Fire and Ice

Wesv (Way-suh)

Disclaimer: Don't own 'em, but boy, if I did! Not making or even hoping to make any money…This is old hat for everyone, right? Moving on…

Notes: This takes place a few months after the series ended and follows my story On the Rocks. Though it builds on a fact from that story, it does stand alone. You don't absolutely have to read On the Rocks to understand this one. In fact, just know that Van buys a house a few blocks off the beach in Venice at the end of On the Rocks, and you're caught up.

Thanks to my betas, prplerayne and Jy. You've been a tremendous help!


"It's simple really. It was an old and honored tradition in ancient Egypt, actually. The pharaoh would take the prince of a conquered land back to Egypt as kind of a hostage so his daddy wouldn't get any wild ideas about revolting or something. Just think of it that way, Hayes. We keep your partner on ice to make sure you do your part. Everything goes fine, he gets out of there, and you guys get your drugs. However, you're a cop, or you don't do everything you can do to protect us, then he dies. Simple. Insurance, it's a wonderful thing."

Deaq looked again at the freezer door and its combination lock. Van was on the other side of that door, unconscious. And Billie… Billie was waiting for them at the marina to take these guys down. She was expecting to see Van arrive with them, and Deaq had no way to inform her to the contrary. He swallowed the scream of frustration that threatened to choke him.

"We'd better hurry. There are limits to human endurance to cold, you know. Hypothermia is probably starting already, seeing as how he's out and can't really move around to maintain body temperature. This takes any longer than the hour I have planned, and he's a goner."


One week earlier

"Gary and Alan Foster." Billie tossed the file across her desk at them. Van caught it before it slid off onto the floor. "Brothers and boy geniuses and the jackasses responsible for the latest incarnation of meth on the streets. It's stronger, purer, and more dangerous than ever before, gentlemen. Thing is, we can't catch them with it. Seems they operate a little differently than most dealers."

"How so?" Deaq asked as he took the papers Van was offering him. He looked down at the pictures on top of the stack. Two clean-cut, All-American Richie Rich look-a-likes smiled up at him, complete with matching golf sweaters. He quirked an eyebrow at them in return. This was going to be a walk in the park, he decided.

"They work on an order-by-order basis. They don't have a stockpile. They made samples and sent them out to major players on the distribution end of the trade and took orders. They filled the orders, and that's all they did. So by the time Narcotics got to them, there were no drugs to be found. As for money, they're loaded anyway, so no way to prove any of it was drug money. Then apparently they laid low for a while. But now maybe they've gotten bored or something because rumor is that they're ready to make another batch. That's where you two come in. Line 'em up and let's take 'em down. Just be careful of them, okay?"

"I think we can handle Huey and Louey, Billie." Deaq smirked as he closed the file. He glanced at his partner, who grinned at him and shook his head.

"Look at me, both of you. Two dealers haven't been seen since allegedly setting up a deal with these guys. Also, there were six deaths from the first batch, and that's just the users. That doesn't count the people that the users killed either accidentally or intentionally."

"What do you mean, haven't been seen since?" Van sat up in his chair.

"I mean, vanished, gone. Without a trace so far. One of Maxie Q's boys and one of Cecil's boys are just gone. Maxie and Cecil don't seem too upset, but, personally, I don't want you guys to be next to disappear."

"Speaking of which, I guess this means going after Maxie is on hold?" Van asked.

"Captain Parish put this one on the top of our priority list, guys. He wants the Fosters, and we have to get them for him. Any questions?"

"What's our in?" Deaq put the file back on Billie's desk.

"That's something you're going to have to handle yourselves. We don't have anyone close to them. Think Aquarius can get you a meet?"

"Probably. If not, we got a few more doorknobs we can turn," Deaq told her.

"Well, go. Sooner we get these guys off the streets, the better I'll feel." She flipped her hand at them in a shooing motion.

Deaq got up and nearly collided with his partner as they both turned toward the door. "After you, man," Deaq offered.

"No, by all means, after you." Van grinned at him and swept his arms toward the door in what would have been a gallant gesture had Deaq been a woman.

"No way, V! After you, I insist."

"Get out of my office! And take the damn file with you!" Billie screamed from behind them, causing both of them to jump and then burst into laughter. Van reached back and grabbed the file from her desk, and together, they clamored out of the door.


Of course, Aquarius had a friend of a friend that knew some guy who had a class with Alan Foster at the university. Deaq shook his head and laughed a little at his erstwhile "uncle." Aquarius always had seemed to know all the players in all the games, and could get himself dealt in wherever he wanted. That made Deaq very glad he was on their side of the table. "He said he'd have something for us by morning."

"So, where to now?"

"Dinner? Someplace where we can spread out and go through that file."

"Your place and pizza delivery?" Van suggested.

"Works for me."

Two hours and an empty pizza box later, they had gone through every piece of paper in the Foster file with a fine toothcomb. Deaq shook his head and slumped down on his couch. "What's the world coming to, V? Two rich slices of Wonder Bread with silver spoons and Dean's List grades lose their interest in polo and become drug dealers. It's a sad state of affairs."

Van seemed to study Deaq's face for a long moment before he picked up his beer and downed the last of it. "Wonder Bread has silver spoons dipped into many, many things. You know this, Deaq." He got up and tossed the empty bottle in the trash as he headed into the kitchen for another to replace it.

"When did you become the cynical one?" Deaq asked.

Van shrugged as he walked back into the room and plopped down in the chair once again. "Okay, we've got Alan, the chemistry major, and his brother, the business major. Pretty good setup, really. You don't suppose that ol' Alan mixes that stuff up right there in the university lab, do you?"

"Nah, too visible."

"Not if he's got after hours access, and as a grad student and teaching assistant, he does. But it would be too easy. We don't get that lucky."

"Speak for yourself, man. I have great luck."

"Ri-ight. Where was your luck Friday night, man? That girl so dissed you. I almost cried for your sake."

"It was your face, V! You looked like a thug with that busted lip and black eye. How is a brother supposed to get his mack on when some pissed-off, beat-up bulldog is hanging around? You look a lot better, by the way."

"Gee, thanks, partner."

"You're welcome," Deaq responded with a flippant grin. "You know, you could have gotten me another beer while you were up."

"You know, I could have. But you called me a pissed-off, beat-up bulldog and insinuated that I, not only had bad luck, but also essentially was bad luck. Get your own damn beer." Van leaned his head back and tipped up his bottle once again.

"I'll—" His cell phone rang, cutting off Deaq's promise of revenge. He glared at Van instead as he retrieved the phone from under the messy file. "Hayes." He listened to Aquarius's instructions. "Cool, thanks, man. We'll be there." He hung up.

"Where will we be?" Van mumbled lazily, his head rolling on the back of his chair so that he could just barely see Deaq on the couch.

"One of the university's graduate chemistry labs, 2nd floor, 203, 9am."

"Great. Not only are they annoyingly 'Leave It to Beaver' preppy, they're also morning people. I hate 'em already."


Van looked like he had just rolled out of bed and dressed in the dark. Of course, he most often did as far as Deaq was concerned. But this time it was worse. The shirt was some strange shade of orange and looked like a lava lamp gone wild. It was a psychedelic nightmare with Van's brown leather pants. "You doing this just for spite?"

"Doing what?"

Van had innocent down pat, Deaq thought before replying, "Dressing like a thrift store reject. And what's up with the hair? You're flipping this way, and that, there, V. Your comb broke or something?"

"I happen to like this shirt, thank you. And we're not talking about the hair. We are ignoring the hair today, okay? Let's just go meet the Wonder Bread and try to buy drugs like we supposed to." He checked his gun one more time and stuffed it into the back of his pants.

Deaq was grinning. "Buy drugs like we're supposed to. You know, there is just something fundamentally wrong about that line. Don't say that in front of Hill, okay?"

"Get in the damn car."

"Whoa! Testy today, aren't we? It's the hair, right?" Deaq laughed out loud at the expression on Van's face.

The remark got him a good long ride filled with blessed silence. Van was not speaking to him. At first, he was ecstatic, wondering if miracles would never cease. However, as Van crossed three lanes of traffic and made a nearly two-wheeled turn into one of the many university parking lots, Deaq began to wonder instead if just maybe a silent Van was not a good thing after all.

"Okay, what's up, dawg?"

"You know, if I didn't hate the cold so damn much, I'd move to Antarctica to get away from my family."

"What family this time? Ray-Ray's not back, is he?"

"No, not back. Just on the phone at 3am, drunk and married. I had to say hello to some woman named Nancy Jo and consent to call her Mama before I was allowed to get off the phone. Then my day went downhill from there." He pulled into a parking space and pointed to a nearby building. "There it is. The science building. Ready?"

"Are you?"

"Ready as I'm ever going to get." Van exited the car so quickly that Deaq was left trying to get out of his seatbelt and hurry after his partner.

"Sorry, V."


"About Ray-Ray and Nancy Jo."

"Never mind. I should be used to it by now."

Damn, he hated when Van said that. He said it too much. "What happened to that honey he was hanging with? What was her name?"

"I'm trying to forget, thanks. I told you, she wasn't his type." Van opened the door to the science building for his partner. "Can we stop talking about this now?"

"Sure, dawg." Deaq shook his head as Van started up the stairs to the second floor without him. He followed, suddenly wondering why Van knew where to find the science building and the labs. As a matter of fact, Van had known a lot about lab access, grad students and teaching assistants. Interesting. Maybe there was actually something Van hadn't told him about his past. Then again, it was probably just a few adventures with cute co-eds. Deaq didn't want to hear about those. He decided not to ask.

He caught up with Van at the door to Room 203. It was open, and they could see the two men inside. One was leaning on a lab table while the other was pouring one mixture into another. The first one noticed them in the doorway and smirked at them.

"Come on in, gentlemen. Please, make yourselves at home," he greeted as the other put down his beakers and looked up at them.

Deaq took the lead this time, Van following about two steps behind. Foster number one, Gary, Deaq recalled from the pictures in the file, approached them as his brother Alan took off his goggles and stretched leisurely, leaning back in his chair. "Who's Hayes, and who's Strummer?"

"Hayes," Deaq answered. He pointed at Van. "Strummer. You would be?"

"I'm Gary; that's Alan. I hear you gentlemen are interested in doing a little business."

"Straight to the point, I like that," Van said.

"Why not? We checked you out, you realize. As I'm sure you checked us out before even trying to arrange a meeting. Correct?"

"Of course," Deaq answered.

"Then, no reason to beat around the bush. Have a seat, and let's make a deal."

Half an hour later, Deaq shook each Fosters' hand. The deal was set. Delivery in one week of the product they referred to as Seventh Heaven, 20 pounds, pure, for the low, low, bargain price of 700,000 dollars cold hard cash. On the street, it was worth twice that. A generous profit, Deaq thought. In fact, the profit margin worried him a little, but Gary had said it was an introductory offer, one time only. "Nice doing business with you. See you back here then in a week."

"You got it, dude," Gary waved congenially.

Van was already halfway to the door when he simply nodded his head in acknowledgement. It was the first response Deaq had seen from his normally animated and loquacious partner since the negotiations began. As they left the building, Deaq put one hand on Van's shoulder. "Well, you could have been a little friendlier, you know? You got that tight lip thing going again, V. I know you're not the happiest guy in the world right now, but you got to get a grip, dawg. Your sour face could have ruined the deal."

"Sorry. I'll pull it together, man. Promise."

"Well, the deal went fine. Don't worry about it. Just at least smile next time."

"Gotcha." He was silent then until they reached the Mercedes they had signed out for the week. "Gotta wonder about their generosity."

"Thought that myself, but he did say introductory offer. If there was going to be a next time, we'd be paying out the nose, I bet."

"Yeah." Van cranked the car.

"Van, are you sure you're okay?" One-word answers just didn't suit Van at all to Deaq's mind.

"I'm fine," his partner snapped. "Man, have one bad morning, and people are ready to ship you off to the loony bin," he muttered as he backed out of the parking space.

Deaq chuckled a little. "Let's just get back to the Candy Store and let Billie know about the deal. And by the way, I've been convinced that you needed to be shipped off for a long time now."

"Bite me."


"So, the stuff will be ready in a week. We meet them at the university lab and follow them out to the marina for the pick up."

Billie tapped her pen on her desk as Deaq finished his summary of their deal with the Fosters. "Why not just do the deal at the lab?"

"Campus security is getting really tight due to the orange level terrorist warning. They had to stop dealing on university grounds because security got themselves a few dogs and started doing random searches. Makes life for the Foster brothers a little difficult. Poor things." Deaq grinned.

"Why meet at the lab at all then? Why not just go straight to the marina?"

"Didn't ask. But I'd guess because they didn't want us having too much information."

Van spoke up for the first time then. "The marina's a better option anyway. Easier to stake out and easier to assault. The lab is one of the small ones used by grad students. The close quarters would make for a dangerous raid."

Billie nodded. "No exact location at the marina?"

"No. Just watch for us. You won't be able to miss us." Deaq told her.

"I want at least one of you wired," she said.

"It should be me, I think. I hate wires, but I'll do it," Van little more than mumbled.

"Why you? And why do you look like an extra from an Austin Powers movie?"

Deaq waved his hands frantically to try to stave off the question, but it was too late. The words were out of her mouth before she ever turned her glare his way.

Van was growling in frustration. "You know, I'm glad I am such a source of amusement for you both."

"Oh, geez, here we go again." Billie rolled her eyes. "It's your hair—"

"We aren't talking about the hair! Okay? We're ignoring the hair. I've had a bad day. That's it. As for the wire, just thought I'd volunteer. Deaq's going to be front man on this. I can stand there and be a microphone."

Billie gave him the penetrating stare that Deaq always hated to have directed at him. "Okay. Fine by me. So in the meantime?"

"Well, I got invited to the 'Club' tomorrow for a round of golf. And they mentioned getting together for a little partying this week."

"You got invited? What about Van?"

"I got invited too, as an afterthought." Van shrugged a little.

"An afterthought?"

"They got rapport with Deaq. What can I say?"

"Okay, what's her name?"

Deaq groaned and put his head in his hands. Sometimes, Billie could be really, really dense.

"You wanna know? You really wanna know? Okay, okay, I'll tell you! Nancy Jo! Or as she prefers I call her, Mama! Happy now?"

"Oh, oh, never mind, I don't wanna know. That's enough. TMI, Van."

"Good! I'm hungry. You coming?" He directed the question to Deaq before walking out of Billie's glass box office.

"It's not what you think," Deaq whispered. "It's Ray-Ray again. He called last night or rather very, very early this morning. He's married some woman named Nancy Jo. Threw Van for a loop."

"So he married a bimbo. What's the trauma?"

"Everything dealing with Ray-Ray is a trauma with Van. You should know that by now."

"He should just write the guy off," she insisted.

"It's his pops. Could you write off your father?"

She never got to answer as Van's irritated voice rang through the Candy Store. "Deaq!"

"Gotta go. He'll leave me. Want something?"

"No, go. Calm him down."

"Like I haven't been trying, girl. Later." Deaq ran out then. Van already had the car running. He was sitting in the driver's seat glaring at nothing when Deaq slipped into the passenger's seat. It was going to be a rough day.


An uninterrupted night's sleep had done little to make Van any more sociable. He had managed a smile, however unconvincing. Now, however, he sat in the golf cart, toying with his cell phone and a golf ball or two alternately.

He wasn't dressed any better either. In fact, it was worse. He must have forgotten to do laundry. If it had not been for the Fosters, Van would have never gotten into the Club. A reminder of how much the Club valued their father's support had the management backing down with smiles as unconvincing as Van's. On the up side, Van's Medusa hair was gone. Well, except for that one strand that hung in his eyes. It was annoying Deaq to no end, that one stray strand, and he wanted to reach over and shove it back off Van's face. However, he didn't want to try his partner's disposition just yet. He'd probably pull back a nub.

"So, Van," Gary Foster started, and Deaq held his breath, "You don't like golf?"

Okay, that was a relatively safe question, Deaq thought as he released the pent-up air. Please be nice was the silent message he tried to convey to his partner. Van looked at him as if he received it, though, which caused Deaq to raise an eyebrow.

"Golf's fine. Just not in the mood for chasing that little ball around right now, you know?" He was now bothering a string at the knee of his ripped jeans.

"Ah, it must be us then. You don't like us, do you, Van?" Gary walked a little closer to the cart and lifted the club in his hand until he touched the head of it to the hole in Van's jeans.


"Hey, man—" Deaq looked at Alan Foster as the two of them spoke together.

Van lifted his eyes from the club at his leg to Gary's face. "I don't have to like you to do business with you, but since you brought it up…"

"Oh, shit," Deaq whispered under his breath.

"It's not you guys, okay?" Van said, surprisingly. "Got some personal things going on. You guys are just fine. Besides, how could I not like the guys who are helping me and Deaq make 700,000 dollars? That'd be just rude." Then his partner smiled at both of the Fosters, and Deaq would have sworn in court it was a real smile, too. Van Strummer was suddenly, finally firmly in control. Van Ray was gone. Scary, Deaq shivered.

Gary nodded. "I can understand personal stuff. Okay, cool. Just wondering. In that case, guys, how about a nice barbeque tomorrow night?"

"Sounds cool," Deaq replied, glancing at Van then back at Gary.

"Unfortunately, our folks are going to be back in town. Van, what about your place? We'll bring the steaks and the women." Gary waggled his eyebrows at them both.

"Um, Deaq's got a bigger place," Van redirected. Van had long since moved out of the hotel, but what he had moved to was not the place of a high rolling drug dealer.

"Come on, buddy, we're all friends. We don't mind smaller. If you like us, why not have us over?"

Van looked to Deaq. It was a test, and Van's little cottage in Venice was not going to pass for this. Deaq nodded briefly. He could give up his place for a night or Billie could find Van somewhere. For that matter, he could just tell them he was still staying in a hotel providing a legitimate reason for moving the party elsewhere. He waited for Van's response.

"Well, I just moved in. Can I call you tonight to confirm? I just need to get some things in order before I entertain guests. You know how that is, right?

Gary grinned. "Oh yeah, get the bar set up, sheets on the beds, condoms in the nightstands. No problem."

The rest of the golf game was uneventful. Lunch was even pleasant. Van was now fully in the game once again. After the coffee and conversation, the brothers went off to, in their own words, "cook up some party favors" and Deaq and Van headed off to the Candy Store. Van needed an actual house before tomorrow. Well, that wasn't fair. It was true that the little place wasn't much when Van bought it, but it had cleaned up nice just like Van said it would. It suited Van.

At any rate, Deaq called Billie to warn her while they were driving in. He even offered his place, but Billie said she had another idea. Secretly, Deaq was happier that way. He liked his house. He didn't want to inadvertently host a party or end up sleeping on his own couch with Van in his bed for appearances. At last, everything was going smoothly. At least it was until they pulled up outside the Candy Store.

There was a strange car sitting out front, and just as Van wondered aloud who it belonged to, Deaq's cell rang. "Hayes."

"Deaq, we have a problem," Billie's voice informed him. "Where are you guys?"

"Right outside. Whose car?" Deaq got out of their car.

She swore like the proverbial sailor. "Can you get Van back in the car and out of here?"

Deaq looked at Van standing a few feet away gesturing at him with impatience toward the building. "Not without a reason. Not looking good, nope." Van took a few more steps toward the door. "You wanna give me a reason?"

"Make up something to tell him. I don't think he wants to come in here right now."

Deaq spun his back to his partner. Now, he understood. "It's fucking Ray-Ray, isn't it?" he whispered.

"And Mama. It's bad, Deaq."

It was Deaq's turn to play the sailor. He turned back to see Van reaching for the door. "Van! Hey, man, um, why don't we head to the grocery store to get—um, groceries for the party?"

"Is that the best you could do?" Billie screeched in his ear.

"Later." Van waved him off. "Are you coming?"

"I know, um, Billie's got your address, don't you Billie? We can go check out your new place."

It was the wrong thing to say. "That's Billie? We can go inside to talk to—wait, why is that Billie?" Deaq could almost see the light bulb coming on over his partner's head. "Why are you trying to keep me out of there? What's going on?"

"Van—" But Van was already inside the building. "Damn." Deaq hung up without another word and followed him. The scene he was witness to once inside would stay with him the rest of his life. It would be a funny story for his grandkids one day, but at that moment and for some time to come, it would just be sad and somewhat disturbing. The first thing that struck him was not what he saw, but what he heard. The loud, eardrum-piercing squeal that he was sure had dogs howling for miles assaulted him even before he saw her. Her apparently being Nancy Jo, he could only assume. His eyes were still adjusting to the inside light, but he saw her outline as she ran toward Van with her arms outstretched and—well, her inordinately large breasts bouncing. She was going to have two black eyes if she didn't stop soon, he thought.

Then his attention was drawn away from her for a moment as he realized that Van was backing up. Deaq caught him as he nearly tripped over the bumper of one of the many cars present. Van tried to brush him off and make good his escape, but just as he started to turn to run for the door, she was on him.

Nancy Jo. She was interesting in a horrifying sort of way, Deaq noted as she flung her arms around Van and squeezed him tight, still squealing, though Deaq could make out words this close up. "Oh, aren't you just precious! So adorable! I could just eat you up!" She was young. Too young! Deaq estimated her age between barely legal to early twenties, with the twenties being unlikely. She had gigantic—okay, boobs, but also hair. It was huge and frizzy, and obviously bleached to the max. And she so had to be a stripper. Deaq just could not imagine her being anything else. Problem was, she was not exactly the type of stripper one paid big bucks to see. Nope, not by a long shot. Of course, Deaq figured once she took off her top, nobody noticed much else. She wasn't ugly exactly, but she damn sure wasn't what he expected from Ray-Ray. He could have had Gretchen, that was her name, but instead, he had Nancy Jo. Van had said his father had questionable taste in women. Van was right. Ray-Ray must have been half-blind or blind drunk.

Speaking of the devil, Ray-Ray finally emerged from the shadows and approached them. Billie was not far behind, a scowl on her face that would send lesser men and smarter people running. But Deaq was tough; Ray-Ray was, too(not to mention Deaq was doubting his mental faculties at the moment), and Nancy Jo didn't exactly strike Deaq as a mental giant. As for his partner, poor Van was still trapped in the vice-like grip of his new stepmother. Poor Van. He would have needed a crowbar to get away. It wasn't Billie that spoke first though. It was Ray-Ray.

"Van! Meet Nancy Jo!" Van's father called out.

Little late for an intro, Deaq was tempted to say, but he kept quiet as Nancy Jo finally released Van from the "octo-grip" and started pinching his cheeks and baby-talking him. Oh, this was bad. Deaq was going to be ill, but he'd have to beat Van to the toilet. His partner was looking a little pale.

"Deaq! How's it hanging, my man?"

"Ray-Ray. What are you doing here? You know you're still a fugitive, man." Deaq could see in Billie's face that he had hit upon her main source of irritation.

"Nancy Jo wanted to meet Van. I was hoping I could at least drop in on my son without getting carted off to prison, guys. Tell me I'm right!" He spread one arm out wide while the other clutched his chest dramatically.

Billie's angry sigh and quick jerk of a nod was the only answer he received. "Excuse me," she turned her attention to Nancy Jo then. "Could you please stop accosting my officer? The last thing he needs is rosy cheeks and your lipstick all over him."

Deaq did a double take. Yep, there it was. He'd missed the smack on Van's forehead somehow, but sure enough, she'd left evidence behind. And Van now had more than rosy cheeks. He was seriously blushing now, the flush reaching his ears and down to the collar of his shirt. Deaq fought the sudden urge to laugh. Van would not appreciate it, and truthfully, it wasn't funny. This woman was Van's stepmother. Ew. And she was attached to him again. Ew.

Instead of acknowledging Billie, Nancy Jo released Van once again, causing Van to stumble a little, and ran to her new husband. Ew. "Oh, Ray-Ray, he's a just a doll! He's so cute. He's your son, baby, that's for sure."

"Yeah, he's a good-looking kid. Van, this is Nancy Jo," he said proudly, wrapping an arm around the woman's shoulders. He had to still be drunk, Deaq decided.

"Mama," she corrected.

Van's mouth opened then closed. It opened again and a little squeak and choking sound came out, but still no words. His mouth closed again. Interesting, Van, speechless. Who knew that could happen? Deaq turned his head away to hide the little chuckle that he just could not stop. Then he felt guilty as Van turned to him, a pleading expression in his eyes. It was then that Deaq realized that Van had not said a word through the whole scene. He'd just let it all happen around him with a sort of deer in the headlights paralysis that was suddenly quite disconcerting.

"Hey, V, you okay?" Deaq asked quietly.

A visible shiver ran through Van's body. "Deaq?" he finally said. "She's—I can't call her—oh god."

"It's okay, man."

"Van," Nancy Jo moved toward him once again, compelling Deaq to step in front of his partner. She was not getting her claws in him again.

"Dad! She's younger than me! You're younger than me, " he accused Nancy Jo. "You are not my mother. Are you even 18!"

"I'll be twenty in two weeks," she announced with a little bounce.

"Dad! Okay, okay, I'm outta here." And he was gone before Deaq could react.

"Deaq—" Billie started.

"Go with him, I know. Um, congrats, Ray-Ray, Nancy Jo." Deaq ran out of the Candy Store. Luckily, Van was waiting for him. The car was running, and Van was gripping the steering wheel so hard that his knuckles were stark white, but he had waited all the same. However, Deaq was going to have to try to get him to relinquish that steering wheel. Van was in no shape to drive, and Deaq valued his own life too much to get into that passenger's seat. He opened the driver's door. "Move over." He expected an argument, but he didn't get one. Okay, time to get Van good and drunk.