Marie nuzzled against me in the dark. “Honey?”
“Mm?” I was half asleep. It had been a long day. But then, there are no short days on a working ranch. “What?”
“Don’t be mad.”
Uh-oh. I started waking up right quick. “Mad? About what? I ain’t never been mad at you yet, have I?’
“No, but then I never got pregnant without you and me discussing it, neither.”
My eyes were open now. Not that I could see anything other than the faint gray outline of the window. “Sure you did. We didn’t discuss it before Sadie was conceived. At least not that I recall, and I do believe I’d remember a conversation like that.”
She giggled. “Okay, true enough.”
“I take it you’re knocked up?”
“Reckon so. Missed my period, anyway. And…uh…I sorta did it on purpose. Quit taking the stuff Laughing Brook mixes up. It tastes awful, by the way.”
“We’re having another ankle biter because the stuff tastes bad?”
“No. Are you mad?”
“Honey, I already told you–why’d you do it, anyway?”
“Dawson, I meant to talk to you about it. I really did. It was jist that you were so busy with the calving and then the shoeing had to be caught up…you’re sure you’re not mad?”
“No.” Actually, I was grinning. “But I will admit to hoping it’s a boy this time.”
“What if it’s not?”
“Then,” I said, pulling my woman close, “I’ll love her jist the same. But I’m telling you, our Sadie’s gonna grow up to be a real heartbreaker, jist like her Mommy.”
“She’s not even quite two years old yet; how can you possibly know that?”
“Trust me, I know. Which is why I’d like a boy. It’ll be a lot easier all around if we have one stunning daughter and one son tough enough to fight off a few hundred horny rounders before they can git to her.” Of course, I knew I was being silly when I said that. The boy–if he turned out to be a he–would be nearly two and a half years younger than his sister.
Still, it’d be better than the alternative. If we wound up with two nubile teenaged girls that looked like their mother…maybe Henry could protect ’em. We were teaching him a few fighting skills already against the day he’d start schooling in the fall, and he did seem to have a talent fer the martial arts. But–oh, Lord, what if he was the first and foremost after ’em to surrender their virginity out in the hayloft?
Man, I wished that thought hadn’t occurred to me. The boy was only six years old and he still cost me a full night’s sleep.
Abraham Zarkowski’s place of business turned out to be a three story brownstone indistinguishable from a dozen others on the same block. A small, discreet brass plaque announced simply, A. Zarkowski, jeweler, and that was it.
The interior was another matter. You could feel wealth virtually oozing from the rich, dark panels of some wood I couldn’t identify. Abraham’s desk looked like cherrywood, though. Wouldn’t mind having one like that myself someday.
“Abe,” Daniel Morgan was saying, “You know me well. There is no reason to watch your language so carefully.”
“Indeed, Daniel,” the jeweler replied. “I do know you. But I do not know this man.”
I thought I probably should feel insulted, but mostly I was simply curious. Zarkowski was a thin fellow, tall even with his stooped posture. He had a nose long and sharp enough to spear olives from a jar, bright beady eyes–like some birds. More’n anything, I’d have to say he resembled nothing so much as one a them sandhill cranes, only maybe a crane with a bad back.
“I don’t know you, neither,” I pointed out. Mildly.
“True. We are a couple of strangers, loath to trust, wary for the sake of survival.”
“Guess you could put it that way.”
“Abe,” Daniel stepped into the conversation again, “tell me. Tell me what will satisfy you as to the character of Tam Tamson, my partner and a friend from clear back in early ’47?”
“He could not have been very old then,” the crane–uh, jeweler–pointed out.
“Thirteen,” I put in helpfully.
When we’d shown Zarkowski the sapphires, he’d gone right to studying them like we’d expected. No expression on his face when he done it–I’d not care to gamble with this man, not even a game of bones–but he was playing like he was all totally straight and honest. Which Daniel had assured me he wasn’t; the man was wearing his maybe-this-stranger-in-front-of-me-is-a-tax-collector face. We had to git past that, earn his trust. But how?
I got an inspiration. Don’t ask me where it come from. Maybe I read the man’s mind; I could talk to horses, couldn’t I?
Well, sometimes I could talk to horses.
All right, all right. I’ll ‘fess up. I’d spotted something you wouldn’t expect to find in a Philadelphia businessman’s office, the corner of a dime novel peeping out from a stack of papers he had sitting on the left front corner of his desk.
I recognized the cover.
“May I?” Before he could say yes or no, I snagged that little book outa there. “You read this junk?” I asked in–well, not my most insulting tone. I wasn’t looking fer a gunfight. But not with no great overtones of respect, neither.
“Junk?!” The skinny dude bristled. Now he looked like a pissed off sandhill crane with a bad back. “I’ll have you know, the men depicted in those books are real men!”
“True enough,” I admitted. “Mostly they are. But the stories about ’em ain’t real.”
“You think the one in this here book, this Believer fellow, he did what the writer said he did?”
“That and more, no doubt! Now young man–”
“Abraham,” Daniel said firmly, “sit down before you give yourself a stroke. I see where Tam’s heading with this. If Believer were alive today and walked in here, would you deal straight up with him?”
“Of course I would! The man–”
“Abe, listen to me. This man right here in front of you, this Tam Tamson, is in that book right along with Believer. He’s the one they call Crazy Rifle.”
That shut him up. His eyes went so wide, I thought the eyeballs might pop right outa their sockets.
“How is it the great white Blackfoot warrior from where the glaciers are at home and the Blackfeet roam comes to Philadelphia with a pocketful of pretty rocks?” he asked.
No time fer hesitation. I fired back in the same language, “How is it a rock merchant in the City of Brotherly Love speaks Piegan with a terrible accent?”
From that moment forward, Abraham Zarkowski couldn’t do enough fer us. My main problem with the fellow was trying to figure out a way to git him to shut up and stop pestering me with questions.
“Did you know he had a cousin who’d lived up that way long enough to learn the language before he come back to Philly?”
“Second cousin. But no, I didn’t know that. Sounds likely enough, though. That entire family, what I know of ’em, is entirely made up of weird ducks.”
“Well…time to go see Miss Eleanor Moore, you think?”
“And her mother. Probably some old bat you couldn’t pry outa the city with a crowbar, with Miss Eleanor so devoted to the old bat she won’t go either. And the ankle biter will turn out to need constant medical attention he could never git in the mountains. We likely don’t have a single thing to worry about; they’ll jist reject Doug’s offer and that’ll be that.”
“Ever the optimist,” I laughed. “Ever the optimist.”
“Oh, my!” Eleanor Moore exclaimed, passing the letter to her mother. “Douglas Franzen just proposed to me!”
“Oh, my!” Clarisse Moore exclaimed, fanning herself with the letter after she scanned it. “This is most extraordinary!”
“Oh, my!” The two year old boy exclaimed, fanning himself with his hand in imitation of his grandmother, “This is mo stordary!”
We sat and sipped our tea–tea!–while we waited fer things to settle down. Fer once, I was glad to be wearing the coat that disguised the bulge of the holster under my right armpit.
It also disguised the bulge in my pants.
Frankly, no other girl had ever turned me on like this one. Not even Laughing Brook. It wasn’t jist her shape, though that was awesome enough in itself. Five…Five-three or thereabouts, stacked like a brick outhouse, brown shoulder length hair, brown cow-eyes, kind of narrow shoulders, a bit of a swayback, and an overbite.
I know. It don’t sound like all that much when I tell it. You’ can’t put into words the real essence of the thing, which was the electricity that crackled between us. She weren’t oblivious, neither; I’d noted that little head-tuck she’d pointed in my direction.
If Eleanor Moore zipped on out to Colorado and married Franzen…thank goodness we had the gem cutter stashed over with Daniel. Still, eleven miles between us was way too close together.
With an effort, I took hold a myself–so to speak–and told the ladies, “You’ll be needing some time to think this over. Daniel and I’ll be staying in town fer two more days. We’ll check back with you the day after tomorrow. If that’s all right.”
“That would be wonderful,” Eleanor said. Elly. I bet her friends call her Elly. “But before you go, might I ask one question?”
“Jist a saying. Means go ahead.”
“Oh. Well, what I must know is this. Do you and your partners–did you read the letter?”
“Ma’am,” I replied with jist a touch of injured innocence, “I don’t go around steaming open other people’s letters.”
“No, no, of course not. Well, then I must tell you. In his letter, Douglas says he is unsure regarding his prospects at this place you call Flywheel Ranch. Bluntly put, do you feel he has cause to be concerned?”
Huh. A woman would need to know that. “We have no problem with him at this present time,” I told her. Not since Daniel had quoted the letter to me and then we’d found out from the jeweler that Franzen had a true talent fer processing gemstones, we didn’t.
The stones, ranging from the lesser cabochons to the unbelievably high priced naturals that had required no heat treatment whatsoever, had brought an average of $51.03 per carat after Zarkowski took his cut. Times 1,000 carats = $51,030 in cold, hard cash. Gold coins in part–the larger part–and a bank draft fer the rest. More money than the bunch of us had ever seen in our collective lives. We had no intention of killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
Nor, fer that matter, of glutting the market and thereby driving prices down fer all sapphires. It’d be a year at least before we’d need to visit Abraham Zarkowski, jeweler, with a fresh batch of Trickle Creek Sapphires.
“Daniel,” I sighed, “this coffee ain’t bad, but we still ain’t found an eating place one in this town that knows how to cook a steak.”
“We’ve gotten spoiled, Crazy Rifle.”
“No doubt. I got a problem. Wanna hear about it?”
“Reckon I’m gonna whether I want to or not.”
“That Eleanor Moore, if she comes West, is gonna be a temptation to me.”
His eyebrows rose. Which, on a man the size of Daniel Morgan, is a sight to behold.
“You don’t have to act so surprised. I’m telling you, iffen we’d stayed another minute, their little place woulda busted into flames from the heat between us.”
“Huh. I reckon at the least we’d best make sure she don’t meet Laughing Brook till you git a chance to tell your woman about this.”
I stared at him in shock. “Tell her? What makes you think I’m dumb enough to tell her?”
“You better, cowboy. That Cheyenne beauty of yours can smell another dangerous female from a mile away. You can’t keep it from her, and iffen she gits the idea you’re trying to hide it–
“I’m dead meat.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Hell, Tam, go to her. Tell her, honey, I got this problem and I need your help figuring out what to do about it. Women love that shit.”
“You’re outa your mind, Morgan. She’ll more likely jist shoot Elly–dammit, Eleanor–and be done with it. Iffen she don’t shoot me first.”
“She ain’t gonna shoot you.”
I heaved a sigh. “No, likely not. But I may end up wishing she would have.”
“Quit your pissing and moaning, would you? I got my own troubles with this thing.”
“She does it to you, too?”
“Yeah–I mean, no. She don’t. Not the girl. It’s Mama Clarisse that trips my trigger.”