When performing in an undercover operation, one must be prepared to undertake any persona, no matter how humble, uncouth, ignorant or disgusting. I pride myself on my ability to become people ranging from the high society playboy to a street tramp. However, I do not lightly take on the lower roles, which, of necessity, are fraught with more immediate danger of physical violence or worse yet, unseemly familiarities.
This is why Im going to kill Vin Tanner.
We were not officially undercover. We were both doing a preliminary investigation in a horrendous country-western hole of bar, which probably just fit Vins home décor to a T. We were dressed appropriate to the bars décor, and I had condescended to wear faded blue jeans and a flannel shirt. Vin was dressed in his usual attire and we were questioning the bar tender about our suspect, in a good-old boy sort of style.
Apparently we hit a nerve.
The bartender stared at me suddenly, with animosity. His eyes flicked back to Mr. Tanner, Youre okay, but I dont know this fellow. He all right? The fact that his hand went under the bar alerted me to potential danger. He might be getting ready to grab a club, but Id bet good money his meaty paws were caressing a sawn off shotgun.
Mr. Tanner laughed, a typical, good-old-boy Gorsh that is far from his own almost lyrical amused chuckle. Hell, yes. Cooter here is the best coon hunter in three states.
Cooter? Ye Gods, what a horrendous moniker. And I couldnt even glare at my fellow agent without making Mr. Meaty Paws suspicious.
My desire to survive this little situation and shoot Vin made me leap into my new persona with my usual deft skill.
Outwardly, I grinned like a fool. Inwardly, I promised dire retribution.
The bartender relaxed, but didnt remove his hand from beneath the bar.
He pointed his chin disparagingly at my hand, which was wrapped around a bottle of loathsome beer I had purchased from him but moments ago.
Look at them pretty hands. Hes never seen an honest days work," he said.
Some of the other frequenters of his stinking saloon wandered closer, interested.
My natural reaction was to look offended.
Mr. Tanner laughed again easily, and turned so he was facing away from the bartender.
Youve been seeing Louise again, aint ya, Cooter?
My desire to prolong our miserable existences and play out this hand to the end made my response possible.
Yup, I said, and grinned like I knew something.
Mr. Tanners head turned back to the bartender and he winked at the oaf. Louise is going to manicure school. The way to Louises heart is to let her practice her homework on your hands, if you get my drift.
I grinned my idiot grin and blushed to corroborate the statement and let them know I had gotten some.
The bartender laughed out loud and so did his little following of malcontents.
Mr. Tanner grinned obligingly, too.
Shootings too good for him. Ill have to plan something better.
Well, hell, said Mr. Meaty Paws, I aint been coon hunting in ages. Wanna meet my old hound dog?
Lord, the things I do to stay in character.
Hell, yeah, I said.
He opened the door behind the bar and whistled. An arthritic old snaggle-toothed drooling hound loped out, lunged on the owner and licked his face and then, to my absolute horror, galloped around the bar and knocked me to the ground, greeting me with high slobber impact dog kisses.
I probably was the best smelling patron there, so I could understand the beasts predilection for my person. I managed to extricate myself enough to sit up and hold a large mass of wiggling creature on my lap, rubbing his immense belly and making a fuss over him. He was, after all, an innocent dog, compared to the other present inhabitants of the saloon, and I do love animals.
I rubbed him enthusiastically, You aint no cheater hound, thats for sure, old boy, I said and of course, he found me charming. Right now he was the only person in the bar I didnt want to wreak vengeance on.
Meanwhile, the bartender and his buddies had decided I was just another ignorant cuss of their ilk and were chatting away with Mr. Tanner merrily. One of the patrons knew our suspect and enthusiastically gave the information on his whereabouts we had been fishing for.
Mr. Tanner, to his credit, didnt show even a glimmer of glee. I continued to pour affection on the dog, which kept me from having to finish the beer, which made me like the dog even better.
Happier now and in better company than Mr. Tanner, I offered bucolic words of love and reassurance to the hound. My mood improved immeasurably and I began to detach myself from my previous thoughts of intricate vengeance.
Then Mr. Tanner put his bottle down with a happy slam on the bar and said, Hell, we gotta get on the road. Were supposed to drive a load to Tucson tomorrow. He shook hands with his new flea infested friends and walked to the door.
Come on, Cooter, he said, we gotta get moving.
Cooter again. I smiled at him, teeth clenched, and detached myself from the hound who had to be dragged, complaining mournfully all the way, back into the room at the back of the bar.
Nice meeting yall, I said.
Nice meeting you too, Cooter, they all chorused back as I exited.
No, shooting is too good for Vin Tanner.
+ + + + + + +
When we returned to report in with our new information, Mr. Tanner kept grinning incessantly. I scowled at him and tried to ignore his ill-gotten reprehensible mirth.
And of course, my co-workers were sensitive to Mr. Tanners humor.
Whats so funny? asked our leader Chris Larabee.
I glared at Mr. Tanner, but this only served to spur him on. Thereupon, our usually tight-lipped tracker and expert marksman proceeded to launch into a detailed description of the evenings activities.
Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Dunne immediately flew into paroxysms of loud amusement, Mr. Wilmington actually rolling on the floor in glee. Chris Larabee, who rarely smiled and has a facial expression often compared to granite, began to howl in amusement.
In an earlier age, I could have shot them all for the insult and escaped the hangmans noose. However, current law and the fact that they are all crack shots and armed to boot made that a less appealing course of action.
To their credit, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sanchez shook their heads in disgust and exited the office. In the past their lack of humor had only irritated me, but now I was warmed by their unconscious support of my fading dignity. They would escape my wrath.
I bid them adieu and exited quickly, my report already complete, and my self-respect in shreds. As I entered the elevator, I heard all four of them recite in unison like an obscene Greek Chorus, Goodnight, Cooter.
As I descended to the exit leading to our parking garage, I mused on their upcoming fate. Merely shooting them wouldnt be sufficient. My revenge must reveal to them how deeply my sensitive nature had been outraged. An idea came to mind, and I smiled. This would work nicely and wouldnt even involve incarceration. As I left, I tipped my non-existent hat to the security guard on duty. I briskly walked to the dear Jag and went home with a light heart. Theres nothing like a good plan to retrieve a good mood.
+ + + + + + +
The next morning, Vin Tanner came early to work, both to make his favorite type of coffee, which Buck described as twice as thick as Mississippi mud without the alcohol, and to savor his enjoyment of last nights little adventure. Ez had done a fine job, rolled with the punches and hadnt even tried to shoot him for calling him Cooter. He snorted amusedly and began to pile more coffee into the basket for the coffee maker.
Ez had finished off his report last night and shot out like a cat with a burned tail. His morning elixir ready, Vin sat at his desk and put his feet up, as he kicked the on button on his hard drive. He took a deeply satisfying sip of scalding hot coffee and waited for his computer to kick on.
Bet old Ez is stewing in his own juice, he thought.
Then the screen blinked on. There was new wallpaper on his computer. A bright picture of four men, looking a hell of a lot like the men in the bar they had visited last night.
There was large lettering beneath the picture. He leaned forward and read:The latest ploy to drive the Taliban and Al Qaeda out of the mountains of Afghanistan is to send in a team of Redneck Special Forces (USRSF). Billy Bob, Bubba, Boo, and Cooter (the wonder boy) are being sent in with the following information about the Taliban:
- There is no limit.
- The Season opened last weekend.
- They taste just like chicken.
- They dont like beer, pickup trucks, country music, or Jesus
- Some is queer.
- They dont like barbeque.
- They were responsible for Dale Earnhardts death.
Should be over in about a week.
Vin grinned and then looked closer at the photograph. Four men in camouflage gear with guns pointed dramatically were posing.
He looked at the faces and then his grin disappeared. Oh Shit," he said it softly, with respect.
The first redneck had J.D. Dunnes face skillfully pasted onto the mans body, and covered with a camouflage hat. Next to him, on one knee with the other braced in typical firing position, was a hugely rotund man, Bubba according to the write-up. This persons face had been again skillfully replaced with Buck Wilmingtons own mustached face.
Behind Bubba stood an even fatter man in suspenders, named Boo, who had a baseball hat balanced over Chris Larabees visage. And besides them, gun held to the side, stood a skinnier man in camouflage pants and a floppy hat with Vins face grinning enthusiastically.
Vin started to laugh. Old Ezra just wasnt one to take things lying down.
He logged on, grinning and got to work, ignoring the masterpiece of sarcasm on his screen, and with his typical sense of the absurd, waited to see how the others would respond. Cause hed bet a grand in a minute that everyone elses computer had the same picture on it.
The next person to enter the office was Josiah, who had brought his own coffee. He nodded pleasantly to Vin, saying his usual, Morning, Brother.
Vins smile was a little wider than usual, but didnt worry 'Siah, who went to his computer desk and started up the hard drive.
Vin waited, cautiously as any hunter on the prowl. He heard the drive come on and Josiahs sudden snap of attention. The older agent leaned forward, just as Vin had previously, and read the screen. Then he started to shake, making his chair squeak.
I reckon Im glad I didnt laugh at Brother Ezra last night, he boomed out, his eyes wet with tears of laughter.
Vin started to laugh again. Dont tell the others. Its more fun to watch their reactions.
Josiah chuckled and gave a snort of agreement.
It was a fine morning. Buck spewed coffee all over his screen. J.D. choked on a donut and then laughed his ass off. Nathan Jacksons deep throaty chuckle and smile was enough to make you laugh even if you didnt know what was happening.
+ + + + + + +
Chris Larabee arrived later, coming from an early morning staff meeting. He wondered absently, why he was getting so many amused stares, but generally, Chris just didnt care what people thought of him. He had stuff to do and if it was important, hed find out later.
Everyone was busy, and Ezra wasnt there yet; life as usual. He went into his office, and started up the computer, deciding not to give Ez a hard time. He probably was still pissed as hell from that Cooter thing last night. He grinned and took a sip of coffee.
+ + + + + + +
The Team waited anxiously to hear Chris reaction.
There was long silence. Then definite sound, )*&)&_*(_*_(&*_*(&_(!!!!!!!!!!!
Yup, said Vin, he noticed.
By the time Ezra made an extremely nonchalant entrance, they had learned that every computer in the building had the picture as wallpaper. The picture could not be copied and emailed out of the system (J.D. thought this very interesting). The picture could not be printed either, to various individuals either relief or chagrin. And it couldnt be erased either.
Judge Travis for once was amused rather than indignant, and the whole building had learned the full story within about a half hours time, a record for disseminating gossip.
They were all trying to actually work when the elevator opened and Ezra came in, wearing one of his fancy suits, with a hot steam cup of Starbucks in his hand.
J.D. jumped up, Howdy, Coo .ulp. His attempt at teasing had been stopped by Bucks hand clamped over his mouth.
Dont try it, J.D. who knows what hell have to do to top that," hissed Buck.
J.D. gulped. He hadnt thought of that. He nodded to Buck in gratitude. Ezra observed this exchange mildly and said nothing, going placidly to his desk.
They all watched as Ezra booted up his computer, which still had its usual Ace of Spades wallpaper gracing it.
Chris door opened and the team leader came out. Hey Ezra, the Judge wants to know how you bypassed the systems security and Im sure J.D. is dying to know how you made the wallpaper non-transferable.
Ezra had been ready for harsh words to be flung. He looked momentarily surprised and then relaxed.
If Mr. Dunne will give me his promise not to use the information against me, I shall be happy to illuminate him on the technique.
That was all that was said directly on the matter. No one wanted to risk further wrath.
To the chagrin of J.D. Buck, Chris and Vin, the ATF staff members called them Billy Bob, Bubba, Boo and Cooter for weeks. Well, someone called Chris Boo just once. The Larabee glare effectively stopped that practice in its tracks.
No one with any brains attached any insulting nicknames to Ezra Standish ever again. But the legend of Cooter remained.