Willow '06: The Magnificent Blending - Ezra

The cards were dealt with a deft hand, five to a man, and each player considered his options carefully. The dealer smiled as he tossed the requested additional cards in turn, and then opened the betting. Several rounds of betting passed, with some folding immediately and others holding on longer, until it was just the dealer and one other.

"I see your two dins," he said with a soft lilt, placing the silver coins on the table. "And raise another five."

The other player snorted in disgust. "I'm out. Hell, I've thrown away too much already," he growled, tossing his cards on the table. "This hand ain't worth five coppers; ain't even worth the paper the cards are printed on. Should know better than to play with a Spirit user."

"My good sir," the dealer laughed brightly. "If you are folding on account of that, allow me to show you my eighteen-year-old test results." He cheerfully pulled his papers from the breast pocket of his ruby red jacket and handed them to his opponent, who squinted suspiciously as he opened and reviewed the documents.

"As you can see, my friend, I have been officially designated by the National Guild of Ratings as so pathetically weak a Low as to be practically talentless. It is doubtful I could read your emotions well enough to determine you were angry with me if you were in the process of beating me to death." He grinned cheekily, allowing his dimples to show. "I am, however, incredibly lucky." He laid his cards on the table and pulled in his pot. "Gentlemen, as always it is a pleasure playing cards with you."

"You're not leaving?" one of the other players asked jovially. "I've still got a couple of coppers to lose to you, fancy man."

"Alas, good man, I'm afraid I'll have to leave you with a little money in your pocket tonight," the dealer smiled. "But as you know, I'm here most every evening for your pleasure. Do feel free to stop by again."

The gambler tucked his winnings into his pockets and saluted his fellow players. He received his papers back with grace and then bowed slightly before taking his leave and striding to the bar. There he laid a handful of coins in the small green bowl that served to collect the tavern's share of his profits. He then nodded to the pretty barkeep who quickly provided a double shot of whiskey.

"Good night, Senor Standish?"

"Quite profitable, my dear," Ezra smiled, tossing her a gold coin. "Keep the change; those men were far too easy to take to the cleaners."

"Gracias, Senor." The barkeep smiled graciously. "You're luck has made you most generous this week."

"My dear Inez, it is not luck that lines my pockets," Ezra smiled secretively. "Talent and skill are all I need against the average buffoon who joins my table."

"Then your talent and skill have been most generous," Inez corrected. "You will not find me complaining, so long as I continue to benefit from your good favor."

Ezra saluted the woman and tossed back his shot while Inez pocketed the coin and moved away to assist another patron. He turned to watch as another member of the establishment's workers flirted with one of their regular patrons. The place was a common gathering ground for those of the lower classes who were not quite outcast but nonetheless did not feel welcome at the more popular taverns of the common quarters. Many of the patrons here were the descendants of immigrants from Mexico or Negro ex-slaves, or were of mixed heritage from those cultures, and so were many of the workers. In fact, Ezra, a recent hire, was one of the few white folks to be seen in the room.

A fact that made him rather popular.

"Evening, senor," a sultry voice spoke, and Ezra turned to find Maria's flirting partner leaning against the bar at his elbow. Ezra glanced around, surprised to find Maria nowhere to be seen.

"Good evening, Senor Martinez," Ezra smiled his most winsome. "Where has your fair companion run off to? Surely you were not so foolish as to let her escape."

"Alas, Maria received a better offer." The dark complexioned patron chuckled. "But I am not sad, as I find it gives me opportunity to share your company. May I buy you a drink?"

"I would never say no to you, my good fellow," Ezra grinned and signaled Inez for another round.

"I see you are not wearing a red ribbon tonight," Martinez commented lightly.

Ezra shrugged lightly. "I'm afraid this evening I did not feel energetic enough to fight off the inevitable throng of persons who seek my attentions in that manner." He lowered his lids and cocked his head. "But if you were suggesting a more private game with you, would it please you to know I would not be uninterested?"

The patron smiled suggestively and tossed back the shot that Inez placed in front of him. "Perhaps a bottle of wine to go with our… game?" He waited for Ezra's accepting grin before handing over a pair of coins to the barkeep in return for the spirits. "Lead on, amigo."

Ezra smiled as he headed toward the stairs, feeling how close the man followed behind him. It was going to be a very profitable night indeed.