Quartz: Part 13 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

See Part 1 Here.

It was two months later that her parents arrived by stage. Mary met them at the hotel then brought them by Mrs. Estrada’s carriage to Mrs. Estrada’s. Three days later, the entire town turned out to Mrs. Estrada’s for the wedding.

“What changed your mind, child?” Mrs. Estrada asked in a quiet moment in Mary’s room.

“He told me how he felt.” Mary wiped tears from her eyes. “He’s a good man, Cassie.”

“I know he is, chick.”

“He hates the killing. He blames the gold.”

Cassie Estrada nodded. “I understand. But between you and Mr. Talbot?”

Mary chuckled. “I would never. Mr. Talbot was being polite. So was I. He’s a gambler. There would never be anything.”

“Would Zeke know that?”

Mary sighed. “I’m sorry for that. But Zeke was reluctant, I think. Never thinking he was good enough. He needed to feel that he’d won.”

Mrs. Estrada shrugged. “A close thing, that kind of game. You could have lost.”

“I know.” Mary wiped an eye. “It was close. But Zeke needed a push.”

That afternoon the local preacher married them in Mrs. Estrada’s flower garden. The party went on long into the night.

Two days later, Mary and Zeke waved her parents off on the stage back to Santa Rosa.

Zeke wrapped Mary’s arm in his. “The bank transfer is complete. Are we agreed on San Francisco?”

Mary smiled up at him. “I am. That’s where we need to be, Zeke. A nice ranch outside of the city. It’s green and full of water there.”

Zeke grinned back. “Yes. We’ll raise fine horses there.”

“And children!” Mary punched him lightly in the arm.

“And children.” He laughed and held Diva’s head while Mary mounted. Yes. California. Well away from the gold dreams. That’s what he wanted.

End.

Words: 299

Thank you for reading this serial. I hope you liked it. By now it should be available as a paperback and ebook at the on-line bookstores of your choice.

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Quartz: Part 12 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

See Part 1 Here.

Adding to his misery, he’d left the bodies where they were and left Woolsey and Brokaw to their own devices as he hid in his tent for the rest of the night. He wasn’t proud of it but he’d reached the end of his ability to deal with the death. It was midday before he came out, sleepless and heartsick.

His hope that the two mining men would have dealt with the bodies was overly optimistic. The four lay where they’d died but the mining men were squatting, ignoring the bodies, around the fire, their interminable cans of beans heating beside the fire. Zeke swallowed his earnest desire to smash the both of them with the nearby shovel for their disregard of human life and offered a pale greeting. “Mornin’”

“Mr. Stanford. Greetings from a great day,” Woolsey offered. “We reigned supreme in the end. A fine Arizona morning.”

Zeke supposed it was and walked to the shovel he’d left by the arista. “So it is. I’ll get to burying these men.”

“What matter!” Brokaw waved his mug of coffee. They’re dead and gone. Let the crows have them.

Zeke looked to the sky. Indeed, the crows and ravens were already circling. If the men hadn’t been there, the birds would have already descended. “It’s not Christian.” It was all he could offer. He’d held a hand in their deaths after all, so he couldn’t be all condemning. “It’s right we bury them.”

Woolsey sighed. It was clear the man thought Zeke a weak. “Very well.” He rose and tossed the remains of his cup of coffee into the fire and pulled the can of beans away. “Best get to it then.”

The burying of four bodies made a long day and at the end, Zeke had nothing to scribe into the wooden crosses for any of the men except Delbert but Outlaw One, Outlaw Two and Outlaw Three. That made him even more sad than before. What about their families? Who would mourn these men?

In the meantime, the two mining men talked about nothing but the richness of Zeke’s claim. They rode out the next day talking about ounces per ton, and the method of transport. Zeke rode ahead so he couldn’t hear them. Scouting he called it and blamed the Apache attack he’d suffered weeks ago. Really, he just couldn’t stand the sound of them any longer. He missed the days of riding on his own. Working on his own.

When they got into town, he bid them farewell and rode out into the chaparral. He needed to get some quiet. Two days later, he rode into Mrs. Estrada’s. Cesar hurried from the barn. “Mr. Zeke! Are you all right? We were so worried when we heard the mining men were back but you were gone!”

Zeke dismounted. More guilt piling up. “Sorry, Cesar. I just needed to get their voices out of my head.”

Cesar nodded. “It’s good you are back. Miss Mary is so worried.”

Zeke closed his eyes. Of course Mary was worried. What was he thinking. “I’ll make it up, Cesar. Thank you.” For once, he let Cesar take Butters and lead him into the barn while he went to the house. He remembered his manners and was doing his best to beat the dust from his clothes when Mary raced down the steps and slammed into him in a huge hug.

“Zeke! Zeke! I’ve been so worried.” She hugged him so hard he didn’t think he could breathe. That’s when she slapped him in the face making him stagger. “What do you think you were doing! You disappeared without a word. I’ve been worried sick.” She advanced on him until he retreated across the yard to avoid her wrath. She was like the stories of the Norse Valkyrie, avenging goddess, hair flying in the breeze, full of fire and ice. He’d never seen anyone more beautiful.

“I’m sorry. Sorry.” He held out his hands in supplication, trying to hold off her anger.

“Sorry doesn’t make it right!” She crossed her arms, breath coming fast from her anger. “I was worried sick. You just disappeared. The sheriff has men out looking for you!”

“I apologize. I’ll apologize to the sheriff, too. Mary. It’s been a hard week. Will you forgive me?”

She smoothed her loose tendrils of hair back as though her hair angered her as well. He wondered that it didn’t come out by the roots. “Very well. But you’d better have a good explanation.”

“I do.” He convinced her to walk with him and they wandered across Mrs. Estrada’s little ranch. First, feet apart, then closer. By the time they were by the stream, they were hand in hand. By the time the supper bell rang, they had reconciled.

Words: 798

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Quartz: Part 11 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

See Part 1 Here.

The next day started early. The men seemed eager, for a change, to get started. It was a hike up to the mine. Once there, he stopped and looked around. With any luck at all, this would be the last time he would climb up here. The view was of rolling hills, studded with alligator juniper and shrub oak. As the mining men examined the entrance, Zeke watched a javalina and her juvenile offspring trot, single file, across the prairie.

“You mind if we go in?”

“Go ahead,” Zeke said. “See what you’re payin’ for.”

He sat down and enjoyed the view as they went in. The sweat from the climb cooled his back as he wiped his face with his bandana. It seemed strange to be showing people his mine. He’d kept it secret for so long.

A noise behind him made him turn. Were the men done already?

He was face to face with a gun barrel. When he raised his eyes, it was the man from the alley, the night of the dance.

“Ha! The look on your face. Thought you were done with me, didn’t ya?”

Three more men crept down the hillside on each side of the mine entrance. Zeke could hardly form a coherent thought. Weren’t they supposed to be in jail in Globe?

The man waved his gun. “Get over there, out of sight of the entrance.” Zeke slowly got up and moved to the spot indicated. The other three men took position next to the entrance, out of sight of the two who would come out. Zeke eyed his rifle, lying on the ground where he’d been sitting. The man holding him at gunpoint picked it up and tossed it down the slope. “Just take it easy, there, son. No sense getting shot.”

Zeke agreed with him there. What was this guy’s name? “Delbert. You don’t have to do this.”

Delbert laughed. “Shut up. On your knees.” He moved behind Zeke. “You just keep quiet now. No callin’ out to your friends.”

Zeke felt helpless. He wasn’t friends with the mining men but he didn’t want to see them shot. “How’d you escape?”

“None of your business. Shut up.”

They waited, the sun beating down. Zeke could feel a trickle of sweat run down his spine. Could he warn the mining men somehow?

Delbert jabbed him with the gun barrel. “No ideas. I’ll shoot you first.”

Zeke guessed his thoughts were obvious. All he could think about now was Mary. Would she ever know what happened? Eventually. The coordinates were on the claim. Mr. Markum would send people out if he didn’t return, wouldn’t he?

He looked up. He could hear Woolsey and Brokaw talking as they came out. They were feet outside the entrance when they noticed Zeke on his knees, Delbert behind him.

“Howdy boys.” Delbert pointed at them as they stopped.

His partners moved behind the two mining men. Guns pointed at their backs.

“That’ll be far enough.” Delbert jabbed Zeke. “Stand up and get over there with them.”

Once Zeke was there Delbert said, “Now drop those gunbelts and kick them over here.”

Zeke watched the mining men slowly unbuckle the belts. Didn’t they have any tricks? He sighed as the belts hit the dirt and they kicked them over. Apparently not.

“Tie ‘em up.”

Zeke could feel his hands pulled back and tied behind him. The rope was biting into his wrists. “Let’s get them back to camp.”

The walk back was difficult. It was hard to keep his balance with his hands behind him. Once at camp, Delbert’s men tied the three of them to a tree and proceeded to explore the camp. One went for wood and soon they had a fire going and had Zeke’s food out and being cooked.

As night fell, Zeke worked the rope on his wrists. He was hungry but worse, he was thirsty. And angry. Not only was he tied up in his own camp, but they hadn’t even cared for the horses. He could hear Butters whinnying in complaint.

“Shut that horse up!”

“He’s thirsty and hungry.” Zeke felt he had to call out. He didn’t want his horse shot.

“Shut up, boy.”

“Feed the horses, Dan.”

“Why do I have to do it?”

“You want a ride out of here, don’t ya?”

There was mumbling Zeke couldn’t hear but the man was getting up to do what he was told.

“We could use some water,” Zeke called out.

Delbert laughed. “I’ll bet you could, boy.” The others with him laughed as well.

Zeke sighed and settled back.

“Nice try, son,” Woolsey said.

“You two have any ideas?”

“Nope,” Brokaw said. “Never been in this situation before.”

Great, Zeke thought. He continued to work at the ropes. His hands were slick. Blood, more’n likely, but he continued. Maybe they’d get slippery enough to get out of the ropes.

Eventually, Delbert’s men lay quiet around the dying fire. Zeke watched and worked. It seemed the ropes were getting looser. Twice he’d jerked awake, having fallen asleep as he worried the ropes.

The night sky wheeled around, and Zeke finally broke a hand loose. The moon had risen, and he could see blood dripping from his fingertips. He put a hand on Woolsey’s shoulder. “Stay quiet.” He untied Woolsey, then did the same with Brokaw. They wriggled out of the rope wrapping them around the tree. Zeke’s leg was asleep, and he could hardly stand on it as the prickles made his leg feel like ants were crawling all over it.

The three crept up on the sleeping men. Zeke went for Delbert, a rock in hand. Woolsey had a rock as well and Brokaw had a broken tree limb. Just as Zeke reached Delbert, the man rolled over in his sleep, muttering something. Terrified, Zeke smashed the man’s head. Woolsey and Brokaw did the same.

Zeke sank to his knees and did a sudden turn. The bile was a bitter as his anguish.

Words: 1004

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Quartz: Part 10 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

See Part 1 Here.

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Zeke seldom traveled with others and Woolsey’s and Brokaw’s incessant talking was annoying. If it had been interesting or informative, it would have been different but the two just traded tales of saloons and fights and loose women. Dirty jokes figured heavily into their repartee. From their talk, it seemed they didn’t travel together all the time. And neither man seemed to be married. Neither of them ever mentioned a wife or children. What kind of life was that?

They stopped at midday to rest the horses and eat a bite. Neither man had thought to bring a lunch, so Zeke shared his ham biscuits. He was surprised they’d remembered to fill their canteens.

Just before sundown, Zeke stopped at his usual camping spot, off of the trail, just for safety. The two men were about to sit and make themselves comfortable when Zeke realized what they were doing. He suggested they take care of their horses, then for Brokaw to gather wood for a fire. They made a bit of fun at him for being bossy but did as they were told. Zeke made sure the horses were hobbled properly. He did not want to have to go looking for horses in the morning.

When he finished, he was pleasantly surprised to see that the pair had managed to light a fire. They were pulling cans from their saddle bags.

Zeke pulled his small cast iron skillet from his bag and a couple slices of bacon. He got those frying then pulled a coffee pot out and dropped in a few spoonsful of coffee. One of the reasons he camped here was a small spring nearby. He filled the pot and his canteen and put the pot on the fire. The bacon done, he added a little flour to the grease, stirring it all around and then piling it into a biscuit shape. He let that cook and pulled out his cup and spread his bedroll on the ground.

The two others had opened their cans and set them beside the fire. They watched Zeke with interest. “How’d you learn to do that,” Brokaw asked as Zeke formed his pan biscuit.

“My ma showed me before I left home. The bacon fat already has salt in it.” He shrugged. “Not as good as baked, but it fills the stomach.”

“Smart.” Woolsey checked his can. He stirred it up from the bottom, losing a little bit of the canned beans over the side. “Dang.”

They ate, mostly the two mining company men talking about fancy restaurants they’d been to in Denver and Tucson. Zeke grunted in spots to let them know he was still awake. After he ate he cleaned his pan, added water, then beans. He used the cast iron lid to cover it and put it beside his bedroll.

“What’s that for?” Woolsey asked.

“Breakfast.”

“Smart.” Brokaw nudged Woolsey with a grin. “The boy’s smart.”

Zeke sighed silently and after banking the fire, lay down to sleep. It was going to be a long trip.

The next two days went the same as the first. By the time they made Zeke’s permanent camp, he was thoroughly sick of his two companions. A quick check made it clear to him that nothing had been disturbed. He gave the two men his tent. Anything to separate him from them for even a short while. Zeke showed them the creek and mentioned that he had panned some gold there. But it was up in the hills that the mine was.

For the first time the men looked competent. They waded out into the stream and probed around a little, muttering to themselves and each other. They peered up at the hills and still talking, gestured possible water flows and rock formations. Zeke washed up, and went back to camp, collecting fire wood as he went. By the time it was dark and the two men had returned, the fire was going, the horses had been cared for and Zeke was making his dinner.

They walked around the camp, admiring the layout and his arrastra. They asked informed questions about how he’d searched out the gold, and nodded with understanding as he talked about the potato and mercury trick. While they ate, they told him about other miners and how they’d done their work. Finally, Zeke thought, something useful from these two. Maybe the Apache don’t have to kill them. The evening passed quickly, and Zeke bid the two good night as they retired to the tent.

Words: 755

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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.

Words: 758

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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.

Words: 953

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Quartz: Part 7 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

Part 1: Here.

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“Stop right there.”

Zeke did as he was told while Mary was kicking her attacker with the heels of her boots. A third man appeared, and slapped Mary into silence. Zeke could feel his heart pounding. Those men were going to pay.

“Now,” the one with the pistol said. “You’re going to tell us where that claim is.”

In the poor light, Zeke peered at his attacker. “You were in the Oxbow window tonight.”

“Maybe.” The waved the gun. “If you don’t want nothin’ to happen to the little lady, you’ll tell us where the claim is.”

“It’s on file. Wouldn’t do you any good. You’d just be arrested for claim-jumpin’.”

“You let us worry about that.”

Zeke made a move toward the man. A shot rang out, kicking up the dirt in front of his feet.

“We have a friend, out of sight. Don’t try anything.” He waved at the two men with Mary, now standing on her feet. We’ll just take the young lady with us. In the morning you’ll sign over the claim.”

“Don’t do it, Zeke,” Mary called out.

The third man slapped her again.

Zeke thought about how he was going to cut that man’s arm off at the elbow. He clenched his fists. Through his teeth he growled. “And who shall I make the paper out to?”

“I’ll be there in the morning. That’s all you need to know for now.” The man waved to his partners and they started to back away, taking Mary with them.

Zeke didn’t know what to do. The two with Mary had guns on their hips. One was in front of him with pistol drawn and there was another, somewhere in the darkness, ready to shoot. “Don’t take Mary.”

The men laughed. “You do what you’re told,” the man with the pistol said. “She’ll be fine in the morning.”

A shot rang out and a man’s voice screamed. While the man with the pistol looked, Zeke charged him. They wrestled for control of the gun. Zeke was terrified that in the struggle, Mary would get shot. He could hear her screaming and the two men grunting with pain. Good for her passed through his mind but he was busy. The geezer that he was fighting was wiry and fast. Stronger, too, than he appeared. This was not going to be easy.

Sounds of fists hitting flesh and men crying out in pain came through to Zeke but he couldn’t take the time to look. Finally, he got the gun and in the struggle, shot the geezer in the leg. He cried out in pain, calling curses on Zeke.

Zeke whipped around. Where was Mary? He saw her kicking one man as he lay on the ground and two men fighting. In the dark he couldn’t tell who was who. One man punched the other in the face and the man went down. The puncher, rested, head down and hands on his knees.

“I have a gun,” Zeke called out.

“It’s Talbot,” the resting man said.

Mary stopped kicking the downed man and ran to Zeke.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

Breathless, she said, “Yes. You?”

“Fine. I’m fine. Talbot?”

“I’m good.” He stood up, walked over to his hat in the dirt, picked it up and slapped it against his leg. “Quite the end to the evening.”

“How’d you know to come help?”

“I saw the four of them leave.” He shrugged. “They didn’t look like they were up to any good so I followed.”

“It’s a good thing,” Mary said. “Thank you.”

Talbot tipped his hat. “At your service, Miss Mary.”

Just about then, the Sheriff came around the corner. “What’s going on here?”

“Sheriff. It’s me, Zeke Stanford, with Mary Young and Red Talbot. These men ambushed Miss Young and myself.”

The sheriff approached, pistol drawn, and looked at the men on the ground. He pushed his hat back. “Three men?”

“Four,” Talbot offered. “The other one is just up the hill in the backyard of that house. I shot him.”

The sheriff gave Talbot a look. “Well. Let’s tie these three up and go look.”

It was nearly dawn before Zeke and Mary got back to Mrs. Estrada’s. They gave the horses a quick rub down and water, then shut up the barn. In the house, Mrs. Estrada was in the kitchen. “What happened?” She hurried over to Mary. “It’s nearly day break.”

Mary nodded. “It’s been a story, Mrs. Estrada. We were ambushed.”

“What!”

Zeke told her the whole story. Pia came in as he finished. “I’ll get coffee,” she said.

Mary shook her head. “I just want to go to bed.”

“Of course. You do that,” Mrs. Estrada said.

Zeke escorted Mary upstairs and stopped at her door. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

She nodded and smiled up at him. “I’m fine. Just tired. I’ll see you in a little while.”

“Good night,” Zeke said.

“Good morning,” she chuckled. “Thank you.”

“Anything, Mary. Anything for you.”

835 words

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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 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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