A Home of Ma Own
Sequel to Brother's Keeper
Thanks to Mog for creating the ATF universe for us to play in.
Spring had finally come to Denver Colorado. New sprouts were dutifully shooting up and out everywhere. On every tree and bush could be seen the gentle green of new growth. It was a time of new beginnings, of starting anew. At least Ezra hoped so. He had spent the morning looking at possible places to live. But nothing had seemed right. He wanted more than a place to park the Jag and store his possessions: he wanted a place to call home.
Thanks to the six determined men he worked with, he now knew what a home was. "Friends," he said aloud, "Friends and family" he corrected himself. It was a constant he was not really familiar with. Of his father he had little to remember the man by other than the trust fund he had left him. Maude, his mother had gone husband hunting shortly after his father's death. A long line of boarding schools and stepfathers filled the years after that. He had none of those cozy family remembrances that the other children talked about. Almost thirty and only now was he becoming familiar with the concept of a caring family: Team Seven.
The townhouse he had bought when he first arrived in Denver was gone. A vengeful gunrunner he had arrested had destroyed it. He had needed a place to stay when he first arrived and the townhouse had been available. Buying made better sense than renting. He could have sold it at a profit if the ATF job hadn't worked out. Three years later he was still in Denver, part of something greater then he had ever imagined.
The Jag jerked, bringing Ezra's thoughts back to the here and now. Then he cursed as he realized he had a flat. Pulling off to a side street he saw that he had traveled farther out in Denver's suburbs than he had intended, almost into the agricultural area. Ezra called his car service and found out it would be some time before they could get out to him. Looking around he liked what he saw. Large brick and stone houses sitting in equally large yards. This was an older and as yet to be redeveloped section of the Denver area. Ezra decided to take a walk.
The neighborhood was filled with old buildings. Ezra estimated most had been built over a century ago, probably by the neauveau riche of that time; miners who had made their money in the gold and silver boom of the mid to late 1800's. Without losing their original charm, some of the houses had been divided into apartments and duplexes. Most were still single family units; there were swing sets and bikes in many yards. Ezra's wandering had brought him to a cul-de-sac. There at the end of the street stood a massive stone house.
From what Ezra could see of the structure through the overgrown vegetation of the front yard, the style was mostly Victorian/Gothic. Trees and bushes nearly obscured the first story. The upper story had large windows and the usual gingerbread found on Victorians. Several chimneys promised fireplaces in bedrooms as well as downstairs. A tall tower dominated one end of the house, standing higher then any other structure in the neighborhood. Ezra wanted to get closer, pushing the gate open enough to get through he walked up the front path to the porch. He was surprised to find the stone work in good order. Overgrown flower planters and evergreens badly in need of pruning sheltered a wraparound porch. The door and windows were tightly boarded over, exasperating to his desire to see inside. The porch wrapped around the house on three sides ending around the back.
Ezra found himself looking into the back yard where two elderly ladies were cutting spring flowers. Not wanting to frighten them he started to withdraw.
"No need to leave young man, we see you." one of the white-haired matrons told him.
"Ah didn't want to startle you with ma sudden appearance." His southern accent coming out stronger then he meant it to. "Ah was attracted by the charm of this grand old house and couldn't resist getting a closer look."
"Quite understandable sir." The genteel woman said as she turned to look up at Ezra standing on the porch steps, "This house is a beauty both inside and out. Unfortunately we can't show you the interior but if you don't mind listening to two old ladies prattle on about the past, we can tell you something about her history. My sister and I grew up in this neighborhood and knew the family well." Flowers in hand the ladies joined him on the porch.
+ + + + + + +
"Larabee," growled Chris into the phone. A morning full of meetings had left Chris in a fowl mood. Missing lunch and a headache hadn't helped sweeten his temperament. Everyone was staying out of his way.
"Agent Larabee?" asked a timid voice over the phone.
"Yes, what is it? I'm busy, this better be important," snapped Chris.
"Yes sir, this is officer Dickerson of the DPD. You may remember me from when Agent Standish's house blew up."
"Yes officer I remember you." Chris answered half smiling as he remembered the look of fear on the rookie's face after his senior partner took him aside and told him a few horror stories about him and his ATF team.
"Well sir, Agent Standish's car has been found with a flat tire in one of the city's outer suburbs. Agent Standish is not to be found in the immediate area. We thought, Sgt. Wilder that is, thought you would want to know sir." answered the nervous voice at the other end of the phone.
"Give me the address and your call numbers, I'll get back to you." Chris put the phone down and started rubbing his temples.
Chris picked up his phone and tried Ezra's cell phone. He had given Ez the day off to try to find a place to live. It had only been a few months ago that gunrunner Frank McBean had destroyed Ez's townhouse. McBean was still on the loose and was thought to have left the country. Until the man was caught and put on trial, Ezra was a possible target. But as Ezra had pointed out, they couldn't babysit him forever. It would drive them all insane to try, so he moved in to the Denver Hilton. He was about to hang up when Ezra answered.
"Where the hell are you?" snarled Chris.
"And a pleasant good day to you too." answered Ezra "I believe we both agreed that I could take this day to obtain adequate lodging for myself."
"The cops just called, they found the Jag with a flat tire. You weren't anywhere around." stated Chris.
"Yes the front right tire is deflated. When my road service informed me that there would be a lengthy delay before coming to render assistance I thought a stroll through this charming neighborhood would pass the time," explained Ezra
"So instead of changing the tire yourself you took a walk."
"Of course, why do the manual labor myself when I've paid for the service to be done for me?" asked Ezra sounding puzzled.
Chris kept rubbing his temples. "Go back to your car and tell the officers that." Why should he be the only one with a headache? "Ezra have you had any luck in finding a place?" Having an agent living at the Denver Hilton had raised more than a few eyebrows. That he could handle, not getting through to his agent when he wanted him was another matter. The Hilton's staff had been charmed by that nice Mr. Standish as they called him and didn't like to bother him too early in the morning. They wouldn't put Chris's calls through before nine. Chris wanted him out of there.
"Is Josiah in the office? I need to speak to him," asked Ezra.
"Yes, but call him on your own phone," answered Chris. Then he added, "Why do you need to talk to him, are you in any kind of trouble?"
The team's profiler had taken a fatherly interest in the younger agent. They discussed books and argued philosophy and religion, enjoying themselves immensely. Ezra had slowly began to ask the older man's advice in areas outside his own fields of knowledge.
"I believe I may have found the house I've been looking for. But I want Josiah to inspect it and give me his opinion. He knows about restoring old homes and will give me an honest answer on the feasibility of restoring her."
"Ezra how old is this house?" asked Chris, "Where is it located?" forgetting about his headache, his curiosity piqued.
"An outer suburb of Denver, build in the latter part of the 1800's and the address the sisters gave me is 1861 Rebel Lane." answered Ezra.
Chris knew there had to be more to the story behind all this. "It's late, meet us at the saloon for dinner. That way you can give us all the details at one time. Give me a call if your service hasn't got your tire fixed and Ezra, don't give the rookie a hard time."
Later that night at the saloon, the seven had finished one of Inez's excellent dinners. Sitting around their table with drinks in hand, they waited for Ezra to continue with his story.
"The sisters, Mrs. Eleanor Atwater and Mrs. Harriet Fremont told me a romantic tale about a young prospector. Leaving out the majority of the more colorful segments of this tale the story goes; There was a Mr. Sean Patrick O'Brien who after making a significance silver strike was able to fulfill his dreams of marrying the schoolmarm and building a home for her and their future progeny. The property stayed in the family till the last descendant died in the mid-seventies, leaving a small trust fund to keep the house up. Unfortunately the funds were depleted ten years ago leaving the house abandoned of a caretaker. Those, gentleman, are the bare facts about this house."
"Gee Ezra I think I'd had like to have heard the more colorful version," said JD.
"I'm sure Miss Eleanor would enjoy telling it to you JD. The story of a poor boy from the mining camps whom through perseverance and hard work becomes rich. Marrying the schoolmarm who freed him from the shackles of illiteracy. Building their home from the very mountains that gave him his fortune. Together facing whatever tomorrow brought them. Something like that?" asked Ezra.
"Yeah," laughed JD "that story." The others joined in with their laughter. Ezra was in a talkative mood tonight. But then Ezra could and did talk rings around them all, using words as a shield to keep others at arm's length, as well as a means to explain his thoughts. Tonight it was different; tonight he spoke about a subject he cared about, sharing with them a part of his dreams. So none of them commented on the willingness of the ladies to share their stories with him or teased him about his interest in an old house.
"Ezra, did the ladies tell you why they were at the house?" asked Nathan.
"It seems that they lived in the neighborhood in their youth. Now when they're in the area visiting they liked to stop and reminisce back about when the house was full of people. Old friends no longer around, times long gone. I was happy to listen to their stories, it gave me a sense of what it might have been like back then," answered Ezra sipping from his drink. "With the names and dates the ladies gave me I was able to make some inquires into the matter of gaining entry into the house."
"Ezra" Josiah cautioned "This house is over a hundred years old. It may be salvageable, but don't get your hopes up too high till after it has been inspected."
Ezra sighed, "I know Josiah, but wait till you see it before passing judgment on it. If after that you say this is an unacceptable idea, then I'll walk away from it."
Josiah prayed to himself; Please lord let this house be everything Ezra wants it to be. The boy is already in love with the idea of the place.
Vin asked "Ez when do we get a look at this place?"
"As soon as I can get ma hands on a set of keys," answered Ezra, " hopefully in a few days."
A few days turned into more than a few weeks as the necessary paperwork was filled out. The house had become the responsibility of the city of Denver. More than one department became involved as none could decide who had final jurisdiction. The city's officials only saw the house as being a rundown, abandoned building in an unfashionable part of the city and a liability on the books. Ezra finally had to send his lawyer into the fray to untangle the mass of bureaucracy to obtain the keys. While there had been other interested parties over the years, no one had gone farther then just walking through. Comments taken down at the time claimed that the place didn't feel right or it didn't suit their needs. JD did manage to obtain the original architectural drawings in this time.
The electronics expert had hacked into the city's records and downloaded the blueprints. He spread them over the conference room table. Ezra and Josiah studied them with Buck and JD looking over their shoulders.
"Well", asked Buck as the drawings didn't make any sense to him. "What do those things tell ya?"
"They tell me that this is a very well constructed house. The outer walls are over a foot thick, so are some of the interior walls. Did the O'Brians ever go to Ireland?" asked Josiah "These plans look like some of the gothic homes I visited there, back in my college days."
Ezra shook his head, "Miss Eleanor didn't mention anything about a European trip that the O'Brians took, though it's was the thing to do at the time. Go on a tour of the old country and show off the wealth. Vulgar Americans and their money doing the grand tour."
"Maybe the O'Brians just told the architect what they wanted and then he worked their ideas into the styles that were popular at the time," ventured JD.
Nathan walked into the conference room taking his usual chair next to Josiah. "Josiah I know you have a doctorate in anthropology, and degrees in psychology and comparative religions. But when did you get interested in architecture?
Josiah leaned back in his chair and smiled.
"What was her name?" asked Buck. Only a woman could put a smile on a man's face like that.
"Ruth," sighed Josiah, "Ruth of the midnight hair, with brown eyes so dark you could get lost in them. She had a body that a man would give up his soul for or follow to the end of the earth if she asked."
"Did she ask?" wondered JD.
"No she didn't. After the summer ended we went back to school. Ruth stayed in Europe to follow her dreams and I came back to the states to finish college. But we did have a glorious summer," smiled the older man.
"Hu, humm...."Chris cleared his throat as he and Vin walked into the room. "I believe we're here to go over our last case not Josiah's youthful indiscretions. As he handed out folders to his men, Ezra's cell phone rang. "Make it short Ezra," warned Chris as the rest of the team cleared the table of the other paperwork. Ezra put his phone away and sat with his hands folded in front of him. His face betrayed nothing of what he was feeling. Only his sparkling green eyes gave anything away. Vin looked at his friend and smiled,
"Ezra got the keys."
+ + + + + + +
The day arrived. Ezra had permission as a potential buyer to inspect the house. The building was to be sold as is for the back taxes and the amount of the last tax valuation on the property. All repairs, status of the grounds and house were to be the buyer's responsibility. Chris had arranged for Ezra and Josiah to take the day off to pass judgment. Josiah had wanted an expert in century old homes along to help with the evaluation. Ezra had hired the man Josiah recommended.
Vin finished work early and after taking a quick lunch he decided to run out to Ezra's place. Now that wasn't right, Vin thought to himself, it wouldn't be Ezra's unless Josiah told the southerner to go ahead with the purchase. Funny how Ez went looking to Josiah for advice these days, maybe the southerner was finally beginning to realize that his new family wasn't going to betray him as he had been betrayed in the past. Vin slowed down and stopped as he came to the end of the cul-de-sac. There was Ezra's Jag and Josiah's old truck as well as another car sitting at the curb. Parking beside them, Vin got out of his jeep and looked up at the house. Massive came to Vin's mind as he looked at it, not in the size of the house but in the stonework that had gone into it. The house had three stories (if you counted the attic which looked tall enough to walk upright in) and a tower standing above that on the far end. The house was not as large as he had expected from the other men's conversations about it. The dwelling did have a feeling of permanence about it, as if it would always be here for you to come home to. No wonder Ezra wanted it thought Vin as he walked up on the front porch. He was about to open the front doors in search of his friends, but stopped when he heard voices coming from around the side of the house. Following the sounds he found Ezra and what had to be Miss Eleanor and Miss Harriet.
"Vin," said Ezra as he got up from where he had been sitting on the stone banister, "Come and meet two delightful ladies. Miss Eleanor, Miss Harriet I would like you to meet ma colleague and good friend, Mr. Vin Tanner. Vin you have the pleasure of being presented to Mrs. Eleanor Atwater and her sister Mrs. Harriet Fremont."
"Ladies it's a pleasure to meet ya," said Vin as he shook their hands, "Ezra has spoken little of anything else these last few weeks except of ya and this house but he didn't do ya justice. His words didn't come close to describing the beauty and gentility I see before me," he said smiling at the two elderly sisters before him and then stealing a look at Ezra. The sharpshooter had been studying Ezra's style for a while and had decided to give it a try. Watching Ez's eyebrow ride up toward his hairline was worth the tongue twisting use of words.
"Oh my Ezra, are all the ATF agents you work with as handsome and well spoken as Mr. Tanner here?" asked Miss Eleanor.
"Only the ones on Team 7 Miss Eleanor" answered Ezra giving Vin a strange look.
"Come and sit with us Mr. Tanner." Miss Harriet told Vin, making room for him to sit beside her on the banister. "Sister and I have been trying to keep Ezra occupied while Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Johnson are going through the house. We keep telling him that everything will be just fine. All the house needs is someone who will live in it and cherish it the way the O'Brians did. I'm sure that Ezra and his brothers," at this Miss Harriet laid her hand on Vin's arm, "will fill this house with joy again, won't you Mr. Tanner?"
"Yes, ma'am," replied Vin finding himself unable to answer any other way or wanting to. The sounds of chimes distracted him as Miss. Eleanor pulled a man's antique pocket watch out of her purse. The watch filled her hand when she opened it. Inside was a picture of a young Eleanor with a handsome young man beside her and a small child sitting on her lap.
"That's my Charles, with our son Michael. The watch was Charles' he didn't want me to bury it with him. He had wanted to pass it on to our son, but Michael died in the Vietnam War. Charles loved this old thing, couldn't stand the thought of it not being used, passing the pleasure of it on as it were."
"I'm sure he'd be happy knowing you're carrying it with ya." Vin told her.
"Yes, I know he is." putting the watch away she smiled at Vin and Ezra, "I wish we could stay and meet the rest of your brothers but time is waning and we have other visits to make this afternoon." Taking Ezra's hand in hers "Ezra I hope you take the house, it feels right you being here. Now with that said it is time for us to go meet our driver, come along Harriet"
"Hard to believe she's the younger sister by the way she bosses me around isn't it?" asked Miss Harriet stepping to her sister's side.
"Please ladies let us escort you to your vehicle," said Ezra
"Nonsense we may be old but we are not feeble and our car and driver are not far. So please allow us our independence for a while longer. You two are going to wait here for Mr. Sanchez and after he gives the go ahead there's a house to explore. Mr. Tanner it was a pleasure to have met you, try to keep Ezra from worrying himself too much. Come along Harriet."
"Told you she was bossy." laughed Miss.Harriet. Together the two of them walked off arm in arm.
The two men watched the pair walk away then sat back down on the banister to wait.
"Vin that was an elegant greeting you gave the ladies." complimented Ezra.
"Well Ez I wanted to show you that I've been paying attention to your style. Ya ain't the only silver tongued devil here about." Not getting the expected laugh, Vin asked his friend "Ez why didn't you go with Josiah and that expert ya hired?"
"Ah didn't want to get in their way." answered Ezra from behind what the other members of the team called his poker face, not an emotion showing to betray how he felt. It was a skill that made him the best undercover man in the Denver's ATF. But his brothers had learned to recognize it for what it was and wouldn't let him get away with hiding behind it outside of the job.
"Try again Ez." Vin saw that Ezra was indeed thinking too hard and was beginning to worry too much: a path that would only lead to what-ifs and more worrying.
"Vin have you ever wanted something so bad it hurt? This house is like that, when I first saw it, it said home to me. A place of ma own, a place no one could take me away from or force me to leave." Ezra got to his feet and started to pace. "If Josiah says this house is unsalvageable, that it's about to fall down from whatever houses fall down from ah will walk away from it and not look back. But it will hurt and ah don't want to add recollections of what it's like inside to what might had been."
Vin was impressed and worried not only by Ezra sharing his feeling with him, but by the deepening of his southern accent, a sure sign that his anxiety was getting the best of him.
"No, no ah should have nevah have started this, this was a bad idea from the start. The house has too many rooms for a single man. The yard's too big for a man without chi'lun. This is an impractical dream for a man with no roots. Ah shouldn't nevah have gotten the rest of you involved in this madness. Ah'm going to put an end to this right now." Ezra pulled out his cell phone. Vin grabbed it away from him before he could dial.
"Ez settle down, I got one of my feelings about this and my gut is telling me that Josiah is going to OK the house."
"When was the last time Vin was wrong with one of his feeling?" boomed Josiah as he came up behind them and laid his hands on Ezra's shoulders. "This house is in great shape from the foundation to the roof. The only real problems; a few cracked slate shingles, the plumbing/heating needs updating and the electrical wiring either upgraded or replaced, everything else would be cosmetic. Mr. Johnson and I checked from the basement to the rafters and found no sign of decay or infestation of any kind. Ezra if after you've gone through the house and still want it, you'll have my blessing on the purchase."
"Are you sure Josiah?" asked Ezra. Hope filled his voice but he desperately didn't want to be disappointed.
"Yes Ezra I'm sure, now go both of you. Vin you're going to love the view from the tower. Ezra I want first crack at the books in the library." At Ezra's questioning look, "You didn't know? The house is full of the last owner's belongings, no one came forward to claim them and the city has no use for a lot of old furniture. The city also didn't want to go to the expense of getting rid of the furnishings so everything's still here. All of which now goes with the house."
"That's right Mr. Standish", the expert Mr. Johnson added. "The city officials didn't want to spend the time or the money on the house, so they boarded her up and left it that way till a buyer could be found. The house is sound and with the repairs Mr. Sanchez spoke of done, this house will be ready to be lived in again."
Ezra smiled the first real smile of the day "Ah think ah have a house to look at Vin, want to come along?"
"Couldn't keep me out Ez," he said as he pushed the heavy front door open and they walked into the vestibule past the lead glass interior doors.
"Wow Ez " came from Vin as they the looked in on a large living room. "This room is larger then my apartment."
"A shoe box is larger than your apartment." The great room was indeed spacious, high ceilings and tall windows graced the room. Dust cover sheets concealed the furnishings, giving the room an eerie feeling; like so many ghosts frozen in time waiting for all hollows eve to be released. They walked back into the front hallway and up the stairs. There were four bedrooms and two baths on the second floor. The master bedroom being the biggest with a fireplace and had it's own bathroom. Two of the other bedroom fireplaces shared a common chimney. They found the back staircase going down to the kitchen and one going up to the upper stories of the tower. This time it was Ezra who went wow at the view from the top of the tower. A person could see for miles in all directions, mountains one way the city's skyline in the other.
"Ah didn't realize the house was so far out," said Ezra as they gazed out the windows. There weren't many houses past the one they were standing in. The tower enabled them to see a fair amount of the surrounding area.
"You're half way between the ranch and work, what ya thinking Ez? " Vin watched his friend get a far away look in his eyes.
"Ah always wanted a home of ma own and ah'd be a damn fool not to buy this house. May I have my phone back Vin?"
"Are ya sure Ez? Ya not seen all of it yet."
"Ah studied the blueprints; there are four bedrooms, three full baths, a library, a dining room, great room, parlor, a kitchen, a tower, front and back stair cases. I feel I know the house. Maybe I'm buying for the future or fulfilling a childhood dream, whatever the reason I'm going to buy this house. Please Vin may I have my phone?"
Vin handed over the cell phone, Ezra had regained his composure, gone was the heavy accent, soon he'd be back to using his impressive vocabulary. Vin smile, this felt right Ez belong here and he knew the team would have a good time helping their brother get it fixed up just right. Ez already had his phone open and was talking to his lawyer. "Ez I'm going to look around some more meet ya downstairs." Ezra waved him on.
Ezra finished his conversation with his lawyer. He had done it. He had given the go ahead to purchase the property and, knowing his lawyer, any deal he put together would be iron clad. Once the papers were signed he would be a landowner. The townhouse didn't count, that hadn't been a home, only a place to change clothes and sleep. His stomach groaned, reminding him there had been no lunch that day and very little in the way of breakfast. Time to round up the troops and take them out to eat. Making his way down the back stairs he took a little time to look around. Standing in the kitchen he saw the doors at the far end leading into a dining room. Walking into the dining area he wondered what the room would look like when they got all the boards off the windows. Hearing a noise he opened the doors into the living room. There was Vin coming out of the wall, covered with dust and cobwebs.
"VIN!" what, where. . ," Ezra was at a loss for words.
"Ez look at what I found. Opening and closing a panel in the wall." Neat ain't it? Could use a little oil though."
"Where does it go?" asked Ezra poking his head in the passage.
"This one goes around the corner behind the kitchen, coming out in the pantry."
Ezra was examining the panel when the implication hit him, "This one? There's more?"
"Oh yeah, there's one going up to that big bedroom and other going up to the attic, that all I've found so far."
'Secret passage ways, hidden staircases" Ezra's mind went racing through possible ways he could use them. "Vin let's not tell anyone about them just yet."
Vin tapped him on the head "What ya got going on in there, Ezra?"
"Oh just a little mind game with our favorite big brother and mother hen," answered Ezra, a truly mischievous smile crossing his face, "want in?"
A matching smile appeared on Vin's face, "Oh yeah!"
Across town the man in black sitting in the federal building suddenly shuddered as every hair on the back of his neck stood on end.
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