Many thanks to Mog for creating the ATF Universe that so many writers love to play in. Incidentally, why does Buck have a mustache in the Old West, but usually not in the ATF? I have my own theory that will be come to light at the end of the story. Thanks!
Late Saturday/early Sunday
The seven ATF agents sat around their usual table at Inez’s Saloon, a decent little bar not too far from the office. It was good to have a chance to finally relax. Nerves were still taut and reflexes still on edge, but the comfort of their favorite hangout combined with the camaraderie they enjoyed went a long way to getting them back to normal after a big bust. Chris quietly drank his whiskey, watching his men blow off steam in a spirited game of poker. The table talk was flying fast and furious. Buck sat next to Chris, razzing JD about everything from his hat to his love life. Josiah also felt the need to add some sage advice to the young man about the ways of love. Vin seemed intent on his cards, but anyone who knew him could tell he was checking out his surroundings at the same time. Just like Chris, he always made sure he knew what was going on around him even in someplace as casual as their favorite bar.
The night was winding down, but they decided to play a couple more hands before they all went home. Ezra dealt next, shuffling the cards like lightning. He offered Nathan the cut. The medic took it, even though he didn’t think it would make any difference.
He’d come straight out and accused Ezra of cheating a few times—something that was really starting to annoy the others. They’d taken it as good-natured ribbing at first, but it soon became clear that Nathan meant every word. It was hard to tell if Ezra was bothered by Nathan’s remarks or not. He would always just flick the cards to his co-workers with the grace of many years experience, his face betraying nothing.
The men sat for a minute contemplating their cards and grousing about their luck. The ringing of Ezra’s cell phone broke the mood.
“Standish. Yes, this is Ezra Standish. Yes, my mother’s name is Maude. Who is this?” Ezra’s jaw dropped, but he recovered quickly. “It’s good to hear from you! Forgive me for not recognizing your voice. You’re in town? Yes, yes. That would be wonderful! The Gold Star Hotel? I’ll pick you up in about fifteen minutes. Good. See you then.” Ezra disconnected. He just sat there, a slow smile spreading across his face.
The others had been concerned at first. Ezra rarely showed emotions so openly. When he’d first answered the phone he looked shocked, but now he was…happy. They’d seen Standish amused and smug and serene, but since he’d joined their team several months before they’d never seen him with a smile that actually reached his eyes.
“Well, gentlemen…and I use that term loosely, it seems I must fold.”
“Somethin’ the matter, Ezra?”
“Not at all, Mr. Tanner. An old friend is in town and wishes to get together. And since the evening here is winding down…”
Now Buck’s interest was really piqued. Someone from Ezra’s past. Maybe they’d get to find out a little something about their tight-lipped undercover agent. “Well, hey, Pard. Why don’t you invite this friend of yours on over for a quick drink? We don’t bite.”
Josiah noticed the slight tightening of Ezra’s neck muscles and decided to spare his friend from an uncomfortable reply. “Brother Buck. Surely Ezra and his friend have a lot of catching up to do. It’s difficult to reminisce around people you don’t know.”
Ezra gave Josiah a slight nod of thanks. “Quite right, Mr. Sanchez. I fear we would bore you with our many ‘you-had-to-be-there’ stories.” He stood up, brushing lint from his sweater. A wide grin still lit his face. “I shall see you all later. Have a pleasant evening…or early morning, if you will.” He gave them all a two-fingered salute and strode out of the bar.
JD threw his cards in, too. “It’s too bad Ezra didn’t want to invite his friend over. I betcha he has a lot of great stories.”
Chris studied his hand. “What makes you think it’s a ‘he’, JD?”
Nathan frowned. “You think it’s a woman? Maybe she’s an ex-girlfriend. I bet he’s afraid she’ll give us all the dirt on him. That’s why he doesn’t want us to meet her.”
Josiah sighed in frustration. Nathan was his friend, but sometimes…
Buck slapped a hand on the table. “I got it!”
JD snorted. “Well, whatever it is, don’t spread it around.”
Buck smacked JD good-naturedly on the back of the head. “You wish you had what I got, Kid. That’s what keeps the ladies comin’ back for more. What I meant was I’m sure it’s gotta be a woman. Ol’ Ez doesn’t want to bring her around because he’s afraid of the competition. He wouldn’t have a chance with her against my animal magnetism.”
Chris swirled the dark liquid in his glass. “You just keep telling yourself that, Buck. Everybody needs an active fantasy life.”
“Well, what else could it be?”
“He did seem a mite nervous when Buck asked him to have his friend come to the bar.” Vin knew Ezra was a private person, but he thought they’d at least gotten him to open up some. “Maybe he was just embarrassed ‘bout his friend tellin’ us personal stuff. Either way, it don’t matter. It’s Ez’s business.”
“Well said, Brother. Well said.”
Buck didn’t say another word about it, but he wasn’t going to let it go. He had the idea in his head now that Ezra went to see a woman. He wanted details and he knew Ez would never give them any. After they finished the hand, he made his excuses to the others and quit the game. He grabbed a protesting JD and practically dragged him out to the truck.
“Buck! What’s the matter with you?”
“You and me are going for a little ride.”
JD saw that look in Buck’s eyes. Trouble. “Oh, no, Buck! I know what you’re up to and I’m not getting involved! It’s none of our business. How would you like it if we followed you around when you went out?”
“Well, Kid. If I was going out on a date, maybe you’d learn something by watching me.”
“Yeah. Learn what not to do! Seriously, Buck. Not everybody’s an exhibitionist like you—especially Ezra. If he finds out you followed him, he’s gonna kill you.”
“Then we’d better make sure he doesn’t find out.”