Nothing But Trouble
|This is a sequel to the story, Cities of Gold. I've made small references to the previous story, so that any readers can be intrigued by the story but not lost. I encourage reading the first story, but it is not necessary. I also included spoilers from the episodes Witness and Working Girls to help explain a certain plot scenario. P.S. Feedback is very appreciated.|
The mask. It was a simple object; small, molded to fit the face of a beautiful woman and made entirely out of gold and precious jewels. It was heavy to hold and had markings on it like ancient symbols, but it was worth more than mankind could possibly imagine.
As the waves rocked the large ship from side to side, the mask fell from its perch on top of a chest full of pearls and became buried in a mountain of gold coins and sparkling jewels scattered on the wet wooden floor. The loot from the Spanish pirate ship, the Endeavor, was growing quite rapidly much to the dismay of most merchant ships that unfortunately crossed its path.
The Endeavor eluded the British fleet for seven months sailing around the African continent, terrorizing any ships the pirate vessel could find. The pirates came upon a small Egyptian cargo ship with a murdering stowaway hidden on board. The stowaway escaped Egypt after assassinating a prominent Cairo citizen who was in possession of the mysterious golden mask at the time. His prize was the mask, and his means of escape was the merchant vessel sailing to Madagascar.
When the Egyptian ship fell under attack, the stowaway tried to hide with his precious gold mask until he was discovered. He was killed and thrown overboard by the pirates. The mask became part of the loot of Captain Juan Rodriquez who knew nothing of its historical value. He only cared that it was made of gold and worth a hefty sum.
The attack on the cargo ship allowed the British fleet time to find his gruesome trail and find Rodriquez. The Endeavor quickly set sail for the New World in an effort to escape from the fleet. It was a trick that Rodriquez used before to successfully elude the British, but their luck was soon running out. The fleet continued with the chase until they were rapidly closing in on him.
Another wave rocked the ship as the Endeavor sailed closer to the shallow waters of the coastline. The first mate kept a watchful eye as the British fleet began to close in on them, attempting to catch them before they reached the land.
"Captain, the fleet is getting closer," he said to the tall, dark-haired man in the red coat.
"They hope to catch us before we reach the islands. They know that their ships' bottoms will drag on the corral reefs," said the Captain. "We can pass through these islands and lose them."
The first mate glanced at the map the Captain referred to and saw the many small islands clustered together. He agreed with the plan but wondered if they would make it to the islands before the fleet did.
"Do you think we will make it?" he asked.
"If we don't, then I'll meet you in Hell," the Captain answered as he gathered his maps together. The Captain's bellowing laugh sent chills down the first mate's spine. The first mate always said that if the Captain died tomorrow, the gates of Hell would welcome him with a reception that would make a king envious.
The wind was steady, but the current was strong as the men worked tirelessly trying to stay ahead of the fleet. Almost every sail was open to catch what little wind the sea had to offer.
The Captain retreated passed his men and entered the lower decks to his cabin. He opened the door and lit the candle swinging from a small rusty metal plate over his desk. The flickering light gave a ghostly glow in the dark, dreary room as the Captain uncorked another jug of rum and returned to his log book.
The Captain was obsessed with recording all of his pirating escapades like he was recording his trophies to woe the local whores at the sea ports. Yet, his logbook also had a practical use.
Sometimes the treasure on board the ship was heavy, and if a battle commenced, the crew would leave the wealthy cargo buried on a nearby island. The log helped retrieve it again after the battle was over.
The Captain always enjoyed a good sea battle, especially when he knew he would win. But the current situation at sea was beginning to feel more desperate. It looked as though he would have to find a place to stash the treasure before the fleet could find them first. But where could he go to buy some time?
The Captain studied his sea map closely checking the course. He knew the area very well. He loved using the islands for cover and ambush the unsuspecting ships trying to reach the New World. Perhaps these islands would be suitable cover to trap the fleet.
One of those islands, the Captain liked to call Devil's Cove, had served as a dropping point for many of his conquests. The treasure would be safe there until the crew could recover it.
A week had passed with the crew on board the Endeavor becoming extremely restless. The British fleet carefully closed in on them like a hunter stalking its prey. They knew that fighting all of those ships on the open sea would be suicide, and the declining wind kept the ship from gaining any speed to outrun them. The morale on board the ship was slowly beginning to snap.
"Land-ho," shouted the lookout in the crow's nest.
The announcement caught everyone's attention as they stared intensely over their starboard side, looking for any sign of land. A large, dark rain cloud was rolling in from the West making it difficult to spot it.
"Captain, we've spotted land, but a bad storm is rolling in. Will we make it in time?"
"You worry too much, Senior Basil. We'll make it, or I'll toss you overboard to make the ship lighter," the Captain smiled.
Senior Basil, the first mate, watched as the Captain continued to bark orders at the steersman. He was a difficult man to work with. Whenever something did not go as planned, the Captain ordered the death of any man he felt was responsible, or he killed him personally in front of the crew as a warning for anyone failing him. The Captain always threatened Basil's life showing humor to break the mood. That is why when the Captain said those things to him, Basil could never tell whether he was serious or kidding.
The wind picked up rapidly as Basil turned his gaze to the sky to see the dark clouds moving quickly. Sailing closely to those islands during a bad storm was not a very good idea. The wind and waves could ground the ship in the shallow water of the corral reefs or smash the ship on the jagged rocks.
"Looks like the storm's getting closer," stated the Captain. "We will hide the treasure on one of these islands close by and wait for the fleet to pass us. Then we will surprise them from behind."
"With this storm there might be a lot of wind. We'll be thrown up against the rocks."
"Not if we get there before the storm does, and we tie down our sails," said the Captain. "Hold this course, Senior Basil, if you value your life."
"Aye Sir," he said reluctantly.
After passing by three small islands, the Endeavor came upon a large island with tall cliff-like hills covered with overgrowth and trees. The only open ground visible from the cove was the beach. It was white and clashed with the blackness of the sea. It was very inviting.
The wind was growing stronger and rain sprayed from the clouds over the area. Lightning brightened the black sky as the thunderous sounds shook the Earth, but it offered little threat compared to the constant rocking from the white-capped waves.
"There's the island. Steady as she goes, Senior Basil. Let's get to the lagoon before the storm gets any worse," shouted the Captain.
No sooner did he give the order, another ship appeared from behind the island sailing toward them at top speed. It was a ship from the British fleet. The ships separated and sailed around the islands to catch the Endeavor on the other side.
"Captain, we have the British ships closing in on our port side," shouted a member of the crew.
Damn, they went around the islands in the dark, the Captain deduced silently.
A wave of panic went through him as his mind raced with thoughts on how to get out of this mess. The fleet took him completely by surprise using his own methods against him. He was unprepared for that. He tried to stay calm and not alarm his crew. He did not want to show any concern, or they would panic and be useless in the fight.
"We have him, sir. Straight ahead, just as you said," reported the first mate of the British vessel, the Guinevere.
Captain J.T. Wallace smiled at his victory. Captain Rodriquez was too predictable. Any ship reportedly attacked by Rodriquez disappeared among these islands, and any vessel in pursuit of the pirate, lost him in the area or was attacked and destroyed.
The biggest clue was the testimony of one survivor of the clipper ship, the Lady Jane. The poor ship's cook was left for dead while the pirates raided and murdered everyone on board. Most of the women were sold into slavery, but the men were killed and thrown to the sharks.
When the ship was recovered three days later by the Guinevere, the naval officers found the cook buried beneath sacks of grain and sugar. He had been stabbed in the stomach with a sword and lost a lot of blood, but it was a miracle that he survived long enough to tell the crew about the pirates.
Captain Wallace pursued the pirates from Madagascar to the New World, obsessed with catching this pirate and watching him hang. Now, it seemed the long hunt had finally ended. He had studied Rodriquez's methods closely and felt it would be poetic justice to use them on the pirate.
Captain Rodriquez had other plans. He vowed long ago that he would sacrifice his treasure, his crew, and his ship before he would swing at the end of a rope. If it was a fight to the death they wanted, then so be it.
"Get the cannons ready before they come within range. Prepare the rifles," ordered Rodriquez.
The men scrambled across the decks to prepare for the battle. Basil was having second thoughts about the entire situation. With the storm wreaking havoc over the ships and a naval battle commencing dangerously close to the jagged rocks, he was certain there was no way the crew of the Endeavor could survive. It was time he focused more on helping himself.
The ships came within range of each other, and the Captain ordered the first shot with a cannonball barely missing the port side of the Guinevere. The British ship retaliated by another blast missing the starboard side of the Endeavor.
The crew from both ships worked vigorously to reload and fire the cannons. By the third shot each ship was hitting its mark. Damage from the canon blasts was growing too intense while the storm was doing some damage of its own.
As the ships sailed closer to each other to inflict more damage, one of the pirates returned fire with his musket and shot the steersman of the Guinevere. The ship turned away opening themselves up for another attack. Captain Rodriquez saw the opportunity and took it, but fate was not with him in this battle. Just as he was about to destroy the Guinevere, another ship arrived from the south and trapped the Endeavor between them. The British fleet had cornered Captain Rodriquez and caught him in the crossfire.
"Captain, another ship is coming from the south. They've boxed us in," shouted the man from the crow's nest.
"Shit." The Captain turned to his first mate, but Basil was no where in sight. "Where is that no good bastard? I'll open up his chest and pull out his heart while he's still alive."
Another cannon blast blew the front of the ship to pieces. The Captain watched as his dead crew and ship scattered in several different directions. Blood and splinters soaked the sea water as the fire from the decks roasted what was left of the bodies. It was the end. There was no question about it.
"You want me, British? Come and get me."
The Captain held out his arms cursing and daring for the British navy to strike. Suddenly, another cannon blast came from the Guinevere and hit the side of the ship where the Captain stood and exploded everything into a ball of fire. It took the Endeavor less than five minutes to sink into its permanent watery grave taking the pirates and the treasure with her.
While the Captain was busy fighting a lost cause, Basil headed below where the treasure was stashed. The Captain was too concerned with his honor to worry about his life or the life of his crew, and Basil was not going to die in a suicide battle.
Basil grabbed the Captain's logbook and opened the trap door leading to the lower decks. Explosions roared over his head telling him that he had little time and had to salvage what he could take with him. The first item his eyes fell upon was the golden mask lying in a pile of gold coins and jewelry. Basil grabbed the mask and a few gold coins before stuffing them in his pockets. He headed back upstairs to the top deck.
When he arrived on deck he saw the other British ship and knew it too late. Suddenly another blast of cannon fire hit the deck and threw Basil into the water. He fought vigorously to reach the surface and took in as much air as he could. The blast finally forced the ship down with everyone sinking to the bottom along with the Captain.
Basil turned and saw the island not far away and swam as fast as he could to reach it. The waves tossed him around so often he thought he would drown before he reached the island until he felt sand brush beneath his feet. He collapsed on the beach from total exhaustion and lay there until morning.
The wind whistled through the open window rustling the curtains in the upstairs room of the town's hotel. The night air was cool in the little town of Four Corners indicating a cold winter within the next few months. But for now, Ezra Standish relished the cold night as the warm body lying beside him in the bed snuggled closer to him.
Ezra lightly smoothed a loose strand of hair from her face with his fingertips as he watched her sleeping. Amanda Douglas would soon be on a stagecoach in the morning heading backto the East, and he already felt empty with each passing moment. Sometimes he wondered why he missed her so much even while she was still lying in his arms.
Ever since he met her, Amanda had brought him nothing but trouble. She had come in search of an ancient city called Cibola, originally discovered by the Spanish over 300 years ago. The city held a golden statue of an ancient Zuni sun god, the beginning of a great discovery into the search of the mysterious seven cities of gold.
What was to be a routine excursion became a life and death ordeal. Within the first few hours that he had known this woman the saloon nearly burned down, he barely escaped death more times than he cared to count, and he failed to recover any treasure from the ancient city of Cibola for his misfortune. Yet, Ezra found himself drawn toward this little troublemaker. He had brushed with danger several times with his seven companions, but he never felt that rush of excitement he felt when he shared her adventures.
He knew it was a mistake to spend the night with her before she left for New York the next morning, but temptation overruled his better judgment. Ezra wanted to savor each moment he spent with her before she had to leave. He wanted the memory of holding her in his arms until she returned to him.
He touched her face with his fingers and bent forward to bestow a gentle kiss on her forehead. The warmth of his lips on her smooth skin disturbed her sleep. She stared into his emerald eyes with her hazel ones and smiled.
"Why did you wake me? I was having a marvelous dream," she said in a sleepy English accent.
"I hope it was about me," he returned in his sexy Southern drawl as he smiled.
"Well, I guess we shall never know," she smiled playfully. "You didn't let me finish."
Ezra smiled as he cupped her chin in his hand, lifted her face toward his and brushed his lips against hers. Without parting the kiss, he pulled her closer to him hearing her groan as he deepened the kiss. It was the first of many kisses that would last throughout the remaining night.
Four months later
Amanda's mind raced with anxiety as the stagecoach rode closer to the town of Four Corners. She had been traveling for three weeks by train and stagecoach and could barely sleep until she had reached her destination. She thought about the seven protectors of the town until her thoughts finally singled out one particular individual. She did not fancy seeing Ezra Standish again after what she wrote in her final letter to him a month ago.
The last time she and Ezra saw each other was four months ago when she took the fabled statue of Cibola back with her to New York. She felt reluctant to leave the place. It was the first time in her life she felt her discovery was not the most important thing in her life. And yet, in three months she would destroy her own dreams and make the biggest mistake of her life.
Tears slowly formed in her eyes, as she took out a handkerchief from her handbag to dab on her eyes. The dust from the trip is drying out my eyes, she thought. It was too long a trip to be dressed in a dark green dress with ecru lace around the trimmings. Even though it was not her usual traveling attire, she wanted to make a good impression when she arrived.
During those four months that she was away, she and Ezra wrote to each other often. She told him about how the scholars at New York University was grateful to her and her friends for discovering the statue and proving the ancient city's existance. She also sent him his share of the income she received from the university for the statue like she promised.
Amanda even wrote to him about the problems she was having with the university rejecting her application to lead the expedition to the ancient city. They say I don't have enough experience with fieldwork, but I believe their decision is gender related, she wrote in a letter to Ezra two months ago.
As the months had passed, Amanda's letters were becoming less frequent. She was coming closer to the date of her marriage, and she felt lost on exactly how to tell him. At first, there was no reason to tell anyone, but the more her feelings for this man became known to her, the more anxious she became. Six months ago Amanda's wealthy grandmother, Elizabeth Hollingsworth, felt that it was time for her only granddaughter to settle down and marry. A proper lady should dispense with these silly ideas of having a career and become a wife. Elizabeth worried that her son-in-law's influence about traveling and adventure may have ruined the poor girl. It was time to put a stop to it.
Elizabeth arranged for Amanda to marry Joseph Faulkner, an attorney and heir to a large lumber fortune. He was a prominent citizen with a fine family background and marrying him would tie the family fortunes together.
When Amanda was first approached with the idea, she was furious. She could not dream of marriage now, even to a complete stranger. Marriage would mean giving up her career that she worked so hard to build, and she did not even love him. She immediately said "No".
"I heard that the university refused your request for funds to continue searching for this ridiculous city of Cibola," Elizabeth said.
Amanda's reaction showed that Elizabeth had hit a nerve.
"I will help fund your trip on the condition that you will marry Joseph Faulkner. If you still refuse, I will cut you off from everything from now on."
After a week of deciding, Amanda reluctantly agreed to the blackmail. After all, marriage to this man will secure any funding for any future trips that she would attend. And she would definitely attend them. There was not a real problem with the plan, until now.
When she first met Ezra, he was a man she needed to con in order to get her hands on the statue that would lead her to the city of Cibola. When he saw through her inexperienced attempts, he tried to cash in on the discovery, and because of him, she almost lost everything. They could hardly stand each other, but their annoyance of one another soon turned into a mutual understanding. Her strong attraction for him grew the more time she spent with him, saving each other's lives and sharing the dangers as well as the rewards.
How could she tell him of her engagement! The news would be devastating. She decided that it was best to explain now instead of having him find out later.
Amanda wrote her last letter to him explaining everything about the wedding, but she never received a reply. She feared the worst and worried about what he would do.
The intense heat and worries were soon forgotten as the stagecoach rolled through the main street of the town. When it finally stopped in front of the hotel, she immediately exited the stagecoach and took in all of the sights.
Across the street under the saloon porch sat Buck Wilmington and Chris Larabee watching the passengers exit the stagecoach. Buck had a surprised look on his face when he recognized the woman in the green dress while Chris merely scowled.
Chris never really liked Amanda when she first arrived in his town, and her feelings for him were mutual. He knew that she would bring more trouble with her than the town could handle. Hell, she nearly burned down the saloon on her last visit. What more could happen?
"Will ya look who got off the stage," commented Buck. "Never thought we'd see her again."
"Yeah, whatta shame," said Chris sarcastically.
"What's she doin' here?"
"I'll bet it's some fool treasure hunt. I've got a good mind to lock her up if that's what it is. After what happened the last time .."
"Ole' Ezra ain't gonna be too happy. Boy, I don't know what's gotten into 'em since she left, but it ain't good."
Ezra's mood lifted with each letter that Amanda sent. He started to feel a strong attraction each time he read about her life and her thoughts. Here was a young, strong, beautiful woman full of hopefulness about building a career in a new scientific field. She was like another Mary Travis trying to make a difference for herself and others like her in this world. He admired the strength she had. He even wondered if his feelings might be stronger than that.
Ezra quickly pushed the thoughts aside. He was a two-bit hustler who had no time for silly notions about love. His mother would never allow him to persue a relationship without some maternal profit to gain in the end.
But maybe the town's influence had begun to show, and it might not be so bad to put down roots and start a family. Ezra was willing to accept Amanda's restless nature. He, too, had a wondering sense and was willing to follow her to the ends of the Earth if he had to.
It looked like things were beginning to change for the better, until Amanda's letters were becoming fewer as time went by. At first he assumed she was frustrated and stressed at the university, struggling while she got passed over to lead the expedition. But now, Ezra had suspected that it might have been him she was trying to avoid. Perhaps his past lifestyle did not suit a well-bred society lady as herself. Maybe her family disagreed with the match and ordered her to stop writing to him.
Oblivious to where a woman's place should be in this world, Amanda was determined to fulfill her dreams like her father. He could not imagine that Amanda would allow anyone to dictate her life until the final letter came explaining her engagement.
The news was almost too much to bear. Although he kept his feelings about her hidden from the rest of the group, he still felt the pain. How could he let his guard down and allow this woman to con him, the man who knew every setup in the book.
From that moment on, Ezra closed himself off from anything that reminded him of Amanda Douglas. He had to salvage what little self-respect he had left. He had to push this woman away and keep her from hurting him any further. He was not going to let this happen again.
The first thing Amanda wanted to do was to settle in the hotel. She carried her luggage to her room and unpacked her things. She fixed her windblown hair and touched up her face before going downstairs toward the saloon. She remembered Ezra's late sleeping habits and knew that he always started his day with a few whiskey shots and a game of poker in the afternoon. She was not anxious to find him since she sent that letter, but she knew that she needed the closure, to explain to the man she loved about her true feelings.
Maybe he'll understand, she hoped but knew it was not true.
When she strolled through the batwing doors she quickly glanced over the smoke-clouded faces until she saw her gambler sitting at a corner table playing solitaire. The saloon itself hardly changed since the fire. The townspeople did a good job rebuilding the structure like the saloon was never damaged. The filthy stench of sweat and blood was still heavy in the air. Amanda wondered why a gentlemanly man like Ezra would want to own such an establishment.
Amanda quietly eased her way past the obstacles of men making her way over to Ezra's table. She knew that her presence would bring unwanted attention, yet she continued to ignore the stares. Ladies usually did not enter a saloon. Only working girls and barmaids with a less than stellar reputation were ever found in such a place.
One man seated with a group of five men grabbed Amanda's wrist as she walked past his table. He smiled invitingly at her with his toothless, ugly grin staring back at her.
"Kindly take your hands off of me, Sir," she said returning his smile.
"Won't ya sit right down here, Little Lady. I'm awful lonely."
"Aren't we all. Now, I am not going to ask again. Remove your hand, or I shall remove it for you," she demanded.
The man with the missing teeth began to scowl at her. Who does this little tramp think she is to bark orders at him? Yet, he enjoyed finding someone with fighting spirit to wrestle with. He would have fun teaching her some respect.
Amanda became impatient and tried to yank her arm from his grasp. His grip turned so painfully strong that she embedded her fingernails into the soft tissue between his thumb and first finger and also along the edges of his hand.
Missing Teeth screamed in pain and automatically let go of her. Amanda took the opportunity to ball her right hand into a fist and punch him in the nose as the man tried to reach out to her again.
The other men at the table stood up and were ready to fight this woman for hurting their friend. Amanda took a few steps back and was ready to defend herself when she heard a shot from behind her. The room became deathly quiet as if the slightest noise would trigger a brawl.
"I believe the young lady is not interested," stated Ezra aiming his smoking pistol at the men standing at the table. "If you gentlemen would kindly remove yourselves and your friend from this establishment, I shall let you go with a warning."
The men merely stood and watched the gambler like they were unsure whether to continue fighting or to leave. The sudden appearance of Chris Larabee through the batwing doors made up their minds. They decided that revenge was not worth the risk and left.
"What the hell just happened here?" Chris asked without hiding his anger.
"A few drunken patrons decided to take advantage of this young lady and I altered their plans," answered Ezra.
"I better not have another problem with you," warned Chris to Amanda.
He stared her down with those cold eyes, but Amanda merely raised her head to meet his gaze. She did not like Chris Larabee and his constant intimidation techniques. She had been through far worse things than cowering to this 'hot head.'
"Don't worry, Mr. Larabee. I do not foresee any problems .unless your townspeople are incapable of controlling themselves," she stated.
Ezra stifled a chuckle as he watched the two of them face-off. They were like two tigers circling around the arena waiting to pounce on one another. With Chris's gun slinging abilities and fighting skills and observing how Amanda could take care of herself in similar situations, proved that each of them had an even chance of holding his and her own in a fight.
"This is a warning. I better not have any trouble."
Chris narrowed his eyes at her before he turned on his heels and slowly left through the door shaking his head in disgust. She was not ten minutes arriving into town, and he already had to prevent a shootout over her. He would definitely see to it that she concluded her business and left town as soon as possible before anything else happened.
Ezra stared at this beautiful creature that walked into his life four months ago and turned it upside down. What was she doing here? Perhaps her dagger in my back did not cut deeply enough, he thought as he watched her graceful movements to his table.
Ezra holstered his gun and resumed his game. He barely acknowledged Amanda's presence on the surface, yet he kept his attention glued to her every move.
"So, I see you have returned," he said as he motioned for her to take the seat across from him at the table.
"It is good to see you again, Ezra. I haven't heard from you for some time," she said understanding his coldness to her. "But, I know I haven't kept our correspondence very current after my last letter."
Ezra raised his gaze to her but tried to avoid her eyes. He knew if he gazed into them, his plan would fail.
"I had more important things to tend to. I barely noticed the letter. Congratulations to you and your new life. It is a shame you traveled so far for so little."
It was a lie, of course, and she knew it.
"I have my other reasons for coming, but I thought that I would stay here for a few days and see you. I wanted to explain what had happened."
"Well, you have seen me. As for the explanations, none are necessary. Now, I would suggest you return to the stagecoach before you miss your seating."
He should have never let her get too close. Please leave and never return.
Amanda could not believe what she was hearing. Did she really deserve this treatment? Yes! She was too blinded by advancing her career and agreeing to the ridiculous engagement. Maybe by not being honest in the beginning she allowed something wonderful to slip away from her. In any case, she was not about to let Ezra's attitude affect her in public.
"If you believe that my returning to this town was only to embarrass you, you have a terrible ego complex. I have a new quest that has taken me back to this western territory, and my presence here is merely a coincidence." If he wants to play this horrid game, than why should I give him the pleasure of winning.
Amanda rose from her seat. She wanted to say something, that would hopefully appease the situation, but she felt as if her heart was physically breaking and did not want him or anyone in this town to see it. She turned and left the saloon.
Ezra wanted more than anything to go after her and shake an explanation out of her, but he remained seated. This is the better for me. I cannot allow any emotions into my life. She affected my better judgment and nearly destroyed me. Perhaps if I keep telling that to myself I might believe it.
She tried desperately to fight back the tears that were trailing down her cheeks before she arrived at her room. She did not want the attention from passing on-lookers, yet she had no idea how much attention she was getting.
"There she is, Boss," said the man with the missing teeth from the saloon. "That's the little girlee girl that's got yer precious book."
"Thank you. Now, all we have to do is persuade her to give it to me. We will wait until tonight when there are less people on the street."
The man with the black coat and missing teeth watched as Amanda headed quickly to the hotel.
Amanda spent most of the afternoon in her room crying. By four o'clock, the long stagecoach ride mixed with her emotional turmoil drained her of her strength, and she quickly fell asleep.
Ezra spent most of the day alone in the saloon with a bottle of strong whiskey and a deck of cards. He left the saloon once to visit the hotel, and with a little greasing of the clerk's palms, Ezra found out Amanda was in room number five and would be staying for three days. He returned to the saloon and back to the whiskey bottle.
Amanda awoke before six o'clock and changed into her powder blue cotton dress she wore when she and Ezra first met. At first, it bothered her to choose it, but she brushed those feelings aside. It was her favorite dress because the colors complemented her auburn hair, and sentimentality was never in her vocabulary.
After touching up her hair and covering the puffy swelling of her eyes, Amanda left her room and headed down the stairs toward the restaurant. She assumed that Ezra ate his meals in the saloon, and she wanted to avoid him at all costs.
As the waiter took her order, a young woman with long blonde hair wearing a light green dress to match her eyes approached the table. Amanda turned her attention to the young woman and waited to see if she would make the first move.
"I remember you the last time you came into town. My name is Mary Travis. I'm the editor of the Clarion newspaper," she extended her hand to Amanda.
"It is a pleasure, Mrs. Travis. My name is Amanda Douglas. Please join me," she motioned to the chair opposite her at the table.
Mary seated herself just as the waiter returned with a glass of wine for Amanda. Mary ordered a glass of water, and the waiter left them to their conversation.
"I hear that you are a famous explorer," Mary began when Amanda did not say anything.
"I am afraid that is incorrect. My father is the famous explorer in my family. I am a woman who enjoys traveling and studying the secrets of the ancient world."
"Your discovery of the ancient city of Cibola has been the talk of the town. I would love to speak with you about an article to put in my newspaper."
Amanda smiled at her when she finally made the offer. When Mary introduced herself as the Clarion editor, Amanda knew it was only a matter of time before an article was mentioned.
Amanda was never fond of reporters because in every newspaper that printed anything about her latest findings, the reporter always managed to omit her involvement or ridicule her in some way. But Mary Travis was different. She was a woman working in a man's profession, and a strong supporter of women's liberties. Any woman could do the same jobs a man could do and were also capable of political voting. Amanda felt that she could relate to her on many levels.
"Actually, Mrs. Travis, I will only be staying for three days. I am retracing the journey of Captain William Rothchild, otherwise known as Fernando Basil, a Spanish pirate."
"That sounds interesting. Who is Captain Rothchild, or Fernando Basil?"
The waiter arrived with the orders while Amanda explained the story about the Spanish sailor who became a British sea captain. His naval tactics were influential during the French and Indian War. Upon finding his logbook from a private collector, it was debated that he was once a Spanish pirate.
As the two women conversed about the story, a tall handsome man in a black suit strolled up to the ladies table and introduced himself as Silas Albertson; a businessman and art collector looking to invest in some local property for an emporium.
"I could not help but notice that you are Amanda Douglas, the female British explorer I've heard so much about."
"It is incredible that you would know that, Sir, since I am hardly the topic of any conversation at the university," Amanda said referring to the lack of acknowledgment from the press or the scholars at the university. Truthfully, Amanda preferred the lack of publicity. It helped keep her life more private.
"I am originally from New York City, and I have regular contacts in the history department at the university. I also heard that you have come to investigate the mystery of Captain Rothchild's double-life."
"Your contacts are quite informative, Sir. I am not sure that is a good thing," Amanda commented with a smile.
The man was charming, but he knew too much about her business to be a perfect stranger. She could not place whether or not she ever met him, and his knowledge of her made her a little nervous. He smiled a lot which also caused her discomfort. It seems like he was trying too hard to impress them.
"Tell me, Mr. Albertson, what is your interest in Captain Rothchild?" Mary asked curious about the story and his involvement.
"I'm interested with the captain's previous life as a Spanish pirate," he noticed Mary's eyes widen with interest while Amanda remained unreadable. "It is rumored since the captain was Spanish and of the correct age, that he may have been part of the crew of Captain Juan Rodriquez, an infamous pirate."
"I have also heard those theories, Mr. Albertson. Some scholars believe that when Captain Rodriquez's ship was destroyed by cannon blasts, Captain Rothchild, when he was Fernando Basil, was thrown clear by the explosion. The only problem with the story is that there was a hurricane during the battle, and it is documented that all of the pirates met their demise that day."
"Yet, some of the gold coins supposedly lying with the ship at the bottom of the ocean were found in circulation many years later. This would explain why Captain Rothchild changed his name, and why he bore such a strong resemblance to the young first mate."
Mary was fascinated by the debate taking place before her. She wondered about printing an article about Captain Rothchild in her paper, but from what she gathered about Rothchild and what Amanda had told her, the expedition was a secret. Amanda did not want to draw unwanted attention to her project.
"Well, I hope your research might help you find the lost treasure of Captain Rodriquez. I'm assuming that is why you are doing this."
"Not really, Mr. Albertson. I am merely gathering information. I am not interested in buried treasure."
"Buried treasure?" Mary asked.
"It is rumored that Captain Rodriquez may have hidden his treasure before the British fleet found him. That explains why the gold coins were found in circulation. But that, too, is dismissed as a myth. Unfortunately, if that were true, it may never be discovered," answered Amanda. "You know the phrase, 'Dead men tell no tales.'"
"I would like to accompany you on your quest. Perhaps you may find something of historical value, and you might need my help," he suggested.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Albertson, but my journey will be a short one, and as soon as my research is finished, I will be returning to the East. Your help is appreciated, but it is not necessary."
Mary noticed the look of disappointment on his face and perhaps even a little flash of anger. It confused her, but she knew how the gentleman must feel. She also wanted to join the adventure and learn more about this honorary British captain who may have been a ruthless pirate. It was a real adventure story right out of the dime novels, and she would love to have the exclusive.
"Well then, I wish you luck on your journey and have a safe trip home. It is a pleasure meeting you both," Silas politely kissed the hands of both women, then reached for his hat before leaving the restaurant.
"Interesting fellow," commented Mary as she watched him leave.
"Yes .very interesting."
Any average woman would have quickly fallen for Albertson's handsome features and budding charms, but he made Amanda very nervous. How could he have known why she was in town when she only told three of her closest associates from the university? If he worked with the Department of History, why had she never heard of him?
Amanda glanced toward Mary and saw the same mirrored expression of distrust that Amanda was feeling. There was something strange about Silas Albertson, and they both knew it.
JD Dunne and Vin Tanner both joined Buck at the gaming table in the saloon. Ezra spent the entire evening in a dark cornersurrounded by empty whiskey bottles. It was very plain that he wanted to be alone. He gave a sharp warning look to anyone who came near him unless that person brought a fresh whiskey bottle.
His three friends watched as the gambler continued to drink himself into nothingness. That was always his escape, to drink until he passed out. His friends knew his pattern well.
"Will ya look at 'em. He ain't doin' himself any good," commented JD.
"That's his third bottle since Miss Douglas came to town. What happened anyway?" asked Vin, a worried expression clouded his features.
"Don't know," answered Buck. "She walked in here and left 'em like that. Beautiful women like her are the kind ya watch out fer. I should know."
"And I'll bet ya know from experience," said JD rolling his eyes and waited for Buck to tell another one of his female conquest stories.
"I knew a few redheads like her in my time. Hellions .every one of 'em, like this little filly I met once in Dodge City .."
"Somebody better talk some sense into Ezra, or he ain't gonna be in any shape to have good sense," Vin interrupted as he left his chair to join Ezra at the far table.
Ezra swallowed another shot of whiskey feeling it burn down his throat before noticing Vin's presence only a few feet away from him. The gambler gave Vin a deadly stare and poured another shot. He poured a little too much and spilled a few drops on the table. Sensing that Vin was not going to leave, Ezra motioned for him to take the seat opposite from him at the table.
"Mr. Tanner, are you here to partake in a game of chance or a shot of malt?" Ezra asked in his whiskey slurred southern tongue.
"I came to talk to ya."
"Talking is not one of your choices. I wish to be left alone."
"Look at yourself, Ezra. Climbin' into that bottle ain't gonna make this go away."
"Thank you for your concern, but I know my limit."
"She ain't worth it. She damn near killed all of us with that foolish need to find that city, and what did it do for us? Nothin'."
Ezra was becoming more agitated with every word that was spoken against her, and yet, he silently applauded Vin for his accurate description of the little hellcat. Ezra had his own personal demons he wrestled with that kept him from ever forming a close attachment to anyone, he should have known better. They were from different worlds.
"Mr. Tanner, I would refrain from speaking any more about the subject. In fact, I will put an end to this dilemma with Miss Douglas and return shortly to celebrate my victory alone. Good day," Ezra spoke through gritted teeth as he rose from his chair.
Ezra suddenly felt light-headed and had to grip his chair to keep from tumbling backwards on the floor. Vin offered to help, but Ezra shrugged him aside and staggered for the batwing doors.
Missing Teeth and his boss watched from the alley of the saloon as Ezra emerged from the saloon doors and headed toward the hotel. One of his gang had already mentioned to the boss that his old partner, Ezra Standish, was in town. After witnessing what had happened between the gambler and Amanda, there was no question that those two were at one time more than just friends.
This delighted their boss even more. Now, he could kill two birds with one stone; get all the information he could about finding the mask and also use the young historian to strike his revenge against his old adversary.
"Looks like Mr. Standish is about to pay a visit to the fair Miss Douglas. Make sure everything is ready, and see to it that Ezra Standish gets this note after you are finished with him," ordered the Boss passing a folded slip of paper to Missing Teeth.
"Whatever ya say," Missing Teeth tipped his hat. "We'll have that little lady packed up and ready for ya at the cave. She'll be fun to have around when we get there."
"I don't want her harmed. When she is finished serving my purpose, than you may do what you want with her. But if she gets hurt, you don't get paid."
The Boss left him and walked toward the livery stable to retrieve his horse. Missing Teeth continued across the street and followed Ezra to the hotel.
Ezra was angry. Who does this woman think she is returning to this town and turning his life upside down! She should be at home planning her wedding. He never let anyone effect him like this, not even his own Mother, and she did enough damage of her own. Ezra did not care for Amanda. She was merely a temporary distraction from his life, and that was exactly what he wanted to tell her. That should free her conscience and return to her fiancée.
Amanda had finished her meal and her talk with Mary Travis. She invited Mary to help her with her research in the morning by riding a few miles west to a site where Rothchild described in his book as his sanctuary. Mary accepted with much enthusiasm.
Amanda bid Mary good night and climbed the steps to her room. The oil lamps at the end of the hallway gave a ghostly glow over the area, but they did not produce enough light to see very well.
Amanda fumbled through her purse for the key when a pair of hands reached out from behind and grabbed her. Her fingers grasped the key, and she quickly reached over her right shoulder and poked her attacker in the eye with it.
The man loosened his grip on Amanda and staggered backwards just as she elbowed his ribs and sent him to the hard wooden floor doubled over in pain. She turned around and faced another ugly tall man emerge from the shadows and pointed a gun to her chest.
"I have nothing for you to steal," she said plainly.
"Sorry, little lady, but we work for a guy who says ya got somethin' he wants. He wants to see ya."
"I am sorry to disappoint you, but I have other plans. Another time."
The man smiled and threw a punch to Amanda's face, but she blocked it and gave him a punch in the face to break his oversized nose. The man on the floor swung his arm around slapping the back of her knees knocking her to the floor. Once he had her on her back, he threw another hard punch connecting with her jaw and knocked her unconscious.
"Shit .I thought ya said she weren't no trouble," said the ugly man with the broken nose.
"That's what the Boss said. He's gonna pay big fer my eye, or she's gonna pay."
Just as the men carried Amanda down the back stairs, they heard footsteps coming from the main stairway. They hid in the shadows to see Ezra emerge from the top of the stairs and walked toward Amanda's room.
Ezra slowed when he saw the open door. At first he thought it was very strange, but then again, Amanda must have just arrived. He opened the door slightly and peeked inside. He quietly called Amanda's name before carefully pushing his way through just as he was shoved inside the room.
Ezra regained his balance, but a blow to the back of his head sent him to the floor. He lost consciousness before his body hit the floor.
"That's fer breakin' up my fun," gloated Missing Teeth as he rolled Ezra on his back and searched his pockets for anything of value.
Missing Teeth took the gold watch Ezra kept in his left vest pocket and his ruby ring he wore on his left hand. The thief could not find any money because Ezra always kept his winnings safely tucked in his right boot. Missing Teeth would have found it eventually, but time was growing short, and they needed to get back to the hideout.
Missing Teeth took the note his boss had given him and laid it on the gambler's chest. He left closing the door behind him and took the back stairs to join his group. Now, the gauntlet was thrown, and in a few hours they would see if the gambler was man enough to pick it up.
Comments to: CathyB