Beth here, with another response to the May Cartoon Challenge offered by Bern. This short story owes its existence to my desire to write dialogue for a certain cartoon character. Also, Ezra demanded equal time after he was left out of the last ficlet.
Author: Beth Green
Characters: Ezra, Buck
Buck ran through the doors of the saloon, sweating and short of breath. He stepped up to the bar and leaned his weary body against the supportive countertop while he recovered.
Ezra was leaning against the same bar with a bottle of whiskey in front of him and an empty glass nearby. He gave a nod of friendly greeting when he was joined by his colleague. "Mr. Wilmington."
Buck grabbed the bottle and the empty glass from the bar, poured himself a drink, and downed it in one quick gulp while Ezra looked on disapprovingly. The mustached man ignored Ezra's nonverbal annoyance, and voiced appreciation for a favor that had not been granted. "Thanks, Ezra, I needed that."
Ezra protested, "So did I, or I would not have purchased this bottle -" he paused to collect his whiskey and remove it to the side away from his thirsty friend, "for my own use." His emphasis upon the word 'own' let Buck know that Ezra did not appreciate the fact that his friend had helped himself to the whiskey.
Before Ezra could demand appropriate compensation, Buck hurried around to the service side of the bar. He held a hand out at waist level to illustrate his words as he quickly explained, "There's a little bitty fella out lookin' for me. The thing is, the little fella is totin' a big gun. I'd hate to have to shoot him, so could you do us both a favor and tell him you haven't seen me?"
Buck did not wait for Ezra's response as he ducked down below the level of the bar, out of sight of any of the patrons.
Ezra suspected the reason behind Buck's sudden disappearance, and proceeded to casually turn his back to the bar. He observed a stranger standing near the saloon's entrance, obviously looking for someone. The man fit the description of Buck's nemesis. He was middle-aged, balding, and most importantly, armed with a shotgun. Although short of stature, the stranger was not quite as diminutive as Buck had indicated.
Ezra controlled his movements so that he did nothing to indicate that anyone was behind the bar. He propped his elbow against the countertop, enabling him to use his hand as a headrest. The resulting position allowed Ezra to hide the fact that he was speaking. He murmured quietly, pitching his voice so that only Buck could hear. "I believe that your friend has just entered this fine establishment. Despite the fact that you already owe me for the drink that you stole after it had been purchased for my own personal use, I will accede to your request for concealment," he added, "For the paltry sum of five dollars."
Buck hissed, "Five dollars? Are you out of your mind?"
Ezra ignored Buck's protest. He decided that Buck's answer was a refusal, albeit a temporary one, of his proposition. Although Ezra intended to comply with Buck's request, his friend's recalcitrance gave Ezra an excuse to enjoy himself while he did so.
Ezra smiled and waved a beckoning hand in greeting toward the stranger. "Sir, are you perhaps in need of some assistance?"
Prior to Ezra's offer, the other patrons of the saloon had ignored the stranger in their midst. The man gladly responded to Ezra's hail. "Yes, yes, I am!"
Ezra waved a hand to indicate that the stranger should join him at the bar. As the man approached, Ezra poured a drink into the glass that Buck had borrowed and offered the libation to the stranger. "A friend of mine generously purchased this bottle." (Ezra smiled, knowing that Buck had to exercise a considerable strength of will not to call out "I did not!" in response to Ezra's statement.) Ezra continued to speak to their visitor. "I would be more than happy to share a drink with you."
The stranger accepted the offered drink and sipped cautiously at it, trying but failing to hide his surprise at the high alcohol content of the whiskey. He set the glass down and stated, "Thank you. That was vewwy good."
Ezra offered his hand to the man and introduced himself. "Ezra Standish."
The man proceeded to grab Ezra's hand in both of his own, and used an excessive amount of force as he shared a handshake. The visitor's smile made him appear totally witless as he introduced himself. "Ewlmer. Ewlmer Fudd." Mr. Fudd continued to shake hands, despite Ezra's attempts to extricate himself from the man's grasp. Fudd continued, "I'm pweased to meet you."
Ezra finally managed to free himself from the man's cold and clammy grip. He surreptitiously wiped his hand against his pants' leg. "I'm sure that you are. Now, how can I be of service to you?"
When Mr. Fudd hesitated to reply, Ezra decided to test a theory. By the man's manner of dress, Ezra believed that he knew Mr. Fudd's current occupation. He asked, "Are you by chance a hunter?"
Mr. Fudd nodded so heartily that Ezra feared he could hear the man's brains rattling around within his skull. Perhaps that explained Fudd's apparent dimwittedness. Ezra sighed, and mentally added another dollar to the bill that he intended to present to Mr. Wilmington. "What, may I ask, are you huntin'?"
Mr. Fudd looked cautiously around the bar, then replied as if he were imparting some great secret: "Wabbits."
Ezra had to bite his lips to stop himself from laughing out loud at both the man's blatant lie and his pronouncement of it. When he judged that he had his amusement thoroughly under control, Ezra stated, "Then I am afraid you are in for a bit of a disappointment. I believe that you will find very few," he had to mentally scold himself for his desire to say 'wabbits;' there was no point in antagonizing Mr. Fudd with his mockery, so he continued, "rabbits in our fair town."
Mr. Fudd reflected both doubt and disappointment as he asked, "Awre you su(w)re?"
Ezra hesitated before he replied. It appeared that Mr. Wilmington was going to be extricated from whatever situation he'd set into motion entirely too easily. Ezra couldn't resist adding, "Unless the rabbits you're huntin' happen to be over six feet tall, with dark hair and a mustache?"
Fudd's demeanor brightened at Ezra's question. He nodded enthusiastically. "As a mattewr of fact, they awre!"
It was at that point that Buck suspected Ezra might be inclined to reveal his whereabouts. Buck had no intention of being caught in a shootout in the confined area behind the bar. He cautiously tried to sneak out from behind his limited cover. Unfortunately, at six feet plus, it was impossible for Buck to leave inconspicuously.
The dark-haired man had barely cleared the bar area when Fudd spotted his quarry. He sputtered, "Why, you . . ." and raised his gun.
Buck hurriedly backed toward the door as he explained, "Honest, Mister, she never told me she was married!"
Ezra tensed, ready to launch himself at Mr. Fudd. Fudd hesitated, trying to decide whether or not he should pull the shotgun's trigger. While he
dithered, Ezra decided to settle the man's internal debate. He pushed the barrel of the gun until it pointed harmlessly at the floor and explained, "The man you are huntin' is a representative of the local law enforcement for this fine community. I also represent the law in this town. If you do not immediately desist, I'll be forced to escort you on an up close and personal tour of our jail."
Fudd lowered his weapon, his face reddening as he stamped a booted foot upon the ground and verbalized his frustration. "Oo-o-oo!" It took a few minutes, but the man finally calmed down. He looked up at Ezra and spoke. "I'm sowwy. It's just, he made me so mad!"
Ezra shrugged. "I'm afraid that Mr. Wilmington tends to have that affect on people. In the future, I suggest that you confine your hunting to the long-eared, carrot-eating, fur-covered breed of rabbit."
Fudd nodded. "Yeah. That sounds like a vewwy good idea."
Ezra turned away, hoping that the man would take the hint and depart the premises. Unfortunately, Mr. Fudd remained standing in place. Ezra sighed. The man was obviously in need of direction. "Mr. Fudd. I believe that it is time for you to exit." He pointed toward the batwing doors of the saloon and continued, "Stage right."
Fudd proceeded out the door, while Ezra finished his whiskey.
Buck managed to stay out of sight until Mr. Fudd was long gone. When he reappeared hours later, Buck spotted Ezra lounging comfortably in a chair outside of the General Store. He strode up to his friend, ready to share his opinion of his conduct. "What the hell did you think you were doing?"
Ezra feigned ignorance. "I'm not certain to what you're referring."
"I'm talking about your twisted idea of coverin' for me."
Ezra literally waved off Buck's protest with a casual flip of his hand. "As I recall, I did not inform Mr. Fudd of your whereabouts."
Buck snorted in derision. "Hell, you all but stood up and pointed to say, 'Here he is.'"
Ezra objected. "Mr. Wilmington, in case it escaped your notice, Mr. Fudd was far too feeble-minded to pick up on any subtleties in our conversation. It was you who brought the man's attention upon yourself."
Buck seemed to calm down after Ezra's reminder.
Buck's frown turned into a rueful smile. He paused before he responded, "Yeah, I guess you got a point." His smile brightened as he shared his own observation. "If 'Ewlmer's' brains were leather, he couldn't saddle a flea."
Ezra smiled as he stood up to clap a friendly hand upon his friend's back. "Mr. Wilmington, I believe that you owe me a drink, as well as compensation for services rendered."
Buck shook his head and began to walk toward the saloon. "I believe you're tryin' to piss down my back and tell me it's rainin'."
Ezra laughed. "Mr. Wilmington, that is one of the many reasons that I like you." At Buck's inquisitive glance, Ezra clarified, "As often as I'm certain that you find my elocution to be obtuse, I find your colloquialisms to be inapprehensible on an equal number of occasions."
Buck tacitly admitted his limited understanding of Ezra's statement. "Whatever you say." He continued, "Tell you what; you buy me a drink, then I'll buy you a drink, and we'll call it even."
Ezra objected, Buck argued back, and the two men companionably walked down the street.
And somewhere off in the distance, the hunt for a rabbit began.
"Sh-h-h! I'm huntin' wabbits!"
~That's all, folks!