Loosely inspired by Marty Robbins' The Cowboy in the Continental Suit.
No angst, no injuries, just pure fluff.
Special thanks to Gina for her technical expertise and excellent suggestions, and to Marnie for her usual boo-boo finding and encouragement.
Duke's Cowboy Truck Stop was the real thing - it offered everything a long-haul trucker could want; food, coffee, showers, plenty of space to park a rig. Its booths and counter seats were filled with working truckers sporting western shirts, tee-shirts emblazoned with team names, band logos or patriotic slogans, jeans, cowboy boots, bandanas and, of course, plenty of attitude.
The dining floor was separated from the entrance by an authentic section of corral fence on which were draped three very real western saddles, with two lassos festooning the ends, all of which was no doubt intended to lend a modicum of credence to the "Cowboy" part of the establishment's name.
The seven men in suits and ties looked distinctly out of place, although more than one female trucker appreciated the view, nevertheless.
Chris Larabee and his team were on their way to a high-level meeting with other southwest law enforcement agencies, "high-level" being defined as the President of the United States was the principal speaker. The invitation - which was not actually an invitation, because that would have implied that they had a choice as to whether or not to attend - had very specifically stated that the dress code was "executive business attire." That meant suits, ties, dress shirts and in Vin and JD's case, shoes that weren't boots or sneakers.
Ezra's delight in helping each man put together his ensemble had bordered on devious. This was payback for all the times they had mocked his Versacci suits and Gucci loafers. Oh yes, he had enjoyed watching them squirm, no doubt about it.
Chris had decided on a black suit, white shirt and black tie, until Ezra asked if the look he was going for was Agent "L" from Men in Black IV. The black suit stayed, but had been augmented with a gun-metal blue shirt and black, grey and gun-metal blue striped tie. Nathan's tan suit was smartly tailored, Ezra had to admit, but the glaring peach shirt had to go, replaced instead with a lighter shade of tan and a brown tie with a tan diamond design. Josiah's charcoal grey pinstripe and silver-grey shirt almost met with Ezra's approval, until he noticed that subtle design on the tie was actually a myriad of tiny images of the starship Enterprise. That was soon warped out of existence and replaced with a sedate muted paisley. Buck's tie covered in parrots did match his bright green shirt, but the very idea made Ezra swoon. Buck's suit, though, was not altogether hideous, a deep loden with the tiniest hint of olive tweed. Ezra had chosen an olive shirt and complimenting loden and olive tie, and managed to live with it.
Vin and JD didn't even own suits - JD had a pair of nice slacks and a blazer for trips to court, and Vin had a western-style suede jacket that he paired up with a bolo tie for that same occasion, but neither was going to cut it in this case. So, Ezra had to start from scratch, beginning with socks that weren't white. Their two youngest had cleaned up well, though, with JD looking every bit the yuppie junior executive in a mohogany three-piece suit with a cream-colored shirt and a mohogany tie with tan and cream accents, finished off with brown Italian-style loafers. Vin's suit was midnight blue, which nicely accented his blue eyes. A federal blue shirt and matching tie, along with a pair of tasteful black oxfords completed the sharpshooter's ensemble. The suits and shoes came from one of those "wearhouse" places where Ezra would normally not be caught even as a decaying corpse, but the miracle of flawless tailoring had managed to make it look as though a fortune had been invested. A trip to the barber had left the two youngsters with hair that was still incorrigibly long, but neatly styled and not flopping in their eyes.
Team Seven was now a work of art, and Ezra had cringed at the idea of stopping for breakfast and all of the potential ruin that represented. But it was a long drive to the conference and they had set out at 6 am. Lunch would be served at the conference, but not until after the speeches, which, of course, could not take place until The Man himself arrived. Ezra had worked presidential details before, and it always amazed him how Air Force One, which could pretty much land wherever it wanted, whenever it wanted, still managed to show up late.
Ezra had lobbied vigorously against the truck stop, to no avail. His team mates were hungry, and the truck stop "served up good grub" - oh, the humanity. But he at least felt secure in the knowledge that he had brought along a duffel bag full of emergency supplies, including a bottle of Selzer water, a stain removal stick, a sewing kit, lint rollers, a spray bottle of Febreze, and a shoe shining kit, just in case. He liked to think he was just being prepared, but in actuality, he knew his team mates. He just hoped the inevitable wardrobe calamity did not involve blood stains.
They had no sooner sat down than Vin was pulling at his tie. Ezra slapped his hand down.
"I feel like I'm bein' hung," Vin said.
"The correct verb conjugation is 'hanged,'" Ezra corrected, then added, "The cut of that shirt is a perfect fit and that tie is perfectly knotted. Don't make me hurt you, Mr. Tanner."
JD patted the front of his vest. "I think we look great."
"Traitor," Vin mumbled.
There was mumbling going on around them, too.
"I bet they order lah-tays."
"Ten to one they're all veg-et-ar-i-ans."
"Who the fuck eats vegetables for breakfast?"
"Yuppie scum. They'll all want keeeeesh."
"Or breee-osh. What the hell is that, anyway?"
"Should'a stuck to Starbuck's."
Team Seven was perfectly aware of the commentary, but really, it didn't bother them. They said the same things about Team 3 every day.
The waitress approached and acknowledged them with an uncertain smile. "What can I get for y'all?"
Ezra was the only one who had glanced at the menu. All of the others, he knew, would order what they always did. Steak and eggs over easy with a side of toast for Chris, western omelet and hash browns for Buck, scrambled eggs with sausage and bacon and a side of French toast for Josiah, boiled eggs and plain toast with a side of grapefruit for Nathan, and scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage, and hash browns for Vin and JD.
Ezra studied the appalling array of artery-clogging offerings and opted for an egg-white omelet with green pepper, mushrooms, tomatoes and onions.
"What's an egg-white omelet?" the waitress blinked.
"An omelet without the egg yolks."
She blinked again. "Ya want eggs with no yolks?"
"Yes," Ezra replied.
"Okaaay...," She shook her head, but wrote down the order.
There was a twitter of laughter from the surrounding tables.
"Egg white omelet... what the fuck is up with that?
"Y'all want coffee?" the waitress asked uncertainly.
"I'll have tea," Nathan said.
"As will I," Ezra added.
This brought an actual burst of laughter from somewhere at the counter.
The waitress glanced backwards and shot a dirty look at the men seated there. After she left with their order, Team Seven overheard her scolding the culprit.
"Ain't good business to make folks uncomfortable," she said. "Y'all mind yer manners."
"I think they look mighty fine, myself," said one of the female truckers. "I'd do 'em."
"You'd do 'em all at once," someone replied.
"Watch your mouth, or you'll have less teeth than ya already have," the lady trucker replied.
More laughter, and then every one seemed to lose interest in Team Seven, which was fine with them.
The waitress brought their food and the first thing Vin and JD did was reach for the bottle of ketchup in the center of the table. Ezra watched with bated breath as first JD, then Vin, inundated their hash browns in rivers of the red condiment, certain that disaster was about to ensue. Luckily, they both managed to avoid spilling, spraying or dribbling any of it. A bottle of sticky pancake syrup was passed around and also managed to reach its intended target.
Ezra breathed a small sigh of relief. He was beginning to think that maybe his team and their impeccable attire would get through the meal unscathed when someone at one of the booths let out a sharp gasp.
"Holy B. Jesus... What the hell?"
All eyes turned towards the plate glass windows where they had a clear view of catastrophe unfolding before their eyes.
Two livestock trucks were attempting to back into the same parking slot. Each driver was so focused on the task at hand that he was apparently oblivious to the other. The rear of both trailers were less than a yard from impact and all anyone could do was stand there and watch.
The waitress had run out into the parking lot and was shouting a warning and waving her hands, but she went unheard over the sounds of purring diesel engines.
The two livestock trailers collided with a metallic thud.
The impact cause the rear gates on both trailers to spring open, and in seconds, a massive bovine head appeared at the rear of one. Cattle were not the brightest of creatures, but this one knew freedom when he - and it was quickly apparent that it was a he - saw it, and jumped out of the trailer. He was soon followed by five steers.
From the other trailer, a horse watched the parade of cattle to its end and then, seemingly deducing that this was expected behavior after the rudely jarring impact and irritating loud noise, jumped out to join the cattle. His four travel companions abruptly followed.
"That ain't good," Josiah remarked as horses and cattle began to scatter across the parking lot, which was dangerously close to the highway.
By this time, the truckers had emerged from their cabs. The cattle truck driver was a stocky fellow who would not have been inclined to moving fast under the best of circumstances, but he was also walking with a distinct limp. The driver of the horse trailer looked like she was ten months pregnant.
Both of which were irrelevant because they were arguing with each other and neither had as yet noticed the escaped livestock.
"Not good at all," Buck echoed.
A couple of well-meaning bystanders ran after the livestock, waving their arms and trying to shoo them back towards the trailers, but this only had the unfortunate effect of spooking all of them except for the bull. Although he had yet to exhibit a full-on threat display, he was standing his ground, and no one seemed to realize the danger that represented.
Vin recognized the markings on the cattle truck as a company that transported rodeo livestock. Beef cattle bulls were usually fairly tame; rodeo bulls, not so much. "That bull's gonna hurt someone," he said.
Chris echoed his thoughts, "Someone needs to tell those idiots to stop chasing those steers."
No sooner had he spoken than one of the steers, attempting to avoid the flailing arms of a guy who was dressed like a cowboy but clearly didn't have a clue, trotted onto the highway and was narrowly missed by a Toyota Tacoma.
By now, the two truckers had realized their cargo was loose. Cattle Man limped frantically towards his charges, and it was soon apparent that he was a truck driver first, and a cowboy... well, that was probably way down on the list. Horse Lady was just standing there with a horrified expression on her face.
The seven men at the table looked at each other - Ezra's expression blank with panic at the knowledge of what he knew was coming.
"Aw hell," Chris said, and got up and headed towards the 'corral fence.' The others, as always, followed their leader, although Ezra did hesitate a moment to take one last longing look at his team mates in their executive finery.
Chris grabbed one of the saddles and quickly inspected it to make sure everything was there. Repeated pawing by customers' greasy hands had left the leather reasonably supple. It would do.
He tossed the saddle at Buck, and then grabbed a second one that he inspected and then shoved at Ezra. He hoisted the third saddle onto his back. "Vin, JD, you're bareback. Josiah, Nathan, you run the tailgates."
Vin and JD high-fived each other. Ezra looked as though he were going to the gallows.
The horse trailer had several signs on it proclaiming "Caution: Show Horses." This was going to be interesting.
The driver of the horse trailer had one of the horses by its halter and was attempting to coax it into the trailer, but the horse was having none of it. Meanwhile the other horses and cattle had spread out even further, and the steers were parading down the center of the highway. The bull brought up the rear and had turned to face the small crowd of people who were trying to catch them and were only succeeding in scaring them off. Mr. Bull looked a lot less happy than he had a few minutes before. He lowered his head and pawed at the ground a couple of times.
Chris walked up to the pregnant woman and gently but firmly took the reins from her. He led the horse to Ezra. "Take care of that bull," he ordered.
Ezra saddled the horse, and the pregnant lady looked on in horror. "Those are dressage horses!" she gasped. "They don't wear a western saddle!"
The horse, however, didn't seem to mind the difference. Ezra quickly cinched the saddle and mounted up. He looked around for something to distract the bull, even though the choice was obvious and right in front of him. He sighed heavily. "Gentlemen, your ties, if you please."
Chris, Buck, Vin and JD tossed their ties to him as they headed for the four remaining horses.
A Tough Guy with a wad of chaw in his mouth the size of a golf ball walked towards them. "What the hell do you guys think you're doing? Get the fuck out of here. We can take care of this!"
Chris stared pointedly at the steers who were now loping down the highway. The horses looked eager to follow. "Yeah, I can see that," Chris said, and then took the reins of the nearest horse, which was spooked by Tough Guy's loud voice. He soothed the animal with soft words and strokes before putting the saddle on it.
"I'm tellin' ya to get out of here!" Tough Guy said. "You goddam city folk ain't gonna do nothin' but get in the way!"
Much to Tough Guy's chagrin, Vin and JD had grabbed two of the horses and vaulted easily onto their backs. They effortlessly turned their mounts in the direction of the escaping cattle.
"Leave 'em be, Billy Frank," said one of the truckers from inside the restaurant, many of whom had come out to watch the show.
"Well, ain't my business if they want to get their sorry asses killed," Tough Guy, aka Billy Frank, said grudgingly as Chris and Buck mounted up and uncoiled the lassos with expert ease.
Chris's first inclination was to tell the people who only thought they were helping to get their sorry asses the hell out of the way before someone got fucking killed.
Luckily, Buck, ever the diplomat, beat him to it. "Clear the way, folks," he smiled congenially as he waved them aside with the lasso. "Watch and learn."
The dressage horses were unaccustomed to being ridden without a saddle, but Vin and JD were exceptional riders and quickly managed to head off the cattle, who were becoming confused by the passing traffic and occasional blaring horn from a driver who was insensitive to their plight.
Josiah and Nathan managed to manipulate the trailer gates into position to be closed again once the livestock was safely returned. The hinges were slightly sprung and they'd have to be repaired, but they could make them work for now.
The real trick was avoiding the splatters of dung that peppered the gate.
"Nasty," Nathan remarked, thinking he would be purchasing an entire gallon of sanitizer to soak his hands in after this adventure was over.
Josiah was about to agree when a pair of gloves appeared in front of him. It was offered up by one of the truckers. Another pair was presented to Nathan. Both men had very large hands, so the gloves were a tight fit, but way better than nothing.
The man who had quieted Billy Frank stood and watched Vin and JD work at turning the cattle. He seemed perplexed by the fact that the two yuppies actually appeared to know what they were doing.
"I don't get it," he said to Josiah. "What line of work are y'all in, exactly?"
JD let out a whoop of joy as the last of the steers turned back. The horse he was on looked a bit baffled by it all, but JD had him under complete control.
No one was quite sure how to explain JD's skill with a horse, since the boy had never ridden before joining Team 7. Josiah suspected he had probably been a cowboy in some previous life. That was the only explanation for why he could herd cattle as well as Chris, who had been raised on a ranch, and why he could ride better than any of them.
"Well, that youngster there," Josiah replied, "Is an analytical information systems specialist." When his reply garnered a blank stare, he grinned and added, "Computer geek."
Vin had ridden up alongside JD, perfectly at ease on his horse despite the fact that it was trying to trot in a most un-cowboy way. He just let the animal have his way, with occasional nudges in the right direction.
Meanwhile, Ezra was skirting around the bewildered bull, whose attention was on a colorful streamer made of ties, taking care to stay outside of the bull's personal space. Unlike his team mates, Ezra knew how to ride a dressage horse, and the bull seemed especially transfixed by the fact that the horse was walking sideways and occasionally, backwards.
Most of the crowd of onlookers found that pretty interesting, too.
"City folk," someone huffed.
"I'd like to see you ride like that," someone else retorted.
Ezra managed to turn the bull so he was looking away from the steers that were being neatly herded back to their trailer. Four of them went willingly, having had enough of their adventure with blaring horns, speeding vehicles and oddly behaving humans. The fifth, though, balked at the gate, unleashed a hearty gusher of manure that had Nathan and Josiah deftly pirouetting out of the way like a pair of ballet dancers, and made a run for it.
Chris and Buck were on him quickly, each tossing a lasso that went neatly around the steer's meaty neck. Truth be told, it was just as likely one or both of the lassos would have missed on the first try, so Buck was thinking how lucky it was that not only had they pulled it off, they looked mighty damned magnificent doing it. As the steer stopped in his tracks and yielded, Chris was thinking they were damn lucky that these were probably roping steers, who were accustomed to having a noose thrown over their head.
The gathered crowd didn't know what to think, but most of them applauded appreciatively.
"Randy," someone said, "tell me what I'm seein' here, 'cause I ain't believin' my own eyes."
"I think you're seein' cowboys decked out in fancy suits," came the reply.
"Don't that beat all," someone else remarked.
"I'd so do 'em," sighed a familiar female voice.
"Did he just call me a cowboy?" Chris asked Buck.
Vin and JD had surrounded the bull, also taking care to keep back a safe distance. The bull was becoming agitated and clearly deciding who to take out first when Chris and Buck managed to lasso him, also, again succeeding on the first attempt. Oh yeah, they were golden today.
The bull did not go willingly, and the spectators - who had grown in number, the restaurant having virtually emptied out by this time - were treated to a show as he was dragged along snorting and bucking toward the trailer. The horses, unfortunately, wanted no part of any of it. This was not their kind of show. Even JD was having a hard time keeping his mount under control.
An elderly woman approached Vin, who was closest to her, leading an equally elderly bay.
"Take this horse, son," she said, smiling at him.
Vin eyed the sleepy looking animal warily but something about the woman told him she knew what she was doing. He dismounted and handed the reins of his horse over to her, and mounted up on the bay.
He approached the bull cautiously only to be almost unseated when the horse suddenly came to life and spun on a dime, heading the beast off as it tried to charge. Laughing, he loosened the reins, sitting back while the bay danced with the bull.
It was a cutting horse, and a damn good one, too. Sometimes you just got lucky.
This horse knew what it was doing, and was having none of the bull's attitude. Each time the bull moved, he would cut him off, slowly forcing him towards the trailer. JD, Chris and Buck dismounted and Ezra gathered their horses while they used the ropes to guide the bull up the ramp.
In no time at all, the bull was subdued and loaded into the trailer with the others.
The dressage horses had endured enough nonsense and obediently filed into their trailer. There was another burst of applause and a few cheers as Josiah slammed the gate behind the last horse.
The show was over, but the two drivers involved in the accident weren't done. They immediately began hurling insults and accusations at each other, and Josiah had to step in and put his mediator skills to use.
As it turned out, both drivers had thought the other was pulling out of the space. It was a simple miscalculation, and no one was really to blame. All of the animals were fine, no one was hurt, and the trailers were serviceable. Josiah made them both see that it could have been much worse.
Ezra passed out the neckties he'd borrowed and then stood back to assess the damage.
Miraculously, no one was spattered with dung or had ripped anything. Shoes were dusty, and Vin and JD's pants were covered in horse hair, but that could be easily remedied.
They returned the saddles and lassos to the display and retired to the men's room - Ezra having fetched an ominously large duffel bag from his vehicle.
Nathan washed his hands for a full five minutes, after carefully cleaning God only knew what off of the bottom of his shoes. Josiah knew what was on the bottom of his shoes but preferred not to think about it as he wiped them with a damp paper towel and then used Ezra's shoe kit to touch them up.
Vin and JD used the lint roller on their pants but balked when Ezra suggested spraying the seats and inseams with Febreze.
"Geez, Ez, it'll look like we peed ourselves," Vin commented.
"I assure you, it will dry in a matter of minutes," Ezra promised.
"No way," JD said.
Chris glared. "You're not going to have lunch with the President smelling like a horse. Do it."
"But..." both young men objected in unison.
Chris cut them off. "You stink. Do it. Not saying it again." And that was pretty much the end of that argument.
Brushed and freshened with ties re-knotted and shoes looking brand new again, they emerged from the men's room looking as if nothing had happened.
They returned to their table to discover that fresh food had been set out to replace the breakfast that had been left to get cold. Perplexed, Buck picked up the bill to see how much that was going to cost when the waitress sashayed past and grabbed it out of his hand. "Already taken care of," she smiled.
The Seven men looked at each other, shrugged, and then finished their meal.
On their way out, several of the truckers - including Billy Frank, paused to watch them leave, occasionally touching their hats or otherwise nodding approval.
"See ya' around, cowboys," one of them said as they walked out the door.
And Chris didn't even mind.
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Here is a video of a Cutting Horse in action. Great fun to watch!