Quartz: Part 9 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

See Part 1 Here.

The next morning he said goodbye to Mary and after stashing a napkin-wrapped bundle of biscuits with butter and ham in his saddle bag, he left for town. It was a good day, starting off cool with the sky a clear blue. Birds sang as he passed, and a coyote hurried across the road ahead of him. He mentally reviewed the contents of his saddle-bags. Mrs. Estrada had been generous, and he had beans and flour and bacon enough for the nine days he planned to be gone. He had some cornmeal as well to make cornbread if there was time. His canteens were full, and he had feed for Butters too. This was just supposed to be a quick trip. He hoped it would go according to plan and that Mr. Woolsey and Mr. Brokaw were experienced outdoorsmen. If they were tenderfeet, it was going to be a long trip.

Markum was on the hotel porch in one of the rocking chairs, when Zeke arrived. He tied Butters to a rail and went up the steps. “Mr. Markum. Mornin’.”

“Good morning, Zeke. Woolsey and Brokaw were just finishing breakfast. They’ll be out shortly.”

Zeke nodded and took the chair next to Markum. “They have supplies for nine days?”

“I believe so. I saw them in the general store yesterday, buying supplies. I put in a good word with them at the livery, to get good horses.” The man eyed Zeke. “You have everything you need?”

“I do. It’s out and back, so I didn’t bring a lot.”

Markum nodded. “The men who ambushed you are being sent down to Globe for trial.”

“Good.” Zeke was relieved. “I wondered how that was going to be handled.”

“The sheriff found some wanted posters. He telegraphed the sheriff down there. Turns out they are wanted for several claim-jumping and assault charges. Colton told me you have some reward money coming.”

Zeke rubbed his face and nodded. It wasn’t that the money wasn’t welcome. Between the three gunmen and however much these brush-poppers were going to bring in, he had several years-worth of income in the bank. Nothing to scoff at. But the stares and the speculation were more than he wanted to deal with. Even as he thought that, men passing by were looking at him. He couldn’t wait to get out on the trail. “Appreciate the news.” He turned to look at the front doors of the hotel. They were open to the morning air. Where were those men?

“They’ll be out soon.”

Zeke looked at him with eyebrows raised.

Markum laughed. “I can see you looking for them.”

Zeke nodded. “Just want to get going before the day gets hot.”

“Of course.”

So they waited, talking about the assay business, mining in general, and some of the town gossip. It was an hour and a half before Woolsey and Brokaw came out the front doors. “Ready?” Woolsey said.

He was more jovial than he had a right to be as far as Zeke was concerned. They at least had their saddlebags in hand. “Ready.” He stood up and shook Markum’s hand. “Appreciate you coming out, Mr. Markum.”

“Glad to be here, Mr. Stanford.” He tipped his hat to the mining company men. “Safe trip, gentlemen.”

“We plan on it,” Brokaw said.

“I’ll walk with you to the livery,” Zeke told them. He left the porch and untied Butters as Markum shook their hands. Finally, they left the porch and headed to the livery. Zeke, leading Butters, walked with them. “You have to do this often? Travel out to some mine or other, I mean.”

“Often enough,” Woolsey replied. “All over the west. Where ever the company sends us to look.”

Zeke thought that sounded uncomfortable at best. He was mining now, but when he was married and settled down, he wanted to sleep at home in his own bed.

“How about you, son. You been mining long?”

Zeke shrugged. “A little over a year, now. Left my Pa’s ranch and came west.”

Brokaw nodded. “Sowing a little wild oats?”

Zeke didn’t like the way the man sneered. “Just looking for a strike. Then for a good place to ranch.”

The conversation ended when they reached the livery. The man had the horses ready to go. Zeke was glad. He was ready to get on the trail. Once they had their saddlebags in place and were mounted, Zeke got on Butters and led the men out of town and across the chaparral. It was good to get back out on the trail.

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Quartz: Part 8 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

See Part 1 Here.

Zeke went back down to the kitchen where Pia was moving around preparing breakfast. He was just too wound up to sleep. He sat at the kitchen table. “Where did Mrs. Estrada go?”

“She went back to bed.” The woman put a cup in front of Zeke and poured him some coffee. “She told me what happened. You’re fine? Miss Mary?”

“We are. Talbot too.”

“Good thing he was there.”

As much as it choked him to say so, he had to agree. “He warned me, earlier. But who knew they’d try something right in town.”

His stomach rolled. What if something had happened to Mary? It was too much to think about.

Cesar came in and Pia gave him some cornbread from last night and a slice of cold ham, while Zeke sat at the table. Pia was speaking to him in Spanish, telling him about the ambush, Zeke thought as they kept glancing in his direction. Good. That way he wouldn’t have to tell it again. He finished the coffee and went out the back door. The sun was just beginning to brighten the horizon. He sat on the back steps and watched as the sun came up, the birds waking and singing their morning songs as the sky became rosy then blue.

Cesar had gone back to the barn and Zeke could hear him moving around, the horses stamping as he gave them hay and water, the rooster crowed and the hens came out of hiding. Pia went out with a basket and gathered eggs. Zeke felt like a bum, letting the couple do all of the work but he just couldn’t seem to move. He was going to kill those men if he could have. All for the gold. If it weren’t for Mary, he would let everyone have the gold. It was nothing but trouble.

“Morning.”

Zeke looked up. It was full day and Talbot was approaching the steps. “Beautiful day.”

“Yep.”

“You doing all right?”

Zeke was tired of people asking him that. “Fine.”

Talbot’s eyebrow rose. “Fine.” He went inside. Pia followed. “I get you some coffee, Mr. Talbot.”

“Thank you, Pia,” Talbot said.

Zeke felt completely tired of Red Talbot and wondered why the man was hanging around Payson. There couldn’t be that much money gambling here in town, could there?

Pia called him in for breakfast and he went to the dining room. Talbot was seated there, along with Mrs. Estrada. He looked at Mary’s usual chair.

“I’ll take her something later,” Mrs. Estrada said. “We’ll just have a quiet breakfast, the three of us.”

Zeke nodded. That was fine with him.

The rest of the day was quiet. Talbot went to bed. Mary got up at noon and had a light lunch with him and a walk down by the stream. They talked about what kind of life she was looking forward to. He talked about the kind of ranch he’d like to have. Mary asked him about the mine and he told her about building the arrastra and using potatoes to get gold nuggets.

When the bell rang, they came in to dinner. Talbot didn’t bother him nearly so much this evening as before. Mary played, after dinner, and he went to bed content.

The days passed and finally, Markum sent word that the mining company was in town. Zeke put his best clothes on and rode Butters into town. He tied up at the Assay office and noticed all the eyes on the street looking at him, people whispering to each other. He was uncomfortable. The sooner he could sell the mine the happier he’d be.

Markum stood up when Zeke came through the door. “Mr. Stanford. Welcome.” He came around the desk. “I’d like you to meet Mr. Woolsey, and Mr. Brokaw, from the Black Canyon mining company.”

The two men stood up and Zeke shook hands. “Pleasure to meet you, gentlemen.”

Markum had brought enough chairs for everyone. “Let’s get to business then. Mr. Woolsey, would you like to begin?”

“Certainly. We are always on the look-out, Mr. Stanford, for claims like yours.” He motioned to Mr. Brokaw. “Here’s our standard contract, with the details filled out concerning your claim. If you’d like to take a moment to read that.”

The two mining company men waited while Zeke read the contract. It was full of legal words and Zeke had trouble with it but the gist of it met his requirements. He asked them about some of the words, and satisfied, answered. “It seems straightforward, gentlemen. What next?”

“Well,” Woolsey began. “We’d like to see the claim.”

That made sense to Zeke. Who’d want to buy something sight unseen? “Fair enough. When would you like to go?”

“I understand it’s about a four-day ride. How about tomorrow. That gives us time to gather supplies.”

“I’ll be ready. Are you stayin’ at the hotel?”

“We are,” Woolsey replied.

“I’ll stop there to pick you up at seven.” They all shook hands and the mining company men left.

Markum clapped Zeke on the back. “It looks like this is going to work, son.”

Zeke nodded. “It does. Will I see you in the morning?”

“I’ll be at the hotel to see you off.” He walked Zeke to the door. “Say hello to Miss Young for me. She’s recovered from Saturday?”

“Yes.” Zeke thought he might not be recovered. He’d been having nightmares every night. “I’ll tell her you asked after her.”

With that, he went out, got on Butters, and headed back to the house. But instead of going straight back, he took a ride. It was nice country around here, and he needed time to himself to clear his mind.

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Quartz, Part 6: Flash Fiction Friday Post

That evening, Mary and Zeke rode Diva and Butters into town while Mrs. Estrada took the carriage with Cesar and Pia. They tied the horses up behind the Assay office and walked, Mary on Zeke’s arm, around the building and onto Main Street. “I’m glad we tied them up there,” Mary said as they surveyed the scene. “It’s so noisy here.”

It was true. The band, a fiddler, a man on a guitar, and the piano from the bar were all out on the Oxbow’s porch. The group was warming up. It sounded like cats fighting to Zeke but he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket so what did he know. People were lined up on both sides of the street. A big circle, really, leaving plenty of room in the middle for dancing. Kids ran everywhere, screaming as they played sheriff and bandits. The crowd was mostly families, sitting beside their wagons, having supper, chatting with friends they hadn’t seen in a while. The women, especially, counted these Saturday night dances as the highlight of their week. They could commiserate with the other ladies, get supplies, and on Sunday morning, attend church, before heading home to their ranches. Not to say the men didn’t enjoy the comradery as well. Life on a ranch was hard and lonely, even with a wife and family. And it didn’t hurt that there was beer.

Mr. Markum spotted Zeke and Mary and came over. “Zeke. Good to see you.” The men shook hands.

“Mr. Markum. This is Mary Young, come just a couple of days ago from Santa Rosa.”

Markum took her hand and shook it. “Miss Young. So good to meet you. Zeke has had nothing but praises for you.”

“Thank you. Mr. Markum. I want to thank you for saving Zeke. He wrote me all about the gunmen in the street. It was very brave of you.”

“It was nothing, Miss Young. Your Zeke is a good man. Glad to help him out. Come meet the Missus.” The three walked over to where three ladies were seated in a group, near the front of the assay office. “Excuse me, ladies. I’d like to introduce Zeke Stanford and Miss Mary Young. My wife, Cassie.”

Cassie stood up. “Mr. Markum has told me all about you two. Welcome to Payson.” She gave Mary a kiss on the cheek. “I’m so happy to finally meet you, Mr. Stanford.”

Zeke tipped his hat. “Mrs. Markum. Ladies.”

“Now,” Cassie took Mary by the arm. “We must introduce you to everyone. Come with me.”

With that, the other ladies stood up and they all proceeded to walk around the circle, Cassie stopping at each group and introducing Mary. Markum grinned at Zeke. “Well. That’s going to take some time. She’ll have her back before the dancing starts.”

“I guess I get a beer, then.” Zeke tipped his hat to Markum and headed into the Oxbow. It was quieter in here than out on the street but that didn’t mean nothing was going on. Several men stood at the bar. Ranchers, mostly, doing what Zeke was doing, grabbing a beer while their women-folk visited. Many of the tables were full. Two held card games. Talbot gave Zeke a small nod as they noticed each other but he didn’t disrupt his game for Zeke.

All well and good as far as Zeke was concerned. If he could avoid Red Talbot while the man stayed in Payson that was good enough for him. He got a beer and went out on the Oxbow porch to drink it. Leaning against the railing post, he saw that Mary and Mrs. Markum were about a third of the way around the circle. He sipped his beer and looked around. There must be a hundred or more people here, he thought. On a normal day, while the town seemed busy, there weren’t that many on the street.

He was half way done with his drink when Talbot came up beside him. He pointed his chin at Mary. “She seems to be doing well.”

“Yes. Meeting the other women.”

“Thought you should know. The table of men at the saloon window have been asking about you.”

Zeke drew a deep breath then casually turned to look at the saloon. Two windows had been placed side-by-side in the saloon’s front wall. There, four men at a table stared out at him. He turned back to the street. “What do they want?”

“Your name.” Talbot adjusted the hat on his head, slicking back his hair before putting it back on. “They know you have a mine and have been to the assay office.” He gave Zeke an appraising look. “I’m rooming in the same house with you, I didn’t even know you were mining.”

“I don’t tell everyone my business.” Zeke was annoyed. Way too many people seemed to know all about him and his business.

“Always a good policy. But word is out. Take care, is all.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“So I heard. There are four men in the jail because of you. Three more a few weeks ago. The sheriff should hire you as a deputy.”

“Just protecting myself.”

“I’m sure.” Talbot drew a breath. “Just watch those four. They don’t mean any good.”

Zeke grunted, and Talbot went back inside. Zeke drained his glass and took it back in. By the time he came out, Mary was just about back to Markum’s spot in the circle. He went to claim Mary back. By the time pleasantries were exchanged, the music started. Zeke lead Mary out to the center of the street.

They danced until they were laughing and breathless. Markum came over and asked Mary for a dance. Zeke did the same with Mrs. Markum. Then back to each other, they danced again. The next dance, Zeke felt a tap on his shoulder.

“May I cut in?” Talbot tipped his hat to Mary.

“Of course,” she said.

Zeke was not happy when she dimpled. With reluctance, he relinquished her hand. Talbot led her off back into the circle of dancers as Zeke stepped to the sidelines. He didn’t care for the way Talbot danced so easily. He especially didn’t like how Mary seemed to be enjoying it.

He crossed his arms and fumed until the dance was over. He hurried over to reclaim Mary.

“Thank you so much, Miss Mary.” Talbot bowed, hat sweeping across him.

“A pleasure, Mr. Talbot.” She curtsied.

“A new song is starting Mary.” Zeke took her hand and led her away. But he could see Talbot laughing as they left. Let him laugh, Zeke thought. I’m the one with Mary.

They got small beers at the band’s break and danced and danced as long as the band played. When the band broke up, most of the people, the ranch families especially, were already gone. Mrs. Estrada, with Pia and Cesar, had left at midnight.

Zeke and Mary said good night to the Markums and headed for the horses. Mary was stroking Diva’s head while Zeke checked them over. He was about to untie Butters when a man grabbed Mary from behind. She fought her attacker as Zeke started for the man when another man stuck a pistol in his face.

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Quartz – Part 5: Flash Fiction Friday Post

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Quartz – Part 5

It didn’t help at all that while Mary was greeting Mr. Alvarez, sitting across from her, Talbot gave Zeke a smirking grin. Zeke pulled out the chair beside Alvarez so hard that Mrs. Estrada gave him a look. With a bob of his head, he sat, mustering as much politeness as he could.

Dinner proceeded without much comment from him while both Talbot and Alvarez did their best to charm Mary. When dinner ended, finally, Zeke stormed off, out the front door and down to the creek. After storming up and down the creek bank, throwing rocks and sticks into the water, he finally calmed down enough to go back.

There he found everyone in the parlor listening to Mary playing Mrs. Estrada’s piano. As he entered, Mary finished the piece and everyone clapped. “That was beautiful, Mary,” Mrs. Estrada told her. “After I had this shipped here, I never did learn to play. There was no time and frankly, no teachers.”

Everyone laughed, Mrs. Estrada included.

Mary looked at Zeke. “I think I’m tired, Cassie. If you don’t mind. It’s been a very long day.”

Mrs. Estrada stood up. “Of course, dear. Forgive me for keeping you.”

Red Talbot stood as well, taking Mary’s hand and kissing it. “I bid you good evening, then, Miss.”

Zeke saw Mary blush, but she didn’t remove her hand from Red’s. He stepped in. “I’ll walk you up, Mary.”

Behind her back, Red grinned. Zeke took Mary firmly by the arm and led her away, thinking only about how if he ever got that bushwhacker alone, he’d take care of him. Mary held onto Zeke’s arm with both hands. “Mr. Talbot is quite the character, isn’t he?” she said as they reached the upstairs hall.

“Oh. Yes.” Zeke had other words to use but he let that go. “I’m sorry you’ve over-exerted yourself. The stage ride must have been brutal.”

She shrugged. “It was tiring. But that’s not why I said good night.” She turned to Zeke as they stood outside her door. “I could see you were upset. That’s all.”

He took a breath. That made him feel like a heel. “I’m sorry, Mary. The man gets under my skin.”

She smiled at him. “I could see that. Don’t let it. I didn’t come all this way to see Mr. Talbot. I came to see you.”

Now he really felt bad. “I apologize. It won’t happen again.”

Mary kissed him on the cheek and opened her door. “Good night, Zeke. Sleep well.” With that she was inside, and the door closed.

Zeke put his hand up to his cheek over the kiss. He could still feel her warm lips there. In his room, he took off his boots and lay down on the bed. Her scent lingered on his shirt and all he could think about was having her in his arms.

The next morning, he was in the barn, taking care of his horses and Jenny, when Talbot rode in. Cesar was out at the pig pen so he stepped forward. “Talbot.”

Talbot tipped his hat. “Stanford.” He dismounted. “You’re up early.”

“You too.”

Talbot laughed. “You’re right, my young friend.” He led his stallion into the barn.

Zeke followed. He wouldn’t put it past this rake to steal anything lighter than the anvil. Talbot took his horse to the far end left box stall and unsaddled his horse. Zeke pretended to check on Butter’s feed box.

“Hey, toss me down some hay, would you?” Talbot called out from the stall.

Zeke could hear the sounds of Talbot unsaddling his horse. He shrugged to himself. “Sure.”

Up in the loft, he forked down three bunches of hay, and climbed back down. “Nice horse.” He could give Talbot that much credit. The horse was magnificent.

“Thank you. Storm is a bit much to handle. He has a mind of his own, but we get along.” The horse took that opportunity to reach around and try to bite Talbot. Talbot pushed his head away and gave the horse’s neck a long stroke. The horse looked at Zeke, as though to say he was in charge.

“I can see.”

“I had a good night last night. You should come to the Oxbow for a hand or two.”

Zeke, never one for throwing his money away, thought that was unlikely to happen. “Maybe.”

Talbot came out of the stall and found the oats, giving Storm a scoop, then put the hay in the rack. He opened the stall door to the outside corral, then came out. He brushed his hands off after closing the stall door. “I suspect breakfast is about ready?”

Zeke nodded. “I suspect so.”

Both men walked to the outside pump and washed their hands, then up the steps to the back porch and into the kitchen.

Pia was pulling biscuits from the oven. Zeke’s stomach growled at the aroma.

“Almost ready. Go. Mrs. Estrada is in the parlor.”

Zeke led the way. In the parlor, the salesman was seated in one of the armchairs. Mrs. Estrada was in her rocker and Mary was on the settee. Zeke’s breath caught in his throat at how lovely she looked, her blonde hair shining in the sunlight streaming through the window. She smiled at him as he entered.

“Good morning, Zeke.” Mrs. Estrada nodded to him. “Oh. I see Mr. Talbot is with us this morning.”

Talbot removed his hat. “Mrs. Estrada, you look most fetching in blue this fine day.” He bowed to her while giving Mary a wink.

Zeke scowled as Mary held her hand up to her mouth. It wasn’t like her to simper. He didn’t understand what was going on with her.

“Miss Younger.” Talbot stepped over to her. “Good morning.” He bowed, took her hand and kissed it.

Zeke rolled his eyes. “Mr. Alvarez.”

“Good morning, Mr. Stanford. A fine day for travelling.”

“It is.”

Talbot turned and nodded to the salesman. “Morning, sir.”

The salesman nodded back. “Good morning.”

Pia announced that it was breakfast and they all went into the dining room.

Later, Zeke mopped the last of the gravy with his biscuit, thinking he’d escaped from breakfast with a minimum amount of aggravation from Mr. Red Talbot. He was wondering about how to spend the day with Mary when Talbot spoke again.

“There’s the usual Saturday night dance at the Oxbow tonight, I thought you all should know.”

Alvarez shook his head. “I’m on my way to Flagstaff right after breakfast, good sir. But thank you for letting me know.”

Zeke glanced at Mary and slumped. She was sitting forward, eyes sparkling.

“A dance?”

Zeke checked Mrs. Estrada.

“Oh yes. I haven’t been in a long time but I remember going. Many of the ranch families come into town to do their weekly resupply and stay for the dance. Then sleep in their wagons, go to church on Sunday morning then head back to their ranches.” She nodded, smiling.

Zeke thought she was thinking about a happy memory. The older woman wasn’t doing anything to dissuade Mary from this dance. He looked back to Mary, who was eagerly looking at him. From the corner of his eye he could see Talbot sit back in his chair, arms folded across his chest, smirking. He’d like to slap that smirk right off of his face.

“Doesn’t that sound like fun, Zeke! I could meet some of the ladies.”

That did it for him. If they were going to stay here, she did need to meet some of the other women. Stay here? Where did that come from? “Um. Yes. Sounds like fun. Especially since Mrs. Estrada says it’s a family dance.”

Mary bounced up and down with glee. “Thank you, Zeke! Thank you, Mrs. Estrada. You’ll have to help me pick out a dress.”

Then, she turned to Red. “Thank you for telling us about the dance, Mr. Talbot.”

The gambler touched his fingertips to his forehead, doing a little bow in Mary’s direction. “Anything for you, Miss Younger.”

Mrs. Estrada pushed back from the table. “It’s decided then. Goodness.” She smiled at everyone around the table. “I don’t think I’ve been this excited about going to the dance in a long time.”

Zeke escorted Mary to her room where she was going to lay out all of her dresses to make a decision. Talbot came up as Zeke was closing Mary’s door. He nodded to the man as he passed him at his door, then went back out to the barn. He brought Diva out to curry her. Cesar brought out Storm and tied him to the fence post across the yard from Zeke.

“I hear you’re going to the dance. I take Pia. She loves to dance.” The ranch hand waggled his eyebrows at Zeke.

Zeke nodded. “I guess the ladies do like to dance. Mary’s picking out a dress.”

“You don’ want to go?”

“No. That’s not it.” He had to remember not to brush too hard, he thought as Diva shied away from his rough hand. “It’s just that Talbot brought it up. I know the man wasn’t bringing it up out of the kindness of his heart.”

“Miss Mary is very pretty.”

“Yep. She is. And innocent. Red Talbot is a no-good bushwhacker. Not the kind of person Mary should set her cap for.” Again, Diva whimpered and moved away from Zeke’s brush. He had to pat the horse and calm her down. “Sorry, Diva. Sorry, girl.” He took a deep breath. “Well. I’ve got to take her to the dance. But I don’t have to like that Talbot will be sniffing around my girl.”

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Quartz: Part 4 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

Quartz – Part 4

“I just got your letter yesterday.” Zeke held Mary’s hand, aware of the women passing by, smiling at the couple. He looked into her blue eyes. They sparkled with unshed tears of happiness. “And your ma and pa? They were all right with this?”

Mary sniffled back her tears and shook her head. “No. Ma was dead set against it but Pa,” she made a face that was puzzled. “He didn’t like it but he helped me get the stage ticket.”

Zeke nodded. Mr. Younger didn’t like him much but they did have a mutual respect. “Your Pa has always been fair to me.” He smiled at her. “Where’s your trunk?”

“Oh!” She wiped her eyes with an embroidered hanky and turned around. As they watched, the stage helper was handing down her trunk to the driver. Zeke stepped forward. “I’ll take that.”

The driver nodded and put the trunk down. When Zeke went to pick it up, he nearly dropped it. The driver grinned and turned back to the stage. “Mary. Did you bring everything you own?”

“Yes. Oh. Is that bad?”

“No. Nope.” He took a breath and hefted the trunk, carrying it to the hotel registration desk. “Miss Younger would like this sent to Mrs. Estrada’s boarding house.”

The clerk looked over the desk at the trunk. “Put it back here.” He pointed at the path around the desk. “I’ll have someone bring it out this afternoon.”

Zeke put the trunk where indicated and dug a dollar out of his pocket and handed it to the clerk. “Thank you.”

He escorted Mary back outside and to the horses. “This is Diva. Your horse for now. We can get another if you want. And this is my horse, Butters.”

Mary stepped up to Diva and gave the horse’s nose a gentle rub. “Hello, Diva. We’re going to be great friends, aren’t we?”

After she made the horse’s acquaintance, Zeke handed her the reins and helped her mount. “Mrs. Estrada’s house isn’t far.” He mounted Butters. “We can walk so you can see the sights.”

They had a leisurely ride—Zeke pointing out the various businesses along the street. Outside of town Mary exclaimed, “It’s greener than I expected. Not like Santa Rosa.”

“I think more rain falls here. And the ponderosas help make it feel more green.”

The ride to Mrs. Estrada’s was over much too soon as far as Zeke was concerned. They dismounted in front of the barn.

Cesar hurried out, wiping his hands on a rag. “Mr. Zeke! Miss Mary! Welcome.” He held Diva’s head as Mary dismounted, then took the reins. “Mr. Zeke has told us all about you. We’re happy to see you.”

Mary grinned at Zeke as he got off of Butters. “Thank you, Cesar. He’s told me all about you and Pia and Mrs. Estrada, as well.” She held out her hand to Cesar. He shook with her.

Cesar beamed. “Pia is waiting for you in the house. I’ll take care of the horses, Mr. Zeke.”

“Thank you, Cesar. Miss Mary’s trunk will be arriving this afternoon from the hotel. I’ve already paid them for delivering it.”

Cesar bobbed his head. “I’ll bring it in when it arrives, Mr. Zeke. Miss Mary.”

In the house, Mrs. Estrada’s and Pia’s welcome was even more enthusiastic. “Welcome, young lady.” Mrs. Estrada gave Mary a hug. “We’re so happy to see you.”

“I’m happy to be here. You have a lovely home.” Mary smiled. “Zeke has written me so much, I feel that I already know all of you.”

“I’m glad.” Mrs. Estrada turned to Pia. “Get a tea service ready Pia. Take it up to Miss Mary’s room.” She turned back to Mary. “You must be tired. Let me show you your room.” They went through the house and upstairs, Mrs. Estrada pointing out handiwork her deceased husband had done and the occasional picture on the wall. Mary’s room was at the end of the hall, the same side as Zeke’s. “This is it,” Mrs. Estrada said as she opened the door.

Zeke saw a room very similar to his but with pink, rose-patterned wallpaper but the same crisp, white paint on the door and window frames. The bedframe, bed side table and dresser were in oak, and unlike his room, there was an oak dressing table and mirror on the same wall as the closet door.

“I love it!” Mary exclaimed. “I’m going to be so comfortable here. Thank you, Mrs. Estrada!”

“You can call me Cassie. Mrs. Estrada sounds so formal. I just know we’re going to be friends.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that.” Mary stepped to the window where an armchair and small table were arranged to take in the view. “It’s just as beautiful as Zeke described.”

“I appreciate that.” Mrs. Estrada stepped to the door. “I’ll let you freshen up. Pia will have the tea up here shortly.”

Zeke stood, hat in hand, grinning.

“Zeke?” Mrs. Estrada held the door.

“Oh! Yes.” He hurried to the door looking sheepish. “I’ll see you downstairs, Mary.”

“I won’t be long.”

Mrs. Estrada closed the door and walked with Zeke downstairs. “Would you like some buttermilk, Zeke? I’ll have Pia bring some out on the porch.”

“That would be very nice, Mrs. Estrada.”

“Very well. Go on out. Relax. Everything is covered.”

He nodded and went out, picking one of the rocking chairs. As he sat and looked at the view, he couldn’t believe his luck. Mary was here! There was so much to think about now. He hardly knew where to start.

After an afternoon of showing Mary around the farm and the creek, they arrived back at the house in time for supper. They were standing in the living room, chatting with a new arrival, a Mr. Alvarez, seller of notions, when Mary heard a voice clearing behind her.

“A new arrival, I’ve heard.”

Mary turned around.

He held out his hand. “I’m Red Talbot.”

Mary shook his hand. “Mary Younger, Mr. Talbot.” She smiled up at him. “Red doesn’t seem like a usual name.”

Beside her, Zeke did not like the way the gambler was looking at Mary. More disturbing, was the way Mary was looking at him.

“A nickname, Miss Younger. My mother named me John. But that’s such a common name, don’t you think?”

“An honorable name.”

Red shrugged. “I thought I’d dine here, this evening, Mrs. Estrada. If that’s not too much trouble.”

Zeke didn’t like the way the man was oozing at his landlady. He could see she didn’t think much of it either. “Not at all, Mr. Talbot. I’ll have Pia set another place.” She moved off to the kitchen and through the door.

“Mr. Alvarez,” the notion seller held his hand out to Red. “Making my rounds from Globe, here, up to Flagstaff and then back around through Winslow and Holbrook before heading home.”

“Nice to meet you.” He gave the salesman a brief look and turned back to Mary. “Any you, Miss Younger? How do you come to this fine place?”

Zeke watched as Mary blushed. “I came to see Zeke.” She reached out and tucked her arm into Zeke’s.

That made him feel better until he saw the dude’s eyebrows rise.

“Is that so! I had no idea.”

The look Red gave Zeke made him want to punch the gambler. He could feel the anger rising. His whole body tensed. Mary dropped his arm and looked at him, alarmed.

That is when Mrs. Estrada came back in. “Dinner is served.” She went into the dining room.

In Zeke’s anger, he wasn’t thinking. Red stepped forward, offering his arm. “May I escort you, Miss Younger?”

Mary looked between the two men in confusion but with the man’s arm out and him looking at her with expectancy, she just took it and followed.

Zeke stood there watching, hands clasping and unclasping in fists. After a few deep breaths, he followed Mr. Alvarez into the dining room Where he found Talbot seated next to Mary.Share this:
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Quartz, Part 3: Flash Fiction Friday Post

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All,

This week’s submission is over a thousand words. Since I’m writing this as part of National Novel Writing Month (killing two birds with one stone), I’m going a little off count until it’s finished.

 

Quartz: Part 3

Pia wiped her hands on her apron. Mrs. Estrada blinked. “Your Mary?”

Zeke nodded and held out the letter. “It says right here, she’s catching the next stage and that was two weeks ago!”

Mrs. Estrada took the letter, reading it quickly as her eyebrows rose. “Oh. Well.” She handed the letter back. “Stage comes tomorrow. After dinner Pia and I will prepare a room for her.”

Zeke nodded. “But what do I do?”

A big grin spread across Mrs. Estrada’s face. She traded smiles with Pia. “I expect you’ll meet the stage.”

The next day, Zeke went into town. He had to talk to Markum, of course, about the mine. But then there was the stage. It was supposed to arrive about noon. He wanted to be there in plenty of time, just in case it was early. He tied Butters to the rail outside of the hotel, then one of the outlaw’s horses, that he’d brought for Mary. It was the gentlest of the three, named Diva. The mare was a diva, he thought, always begging for pats and treats. She did again as he was tying her to the rail. He stroked her gently on the nose, then patted both of them on the neck before leaving.

He checked the three bars. All three had men on the porches, most of them with beers in hand. He shook his head. How they could afford beers before noon was a wonder to him. How’d they make the money if they were lazing on bar porches all day? “Mr. Markum,” he said as he entered and closed the door against the heat and the glare. “Mornin’.”

“Morning, Zeke.” Markum stood up and held out his hand. “I didn’t expect you back so quick.”

They shook.

“I would have stayed out a mite longer, but I had outlaw trouble.”

“I heard. Have a seat.” The assayer motioned to the chair across the desk from him. “It’s good you’re here. I heard back from three companies.”

He and Zeke sat down. “The best offer is from the Red Rock Mining Company.” He shook his head. “I have to tell you, I’m not fond of that company.”

The best offer sounded good to Zeke, even not hearing the amount yet. “What do you mean?”

Markum shrugged. “They have a reputation for driving hard bargains then not paying up.” He sighed. “I’d hate to recommend them, even though they’re offering the best price right now, than see you get cheated.”

Zeke nodded. He’d hate to be cheated too. “What about the other two?”

Markum pulled three sheets of paper from his middle desk drawer. “The second one is the one I’d recommend. It’s part of the Hearst mining companies. Hearst is known to be a hard customer as well but once a bargain is struck, he’s honest about paying up. The third one, well,” he tossed that letter on the desk, “they just didn’t bid much.” He handed all three letters to Zeke and folded his hands over his stomach as Zeke read them.

Taking his time, Zeke read all three. Markum was right about the third one. They’d only bid half of what the Hearst company had. The best offer, from Red Rock, was half a million more than Hearst’s. That was a lot of money. He couldn’t even fathom what that was, and he’d be rich with the Hearst offer.

The memory of the dead outlaws in the street, and the one’s now sitting in Sheriff Colton’s jail, popped into his mind. Blood money. That’s what this mine was. Stained. The joy went out of his decision. Then he remembered, Mary was coming. Today. The joy returned, dimmed. He laid the letters out on Markum’s desk. “I guess I’ll have to take your word on the Red Rock offer, even though it’s quite a bit more.” He pushed the second letter to Markum. “Write them and say I accept.”

Markum nodded. “I think that’s the best choice, Zeke, though I can get you some men to confirm what I’m sayin’.”

“No.” Zeke shook his head. “I trust you. You saved my life, after all.”

“Thank, you, Zeke. I’ll not abuse your trust. You mind if I telegraph them? They’d like to know as soon as possible.”

That took Zeke by surprise. He knew there was a telegraph in town. It was over in the newspaper office. It just never occurred to him to use it. “Sure. I guess. How much will that cost?”

Markum grinned at the young man. “I’ll take care of it, son. They pay me a commission for finding claims.” He held out his hand. “Congratulations.”

Zeke shook with him. “Thanks. But it’s not a done deal yet.”

“You’re right. But it is pretty close.” He came around the desk and clapped Zeke on the shoulder. “What now?”

Zeke ran a hand through his hair. “Meet the stage. My girl is coming.”

Markum laughed. “Well. Good for you! A wedding?”

“I.” He shook his head sheepishly. “I don’t know!”

Again, Markum laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t you worry, son. She’ll let you know.” He opened the door and showed Zeke out. “I’ll send word to Mrs. Estrada’s when the answer comes in.”

Zeke went out onto Markum’s uncovered porch. “Thank you.” He stood there. It would have been nice to go have a beer over at the Oxbow but he could see the men there eyeing him. No. That wouldn’t do. He left the porch and walked back to the hotel. He gave Butters and Diva each a pat and a scratch, then went into the hotel. He’d only been in here once, two years ago when he’d first arrived. They’d improved the place. Now there was wallpaper on the walls and the reception desk was polished mahogany. The clerk looked up from his register expectantly.

“Need a room, mister?”

Zeke shook his head. He pointed at the other side of the lobby. “Getting’ a coffee.”

The clerk nodded and went back to his books. Zeke crossed the room and sat at one of the little tables. Each one had a tablecloth, a candle sitting in the center. A man in an apron came over. “Breakfast?”

Zeke shook his head. “I’m waitin’ for the stage. Just a coffee.”

“Sure. Stage is due in about half an hour.” He pointed to a railroad clock on the wall behind the registration desk.

“Thanks.” Zeke looked at the clock then the waiter. “Appreciate it.”

“Coffee will be right out.” He moved off and through swinging doors into what sounded like a kitchen.

A woman was at another table, reading the local paper, a teapot on the table in front of her and a cup and saucer. A small plate with half a slice of toast was next to the cup.

Nearly noon, it seemed late to Zeke to be having breakfast but maybe she didn’t feel well, or was waiting for the stage, too. Nothing else to do, he watched the street through the pair of windows on the dining side of the lobby. Men rode by on horseback. Women with babies in carriages of with children walked by, heading to the general store or the post office or somewhere else. A rancher in a wagon went by, raising the dust which rolled in through the hotel door.

His coffee arrived in a fancy pot, taller than the woman’s tea pot, a matching cup and saucer was placed next to it with milk in a small pitcher and a little plate with sugar lumps on it. “Will that be all?” the waiter asked.

Zeke nodded. “This is enough.”

The man nodded and left, going over to the woman and asking if she’d like anything else? When she said no, he asked for a dollar. She reached into the bag attached to her wrist and gave him a dollar and a coin. Zeke couldn’t see what it was. A tip, at any rate. He hadn’t thought about that. He’d have to remember to do that.

He drank the coffee, feeling a little foolish pouring coffee from the fancy pot into the thin-sided porcelain cup. Zeke added some milk and sugar, just for the novelty of it, and stirred it with the tiny spoon that had been on the saucer. He tried to use the elaborate handle on the cup but his hands were too big and coarse. Eventually he just picked it up by the rim and sipped. It was alright with the mild and sugar in it, but he didn’t want to get used to it this way. Who could afford to spend money on sugar like that?

The clock ticked slowly toward noon. He paid the bill and remembered to leave a dime on the table as a tip, then went out to the porch to wait. There were four straight chairs out there and three rockers. He was glad it was a covered porch. The sun was hot. He selected a straight chair. The lady with the tea was in one of the rockers. She must be waiting for the stage as well.

It didn’t take long. The stage came roaring down the street from the east, a huge cloud of dust trailing along with it. The horses were neighing, the driver was shouting and its arrival created a storm of excitement and confusion. People came out of the shops and passers-by stopped walking to watch, waving the dust away from their faces. The stage came to a halt in front of the hotel, the horses nearly standing on their back legs as the driver pulled back on the reins, shouting, “Whoa.”

The horses came back to all fours, sides frosted with foam and heaving from their race into town. The driver climbed down on the hotel side, his partner down the street side. Opening the stage door, the driver announced, “Payson. Half-hour lunch stop.”

Men piled out of the stage and headed into the hotel. Zeke expected they’d want lunch fast so they could get back on the stage before it left. He watched them go by, then looked back to the stage. Finally, last, Mary got out, stopping as she reached the ground to look around.

“Mary!” He raced down the steps and ran up to her. Zeke didn’t know what to do next. He wanted to hug her but they were on the street. That wouldn’t look right, would it?

Mary answered that for him by wrapping her arms around his neck and putting her head on his shoulder. “Oh, Zeke. I’m so happy to see you.”

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Quartz, Part 2: Flash Fiction Friday Post

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. Part 1 of Quartz is here. 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.

Quartz, part 2

“Thank you! I was just going to see if there was some buttermilk and go sit on the front porch.”

“So you should. You’re thin as a rail. Pia!” she shouted.

Pia came running into the parlor.

“Get Zeke some buttermilk.”

Pia grinned and disappeared back into the kitchen.

“Now go on out there and have a seat. I’ll get your mail while Pia gets your milk.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Zeke gave her a bow, same as the dude did.

Mrs. Estrada laughed and shoo’d him out the front door. “Go on with you, then.”

He went out and selecting one of the rocking chairs, sat down and looked out over Mrs. Estrada’s little farm. He couldn’t hear the creek from here but the tree line revealed where it was. Her milk cows were in the pasture, between the house and the woods, slowly munching their way across the grass-covered lot.

Again he thought about the kind of ranch he wanted. Bigger than Mrs. Estrada’s five acres but not so big that parts of it were out of reach in a day’s ride. Turkeys, like she had, maybe ducks and geese, too, if there was a pond or something on the land. Horses, like his dad, that didn’t need to be driven to Flagstaff or Phoenix to be loaded on the train. Though that wasn’t far. He’d heard that in Texas, they were driving their herds all the way to St. Louis. No. Horses seemed much more sensible. Some nice spot with water for a garden. For Mary.

That was another worry. Mary’s folks were pressing her to marry some lawyer. That brought to mind his mine and the sale of it if Mr. Markum could find a buyer. He wondered how honest these mining companies were. If he’d get a good price. He’d need one if he were going to send for Mary. Even so, would she come?

Pia interrupted his thoughts when she came out onto the porch and handed him his buttermilk. “Dinner almost ready, Mr. Zeke. We all eating in the kitchen. Just like the old days.” She beamed with happiness.

He raised his glass to her. “Thank you, Pia. Can’t wait.”

She hurried back into the house. He’d only had a sip of the milk when Mrs. Estrada came out. “Here’s your mail, Zeke.”

He took it. Two envelopes. “Thank you.”

She nodded and went back inside. He appreciated that she always left him to read his letters by himself.

He opened the one from his father first.

Son,

We received your letter. Sounds like you just escaped with your life. Your ma begs you to be careful. Outlaws. I’ve had my run ins with them myself so I understand what you had to do. Not an easy thing, killing a man, but you had to do it. Don’t bother yourself with it. Everything is in God’s hands. Your ma and I pray for you every day.

Love, Pa

That was a fast answer, Zeke thought after he’d read it through a second time. His letter home and the answer back in just under a month. He shook his head in wonder.

Then it was time for Mary’s letter. Like every time, he smoothed the envelope as best he could, then carefully opened it with his knife.

Zeke,

A gunfight in the street! How awful! I’m so glad you are unharmed. It was very nice for the sheriff and the assayer to come to your aid. I pray to God for them and you each night. The news about your mine is quite welcome. Father, especially, took interest, even though Mother still invites Thomas Drew to Sunday dinner.

After last Sunday, I told Mother and Father both, that I was not interested in Mr. Drew and that I was planning to marry you, as soon as your finances are arranged. I know that was quite bold and brash, but I had to let them know.

So, now I am telling you. I plan on coming to Payson on the next stage. I hope to meet your dear Mrs. Estrada, Pia and Cesar. And thank in person Mr. Markum and Sheriff Colton, for your life. I hope you understand, Dear Zeke. I cannot wait any longer.

Love, Mary.

Zeke was so surprised that he leapt out of the rocking chair. He re-read the letter standing up. Mary coming here! He looked at the date on the letter. Why, that was two weeks ago!

“Mrs. Estrada!” He ran into the house, letter flapping in the breeze of his speed. “Mrs. Estrada!”

Both Pia and Mrs. Estrada rushed from the kitchen.

“Zeke! What is it?” Mrs. Estrada, her voice louder than he’d ever heard it, shouted.

“Mary’s coming!”

Both of the women stopped short, staring at him. “What?”

“Mary’s coming here!”

 

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Quartz, Part 1: Flash Fiction Friday Post

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.

 

Quartz

 

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?”

“Not really.”

“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.”

 

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Who’s Next: Part 4 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

 

There were riots outside of Congress. People were upset that the Senators and Congressmen and women, all still had insurance. “Why?” People asked. “Why do they get insurance and we don’t? They’re not special. If it’s good enough for them to cut off people with pre-existing conditions from their insurance, why not them?”

The police had to cordon off several blocks out from the congressional buildings and the White House after several men through molotov cocktails at the buildings. Central Washington DC looked like a combat zone there were so many soldiers patrolling.

In the meantime, I had been asking around about making our own insurance company. Several people I knew were willing to invest starter money and pay a monthly premium. I talked to retired insurance agents. They agreed it was a good idea and gave me tips on how to do payouts. A percentage of what each person paid in, was the gist of it. I felt like I was on a runaway horse. Panic filled my waking moments and nightmares filled my nights. The stress was getting to me.

My own premiums for my company were going to run me twice what my old medicine cost. But it would be a buffer for doctor office visit bills and a cushion for any hospitalization. I had to talk to investment bankers. I couldn’t just shove everyone’s premiums into a savings account. That was a whole other level of stress.

In the country as a whole, congresspeople and senators were trying to back up the pre-existing condition legislation. It was impossible. The insurance companies were failing after people stopped paying their bills. Some people had already been to court and the judgements had been for the consumers. The judges called it a breech of contract, even though the insurance company high-priced lawyers argued that there were clauses that said they could terminate policies at any time.

The number of lawsuits reached record highs. The court system was jammed. The President of the United States appeared on television calling for calm and reason. That’s when a protest group cut the power to the station doing the broadcast.

A year later, things had quieted down. My insurance company, Around the Block Insurance, was doing well. People were very careful about making a claim, knowing that they could run out of insurance resources. The FundMe company was making a fortune as people got on, making pages asking for donations. It seemed to be a thing—donating to people who needed medical care. After all, we were all in the same boat.

Congress was working on bills to implement single-payer medical in the United States, similar to what was working in Canada and Europe. All of the nay-sayers were gone—died themselves or finally understanding what the single-payer movement really meant.

I got ready for work. It was casual Friday at the office so I was in a sundress and sandals. My husband kissed me on the cheek on my way to the garage. “Have a good day, tycoon.”

I laughed. My salary was the same as every other person working in my company. That was another thing happening in the country but a whole different story.

“Thanks, hon.” I kissed him back. “Get the pork chops out for dinner, would you? It seems like it will be a nice night to grill.”

“Will do.” He shut the door behind me.

It wasn’t the only problem in the world, but I’d solved, in a small part, at least one.

The End

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Who’s Next? Part 3: Flash Fiction Friday Post

Episode 1 here. Episode 2 here.

Who’s Next? Part 3

I wandered through the house the rest of the day, body on automatic as I did the things that needed to be done, while my brain whirled. Nothing came to me. My sleep was disturbed all night with dreams of giant monsters chasing me down streets, pills falling from the sky but evaporating just before a person could get them.

By dawn I got up, a headache pounding. I made some tea and read a book. The news was too depressing to turn on so early in the morning. By the time the hubby got up, I had his coffee ready to brew and eight chapters of my book read.

He gave me a kiss on the top of my head as he passed by to turn on the coffee maker. “You’re up early.”

“Yeah.” I closed the book and pushed it to the center of the table. “I had bad dreams. It seemed appropriate to just get up.”

“How you feel?”

I shrugged. “Calmer.” I looked in my tea mug, empty. I got up and clicked the hot water maker on. “I don’t have a plan yet. Maybe form a group. I don’t know.” I put a teabag in the mug. “I guess I just need to let it simmer in my head.”

He poured his coffee and sat at the table, hands around the mug. “You’ll think of something.”

He was right. I knew that. But I wanted to do something right now. We sat together while we drank our tea and coffee. It was nice that we could sit together, not talking, just being together.

The day moved on. I read more on-line articles. Looked at groups. But nothing popped at me as an action I could take. I sent more email to my representatives. They should understand how I felt.

It was a week before I found an answer. It was an accident, really. I had wandered onto an article that talked about the origins of the insurance industry. It turns out that insurance has been around for thousands of years but health insurance only since the late 1800’s. I toyed with the idea of going back to the original concept, of people paying premiums into a group pot, getting paid back when required. But the tangle of regulations, the need for portability across hospitals and doctors, and other technical barriers made me drop the idea. I thought about the possibility of the insured being paid directly and they would pay whoever was providing service, but the other problems seemed too much. I toyed with talking to an insurance agent but dropped the whole idea as ridiculous.

Even as the days passed, I kept coming back to the insurance idea. Couldn’t the maze of payouts be simplified. I went over my own contract with the insurance company. There was a provision for everything. So many things were denied outright, or only partially covered. It was all up to some mystery team of actuaries or high school drop-outs or someone. All of whom were being paid not to shell out any coverage. I sighed and put the document back in the drawer.

In the meantime, the news showed people protesting outside of the major insurance company headquarters and at the Congress. People were angry. Death rates were going up and the evening news was interviewing one family after another of dead parents and children, all who had been fine with their meds but were now dead when the insurance companies cut them off from expensive treatments.

People stopped paying the insurance companies. The stock market was going down. Hospitals were also losing money as people couldn’t afford to go to the hospital. The ripple effect through the entire economy was taking every business down as their employees died or stayed home, too sick to work.

“It’s happening so fast,” I told my husband as we watched the news.

He shook his head. “Had to happen. Such a large percentage of people have medical issues.”

That was true. And those that didn’t, were now struggling to take care of family members who did. Over the next few weeks people were shouting at each other on the protest lines and in Congress and the statehouses. Blows were exchanged. International travel dried up as travelers avoided the medical mess in the country, afraid they wouldn’t be able to get care if they were injured or fell ill.

What to do? No one could decide. And the country spiraled out of control.

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