Raisin Hell

by Beth Green

Author's notes: This is not meant to offend any devotees of the Mindfulness Meditation program. It is merely my take on how certain members of our favorite team might react under the given circumstances. If any readers should happen to experience a kindred feeling, that is purely coincidental. Dedicated to LaraMee, who lived through it.

"Well, boys, are you prepared to embark upon our excursion?"

Ezra observed nods from two small heads in return. Vin and JD were wise to the ways of their Uncle Ezra. They focused on the 'are you prepared?' portion of the question and figured that the appropriate answer was, "Yes."

The boys had been looking forward to their outing with their Uncle and their adoptive fathers to the Zoo all week. However, a last-minute development caused the boys' enthusiasm to dim somewhat.

JD asked, "How come we can't all go like we was supposed to?"

Ezra replied, "I'm afraid that Chris misbehaved in class. I believe that he told you that."

Vin shrugged. "Sorta. Chris said it was all on account of a raisin."

Ezra sighed. The raisin had been the last straw.

The ATF team members had been assigned in small groups to attend a day-long stress management seminar. Ezra had the misfortune of having been assigned to the same session as Chris and Buck. He'd tried reasoning with his recalcitrant teammates.

"As this is not an optional assignment, we should endeavor to make the best of the situation."

Chris disagreed. "If the citizens of the United States of America knew what their tax dollars were being spent on, we wouldn't even be here. We could skip this bullshit and get on to the real business of the ATF. Stress Management, my ass."

Buck didn't do anything to help the situation. "Now some could say that that's the most vital part of your person needing attention, what with you being such a tight ass and all." Buck ignored the incendiary look Chris sent his way as he continued. "The only stress I got to manage is the stress of wasting a day sitting around listening to stuff that I already know. I can handle stress better than some people I could name."

Chris' voice lowered in anger as he replied, "I changed my mind. It'll be less stress going to this stupid-ass seminar than having to listen to you sharing your ignorance."

Buck reached out a hand to slap Chris on the shoulder none too gently. "Just a damn minute there, Dumbo."

Ezra stepped in between the two combatants. "You two are illustrating nothing more than a profound need for the contents of this seminar. I suggest that we enter the conference room and get this over with."

Satisfied to have found a new focus for their discontent, Buck and Chris shoved Ezra ahead of them and through the conference room doors. Only his natural agility kept Ezra on his feet and off of the floor. Once they'd signed in, the three men headed for the last row of the lecture hall. Ezra half-thought of finding a seat separate from his companions. In retrospect, he wished that he had.

The first few speakers, especially Frank Heinrich, were predictably boring. Buck grumbled, "You'd think they'd have a lady or two doin' the teaching. I remember when I was back in school, seems like most 'a my teachers were women." He sat back reminiscing instead of paying attention to the lecture. "Of course, by the time I got to college, I got to pick my own teachers. Not coincidentally, most of them were women, too."

Chris was equally inattentive. "Hell, Buck, whatever happened to infinite diversity, infinite combinations? Maybe you ought to give Heinrich a try."

Ezra at least gave the impression that he was paying attention to the speaker. The undercover agent was an expert in the art of pretense, and was quite content to pass the interminably long lecture with one ear tuned to Buck and Chris. He couldn't help but smile at some of their less flattering comments.

Buck offered his opinion of Heinrich's speaking skills. "Remind me never to say anything bad about Josiah and the way that he rambles on, and on, and on, ever again. Josiah's not even in this guy's league."

Chris responded, "You're a fine one to talk about someone running off at the mouth."

Buck smiled. "Yeah, ain't I? As I was saying . . ."

The third speaker of the day, Ms. Marion, was the one that proved to be the downfall for Buck and Chris. As the lecture proceeded, a few speculative glances could be seen among the attendees.

"The Mindfulness Meditation for Stress Reduction program provides the opportunity to discover new ways to relate to life. The goal is to allow yourself not to be overwhelmed by the extraordinary challenges of daily life. You can use your mind in the matter . . ."

Buck quipped, "Mind over matter. She's lost her mind, so it just doesn't matter."

Chris reminded his friend, "I thought you wanted the speaker to be a woman."

"Well, yeah, but there's women, and then there's Ms. Marion."

"Can't stand the fact that she's smarter than you?"

"She's old enough to be my mother, and I'm not lookin' to do some Freud sort of thing like sleeping with my mother. The only thing this lady thinks she's smart about is meditating, and her smarts about that subject aren't something I'd bet money on."

The lecturer decided that she wanted the attendees to practice meditating. Several of those in the conference room headed for the exits at that point. It would have been better for all concerned if Buck and Chris had also done so.

Ezra watched the speaker, appalled as she directed her audience to contemplate a raisin. Was the woman completely out of her mind? Apparently so, as she endeavored to have her audience join in the exercise of mass insanity.

Buck and Chris blithely ignored her. While Ms. Marion was exploring the raisin in more depth than Ezra would ever have imagined anyone attempting, Chris expounded upon his own meditation technique. "Why in the hell would anyone use a raisin as a focal point when a gun is a hundred times better? With a gun, you've got something that started life as cold, hard steel transformed into something smooth and warm. It has the power of life and death."

Chris' eyes glowed with the fervor of a zealot as he continued. "When you look at that gleaming metal, you know that with just one pull of the trigger you could blow that raisin straight to grape hell. It'd be in so many pieces that no one would ever be able to put it back together again, and no one would ever have to even think about contemplating it." As he spoke, Chris reached for his concealed weapon and drew it lovingly from its holster.

Had the seminar been for ATF personnel only, it would not have mattered. Unfortunately, there were civilian personnel also in attendance.

One young man occupied the same row as the ATF agents. Bored with contemplating the raisin, his attention had strayed. He could not hear what Chris was saying, but he knew what it was when he observed Chris' weapon. He gave a panicked cry of, "Gun!" as he frantically jumped over the seats. The conference room became a confused mass of people stepping over each other in their haste to exit, while the other agents in the room looked for the source of the threat.

Chris did not immediately realize that he was the cause of the man's panic. He ducked so that he was partially sheltered by the seats as he looked to contain the threat.

Buck's eyes grew wide as he noticed men with guns aimed at his friend. He quickly reached for his badge, holding it high in the air as he screamed, "ATF!" With his other hand, he reached for Chris' gun arm, encouraging him to lower it. "Pard, I'm afraid you're the gun that boy was goin' on about."

Chris lowered his weapon. His heartfelt, "Oh, shit!" did not begin to cover the situation.

The chaos in the lecture hall was quickly sorted out.

The complications began with AD Travis. He'd declared that both Buck and Ezra would need to repeat the seminar. As for Chris, Travis did not want the man anywhere near the conference room. "Larabee, you're going to be the guest speaker for the Gun Safety program for the next month. The first presentation is on Saturday."

"But the boys and I . . ."

Travis cut him off. "There are some less calmer heads than I who would like me to fire you. Please don't give them any further, ahem, 'ammunition'."

Chris bit back his protest, and decided that lecturing on gun safety was certainly preferable to repeating the Stress Management seminar.

Ezra and Buck agreed.

Buck grumbled, "I can't believe he gets to play with his love object while we have to screw around with raisins."

Ezra snapped, "Perhaps this time you will keep your mouth shut!"

For the most part, Buck did keep his mouth shut. However, when it came time to meditate upon the raisin, Buck ostentatiously pulled out his own bag of raisins and popped them into his mouth one by one, a blissful expression on his face as he recalled Chris' description of raisin target practice.