"Surely you can't be serious."
"I am serious." Buck Wilmington paused as he sat down at his desk. "And don't call me Shirley."
JD Dunne groaned. "There's no way you could beat me now. I've been practicing."
"Little man, I could beat you with one hand tied behind my back, blindfolded."
"Your hand would be blindfolded?" Ezra Standish asked, pushing his chair back and joining the conversation.
"You know what I mean." Buck flexed his fingers, cracking joints. "I'm older and wiser."
"Definitely older and wider," Vin Tanner agreed, walking through the door of the ATF office.
"You stay outta this, Junior. You, too, Ezra."
"It seems to me that you are denigrating JD's abilities simply due to his age with no other consideration."
"I have ta agree with Ez," Vin said. He sat down on the edge of Buck's desk. "Just 'cause he's young don't mean he don't have skills."
JD nodded emphatically.
Buck started to get ruffled. "You three ganging up on me ain't fair."
Nathan Jackson wandered in from the break room. "What isn't fair?"
"These young turks seem to think JD could beat my bowling score."
Nathan smiled. He was just a year older than Ezra, but usually got lumped in with the "older men" because of his solemnity. Of course, Buck's lack of maturity should have placed him below JD at times, but that was neither here nor there. "I think you're in over your head, JD," Jackson said.
The shouts of protest drew Chris Larabee and Josiah Sanchez from the former's office.
"What's going on now?" Chris asked, clearly exasperated.
Buck repeated JD's claim.
Josiah's face remained neutral, but Chris smiled. "Sorry, JD, but you're no match for Buck."
"It seems to me that there is a difference of opinion present," Ezra stated. "I can think of only one way to settle it."
"Does this way happen to include a wager?" Nathan inquired sarcastically.
"Why it does, indeed." Ezra smiled. "I propose you older gentlemen compete with us " He looked sideways at Vin.
"Young turks," supplied the sharpshooter.
"Thank you, Mr. Tanner 'young turks.' We total our scores against yours."
"What about Josiah?" Nathan tilted his head.
Josiah held up a casted arm. "I can't play with a broken wrist, brothers. I'll just watch."
"Are you in?" JD challenged his teammates.
Buck, Chris, and Nathan exchanged a look.
"We're in," Buck announced. "And you kiddies are going down."
"What are the stakes?" Chris looked at Ezra.
"I haven't given this much thought, but--"
"We got that campin' trip comin' up at the end of the month," Vin interrupted. "How 'bout losers have to do all the work? Settin' up, cookin', cleanin' "
"Sounds like a sweet deal." Buck gleefully rubbed his hands together.
"Perhaps some monetary remuneration as well?" Ezra added hopefully. "Just a little."
Wary, Nathan asked, "Just how 'little'?"
"One hundred dollars each."
"That sounds doable," Larabee said. He smiled at Vin. "You can pay to have my truck detailed."
"'Less you wind up payin' to get my Jeep tuned up," returned Vin.
"Nothing but a sledgehammer could fix that hunk o' junk."
"Okay," Buck said, "we'll all meet at Sharkey's at eight."
"No way," JD argued. "You have to score manually there. We'll go to Bowl-a-rama on Lafayette. They're computer-controlled."
"What? You think I'm gonna cheat?" Buck puffed out his chest. "At bowling?"
"I think you'd cheat at tiddlywinks if you had the chance."
"What about Ezra? Ain't he the one you're usually worried about?"
Ezra gave a gasp of mock outrage.
JD shrugged. "He's on my team this time."
"All right," Chris said, "we've wasted enough time. We'll meet at Bowl-a-rama at eight o'clock. Now back to work."
Josiah and Chris returned to the inner office to finish their meeting. Buck followed Nathan into the conference room to look over the Bisonette case files.
JD waited until they were out of earshot before confronting his cohorts. "Are you sure about this?" he asked for the fifth time. "There's no possible way I can beat Buck's score unless we hog-tie 'im to the flagpole."
"And that, Mr. Dunne, is exactly why we are doing this as a team."
"Don't worry, JD," Vin said, "it's taken care of."
"Hey, Buck," JD called, "can I get you another beer?"
"Trying to get me drunk? Is that your plan?" Buck scoffed. "Pretty lame, kid."
"I don't know what you're talking about," JD said. "'Sides, I don't have enough money to pay for all the beer you'd need to fill up those long-ass legs of yours."
"Jealousy is ugly, my boy, and you know how I feel about ugly." Buck walked up to the line and threw the bowling ball.
All the pins fell down. Again.
Buck cackled. He moonwalked back to the chairs, spinning around with a flourish. "You sure you fellas don't want to forfeit now? Save yourselves some embarrassment." He flashed a smile at the two young women playing on the end lane.
Ezra smiled politely. "My compatriots and I appreciate your concern, Mr. Wilmington, but I do believe we shall surmount the deficit and come out victorious."
"And pigs will fly," scoffed Buck as he leaned back to watch Ezra shoot the ball down the lane.
The younger group had performed better than expected. JD knocked a lot of pins down through sheer brute strength, just not as accurately as Buck. Vin had a sharpshooter's eye and kept picking up spares. Even Ezra was hitting pins at a surprising rate. Unfortunately, halfway through the game, they couldn't match the extra points Buck had earned with his strikes in the previous frames.
"Hey, Ez, I thought you said you couldn't bowl," Nathan commented.
"I didn't say I couldn't do it, I just think it beneath me."
Chris laughed as he took his turn, managing to knock down a few pins.
Leaning toward his teammates, JD asked, "Is it time?"
Vin glanced at the clock. "She should be here any minute."
"I suggest we begin before we fall any further behind." Ezra caught the eye of one of the women Buck had been showing off for and nodded.
The women laughed loudly, catching the attention of the other lanes. Wiggling their hips, the two ladies pulled off their sweatshirts, revealing close-fitting tank tops, nicely showing off their assets.
Buck's eyes bugged out when they tossed him a flirty wave.
Vin saw the second part of their plan walk in the door and nudged JD.
"Nathan, isn't that Rain?" asked JD.
Nathan looked up in time to see Rain disappearing into the alley's bar. He frowned.
"Who's that guy she's with?"
"I have no idea," Nathan admitted.
"That's okay," JD's voice was full of innocence, "they're probably just friends."
Through the bar's glass wall, the men saw Rain laugh and lean her forehead on the man's shoulder.
"It's your turn, Nathan."
Distracted, Nathan threw two gutterballs in a row.
It went downhill from there. Any time Chris managed to get Buck to focus on the game, one of the ladies would bend over and he'd be useless. Nathan continued to watch Rain and her companion and continued to miss the majority of the pins.
Finally giving up, Chris walked over and plopped down beside Vin. He glared at the sharpshooter. "Just what do you have planned for me?"
"Nothing, Cowboy." Vin smirked. "You can't hit the broad side of a barn with a bowling ball."
"Thanks a lot." Chris rolled his eyes as he watched Ezra roll a strike.
A few frames later and it was all over. The younger men had won.
With a quick wave, Buck rushed off to talk to the ladies in the other lane. Nathan didn't even manage a wave before he headed to the bar.
Ezra nodded his head at Nathan's departure. "Shall we?"
"Better head 'im off at the pass," Vin agreed.
JD pulled a startled Josiah along as they strode into the alley's bar. Chris followed, curious.
Nathan was bending over the man with Rain, a thunderous expression on his face.
Vin held out his hand to Josiah. The large man had been holding the $600 from the bet. Once he had the cash, Vin handed it to Rain. "Thanks, Rain."
"No problem." Rain folded the money and put it in her purse. "You might want to go, Dave."
Her escort eyed the six men standing around the table. "I think that might be best." He rose, tipping an invisible hat at Nathan, and smiled at Rain. "I'll see you tomorrow at the clinic."
Nathan watched him leave, his anger dissipating. "What the hell is going on?" he asked.
"Rain agreed to help us out," Vin drawled.
Nathan sent her a betrayed look. She smiled and held up her hands.
"We promised her the money for her children's charity," JD said.
"It was for the kids, Nathan," Rain offered.
"A worthy cause," Josiah rumbled.
"You even gave her your share, Ezra?" Chris was incredulous.
Ezra shrugged. "One hundred dollars seems a bargain for having a personal servant while camping."
"What about the alley bimbos?" Chris asked, looking pointedly at Buck.
Vin shook his head. "Cowboy, that's harsh."
"I'll have you know, those lovely young ladies are future stars of the silver screen," Ezra said.
"I may have let it slip that the famous director, Bucklin Wilmington, would soon be casting for his latest film."
"In a bowling alley in Colorado?"
"He was looking for 'fresh new talent.'"
"And when they find out he works for the ATF?"
Ezra shrugged again.
They turned to look out the bar's window. In the alley beyond, Buck's confused expression turn to shock when he received a solid slap across his face. The two ladies grabbed their sweatshirts and stormed off.
"Huh. I think ya got yer answer," Vin commented.
"Ezra!" Buck roared.
"I believe I should be leaving." Ezra hurried toward the rear, stopping momentarily. "Thank you for the game, gentlemen--I'll see you at the office." He gave a two-fingered salute and disappeared out the door.
"You know, we will be settling the score," Chris commented mildly as Buck raced past.
Vin smiled brightly. "Wouldn't expect anythin' less, Cowboy."