I haven't written anything in quite some time but I read Carla's Feels Like Rain on the Blackraptor Adult site and it inspired this. For those who haven't read it, it's a V/C fic where Chris is breaking up with Vin. One of those 'it's nobody's fault, just the way things happen sometimes' kind of things. Now I'm a V/E girl from the beginning and dear Vin needed someone to mend his broken heart, so, we have this.
Oh, the idea of Ezra having built models as a child and later taking a baseball bat to them comes from Jo Ann's wonderful Mended Glasses. Available at the All-Ezra site, http://www.all-ezra.com/
ATF V/E Pre-slash with mention of V/C
It was late on a Friday afternoon, Vin Tanner pushed back his chair and rose to go get some more coffee. He was exhausted. It wasn't the work so much as the burden of dragging around a broken heart. Earlier in the week his lover and boss, Chris Larabee, had ended their relationship, at least the non-work-related, more than just friends part of it.
Now they were trying to get back to being just friends and co-workers.
Vin wasn't sure they could do it.
He felt like he was in a war zone, constantly under fire from his co-workers, having to listen to their incessant sniping at him. Buck Wilmington in particular seemed to blame him for the whole mess, as if Chris wasn't a grown man who'd gone into the affair with his eyes open.
Nathan Jackson had always been judgmental.
Josiah Sanchez just plain disapproved of two men together no matter who they were and was even more disapproving of 'office romances' in general.
JD, well JD was young and inexperienced. He barely knew what to think of two men together, so he was halfway following in Buck's wake. Fortunately he was trying to find some kind of balance between Buck's rabid reaction, his 'hero worship' of Chris Larabee and his friendship with Vin.
Vin snorted. The friendship seemed to be losing.
That only left Ezra Standish.
Vin couldn't figure him out, but then he never had been able to. Their enigmatic undercover agent was... an enigma. He snorted again and shook his head as he poured some more of the thick tarry brew that passed for coffee in the office into his old, chipped cup.
Most of the guys were already gone for the day. Buck was closeted in the office with Chris, guarding him like an old bulldog.
Only Vin and Ezra remained in the outer bullpen area. He was just avoiding going back to the cheap motel room he had rented when he packed his things and moved out of Chris' ranch. He'd let his apartment go when he'd moved out to the ranch, thinking that this was it, that *this* was forever. Only it wasn't.
What Ezra was still doing in the office at six o'clock on a Friday night, Vin didn't know.
He turned to go back to his desk and found Ezra standing in the doorway of the break room, one shoulder leaned against the frame, arms crossed over his chest, a solemn expression on his face. He straightened when Vin looked up at him, his hands dropping to his sides as he let out a soft sigh then spoke softly, "I am sorry, Mister Tanner."
Vin scowled, "What for?" The statement came as a complete non sequitur as far as Vin was concerned. He had no idea what Ezra was apologizing for.
Ezra turned to look towards Chris' office. The look alone told Vin what Ezra was sorry for before he ever said, "That."
Before Vin could push past him or think of anything to say, before Vin could quite wrap his mind around the fact that unlike the others Ezra apparently *didn't* blame him for this mess, Ezra went on.
"I know what it is like to think that you have found everything that you never even dared to dream of and to then wake up one day to realize that it's over, and there is nothing you can do about it, because it isn't your fault. It isn't his fault, either. It's no one's fault and that only makes it hurt more."
Vin swallowed hard. Ezra had hit it right on the head. Nobody's fault but it still hurt like a bitch. He shook his head. "Don't want to talk about it, Ez."
The quiet words were nearly Vin's undoing. He hadn't realized until now how much he'd needed to have just one person say, 'It's not your fault.' How much he'd needed to feel like there was at least one person who didn't hold him responsible for all this.
He tried to speak around the sudden lump in his throat, but only managed a quick bob of his head before Ezra went on.
"You are in limbo right now. I understand that. You don't know where you stand anymore, not just with him, but here, with the job and our co-workers and even with your life. I just wanted you to know that if you need anything... A place to stay, perhaps? Someone to talk to, when you're ready. I'll be glad to help any way I can."
This time Vin managed to get out a choked, "Thanks, Ez."
He started towards the door but Ezra didn't move out of his way, just stood there looking it him, his head cocking slightly to one side, that small devilish smile beginning to curve his lips.
"Therapy. That's what you need, a little therapy."
Vin scowled. "Don't need no shrink!" he snapped, his gratitude for Ezra's support evaporating in a burst of anger that Ezra thought he needed to talk to a psychologist.
Ezra's smile turned into a grin as he held up his hands in a warding off gesture. "Oh, no, no, no, Mister Tanner. I would never suggest that anyone see one of those charlatans!"
He leaned against the doorframe again, grinning broadly. "I have my own therapy."
Vin gave him a puzzled look.
"Come now, Mister Tanner. Surely you know that most undercover agents burn out on the job in five to eight years, if they don't get killed first. *I*, however have been doing this for more than ten years... and am still going strong."
"There's exceptions to every rule."
"Indeed there are. However, some exceptions make themselves."
"Like you make your own luck?"
Ezra laughed. Then still grinning at Vin he asked, "Do you want to break something? Just take a baseball bat and beat the shit out of something?"
Vin stared at him, "I... uh..."
"Very young children instinctively understand the wonderful therapeutic benefits of breaking things. That's why when a toddler is angry or upset they start grabbing and smashing anything that they can get their hands on. Unfortunately, as we grow up we are taught that it's not permissible to do this, and we lose that marvelous outlet for our anger and frustration."
Vin sighed. Ezra was on a roll. There wouldn't be any shutting him up and Vin didn't have the energy to even try. Ezra was right about him being in limbo, he didn't know what to do and it seemed to be draining everything out of him. He leaned back against the break room table and took a sip of his coffee. Might as well get comfortable if Ezra was going to talk him to death.
Ezra went on, "I was twelve when I re-discovered the joy of just smashing things. As a younger child I built models. You know the kind, cars, planes, aircraft carriers. Some of them extremely detailed. Naturally they took quite some time to complete. When I was twelve, shortly after Mother had bought me a brand new model of what would be a four-foot long, aircraft carrier, I realized that she wasn't buying them for me because she loved me and wanted to give me something that I enjoyed. She bought them simply so she wouldn't have to be bothered with me. They kept me busy, quiet and out of her way."
Vin nodded his understanding, suddenly realizing that while Ezra might have been raised with money he hadn't necessarily been raised in an environment that was anymore loving and nurturing than Vin's own childhood.
"This realization came as she was walking out the door, on her way to Europe with her latest paramour, leaving me alone, to fend for myself until she returned. Oh, she made sure the rent was paid, and that the housekeeper would be coming in daily but still... I was furious. I wanted to smash something, so for the first time in a very long time, I did. I grabbed up a baseball bat, and an armful of those damned models and took them out into the back yard and batted them to pieces. You wouldn't believe how much better I felt."
Vin shook his head. "Yeah, well I ain't got nothing that I'd be willin' ta smash... and cain't rightly go smashing stuff around here... although I wouldn't mind taking a baseball bat to Buck's desk about now."
Ezra laughed out loud. "I just bet you would! Now, I just happen to have an entire shelf full of breakables at home, with a baseball bat right there with them."
Vin frowned, remembering the few times that he'd been at Ezra's when the undercover agent hosted the monthly poker game, trying to remember if he'd seen a shelf full of breakables. His eyes went wide as he realized that he had and that there had been a baseball bat leaned against it.
"That shelf full of ceramics in the back hall next to the patio door?"
Ezra practically cackled. "Yes, indeed. Tell me, Mister Tanner, what did you think the first time you saw that shelf of knickknacks?"
Vin swallowed, he really didn't want to insult Ezra by saying that he'd thought they were the ugliest things he'd ever seen so he hedged, "They looked a mite out of place."
Ezra snorted, "Oh, come now, you can do better than that! Be honest, Mister Tanner, brutally honest. After all, the truth will set you free."
"Oh, all right. They've gotta be the ugliest things I've ever seen."
"Oh, and the joy of smashing them!" Ezra exalted.
Vin stared at him in disbelief. "You mean that you bought them just so you could smash them?"
"Yep. Half the fun is finding things that just cry out to be smashed."
"Of course I am. I wouldn't have survived as long as I have as an undercover agent if I were entirely sane. Being crazy is what keeps me out of a padded cell." He rubbed his hands together. "Now, dump that sludge down the drain, grab your things and let us 'blow this Popsicle stand' so to speak. We shall swing by that fleabag of a motel you're staying in, pick up your things and install you in my spare room, then settle in for some good, old-fashion, smashing therapy. Afterwards we'll head for your favorite fast food joint, and let you fill that bottomless pit you call a stomach. I know you haven't felt like eating but I guarantee that after you finish your therapy you'll be ravenous."
He turned and breezed back towards the bullpen.
Vin stood a moment staring after him. Then he shook himself and did as Ezra had ordered. Hell, why not? It wasn't like he had anything else to do... and Ezra was actually going to take him to MacD's! That alone was worth going along with this crazy idea.
Two hours later, Vin sat in a booth at MacDonalds with two Big Macs, three orders of fries, four apple pies and the biggest drink he could get spread out in front of him.
Ezra had been right, after the 'smashing therapy' as Ezra called it he had been ravenous. It hadn't, of course, made everything all right, but he did feel better.
Ezra sat opposite him, munching on a salad, looking casual and relaxed in black Dockers, a jade green sweater that brought out the green of his eyes and black hiking boots.
Who knew the man owned hiking boots? Old and well-worn ones at that!
Ezra was, if anything, more of a mystery now than he had been before they had taken this detour into the twilight zone.
When Vin had offered to pay rent on the spare room, he'd just waved him off. "It's not as if I have a mortgage. The house is paid for."
"How'd you manage that on an Federal Agent's pay?" Vin had asked without thinking, but Ezra had answered as if the question didn't offend him, or bring up memories of the rumors of corruption that continued to dog him.
"I take at least one trip a year to Vegas and another to Monte Carlo. I only play poker, Mister Tanner and I am very, very good. I am, after all, a third generation professional gambler. Which is why you gentlemen so often contribute to the Ezra P. Standish retirement fund when we play. It really isn't fair to you all for me to play as both my father and grandfather made their living at the game, but ya'll insist. So, what am I to do?"
"You could let us win now and then." Vin suggested.
Ezra only laughed.
After a moment Vin asked, "Reckon you learned to play as a young'n?"
"I cut my teeth on a deck of cards, literally. I was playing against grown men for money when I was ten... and winning. Everything that I own is paid for and I have a substantial savings account."
Vin had shrugged. "Never really thought about you being the saving kind. You seem to spend a lot of money."
"Ah, but what constitutes 'a lot of money' is relative. To a minimum wage worker, trying to buy a fifty-thousand dollar house is a pipe dream, most likely, never to be realized. To a millionaire that same house is something to be bought out of petty cash, if he'd bother buying something that cheap at all. I have money, Mister Tanner, therefore, I can spend it on whatever I like. Actually I am quite frugal, for every dollar that I spend I put two into my savings account. If nothing else, life with Mother taught me to always save for a rainy day. With her it was always feast or famine. We were either in the lap of luxury or living on the edge of poverty, hiding from the bill collectors. I swore that when I was making my own living I would never live like that again."
Now, as he watched Ezra nibbling at the salad he couldn't help smiling. The man was a mystery. Well, he was a detective.
He swallowed his bite of burger and washed it down with a long draught of his coke, before asking, "So what are we gonna do when we leave here?"
Ezra gestured out the window to the theater across the mall parking lot. "The new Star Wars movie is playing. I know you wanted to see it. Have you been yet?"
"Would you like to go?"
"You want to see it?"
"The truth will set you free," Vin grinned quoting back what Ezra had said earlier.
"Truthfully... I'm dying to see it! I've seen every single one of them. Starting with the first one when I was just a little boy... and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, like seeing them in the theater. Not even my big screen TV does them justice, although, of course, I will acquire the DVD as soon as it is released. I have them all, in both VCR and DVD."
"You're as big a fan as me or JD!"
Ezra chuckled, "Busted."
"Then, hell yes! I want to go! It'll be a treat to see it with somebody that appreciates it."
At the theater, Vin was surprised when Ezra ordered the largest combo of popcorn and Coca-Cola, insisting that the girl not just squirt some butter on top but put in some popcorn, squirt it with butter and repeat at least three times before the tub was full.
"Damn! I didn't think you drank coke and all that butter..."
"Ordinarily I don't, but this is a tradition. I went to the first movie with my cousins, they all bought the biggest combo even getting one 'for me', even though I was just a toddler and the tub of popcorn was bigger around than I was. So, one just *can't* watch Star Wars at the theater without a huge tub of hot, buttered popcorn and a giant Coca-Cola."
"And the butter?"
"If you're going to get buttered popcorn then it should damn well be well-buttered!"
Vin had chuckled, looking longingly at the tub of popcorn. "Wish now, I'd saved some room for popcorn."
"It's a long movie and I'll share." Ezra turned and headed for the hall to the theaters. "We'd better find a seat before they're all taken."
Sitting in the theater, waiting for the lights to go down, Vin had the strangely disconcerting feeling that he sometimes got on first dates. The auditorium was filled with couples, both male/female, male/male and female/female. This was after all, the nine o'clock show, traditionally the show that one took one's date to.
But Ezra hadn't given any indication that he was interested in Vin that way, and they had known each other for more than two years, working together. Ezra was a familiar presence. On the rare occasion when Ezra had back up undercover, Vin was the one who usually played his bodyguard or chauffeur or whatever.
There shouldn't have been that tingle of nervousness and anticipation that he usually got only on a first date. Especially not now, when he was still hurting so badly from the end of his relationship with Chris.
Was this just re-bound? Was he reading too much into a simple act of friendship? Maybe.
But then this wasn't the Ezra he knew, not the one from work, certainly not the one from any undercover assignment they'd ever had, not even the one from the poker nights and cook outs.
This was a totally different Ezra. Maybe, just maybe, this was the real Ezra.
And if it was, then Vin Tanner *liked* Ezra Standish. He liked the expressive face, the shining eyes, the devilish grin and the wicked sense of humor.
Oh, yeah, if he was rebounding, then *this* Ezra Standish looked like a damned fine place to land.
Ezra was still chattering excitedly as he unlocked the door and let them back into his townhouse. He'd let Vin drive the Jag home, too hyped up to drive himself.
He locked the door behind them and set the alarms before tossing the keys into the basket on the table beside the door. Finally he wound down enough to ask, "Would you like a drink?"
"Night cap sounds good. Not too much though. Hate hangovers."
Ezra chuckled. "Likewise. A small one then, just enough to relax us enough to sleep. Oh, by the way, there is a tub in the guest bathroom, not just a shower. It even has a whirlpool. It's not as large as the one in the master bath but it's quite comfortable if you'd like a soak. There are towels, washcloths, soap, bath oil, shampoo, and etc. Just feel free to plunder around, use what ever you want. That's what it's in there for."
He handed Vin his drink and flopped down on the couch, reaching to his side to flip the reclining seat out. He waved a hand vaguely towards the other end of the couch. "That end reclines, also."
"This ain't the couch you had the last time that we played poker."
"No," he said with a grimace, "Buck and JD ruined the velvet upholstery on that one. This is leather. Easier to clean. Oh, hot water. Don't worry about it. I had point of use, tankless, instant, water heaters installed when I redid the place last year. There is no sense paying for a regular water heater to sit and heat up and cool down a tank full of water when I am gone undercover, sometimes for weeks on end. Besides this way I *never* run out of hot water."
"Thanks. It's good to know that I won't be putting you out if I fill up the tub and soak."
"Your back hurting you?"
"The whirlpool will help." Ezra let out a long yawn. "I'm heading for a soak of my own. Feel free to do what ever you want, watch TV, play music, whatever. You won't disturb me. I had insulation put in all the interior walls and ceilings when I remodeled, so that when Mother visits I can do what I please without disturbing her rest. You can drop a pin on carpet and wake Mother up. Unless you turn the volume up to the point that it shakes the whole house, I won't even know you have it on."
Ezra stretched and yawned again, as he headed for the wet bar. He sat his empty glass in the sink and headed for the stairs. "Just put your glass here when you're done. I'll wash them in the morning. Nite, Vin."
Vin gave a nod and a quiet, "Nite, Ez."
It wasn't until Ezra was all the way up the stairs that Vin realized that Ezra had used his first name for the first time when they weren't undercover.
He leaned back and sipped his drink. After a minute he cocked his head and listened intently.
Ezra's bedroom was directly over the living room. He should be able to hear Ezra moving around, running the water in the tub and so on, but there was nothing except silence.
The place really was soundproofed.
He swirled his whiskey in this glass and pondered on that.
He knew that Ezra was a light sleeper. He'd seen him come awake in an instant often enough when they were undercover. Now he knew that Maude was the same way.
He was a light sleeper himself, and he knew why he was. He'd learned to sleep with one eye open and both ears tuned to any change in his environment in the foster homes he'd been in, homes that had ranged from indifferent, to neglectful to downright abusive. Then living on the streets he'd had to stay alert as well.
Now he knew that not only Ezra, but also his mother, responded to changes in their environment just as Vin, himself did. He couldn't help but wonder at the implications.
He hadn't ever been fool enough to think that abuse only occurred among the poor. Having money didn't guarantee anyone's safety. You could be beaten and abused in a mansion just as easily as in a tenement, if you were trapped in that mansion with a chronic abuser. You just didn't hear as much about it. Money buys silence.
He rose and walked over to the window, looking out it. The wrought iron grate over it drew his gaze. The grate was ornate and looked ornamental, but he'd bet they were functional and they weren't just on the downstairs windows, either. They were on every window.
The front door was steel as was the back door, both with deadbolt locks and peepholes, but no windows in them. The door onto the patio wasn't the traditional sliding glass door either. It was another steel door just like the front and back doors with the same deadbolt lock and peephole.
The house was a fortress.
He wasn't going to try it to find out, but he'd be willing to bet you couldn't put your fist through one of the walls either.
He walked over to the wet bar and started to set his glass down then with a shrug, picked up Ezra's, and rinsed them both. He opened the cabinet under the sink and found the dishwashing liquid. He put a quick squirt into one of the glasses, added a little hot water, grabbed a sponge from the holder on the sink and washed the two glasses. He rinsed them, and dried them well before setting them back in their place on the shelf over the bar.
It was the least he could do. Hell, Ezra had paid for everything tonight, from supper at MacDonalds to snacks at the movie. Even the ceramics that Vin had busted and the bat he'd used had been Ezra's.
With a final look around, he turned out the lights and headed up the stairs. He noted that the stairs had small lights along the wall edge that either came on when the main lights were turned off or stayed on all the time and were just visible with the overhead lighting off.
The whirlpool tub was just as relaxing as Ezra had said that it would be. It eased the ache in his back tremendously. He'd taken Ezra as his word and plundered to his heart's content, locating a bottle of Relaxing Lavender Aromatherapy bath oil among the dozen or so bottles on the shelf beside the tub. He added it to the water and by the time the water began to cool and he made himself get out of the tub, he was well and truly sleepy.
He didn't have any trouble at all going to sleep.
Vin snapped awake at a knock on his door, for just a second he was disoriented then he heard Ezra's voice and remembered where he was.
"Mister Tanner?" The door swung open and Ezra stuck his head in.
"Up and at'em!" Ezra called cheerfully as he swept into the room, drew the curtains back with a flourish and popped up the shade with a flick of his wrist.
He turned back to the bed and it's rumpled occupant, "Chop, chop, Mister Tanner. Let's get this show on the road."
"Ez," he stared out the window in dismay, "you beat the sun up. It ain't even daylight out."
"But we have places to go and things to do and really ugly ceramics to buy! It's time to rock and roll."
"Where're we goin'?"
"Yardhopping, Mister Tanner."
"Yard sales... yard sales... people all over Denver have them every Saturday morning. Where do you think I get my breakables? Most start at seven a.m. but some of them don't mind if you are early. It's absolutely amazing what some people possess and actually believe other people will pay good money to own. So, hurry up! All the good stuff will be gone by nine o'clock."
He swept back out of the room leaving Vin sitting up in the bed with his mouth hanging open, staring after him.
Ezra was wearing jeans, old, faded, raggedy jeans, that fit like a second skin and a faded T-shirt and well-worn cowboy boots.
He was still asleep and dreaming this.
Had to be.
He could believe the Dockers and sweater from last night, even the hiking boots, but this was definitely way deep in the twilight zone.
He pinched himself to make sure he was awake.
Hell! That hurt! Apparently he *was* awake.
He shook his head, definitely the twilight zone or maybe pod-people. That was it. He'd been hijacked by an Ezra pod-person.
Ezra popped back in the door. "Oh, you need to dress properly for yardhopping. What you usually wear on a Saturday is perfect but the older stuff, okay. We're just a couple of good ole boys hitting the yard sales, trying to stretch our last dollar farther than it will go. Understand?"
He popped back out before Vin could ask him how they were going to pull that off riding around in Ezra's Jag. Maybe Ez planned on them using the jeep, but then how had he done it before? And he obviously had done it before.
Vin shook his head and grabbed some clothes. Might as well get dressed and find out. If nothing else it looked to be an interesting weekend.
When he made it down stairs and into the kitchen, Ezra was on the phone.
"Mario? Is the Caddy available today. I want it after all. Yes. The red convertible. Great! Top off the gas tank and let the top down. I'll be there in half an hour. Oh, and tuck me a copy of this weekend's yard sale gazette under the visor. The one with the map. Bye."
He turned to look Vin over from his cowboy hat to his cowboy boots. "You look perfect for yardhopping. Let's go. We'll swing by MacD's and get you some breakfast."
As soon as they were on the road, Ezra picked up his cell phone and dialed a number by touch then handed it to Vin. "It's ringing. Get me a large coffee with plenty of sugar and whatever you want."
Vin took the phone just in time to hear the lady say, "MacDonalds, would you like to place a pick up order?"
Ten minutes later they had zipped through the pickup window and were back on the road.
Vin ate while Ezra drove them to their destination. He raised an eyebrow when he saw where they were stopping.
The huge sign proclaimed: Mario's Dents and Dings Car Rentals. Rent-a-wreck for a lot less. All cars are guaranteed to be mechanically sound.
The candy-apple red, Cadillac convertible sitting just inside the entrance with the top down had a crumpled right front fender but other than that looked okay. He noted that the tires looked brand-new.
Mario came out to greet Ezra, apparently knowing him well. The car lot owner stood six-two or possibly six-three with blue-black hair and electric blue eyes.
Vin felt a pang of jealousy when Mario casually pulled Ezra into a hug before handing him the keys to the Caddy and taking the twenty Ezra handed him for the day's rental.
"I'll drop it off in the morning," Ezra called over his shoulder as he headed for the Caddy.
Mario just waved. "I'll have one of the boys drop the Jag back by your place. I know you don't want it sitting here over night."
"Thank you," Ezra called back over his shoulder. Then he tossed the keys to Vin. "You're driving. I'm navigating."
He leaned over the driver's door to retrieve the yard sale gazette from under the driver's visor. Then grabbed a pack of various colored highlighters off the dash.
Vin felt himself scowl as Mario blatantly admired the view of Ezra's ass as he bent over in the tight jeans.
Laying the gazette out on the hood of the car and pulling out the map that was the centerfold, Ezra separated it from the listing of the yard sales saying, "Give me a few minutes to map us a route."
Ezra didn't seem to notice Mario's staring at his ass as he wiggled around pulling out markers, highlighting certain ads, then matching them up with the map and finally tracing a route on the map that would take them to all the sales he had marked without any back tracking.
Vin moved to stand behind Ezra, blocking Mario's view of the tempting ass. Focused on Ezra, he entirely missed Mario's knowing grin and approving nod.
After a few minutes Ezra straightened. "There. That should do it. Let's go."
He started around to the passenger's side then stopped and came back. "I almost forgot." He pulled out a plain white envelope. "Here's your half of the yardhopping money. There's a thousand dollars. Half in twenties, the other half in tens, fives and ones. Don't keep it all in one place. Put the bulk of it in your boot and spread the rest around to different pockets. We don't want to look like we have this much money. But buy whatever you like. Remember that the object is to find stuff that you really hate and would love to smash. And you'll need a shelf for your breakables too."
Vin stared at the envelope. "A... a thousand dollars? And that's just half? You can't mean that you spend that much at yard sales!"
"Not ordinarily, no, but I do like to have the money on me just in case I run across something that I just have to have. After we finish up with the yard sales we'll head to the flea markets. They normally open around nine and are pretty well picked over by mid-afternoon. Then there are the antique shops. Sometimes you can find some wonderful stuff at very reasonable prices. That antique rocker in the living room that you so admired at the last poker game? That came from a flea market. Of course I had to have it refinished and reupholstered, but even so it only cost me a hundred and fifty dollars. Bought at an antique auction, already refinished and reupholstered it would have cost twice that or more."
"Still, Ez, I can't take this. It's too much money."
"You're not *taking* anything, Vin. I'm *giving* it to you. No strings attached, no obligations. You buy whatever you want. I told you, finding just the right things to smash, the things that will be a joy to destroy, is half the fun. Today is to have fun, to enjoy ourselves. I couldn't enjoy myself today, if you had to come and ask me for money every time you saw something that you wanted. I don't expect you to spend it all, but I want you to have that much, because I have that much. I want us to be equals in this. Do you understand?"
Vin stared at Ezra for a long minute then grinned, "Just a couple of good ole boys, with a couple of thousand dollars to spend and all day to do it in."
He held out his hand and Ezra slapped the envelope into it. "Exactly! Now, let's hit the road. We've got--"
"Places to go, things to so and some really *ugly* ceramics to buy!" Vin finished for him.
Ezra laughed as he trotted around the car and got in on the passenger's side.
Vin took a minute spreading the money around his person, tucking a bit here and there but putting the biggest wad of twenties in his boot as Ezra had suggested before he got in and cranked the Caddy.
When he turned the switch the radio came on, loudly blaring Chris LeDoux's "Cadillac Cowboy". He laughed out loud as he spun out of the lot, swerving across three lanes of traffic as Ezra's shouted over the music, "Left! Vin, go left!"
By nine o'clock they'd hit more than two-dozen yard sales and collected several dozen truly ugly ceramic pieces, which now resided in the capacious trunk of the Caddy.
Vin had shook his head at the realization that Ezra apparently was a real regular at some of the sales as he knew everyone by name, inquired about their families, and chatted happily away as he dug through piles of random junk.
He introduced Vin simply as his 'friend, Vin'.
In the car between yard sales, Ezra had praised the qualities of cheap Mexican plaster cast statues. Not only were they generally larger than the more fragile ceramic ones they tended to crumble when batted rather than shatter, making it less likely that you'd get cut by flying shards. At the same time he pointed out that you didn't have to buy only ceramics, anything breakable was acceptable. It was purely a matter of personal taste.
Vin's number one purchase, as he thought of it, had been a plaster cast parrot. At least he thought it was a parrot. It was twice as large as any real parrot and painted in brilliant hues of red, yellow and green with huge bulging green eyes. It had to be the ugliest bird he'd ever seen.
He was going to take immense pleasure in batting it to hell. It looked like that was where it belonged. Thing was a demon bird if he'd ever seen one.
Ezra had acquired a model of the original Enterprise from the old Star Trek the original series. He'd said that it was just like one he'd put together as a child. Then with a grin he had added that it had been one of the first things he'd taken a bat to on that fateful day when he'd rediscovered the therapeutic value of smashing things.
They decided to take a break between the yard sales and the flea markets. Ezra was finally ready for some breakfast and since they had eaten at Vin's favorite place the night before Vin insisted that they go to Ezra's favorite place today.
Ezra hesitated then gave a short nod. "All right, but not a word about my choice of dining accommodations. Understood?"
Vin had to agree just to find out where Ezra would take them. He was surprised when Ezra had him turn way from uptown and head for one of the more rundown areas.
He followed Ezra's directions with growing curiosity and was stunned when Ezra had him pull into what looked like a converted warehouse.
Cars and trucks, ranging from limousines to junk heaps and including everything in between, with old clunkers parked next to Cadillacs and Beemers filled the parking area of what was indeed a converted warehouse. Loud country music wafted down from overhead along with the delicious aroma of barbecue.
Apparently the restaurant was upstairs. The neon sign hanging just inside the open warehouse doors declared it to be "Black Jack's Bar-B-Q. The best Bar-B-Q in the West."
He let Ezra led the way up the stairs to the restaurant. Then instantly regretted it when the sight of Ezra *trotting* up the steps, two steps ahead of him, with his buttocks bouncing just in front of Vin's face made him 'pop a woody' so hard he though it was going to come through his jeans.
For once in his life he was glad a place was teeming with people. Hopefully no one would notice his hard-on. He followed Ezra as the other man pushed his way to the counter and shouted at the huge black man standing over the grill.
When the giant turned and grinned at him he yelled, "Double Trey! Table..." sharp green eyes swept the area and spotted a couple just rising to leave, "twenty-six!"
"Got ya, Ace!" The giant waved and turned back to his grill.
Ezra turned and grabbed Vin's arm hauling him through the crowd to push him into the booth seat. "You can't tarry around here, Vin, or you'll never get a seat."
"How long's this place been here?"
"Ten years or so I think. I knew Black Jack in the Marines." He leaned back to let the bus boy clear the table and wipe it down.
The young colored man did it with ease, apparently used to cleaning up from one customer while new customers settled in.
"You drinking your usual?" he asked.
"Yes, thank you and bring the same for my friend, please Daniel."
"Yes, sir!" the boy grinned and retreated clearly pleased that Ezra remembered his name.
"So, what are we having?"
"To drink? Sweet tea."
"It any good?"
"I believe you'll think so. It's what you guzzle every poker night at my place. I buy it from Black Jack by the gallon."
"Do we get a menu?"
"We won't. I took the liberty of ordering for both of us when we came in. Besides, they only serve one thing here... barbecue. You can have beef, pork or chicken. You can even special order goat but that requires that you call ahead, usually a couple of days ahead."
Vin frowned, then asked, "Double trey? That was the order?"
Ezra nodded. "Yes, the number three combo. In cards the three is called a trey. Double Trey therefore means two orders of all three meats plus all the fixings. I promise that it will be all you can eat."
Black Jack brought the platters over himself, dropping them on the table with a clunk and tossing down a pile of big thick napkins. "Long time since you've been down here, Ace," he said, reaching out to ruffle Ezra's hair with one huge hand.
Ezra batted the hand away, "Stop that," he ordered.
The giant rumbled a laugh. "Sure. You eat up now. Both of you. The fixings are coming." He turned away without waiting to be introduced to Vin, heading back to his grill, muttering "Skin and bones. White boys don't eat enough."
Ezra snorted. "He's always thought I didn't eat enough. Just because I don't require the number of calories that he does to keep me going."
"He's big," Vin agreed. Up close the man had indeed looked to be a giant.
"Black Jack stands six feet seven inches tall and weights approximately four hundred pounds. Most of it muscle. His uniforms had to be custom made when we were in the Corps."
Just then a petite black woman arrived with a tray holding bowls of baked beans, potato salad, slaw and Brunswick stew along with a basket of rolls, biscuits and breadsticks.
"Ya'll eat up now!" she admonished, echoing Black Jack as she set the bowls on the table then swept away.
Ezra watched her walk away with a bemused smile.
"What?" Vin asked turning to try and see what amused Ezra.
"She's his wife."
"Black Jack's wife? But she's--"
"Tiny? Petite? Oh, yes and she has all four hundred pounds of him wrapped tightly around her itsy-bitsy little finger. He worships her, but then she adores him and they spoil each other rotten. Not a bad thing, really."
"Must be nice," Vin said a bit wistfully.
"I think so. I'm glad they're happy."
They dug into the food then. Ezra finished well before Vin did and sat back watching his friend devour almost every scrap of food.
"You know if you're still hungry, they have chili-cheese fries," he teased.
"Damn, I'm gonna have to remember this place. Don't know how I never knew it existed."
"Black Jack has never advertised. Not once. Every customer here comes because someone raved to them about the place or brought them at one time or another and they returned on their own. I know about it because I am an investor."
"You invested in this place?"
"I knew he'd make a go of it. I had eaten Black Jack's barbecue in the Corps. There was a barbecue pit near the barracks, in one of the recreation areas. He often cooked for the unit, when we had down time."
"I'll have'ta remember the way down here."
"He delivers. I usually call in myself. I'll give you the number."
When they finished eating and rose to go, Ezra dropped a twenty on the table along with Vin's twenty and five that he had left for the meal, hoping that was enough since he'd never seen a menu or ticket.
Back downstairs and headed for the Caddy Vin said, "I though I was paying today?"
"You are. The twenty is for Daniel. He's working his way through college. He's taking small business management at the University so when Black Jack and Reva retire he can take over the family business from them."
"The first born. There are five others. Benjamin's the second born and will most likely take over the cooking from Black Jack. He helps out now and has the knack for it. The others may or may not stay in the business."
Vin nodded. "Where to now?"
"Well," Ezra said considering. "I always do the flea markets next then the junk shops then the antique shops and malls."
"Why do you do them in that order?"
"Cheapest to most expensive. I buy most of my undercover clothes at yard sales. You can get wonderfully soft, broken in blue jeans at yard sales for a quarter a pair. They cost two to five dollars at the Salvation Army or Goodwill. Remember that black suede leather jacket that I wore on the Harkins case? I paid five dollars for it at a yard sale. After the case ended I had it professionally cleaned and it is now a prized possession.
"You can find bookcases, filing cabinets and desks for five to twenty-five dollars on a yard sale but they will range from twenty to fifty dollars in junk shops and at antique stores... they really get expensive. I generally prefer estate sales for real antiques but there aren't any this weekend. Then there is the fact that at yard sales and flea markets very few prices are set in stone. You can haggle for most anything.
"The one big difference is that yard sales, flea markets and junk shops are cash and carry while most antique shops take credit cards and checks and will deliver within Denver and most outlying areas. Some will deliver anywhere in the US."
"I've always shopped at the Salvation Army and Goodwill then the flea markets. They do a lot of good."
"Yes, they do and if you wish we can hit them first. I believe that there is a Goodwill just a few streets over."
Vin grinned at him and followed his directions to the store. It was one that Vin had never been in before, but then they were quite a ways from the Purgatorio area that he was most familiar with.
Ezra, it appeared, had made himself familiar with all the different areas of Denver in the two short years he had lived there.
Another small anomaly Vin noted, then decided that as an undercover agent Ezra needed to know his way around any part of Denver he might find himself in.
They did lunch at the Super China Buffet sitting near a window where they could keep an eye on the Caddy and the five foot high, eight foot wide, heavy, wooden shelving unit that they had bought at one of the flea markets for twenty-five bucks and somehow managed to wedge into the back seat of the Caddy.
The place wasn't crowded. It had been nearly three o'clock when they left the last flea market. The lunch crowd was gone and the dinner crowd had not yet arrived.
As Vin sat his fourth and fifth plates of food on the table before sitting down and digging in, Ezra asked. "Do you want to go on to the antique stores or just head home and unload what we've got?"
"Up to you," Vin said.
"I don't really care one way or the other. I'm a bit tired and there is nothing that I am really *looking* for right now. I'd just be browsing, noting items that I might want at some future date."
"Then we head back to your place. Just chill out for the rest of the day." Vin sighed. "Reckon I ought ta start lookin' for a place to live again."
Ezra waved a dismissing hand. "You can stay with me as long as you like. It's too early to decide on getting another place. Things are still up in the air at work. If the others can't settle down about this... situation, then you may find it impossible to remain on the team. If you get a place before it settles, you may just find yourself moving again. Give it some time before you make a final decision."
Vin took a long moment before he nodded, "All right, but if I stay, I help out around the place. You won't take rent, but I insist on paying for half the utilities and buying groceries."
"Half the groceries."
"Whatever I eat, and you know that's gonna be way more than half," Vin pointed out. "And I do my own laundry and stuff. And pick up after myself."
Ezra sighed and nodded. "Agreed. As long as you agree to give the situation some time to settle before you make any decisions."
Vin nodded and reached out his hand to shake on it. "Done deal," he said.
Ezra grinned and took his hand, "Done deal," he responded, giving Vin's hand a quick shake.
(At least for now.)