* * *
Ezra & Vin
* * *
With thanks and apologies to Walter Mirisch, John Watson, Trilogy
Productions, CBS, Maria Mogavero, and Jimmy Buffett and friends, and
proceeding under the assumption that forgiveness is easier to ask than
* * *
YOU'LL NEVER WORK IN DIS BIDNESS
* * *
They told me before I started
That it never ever would work out
Stay in school, don't be a fool
But I had to see what life is about
So I went to Biloxi seeking fortune and fame
I got hired
I got fired
I got called dirty names
You'll never never work in dis bidness again
No you'll never, no never
Never work in dis bidness again
YOU'LL NEVER WORK IN DIS BIDNESS AGAIN -- Jimmy Buffett, Michael Utley,
Melamed, Josh Leo, Willie Weeks & Matt Betton
* * *
"Come *on*, guys!"
JD Dunne whirled the desk chair impatiently, sending it into a spinning
It was Friday evening, and after hours for the staff at the ATF office, but
Chris Larabee's team had been working late writing their reports about the
previous night's operation. In celebration of a job well done, Larabee had
promised them all a party at the little bar down the street, and JD was
chafing at their delayed departure. He gave another twist to the chair,
sending it once more into riotous whirling. "Buck! Where the hell are you?"
A crumpled paper cup hit the back of the young man's head, and he spun
around. "Calm down, son." Buck Wilmington's mustache crinkled in a grin as
he peered around the doorframe of his office, then hurriedly ducked back out
of sight when a Pink Pearl eraser flew in his direction. His big hand
reached out and grabbed it from the air and he leaned back into JD's view,
shaking the missle at its launcher.
"Now, JD, don't be losin' Miss Bell's eraser ... we all know how bad
JD laughed as he fielded the well-worn eraser that Buck tossed back
"Hell, Vin needs it worse," he said. "He's gonna burn out the motor on the
shredder redoing his report."
Chris Larabee appeared in the door of his own office, loosened his tie
tugged it from his collar. "Vin's doing just fine, JD," he said, a hint of
reprimand in his voice.
"Relax, JD," said Josiah Sanchez in a firm voice. "Vin's just
thorough." Josiah threaded his way gracefully through the empty desks in the
bullpen secretarial area, dropped his hands on JD's shoulders, and shook him
affectionately. "We'll go on ... he can catch up with us."
"Yeah, JD," laughed Nathan Jackson as he joined the group. "You
writin' first, but that don't mean you turn in a better report than Vin
does." He stretched his arms in the air, almost touching the accoustical
ceiling; the popping of his shoulder joints was audible and made the others
"Jeezus, Nathan," winced Buck, "do you *have* to do that?"
"Stretch? Yeah ... all that typin' makes me stiff."
"That sound gives me the creeps."
"Oh yeah?" said Nathan. "Well, I ain't never said nothin' about
in your office. You think we enjoy that?"
The others chuckled; JD collapsed into the chair he'd been spinning,
over with laughter. Buck turned red. "These offices are supposed to be
sound-proof," he muttered.
"Face it, Buck ... you're just a powerful force of nature," said Josiah.
This sent everyone into unrestrained guffaws except the powerful force
himself, who instead turned bright red.
"I appear to have missed something," drawled Ezra Standish as he strolled
into the room. "Care to enlighten me?"
"Just havin' a laugh at Buck's expense," said Nathan.
"Well, then, you must fill me in on the way to our little gathering,"
Ezra, straightening his silk tie.
"Aw, Ezra, we can't go yet ... Vin's still working on his damn report,"
griped JD. "I wish he could write as good as he can shoot. We should've
blown out of here an hour ago."
"JD..." Chris said again.
The laser printer shared by the entire office fired up with its distinctive
whir. "Finally," JD muttered. He got to his feet and walked over to the
machine, pulled the first sheet out of the tray, and scanned it. "Jeez ...
He's got spellcheck and grammar tools on his computer, but he still writes
like a kid!"
"I'll take that, JD," said a soft drawl.
None of them had heard the cowboy boots on the carpet. Vin Tanner
quietly up to JD and extended his hand; embarrassed into silence, the young
agent turned over the sheet of paper. Eyes lowered, Vin picked up the
half-dozen remaining sheets of the report from the printer tray and fanned
through them. "Seems I still got some work to do on this," he murmured
without looking up. "Y'all go on without me."
"S'okay, JD," said Vin, his eyes still glued to the paper. "I'll
later. You and Buck save a beer for me." The six men watched as their
coworker headed back to his office.
"Shit." JD sat on the edge of a desk, his own eyes on the floor.
walked over and cuffed him on the side of the head, none too gently.
"You'd best plan on buyin' that first beer for him, boy," growled the
man. "And all the others after that."
"I'm sorry," said JD in a subdued voice. "I didn't mean for him
"It's usually wise to think before you speak, son," said Josiah softly.
nodded, and hung his head. An awkward silence fell.
"I'll go talk to him," said Chris, starting for Vin's office.
Ezra casually stepped in front of the taller man, and just as casually
dropped his hand to the pocket of his tailored slacks and assumed a rueful
smile. "Gentlemen, I suggest we follow Mr. Tanner's suggestion. Inez is
holding our table for us ... we oughtn't keep her waiting. Why don't y'all
go on ahead to the 'saloon'," he said, using the name the team jokingly
applied to the small bar they frequented. "I seem to have left my wallet in
my briefcase; I'll retrieve it, look in on our coworker, and be right behind
Chris and Josiah looked at each other and then at Ezra's slacks; the
manicured hand seemed to be covering a bulge in the front pocket that looked
suspiciously like a wallet. But they said nothing. "We'll order your first
round, Ezra," said Josiah. He and Buck each took one of JD's arms and tugged
the dejected young agent to his feet. "Let's go, JD."
"See you there, Ezra," said Nathan as he fell into step with the three
Chris looked again at Ezra's back as the southerner disappeared down the
hall, frowned, but turned and followed the others in the opposite direction,
toward the elevators.
* * *
Ezra stood in the door of Vin's office for a moment, looking around. He
never ceased to be intrigued at the way his coworkers had decorated their
individual workplaces. His own office had remained determinedly sterile.
Previous dismissals, coupled with bitter memories of carrying cardboard boxes
to his car, had left the southerner with an almost superstitious feeling that
the moment he brought something personal into his work area, he would lose
this job which had become so important to him. Ezra's desk was occupied by
his computer, the accessories that the office manager had ordered for him, a
pair of In and Out boxes with the contents neatly stacked, and nothing else.
In marked contrast, the offices of the six men he worked with were clear
reflections of their occupants. Chris' desk and office furniture were piled
high with files and paperwork. Almost lost among the stacks of reference
books on the credenza behind his chair, but noted on the first visit by
Ezra's sharp eye, were a small silver frame holding a picture of a smiling
young woman and a toddler, and a single brass spur. Buck and JD had toys
scattered everywhere, a custom that had started when JD had joined the team
and Buck had presented him with a squirt gun. JD had retaliated with a
dartboard that had Buck's picture hot-glued to the center, and the gift
exchange had continued from there. Among other things, Buck's desk now
sported a model of a nude woman, her bright plastic organs visible beneath
her transparent skin and a miniature Hawaiian lei around her neck. JD's desk
was littered with a mixture of CD ROMs, Zip discs, and the parts for a scale
model of a classic Indian WWI messenger's motorcycle which he'd been trying
to assemble for months. Like their team leaders' workplace, Josiah's and
Nathan's offices were piled high with books of all kinds. In addition,
though, Nathan's window was lined with carefully tended plants and his walls
held framed copies of his degrees and citations, while Josiah's displayed
prints of historical sites from around the world.
Vin's office was Ezra's favorite, and he often dropped in not only to
the insightful Texan in an occasional quiet session of shop talk, but also to
enjoy the relaxed ambience the man's workplace offered. Inexpensive frame
shop prints of Western scenes by Remington and Russell, a desert sunset by
Georgia O'Keefe, and photographs of American Indians, shared the walls with a
signed and numbered Erte lithograph of a semi-nude woman walking with wolves
that Ezra had seen Vin admire in a gallery window and purchased for him.
Nathan had installed a ficus Nitida and a spathiphyllum Mauna Loa, while Vin
himself had accumulated several cacti of varying sizes on his windowsill. A
small wooden carving of a howling coyote perched on the top of the computer
terminal amid a handful of arrowheads and pottery shards the young agent had
picked up on camping trips in the southwest.
And resting in a prominent spot on the desk was a brass spur; the twin
one Chris Larabee possessed.
Ezra strolled into the office, settled into one of the leather chairs,
reached for the spur. A flick of his finger set the rowel to spinning. Buck
had bought the spurs in an antique shop and broken the set between the two
men. It was the big-hearted man's uncharactistically subtle way of giving
his blessing to the friendship that had grown between his oldest friend and
the newer member of the team. Ezra watched the rowel's motion slow and
finally stop, fought down a brief pang of envy at what the three men shared,
and tried to think of what to say to the man who sat behind the desk. A man
whose quiet acceptance had come to mean a great deal to Ezra.
Vin allowed him no time to decide on the right words. "Ezra, get
out of here," he said conversationally, never taking his eyes from the
"The boy meant nothing by it," said Ezra gently.
"Nothing wrong with him that time won't cure."
"Same goes for me."
"That doesn't seem to be the case."
"None of your business."
Ezra sighed. "Mr. Tanner, right now I'm missing a party because
two of the
men I work with are at odds with each other. One more is fretting because
he's not in here playing mother hen to you, and the other three are brooding
over the situation. I'd much rather be sitting at a table in the bar down
the street having a drink and listening to you six harangue each other in
your usual friendly fashion ... it's a perk of this job that I've grown
accustomed to and rather fond of."
"Sorry to be crampin' your style, Ezra," drawled Vin sarcastically.
ain't gonna get this damned thing written any faster with you sittin' there
chafin' my butt."
"No pressure here, Mr. Tanner, I assure you," replied Ezra. "I
wondering if I might assist you in some fashion."
"I've read your reports," Ezra persisted. "You could use some help."
"I ain't no Hemingway."
"You could be better than you are."
Vin shoved his chair back from the desk and turned burning blue eyes
"Don't patronize me," he warned. "They're just police reports. Who the
"I think you do."
"Dammit!" Vin's patience suddenly flared beyond its limit.
He slammed his
palms on the desk, then pushed his chair back and got to his feet. "I write
like shit. I *know* I write like shit! JD knows it too ... so do all the
secretaries, *and* the main office. And Chris." He stalked to the window,
his back stiff, his shoulders hunched. "I know it embarrasses him in front of
the brass to sign off on my reports. But they ain't never gonna be any
"They could be much better," repeated the southerner. "Let me show you how."
"Give it up, Ezra," Vin said bitterly. "I didn't need no books
to teach me
about life ... the orphanage and the Army taught me plenty. I made it
through school by the skin of my teeth. Worked my way through college takin'
care of rich folks' horses, bribin' their kids' tutors to help me out, and
bluffin' the rest. I've paid my dues, I'm damn good at what I do, and I
figure I've saved your educated butts often enough for you to cut me some
Ezra sighed. It was true. Vin's street savvy, well-honed
skilled gunhand had made a difference to all of them, many times. He stood
and walked to the window to stand shoulder to shoulder with the younger man.
When he spoke his voice was soft, but urgent.
"You're right, Vin. In point of fact, I owe you for a hell of
a lot more
than my life. But I always took you for a fair man; I thought you'd be
gracious enough to allow me to pay my debt without scorning the coin in which
that payment is offered."
Vin frowned; he faced Ezra for the first time, and was taken aback at
unguarded eyes that met his searching look. He masked his surprise with dry
humor. "Even I ain't dumb enough to take Confederate money," he drawled,
taking the sting from the remark with a rare grin.
Ezra let go the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.
"Well, then, perhaps you might be persuaded to take it out in trade,"
said, lifting one hand toward the computer.
Vin took a deep breath, and nodded. "Okay. But no ten dollar
Chris'll accuse me of havin' a ghost writer."
"I trust you'll cover my back in future operations and ensure that
pessimistic scenario does not become a reality."
Vin took a moment to sort out what Ezra had said, then laughed out loud
walked back to his desk. Ezra dragged a chair up next to him, and the two
men leaned over the keyboard, shoulder to shoulder.
"Now," Ezra began, "you're very good at telling stories, Vin.
telling the computer the story of what happened last night, just the way
you'd tell the rest of us if we were sitting together down at the saloon."
Vin scrolled back to the beginning of his report, and began to hunt
his way across the keys. "At least the computer won't interrupt me," he
"No, but I will," said Ezra. "Stay in the same tense ... don't
past to present to past again. And just because your spellcheck says a word
is correct, that doesn't mean the usage is. There are some easy rules to
"Indeed," Ezra assured him. "Take the words 'lay' and 'laid.'
'I lay down
on the bed. I laid my coat on the bed. I lied the woman into the bed.'" He
waited to see if Vin had caught the joke.
Vin had. "I'll bet that one is easy for Buck to remember," he said.
"Mr. Wilmington picked it up right away," nodded Ezra. "Now, regarding
* * *
Inez looked up from the bar as two of her favorite customers walked through
the door together. From the moment she had served the first round to the
five men who already sat at their regular table in a corner of the room, Inez
had sensed the tension among them and wondered what it might have to do with
the missing two of their number. Now she looked to Chris Larabee and Josiah
Sanchez, the emotional barometers of the group, for a reading on the
situation. From the expressions on their faces as they greeted the
newcomers, Inez could see that whatever had been awry was no longer a
problem. She smiled to herself in relief, filled a mug with cold draft and a
chilled flute with champagne and, carefully balancing the drinks on her tray,
rounded the end of the bar with a grace that drew every male eye in the
place. She arrived at the table just as the two latecomers were taking their
"Good evening, gentlemen," she said cheerfully, and set the drinks down.
"Hey, Inez," nodded Vin. "Thanks." He took a long pull at
his beer. Ezra
accepted the glass of champagne and reached for the hand that had offered it,
gracing the fingers with a brush of his lips. "Gracias," he said, carefully
rolling the "r" as she had taught him.
"Very good, senor," Inez said encouragingly. "Now, you must try
someone who doesn't know you, and perhaps she will be impressed."
"You wound me, Inez," said Ezra in mock hurt, as Buck burst out laughing.
Vin looked across the table at JD, whose attention was determinedly
on his beer mug. "Hey, kid," he said softly, "you want to pass those
pretzels over here?"
The boy looked up, and Vin's gut twisted as he saw the guilt shadowing
guileless brown eyes. *Gotta fix that,* he thought, fishing a pretzel out of
"I got a favor to ask," he said aloud. "Can I come over to your
afternoon? Gotta change the spark plugs on my Harley. Maybe do your ride,
too? We can pool our tools, have a few beers ... four hands make an easier
JD's face lit up for a moment, then doubt flickered across it, and the
returned. "I'm sorry, Vin," he started, but Vin cut him off.
"For what? For losin' my three-quarter rachet? You're right
... I ain't
never gonna forgive you for that, so don't even bring it up no more. You buy
the beer, and we'll forget about it."
JD frowned and opened his mouth, but Buck nudged him with his broad
and fixed gentle blue eyes on his young friend. Eyes that said, *He ain't
talkin' about the wrench, kid. Don't embarrass him no more with it.*
JD hesitated, then turned back to Vin and smiled. "How about I
pick you up
and we hit Pep Boys together, and I replace that wrench?"
"I ain't piggybackin' on that Hot Wheels toy of yours, kid."
"Well, I'll borrow Buck's truck."
"You'll *what*?" protested Buck. "Only if I'm drivin' it!"
He grabbed a
pretzel from the bowl and pitched it at JD, who ducked; the snack hit Nathan
square in the forehead. Josiah burst out laughing. As one, Buck, Vin and JD
reached for the pretzel bowl. Inez looked up from the bar and called out,
"Buck Wilmington, you start another food fight in here and I'm throwing you
Chris met Ezra's eyes across the table, and a hint of a smile tugged
corner of the team leaders's mouth. Ezra lifted his glass in a silent toast.
A pretzel landed in it, splashing a generous amount of Korbel Brut onto
Ezra's silk tie. Everyone at the table froze.
Calmly, Ezra fished the projectile from the champagne flute and fixed
green eyes on the offender. "Inez," he drawled, "another glass, please. On
Mr. Dunne's tab. And we seem to need more pretzels." With a flick of his
wrist, he sailed the wet dough in his hand directly into JD's beer mug.
"You're on *my* team, Ezra," said Vin, scooting his chair closer to
southerner and dropping a handful of pretzels on the table in front of him.
Ezra nodded. *So it seems,* he thought.
And, smiling, he picked up another pretzel.