Pairing/Characters: hints of Chris/Buck, Ezra/Vin
Go back for Part One.
Ezra strode with a confidence he didn't feel into the reception area of Denver's seventh precinct. After a little fast-talking he was directed to the appropriate area for someone supposedly representing a law firm. The problem now was that the pudgy processing clerk had refused to pay him the slightest amount of attention since he requested whether Vin Tanner had been brought here for holding.
According to Edgar's sources (and lord, Ezra did not want to know how - or why - his gentile English head-of-household would know anyone within the desk-duster ranks of the police force) Vin *had* been brought here, but had not yet been processed. Therefore there was still time to try to get the man freed before he was officially arrested. Whatever Vin's life up to now, Ezra knew the boy did not deserve to spend the rest of his life with a rap sheet for anything Vice might try to pin on him. Once Vin's name and fingerprints were in the system with a Vice arrest in the file, it would be that much harder for him. Many an employer would find a perfectly legitimate reason not to hire a man simply due to the arrest, whether he was found guilty or not. The young man had enough problems - he didn't need this too.
But no amount of fast-talking and fancy footwork would help if Ezra couldn't get the clerk to even confirm the prisoner's existence. And he had to do that before he could demand to see the Vice Captain and start dropping names.
And at the moment, the best he'd been able to achieve was standing in a hallway outside the main bullpen watching as paper-pushers pushed paper and uniformed officers milled around looking extremely un-busy. Nothing like his tax dollars in action.
"This is your witness?"
Ezra turned his head at the rather loud and unhappy tone. About twenty feet away outside what was apparently one of the interrogation rooms for non-arrestees stood two uniformed officers and a short, gruff looking man with a bulging briefcase. Ezra smirked. Lawyer. Probably a low member of the ADA ranks, based on the cheap suit and the time of night he was here. The only lawyers paid worse than ADAs were public defenders.
"Yeah," the taller of the two cops sighed. "Great, huh?"
"What the hell language is he speaking?"
"Got me. But he don't seem to get more than five words of English."
Ezra stepped closer and could hear the man inside the room rambling rapidly, in a very desperate tone.
To his amazement, he understood what the man what saying… especially since it was a Catholic prayer he hadn't heard in years even in English, much less in the detainee's native tongue.
"Wonderful. Our only possible witness to putting Dodd away and we can't talk to him. Boys, even if I tap dance like Gregory Hines I can only hold Dodd for 48 hours without pressing charges, and we don't even know what kind of translator to ask for!"
Ezra knew an opportunity when he saw one and he piped up quickly, maintaining as casual an appearance as he could. "Gentlemen, I believe the man is speaking Crioulo."
Both cops and the attorney whirled to face the young speaker. Ezra met their gaze calmly, even though the blond cop's glare was slightly unnerving. Quite frankly, the attorney's stern gaze was not much better.
"And you are?" the blond growled.
"Ezra Mortinson." He offered his hand, which the blond pointedly ignored. After a pause, Ezra cocked his head toward the attorney who shook his hand quickly and obviously only out of politeness. Over the blond's shoulder, the taller cop was doing a bad job of trying not to grin at the young man's actions.
"What did you call it?" the attorney asked.
"Crioulo. It's an offshoot of Portuguese spoken primarily in the Cape Verde Islands, Sao Tome and Principe, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Netherlands and Equatorial Guinea."
"And you happen to speak this… Creole?" the tall cop asked, not able to hide his grin at the annoyance Ezra was causing his two companions.
Ezra forced himself not to grin back.
"Crioulo," he corrected. "My mother and her third husband lived in the capital of Bissau for a time when I was eight or so. I was adept at the language by the time she divorced him the following year."
"Great," the blond growled. "What are the odds we can get someone who speaks fluent Crioulo before we have to cut Dodd loose?"
"Perhaps I can be of assistance in that matter?" Ezra asked, keeping his tone carefully even. The cops glanced at the attorney.
"You look a good deal older than eight, young man. Just how good are you these days?"
"Enough that any errors would be minor at best. I still maintain an avid correspondence with my stepbrother from that particular marriage, in the language of his birth."
"Regulations state that a translator receives approval of the legal division before we can use them," the blond sighed.
"I believe that is a proviso for a translator employed by the police department," Ezra commented. "Not a requirement for using an uninvolved third party who simply happens to be able to assist."
"He may have a point," the attorney considered, rubbing his chin. "The Denver PD doesn't likely have anyone on staff who speaks Portuguese, much less Crioulo. I think so long as we video tape the initial interview it will hold up in court if the information provided is what we use to press charges, since the defense will be able to have an independent translator check for accuracy." The short man considered Ezra carefully. "And why exactly would you be willing to assist us on this?"
"What, you don't believe I could just wish to be a Good Samaritan?" Ezra gasped, feigning indignity. The tall man chuckled while the blond made a face.
"Kid, it's nearly midnight and you think I'm gonna believe a random passerby - who looks to be eighteen at best - just happens to speak the bizarre rare language we need and just wants to help? Do I look stupid to you?"
Ezra opened his mouth to reply, but a sharp look from the blond snapped his mouth shut for a moment. He reconsidered, then tried again. "I assure you, I am in no way associated with the object of your investigation, nor with your witness. In fact, I do just happen to be here." He glanced down at his hands, then up again, meeting the blond and the attorney equally with a shrewd gaze. "Though I will agree that perhaps we could arrange an exchange of favors?"
"And there's the catch," the attorney nodded. "Just exactly what is it you would be looking for, young man?"
"Nothing even remotely as important as what you would be receiving from the bargain," Ezra replied, feeling his pulse quickening. "I am here to bail out an acquaintance who has only just been put into your holding tanks. A minor bit of trouble, no more than a pittance. In exchange for my assistance, you will arrange for my acquaintance to be released from custody immediately, without having been processed."
The attorney's eyes narrowed. "Just exactly what has your 'acquaintance' arrested for?"
"Nothing of note," Ezra sighed, wishing he could lie about this. Unfortunately, if he were going to get Vin out of trouble, they'd find out anyway and his lying now would not help things. "He was an unfortunate victim of a Vice sweep of the underbelly of this city. Should he be charged I believe it would be for soliciting, prostitution, resisting arrest… and assaulting a police officer." Ezra almost wished Edgar hadn't been able to learn of the charges on Vin's doorstep as he saw the cops' eyes narrow and he hastily added, "I assure you, that last part was only in self defense - the Vice squad was maliciously abusive in their behavior…"
The attorney lifted his hand. "Young man, are you telling us that you are here to bail out a hooker?"
"I beg to differ," Ezra retorted, assuming an air of indignity. "I am here to bail out a friend who was *mistaken* for a… business person simply because he happens to live in the same area…"
"Enough," the attorney said sharply, shaking his head. "I can arrange for him to get released on his own…"
"No!" Ezra growled angrily. "He's just a kid, and he wasn't doing anything wrong other than trying to survive." The cops and the attorney stared at him in surprise. "He's barely eighteen, but if he's processed as an adult it will be on his record for good and that will automatically ruin him in the eyes of a lot of people." Ezra let his shoulders drop in defeat, his mind racing to add the appropriate color to Vin's story of woe. "He's been working so hard to turn his life around… was planning on joining the army, but you know they won't take him if he has that on his record, they'll declare him morally disqualified simply because they will assume…"
The blond held up his hand, and Ezra paused warily as the cop looked at the attorney. "Can we maybe pull the kid up to an interrogation room till we sort this out? That would delay processing, and we can maybe figure out if there's a point to all this?"
The attorney wavered slightly, then nodded. "What the hell, you go find the kid and put him in room two, I'll clear this with your Captain and the Vice Captain."
"What are you going to tell Peterson?" the tall cop asked.
The attorney shrugged. "I'll bullshit when I get to that point. Just get the kid out of the holding tank before Mortinson here wets his pants, will you?"
Ezra fought the desire to grin at the success of his play.
"I'll go, Buck," the blond said. "What's your friend's name kid?"
"All right; Buck, stay with the professor here till we get back. I'll ask Beth to get us a video camera set up in the meanwhile." The blond focused his gaze on Ezra, and the young man held it without flinching. "You better be worth all this trouble, kid, or I'll make sure you land in a cell next to Dodd."
Ezra decided on a silent nod in reply; it simply seemed the most prudent option. The blond and the attorney each gave him one more overall study before heading off in separate directions. Not ready to feel completely relieved, Ezra fixed his eyes on the tall cop. Buck, the blond had called him, and saw the man grinning widely at him.
"Nicely done, kid. Not sure Chris even realized you were playing him."
"I beg your pardon?" Ezra asked, blinking. Surely this big brawny goofball couldn't have…
"The near tears at the plight of your friend, the cool demeanor…" Buck waved a hand absently. "You knew he'd be a sucker for a sob story about a kid with plans to make good if only he can be gotten out of this little bit of trouble." The big man shook his head. "Travis too. Both of 'em play hardball, but they're softies under it all, and you buttered up to that. Tell me, any of that true, or is this just a way to avoid bail or your daddy finding out your hanging with a bad crowd?"
Ezra admired the man's shrewdness. "Much as it surprises me to be doing so, in this case I am actually telling… well, mostly the truth."
To Ezra's surprise, Buck simply nodded and accepted that as fact. "Don't worry, Chris'll get your friend up here without a hassle. And Travis? Hell, he may quote regs right, left and sideways, but he's damn good at getting around them when he needs to. You help us with this mess and he'll make sure you don't have to worry about Vice."
The man snorted sourly. "Bunch'a idiots anyway. Never have understood why they make such a big deal about people just doing what they have to ta try to get by. Workin' gals… and the guys too… they're just trying to put food in their mouths an' a roof over their heads like anyone else. Hell, with the way minimum wage is today, it's amazing there ain't more people workin' the streets. Lord knows, there's never a shortage of god-fearin' folk willing to patronize them when the law ain't looking, but then come the light of day they're preachin' about the shameless sinnin' ways…"
Ezra listened as the big man expounded on his disapproval of the hassling of streetwalkers, impressed as hell that the cop didn't appear to be putting on a front for his benefit. In fact, Buck appeared completely honest and truthful in his statements, which certainly baffled the younger man to no end. He nodded absently as Officer Wilmington offered him a cup of bad coffee while they waited, wondering if this night could possibly get any stranger.
Vin prowled the length of the front cage with a determined gait, keeping a wary eye on the three other men in his cell. He'd considered each upon his rather abrupt arrival in the ten-by-ten pen, sizing up each one's dangers with an all-too-knowing eye. Big man on the cot: biker, middle aged, decent shape but drunk as a skunk. Probably not a concern unless he woke from his current drooling and snoring state with anything less than the Mack-truck-sized hangover Vin figured he'd have. Small wiry fellow, mid-twenties, in the dirty leather vest and the tattooed baldpate: probably a pickpocket or purse-snatcher, nothing major. Shifty gaze and dark demeanor, but even if he was willing to try something - and judging by the slightly panicked look in his eye, he wasn't - Vin was sure he could hold his own with that one.
Cellmate number three had Vin a little worried. Guy was maybe thirty-five or so, big enough to be scary, and the way he lounged on his cot with a rather relaxed air told Vin this guy knew the system, had probably been through it a few times. This guy knew the score and probably had been on the bottom rung of the jailhouse social ladder once and surely didn't intend to be there ever again. He was watching Vin with a lazy gaze at the moment, but Vin knew at any time he might decide to let the new kid know where he stood in the cellblock food chain.
Which was partially why he was prowling. Partially it was the enclosed space. He hadn't been lying when he'd told Ezra he was pretty good in a fight - especially since he had no qualms about fighting 'fair' - but Vin knew he didn't stand a prayer against Number Three if the guy decided to push things… or people. Vin was thin and shy of the guy's height by at least four inches, and even if he was faster he doubted that would help in close quarters. Fast and slippery worked to your advantage only if you had enough room to use it as an escape. In here he wouldn't be able to stay far enough out of reach for that to make a real difference.
So he prowled, adding his best brooding look in the hopes it gave him a slightly unbalanced air. Even big guys tended to avoid conflicts with someone who might not be mentally altogether; you just never knew what kind of dirty pool they might play, or whether being injured would affect them at all. Vin recalled seeing one guy in the neighborhood - who was well known for being off his nut - get hit by a car, tossed nearly ten feet, who got up like nothing had happened and simply walked off. Of course, the guy had died later from internal injuries, but right up till he dropped you'd have never known he was hurt. That was the kind of guy you just didn't mess with.
Vin hoped he could pull it off.
If he was honest with himself, he'd never been quite so scared in his life. It was one thing to struggle to survive on the street, to put out for a stranger who might give you a disease or smack you around, but he'd heard stories from other street folk about the kind of people you could run into in jail. People who liked to hurt you for the fun of it, and often did it in ways you didn't want to think about. He'd managed to avoid the system up till this moment, and now thanks to sheer dumb luck he'd completely screwed up his life for good. He was eighteen now, no chance of convincing them to process him as a minor and get the record sealed.
Any chance of Ezra being able to get him off the street had just gone down in flames.
"Sit down, sweetheart, you're making me tired."
Vin looked up sharply at Number Three, narrowing his eyes. "Fuck off," he spat, not having to fake his fury. It might be at himself more than the jerk on the cot, but it was pure.
The man grinned lasciviously but didn't reply, for which Vin was grateful. He really didn't need to get into a conversation with that guy, even a meaningless one. Such things could lead to… other things.
He sucked in a breath at the sound of the hall door opening, and all eyes from the numerous cages in the row swung to watch a cop meander through, clipboard in hand. Vin watched as the cop scrubbed at the back of his neck, then glanced up.
Vin felt his heart stutter as the man's eyes swept down the row of cells. As they came to his, Vin stepped to the door and raised his hand. He didn't know if this was a good thing or a bad thing, but just getting out of this cell had to be better in some way. The blond met his eyes and studied him carefully, widening slightly as though surprised. Vin didn't recognize the cop from the bust, and wasn't sure what would be so surprising. Didn't he see this every day?
"You Vin Tanner?"
"That's me," Vin said simply. The blond checked his clipboard, then shrugged.
"Okay, come on then."
The cop signaled the cellblock guard, who activated the cell door to slid open and let Vin step out. He moved to follow the cop out of the holding block, surprised when he wasn't stopped and handcuffed the minute they moved into the cellblock anteroom.
"No cuffs?" he asked in spite of the urge not to.
The blond shook his head. "You're not going to processing just yet. Taking you up to an interview room for a while first."
"Why?" Tanner couldn't help but ask. Vin hadn't ever been arrested before, but somehow from what he'd heard on the street this seemed a little off for a Vice booking. Frankly, he'd never heard anyone mention an interview - unless it was with a dirty cop.
The blond guided him into the elevator and punched four before turning to study his prisoner. Vin fought the urge to squirm under that steady green gaze, though he had to admit, something in those eyes told him he could trust this cop not to screw him - figuratively or literally. There was an air of fairness, and warmth, and maybe just a little sadness in those eyes as they took in every detail. It was rather like when Ezra had first looked at him, actually.
"How old are you, kid?"
"Eighteen," Vin said after a moment. "Just two weeks ago, actually."
"Story is that you hit a cop."
Vin shrugged. "Not gonna deny it. But the cop hit me first." He gestured to a bruise forming on the side of his face. "Course, the way they'll tell it, I deserved it, or maybe I took the first shot. Not like it's gonna matter, is it?" It wasn't a question really, just a statement. He knew how it worked for the people in the slums; the cops did as they pleased and then said what was needed to make sure it wasn't their fault. Not like they had to worry about camcorders among the street people catching them in their lies.
"Matters to me," the blond said gruffly.
Vin frowned, but didn't reply. What do you say to something like that from a cop, anyway?
Those green eyes were studying him again; it was rather unnerving, really, but Vin Tanner had long ago learned that you don't win anything by showing your nerves, and you sure as hell could lose a lot.
"You were brought in for soliciting."
Vin coughed back a sour laugh. "Hell, call a spade a spade - you want to know if I was hooking? Yeah." He focused on the man next to him, and was strangely gratified to find the man's gaze wavering slightly. Maybe this was his chance to get out without sheet. "You looking for a little after-hours pick-me-up from the boy toy? That why you're pulling me out of the party downstairs?" He fixed a glare on the cop, daring him to lie.
Impressively, the cop chuckled. "Hell kid, you ain't my type. Damn, if I was looking for that, I know a guy who'll put out if you just say you're horny and not particular. Wouldn't even charge me, and I sure as hell wouldn't have to fix paperwork to get it."
Vin furrowed his brow, thoroughly puzzled by now. So this cop wasn't looking for a free fuck to bail him out, and he actually cared that it was his fellow officers who threw the first punch. Was this guy for real?
"Then what the hell do you want me fer?" he asked.
The cop didn't say anything for a moment, then finally turned flat-on to him, leaning against the side of the car.
"Heard you're looking to go into the army."
Vin frowned. Army? Where the hell did that come from? But what was that Ez had said this morning about staying non-committal as long as you can, because you never knew when it might be useful to be able to change your song? Maybe this guy was ex-army or some other service, and wanted to lend a hand to a potential.
Of course, maybe he wanted to laugh in the face of a street rat who dreamed of an out.
"Been thinking on it some," he said with a loose shrug, deciding to follow Ezra's advise and keep his options open. "Could be a way to get out of the shit life, ya know?"
The blond didn't reply as the elevator dinged their floor, and rather than answering he simply gestured for Vin to step into the hall. He was guided through a seeming maze of doorways that seemed to lead to smaller mazes made of workstations. The cop let conversation die and left Vin with nothing to do but follow his guide and ponder what fate held for him.
His questions were partially answered when they rounded a corner and he was greeted with a familiar voice shouting his name with a nearly physical layer of relief. And then he was wrapped in a fast and furious - and completely out of character - hug by a southern-bred boy in nice shoes.
"Vin!" Ezra repeated breathily in his ear as Vin returned the hug fiercely. "Are you alright? No damage incurred?"
"Yeah, I'm okay," Vin replied, surprised as hell and unable to hide it. "What're ya doin' here?"
"JD called in a panic when you were arrested."
Vin swallowed hard. "He okay?"
"He's fine. I had Theo collect him and take him to my abode."
Vin ducked his head to Ezra's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Ez, I fucked up big this time."
"You made a foolish choice, no doubt," Ezra said firmly, pulling away enough to put his hands on his friend's shoulders. The older boy lowered his voice in the hopes the officers would not over hear their further conversation. "I take it you didn't quite believe me when I said I intended to resolve your situation?"
"I know," Ezra said with a sigh. "Vin, I suspect it is quite difficult for you to believe that I intend to follow through on my promises. Won't you please trust me?" Ezra held his breath as Vin bit his lip, considering, and only let it go when his friend nodded reluctantly. "Then never again, okay? You're better than this, and I intend to make sure you have the chance to prove it."
Vin sighed and nodded again. He would have said more, but a cleared throat nearby reminded the two boys that they weren't alone. Vin glanced up to see the blond standing next to a tall dark-haired man with a wide smile.
"Vin, allow me to present Officer Wilmington and his partner, Sergeant Larabee. These gentlemen are part of Denver's elite drug enforcement team." Vin nodded to the two men, uncertain what Ezra was up to. "I have agreed to assist them in return for their assistance on your little… problem."
"Ez?" Vin wasn't sure he liked the idea of Ez trading himself for him, no matter what the trade. It sounded too much like - well, what he'd been doing on the street, really.
"Not to worry, Mister Tanner. I am simply going to assist them by acting as translator while they interview a witness for one of their cases. The witness happens to speak a rather uncommon dialect of Portuguese that I by chance am fluent it."
"You speak Portuguese?" Vin grinned. "Man, how many more tricks you got up your sleeve?"
"That, my friend, is a dangerous question," Ezra grinned mischievously.
"Kids, if you don't mind?"
Vin glanced over at the blond as he stepped forward.
"Vin, you're going to sit in room two while Ezra helps us out, and until ADA Travis gets your…" He glanced with amusement at Ezra, "… little problem sorted out. Could be a while, and we can't release you until everything's dotted and crossed."
"Vin, did they take your fingerprints?" Ezra asked suddenly. Vin frowned and shook his head, and Ezra relaxed visibly. The older boy turned to the cops with a decisive glare. "No fingerprints. He doesn't go in the system at all."
"I don't think that will be an issue, but I'll remind Travis when he gets back," Larabee nodded.
Vin slumped, feeling a world of worry slide away from his shoulders. Now, if only he could be sure. "Ez, the kid -"
"I promise, he's just fine. He's probably beside himself with worry, but he's safe. Most likely bathed to a pink flush, stuffed with Marguerite's lasagna and garlic bread, drowning in warm milk toddies. If Edgar hasn't mothered him into a coma, he'll be anxiously awaiting to hear you're alright."
Vin sighed and nodded. He was certainly in for a lecture from the fourteen-year-old when they got out of here.
"Alright, Vin, you're in there for the duration," Larabee said, pointing to the open doorway about ten feet away. "Just go in and settle. I'll see about retrieving anything confiscated during arrest and then it's just a waiting game until Travis is done with Ezra here."
Vin glanced at Ezra, who smiled warmly and sent him off with a pat to his arm.
Buck and Chris watched from outside the room as Travis interviewed one Mister Amilcar Cabral through their young interpreter, the video camera and two tape recorders rolling steadily to preserve the entire process. The A.D.A. had managed to find some low-level nobody named Randy from the public defender's office who was scheduled to essentially 'lurk' around the station in case some arrestee demanded to see their court-appointed council immediately. With Randy sitting in and signing off that all interviews had been conducted to the best of the department's abilities with the resources available, and the video and audio tapes as backup, Dodd's attorney's would have no grounds to throw out Cabral's testimony or any evidence attained by it.
The interview was long, boring and tiresome. Listening to each question twice, in two separate languages, and then hearing the answers twice the same way was a tedious process. But in the end they got what they needed: enough testimony an the eye witness to several Dodd's more deviant crimes, which corroborated the circumstantial evidence already in their files to justify the search warrant that would net them the evidence they knew was in the suspect's house.
"Kid seems good," Buck said, breaking the long silence between them.
"How the hell would you know? We have no idea what's going on in there. For all we know his conversation with Cabral involves the menu at McDonald's and the price of tea in China."
"And then what, he's just making up the answers?"
"Chris, you really do need to get a date," Buck chuckled. "No one should be as wound up as you are."
"Leave it alone, Buck."
"She's been dropping hints for three weeks now, pard. If she gets any more obvious she's have to just pin you down in the bullpen conference table and mount you right there."
"You are so full of shit, Wilmington."
"I'm telling you, you just need to ask her out is all."
"Buck, I love you to death and god knows you're a great lay, but you are so off base here even our old SEALS team can't find you. Besides, she's the Chief's personal assistant."
"And that has what to do with it?"
"I'm a rookie sergeant in the EDF. If I ask her out it'll look like I'm trying to make points with the Chief."
"Are you for real? Chris, it'll look like you have good taste in women, that's it."
"She's Hank Connolly's daughter, for crying out loud."
"So what, you're gonna turn a blind eye to the pretty flower on the prairie because ol' Hardass Hank is mad you beat his son on the sergeant's exam? Hate to break it to you, but Liam Connelly didn't have a shot in the dark. And you ain't the only one who beat him."
"No, but I'm the youngest one who did."
"Jesus. Do I have to lock you in the supply closet for you to get a brain? Ask her out already, before the poor woman is forced to do something drastic."
"Just leave it."
"Fine. You know what? You don't want to date her? Fine. I'm gonna ask her to next week's gallery opening then."
"Gallery? You? Do you even know what art is?"
"I can fake it enough to keep a lady interested."
"And then what, you gonna wine her, dine her and recline her?"
"It's the Wilmington way pard. Never leave a lady wanting."
"Christ, so if I don't ask her out I'm dooming her to a date with you."
"Fine. I'll ask her. One date, that's it."
"That's all I'm asking. You don't enjoy yourself, you never have to ask her out again."
"But I'm telling you, if I end up in horse shit because of one damn date, I'm hanging you from the Ramsey High School goalposts by your jockstrap."
Chris glanced over at the second interrogation room where their translator's friend had finally succumbed to exhaustion and was asleep on the table, his head pillowed on his arms folded on the table. "Looks like the kid finally dozed off."
" 'bout time. Gotta be exhausted from this whole thing. Not to mention it's going on five a.m."
"Just gotta wonder what a rich little twerp like Mortinson there is doing with a street rat like that." Buck stiffened slightly, and Larabee winced at his own words. "You know what I mean, Buck. They're from two completely different worlds. Not too likely to cross paths except in a couple circumstances, none of them too innocent."
Buck sighed, shoving his hands in his pockets. "Yeah, but Ez there don't look like he's using, and Tanner would'a been processed right quick if he were carrying anything stronger than an aspirin on'im. Hell, Chris, we know Tanner's hookin', he said so himself. None of our business if that's what Ezra's into, is it?"
"You mean besides the fact that hooking's illegal and we're cops?" Chris shot Buck a withering glare, not wanting to get into that discussion again. He didn't like that soliciting was a legal issue - as far as he was concerned he agreed completely: if it were legal it'd be easier to regulate and keep people from getting sick, keep the pros off drugs and so on. But fact was, that was never going to happen, so Buck's regular diatribes against the situation made Chris weary of the subject. "Look, I don't care if Mortinson is hiring Vinny there to spit-polish his car. All I care about is that he better not be using that kid."
"Chris, Ez is barely more than a kid himself. And you saw them together - Tanner trusts him. Now I gotta tell you, street kids don't trust nobody without a lot of proof that trust isn't gonna be screwed with. Plus from the sound of it there's a third kid in the mix that they're both trying to protect. I figure you got one lost soul trying to help the other, and how it came to be ain't really the point, is it?"
Chris glanced from one room to the other; from the peaceful sleeping form of a scrawny longhaired hooker to the tense, animated form of a prep school tomcat who was focused on his conversation. Lost souls indeed. Scary thought was how easily these two kids reminded him of two others.
He shook himself, letting Buck misread the reluctant agreement in his action as capitulation. Buck's nod signaled his agreement and the end to that line of conversation. Which was perfectly fine with Chris Larabee.
After all, memory lane was not a place he wanted to go tonight.
The entire interview took nearly four hours, but by the time they were done warrants had been executed and the witness's family collected for protective custody. Ezra found himself escorted into Vin's room to await 'debriefing'.
As he entered the room, he noticed that Vin had been well cared-for; the remnants of a hearty meal of sandwiches and chips covered the table, along with several soda cans and at least three candy bar wrappers. At the sound of the door opening Vin looked up from where he'd piled himself on the table, blinking. Ezra smiled, feeling a strange warmth settle in his gut at the picture of the younger man wiping his eyes and smiling in that dazed way of being half-awake. Now, if only it wasn't a sight surrounded by a police station interrogation room.
"You done?" Vin asked, his voice husky from sleep.
Ezra slipped into the chair across the table with his back to the one-way window and slumped slightly, not really caring about his posture at the moment.
Vin reached across the small table, pushing wrappers aside to catch a hand and hold it tightly. "Ez, you okay?"
"I'm… tired," Ezra admitted. Maude would positively faint at the idea of him revealing that he was anything that wasn't 'fine' but quite frankly he was too worn out to care. "I believe we are finished, but for legal reasons Mister Travis and that little weasel from the Public Defense Fund need to go over everything with me to cover all their bases. Discuss any parts of the interview where I might have had difficulty with the translation."
"Not really. At one point Mister Cabral went off on a series of exclamations which I did not entirely follow, but I redirected him and made it clear to the attorneys that I did not believe what had been said that I couldn't translate had anything to do with his testimony, simply based on the parts I could understand. That should be enough, though naturally they will want to clarify that point. I do not expect this to take much longer."
"And then we can git?"
Ezra rubbed at his eyes with his free hand, not wishing to lose the comfort of Vin's contact. The teen's grip was strong and gentle, providing a surprising amount of strength in such a small gesture. "I am not sure what will be needed to achieve your freedom, Vin. I am relying very much on the integrity of three men who I don't know at all."
Vin frowned. "Ya don't trust'em?"
Ezra laughed slightly. "I don't trust anyone, sir, not even my own darling mother. Well, especially not her, but anyway. The point is, while I do believe them to be men of their word, that does not mean there will not be further complications to all this nonsense." The man sighed. "God willing, we shall be out of here shortly and then we can get on with the business of getting on with our lives."
The room fell quiet at that. Vin gave Ezra's hand a quick pat before withdrawing, a move Ezra understood but regretted. They certainly could not sit in a police station, two young men holding hands like lovers on a park bench, but it was a nice feeling.
'Hell, Standish, you act as if he IS your lover. For god's sake, you've known the boy little more than twenty-four hours, and you're already smitten like a giggling British school girl for William Windsor.' Surely he was losing his mind. But that knowledge didn't change the fact that he missed the feel of the other boy's hand on his.
Ezra rubbed at the back of his neck absently, letting his mind go blissfully blank for a few minutes. He'd been thinking too hard for too long today, since the moment this morning - make that yesterday morning - he left Vin standing on the curb as Theo drove away. He just wanted to not think for a little while. That would be nice.
"Hm?" He looked up at a pair of anxious blue eyes studying him carefully. God, he could get lost in those eyes so easily.
"Did you tell that cop I was goin' in the army?"
Ezra frowned for a moment, trying to recall a conversation four hours earlier. "Oh. Yes, I did. I needed some reason why it was of vital import that you not be formally charged."
"An' the army part?"
"The United States military has this delightfully antiquated rule regarding those who wish to join her. It's called Moral Turpitude, and can be used as grounds to reject you from enlisting. A public criminal record of having been arrested for solicitation probably would not be enough in today's world, however, it is unlikely that they would overlook the homosexual side of the situation and as I'm sure you are aware, that certainly would not wash well."
"So you figured if we said I was goin' into the army?"
"They might be willing to overlook things done out of desperate need in favor of helping you to achieve a life above board."
"I take it you were asked?"
"Yeah, Larabee. Didn't right know what he was talking about, but I done like you said and left it…" Vin smiled as he remembered the words Ezra had used, "open to interpretation."
Ezra grinned. "Ah, there is nothing more gratifying than an adept pupil."
"Hey, learned from the best," Vin chuckled. They fell silent again for a few minutes, then Vin cocked his head. "How come the army?"
Ezra shrugged. "Quite frankly, it was a suggestion from my Head of Household on how to assist you with addressing your current difficulties."
"Edgar suggested that the army or some other form of service would offer you the opportunity to see the world, learn skills and develop yourself, all while providing the base needs of life. During that time you would be able to determine a course for yourself that fits your interests and particular talents." Vin studied him carefully, and Ezra was unsure what the boy was thinking, so he was quick to add, "It was one of several ideas."
Vin nodded solemnly, and the room fell quiet again. Ezra fought the urge to squirm; it really was rather unnerving how quite Vin could get. It was more unnerving that being quiet should BE so unnerving. Certainly that couldn't be healthy, having such a need for continuous conversation.
Perhaps he should consider spending some time in a monastery to learn how to cope with quiet people.
"Ya think I actually could get in?"
"Ya know, to the army."
Ezra released a short breath. "I suppose it's certainly an option. And not a bad one: the army would teach you many things and pay for you to learn them, as well as provide room and board. You could learn skills that would be applicable to a career, and you could also sign up for the GI Bill to earn money for school later on."
"Hell, I ain't even finished high school," Vin grunted. " 'n you hear how I talk, no college would look at me cross-eyed even."
"Well, perhaps not college, but maybe a trade school. And you would have to secure your GED in order to apply, but I believe you are quite capable of that with a little tutoring. As for your… distinctive vocabulary, I'm sure you would be able to more standardize your speech patterns through a few classes."
"Um… that means I could learn to talk more like you?"
"Lord no!" Ezra laughed, getting a puzzled look from Vin. "That means you could learn to talk like normal people. Which I, as I'm sure you've noticed, am not."
Vin smiled warmly. "Nah, you definitely ain't like most folks," he said firmly. "But I kinda like that about ya. You'd be dull if you was like everybody else."
"Dear me, certainly we could not have that," Ezra replied with a wink. "No, I promise you I shall never be anything by distinctly unique unto myself."
"Good." Vin's hand captured his hand again as the boy leaned forward. "Cause I don't hang with no dull people, you got me?" He stilled and gave Ezra's hand a gentle caress. "And I like hangin' with ya, Ez."
Ezra breathed deeply, appreciating the moment.
"I do too, Mister Tanner," he said softly.
Vin squeezed his hand tightly and released it, leaning back in this chair again.
"Alright, then, so tell me more about this army idea of yours."
Epilogue: 8 years later
JD glanced up from his computer as the office door was wrenched open and the interviewee stalked out. The latest in a long line of men who had been brought in by Travis to interview with the leader of ATF Team Seven, and the latest to find Larabee either positively terrifying or completely insulting. Larabee was a tough nut: JD knew from his own interview nearly six months ago, and it took a lot of guts and a lot more brains to get through it. It was part of Larabee's interview style - he wanted men who had the guts to stand up to his ferocious manner but also were smart enough to see through it and weather it.
This was the Special Cases Task Force's Lead Team, and Larabee would take only the best.
JD grinned to himself as he watched Mac Slater, the sharpshooter from the ATF's southeastern division's Team Four slam the door behind him as he left. Slater had a rep as the best in his division, but he also oozed arrogance without an ounce of redeeming charm. He might be able to hit a target at a thousand yards, but the man didn't play well with others, and Larabee wouldn't put up with a hot shot.
JD frowned. What they needed was someone with street smarts and savvy, good at the job but easy going. Chris really needed someone to balance him out. Buck may be the man's oldest friend, but he was too jovial and energetic - something JD liked but knew deep down got on Larabee's nerves after a while. Josiah was the calm in their midst at the moment, but he wasn't quite a strong enough personality to counter the brooding widower.
JD twitched, thinking. They needed a guy like Vin.
The door opened and Buck followed Chris out. "I'm telling you, you're gonna have to settle on someone or Travis is gonna eat us for breakfast."
"I may have to settle, but it won't be for a jackass like Slater."
"The man's good, Chris."
"And he's an goddamn horse's backside. He's got a stick so far up his ass it'll take less than ten minutes before I get the urge to pull it out and beat him with it."
"Chris, you've interviewed seventeen shooters. You've looked at everyone within the agency who has the qualifications, and you've hated them all."
"So we look outside the agency."
Buck moved to the coffee pot and poured a mug, which he handed to his boss. "Travis will never go for it. You've already gone outside the agency for nearly everyone. Hell, the only one who was a fed before you brought him in was JD, and he's greener than a baby crab apple. Only reason we won on getting him is because he proved he could do the job by hacking Travis' computer."
JD bit his lip to keep from grinning. Buck had been particularly impressed with JD's stunt - especially after all the stunts JD had pulled just to convince Chris to even look at him. It had taken weeks of determined campaigning, both on his part directly and on the part of his boss in the technical research division before he'd gotten permission to send his resume to Larabee, and then a few more weeks before he'd scored a sit down. He might have given up if not for Ezra's continuous encouragement that if this was what he really wanted he should do everything he could think of to get a foot in the door.
Which had involved sending Chris a 'naked lady greeting card' from Travis's email address, with a message challenging them to figure out how he'd done it.
When six days later the entire top branch of the IT department couldn't, JD had gotten his interview. And a severe reprimand on illegal activities from Division Supervisor Orin Travis. And a handshake from Wilmington.
And a job offer.
"Buck, I need someone who knows the difference between following his gut instinct and grandstanding. Who actually listens when I talk instead of just waiting for me to breathe so he can start feeding me his resume high points. I need someone who understands that sometimes life sucks and you gotta work with what you get, not sit down on your ass and whine about it until someone else fixes the problem."
"Fine, so go to Travis and tell him you want to take resumes from outside the agency. But you know that means you're gonna *have* to bring in a Fed for the undercover position. There's no way you're gonna be allowed to fill five of the six positions from outside."
"Hell. Yeah, you're probably right. Have you looked at the ones he's sent so far? Losers, loners and lunatics, all of 'em. The ones who aren't don't have a creative bone in their body. Wonder they've survived this long, really."
"They're all just the ATF offerings so far. What about looking into Fibbies? Or DEA?"
"Christ, Buck, Fibs are impossible by breed, you know that. And what would anyone in the DEA want with an ATF task force?"
"Well okay, not the DEA. And yeah, the FBI suits are all slime balls, but the undies are usually top notch."
"Alright, I'll agree to review some Fibs. Can't be any more painful that this already is, right? I just read the files and toss them in the reject bin, then move on."
Chris headed back toward his office with Buck trailing, ranting on their remaining options. Only when the door closed did JD pause at his work. He leaned back in his chair, staring over at the two empty desks which were designated for their sharpshooter and undercover man… the two positions Chris had been trying to fill for weeks… going on months…
JD nibbled his lip.
At the last communiqué he'd had with Ezra, he'd gotten the distinct impression the man was being less than honest about the quality of his life. A little digging had brought to light a series of rumors being circulated within the Atlanta branch offices of the FBI counter-terrorist division, painting Ezra in a less-than-flattering light. JD had long ago learned that it was far too easy to weasel gossip out of the agency secretarial pools if he simply buttered them a little while submitting his normal, boring inter-agency briefings and requests for this or that criminal's file workups. Due to Team Seven's special status, JD had a higher level of access than most agency managers, and when he didn't have the clearance he'd learned it was too damn easy to fake it.
He was almost ashamed to admit the government he worked for was so easy to con.
Con. Ezra had always suggested that the best undercover man you could get was a born con man - after all, he knew how the criminals thought, and wasn't that what you wanted in the person you were asking to pretend to *be* a criminal? And this was the man who'd suckered his ex-step-uncle into not only fostering a sickly fifteen-year-old runaway and high school dropout, but sponsoring him into the early-admissions program at his place of employment: Harvard University.
Of course, maybe Ezra hadn't been exaggerating his predicament, and really was doing fine. After all, rumors slid off the man's back like water off a frog.
Well, the worst that could happen was Ezra said he wasn't interested, right?
A few ticks later and JD grinned as Travis' secretary's email account was requesting Ezra's file be sent to one Chris Larabee.
Now. What about that sharpshooter.
Vin was currently working for the U.S. Marshalls. His last letter had been the usual report of cases he'd worked on and things going on in his life. Nothing to say the man was looking for a new job, but then Vin tended to ebb and flow through life taking things as they came. And Vin's letters never indicated a serious life outside of work - no girl or boyfriends mentioned, no real social activities discussed. Perhaps Vin would take advantage of an opportunity to work with someone he'd known for years even if they'd only really gotten to know each other in the few weeks after Ezra had swooped in.
JD paused. It had been about six weeks between meeting the Georgian and their lives changing completely. Under Edgar's delicate guiding hand JD had been nursed back to health by a collection of doctors and house staff who had adopted him as their own. The doctors had indicated that the months of illness - likely a bronchial pneumonia he'd been lucky enough to stave off as much as he had - would stunt his growth permanently, but he still could return to full health and live a normal active life. By the time the doctors had given him a clean bill of health for travel, Vin had his GED in hand and a transport date to basic training at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma.
It had also been obvious that his two seemingly contradictory friends had more similarities than appearances might suggest. Also, that they were falling very much in love with each other, even if they didn't realize it themselves.
JD suspected Edgar had seen it too, but it just wasn't possible at the time. Ezra was headed to France for two months, and then to Oxford on a fellowship to study international criminal justice. From there, the man had said, he had no ideas at the moment; Quantico, perhaps, if they'd have him, or perhaps an internship at the U.N. Anything so long as it involved his legal degree and annoying the hell out of his mother. Ez had grinned as he renewed his vow to nab the lowest paying government job possible that didn't promise to bore him to death.
JD sometimes wondered that Ezra and Vin hadn't kept in touch. Each knew the other was in touch with JD, but from the occasional vague inquiries as to 'how is he doing' JD knew they didn't contact each other. The closest they'd come was when Vin had been in that spot about the Jess Kincaid murder and Ezra had arranged for a law school friend to sort it all out. The young hacker suspected that it was simply too painful for his friends to consider communicating with each other, knowing they would always be hundreds of miles apart and forever unable to make anything come of it other than a long distance friendship.
JD grinned and allowed his fingers to do some more walking.
After all, Chris had said he wanted to look outside the agency, right?
JD looked up from his computer as Josiah elicited a yelp of annoyance from Nathan - the big man had been lobbing spit wads at their biochemical specialist for nearly an hour now and this was the first time he'd actually hit. Lucky the big man had better aim with a gun, but still, it was funny to see the childishness he was capable of when bored. JD couldn't help but grin as Nathan launched into a rant about the sanitary issues of human spit, which only caused Josiah to grin wickedly and lob another wad.
'Yeah,' JD thought. 'Vin and Ez would be right at home here…'