Elder '05: Watch My Dust (part 5)

********* Ezra *********

We were thinking of heading down to dinner when we heard a knock at our door. Buck answered and the Judge came in trailing cigar smoke like an angry dragon of legend. He looked between us for a long moment and I bit back the fear that he would somehow know what we'd been doing two hours before. But Buck had opened the window while I remade the bed and the room bore no traces of our earlier lovemaking.

"I think there's something crooked going on in the gaming rooms here." He said abruptly. "The stories and rumors aren't enough to trigger an investigation but if you gentlemen would be willing to play the goat for me, I think we could smoke out some villainy."

"That's an intriguing proposition, Sir." My mind went to work on all the cons possible in such a growing community as Santa Fe was. "What kind of villainy did you have in mind? Crooked poker games? The bribing of government officials for contracts or water and timber rights? Smuggling?"

"All and more, Mr. Standish, as long as there is government, there will be those with their hands in the pockets of our officials." He pinched the bridge of his nose then speared me with fiery brown eyes. "But that doesn't mean I won't try to root it out where ever I find it."

"Agreed, Judge Travis," I nodded and he harrumphed a bit while Buck pressed his lips a little closer together to keep from smiling. "I would be glad to take a look at the poker tables to see if I can find any . . . malfeasance."

"Good, that's exactly what I had in mind when I telegraphed Chris to send you two." He puffed on his cigar and split a look between the two of us. "I have it in mind to set a little trap for two of the players you'll meet tonight. It's probably gotten around that I know you so it won't be a surprise that I introduce you tonight. Ezra, I think you will be an old family friend that I knew from the days of the War. I know you can play the Southern aristocrat and I will bankroll you $1000 dollars with which you may gamble."

My eyes widened in consternation. "That is an exceedingly large sum of money, Judge."

His lips quirked up. "You will need every penny if my suspicions are correct. The stakes of these games routinely surpass $10,000 by the final hand. I believe the bribes are passed quite openly across the table as `winnings'."

I nodded. "Simple but effective, and it also means that the dealers are in on the scam."

"They are very much in it although they come from the highest reaches of society." He scowled. "There is a contract due to be awarded next week for almost five thousand acres of virgin timber that the railroads desperately want to go to one certain timber magnate. I've got a rancher who tells me if they clear cut those acres quickly without regard to the terrain, there will be flashfloods and soil erosion that will devastate over thirty thousand acres. The US Army Corps of Engineers should have the final say but I'm unsure of the lead engineer. He has money troubles."

"And is thus, open to being bribed," I sighed and looked at Buck. "Is the rancher right about the erosion, Buck? Could it effect so much more than the original land grant?"

"Yes," he said at once, his eyes saddened. "You've got to take it slow and replant what you harvest. Around here the soil is too sandy to hold in place without something anchoring it down."

"Like a forest," I asked.

His eyes warmed and his hand came up unconsciously to touch me before he remembered the Judge was still here. "Yeah, Ezra, like all kinds of plants, especially the ones whose roots go deep."

"I see," and I did although I had not the knowledge these two had. In many ways, I'd been a shallow root person most of my life. But with my lover to steady me, I was ready to put down roots and grow towards the sun which was Buck. "Very well, Judge Travis, or should I call you Orrin?"

He smiled and passed me an envelope sufficiently weighty to encompass the $1000 he'd mentioned. "Orrin will be fine and I shall call you Ezra. We met after Lee's surrender and you hosted me at your plantation near Savannah. You know that area, do you not?"

Sudden memories of peach blossoms and sultry nights made me smile. "I do know the area. There was actually a Standish plantation of 2000 acres in the 1840's. It belonged to another branch of the family but I think they wouldn't mind me borrowing it for a while. They specialized in horse breeding and cotton. I think we have horses in common if your Solomon was a reasoned purchase?"

His grin was suddenly boyish and took two decades off his age. "I traced his bloodlines back six generations before buying him."

Buck chuckled. "I can be your stable manager, Ezra. I know a thing or two about breeding."

"No," I shook my head decisively, "you will be my business manager. If the canker in this society goes as high as Orrin believes, a mere stable hand would not be included in the game and I wish to have you there. I think you also married my sister, Elmira, so a brother-in-law would fit in quite well."

He winked at me. "Ellie had to be left at home this trip since she's expecting. How's that for a good reason?"

I smiled at him and nodded. "Agreed. When should we meet you, Orrin?"

He blew a smoke ring. "I'll meet you downstairs at the restaurant in an hour so we can eat before we head for the back rooms. They serve a merlot I'd like to get your opinion on. And gentlemen," he turned back from the door, "I'd come armed. There's just something about the atmosphere in the last 24 hours that has me wanting a wall at my back."

We both nodded and he left, still trailing smoke. I grew up in smoke filled rooms but the older I get; the more I hate the smell. Heading for the window, I threw it open and took a deep breath of the desert air. Under all the scents of civilization, the wind still brought in the smells of open country. Was I turning into a rustic?

"You bring your pea shooter, Ez'?" Buck's voice came from over my shoulder and I leaned back automatically, knowing he'd be there to hold me. The lace curtains fluttered in the breeze and I judged it would hide our position from view.

Stretching my arm out, the small derringer popped into sight. "I always have it on. A gentleman should be prepared at all times."

A gentle kiss to my temple made me smile. "You ever goin' to tell me where you got it?"

I turned it over in my hands so he could see the engraving on the three inch barrel. "The `LS' stands for Lucius Standish, my paternal grandfather. Mother gave it to me when I was four. She had to leave me in hotel rooms all up and down the Eastern Seaboard. I tried to be brave and seem not to care but loud noises made me jump and several times I awoke her with a nightmare."

Buck muttered something under his breath but I didn't quite catch it before he backed us over to the rocker in the corner of the room. He sat down first then drew me down into his lap. Perhaps I shouldn't enjoy it so when he cuddles me but I couldn't seem to help it.

"How did she get it?" He started a gentle rocking and the rocker creaked comfortingly.

"She said that my father, Lucas, had inherited it when my grandfather died. My father was carrying it when he died in a card game gone wrong. The miscreants who shot him rifled his pockets but missed the derringer in his arm holster. She found it while preparing his body for burial." My finger gently traced the silver scroll work that covered the barrel and the part of the grip not covered in yellowing bone. "Mother pawned it several times while I was growing up but always went back for it as soon as she was able. I could never bring myself to do that."

"I'm glad you've got something from your father." Buck's voice was rather choked and my eyes widened in sudden consternation.

"I'm sorry, Buck, I didn't mean to make you sad." He had nothing of his mother but a pressed rose in her small Bible. As far as I knew, he had nothing from his father.

He cleared his throat and kissed me gently, his tongue licking at my lower lip until I opened for one of his achingly sweet kisses. We feasted for a long moment then he pulled back a bit to scatter kisses over the rest of my face. "Mama always said I have my father's eyes and his mouth so I guess that's good enough for me."

I chuckled and gazed into those beautiful blue eyes. "Then I guess we both inherited something potentially deadly from our parents."

"Deadly?" His voice rose and his fingers curled at my waist in a tickle motion. "I think you need to find another word there, Ezra P."

"Devastating." I brushed a kiss to his chin.

"Delectable." another brush to the tip of his nose.

"Delightful," he breathed into my sensitive hair line.

"Delicious." I found that spot just below his ear.

"Dandy." He groaned and I blindly reached for the side table so I could lay the gun aside before it accidentally went off.

"Disarming." I smiled and linked both hands behind his head, enjoying the way his lap was growing beneath me.

He laughed and moaned at my teasing wiggle. "Dearest Ezra, I think maybe `deadly' was right the first time. We ain't got time for me to take you back to bed but you remember this position because we're coming back here after you win big and you're going to reward me for not keeping you here."

I kissed him softly. "I'll remember, Buck."

We held each other for a long moment, just breathing in the wonderful scent of male musk and delayed passion. But time was moving on and we both tidied up in the small bathroom. While Buck was combing his mustache, I loaded the tiny derringer with .410 shells. It only held two but I slipped an extra one in my pocket for luck. I don't believe in that fickle lady but it never hurts to be prepared.

"You ready, sweetheart?" Buck had slipped his navy blue jacket on over the white shirt I'd bought him on our one month anniversary and he looked magnificent.

Checking myself in the mirror on the armoire, I brushed a bit of lint off my deep green jacket and joined him at the door. "I'm ready, Buck, my debonair friend."

He chuckled and ushered us out, closing the door and locking it behind us. "How about decadent?"



"Decorous." I slid my eyes sideways in time to catch his outraged expression.

He thought hard for a moment then smiled smugly. "Degenerate."


Another outraged look and he frowned at me. "I'm going back to that bookstore and buy a good dictionary tomorrow, Ezra P. Just you wait."

We reached the foot of the stairs and I could see Judge Travis waiting for us. "I'll go with you and we can purchase that lovely volume of Donne, also."

"In-Dubitably," he said quietly just before we reached our dinner companion.

I'd let him have the last word for now, I smiled to myself. At the moment, I had conmen to catch and a game or two to win. Perhaps I'd win enough for a thesaurus as well.

********************** The end of this part