two men that were known felons."
Before Chris could question her anymore, the door to his room opened and a doctor came in, followed closely by Buck.
"Ah, Detective Larabee, I'm glad to see you're awake. You have a mild concussion, but the CT scans came back clear. We'd liked to keep you overnight for observation, but you should be able to go home in the morning," the doctor said.
"If the scans are clear, I'd just as soon go home now, Doc," Chris protested.
"Now, Chris, I think you should do as the doctor says. That was a nasty blow to the head you took," Buck said.
Chris looked to Sarah for support, but she was frowning at him, too.
"Uh uh, Cowboy. You're going to stay right here. Now is not the time for you to be taking chances," she reminded him, one hand going protectively to her swollen abdomen.
Scowling, Chris looked away but acceded to their wishes. Raising his eyes to Buck's, he returned to his original concern. "The boy... is he all right?"
This time, it was Buck that grimaced. "He was gone. What happened out there, Chris? I was sure he'd shot you... and me... but..."
Chris was shaking his head and immediately regretting it. "He saved my life. Yours, too. The scumbag that shot you in the back was moving up to finish the job when the kid got him. Damndest thing I've ever seen."
Buck blew out a disgusted breath. "Yeah, you're not wrong there. He nailed both those bastards right between the eyes."
"He was hurt, Buck. We've got to find him," Chris asserted.
"I've already got an APB out on him, but I don't know if it'll do any good. Street rat like that can go to ground, and it can be damned near impossible to flush him out," Buck said.
Chris narrowed his eyes. "He's no common street rat. I'd stake my life on that," he stated firmly.
"Yeah, well, I wouldn't, pard. Look, you get some rest and let me worry about finding the kid. You gave me and Sarah quite a scare there today," Buck said.
While they had been talking, the doctor had continued to examine Chris, but now he could see that his patient was tiring. "I'm sorry, but I'm afraid visiting hours are over. Mr. Larabee needs to rest," he said, prodding the big, mustached man towards the door. From the looks of things, if he didn't clear the room soon, his patient was going to explode, and that certainly wouldn't help his headache any.
"OK, doc, I'm going," Buck said, allowing himself to be herded out the door. "I'll be right outside, Sarah."
Sarah nodded and then turned back to her fuming husband. "Chris, it's not going to help your head if you get all worked up. Buck's just worried, and you know how he gets when he's worried," she placated the furious blond.
"Yeah--stupid. I don't understand what he's got against the boy. I'm telling you, there was something about that kid... I can't explain it, but I've got to find him. If you'd seen his eyes, Sarah, you'd understand. I felt like he knew me... and I knew him," Chris said.
Sarah studied Chris intently. She'd never heard him speak of anyone in quite that way, except with the possible exception of herself. "If that's true, then I'm certain you'll find him. Now, you get some sleep and I'll be here in the morning to pick you up, all right? I'd better get moving or your doctor is going to be dragging me out, too."
"He'd better not. No one drags my wife around," Chris mock-growled.
"That's right, Cowboy. No one but you," Sarah said with a grin and then leaned over to kiss him gently on the lips. "'Night, love."
"'Night, Sarah," Chris sighed, closing his eyes.*****
Vin paused, panting heavily as he leaned against the cool, brick wall of the building. He'd managed to find some rags to press against the wound in his shoulder, and one of the drunks he'd helped out a time or two had loaned him a coat to hide it. Now, he just needed to get back to his hidey hole. He had no doubt that the cops would be looking for him--he'd just shot and killed two men. He shuddered, fighting off nausea. He'd killed. This time, he couldn't keep it down, and his stomach heaved, expelling bile onto the pavement. Shaking with pain and reaction, Vin jerked his head up and looked around warily. The cops wouldn't be the only ones after him. Benson didn't take kindly to those who stepped into his business, and Vin had been doing that regularly. 'Course, he hadn't exactly advertised that fact. This time, however, he was sure the drug lord would come after him. Killing enforcers and saving cops was just something that could not be ignored.
At the thought of the cops, Vin frowned. The first one... the blond... he felt some sort of a connection with the man... He shook his head. Naw, he must have been imagining things. But still... A sense of longing swept through him. More than anything, Vin wanted to see the cop again, but he knew it would be a very bad idea. Vin needed to avoid the cops--if they caught him, they'd either send him back to Texas or, worse, to jail for killin' those drug dealing scum. He shivered, suddenly very cold. 'Course, if he didn't get this wound taken care of, he wouldn't need to worry about the cops... or anything else, for that matter. Shoving himself away from the wall, he staggered down the alley.*****
Chris was cursing softly under his breath as Sarah and Buck entered his room.
"Well, I see you're in fine form this morning, stud," Buck commented.
"Shut up, Buck," Chris stated, finally straightening up from wrestling with his boots. Bending over had done nothing good for his headache, and he closed his eyes as he waited for the dizziness to pass. He opened them again as he felt Sarah's warmth press against him as she placed a soft kiss upon his temple.
"Still hurts, huh?" she asked sympathetically.
"Yeah," Chris admitted. "But it's not so bad now."
"That's good, because a nurse should be arriving any minute now with your ride out of here," Sarah said, smiling.
"'Bout damn time," Chris muttered, and received a soft swat to his shoulder in response.
"Now, now, you should be nicer to the nurses," Buck advised.
"Yes, you should," a new voice interjected as the nurse pushed the wheelchair into the room. "Mr. Larabee..." She gestured to the chair.
Heaving a sigh, but knowing better than to try to argue, Chris settled into the chair. He felt like an idiot, but past experience had taught him that he would be riding out in the chair no matter what he said.
"Good boy," Sarah whispered in his ear and then winked when he scowled at her.
Chris held his silence until they reached the hospital exit, whereupon he got out of the wheelchair. He knew that the doctor expected him to go home and rest, but that's not what he had planned. When he turned to Sarah to explain, he could tell from her knowing grin that she'd already figured that out. "I have to..." he started, but she silenced him with a finger to his lips.
"You have to find that boy, I know," she stated simply. "Just be careful. That hard head of yours took a nasty thump."
"I will," he promised, and then kissed her before gesturing towards a scowling Buck to lead the way to his truck.******
"You don't have to come in, you know. I've got people looking already," Buck said again.
Chris shook his head. "He was shot. If we don't find him soon, it'll be too late. If not from blood loss, then infection for sure. You can't tell me that you think he'll go to a hospital on his own."
Frowning, Buck bit back the sarcastic reply that he knew the kid was shot--he'd shot him himself.
"It's not your fault, you know," Chris said seriously. "There was no way you could have known he was aiming at the guy behind you."
Buck sighed. Leave it to Chris to get right to the heart of the matter. Truth was, he was angry at the kid mostly because he felt guilty. "I could have killed him, and he saved my life," he whispered. He felt a hand squeeze his arm and looked over at his partner.
"And I'm thankful he did," Chris said, his green eyes steady and sincere. "Now let's find him so we can thank him properly."
"Anyone ever tell you you've got a one track mind?" Buck asked.
"Maybe." Chris smirked. "Tell me what you've got so far." He leaned back and closed his eyes as Buck began filling him in on the search detail and the feelers he'd put out to their various informants.*****
Chris accepted the sketch that Buck had worked on with their artist and studied it intensely. "This isn't quite right," he muttered.
"What?" Buck asked, glancing down at the paper and shrugging. "I didn't get a real good look, you know, and I had other things on my mind."
Waving him off, Chris went in search of the artist. The eyes were wrong and the kid in the picture looked older than he should. "See if you can find Ezra; he always knows more about what's going on out on the streets than anyone else," he tossed back over his shoulder.
Buck sighed. A trip down to vice was really not what he wanted, but at least Chris wasn't growling... yet.*****
Detective Ezra Standish entered the bullpen of the Major Crimes division with some trepidition. He'd heard about the attack on Larabee and Wilmington the previous day and was afraid he was about to be reamed out for not warning them that it was a setup. Of course, no one had bothered to ask him what he thought about the intel they'd received, but in his experience, that didn't usually matter. What mattered was that two cops--two Major Crimes detectives--had almost been killed because the information had not been reliable. Steeling himself, he walked in with as much confidence as he could project.
"Standish!" a voice called out, and Ezra turned to find Chris Larabee gesturing him over.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Larabee?" Ezra asked as he came to stand next to the man's desk.
"Tell me everything you know about this kid," Chris said, handing over the new sketch.
Ezra frowned. It was similar to the sketch that had been handed out earlier, but this kid seemed younger and the eyes were larger, more vulnerable than on the previous sketch. "Is this a relative of the first boy?" he asked.
"No, this is the kid we're looking for. Do you know him?" Larabee asked.
Ezra started to reply in the negative, but then an image flashed in his head and he closed his mouth, looking closer at the picture. "Maybe," he finally replied.
Shaking his head, Ezra handed the sketch back. "I may have seen him once, but it was dark and only for a moment, so I can't be sure. If it's who I think it is, though, you're going to have a hard time finding him. He's called the Ghost."
Chris tilted his head as he looked at Standish expectantly. "Why?"
"Because he's silent and can disappear at will. In fact..." Ezra trailed off as something he'd heard earlier in the day tickled in the back of his mind and his eyes widened.
"What? What is it?" Larabee demanded, his own eyes narrowing as he watched the changing expressions on the Vice detective.
"I think he's in more trouble than you know," Ezra muttered. Taking a deep breath, Ezra looked into Larabee's eyes. "There's a contract out on his life," he stated.
Chris blinked. That couldn't be. Who would put a contract out on a kid?
"Benson put word on the street that the Ghost was worth $50,000 dead," Ezra continued.
Benson. Of course. "$50,000 for this kid? That's crazy," Chris spit out.
Ezra shrugged. "Not from a business stand point. From what I've heard, the Ghost has put a bigger dent in Benson's operation than the local and federal law enforcement agencies combined. And just yesterday, he managed to take out two of Benson's people and save the very men Benson was trying to eliminate."
"Shit," Chris said, closing his eyes. He couldn't believe this. Some kid had been waging war on Benson, and his team hadn't even known about it--a war that had brought about a bounty on the kid's head.
"Exactly." Ezra shook his head. "I'd say his life expectancy is pretty much nil."
"Not if I have anything to say about it," Chris growled, glaring at the man in front of him.
Ezra had to fight with himself to keep from backing up as Larabee's eyes seemed to burn right through him. "Ah, well, if that's all?" he stammered, hoping to escape before the blond erupted, as all signs seemed to indicate could happen at any moment.
"No." Chris narrowed his eyes, eyeing Standish consideringly. "I want you to help me find him."
For once, Ezra found himself speechless.*****
"Nathan!" Josiah bellowed as he entered the small clinic with the bleeding teen in his arms.
"I'm comin', I'm comin'," Nathan said as he hurried down the hall. "What's all the yellin'..." he trailed off as he saw what Josiah held. "Take him into exam room one. I'll be there as soon as I get washed up."
Without breaking stride, Josiah headed to the specified room. As gently as he could, he placed the boy on the examination bed, but he still heard a soft whimper. "Rest easy now, son. Nathan'll be right in to fix you up," he said.
The boy didn't answer, but he did quiet down. Working as quickly and carefully as he could, Josiah started taking off the heavy coat the boy was wearing. He swore when he uncovered the wound.
"What is it?" Nathan asked as he came into the room.
"Looks like the boy's been shot," Josiah said.
Nathan's lips pressed together tightly. "We'll have to report it," he reminded the older man.
Josiah sighed but nodded. "I think it can wait until we've got the bleeding stopped, though, don't you?" he asked.
Not answering, Nathan began examining the wound. "Well, he lucked out in one respect. Looks like it went straight through and managed to miss any major arteries or bones. Still, he's lost a lot of blood... and those rags that were packed against the wound weren't the cleanest. Infection is going to be his biggest problem." He glanced up to see Josiah staring at him expectantly. "All right. We'll fix him up first, then call," he finally conceded. Truth be told, he wasn't in an all fired rush to bring the cops down on the kid, either.
"Thank you, brother," Josiah said, giving his friend a toothy grin.
"Hold him down, now. I don't want to give him anything, as I don't know if he's already taken something," Nathan stated.
"Oh, I don't think you need to worry about that. The Ghost hates drugs and anything to do with them," Josiah said, but he still placed his large hands on the teen's arms to hold him still.
Nathan looked up, startled. "The Ghost? But... he's just a kid..."
"A kid that's been living on the streets for some time now. He might be young in years, but not in experience," Josiah said sadly.
Shaking his head and muttering to himself, Nathan took Josiah at his word and grabbed a sedative. Poor kid had been through enough, no need for him to feel the pain that was sure to come as he dug the bullet out. "Cut that shirt off of him," Nathan said as he expertly started an IV. 'Damn, kid's lost a lot of blood,' he thought as he studied the pale features.*****
Ezra sighed as he exited the truck. Mr. Larabee had been most insistent upon accompanying him on his search, even though he had tried to explain that he would probably have much better luck if he were making his inquiries alone. 'At least it will be Mr. Larabee's truck in danger of vandalism or theft, and not my Jag,' he though to himself with a slight smirk. He glanced around warily, but there didn't appear to be anyone paying them any attention... not that that meant anything. Watchers could be anywhere. Usually, however, the free clinic was considered a neutral zone and was left alone. Anyone was treated at the clinic, regardless of their allegiances, and so far, no one had done anything to warrant a change in that policy.
He was just reaching for the door handle when Father Sanchez opened the door and stopped short. "Detective Standish. That was fast, even for you. Nathan didn't call more than five or ten minutes ago," Josiah said as he held the door open.
"What do you mean?" Chris asked before Ezra had a chance to say anything.
Josiah frowned. "You're not here in regards to the gun shot victim?"
"Kid? Curly brown hair, on the lean side?" Chris asked.
"Yes..." Josiah said slowly. However, he didn't have a chance to say anything more as a car came screaching up the street, and someone let loose with an automatic weapon.
Reacting instintively, Chris pushed the big man down and covered him with his body. "Call for backup," he yelled, even as he drew his weapon and started returning fire.
Ezra, who had dived for cover as soon as the bullets started flying, hit speed dial on his phone with one hand while he returned fire with the other. "Shots fired at the free clinic on Steele street. Two officers on the scene and taking fire. Send backup. Repeat. Officers taking fire." He didn't bother to listen to the dispatcher's response, opting to close the phone and concentrate on his shooting. "Father Sanchez, Mr. Larabee, are you injured?" he asked, ducking as another barrage of bullets headed their way.
"I'm fine, brother," Josiah answered, as he tried to wiggle out from under the rather heavy man on top of him.
"Stay still," Chris hissed. "They're still shooting."
"I am aware; however, I'm more concerned that all this noise may be a distraction, as they don't seem to be trying very hard to hit us," Josiah explained.
Chris swore and rolled off the man, bringing himself up into a kneeling position and his next shots hit their marks. The car careened into a fire hydrant and the automatic fire ceased.
Josiah wasted no time in getting to his feet as soon as the weight of the other man was off him. "Nathan!" he called, as he ran back towards the examining room.TBC...