Joe was right – it had been a nice evening for a drive. He'd taken a slightly different route to get to Lundy's home, as he was still working on learning the streets of his new city. He'd made a lot of progress, and was now very comfortable driving in the areas surrounding the major city centers, but he was still working on getting his bearings when on the outskirts of town. LaFiamma turned the Cobra into his partner's driveway, and parked the car alongside the Jimmy.

Getting out of the vehicle, Joe made his way up the walk, climbed the porch steps, and knocked on the door.

There was no answer, and there didn't appear to be any lights on in the house. The latter was normal – Lundy was perfectly at ease navigating the house in the dark, and often couldn't be bothered to use the lights – and the former was no less than Joe expected.

Joe tried the door, and was pleased to find it locked for once.

About time he started taking home security a little more seriously – nothing quite like getting ambushed by a psycho in your own home to bring you on board.

LaFiamma took a moment to consider his options. He could just get Lundy's spare key from its hiding place and go through the house; or he could walk around to the back to see if his partner was in the stable. He decided on the walk, as he figured chances were good he'd end up checking the stable anyway. As he rounded the corner at the back of the house, he found his instincts had been correct – the house may have been dark, but the stable wasn't.

He turned his steps to the path that led to the small outbuilding, enjoying the short stroll – it was still light out, though full dark would be falling in about an hour or so, and there were some birds singing nearby. The temperature had come down to a comfortable level after the heat of the day, and the evening air was pleasant. As he entered the building, Joe was careful to call out ahead, not wishing to startle his partner.

"Hey, Lundy – you there?"

"Yep – I'll be awhile, though. C'mon in an' find a spot to set yourself 'til I'm done here – or you can wait in the house if you'd rather."

"I should be good here," LaFiamma replied, following his partner's voice to find Levon with Fooler.

The horse's halter was tied to a sturdy hook on the wall, the rope having plenty of slack to allow the horse free movement of his head, and Lundy appeared to be giving the animal a massage.

"Decided to treat your horse to a spa day?" Joe cracked.

"You'd know about those, wouldn't ya?" Levon grinned. "Horse care 101, LaFiamma – after you work a horse, you gotta take care of 'im. Already sponged 'im down, dried 'im off, picked out his feet, treated his hooves, and I'm almost done rubbin' him down. Gotta finish grooming 'im after that and then clean off the tack and get it back where it belongs."

"Anything I can help with?"

"If ya don't mind gettin' your hands a little dirty, you can wipe down the tack for me – there's a bar of soap and a sponge by the bucket over yonder. Water in it should still be warm – just dampen the sponge, wipe it on the soap, then wipe down the leather. Don't get any soap on the bit, though – horses don't like soap in their mouths any more'n people do. An' when you're done with the saddle, run over it with the towel there, make sure it's dry."

"Got it."

As Joe started to clean the tack, Levon picked up two of the brushes he had ready, one in each hand, and started to work on Fooler's coat, beginning with the animal's forequarters.

"So – what brings you out here? Wasn't expectin' to see ya until tomorrow," Lundy asked.

"I felt like having a few games of pool – thought I'd ask if you wanted to join me."

"You drove out here just for that? Coulda called."

"Yeah, well I figured you might still be out. Besides, it's nice weather for a drive – and it was a chance to get more familiar with the roads out here," Joe replied.

"Not a bad idea – either of 'em. How are we doin' for time, partner?"

"I guess that depends on how long we're gonna be here."

"Short answer ta that is we'll be here 'til we're done," Levon smiled, "but I reckon I'll be finished in about fifteen minutes, and it shouldn't take more' n that for ya to finish up the tack. I'll only need a couple more minutes to get myself cleaned up after that."

"In that case, we should be good for a couple of games."

"Sounds good."

As they worked, Joe noted how his partner interacted with his horse. Levon wasn't a talkative sort by nature, but he seemed to speak to Fooler quite a bit as he went about the task of grooming the animal, and Joe couldn't help commenting.

"I think you talk to that horse more than you do to me – that because he doesn't talk back?"

"I can guarantee you know what I'm thinkin' right now, LaFiamma," Levon snickered.

"Yes, I know," Joe said with a roll of his eyes, "you get more sense outta the horse than you do outta me. I knew I was leaving myself wide open for that one too, thank you very much. Seriously though, is there a reason for it? I'm curious."

"Yeah, there's a reason," Levon said, taking a moment to change brushes as he answered. "Horses are prey animals – an' their natural reaction to anythin' that gives 'em a start is to run away. And if they can't run away – say, because they're tethered – they panic. Every horse has a different temperament, but in general they can spook easy – best to avoid startlin' them in the first place. Talking to 'em as you work helps keep 'em calm, lets 'em know where you are."

Joe nodded, mentally filing the information away. While he had no idea how long his exile was going to last, he figured as long as he was in Texas and there was a chance he might be around horses at times, it made sense to have at least some basic knowledge about them.

"How many times do you brush him, anyway? Thought you were done a minute ago..."

"Usually three – but since I rubbed 'im down real good, I figured I could skip usin' the curry comb this time. First go-through is to loosen any dirt an' get the blood flowin' to the horse's skin, second one is to get rid of the dirt and any hair he's shedding; third one's just to polish 'im up some."

"I didn't realize just how much work was involved in looking after a horse," Joe commented.

Levon shrugged.

"Ain't much different than keepin' any other animal – just that horses are more useful than most."

"Yeah, but most people have pets for companionship more than anything else."

"Ya think I don't get that from Fooler? Or that he don't get that from me?" Levon asked, chuckling. "Thought you were payin' attention – but then, you probably don't know what to look for, bein' a city boy an' all."

"Whattaya mean?"

"Well, lessen you've been keeping some equestrian skills secret since ya got here, ya don't know anythin' about horse behaviour. Did ya notice him hangin' his head over my shoulder a few minutes ago, or hear 'im nicker when I brushed one spot on his side?"

Joe nodded.

"Dogs come and sit next to you, cats purr when you stroke 'em – it's the same kind o' thing," Levon said.

"I guess so – but it's not like Fooler's gonna fetch your paper or sit in your lap."

"Maybe not," Levon agreed, "but then it ain't like you can ride a cat or a dog."

"Depends on the dog," Joe said with a smile. "My cousin Vic had a Newfoundland that was the size of a small bear. All of us kids used to take turns riding him."

"Unless he could jump fences with you on 'is back, it don't count."

"Point," Joe conceded, chuckling. "Where should I put this stuff when I finish with it?"

"Tack room's just around the corner – just match up what you have to what you see hangin' in there already, an' you should be able to sort it out fine. Try not to tangle anything."

LaFiamma gave a mock salute and went to put away the reins he had been working on. When he came back into the room, Lundy had a sudden question for him.

"Hey Joe – you ain't ever ridden a horse before, have you?"

"Nope – the only horses I ever had an interest in were under the hood of a car. Some of my cousins had lessons when we were growing up though, and I think the Gs still go every now and again. Why do you ask?"

"The Gs?"

"My uncle Rico's three daughters – Giuseppina, Giovanna and Giulietta," Joe explained. "They always ran as a pack when we were kids, and they still do now that they're grown up. Aunt Teresa started calling them 'the Gs' to save time one day, and it stuck. So is there any particular reason you were asking your other question?"

"Not really – was just curious, since ya seemed ta be showin' an interest there. If you ever decide you do wanna learn, let me know. I got some friends that run a school not far from here."

"Thanks, I'll keep that in mind." Joe paused then smirked. "What, you wouldn't trust me with your horse, Lundy?"

"I wouldn't trust him with you, more like," Levon replied, his voice serious. "Not ta start off with, anyway. Fooler's got a good temperament overall, but he likes to push the boundaries sometimes. He'd be tryin' to boss ya for sure, an' that's a distraction a new rider doesn't need."

"Boss me?"

"Herd behaviour," Levon explained. "Horses have a pecking order in the herd. They don't much care where they are in it, but they like to know where they stand. With a strange horse, or a person they don't know, they might act up, tryin' to figure out who outranks who – that can mean biting, shoving, or kicking. Fooler ain't a biter, and he don't normally kick unless he's got reason to, but he has his moments. Once ya had a little experience, you'd be fine with 'im though. It's just a matter of convincin' the horse that you're the one in charge."

"So, they're kind of like dogs then – you gotta establish yourself as the leader of the pack?"

"Somethin' like that."

The two men worked in companionable silence for a few more minutes – long enough for Joe to finish with the tack. He put the rest of the gear away as his partner put the finishing touches on Fooler's coat.

"Hey Lundy – is there a place where the cleaning gear goes?"

"The corner closet in the tack room - you'll see there's a sink right close to it, you can empty the bucket out there. Oh, and there's some beer in that closet too – bring me one, would ya?"

After emptying the bucket and stowing the cleaning gear, Joe found the beer and took one. He was surprised to see it was a foreign brew, and wondered at his partner's sudden craving for warm beer.

I know this stuff is good when it's cool and properly poured, but at room temperature? Yuck, Joe thought wrinkling his nose.

"You know, Chicken's got all the cold beer we want – and the drive in isn't that long," Joe said, returning to the main room.

Lundy just laughed as he untied Fooler.

"Ain't for me," he said, leading the animal to his stall. "You couldn't pay me to drink that stuff warm."

"Well it's not like I'm gonna drink it either..." Joe stopped mid-sentence, putting two and two together. "You're kidding me."

"Nope," Levon answered with a grin as he removed Fooler's halter, hanging it on a nearby hook after leaving the stall, and closing the door. He headed to the sturdy metal garbage can he used as a feed bin, smoothly undoing the bungee cords that secured the lid. He placed a measure of grain and chaff in a feed bucket then held out his hand to Joe for the beer. Joe passed the bottle to his partner, who opened the bottle, poured it over the feed, and stirred the mixture well before heading back to Fooler's stall.

"You give Guinness to your horse?" Joe asked incredulously.

The gelding neighed, leaning over the wall as Levon approached.

"I'm comin', I'm comin' – I swear you're gonna make Joe think I never feed you at all. Fooler, back – back now," Lundy ordered.

To Joe's surprise the horse retreated at Levon's command, giving him room to hang the bucket over the door. Once that was done, the horse eagerly went to his dinner with a contented nicker. As Fooler began eating, Lundy checked the animal's water supply. Satisfied that his horse's needs were met, he went to secure the feed bin again as Joe stood waiting.

"I just can't believe you buy Guinness for your horse," Joe said, amused.

"An' why not? He likes it – it's good for his coat too."

"I've seen you split hairs over a dollar on a restaurant tab – and you shell out on imported stout for your horse?"

"Everybody's got their priorities – you got your fancy car an' your fancy clothes, I got my horse."

"Fair enough," Joe said, shaking his head.

Done at the bin, Lundy replaced his hat on its hook, and put away the grooming equipment before once more going to the stall door. Fooler looked up from his feed, and Lundy smiled, stroking the animal's neck once more. The horse brought his nose up to Lundy's face and blew gently, and to LaFiamma's amusement, Levon returned the gesture as he reached a hand up to scratch behind Fooler's ear, and the horse in turn nuzzled at the man's shoulder.

"All right now, boy, we'll see you tomorrow," Lundy said as he bestowed a final pat to the horse's neck before turning to join his partner.

"About time," Joe said, smirking as Levon approached. "I was about to ask if you two wanted a minute alone."

"Someday, LaFiamma, you'll understand," Lundy said with a grin. "Maybe I oughtta bring you out ta that riding school – if we can get you up on a horse, we'll turn you into a real Texan yet."

"That'll be the day," LaFiamma replied with a shudder, as they exited the stable and started walking to the house.

"O' course, we'd have to get you into some decent footwear first," Lundy mused, eyes alight with humour.

"The day you see me in cowboy boots will be the day of my funeral," Joe shot back. "That way you'll finally get one over on me, and I'll be too dead to care about the fashion crime."

"Riding boots ain't gotta be cowboy boots – they just gotta have a heel, to make sure your foot doesn't go through the stirrup," Levon replied. "If you got hiking boots, they'd work just as well. Although," he continued, his voice teasing, "if you're all concerned about quality footwear, Lucchese's gonna be havin' a sale next week..."

"No thanks," Joe said firmly. "They might be Italian, and they might be good quality, but a well-made cowboy boot is still a cowboy boot. I do have some hiking boots though – one of my old girlfriends was into camping."

"You were into camping?" Lundy asked in disbelief.

"I was into her," LaFiamma corrected. "She was into camping; therefore, I was into camping. Besides, it wasn't so bad. She was pretty hard-core – she taught wilderness survival courses for fun – but she made sure that when we went, it was nothing I couldn't handle."

"What, cabins with room service?" Lundy asked as he unlocked the back door of the house and walked into the kitchen, followed by his partner.

"No, smartass," Joe said sourly as he closed the door behind them and Lundy turned on the lights. "Tents and campgrounds, but nothing too remote. It wasn't really my thing, but I had fun. And anyway," he said with a wolfish smile as he reminisced, "it was worth the strange bruises and bug bites in stranger places every time."

His partner only chuckled softly in response as he toed out of his boots.

"Keep your shoes on if ya want, LaFiamma – I'll just be a couple minutes gettin' cleaned up – just don't track on the carpet, hear?" Lundy said.

"Yes, mother," Joe sing-songed. Heading toward the main bathroom, Levon threw his dirty work shirt at his partner in response, but the Italian neatly ducked out of the way.

"I'm not picking that up, just so you know," Joe called as he went to wash his hands at the kitchen sink.

Lundy's response wasn't quite audible, but LaFiamma was sure it was rude – or at least, as rude as the Texan was likely to be under the circumstances.

Joe grinned to himself. Lundy wasn't given to profanity as a general rule, so getting him annoyed enough to swear – really swear – generally took some work. Joe-Bill had once told LaFiamma that he'd heard Levon swear only three times in the six years they'd worked together prior to Joe's transfer to Houston. However, McCandless had then added that he had given up keeping track of Lundy's swearing within two days of LaFiamma's arrival.

Mind you, if anyone at the station had known me before, they'd know that while I do vent a lot, I don't tend to curse that much either – or at least I didn't until I got partnered with Levon. Not sure why that is either – we might be completely different people, but in a lot of ways we're too much alike for our own good, I guess.

Finished at the sink, Joe dried his hands with some kitchen towels, and then pulled out a kitchen chair to wait. It was only a couple of minutes before Levon reappeared in a clean shirt and the jeans he had worn to work earlier in the day.

"Ready to go, partner?" Joe asked, getting up from the chair.

"Almost," Lundy replied, locking the back door. "Let's go out the front, an' I'll just get the rest of my stuff on the way."

Joe followed his partner closely and carefully, as with the kitchen lights now turned off the house was dark, and he had no desire to trip over anything. Lundy collected his jacket, hat and keys as they made their way to the front entrance, and then stopped to pull on his boots.

"Okay – let's go. We takin' one vehicle or both?"

"Seems pointless to take 'em both, and we spend plenty of time in the Jimmy as it is. C'mon Lundy, I'll drive. The weather's still perfect for an open car, and God knows when it might be again."

With that the two men exited the house, arguing cheerfully about the Texan climate and the practicality of different vehicles as they made their way back into town.