Clothes Make the Man
Disclaimers: This is a completely fluffy offering based on the episode "Working Girls", in which the question of exactly how Ezra Standish came to be attired in the purple gown is addressed. Artistic licence has been employed. The boys of M7 are not mine, but I would be happy to take them off the hands of those who own them, with or without the matching outfits which are, of course, sold separately.
"Walks awful graceful, dont he?"
Vin should have known it couldnt be that easy. Just him and Chris deciding all on their own that Ezra should don a disguise to distract the menfolk when they all rode into Wickestown to find out what had happened to Mary. Hed caught Chris grinning too, at the picture the gambler made as he swept, with perfect poise and regal bearing, elegantly down those steps, and knew that his friends thoughts had taken the same path as his own. But for some reason Chris didnt seem too anxious to get the show on the road, and figured he should get the boys together to see what opinions they might have in the matter. Vin liked this bunch that he had recently fallen in with, but if he was to be completely honest with himself, belonging to a group such as this made doing anything way more complicated than anything ever needed to be. He was used to deciding what had to be done and doing it. None of this seeing things from another perspective or running it by the boys or coming to a meeting of the minds baloney that was even now being bandied about in the face of this latest dilemma. He leaned back in his chair and took a thoughtful sip of his Red Eye. Nope, nothing was simple where his lot was concerned. So he might as well settle down and enjoy himself- it was going to be a long afternoon.
"Josiahs out. Buck too. And Nathan. Theyre all too tall." JD squinted up at his friends. "And they arent real pretty. Sorry guys."
"Hold on a minute there, JD. There aint no call t be insultin. Ill have you know that my Mamma always said I had skin any woman would envy. I always took real good care a this face. Im sure yave all noticed I aint got a single scar nowheres on this handsome mug of mine, and I think its all thanks to this little tip I got from Madame Zola when me and Mammas livin in Colby Falls. She showed me how t make up a paste from the insides a this cactus and whenever I find one, I do up enough salve t last me a month or more. I got some up t my room right now, and I got t say Chris, I think you should come on up and see me. Yer gettin these lines around yer eyes and between yer eyebrows. Ya bin frownin too much and its makin ya look old."
Buck sat forward in his chair and cocked his head to one side as he peered up under his friends hat.
"Bucks right, Cowboy. Ya know Id be the last one t say anythin, but ya have bin slowin down a mite this last goin off. Hell, it were jist yesterday ya couldnt even git yerself outta yer chair without help. Good thing I come along t give ya a hand." Vin downed the last of his drink and reached for the bottle to pour himself another. He slouched once more into his chair and put the glass up to his lips so Chris couldnt see him smile. "See? Yer doin it now- yer frownin. And mebbe ya shouldnt be clenchin yer teeth like that neither. Yer gittin these lines around yer mouth too, and they aint real becomin."
Vin had to choke back the laugh that he could feel building in his chest. He could almost feel the fire of Chriss glare blistering across the table, and pulled his hat down over his eyes to escape the heat. He could hear the low growl building in Chriss throat and braced himself for the blast he knew was coming.
"I wouldnt have any trouble getting myself to my feet if it werent for mangy no good trackers who got nothing better to do than lasso a man and tie him to his chair when hes taking a few minutes relaxation after a hard days work."
"I was doin yall a favour Chris. Yous sittin there in front a the saloon and lookin like yous about ready t slide right outta yer seat and onta the ground. Jist didnt want ya hurtin yerself, Pard, and this is the thanks I git. Bsides, young folk dont go noddin off in the middle of the day. Praps iffen ya got a hankerin fer a nap ya should git yerself off somewheres quiet. Old man Jenkins got the right idea- he usually settles hisself down outside the undertakers first thing after lunch. Is pretty sure if ya asked nice, hed share space with ya on his bench."
Chris looked as if he wasnt ready to let the matter drop, and Vin was glad when Buck went on talking as if he had never been interrupted.
"I learned a few tricks of the trade from my Mammas friends- not them kinda tricks-" Buck stopped his discourse long enough to bestow a well placed swat on JDs head. "I mean I know a thing or two about puttin paint on a face sos ya dont look like one a them puppets in that medicine show that come through here two months back. Stop lookin at me like that, kid. There aint nothin wrong with a man takin care of his God given assets and if yall spent some time on yerselves, ya jist might end up lookin almost as good as me."
There was a minutes silence while six sets of eyes were turned on Buck.
"Bucklin?" Vin was the first to break the quiet. "Will yall shut up now? Yer startin t scare me."
Murmurs of consent could be heard around the table, but Buck wasnt to be deterred.
"Yer all jealous. Ya jist got t git past yer narrow minded-"
"Iffen I didnt know better, Id be thinkin yall wanted t be the one t git all dolled up and go prancin around in a corset and a bustle."
Buck looked as if he was actually giving the statement his serious consideration.
"I do know better. Right Bucklin?" Vin truly was becoming worried now. "Please tell me I do."
"Well, Im jist sayin I think Im the only one whos got the goods t pull off a hoax like this. Theres more t pretendin t be a woman than jist the clothes, and lets face it, there aint none a you that know nothin about women like I do."
"For heavens sake, Mr. Wilmington, it is preposterous to even contemplate the thought of you attempting to pass yourself off as a member of the fairer sex. Young Mr. Dunne is absolutely right. You and Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Jackson are out of the question. Now Mr. Larabee on the other hand...."
Vin was sure that Ezra must have felt the smoldering venom in Chriss gaze being swivelled in his direction, and to his credit, the gambler changed horses in midstream without even breaking a sweat.
"Well, Mr. Larabee, as pleasing as his physical endowments may be, would not be a likely choice because his position as esteemed leader of our motley company might be compromised and somewhat belittled by his appearance on the streets of Wickestown in accouterments befitting the female of the species."
Chriss scowl disappeared and was replaced by a self- satisfied smile.
"Nice recovery there, Ezra." Vin inclined his head in the gamblers direction and added in a whisper loud enough for all to hear. "Chicken."
"Well, who does that leave?" JDs face screwed up in a puzzled frown.
"Do the math, boy. It leaves you and Ezra and Vin." Buck reached out and snagged the bottle of whiskey as it made its way around the table for the third time. "Inez, darlin? Well be needin another one of these over here when youve got a minute."
JDs eyes grew wide.
"It cant be me. Im too.... hairy! And Ive got a real dark beard. Ive got t shave five times a day unless I want t end up looking like I just wandered out of the mountains. Bsides, I dont know nothin about women- I mean, you know- what theyre like or nothin." He cast a desperate look around the circle at his friends. "It should be....Vin. Hes already got the hair. Hes got nice hair...... and eyes......Vins got real pretty eyes. Hed make a damn fine lookin woman."
"Gee, JD, I thought youd never notice."
Vin reached for the new bottle that had just made its appearance before him and poured out another shot. He looked up to see the others staring at him open- mouthed.
"Im kiddin," he snapped. "There aint no way Im gittin rigged up in womens clothes. Ezra should do it. Hes the one bin givin the ladies them there lessons in.... portliness, or whatever it is. Bsides, hes got ladys hands, all white and soft with them perfect nails and fingers, and they aint never done a lick a work."
"Its comportment, and Ill have you know it is of great benefit for anyone, be they man or woman, to know how to carry themselves and present an elegant and confident facade to the world." Ezras face darkened. "Hell, give me that bottle. I need another drink."
Vin couldnt have said where the day had gone. All he knew was that they had started this foolish discussion about arresting Wickes and rescuing Mary with all good faith and noble intentions, and it had degenerated into a squabble over who had the best legs, who was the least hairy, and who looked best in the colour purple. An inordinate amount of whiskey had been necessary to facilitate the pondering of these critical questions, and Inez had taken good care of them in this respect. As the day wore on, Vin thought he had finally come to fully appreciate the portentous nature of the job they did, he and these six men who were his brothers. Room and board and a dollar a week seemed like paltry recompense given the onerous burden they bore.
"I ssschtillll think...." JDs learned opinion was rudely interrupted by a loud belch that caused him to completely lose his train of thought.
"Glad to hear youre still thinking, boy."
Buck reached out and gave the sheriffs head a pat.
Vin looked across the table to where JD and Ezra sat. He couldnt believe they were still arguing. They had gotten louder and louder as time went on, haranguing back and forth in voices that had become increasingly annoying. They had obviously had too much to drink, and Buck and Chris and Nathan and Josiah had spent a good portion of the afternoon laughing at their antics. Vin had kept his mouth shut for the most part, and judiciously so, for even though his perceptions had been somewhat altered by all the whiskey he had consumed, he no longer thought himself to be a serious contender in the dress disguise debacle. He had to admit that he was somewhat puzzled by the easy going nature of the afternoons deliberations. Mary was even as they spoke in the clutches of a madman, and no one seemed to be too terribly concerned.
"Shouldn we be gittin- ya know- gittin t some sorta... um, sorta..." what was the word he wanted? "A conshens... consensh..."
He looked to Ezra for assistance with his vocabulary- related shortcomings, but he and JD were still heavily engaged in trading drunken slurs.
"Hell, shouldn we be gittin t gittin Mary back?"
The four eldest of the group were looking at him now as if he had just sprouted an extra head.
"Well, brother, here I was just starting to think how nice and quiet things were without her around."
"Yous right Josiah. Marys a fine woman but shes a mite... meddlesome by times." Nathan shook his head slowly.
"Not to mention self righteous," Chris broke in, "and just a tad on the bossy side."
"And Im thinkin," Buck offered, "that her spendin the better part of the afternoon in some one elses shoes-"
"Or britches-" Chris interrupted, which sent the four into gales of hysterical laughter-
"Might do her a world a good." Buck was finished now and wiping his eyes with his sleeves.
"But yer right Vin, I guess we should be thinkin on puttin a plan in motion."
Vin didnt miss the look Buck exchanged around the table with Chris and Josiah and Nathan. A look that bode no good for the three younger members of the team.
And suddenly it dawned on him and all of those gut warming whiskeys he had consumed turned to ice in his stomach.
"Hows come yall aint bin drinkin?"
He couldnt keep the suspicion out of his voice.
"Cmon Vin," Buck soothed, "ya aint got no call t go on the worry. We really do want t do right by Mary and were not wantin t go rushin inta Wickestown without mappin ourselves out a plan."
"Were going to do this up right, son, and thats why we need for you and JD and Ezra to go along upstairs with Buck here, and hell fix you all right up sos we can make the best decision about whos gonna help get Mary back."
Josiah was grinning at him and for some reason, Vin found that grin to be eerily unnerving.
"JD and me!" Vin squeaked. "Me and Chris done dcided Ezras gonna do this."
"Cmon now Vin, ya musta seen this coming." Nathan was reaching across the table to where he sat, and Vin cringed out of the way. "Mebbe it aint jist the whiskey whats got ya addled- mebbe yer comin down with somethin."
Nathans hand stopped just short of his forehead and the healer burst out laughing.
Vin looked at Chris in desperation.
"Sorry, Pard. You know Is mighty fond of Mz. Travis in spite of her infuriatin ways, and even though I think it does her good to sit and stew every once in awhile, I really dont want nothin bad happenin to her. Besides, shes got a little feller- we got to think about him in all this, if nothin else."
Chris reached over and filled Vins glass once more.
"And we know you all want to help out, and you all want to see Mary back safe and sound and youre all willing to do whatever that takes to make that happen."
Vin thought it hardly fair that he and Ezra and JD should be called upon to make rational pronouncements on matters of such importance when their judgement was so obviously impaired, but he found himself so overwhelmed he was unable to speak.
"Cmon boys, ol Buckll take good care of ya."
With a leer on his face that struck terror into Vins heart, the big ladys man reached out and gripped Vin by the elbow, hauling him to his feet.
"And you two," he nodded at Ezra and JD, "follow me. Inez? A little help, por favor? Boys, well be back."
Vin saw him wink at his table mates before he started for the steps with Vin in tow. JD and Ezra stumbled along behind, still seemingly unaware of the horrors that awaited.
Vin wasnt sure how it could be possible, but Ezra didnt seem to be quite as in his cups as he and JD. But then again, maybe Ezra was just so damn eloquent that even being drunk had no effect on his speech patterns.
Buck and Inez dressed him first, while Vin and JD sprawled on the bed in stuporous silence. Ezra protested loudly for all of them through the whole procedure, although his most vociferous complaints seemed to be related to Bucks willingness to combine full length cream- coloured gloves with the otherwise white accessories. When they were finally finished, a thoroughly dissatisfied Ezra perched on the corner of a ladder- backed chair while the Buck and Inez makeover team tackled their next victim.
Vin, while unaware of much that was transpiring around him, had noticed that the room had begun to make some rather interesting and altogether unpleasant gyrations about the bed upon which he presently lolled. He became so preoccupied with trying to keep himself on the mattress and off the floor that he failed to notice that JDs transformation was now complete. Vin peered up at the young sheriff through bleary eyes. He could see that Ezra was giving him the once over as well, and he realized that he and the gambler had reached the same conclusion by the look now dawning in Ezras eyes.
JD was absolutely the worst example of the flower that was woman that either of them had ever seen.
Suddenly, from somewhere in the folds of the purple abomination that clung to Ezras person, the southerner produced a deck of cards and began to shuffle frantically.
"Gentlemen, there is only one fair and equitable manner in which to resolve our present dilemma." He fanned the deck in front of his friends. "Lowest card loses."
Vin and JD, after long moments of deliberation, each in turn plucked their choices from the group and turned them face up. When it was his turn, Ezra made his selection, which he held close to his chest as he endeavored to read it, then returned the card to its place without sharing it with his friends.
"One more time. This ones for real."
Vins protests were ignored and he found the company of fifty- two in his face once more. Again he and JD showed their selections, and again Ezra withheld his as he moved to hastily re- shuffle once more.
"Encore, my dear sirs- for the last time-"
"Give it up Ezra. JD doesnt look that bad." Buck was still trying to pin JDs thick dark hair into some semblance of a do. "It aint fer sure the guysll pick you.... he looks a bit like a girl so long as ya dont git too close. Bsides, I aint even started on Vin yet. He jist might be the purtiest of the lot."
Buck gave Vin a grin that made his stomach roll. Ezra regarded him with his head to one side, and sat down once more, mollified, it seemed, for the moment.
"Cmon, Vin, well jist git rid a that coat and..." Buck had his hands on his person now, and Vin swatted at him and pulled away.
"I aint takin m coat off."
"Now Vin, howdya think wes gonna be able t tell what kind a figure yas gonna cut if ya got that big stinky animal skin hidin yer best features?"
"Jist keep yer paws offa m features, Bucklin, and well all die happy. Buck! Git the hell away from me...."
It was no good. Buck out-weighed Vin by a good thirty- ive pounds, and he was no match for his friends superior bulk. Buck had his beloved jacket removed in a flash and started in on his shirt. That was gone before Vin could even blink, and there was now very little that stood between Vin and what remained of his dignity. But there was no way Buck was skinning him out of his long johns, and he twisted and writhed like a worm on a hot griddle until finally Buck had to concede the point. All of the exertion must have made him pass out for a moment, for he next thing he knew, he was lying on the floor with Buck straddling him, all the while pulling a rose-tinted concoction of lace and organza over his disgruntled head. Buck finally pulled him to his feet and placed him in front of the mirror, and Vin quailed when he caught sight of his reflection. Buck had shoved the arms of his union suit up so they were now hidden by the puffy sleeves of the gown, which thankfully was a high- necked affair that at least precluded any glimpse of the two embroidered cushions that were presently doing duty as enhancement to Vins chest. If he hadnt felt so humiliated, he might have found it funny. The faint glimmer of amusement that sparked through him was quickly extinguished when he saw Buck advancing upon him armed with.... a hairbrush!
"Youll git that thing away from me, Bucklin, iffen ya value yer fingers! I got a knife, and I aint afraid t use it."
Buck backed off momentarily, obviously considering a new plan of attack.
"Cmon Vin, its almost time fer the grand entrance. The boys is waitin, and ya want t look yer best, dont cha?"
"Bucklin, the day I look my best all dandied up in...." he flapped at the dress in disgust, "a rig like this, with m hair tied up in a bun, is the day I damn well kill mself."
Vin was pleased at least to realize that he actually seemed to be making some sort of sense, and that the effects of all the whiskey he had consumed seemed to be abating.
"Suppose bein terrorized outta yer head by Bucklin armed with ribbons and lacell have a right soberin effect on a feller."
"What did you say?"
"Nothin." Vin growled. "I thought ya were m friend, Buck. I caint blieve yad throw that friendship aside jist t satisfy yer sick, twisted urges t play with a fellers hair."
"Well, Mr. Tanner, I must say that you do cut a fine figure as a woman. As a matter of fact, seeing your willowy limbs attired in the raiments of the fairer set have substantially eased my fear of being the only one among us deemed worthy to see this deception to its happy conclusion." Ezra tucked his precious deck of cards into the bosom of his gown. "I trust I shall have no further need of these."
Vin turned once more to the mirror and carefully appraised the despondent image staring back at him. My God! Ezra was right! He looked..... good! He couldnt hold back the anguished moan that escaped his lips.
"Ez, Ill do yer patrol fer a week."
Ezra sniffed haughtily.
Another derisive snort.
"A month! Hell, two months! Please, Ez, Im beggin ya."
"Much as it pains me to deny such heartfelt supplication, springing from the lips of one I consider a friend, I fear I can do no other than refuse. I too have a reputation to consider, Mr. Tanner. Come, time is wasting. We only have until sundown to rescue the hapless widow. We wouldnt want to be late, now would we?"
Ezra arose from his chair with a flourish.
"Gentlemen? Our audience awaits."
"Is there anyone else out there, Buck? Im not traipsin down those stairs in front of all of Four Corners lookin like this."
"Dont worry JD. Inez closed up til after supper. There aint no one there but the boys."
Inez, who had been chewing on her lip the entire afternoon with a determination that bordered on the obsessive, nodded. It seemed she did not trust herself to speak. Vin was sure he caught a glimpse of white teeth and brown eyes sparking in silent laughter as he was pulled toward the door, but he hoped that it was only his imagination playing up.
Ezra had already gone to the top of the stairs and peeked into the main room below.
"It is quite safe gentlemen. Mr. Wilmington seems, for once, to have spoken the truth."
Ezra pushed JD to the front of the line, and Buck propelled Vin forward so that Ezra was bringing up the rear. Ezra seemed infuriatingly confident that he was in no danger of becoming the sacrificial lamb, and his mood had thus become maddeningly jocular. Vin was seized with the sudden wish that it was indeed Ezra and not JD preceding him down the stairs. The desire to send the gambler cartwheeling head over heels down the wooden steps to land in a bloody purple pile of twisted and broken limbs burned in every fibre of Vins being.
Later, he couldnt truly say what had caused him to stumble. It could have been the whiskey, for much as the degradation and humiliation he recently suffered had gone a long way to elevating the level of his sobriety, he could still feel the alcohol eddying through his blood and reeling in his head. Perhaps it was his entirely uncharitable thoughts vis a vis the gambler that caused him to misstep - whatever the reason, one moment he was upright and poised on the staircase, looking down on the tear stained faces of his friends, wincing as their riotous and, to his ears at least, maniacal laughter assaulted him, and the next he was tumbling unceremoniously floorward, sweeping JD along in his downward trajectory. All he could hear were the sounds of bumping heads and tearing fabric, and he had never been happier than when his traitorous body came to an ignominious halt in front of the table where his partners sat. Unfortunately, his stomach, which even at the best of times seemed to have a mind of its own, was not happy about the circumnavigational nature of the descent, and proceeded to make known its displeasure by launching forth its contents all over the yards of silk and taffeta that surrounded the two youngest members of the brotherhood. When the torture finally ended, Vin rolled onto his back, from whence he had an unobstructed view of the mask of dread that was Ezras face.
Ezra was scarlet with the flush of dawning comprehension. It was Ezra who would be sashaying down the streets of Wickestown, Ezra who would be flouncing his way between the tables in the saloon, Ezra who would be hawking his stuff from the street corners. Ezra had lost, and he had won! Victory was his! It was so sweet he could taste it - no matter that, at the moment, it was somewhat tempered by the distinct tang of vomit.
It wasnt until he started to laugh that Vin realized his side hurt, and as he lifted his arm to press on his aching ribs, he felt the grind of bone on bone. And when Nathan tried to help him stand, his knee gave way and he found himself once more sitting on the floor, with blood dripping in his eyes, his vision blurring and his head pounding.
Then he caught a glimpse once again of Ezras stricken features, and the pain and discomfort melted away.
He realized he had never felt better in his entire life.
Yes, everything was just fine.