All, this is a continuation of my Zeke Stanford western story. The first part, Gold Dreams was posted in 2015, part 2, Ambush, was posted in April 2016, and the last part, Unexpected Guests, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, posted in July 2016. I plan on putting the whole thing together with some editing, and publish it as a book. It’ll be a short book, less than 40,000 words as I see it. But that’s okay. It’ll be like the old dime thrillers of yesteryear. I hope you enjoy it.
Zeke left Sheriff Colton’s office and after dropping the draft he’d been given off at the bank, went to Mrs. Estrada’s house. Cesar stood, wide-eyed at the string of horses Zeke had with him. Poor little Jenny at the tail end, covered in dust.
“Mr. Zeke! What’s this?”
Zeke gave Cesar a wave, brought the parade to a halt and got off of Butters. “Hey, Cesar. It’s a tale, I’ll give you that. I’ve got three horses for sale. Should I take them to the livery or does Mrs. Estrada want to sell them? I’d have to pay a commission to the livery. I thought I’d give Mrs. Estrada a chance first.”
Cesar nodded. “I ask her, Mr. Zeke.” He went around to the horses and untied the string from Zeke’s saddle. He patted first one, then the others. Running his hand along their flanks and backs as he looked them over. “They look good. Little skinny though.”
Zeke untied Jenny from the last horse. “Yeah. They were owned by outlaws. Probably not cared for as well as you would have.”
Cesar nodded. “I put them in the corral. You put Jenny and Butters in the back stall. Same as always.”
Zeke did that, putting their tack away then bringing them out to the currying pole. He’d already started on Butters when Cesar joined him and began to curry Jenny. Cesar’s wife, Pia, came out to the yard, a mug of something in her hand. “Mister Zeke! I didn’t know you was here!” She hurried over and gave him the mug. “Coffee. I get you some too, Cesar,” she said to her husband. “Why didn’t you say Mr. Zeke was here?” She hurried off to the house.
“Sorry, Cesar,” Zeke said, grinning. “I think this was yours.” He held up the mug.
“That’s fine, Mr. Zeke. You drink it. She bring me one soon.”
It was soon after that Pia came back, another mug in hand. “You have same room, Mr. Zeke. You’re back early.”
Zeke handed her the now empty mug. “A little earlier than I had planned, Pia. I had some trouble.”
Both husband and wife looked at each other, then Zeke. Concern filled their faces. “It’s a long story. I’ll come out tomorrow and tell you all about it. How’s that?”
Pia nodded. “That’s fine. Mrs. Estrada will want to hear too. You’re fine? No hurts?”
“No.” Zeke laughed. “No hurts. Not counting the scratches from cat’s claw.” He gave Butters a few last strokes, then patted her on the rump. “Good girl.”
Pia grinned. “That’s good. Dinner at six. I’ll start your bath water.” She hustled back to the house.
Cesar grinned at Zeke. “Now you’ll have to tell. She’ll have Mrs. Estrada all worked up.”
Zeke didn’t want that. But he didn’t want to share the story with a house full of boarders. “How many here right now?”
Cesar looked at him, confused.
“Sorry. How many boarders?”
Cesar shook his head. “Just one. A gambler.”
Zeke’s eyebrows rose. “Really? Mrs. Estrada is fine with that?”
Cesar shrugged. “He pays good. Mostly he’s at the Oxbow. Comes home in the morning and sleeps all day. Makes it hard on Pia. She has to clean his room after supper.”
“That’s a shame. But makes it easy. I’ll see if Mrs. Estrada wouldn’t mind having dinner in the kitchen, since it’s just us, and I can tell you all about it then.”
A grin stretched across Cesar’s face. “That would be good. Like the old days with Mr. Estrada.”
It was after five when Zeke came out of his room. Bathed and in his town clothes, he was headed to the kitchen to see if there was some cold buttermilk and to sit on the porch in the shade. He ran into the gambler, coming out of his room. Zeke nodded and started to pass him by.
“Hey there. Good to see someone else staying here.”
“Hey.” Zeke eyed the man’s clothing. A fancy black suit with a snowy white shirt, ruffles down the front and lace at the sleeve cuffs with a gold chain leading to the man’s vest watch pocket.
The man stuck out his hand. “Red Talbot.”
“Zeke Stanford.” Zeke shook his hand.
“Dinner’s not till six,” Red said.
“I know. I’m headed to the porch.”
The two men walked together along the hall and to the stairs. “Passing through?” Red asked.
Zeke hated these kinds of questions. What was it to this man? “I’ve got some business in town.”
Red laughed. “Me too. I’m headed for the Oxbow. You play cards Mr. Stanford?”
“Probably a good thing. Too many cowboys with their pay in their pocket come to a sad end by the end of the night.” They reached the bottom of the stairs.
Mrs. Estrada was in the parlor, knitting by the window. “Zeke! Good to see you.” She got up and gave Zeke a hug. “Welcome back.”
Red eyed him. “Mrs. Estrada.”
Her looked told Zeke that she wasn’t all that impressed with her boarder. “Mr. Talbot. Off to the Oxbow?”
He gave her a bow. “I am indeed, good lady. I’m afraid I’ll have to miss your wonderful dinner again this evening.” Red turned to Zeke. “I take my supper at the Oxbow most nights. Not as good as here, but, alas,” he shrugged, “it gives me time to assess my competition.” He headed to the back door. “I’ll get my horse and bid you all, good-night.”
After he was gone, Mrs. Estrada snorted. “Good riddance.” Then she smiled. “I have mail for you.”