The Home, Part 3: Flash Fiction Friday Post

See Part 2 here.

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The Home, Part 3

Ralph and Mike waved. I waved back.

In the doctor’s office the guard motioned me to sit down.

Jenkins nodded to me. “Mrs. Nathan.”

“Doctor.” He wasn’t too bad as the aliens went. At least he could speak clearly.

“You took a walk this afternoon.”

I waited. Let him ask me a question. I wasn’t going to give up anything I didn’t have to.

He fiddled with his pen.

If he thought I’d be uncomfortable with a long silence, he was wrong. I had been a counsellor and knew all the tricks of the trade. I folded my hands in my lap and waited in the blessed quiet.

The clock on the wall behind him ticked off the seconds. Loud in the quiet room.

“Why did you leave the dayroom, Laurie?”

Score one for me. He spoke first. And now he was trying the friendly familiarity tact. When I entered I was Mrs. Nathan. “What do you mean?” I put on an innocent face. I was having fun for a change.

“The staff tell me they found you in your room.”

I shrugged. “I don’t recall.”

He tapped his pen on the desk top and took a deep breath. “Now, Laurie. Let’s not be difficult. What’s the problem today? It’s not like you to be a trouble-maker.”

“I could use another blanket on my bed.” If I had to be in here, let’s see if I could get something out of it.”

“Perhaps you were confused?”

“I’m not confused. I’m old.”

Jenkins wrote a note in his book, glancing up at me as he wrote. “We’ll see about another blanket.”

Well! I was surprised at the quick capitulation. “Thank you.”

He nodded and checked his file. “You’ve been with us six months now. How are you enjoying your stay?”

I did my best not to grind my teeth. Enjoying my stay? Did he think this was a resort? “I’d rather be home.” Who knows. Maybe he’d listen.

“Hmmm.” He flipped though the file. “It says here you were having difficulty at home alone.”

“No. I wasn’t.”

It was his turn to shrug. “Your son thought so, Laurie. You were falling, unable to keep your home tidy.”

“That’s not a crime, last I knew.”

“But it is a health and safety issue. Your son was very worried about you.”

“So I can check out at any time?”

His head slowly shook. “I’m afraid not. Your son signed you in. Don’t you remember?”

I did remember. I was furious with Stan. I told him it was just a cold. I was fine but he insisted that I needed full-time care. I had been helpless because I’d made him my health proxy after my husband died. For just in case. Now I was here. “There’s nothing wrong with me.”

“You’re seventy-eight, Laurie. It’s time for you to relax and let others take care of you.”

“I can take care of myself.” I clenched my hands into fists. He didn’t answer and that made me even more furious.

“We can’t have you wandering around, Laurie. I think a few micrograms of benzodiazepine would be appropriate. To keep you calm.”

“I’m calm enough.”

Jenkins nodded but pushed a button on his phone. The door opened and the goon who’d dragged me in here came in and stood behind my chair.

“Carl. Please take Mrs. Nathan back to the dayroom. There’ll be a new prescription for her in the file.”

Carl, if that was its real name, put a hand on my shoulder. My skin crawled. The interview did not end the way I had hoped.

“Laurie, we’ll talk again.”

I snorted. Some talk. I stood up as Carl squeezed my shoulder. I jerked it away form him and marched out of the office ahead of the goon. I plopped into my chair. When the goon left, Edna, Ralph, and Mike leaned over to look at me.

“What happened,” Edna whispered just loud enough to be heard over the noise box.

“I lost. The so-called Doctor Jenkins prescribed something to keep me calm.”

Ralph looked horrified. Mike and Edna were concerned. “Oh, no,” Edan cried out.

I had my arms crossed in front of me to control my shaking. I didn’t want to end up like Ralph, drooling and mindless most of the day. “My own fault, walking in there with an attitude.”

Mike asked, “What did he say?”

“He said I can’t sign myself out, for one thing.” My knee started bouncing. “I was sick when my son signed me in. I’m fine now. I could go home.” The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. What was wrong with Stan, signing me into this pit?

Edna put a hand on my arm. “I’m so sorry, Laurie.”

I hated the comfort her hand on my arm gave me. I wanted to be angry. “Can you see that all of the staff are aliens?” I asked it suddenly. I wanted confirmation that they saw what I did.

All three of them looked around in alarm.

“Shh.” Mike put a finger over his lips. “They’ll hear!”

Ralph looked sick. I wondered if he was going to throw up.

“So you see it, too?”

They all nodded but were keeping their eyes down.

“We need to do something,” I said.

If anything, Ralph looked even more sick.

“Do what?” Edna asked. “We’re helpless in here.”

Mike and Ralph nodded.

“Crap!” I put a hand on my knee to keep it from jumping up and down. “The first thing we have to do is stop taking their miserable drugs. They’re making us stupid.”

Ralph brightened. He was always better in the afternoon. “How?”

I grinned at him. “I don’t know. They’re pretty diligent about making us swallow those pills.”

“We’d have to make sure we act as though we took them.” Edna stared at the ceiling.

“Docile.” Mike nodded. “Not too active.”

“But then what?” Ralph asked.

“We get out of here. I’ve had enough.”

All three nodded.

I sat back in my chair. We had a team. Now we needed a plan.

Return next week for Part 4.

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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 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 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 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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