"Ballots & Bullets" (TSR Module BH3) Concluded!
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    "Ballots & Bullets" (TSR Module BH3) Concluded!

    This Story Hour continues our Wild West campaign that uses combined Dungeons & Dragons and Boot Hill rules. This particular story uses TSR's 1982 module "Ballots & Bullets" by David James Ritchie as the basis for the story. The campaign takes place in Promise City, Arizona, a mining town approximately sixty miles east of Tombstone, Arizona.

    The first three modules from this campaign (and Story Hour links) are:

    Revenge, Renewal, and the Promise of a New Year (January 1882) played Aug. 2004 to Feb. 2005

    Wizards, Whiskey, and Wonderful Things (March to April 1882) played Feb. to Aug. 2005

    Here there be Vampires (April to May 1882) played Aug. to Dec. 2005

    Primary Cast of Characters
    Jake Cook – “The Gambler”, male human rogue/fighter (Baradtgnome)
    Minerva Florencia - "The Priestess", female human cleric (moon dancer)
    Katherine Kale - “The Teacher”, female human expert/wizard (orchid blossom)
    Chester Martin - “The Deputy”, male human fighter/ranger (SteveJung)
    Nanuet – “The Indian Priest”, male high elf ranger/cleric (Dire Wolf)
    Ruby West - “The Singer”, female human bard/rogue (Queenie)

    Secondary Cast of Characters
    Colleen & Cathleen O'Hara - "The Twins", female humans (Janiru)
    Conrad Booth - "The Boyfriend", male human bard (Silver Moon)
    George Kilgore - "The Veteran", male human fighter (Snaebjorn)
    Ginnie Flaherty - “The Kid”, female human rogue/wizard (Kriskrafts)
    Qualtaqa - "The Noble Indian", male centaur fighter/cleric (Silver Moon)
    Sonoma – “The Senorita”, female wood elf druid/bard (Kriskrafts)
    Thom - "The Hired Hand", male human fighter (?) (Dire Wolf)

    The module will officially start in early January 2006 but we have already played out a prelude to it that will be posted as the next several chapters.

    Prelude, Part A - "Night with the Girls", Monday, May 22nd, 1882:

    Madge Duprey, lead dance at the Gay Lady Variety Hall and Saloon arrives mid-afternoon at the Lucky Lady Dance Hall and Saloon for a scheduled appointment with her friend Ruby West, lead singer, dance and also co-owner of the Lucky Lady.

    Madge has a broad grin on her face and says “Ruby, Great news! We’re having company! The Pauline Markham Theatrical Company played this last weekend again in Tombstone and has just arrived in town for the next day on their way east to engagements in the New Mexico Territory. They’re checking into the Promise City Hotel right now. Josie has asked if the three of us would be interested in spending the rest of today together.”

    A huge smile comes to Ruby's face as she claps her hands together. "That would be wonderful! I didn't get to spend any time with Josie at the festival and I'd really like to spend time with her. And I don't have to work so tonight would be perfect." She pauses for a moment. "I should make sure Jake doesn't have any plans..." Her voice trails off. Silly girl, since when do you have to ask permission to go out? "I just have to get ready. What are the plans and when should we meet?"

    Madge says, "Well, she's never seen much of the Promise City area so I was thinking of renting a carriage from Drover's Livery and showing her some of the scenic parts of this countryside before it gets dark. Then we can come back to town for supper and entertainment. Since it's supposed to be a night off that should rule out our going to both the Gay Lady and Lucky Lady, otherwise we might end up working. Why don't we start with El Parador Cantina for dinner, make our way over to the Comique Dance Hall and Saloon for a show, then finish off with gambling at the Long Branch Saloon."

    Ruby claps her hands together gleefully. "That sounds perfect. I keep meaning to get around to the other establishments but I'm always so busy..." Ruby starts heading for the stairs. "I'll go get ready right now, I'll be down in a few minutes, make yourself comfortable."

    Ruby takes the stairs two at a time. She bursts into her room, scaring Jake Cooke, gambler, Lucky Lady co-owner and boyfriend of Miss. West. He is quietly reading the paper near the window. "Hi baby!" She strides over and kisses him hard on the lips. "Guess what?" She continues without waiting for an answer, "Josie is back in town and she wants to spend the day with Madge and I."

    She barely breathes as she excitedly rips off her clothes and tears through her closet. She settles on her cream dress with the peach flowers on it. "We're going to take her through the area on a tour then eat at the El Parador and then watch Clarisse sing at the Comique then over to gamble at the Long Branch." Ruby chatters incessantly until she is finally standing in front of the mirror dressed and smoothing her dress.

    "Well, what do you think? Did you have any plans for us for today?" He replies, "Beautiful as always." Jake throws the folded paper on the floor. "Ruby, Madge and Josie on the town together? Heh, my plan is to duck." He laughs. "Go have fun. I'll try to get into less trouble than you three."

    Ruby carefully sits on Jake's lap, pushing her skirt out of the way, and wraps her arms around his neck. "You are SO adorable. Have I told you that lately?" She kisses him passionately before pulling away slightly. Running a finger lightly over his cheek she continues, "I do so worry that you'd get into trouble without me and I'd miss it." An innocent expression comes to Ruby's face, topped with an angelic smile. "You know how I hate to miss out on fun."

    He says, "You could always take me along, I mean there are THREE attractive ladies going out...." Ruby feigns a look of shock before sticking her tongue out at Jake and playfully slapping him. "I thought I was the only girl you had eyes for Mr. Cook." She continues to act hurt as she turns her face away from Jake with her nose in the air and her arms crossed. "I'll just have to make sure some innocent fellow makes me feel better tonight I suppose. An innocent attractive fellow..."

    "I do only have eyes, and other parts, for you Ruby dearest." Jake rubs his beard with one hand, "Now I wonder.... just how an INNONCENT fellow is going to make you feel better?" He smirks, "When you get bored with those innocents just come on back I'll be waiting to take care of you."

    Ruby suddenly turns back to Jake and throws her arms around him tightly. She again kisses him passionately for a long moment. "Lover, you know you're the only one I want to take care of me. You're the only one who can or ever could." Ruby smiles mischievously as she taps Jake on the nose, "I'll be looking forward to tonight." Ruby giggles as she stands, "Besides, we both know innocent is boring."

    She checks herself in the mirror again. She stuffs some extra money deep down the front of her bodice. "Alright, I think I'm ready." She strides towards Jake and leaning forward she kisses him. "I love you baby, behave yourself." Jake just nods and smirks. Ruby gives Jake one final hug and kiss before heading back down to Madge.

    Bouncing down the stairs with a smile she says, "Ready when you are!" She takes Madge's arm in hers and they head out the door. Madge drops Ruby off at the Promise City Hotel and says, "I'll be back shortly with the carriage, keep Josie company in the meanwhile."

    Ruby enters to see her friend Josephine Marcus sitting with the actor from her company who she had been introduced to only as Mr. Fabian. They are currently both having a piece of hotel owner and cook Melissa Smith's award-winning apple pies. Josie gestures for Ruby to join them.

    Ruby hurries over to the table and embraces Josie. "I'm so excited you made it back to town!" She releases her and then extends a hand to her handsome partner, "Nice to see you again Mr. Fabian. I hope you'll find something interesting to do while we steal Josie away for the evening. We plan to keep her out late." Fabian says "Call me Will."

    She turns back to Josie. "Madge went to get the carriage, we're going for a ride." Ruby sits at the table with the two actors. "So tell me, what have you been up to?" Josie replies, "Well, last month we finally finished our scheduled performances of 'Stolen Kisses', that was the play you saw us perform in nearby Tombstone. Personally, I hope I never have to act in that one again. Too many bad memories from the night last March when Morgan Earp was shot and killed. That set this whole Cowboy Gang war into motion.

    This past month we've been performing Hamlet, with William here in the title role. Tombstone seems to prefer lighthearted comedies to the classics so we did only two performances there this time. We've got a few engagements scheduled in the New Mexico Territory and then it's off to Colorado for the remainder of the summer. In the fall we will return home to San Francisco where we'll stay until next spring."

    Ruby says, "Ah, San Francisco. I'd love to see San Francisco. Maybe I'll come and visit sometime. You must be longing for home, these little dirty towns don't quite compare to such a large city." Josie replies, "Well, I grew up in a city. I was born in Brooklyn back in '61. My family moved to San Francisco when I was a young girl. Oh Ruby, I guess it's time I told you my story. William, you've heard it before, why don't you go get us some lemonades." He does as instructed.

    She beings, "I always wanted to become an actress, so once I turned eighteen my friend Dora Hirsh and I escaped to join a theatrical company where we were hired as dancers. So three years ago we started to travel with Pauline Markham's traveling theater company. It was in the Territorial capitol of Prescott that I met Johnny Behan, who at that time was the Yavapai County Sheriff. We had a short but intense love affair and he asked me to stay. The company left without me but then I became homesick and returned to San Francisco. Johnny Behan followed me and asked me to marry him, but I declined so he returned to Arizona.

    The same thing happened the following year when the Company toured Arizona, and this time I again stayed behind in Prescott with Behan. But I found out that Johnny Behan was seeing other women behind my back so I wrote a letter to my father, who sent me 300 dollars so that I could return to San Francisco.

    Both last year and again this year Behan has tried to get me back. I still had feelings for him....that is, until I saw Wyatt Earp. It was love at first sight for both of us. Now Johnny would be just a distant memory if not for his now hunting the man I now love. I've tried to stay friendly with him so that I can pass information on to Wyatt. I don't believe that Behan suspects."

    Ruby listens intently to Josie's story, sitting quiet and still as she tells it. Finally she comments, "So you're sleeping with the enemy, so to speak." She places a hand over Josie’s. "What we won't do for the men we love..."

    Josie says, "Well no...I haven't been sleeping with him this year, I'm afraid that if I did Johnny might notice that I now react differently to him. But I did spend much of this past weekend socializing with him in Tombstone and talking to him about his bravery and heroics in hunting after the Earps now that they are wanted men.

    Ruby says, "I grew up in New York City, well grew up mostly in New York City. And I can't tell you how many times I wished to run away and become an actress." She shrugs, "I guess I still do sometimes, wish I could run away and become an actress, forget who I am and be someone else, or who I was anyway." Ruby lowers her voice before continuing, "Someone else I know believes Behan might be a part of a quickly diminishing Cowboy Gang. So it won't be long now. Have you heard from Wyatt lately?"

    Josie replies, "Yes I...I have information to now pass on to Wyatt right now. That's the real reason behind this carriage ride we're about to go on."
    Last edited by Silver Moon; Tuesday, 6th May, 2008 at 12:05 PM.

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    Prelude Part B, “The Rendezvous“, Monday, May 22nd, 1882:

    "Oh?" Ruby is surprised and disappointed at the same time. Madge and herself were only a diversion so Josie could meet with Wyatt Earp. Ruby kept her smile on but a new thought ran through her mind... Jake will kill me himself if he finds out I went freely walking into another Cowboy-Earp situation... Ruby twists a napkin in her hands but realizes she can't get out of it without giving Josie away. So much for a fun night with the girls.

    Ruby sits back quietly in her chair as Will returns with the lemonades and she waits for Madge to show up with the carriage. Will Fabian brings the lemonades as well as a large piece of apple pie for Ruby. "So, did I miss anything?" he asks. Josie says, "No, just girl talk. Will, please be sure to drop by the Comique tonight, there will be a trio of ladies there looking for a dance partner." He smiles and says, "I guess I could do that."

    Madge enters the room ten minutes later to let them know that the carriage was right outside and they should be on their way. Ruby thanks Will for the pie but only picks at it. Glad that the carriage has shown up she puts a smile on her face and head outside. She climbs into the carriage and then helps Josie up. "Let's be off then! Don't want to miss the sights." She continues to ask Josie about her acting, keeping the conversations light.

    They ride south along Pine Creek, turning east as they near Pete's Ranch. Ruby can see the corralled horses, cattle and sheep in the distance. They move east, circumnavigating north around the hill where the Army and Apache had negotiated the most recent treaty in January. From there they move north towards the mountain known as Cochise Head.

    As they ride towards it Josie tells Madge "I hope you're not upset by this, but I asked for this ride for a specific reason. I...I need to meet somebody up ahead. It is very important, lives depend upon it." Madge gives Josie an odd look and then brings the carriage to a complete halt. With no attempt to hide anger in her voice Madge says, "What is this about?"

    Josie says, "I have a lover, we need to meet in secret." Madge exclaims "I don't like being used." Josie says, "It wouldn't be safe for me to travel alone....and he asked me to bring you, he has a favor to ask of you." Madge exclaims, "And who would 'he' be?" Josie says, "Wyatt Earp." Madge just sits without immediately replying.

    Ruby interjects, “"Josie, I am sorry that you are in this situation and you have to meet Wyatt in secret. But we just got out of the situation with the Cowboys, and I almost died. Jake would not be happy to know I was doing this. As much as I do things on my own, I would have to agree with him. Things are finally starting to calm down."

    Ruby pauses. "I thought you really did want to spend the evening with Madge and me." Josie replies, "I do and we will, but I have to do this first. This has gone beyond just the Earps and Cowboys. President Chester Arthur has offered to send Federal Troops in to help arrest Wyatt and Behan has decided to accept that offer. Wyatt and his friends have to be warned to leave the Territory while they can."

    Ruby puts a fake smile on her face as she nods. "I understand. Let's get this over with a be safe about it, ok? I'm sure your lover is anxious to see you." Ruby glances at Madge out of the corner of her eyes but sits quietly. Madge says, "Fine, but I'm not happy about this. We're only doing this because I owe Wyatt a favor from back when he was Marshall."

    They move on toward the mountain. As they near the base of the south side two riders come up from behind. Ruby does not recognize one but the other is Warren Earp. Madge stops the carriage. Warren tells his companion "I'll ride with them, you and Sherm make sure they weren't followed."

    They ride forward towards a small canyon. The carriage stops and Warren stops his horse. A man who Ruby recognizes as Turkey Creek Johnson comes out from behind a rock and helps to secure the horses pulling the carriage. Wyatt Earp then comes out from his hiding place and Josie jumps from the carriage, running towards him and giving him a warm embrace. The two of them wander off together behind some rocks.

    Warren tells Madge "Thank you for helping out, we all appreciate it." Madge replies with a stern "I hope so, you have no idea how much risk you are putting Ruby and I through." Ruby places her hand on Madge's arm. "Let's take a little walk." They slowly walk off but stay fairly close to the area. Ruby sighs, "Too bad we didn't know about this earlier. I might have worn a different dress." She continues to guide Madge. She whispers, "Why do you own Wyatt Earp a favor?"

    Madge replies, "I was careless once last February. I cast a spell in public when I thought nobody was around but turns out he was. He didn't arrest me or even comment about it at the time, but later he made sure to communicate that he clearly saw me. I guess he was filing that for future reference. Time to play the piper, and I guess it really wouldn't have been all that safe for her to ride out here alone."

    Ruby nods as they walk. "I understand." Ruby pauses, "But Madge, I can't get myself involved in this stuff again. It's not that I don't want to help, although I barely know her." She sighs, "But yes, it would have been to dangerous for her to come out here alone." She steers them around. "Let's go back. Maybe if we stay close this won't take so long and we can get out of here." She smiles, "I'd sneak out here to see my forbidden lover too." They head back to the spot where they left the carriage to wait.

    Madge and Ruby wait for a good twenty minutes before Wyatt and Josie return. Wyatt cups his hands to his mouth and makes a coyote-like sound, apparently a signal to his men. They all walk or ride up from where each had positioned himself. There are now a total of six in his group, namely Wyatt, Warren, Turkey Creek Johnson, Sherman McMasters and two others who are introduced to the women as Charlie Smith and Texas Jack Vernillin.

    Wyatt thanks both Madge and Ruby for bringing out Josie to them. He tells his men "Federal Troops will be on their way soon to arrest us, we have to leave Arizona. But before we do we have us some unfinished business back in Tombstone. By my count there are just four Cowboys from Stillwell's faction still there, five if you count Behan." Josie has a shocked look on her face and says, "Don't kill Johnny...he's not a rustler, just an opportunist. And when he finds that you've taken me as your woman that will hurt him more than a bullet."

    Wyatt says, "My boys and I may be wanted right now but everything we've done thus far could probably be justified if we ever go to trial. That'll change if I go after a lawman. So Behan's safe for now, Buckskin Frank Leslie is too since he still has a Deputy's badge on. That's no longer the case with Charlie Villiers and Bronco Madson, they gave up on the posse and went back to their old jobs. But it's Hank Swelling who we really need to see. He's the last one still living of those who shot Morgan that night."

    He turns to Madge and Ruby and says, "Ladies, I'd like to ask you for one more favor. Please bring Josie out to see me once more before they leave tomorrow. And Miss Duprey, any other assistance that you could give to us would be appreciated. At least two of us will need to get into Tombstone without being seen."

    Ruby quickly looks to Madge, knowing she won't be happy. "We'll bring her tomorrow. At least one of us will. We must be crazy but we'll do it." Ruby walks back over to the carriage area. She says to Wyatt, "Take care of yourself." And she waits patiently to get going back to town.

    The three women ride back to Promise City. Madge is quiet for most of the ride back. Josie thanks them both for accompanying her and says how much she is looking forward to having fun that night. Madge brings the carriage back to Drovers, letting Austin Blake know that she will be renting it again in the morning. Madge tells Ruby and Josie that she will meet them in a half-hour for dinner at the El Parador. She then walks back in the direction of the Gay Lady.

    Ruby tries to decide if she should run back and tell Jake what happened or just head to the El Parador. She decides to go against her instincts and head right over to the El Parador. She says, "Josie, I'm headed to the El Parador now. You may come with me if you'd like or you might want to freshen up then head over, your choice."

    She looks out at the direction of the Gay Lady. "She needs some time to cool off, she was really upset about being misled like that." Josie says, "Oh...well, I guess I can understand that. Wyatt should not have asked her to help him out." Ruby then heads over to her old home.

    Ruby shrugs off the previous encounter thinking “Nothing bad happened so I guess it's okay.“ She smiles as she enters the El Parador. Right away she finds Dorita and wraps her arms around her. "Buenas noches Senora. ¿Cómo usted es esta tarde fina?" *Good evening Senora. How are you this fine evening? Then she playfully rolls her eyes. "I know, I know, I never come visit and I don't eat enough. Well, I am here to remedy both situations," she laughs.

    Dorita looks Ruby over and says, "You skinny as a rail? That Jake not know how to feed you! I talk to Maria about that." Dorita then points to Josie and says "Who your friend? She too skinny too. Me find you some good food to fatten you both up."

    Ruby looks down at her curves, raises an eyebrow and laughs. "You think everyone is skinny! Poor Maria. Jake won't mind a couple more curves though," she giggles and gives Dorita another squeeze. "But yes, we are here to stuff ourselves with the best food in town. Dorita, this is my friend Josie. She's an actress with the Pauline Markham Theatrical Company. They preformed here for the festival. You know how I've always wanted to be an actress! And my friend Madge from the Gay Lady is going to join us too. We're having a girls night out."

    Madge arrives twenty minutes later, seemingly in a better mood. Dorita has brought a large plate of assorted appetizers for the trio. She also brings a bottle of a white wine. Estaban Fuente arrives and plays Spanish guitar during the meal. The wine helps loosen the women up a little and Ruby quickly forgets about the earlier incident. Ruby asks Josie about some of her acting stories and they are entertained through their meal with them.

    After their meal but before dessert Ruby asks, "So how do the two of you know each other?" Josie laughs "We just met for the first time last month, the day before the festival, but found ourselves to be kindred spirits. When Pauline Markham first agreed to come her to perform the Gay Lady was the only Dance Hall in town with a large enough stage for our theater company so we rented it for our performances from Mr. Lumley."

    Ruby says, "You're must be kindred spirits then, as I would have never guessed that you haven't known each other longer." She turns to Josie. "It must be very hard on you, being separated like you are, and in the middle of things. I could never be away from Jake now and I would be so worried."

    Josie replies, "It's not just the separation...it's that he is being hunted, and by somebody who I once cared for. Wyatt has managed to avoid Johnny's Posse until now, but if Federal troops move in they will be caught. I had to get the message to him, I just had to. I...I don't expect you two to fully understand. But thank you for all of your help."

    Ruby places a hand over Josie's. "I DO understand what it's like to have the one you love in constant danger. But next time it would be nice if you told us what you really wanted us for. Now that you've warned him, he'll make the best decision he can for both of you." Ruby gives Josie a dazzling smile. "And you're welcome. Now let's enjoy some of Dorita's pie and have a good time tonight. Alright?"

    Josie and Madge both agree, although Ruby senses that Madge is still a bit miffed with the actress. When Dorita is asked about pie she goes into the kitchen and returns with a tray with pieces of apple, cherry and some type of mixed berry pie. She invites the women to have as many pieces as they want, commenting again about how skinny they all are. Madge exclaims, "Maybe these two, who I have a good decade on, but I find it hard enough to keep the pounds off these days. Just a little piece for me please.”

    Ruby says, "Well, you know what that means, Madge. You need to get some more men around you!" Ruby smiles innocently. "Or maybe if there is one man in particular..." Ruby shrugs and digs into her pie. "A little sweating does you good you know that." An ashen look crosses Madge's face. She softly says, "One man....you know about him? We've tried to keep things quiet."

    Ruby's eyes widen and she exclaims, "Madge!" She stares at her friend then continues, "Why yes, of course, so you aught to just admit it now." Madge says, "Of course I'll admit it, but please keep it to yourself. If Burton Lumley finds out that I'm involved with the owner of another saloon he'll fire me. Please don't take offense at this but I've put too much of myself into building up the Gay Lady's clientele to want to start all over at the Comique or play back-up singer to you at the Lucky Lady."

    Ruby says, "I'll keep it to myself. But do you think HE will?" She smiles and says, "Oh, yes, he's been very discrete, he understands my predicament. Just watch, when we head over to the Comique for the show he won't let on at all." Ruby smiles, proud of herself for getting that information. Then she laughs, "Of course you can always do it my way, have the whole town thinking you're sleeping with half the men, when for once it isn't true."

    Madge laughs and says, "I know better, Jake has you to himself. I have been wondering though, what exactly is your relationship with Judge Isby? He obviously wishes it to be something." "He's not the only one," she laughs again. "But Jake won my heart first. Anyway, I figured a few dinners with the lonely Judge couldn't hurt. You know, just in case the unlikely event I end up in his courtroom." Ruby gives her dazzling smile as she bluffs her. "Oh so you never believed I slept with all those men? I was under the impression that everyone did."

    Madge says, "Well, I've been on the receiving end of the bad reputation. Fifi, Julia and I all have reputations for being prostitutes. That's largely due to Fifi, as she does tend to take money as a gift for sharing her room, but even then she's rather choosey about who she brings there and never actually asks for the money. Over the last few years Julia and I have both entertained select gentlemen as well, but never for any exchange of money, not that anybody in town will ever believe it."

    Ruby shrugs, "What do we care what they think anyway, right? Especially since our current lovers know the truth." Ruby enjoys her pie, laughing to herself that Dorita would think she is thin. She asks, "So is the rest of our plan for tonight still the same? The Comique then the Long Branch?" Josie says, "It's your town, you two lead the way."

    Madge says "Definitely the Comique, and the Long Branch is a fine place to go to gamble. I was going to go to the Comique tonight anyway even before Josie arrived, this just makes it better." "And not to see Clarisse," Ruby winks at her. She waves Dorita over. "Thank you SO much for another wonderfully perfect meal." Ruby rubs her belly, "You'll fatten me up in no time!" The women finish the meal and leave enough money for the food and a generous tip.

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    Prelude Part C, “Evening Entertainment”, Monday, May 22nd, 1882:

    They head a block north to the Comique Variety Hall and Saloon which is a 25x30 single-story brick building that is owned by Alfred Brower, Pierre Jaquet and piano player and bartender Warren Watson. It has three gambling tables with both poker and faro and has a reputation for having the most honest gaming in town. The primary entertainment is by Miss. Clairesse Townsend, who on Ruby West's nights off also sings at the Lucky Lady.

    Ruby greets Al and Pierre. "Gentlemen, I'm sorry, I can't believe I've never been here for evening's entertainment! Anyway, I'm here now with Ms. Duprey and Ms. Marcus for a little relaxation. Perhaps you'll have a chance to join us for a drink?"

    Ruby watches the exchange of eye contact and body language between Madge Duprey and the owners of the Comique. The natural assumption would have been that her secret lover was Pierre Jaquet, who had much in common with Madge. He was of French descent, a wizard, and the same age as her. Instead it appears obvious that they are just acquaintances, with the stolen glances of passion radiating between Madge and Mr. Alfred Brower.

    Brower takes charge of the group and ushers the women to one of the tables directly in front of the stage. He exclaims, "Ruby darling, how wonderful to see you here at last. I spend so much time at your Saloon it is about time that you reciprocated. And tonight is a special night for that too, are you here to listen to Sandra?"

    Ruby looks to Madge who says, "Sandra Wainright, Don's wife, this evening she's singing for the first time in public." Ruby is familiar with the woman as she is a friend of Kate's and her husband is one of Jake's regular poker players. The Wainrights own a General Store in town that carries a wide selection of musical instruments and is also the only place in town that gets copies of the latest sheet music to sell.

    Ruby says, "You are you right! It's bad that Jake and I haven't stopped in sooner. We've just been so busy lately..." All their recent adventures come to mind and Ruby thinks, Believe me, I wish we had been here instead of being chased by Cowboy and Vampires... "I wasn't aware Sandra was singing tonight but I'm certainly glad I'll be catching the show. I wonder if Kate knows she is preformed... Al, will she be singing here on a regular basis?"

    Al replies, "One step at a time, she's painfully shy about performing in public. We managed to talk her into playing piano two weeks ago but tonight will be her first attempt at vocals. Getting her up on stage is out of the question but she's agreed to sing while playing piano. According to Don she has a great singing voice."

    The opening performance is by Clairesse Townsend who comes out onto the stage, with Warren Watson on piano. She sings a total of seven songs, ranging from simple folk tunes to a finale of a rousing rendition of a rather torrid love song that Ruby often sings herself but would have thought too bawdy for the more prim Caress’s tastes. She tells the audience that she will be back once more later that evening then heads out the door.

    Al brings another round of drinks over to the table, his arm accidentally brushing up against Madge as he passes them out, to which he apologizes to her. Al tells Ruby, "She's off to sing at your place for the next two hours. On your nights off at the Lucky Lady we've had to have Warren fill in with just piano tunes. I'm hoping that tonight doesn't scare Sandra off, I'd like to also have some vocals for a change." He glances to Madge as he says that.

    She replies, "Don't give me that look Alfred Brower. You know perfectly well that Lumley will fire me if I ever sing a note in another saloon." Al replies, "You would always have a job here Miss Duprey." She replies, "And what would Clairesse do? Stealing her job would hardly be a nice thing for me to do as her surrogate mother. Plus your stage is way too small for what I require." Al laughs and heads back to the bar.

    Ruby raises an eyebrow at the little exchange. "Quite the flirt I would say, Miss. Duprey," Ruby says in mocking tones. "Perhaps you should rethink working at the Gay Lady. I'd bet he make a larger stage for you." Ruby smiles mischievously at Madge and raises her glass. "To girl's night out. So far all we've done is talk about our men!"

    Josie says, "Well, you could tell me a little more about that Clairesse, her voice is wonderful. And what did you mean Madge by surrogate mother?" Madge explains, "She's the first cousin of my back-up singer Julia. Their mothers were sisters who danced in New Orleans. But Caress’s mother died when she was a baby and her prim and prudish father raised the girl in the Midwest. When he died she came out here, as Julia was her only living relative.

    The Gay Lady was an eye-opening experience for her and I realized that I had to step in and take the girl under my wing. Our nightly shows were too much for her, and while she has a fine singing voice she can't dance worth a damn. Burton and I put her to work waiting tables, but she was way too clumsy for that as well, the broken glassware alone cost her a third of her wages.

    Then the Lucky Lady's previous owner ran off with the Comique's Saloon girl simultaneous to Ruby heading off for a trip to Tombstone, creating a pair of vacancies for singers. Clairesse stepped in. After Ruby returned she limited her singing there to Ruby's nights off, this being her main stage to sing on. I was still concerned about the girl so started coming here on my nights off, Mondays and Thursday, to listen to her and later offer suggestions. I...um....well, that's how I got to know Mr. Brower better. You may have noticed Ruby that he no longer plays poker at your Saloon with Job or Jake on those two nights."

    Ruby laughs, "Well, my mind has been elsewhere lately, so I hadn't noticed. But now that you mention it... I supposed I should be mad at you for stealing business from us! But instead I'm happy that such a good friend is so happy." She playfully clears her throat, "So, any plans to perhaps make things more permanent in the future? Maybe Madge gets her name on a Saloon too?"

    Madge laughs and says "Who says my name isn't. You're this town's lucky lady and I'm it's gay lady. And I am now that I've met Al."

    Josie glances over to the bar at the young, tall businessman with slightly oversized ears and comments, "Madge, I'd accuse you of robbing the cradle, but Wyatt is twelve years my senior." Madge replies, "Robbing the cradle! My word! I'll have you know that I am only six years older than Alfred." Josie turns to Ruby and asks, "And what is your age difference from Mr. Cooke?"

    Ruby says, "Well, Jake's birthday just passed that makes the difference three years. But my birthday is in a couple of weeks so it'll be back to two years between us. He isn't as old as he looks. Sometimes when he's serious, especially when he's playing poker, he does look older than he is." Ruby giggles, "While there are certain benefits to the older man, I need someone closer to my age so he can keep up with me and all my naughty habits!" Madge laughs "As if there is anybody on this planet who could keep up with you Ruby!"

    Sandra Wainwright had arrived and took a seat at the rear table when Clairesse finished up. Sandra is dressed in a Sunday-go-to-church formal dress rather than the more practical dresses or even the occasional pants that she wears when working the store. Warren Watson finishes playing and goes over to the table with Sandra and chats with her. She then gets up and sits at the piano and begins to play. Once she is distracted by the keyboards her husband Donald quietly sneaks into the Saloon and takes a place at a table near the rear, a wide grin on his face.

    Sandra plays a long piano introduction, essentially an entire verse, of an Arthur Sullivan ballad before launching into song. Her voice is a very melodic alto with wide range of octaves. When she reaches the conclusion of the piece Watson stands and motions for those in the audience to not applaud. He then sits on the piano bench beside her and they begin a two-player piece that she sings to as well. At the end of this he puts his arm around her shoulder and they stand together and face the audience to a full round of applause. Sandra's face turns beet red with embarrassment.

    Ruby turns to her companions and laughs. "Well, I might have been worried about the competition if not for the horrific stage fright. Could you imagine? Kate will be mad she missed this though." Ruby pours each of them another drink. "I wonder if she'll get brave and start singing on a more regular basis." Thoughts swirl in Ruby's head about snagging Clairesse exclusively for the Lucky Lady as they had originally wanted.

    Sandra Wainwright joins her husband Donald at a table, chiding him for sneaking in to watch her. He laughs and orders them both drinks, as Watson sits back down at the piano to play for the Saloon. Gambler Rolf Larsen has started a game of Poker at one of the larger tables and Larry Freed has started a game of Faro at his table. Other patrons begin to wander in as well, most taking seats on stools at the bar. The women continue to chat about life in general. And while they chat they drink.

    Finally Ruby asks, "So Josie, tell us about Wy... Your boyfriend. What's so special about him? I've had dealings with him and he seems protective of his family, and honorable if you're on the right side. But also some not so good dealings too, to get things that he wanted. So tell us why you love him. Do you want to marry him??"

    Josie replies, "I...I can't explain it. But marriage is out of the question, he's already married." "Oh yeah, I do think I remember him saying something about a wife. Sorry Josie." Ruby takes a quick drink. "Let's talk about something else then, shall we?"

    Josie talks about how much she is the theater company’s upcoming engagement in New Mexico and Colorado. First they will travel to the communities of Las Cruces, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe. Having stayed in Arizona the previous two years she missed that leg of the journey as well as the Colorado cities. She adds "Pauline and the rest of the company all say that summering in the higher elevations of Colorado is far cooler and more comfortable than it is here in southern Arizona."

    Ruby says, "Yes, I do believe it gets very hot here, although I haven't been through a summer yet here in Promise City. But there is nothing like a cool breeze after a hot summer day." "Now that we've finished dinner are we ready to play cards yet? Or even some dancing? What do you ladies think?"" Madge exclaims "I could use a good poker game right about now, what about you Josie?" Josie replies, "I've played it before but I'm not that good at it, you'll have to help me out."

    Ruby says, "Poker it is! I've never played at the Long Branch. Perhaps we should go size up Conrad Booth." Madge gives Ruby a quizzical look and says, "Well, with that comment you have indeed proved that you've never been there before. In all of the other gambling establishments in town each gambler has his own regular players, that's not so at the Long Branch.

    Kate Higgin's philosophy is that if you go to play at the Long Branch it is the place that you've chosen not the gambler. She doesn't let you pick your dealer she assigns you one. And it's not uncommon for her to have her dealers swap tables mid-way through the night. Then again, Monday nights are slow so they probably only have one poker dealer."

    "Really? How interesting. I was under the impression that someone gambled there every Wednesday night with the same dealer. Strange way of doing things." Ruby shrugs, "It doesn't matter, I don't care who the dealer is, tonight is just for fun." Madge answers, "Well, if she only has one Wednesday night Poker dealer that's possible. It's mostly weekends when all of their dealers would be present. Shall we go?" "Sure let's go." Josie and Ruby give Madge a moment to "pay the bill" while they wait outside on the porch laughing. Then they head over to the Long Branch.

    On the south side of Main Street between Allen and Front streets is the Long Branch Saloon, which was the very first saloon in town. This 30x30 foot three-story brick building is rather luxurious, with all-brass bar fixtures and a crystal chandelier. It has four gambling tables featuring both poker and faro and has a reputation for high-stakes games. As they enter there appear to be two dealers this evening, Conrad Booth dealing Poker and a gentleman who none of the girls recognize who is dealing Faro.

    Piano player Dooley Wilson is providing entertainment and Hildy Jackson is the only one of the Saloon's four prostitutes who is currently present, with her sitting at the bar with a drink. Owner Kate Higgins work reminds the women that they need to check any firearms that they may be carrying, to which Madge and Josie both tell her they have none.

    Ruby also replies she has no firearm on her and enters the saloon. "Well, it looks like Conrad is dealing after all," she grins. "So we WILL be able to check out his poker skills." Ruby approaches the poker table. "Evening Mr. Booth." She waits for him to glance up at her. "I'm here with some friends tonight, we'd like to have a friendly game of cards. Can you let us know when you have three seats available please?"

    He smiles and says, "Few more hands and I'll be taking a break ladies, not sure how many of these nice gents will be returning." The reactions on the faces of his players to that comment indicate that unless there is a drastic change at least two of them won't be due to a lack of finances.

    Ruby smiles dazzlingly at all around the table. "Well then, we'll be anxiously awaiting our turn over at the bar." With that she turns on her heel and swings her hips over to the bar, where she takes a seat next to her friends and orders a whiskey. "We're up soon. Sometimes it's so nice to have breasts," she laughs.

    Conrad completes the game with his current players and calls for a break, during which he invites Madge, Josie and Ruby to join him at the table. Two of the previous players return, one of whom Ruby recognizes as Abel Weir, a miner at the Liberty Hill Mine who occasionally plays with Job Kane at the Lucky Lady. The other man introduces himself as Joseph Hale, but says to just call him Idaho Joe. Josie Marcus explains how she isn’t much of a poker player and Conrad spends a few minutes explaining the rules of the game to her. The game will be standard rules, nothing fancy, and all bets must be made in whole dollar increments with a minimum of $ 1 to be put in the pot per hand.

    The game progresses for the next forty-five minutes, playing nine hands. By that point Ruby has won two hands and is ahead $ 29; Madge has won one hand and is ahead by a mere $ 2; Weir has won four hands but most had been small bets so he is only ahead by $ 19; Conrad has won two hands but one was rather large and he is ahead by $ 38; Josie hasn’t won any but also hasn’t bet more than the minimum per hand so is only down $ 9; the remaining $ 79 loss all came from Idaho Joe.

    With the gambling loss added to the price of his drinks Idaho Joe declares that he is now broke. He says, “Guess I should be should be heading back to my sweet little Petunia anyway. Goodnight all.” As he exits the Long Branch Conrad decides to call for a short break, taking a small sip from the glass of whiskey on the table before him. Weir excuses himself and heads outside to the outhouse. Madge says she has a quick errand to run as well but will soon return. Kate Higgins stops by the table and asks if anybody else still at the table would like a drink refill.

    Josie comments, “I said I wasn’t much of a poker player. I guess I should probably quit while I’m behind.” Conrad says, “Well Miss. Marcus, if I wasn’t the dealer I would offer to help you. But to entice you to stay in the game I am willing to grant you $ 25 in table credit.”

    She bats her eyes in his direction and says with a smile, “Thank you Mr. Booth, you are very generous. But seeing as how you’ve already rescued me once before I wouldn’t want it to become a habit.” He smiles back and says, “Ah, I was wondering if you still remembered that little incident. Fear not fair maiden, my days of rescuing damsels in distress are now obligated exclusively to Ruby’s friend Katherine Kale. Extending to you table credit, which I plan to soon win right back, doesn’t fall into the same category.”

    Ruby orders a refill from Kate Higgins. Then she raises an eyebrow, "So, you two know each other? I bet this is an interesting story..." She looks at the two of them expectantly.

    Booth says, "I'll try to keep it short. I am originally from San Francisco. When I was born my mother was a seamstress at Maguire's Opera House, the most impressive theater in town. It closed down nine years back and we moved on to the California Theatre on Bush Street, which became the new hub of theatrical activity in the city, with that theatre as well as the Alhambra and the Standard. My mother was promoted to head seamstress and assistant set manager for the 'Old California Stock Company'. I began acting with that company, mostly secondary roles and bit parts, but I enjoyed it."

    Josie says, "And Pauline Markham's company performs at the Standard in the autumn and winter before we go on the road. One night during my first year with the company a drunk outside the stage door cornered me. Mr. Booth happened to be walking by at that time and came to my rescue. He drew a gun on the man and forced him to leave."

    Conrad says, "Actually, that was one of my better performances. I had first yelled for the man to leave and he just ignored me. I then threatened to call for the police and he just laughed. My 'gun' was actually a black tobacco pipe, which I had used as a prop in that night's performance. I cupped it upside down in my hand and made sure that my hand obscured most of it. I then extended my arm as thought I was holding a gun and told him it was a Derringer. He believed me and left."

    Josie says to Ruby, "I thanked my rescuer and we then went our separate ways. I actually didn't even know his name until last month at the festival." She turns to Conrad and says, "I meant to talk to you at the festival but never got the chance." Conrad says, "Well, I was a bit preoccupied that night playing the White Knight yet again." "What a funny coincidence, the two of you ending up here together after all these years."

    "And funny, Conrad, you've turned into such a hero. Every girl needs her own hero you know," Ruby smiles. Conrad replies, "Oh, I'm no hero, just a man who can't stand by and watch a beautiful woman be accosted. I did learn one valuable lesson on that day though, never go anywhere unarmed. From then on I've made sure that I've always kept a real Derringer and throwing knife where I could get at them." Ruby nods. "Yes, I'm afraid we all have our stories about how we learned to be prepared."

  4. #4
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    Prelude Part D, “Worry over the Boys”, May 22nd, 1882:

    Ruby states, "But how about a happier subject then? I have a question for you. I need a Romeo." Conrad Booth smiles and says, "Well Miss West, I'm flattered, but isn't Mr. Cook already the Romeo in your life?" Ruby returns the smile, "Oh yes, the part of Romeo in my life has already been taken. But what I'm looking for is a Romeo for the play we're going to be putting on at the Lucky Lady. After the construction is finished. William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet."

    Conrad replies, "Why, I would be honored. I've been understudy for that part before but never got the opportunity to actually play it on stage. So I already know all of the lines." "Really?" Ruby laughs, "Well, you'll have to help me then, Jake is helping me read through it now. I'm very excited about it, it's going to be wonderful! And maybe you can even help me fill the other roles too. I'd like you to be very involved, as you have the experience. My performing skills are limited to, ah, other areas."

    Booth says, "I will be happy to help you out. Spending my entire life in the theatre has taught me a lot. As for filling out the cast, that will depend upon how many characters you want in the play.
    Obviously you need a Romeo and Juliet, which I assume we will play. Romeo's closest friend Mercutio is a key part, which I enjoyed portraying in the past. You would need someone handsome who can play a romantic swashbuckler. Based on his costume at the festival I might suggest Mr. Job Kane for that role.

    Then there are the parts of Juliet's parents the Capulets and her cousin Tybalt. On the Montague side you have Romeo's parents Lord and Lady Montague and his kinsmen Paris and Benvolio. And you would need somebody to play Escales, the Prince of Verona. Small but important roles are the Roman Priest Lawrence who marries the couple and the Nurse. Not many lines but very fun for those new to the stage.

    The play also calls for a priest named John, Romeo's servant Bathasar, Capulet servants Sampson, Gregory and Peter, Montague servant Abram, the Apothecary, and Rosaline who is the woman who Romeo is enamored with at the start of the play. There are versions of the play for smaller casts that eliminate some of those parts. Our company would have all of the party but double up on actors for some parts who were not in the same scene together. That however requires quick costume changes and changes in makeup to change the appearance of the actor.

    Ruby continues to smile, impressed. "Well, it sounds like you know you're stuff. Maybe we should have some tryouts to see who would be interested. I didn't think Job Kane was the type to want to be in a play. As a matter of fact, I should have asked Jake, maybe he would want a part." She shrugs, "But I'm guessing he's rather watch than have to practice." She ponders, "I wonder who else will want a part?" The excitement is plain as day on Ruby's face, "It's going to be so successful, I can't wait. And I knew you'd be interested! But are you sure Kate will approve?"

    "Why wouldn't Kate approve? She performs with you on a regular basis, aren't I entitled to the same. Hmmm...you may be right about Kane, you know him better than I do. Say, here's a thought. From what we saw at the festival this region has a surprisingly large number of expert fencers. You may want to consider casting several of them in the roles of Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris and Benvolio and we could make the swordfight scene something truly spectacular.

    I'm sure that you'll have no trouble convincing Estaban Fuente as he's both the best swordsman in town and also a performer. He'd make a great Mercutio. Hans Schmidt, David Tomlinson if Isby were in town, or Sergeant Ball from Fort Huachuca would also be great for the swordfight. None of them may be able to act but those parts don't have that many lines and if necessary your could probably reassign most of Paris's or Benvolio's lines to Fuente as Mercutio."

    "Those are some excellent ideas Mr. Booth. I made a good choice in asking you. I'll get right on asking people if they would like to be a part of this. Course, I needed my Romeo first," she laughs. "As for Katherine, I don't know, it might be all the time we have to spend together working on it or maybe uh... certain scenes in the play?" Conrad replies, "Your gain, her loss."

    Josie interjects "Our Company has performed Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet on many occasions. It was always one of Pauline Markham's favorite plays. She's been playing Juliet for fifteen years now and still won't admit that she is starting to get a little old for the part now. I've been her understudy and she's let me play Juliet during all of the matinee performances."

    Ruby smiles slyly, "Why, I suppose it is then, Mr. Booth." She turns her gaze to Josie, "So maybe you can give me some hints Josie? I know you won't be around town long but I'd appreciate any advice you can give me. I want to be the best actress I can be. And besides, I'll be acting next to Conrad, so I'd better get my skills up to par." Ruby glances over her shoulder at the door. "I wonder where Madge is?"

    Josie says, "Well, we could probably head back to your place and spend a few hours going over it, but first I really should spend all of that table credit that Mr. Booth was kind enough to extend to me. Let's play one more series of cards and head out during the next break."

    Before the next hand begins Madge does return, with a look of mild concern on her face. She orders a whiskey from the bar and then heads back to the table with the others. Mr. Hale's vacancy at the table is filled by a pair of miners from out-of-town, Crawford Putnam and John Wakelin, who Kate Higgins ushers over to the table.

    "I thought we were going dancing toni..." Ruby's thought is interrupted by Madge's arrival. After she orders her whiskey and sits Ruby leans over next to her, "Sweetie, what's wrong? You look upset." Madge whispers back "I went over to the El Parador to try to find our teacher. I wanted to talk to him about tomorrow. I really don't want to see Wyatt Earp again if I can avoid it. But I'm worried that if we don't go and help him Wyatt will retaliate. Manuel wasn't there. Pedro said that he went off somewhere with your Mr. Cook and they haven't returned yet."

    Ruby furrows her brows, "Mr. Gonzales and MY Mr. Cook?" Ruby whispers back, "Pedro must have been mistaken. The two of them don't... well, let's just say they aren't exactly the best of friends." Madge's facial expression takes on a surprised look. "Really? I thought that Manuel got along with everybody. Maybe Pedro was referring to Zeb Cook who runs Cook's General Store. When he said Mr. Cook I just assumed that he meant Jake, since you two used to live at the El Parador."

    Ruby replies, "Oh they get along alright, usually anyway." A small blush appears on Ruby's cheeks, "Let's just say that Mr. Gonzales doesn't think Jake is good for me. He thinks he'll get me in trouble...or killed." She shrugs and smiles. "What can I say, he's worth the risk.” Madge smiles and says, "He thinks Jake will get you in trouble or killed? Doesn't he have that backwards?"

    Ruby playfully widens her eyes. "Oh, so you agree that I'm more trouble for Mr. Cook than he is for me, huh?" Ruby gives a good laugh. "I thought if you put trouble and trouble together maybe you'd get less trouble." She shrugs. "Maybe I was wrong."

    Ruby then asks, “Did Mr. G. say where they went?" Ruby asks, now curious. Madge replies, “"Pedro did not know." She furrows her brows,” But I really wonder where they are. Maybe we ought to go over and ask around. The two of them together scares me. They may be having some weird manly duel or something worse. I'd call that trouble for sure."

    Josie says, "Oh Ruby, boys will be boys, leave them be. This is our night together. Let's play cards! Mr. Booth has been kind enough to advance me more money to lose." "Oh, but I won't be able to concentrate now..." Ruby realizes her two friends are looking at her funny so she continues, "Alright, I'm sure they are fine. Let's keep playing and then maybe we'll go dancing like we said." She smiles at them and throws her ante into the pot.

    With the table credit, essentially "free money", Josie is less inhibited and actually manages to win a hand, but by the end of the seventh hand she has spent all of her winnings as well as the credit and decides to call it quits. During that time Madge has won two hands and is now $ 27 ahead of where she began the night. Ruby has won only one hand but it the biggest of the night and she is now ahead a total of $ 76 for the night.

    Crawford Putnam appears to be a good player but is still down money despite winning two hands as he bet heavily in the one that Ruby had won. John Wakelin is a poor player and lost every hand. He decides to quit playing poker and go play at the Faro table instead and his friend Putnam decides to join him. Booth says, "Well, I guess we're at a stopping point."

    Ruby says, "But we had a wonderful time, Mr. Booth. I am so glad we came by. I've been wondering what kind of a dealer you are all this time. Maybe one of these nights I'll get Mr. Cook out too." Ruby stands, "Well ladies, now where to?" Madge says, "Well, if it's dancing you want to do I would normally suggest the Gay Lady, but since I work there I'd like to avoid it. How about back to the El Parador? We could probably talk Estaban into playing some good dance music."

    "Now that sounds like a wonderful idea!" Ruby stuffs her winnings down her bodice, then gives Conrad a small kiss on the cheek. "Thank you for the fun time." With that the ladies head over to the El Parador Cantina. It is a quiet night at the Cantina with the only employees around being Angelica and her son Ricardo Huseca, Pedro behind the bar, and Estaban Fuente playing guitar. Three male wood elves are drinking at the bar and a pair of dwarven miners are seated at one of the tables.

    "Hmmm... seems pretty dead in here. Let's get some drinks." Ruby approaches the bar. "Good evening Pedro. I'd like a round of drinks for me and my friends here. And then I'd like for you to get Estaban to play some fun music for us!" Pedro serves up a round of drinks while Estaban calls for young Ricardo to assist him. Ricardo plans the maracas while Estaban begins to play a faster-paced as Angelica gets one of the elves sitting at the bar to dance with her.

    Giggling, Ruby grabs Josie and drags her onto the dance floor for the fast paced dance. "I've been here long enough to have learned their dances!" Ruby laughs as she twirls Josie around. After her dance with Josie Ruby bounces to the bar. "Come and dance with me now, Pedro," she teasingly pleads, "You're the only one who can keep up with me!"

    For the next twenty minutes Pedro proves just that, taking her out onto the dance floor and first dancing several that she knows and then teaching her a new dance. The two companions of the wood elf dancing with Angelica approach Madge and Josie and ask them to dance, which both accept. Dorita arrives to take Pedro's place behind the bar so. The two dwarves leave, apparently not fond of Mexican music, but a dozen or so elves and humans soon arrive having been enticed by the lively tunes.

    Ruby dances by her friends, "See ladies, the party follows us wherever we go!" She continues to dance with Pedro, with Ruby trying to keep up with the spry elf. "So," she lets him spin her around with a giggle, "Do you know where Mr. Gonzales went tonight?" Pedro replies, "No, he and your man Jake were talking together earlier and then left. At first I thought they were upstairs in his room but when Dorita checked earlier they had gone."

    The party continues, with another dozen or so people arriving and the dance floor remaining full from that point onward. Estaban asks Madge and Ruby if they would care to join him with singing the next song, a lively Spanish ballad that both have heard several times before. "I wonder where they could be..." Ruby mutters with a hint of concern but is quickly distracted by Estaban's request. "Of course we'll sing with you," Ruby smiles, "The Spanish songs are beautiful."

    The trio sing for the next forty-five minutes while Josie flirts with the wood elf that had danced with her earlier. While they are dancing bank teller Derek Avery enters with his fiancé Liza Brown and start to dance as well. Madge nudges Ruby while gesturing to the pair and jokingly comments "Both dancing and associating with non-humans....that boy is going to find himself booted off of the Vigilance Committee at this rate."

    "Good for him. That Vigilance Committee is no good." Ruby ponders for a moment, "Actually, that's not a bad thing, maybe he'll bring some fresh ideas to them and their stingy ways. So...," Ruby leans in and whispers, "Just how serious is this thing with you and you know who?" Madge replies, "Not serious at all as of yet, but that's mostly been because I've been afraid of loosing my job."

    Ruby says, "That's silly honey. A woman like you, with your talent, could find a job almost anywhere. Can't say the same about finding a decent man." Ruby shrugs and smiles, "You have to do what you have to do though." Madge notices that Ruby keeps checking the door when someone new walks in. She gazes around the now bustling room, and eyes Josie dancing. "I have to admit, I was a bit peeved at what happened this morning, getting used like that. Didn't expect it from her."

    Madge replies, "You're peeved! How do you think I feel! He may have been somewhat polite about it but blackmail is blackmail. And I have no intentions of meeting with him tomorrow until after I talk to my teacher, he'll know what to do, he always does."

    "I know... we both got used. But what if... you know Mr. Gonzales... what if he doesn't return tonight?" Ruby continues quickly, "Oh, but Jake wouldn't do that to me, maybe we should check for a note at the Lucky Lady." Ruby's eyes dart again to the door. "I have to admit Madge, I'm nervous. The two of them are like powder in the powder keg, waiting to go off. They don't get along. What could they be doing together but getting into trouble?"

    Madge thinks for a minute and says, "Oh, I wouldn't worry too much about it. Manuel knows enough magic to keep Jake from shooting him and I doubt our teacher would do anything to permanently harm your boyfriend. The worse he'd probably do is turn him into a rabbit."

    Ruby's eyes widen, "A rabbit?" she coughs out the whiskey that just touched her lips. "Madge, that would be just horrible!" Ruby shakes her head, "I don't want to be in between those two. Jake doesn't take well to," she glances this way and that before whispering, "Magic. He needs time to adjust." She looks down at the whiskey in her hand. "No, there will be no relaxing for me until I know what is going on. Anyone else and I wouldn't think twice about it. But Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Cook..." her voice trails off.

    Madge says, "I was kidding, don't worry about them. They're both grown men....what's the worst that could really happen?" Ruby raises an eyebrow but doesn't respond to Madge's comment, knowing how volatile the relationship is between those two men and preferring not to think about the worst that could really happen.

  5. #5
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    Prelude Part E, “Boy’s Night Out”, May 22nd, 1882:

    It was mid-afternoon and Jake Cook had been abandoned by his ladylove, who has gone off to spend the day and evening with her friends Madge and Josie. He has the night off from duties at the Lucky Lady and wanders over to the El Parador Cantina. The only one present in the room on this Monday afternoon is Pedro Figures, the owner of the establishment. Jake takes a seat at the bar and Pedro pours him a glass of Kentucky Bourbon, Jake’s beverage of choice.

    "Gracias amigo, éste es justo qué necesito. Thank you friend, this is just what I need Jake pays him for the drink and sips at it with a satisfied sounding, "Ah." Pedro replies, "And what is new in your life Mr. Cook?"

    "Pedro, Silver Jake Cook has had so much new in his life since coming to Promise City that I am relishing the boring and quiet of the last few days. I do have in mind to visit some friends in Tucson soon and while I am there see about arranging a surprise for Miss West. It will be her Birthday soon, and well..." Jake has another sip of the bourbon. "And you, Pedro, how is life for you?" Pedro says, "The same, life does not change much for me. That is how I like it."

    Jake notices in his peripheral vision that somebody else is approaching the bar. He turns and sees that it is Manuel Gonzales. "Hello Mr. Cook," the older elf exclaims. "Did I hear you just mentioning something about Ruby's upcoming birthday?" Jake responds, "Si, Senor. Your keen ears did not deceive you." Jake indicates with his hand the spot next to him. "Please join us if you are inclined."

    "Why thank you sir, Pedro, a glass of the special red wine if you please." Pedro produces a jug with Greek letters on the label. Gonzales says, "These are left over from the Festival, they are from Athens. It seemed appropriate to have them for the Festival. I have donated the jug of white to the Church but opted to keep the red for myself."

    He then asks, "So, do you have a particular present already picked out for the lady? If not I might be willing to offer a suggestion." Jake replies, "I do have a particular present in mind, Senor, but I do not know if it is attainable. I will need to ask a woman in Tucson about it. However, a man cannot give a woman too many gifts can he?" Jake grins at the elder elf. "I welcome your suggestion."

    Gonzales says, "Well, what I have in mind is rather complicated to explain. It would be far easier if I could just show you.... But that would require some traveling." "It is mighty late in the day to be starting a journey, how far do we have to go?" Jake sips again at the bourbon and then stops suddenly. "Oh," he says without looking up at the wizard. "Traveling, heh. Using your favorite method I expect?"

    "I'm afraid so, but if you would like we could return to Tucson instead of here if you wanted to run that other errand. But then we wouldn't be able to come back to Promise City until tomorrow, I can only use the spell twice per day."

    Jake mulls the prospect of being magicked around three times in two days and finds it displeasing. He had also promised to take Ruby with him to Tucson next time he went. "You are very generous in offering to cart my sorry behind all over on my errands. It may take me some length of time in Tucson, so just show me your suggestion. I will go to Tucson another time via a more mundane way of traveling."

    The old elf says, "Very well, why don't you go gather together whatever items you might want to bring along to be comfortable and meet me upstairs in my room in a few minutes." Comfortable?" is Jake’s response. The elf explains, “Our destination is a bit cooler than Arizona and we'll probably be there after dark. You'll need a coat."

    Jake nods. "I will be right along then." He savors another sip of the bourbon before he downs the rest. With a nod and a smile to Pedro Jake heads back to the Lucky Lady. He gathers his hat and duster, some extra cash from the safe, and a variety of extra ammunition for his Colt. He has long ago lost or discarded any other warm weather gear he may have owned so there is nothing else to bring besides a pair of thin riding gloves.

    He eyes his pile of weapons for a moment, weighing whether or not to bring something extra along. It was not that he did not trust the elder wizard, Jake just liked to have options. In the end with one exception he settled for what he was already wearing: one fast draw Colt Peacemaker, one enchanted dagger in a boot sheath, and one derringer tucked into a small custom made holster inside the back of his trousers. The exception was the hunting knife that Jake has carried since leaving Philadelphia. He threaded that through his belt on the way back to the El Parador, it was best not to keep a wizard waiting.

    They meet in Gonzales's rather sparse bedroom. The brazier is out but not yet lit and the window is open to prevent the room from filling with smoke. Jake has been through this routine before and stands silently by while Gonzales lights the brazier, adds the pink powder to the flames creating the colored smoke and begins the incantation. The older elf then thrusts out his hands at the appropriate time and Jake grabs them and presses his eyes closed. The incantation continues and their surroundings change.

    When Gonzales releases his hands Jake can see that they are standing in a forest and the air is around twenty degrees cooler. The trees around look to be mostly oak, elm and maple, many of them rather thick. He hears distant sounds of birds chirping and also the sound of machinery. Through the trees he can see the sun starting to set and concludes based upon the few hours time difference that they are somewhere in the northeastern United States or possibly eastern Canada.

    Jake opens his eyes and then releases the breath he did not realize he was holding. He looks around carefully, taking in his surroundings and being certain there is no one watching them. Jacob Alistair Cooke was a city boy, the desert had been foreign to him when he first saw it much like this forest was now. Satisfied they are unnoticed and not in any immediate danger he nods to Gonzalez. "Lead on."

    They travel no more than 200 feet through the woods when they reach a dirt road running northwest to southeast. They walk on it heading southeast until they see a 20x40 foot single story building ahead with a tin roof and wraparound porch with hitching posts out front. The sign outside the building reads "Lakeside General Store - Malachi Haynes Proprietor".

    They enter the building finding that it is indeed a country general store. Jake takes a quick glance and sees only standard items for such an establishment but nothing in particular that would justify making such a trip. The man behind the counter waves and approaches them. He says to Gonzales "Ah, Mr. Perez, is this the intrepid young fisherman that you told me about?" Gonzales replies, "Indeed it is, Mr. Haynes, may I present to you my son-in-law Jay Brothers." He then says to Jake, "Jay, this is Mal Haynes."

    Jake immediately thrusts his hand forward with an unabashed grin and a twinkle in his eye. "A pleasure to be meeting you Mr. Haynes." He shakes the man's hand firmly. Inwardly Jake nearly bursts out laughing, Son-in-law AND fisherman! Jake then turns his face towards Senor Gonzalez in an expression of admiration suitable for an adoring son-in-law while thinking, “Perhaps I have underestimated the old bastard's sense of humor.”

    Gonzales asks "Has there been any change since Thursday night?" Haynes replies, "Yeah, they were working all day Friday and half of Saturday, it's down more than a foot. The searchers are still on the shallow end, ain't none of them made it anywhere near Walter." As they are talking the distant sound of machinery ceases. Haynes says, "Oh oh, you two had better get going along. The workmen always stop off here once they finish their shift." Gonzales asks, "Do you have the equipment?" Haynes says "Yep, follow me."

    The walk into the back room and Haynes hands both Manuel and Jake each a fishing pole and a small wood handled box containing assorted fishing gear. Haynes then takes the lid off of a pail filled with dirt and scoops an old tin can into it. As he hands it to Jake the gambler can see worms wiggling inside the dirt in the dirty can. Jake raises his eyebrows and accepts the can. Blech, he thinks but nods and says, "Looks like that will do." Jake then turns to Gonzalez and says, "I am ready when you are, dad." Haynes says, "Just leave the equipment by the back door when you're done Miguel." "Thank you sir," Gonzales replies.

    They exit the store and continue down the road. When the sound of approaching horses is heard in the distance Gonzales ushers himself and Jake off the road and into the woods. From there they travel through the woods for around a quarter of a mile. They emerge from the woods at the bank of what had been an oval-sized lake, approximately three miles long by one mile wide. They are now on the western shore about mid-way along the longest section of the oval.

    Based upon the cliffside in front of them and evidence of water lines, from where they are northward the lake looks to be around twelve to fifteen feet lower than it normal would be. Looking southward, where the lake had apparently been shallower, most of the lake is gone revealing a dried out bed with sporadic puddles and ponds of standing water. At the furthest end near where the road runs by what had been the southwestern end of the lake, little more than a mile away, are several large metal machines. They look somewhat like oil derricks in appearance. Lanterns have been lit near the machines and around a dozen people are gathered around it.

    "Once the water is all gone it will not be much challenge to catch the fish," Jake remarks. He looks about and stands with hands on his hips. "So...." He begins and pushes his hat back at an angle, "Do you mind telling me what in Hades is going on? Mr. Haynes obviously knows we are about more than fishing and you seem to have had some reason to be here prior to today."

    "Actually Haynes believes that we're here for fishing. He is under the impression that we're after Old Walter, an elusive and extremely large wide-mouth bass who has been stealing the bait of fishermen in this lake for the last twenty years."

    A grin crosses the man's face and he says, "Come along Jay, we've got some work to do." He heads back into the woods, walking twenty feet parallel to the shore of the lake, gesturing for Jake to follow. Jake follows him shaking his head side to side. "Walter is a fish. I should have known, I name all my fish Walter." While following the old wizard Jake mumbles, "And of course, we have work to do."

    They go another 200 feet until they reach an inlet that is out-of-sight of the distant machinery. Manuel takes the fishing rods from Jake and says, "I may need these for balancing." He uses them as walking sticks to make his way down the steep banking to the lake and walks towards a towering wooden platform that had apparently been a boat dock when the lake was higher. Tethered to the base of one pole near the edge of the present shore is a rowboat.

    Jake has an easier time moving down the banking and follows to the wooden dock. Pointing down he asks, "Do you have in mind getting in that little boat? Would you like me to get in and move it to the shore down below?"

    He replies, "Yes, and it's not that little, lots of room for the two of us and the fishing gear." They get closer to the boat and see it is around 10 feet long and four-and-a-half feet wide in the center. It has two oars. On the floor of the center of the boat are two metal buckets, one normal sized the other an oversized oval 3-feet by 18-inches in size.

    "Allow me then," Jake says and promptly steps off the dock into the air. However instead of falling he merely floats to the boat, the result of the Ring of Levitation on his hand. Looking up with a smirk he asks, "Did you want me to move it to shore or are you going to make a flashy entrance too?" Gonzales laughs and says, "And she told me you were afraid to use magic. Please move it to the shore, I'm getting a bit old for flashy entrances. And we may have a long night ahead of us."

    Once the boat is in the water they load up the fishing equipment. Gonzales gestures for Jake to do the rowing initially and seats himself in the stern of the boat. Gonzales directs Jake where to row.
    Once they are in the middle of the northern end of the lake Gonzales takes two wooden three-hooked fishhooks out of his jacket pocket and ties them to the end of the fishing line. He then takes the can of worms out and puts worms onto the end of each hook and drops the lines overboard.

    "You are after Walter, are you not?" Jake asks but does not seem all that interested in the answer, leaning back into the bow and putting his hands behind his head. Gonzales says, "Indeed, we certainly are. It occurs to me that there is nothing in the world that Miss Ruby would like more for her birthday present than the large mouth bass by the name of Old Walter."

    Jake chuckles. "It appears that I have much to learn about women, Senor. I would have never guessed than an old fat ornery fish would be so desirable by a young lady with the tastes of Ruby. I am in awe of your wisdom garnered through the ages."

    "Oh, I'll answer your questions about it but before I do I'm curious what you have deduced yourself." He gestures to the machinery at the opposite end of the lake and says, "Where exactly do you think we are? And what do you think is going on here?" Jake replies, "East someplace by the sun, but other than that I do not know. I had not thought much about the equipment."

    Jake shrugs. "Did not seem necessary, we do not seem to be in any danger." Gonzales answers, "Ah, but there you are wrong. We are indeed in danger, we are trespassing upon private property and fishing illegally. And if the new owner of this property should catch us I dare say that he will not be happy. When you last met, Mr. George Eastman, Ruby’s former fiancé, he was not at all happy to see you."

    "Let me explain, after hearing about what transpired in March between the three of you I decided to find out where Mr. Eastman had gone off to, fearing further trouble from him. It appears that he came back to New York and purchased this lake and the land surrounding it. He then began draining the lake. According to Mr. Haynes he is looking for a ring, one that a young girl by the name of Constance Grace West tossed into the lake five years ago and declared that she would marry whoever found it."

    "I decided that his locating the object would only cause further trouble so I borrowed this," Gonzalez holds up a ring of his own, "from a local miner who occasionally stays at the El Parador. It locates metal. I would check the far shore at night after the workers left but all I detected were old cans as well as fishing hooks and sinkers. Haynes suggested we look further out and began rowing us around at night. I finally detected a ring-shaped object...and it was moving. That's when Haynes filled me in about Old Walter."

    Jake's eyebrows shoot up at the mention of danger and a dark look comes across his face at the mention of Eastman. The relaxed and jovial mood is instantly banished. “I should have murdered him.” Jake thinks, “I let him be out of respect for Ruby's wishes. Perhaps it is not too late“... When Gonzalez says the word ring, Jake knew exactly what ring he spoke about, Jake knew the story by heart. A flood of painful emotions washes over him as he sits up. Though still listening to the old wizard tell his story, Jake's thoughts race along.

    A sharp tang of disappointment escapes from his subconscious, a desire he tried to deny, a plan for the future he was not ready to admit now forced its way to realization and then was burst. Though terrified of altering their relationship for fear of mishandling the change and alienating her, though terrified of the concept of marriage itself, the little desire told a different story. Jake Cook who claimed he denied hope, who consistently refused hope and preferred action to wishful thinking did indeed have a hope.

    In just seconds he recognized that hope, admitted to that hope and saw it shattered like a dropped whiskey glass. When the time came to ask Ruby to marry him, he wanted a quest, needed a quest to prove it was right and he was right for her. It was their fairy tale. He wanted to find the ring, but on his terms, his initiative, his decision when the time was right. Once again he was forced to react to circumstances. The time had not yet arrived for that quest but George Eastman intruded on their relationship again. Once again, he was shown how foolish it was to have hope in fairy tales. Once again, a decision made for him, and the fairy tale stolen.

    For a moment Jake was torn. He has an instant where he truly understands and feels the pain of deciding between two evils. The decision is obvious, and he knows it immediately. He could no more leave the ring in the lake than he could abandon his Ruby. Eastman must not have the ring. Jake would risk hanging before he would let that man have that ring. He attempts to put aside his bitterness for now.

    Although Gonzalez had only finished speaking a few seconds ago, he was keenly watching Jake for a response. “He does not trust me and treats me like a child“, Jake thinks as he composes himself and prepares his response. He thinks, “It is less complicated to show me? How about, George Eastman is searching for Ruby's ring and we can get it first. How hard would have that been? I try to be respectful of him to no avail. Have I done some harm to him, is there some retribution he seeks from me and has somehow arranged this painful predicament?” Inwardly Jake sighs, more likely he is just a meddling old man and does not trust the scoundrel Jake Cook. So be it.

    Jake makes no further attempt to mask the anger, pain and disappointment on his face. "I am once more in your debt, Senor. I regret that I have no fishing skills to contribute. Neither have I brought dynamite to shock the fish to the surface, though while there are other avenues that is probably an ill-advised action all things considered. I know you do not fear Eastman but for whatever it is worth," Jake looks seriously at the old wizard, "I will do what I can to see you come to no discomfort from him or his men while you do this thing for Ruby. It would cause her much suffering if he were to show up in Promise City..." Jake is uncomfortable completing the thought. "You are not one to be unprepared, Senor. I assume you are either a better fisherman than those who have come before you after Walter or more likely have something up your sleeve. You can tell where he is and when he is coming, that is something."

    "Oh, I can't fish worth a damn. But my 'Sleep' spell will put him to sleep and he will float up to the surface. Of course, that will also stop his gills from moving so I would have to quickly cancel the spell if we want to capture him alive. That's why we have the buckets, the big one to hold him in and the little one to bail in water from the lake. Hopefully the bait will attract him at some point tonight."

    "Capture him alive? Do you think we will need him as a hostage to get out?" Jake rubs the side of his face and looks around the lake. "I expect that we would have to cut him open to get the ring out. Unless you think he is wearing it on his fin or something." He turns to face Gonzalez. "Seriously now, I have nothing against good old Walter and would be happy to let him live to a ripe old age frustrating local fisherman if we could figure out how to get him to cough up the ring."

    Gonzales replies, "I never said anything about getting the ring out of him. Goodness, you don't think we're actually going to give Ruby the ring? If we did that then she'd expect at least one of us to marry her! She'd be the death of either one of us. The gift isn't the ring, the present is that we kept it away from Eastman. We can leave it up to Ruby as to what to do with Old Walter. Personally I'd favor just re-releasing him into another lake that Eastman will never find."

    "At least one of us to marry her?" Jake chuckles despite his dark mood. "This old curmudgeon I used to know by the name of Caleb White used to say, Bigamy is having too many wives. Monogamy is the same."

  6. #6
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    Prelude Part F, “Jay and his Dad go Fishing”, May 22nd, 1882:

    Jake says, "I am glad you feel that way, about the gift being keeping it from Eastman. As soon as you mentioned the ring I knew I could not give it to her, at least not now. I am not brave enough to just release it to the wild either." Jake glances about the lake again. "I suppose that is bad news for old Walter, I am going to take the ring and keep it safe. I must ask you to not tell another soul that I have it, at least until I release you from that request." Jake removes his hat and plays with it in his hands.

    He says, "I suppose I should agree to that. I obviously wouldn't have brought you into this unless I felt it was very important to you. So I will abide by your request." Jake says, "My feelings on the matter are complicated, but well intentioned. Giving Ruby the ring now without an offer of marriage would not be understood as a gift of freedom, but a rejection. It would not matter if the ring was still in Walter or not," Jake adds with a grin. "I am not rejecting her, nor do I really want to give her freedom, at least not from me. However neither of us is ready to be married now, even if that is meant to be. She would not agree with me on this point though, and when she questioned me about it I handled it poorly."

    Gonzales replies, "Ah, but the important thing right now is that I fully agree with you on this matter, as she's not here. And I do, I think that a marriage between the two of you would be disastrous to both of you, as well as to most people you know. Your relationship right now appears to be rather volatile, marriage would just exacerbate that."

    He looks back up at the old wizard. "Enough of that lest you start to believe I am a whiner. We have a fish to catch." Jake looks about the lake again. "If we have not found the old boy before dawn approaches, I can move the boat around while you seek him out." Gonzales says, "That's a good idea actually, move the boat every twenty minutes or so until we get a nibble."

    Jake nods in agreement and then looks down at his hat still being gently twisted by his hands. "All my other frustrations and disappointments aside, I will for the first time have a secret I am keeping from her. No matter how well intentioned the reason, it still feels wrong."

    The old elf replies, "Then don't do it then. Release Walter....but not into the wild. What if I told you there was a magically protected body of water where nobody else would happen upon him. Walter could stay there until you are ready for him."

    "I would say that was a bit too convenient and far fetched." Jake then looks off towards the machinery and adds, "Perhaps not any stranger than draining a lake to find a ring or that a fish ate that same ring." Turning back to Gonzalez Jake says, "That would allow me not to lie to her. I believe you understand just how important this is to me. I could not part with Walter and his contents unless I knew for absolutely certain that no other could get to it, intentionally or accidentally."

    "Neither convenient nor far-fetched Mr. Cooke. You are already aware that there is a magical location that my little birds and I can access from the El Parador, as that is where all of the books from that cave are stored and my bedroom is obviously a bit too small and sparse for magic lessons."

    "The alternate location is only accessible to my apprentices and me, you would not have to fear anybody else ever going there. And it is far more than just a library and workroom, it is an entire mansion. The great hall to the mansion is a vast forty-by-sixty room chamber that includes an elaborate fountain.

    Currently the fountain is along the back wall in the shape of a half-circle twelve feet in diameter from the statue that the water flows from in the center, however the fountain's size could be substantially enlarged to fill more of the room and filled with an assortment of fish, of which Old Walter could be but one. I could tell my apprentices that I just decided to redecorate and could change the appearance of the other rooms as well to substantiate the story."

    "Impressive." Jake replies. "I only knew that you had a safe place and that magic likely had something to do with it. I did not know any more than that, except for your desire to keep it undisclosed. I respected that and asked no questions about it. I am honored by your confidence and will not reveal this knowledge." Jake then laughs seemingly for no reason.

    Gonzalez says, "I know....this conversation was long overdue. Ruby wishes for us to get along with one another so for her sake I hope that we can. In so many ways you and I are almost complete opposites but we have in common that we both wish to be a key part of her life. They speak quietly for a few more minutes and then they are quiet as Gonzalez continues to concentrate.

    They continued to row around the lake without much success, several nibbles but none that Gonzales identified as being Old Walter. It was at around 1:00 A.M. local time that there was finally a strong nibble on the line that resulted in a "It's him" whispered from the old elf.

    Jake nods and holds the oars still, keeping quiet. "What do you need me to do?" Gonzales says, "Get ready to grab him and drop him into the big bucket in the middle of the boat." Gonzales begins to cast a spell. Jake carefully places the oars into the locks and then positions himself near where the wizard indicates. He prepares to grab the fish as instructed.

    A fish quickly breaks the surface of the water, lying on its side and appearing to be dead. It is clearly not Old Walter, as it is only seven inches long. The water then breaks as another ten more fish of varying sizes and type, also looking dead, float up, again no oversized bass. A loud splash then appears three feet out with a twenty-six inch long fish with light greenish to brownish sides with a dark lateral line.

    Jake uses an oar to push the boat towards the largest fish. He quickly leans over and before the boat can bump it, cradles the fish in an attempt to keep it sleeping and rests it in the largest metal bucket. "Do we really know that the ring is in this fish?" Jake asks and his hand strays towards the dagger in his boot.

    Manuel says "It was as of a few minutes ago" Once Old Walter has landed in the bucket with a loud “thump”. Gonzales then cancels the spell, and all of the fish floating outside the boat come to life again and quickly disappear from view while Walter starts to wiggle and flop inside of the bucket. Gonzales takes the other bucket and begins to scoop up water from outside the boat, which he pours into the middle bucket, continuing this until there is enough for Walter to swim upright. “Why don’t you start rowing to shore now,” he suggests to Jake.

    Jake watches as the old elf fills the bucket. "No, I believe you that there is a ring in the fish, but can we know that THE ring is in the fish." He briefly touches his dagger but then puts to the oars and starts the craft towards shore.

    Gonzales says, "There's no way to tell exactly but if it isn't then it should have been found on the other side of lake where she tossed it in. Eastman has gone so far as to hire Alexander Graham Bell to help him find it. Last year after President Garfield was shot Bell invented a metal detecting devise to try to locate where the bullet was. He's been using a larger version of that device to look for the ring. And I also checked that area at night using my own ring. No, I'm pretty confident Old Walter here is the answer."

    Torn over what to do, Jake rows them to shore quietly and then follows Gonzalez guidance in getting the large fish on its way back to Promise City. The boat is tied back up to the dock. Jake and Gonzales both have to work together to lift the bucket with the fish out, the fish alone weighing over 20 pounds and the water surrounding it at least three times that. Gonzales says "Help me carry him into the woods. I have some devices that will help us carry this more easily but didn't want to activate them out here in the open."

    They get around twenty feet, halfway towards the woods, when Jake catches some movement in the trees. "Psst, someone is coming." They continue walking and Jake shifts his weight so his duster covers his Colt. "Dad, I still cannot believe you were able to catch this old grandpa fish. The boys back in Buffalo will be so jealous. Once again you will show them who the master fisherman really is."

    Jake hears the quick sound of metal sliding against metal and he and Gonzales are momentarily blinded as light from a lantern shines out from the woods and upon them. As their sight is regained four men emerge from the woods, one holding the lantern. All are wearing regular clothing. Two of the others are holding shotguns in their hands but not pointing them directly at Manuel and Jake. The other has a gun on his belt with his hand near it and a badge on his shirt. "I think you boys are trespassing on private property," the lawman states.

    "Holy lord, that is bright! Trespassing?" Jake flashes a worried look towards Gonzalez and then back to the lawman. "We didn't mean no harm, sir. My father-in-law here just has a knack for knowing where the big fish are, we just... I mean... Oh, lordy I am sorry." Jake looks hopefully at the lawman, "You aren't gonna fine us are you? We'll just move along fast an' cause no trouble. That is if you'll let us sir."

    The men with the rifles approach, one of them looking inside the bucket "Hey, they've got Walter!" The one with the lantern shines it into the bucket "Damn! It's gotta be him all right!" Jake beams proudly, "Ain't no old grandpa fish that is a match for my Dad here." Jake squirms a bit with the bucket. "Begging your pardon sir," he looks hopefully at the lawman, "would you like to look too? Before we go? This is getting heavy."

    The Sheriff says, "Only place you're taking this fish is over to my wagon, then we'll all go and pay Malachi Haynes a visit. And don't even try telling me he isn't in on this with you, that was his boat you were in and his fishing equipment you're using." Jake nods obediently. "We didn't mean no harm..." he repeats like a mantra. "We didn't hurt nobody, can't we figure this out so's no one gets in trouble?" He looks to the sheriff and back to his father-in-law.

    The Sheriff takes the gun from one of the men who moves over to help Jake lug the bucket to the waiting wagon out by the road. The Sheriff helps Gonzales with the rods and fishing equipment. The other man just stays near, still holding his shotgun. “Think Silver Jake Cook, what is the angle for these guys“ is what runs through the gambler‘s mind.

    After struggling with the heavy bucket, Jake begins a friendly chat with the men as they get in the wagon. "How long have you fellers been having this here drought? A shame having such a pretty lake so short of water. Over in Buffalo it ain't been like this, plenty of water. Funny how the weather can be so different not so very far away." "Shut up boy," the Sheriff states.

    The group arrives back at the General Store. The building is dark. The Sheriff raps on the door continuously until a lantern is lit up on the second floor. Malachi Haynes opens up a second floor window and yells, “What do you want down there? We’re closed.” “Not anymore Mal, open up and let us in,” the Sheriff replies.

    Two minutes later they are let inside, Haynes wearing a flannel bathrobe over threadbare pajamas. The Sheriff has his two assistants bring in the bucket with Old Walter. “So Mal, I caught these boys out in your boat with your fishing equipment, seems like they managed to finally catch that ornery old bass. It strikes me that you’re in collusion with these boys.” Haynes stands up straight and says, “And damned proud of it too. Come on Cal, it isn’t right that Old Walter should die cause the lake runs dry, he deserves better than that.”

    The Sheriff says, “I’ll agree with you on that point, but these boys were trespassing on private property, and you knew it.” Haynes says, “Fine, arrest us then.” Jake's eyes bulge as he feigns surprise and worry over Mal's declaration. He looks back and forth between the storeowner and the lawman but says nothing.

    The Sheriff says, "Come on Mal, you know I'm not going to arrest anybody. I'm just miffed that you chose this underhanded way to weasel out of our bet." Haynes replies, "Cal, I wasn't trying to pull anything, this was a humanitarian effort to save Old Walter. How could I involve you in something illegal? That would have been a conflict of interest."

    "Uh huh," the Sheriff nods. He looks back at the other men and says, "Mal and I have had this bet ever since we were in school about Old Walter here...now's the time to settle it once and for all." Since the Sheriff's concern seems to be with the storeowner, Jake lets him continue.

    The Sheriff goes over to the bucket and reaches in, grabbing the fish. He lifts it up, the twenty-plus pound creature reacting frantically to being out of the water. The Sheriff flips the fish over and points to spot on the bottom. He says, "See, told you Cal. That there is an egg sack. Old Walter's a she, just like I always told you. Male wide mouth bass don't grow any bigger than fifteen, maybe sixteen inches. This fish wasn't any exception." Haynes exclaims, "Fine Cal, but you win, no need to gloat about it." The Sheriff replies, "Pay up." An angry Haynes goes over to the cash register, opens it up, and takes out a dollar, which he then places in the Sheriff's hands.

    "How about if we put old she-Walter in that little old body of water west of here we call Erie?" Jake inquires hesitantly but winks at Gonzalez. "Dad here can still get his bragging rights by showing it off, the legend goes on and maybe those little eggs will grow big like their momma?" He looks to the sheriff and finishes, "If we hurry we can get her there still kickin'."

    The Sheriff says "That's mighty sporting of you." Gonzales says, "Just trying to be fair. Old Walterette here was probably scared out of her wits at loosing her own lake so didn't give me the fight she would have given the rest of you. Everyone should have the same opportunity. Haynes says, "How about you put her in Round Lake instead? That's only a few miles away, so I'd still be able to maintain my bait business." "Round Lake it is," the Sheriff declares. He then tells his two men "Haul that bucket with her back out of my buckboard."

    Jake looks to Gonzalez and catches his attention. The gambler Silver Jake Cook almost imperceptibly shakes his head no, so that only the old wizard can see and while he does so the innocent country boy expression Jake had been wearing was replaced by something more serious and cold. The moment was quickly over and Jake assumed the son-in-law Jay personna again, "What a shame that the folks back west will not get to see you with this big fish after all your hard work, dad."

    Jake steps aside with Gonzalez and whispers, "This would be a fine time for a switch scam, but I am afraid I do not have an extra twenty pound bass with me and I have never done a sleight of hands trick with a large slimey fish. If Walter died suddenly, there would be no point in putting her in a new lake. There are always more aggressive ways. Got any tricks up your sleeve? I am fairly good at diversions if needed."

    Gonzales whispers back, "Yes, I have a few tricks up my sleeve. I can make the fish considerably smaller and invisible. As long as they let us be the ones to put Walter in the Lake we should be okay, but I'm definitely going to need your slight of hand work then."

    Jake nods again to Gonzalez and heads out to the wagon. On the way he exclaims, "Darn it all," and limps a couple of times. He pulls off his boot and stocking, removes and tosses an imaginary stone, "that'll feel better." He pulls his boot back on without the stocking, hiding it from view and putting it in his pocket. He helps the his father-in-law onto the wagon and climbs aboard.

    On the way Jake leans in towards the lawman says quietly to him, "Would it be alright if dad and I let the old girl loose? I think it would mean a lot to him, especially since he isn't gonna get to show it to his rival fishermen back home. I mean, you know how friendly rivalries can be, don'tcha?" "Yeah, sure," the Sheriff exclaims.

    It takes nearly an hour to reach the other lake, not that it was a long distance, but the road was poor and the Sheriff took his time. During the journey the other men with the Sheriff keep watching and admiring the large firsh. They finally pull up to the lake and the Sheriff has his two men haul the bucket over to the water. "Just leave it there, I said these boys could let her go. They've earned it."

    Gonzales and Jake head over to the water. Manuel says, "First a prayer for Old Walter, to bless her in her new home." With Jake and Manuel standing so as to mostly block the bucket interior Manuel grabs the fish with one hand and casts a spell. The twenty-six inch animal then begins to shrink in size, until she is only seven inches long. Manuel then casts a second spell and she becomes invisible. "Okay Son, let's dump her out," Manuel states.

    Jake sneaks the stocking out of his pocket and over his hand. “Damn“, he thinks, “He could have waited until I had her to make her invisible”. Jake bumps the bucket and splashes some water on his pants and says, "Easy girl, don't be jumpin' out afore we get to the lake." He moves his hand around looking for her and uses the stocking to keep her from slipping away. Once he has her, he drops her in his pocket as naturally looking as possible and leaves the stocking over the fish.

    He then lifts the bucket with Gonzalez and make the biggest splash they can. "Woah, look at that fish go," he pretends to strain to see old Walter dart off into the shadows. He turns to Gonzalez, keeping his wet pocket facing away from the others, "Maybe we can come back in a few years and see how those eggs of hers have done. Imagine a lake full of big fish like that!"

    The Sheriff has his men go grab the bucket. He asks, "Give you boys a lift somewhere?" Manuel says, "Thank you sir, but we'll decline. Our campsite isn't that far from where we are now, we'll just walk from here." "Oh, Sheriff," Jake says, "Can we have the small bucket? I'll buy it from Mr. Malachi. I accidentally put a hole in ours last night." He does not look at Gonzalez and adds, "Dad gave me what for over that..." Jake scrounges a dollar from his wallet and offers it to the lawman.

    The lawman says, "That is probably too much. Four bits should cover it, but I'm afraid I don't have any change." "Serves me right for being such a clod with our bucket," Jake replies and gives him the coin. "You and your friend have a beer on me, it is worth it to put the bucket discussion behind me." Jake makes a quick look out of the corner of his eye to Gonzalez and pretends to wince a bit. He then takes the bucket and waves good-bye as he walks with it towards the lake.

    "Good thinking with the bucket," Gonzales states as Jake fills in with lake water, which he puts a grateful Walter into. Gonzales then removes a metal disk from his pocket, which is apparently magnetic as it sticks to the bucket. He states a command word in French and the bucket begins to levitate in the air. He tells Jake, "That should make it easier to carry. We have a few miles hiking back to where I left my magical brazier. I say we skip the road and go overland, that should cut the distance in half."

    "Thanks. Lead on." After they walk a while Jake chuckles and says, "Big Abbey, from back in Chicago, would be suitably impressed with that off-the-cuff scam we just did. Not that you are looking for work or anything...." Jake chuckles again and continues to follow the old wizard. "Yes indeed," Gonzales replies, "Your simple-little-old-me routine worked like a charm Mr. Brothers."

    Jake says, "Heh, thanks. The most dangerous threat is the one you do not see, eh? Well, nobody got hurt, they kept their legend, the lawman has his dollar plus bragging rights, and we can head home." Jake and Gonzales eventually reach the spot in the woods where the magical brazier had been stowed. The quickly find enough tinder and kindling to get a small fire going inside it. Manuel tosses in the powder and he and Jake grab each others hands. The older wood elf states the incantation. The two then vanish.

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    Prelude Part G, “Josie’s Plans”, May 22nd, 1882:

    Josie finishes dancing and returns to the table asking, "So, what were you two talking about? You both had serious looks on your faces." Ruby replies, "We were talking about men, Josie, and how they love to break our hearts and make us worry about them. I think it's a plot so when they return we are so very relieved that we forget that they were naughty in the first place. I suppose I could go back to my old habits of not caring, or caring too much and drowning my cares in liquor but alas, I have matured." With that Ruby breaks out into a fit of giggles.

    "You seem to be having fun out there, you are a good dancer. I am glad you are enjoying yourself. Perhaps I should follow your lead and find a young and handsome dance partner..." Josie says, "I don't think that will be difficult....at least half of the men in the room seem to be staring at you. Of course, you won't be able to dance with the handsomest man in the room since he's the one making the music. Do you know that Estaban? Wasn't he the one who won the swordfight back during the Festival?"

    Ruby glances quickly around the room and laughs, "I hadn't noticed the looks but now that you mention it...," she giggles, "Is it horrible that I am used to it? Yes, I believe Estaban did win at the festival. He's very dashing, no? On more busy nights there are others who play music too, then you could have your chance to dance with him. I do know him, I used to live here, before Jake and I bought the Lucky Lady, or the Lone Star it was back then. I'm going to ask him to be in Romeo and Juliet."

    Estaban finishes up his current song and Josie says, "Well, why don't you ask him now?" Not having a shy bone in her body, Madge stands up and yells across the Cantina "Hey Estaban, come join us." The musician smiles, puts down his guitar, and starts to walk in that direction. Ruby stands and smiles, reaching out her hand in a sitting gesture. "Come and join us Estaban, I want to speak to you about something."

    The handsome Latin wood elf glides his way over to the table and says, "Ah, my eyes behold three of the loveliest women in the County, all with voices worthy of the gods. Miss West, Miss Marcus, Miss Duprey, to what do I owe the honor of your company?" "Well, I'll certainly take that compliment," Ruby laughs. "Please have a seat." Ruby pulls her skirt our behind her and sits tall. She pours a whiskey and pushes it towards him.

    "Mr. Fuentes, I am planning on putting on a show at the Lucky Lady, when our latest construction is done. I was hoping that you would consider joining the production. You are handsome and good with a sword, both skills important to the part." He replies, "Si, I enjoy using a sword. I fought against the Spanish in Mexico several decades ago, but other than last month have not had a chance to do so in the Arizona Territory. What type of show are you planning?"

    Ruby's smile grows wider, "One of the greatest love stories ever written. Romeo and Juliet, by Shakespeare." Estaban replies, "Ah, I have heard of him but have never had the opportunity to read any of his works. What is it about?" "I just told you! It's about love. What greater subject is there than that?" She laughs and sips her whiskey. "I admit, I haven't read much of him either." She clears her throat a little, "Jake and I are reading it together now." She then gives him a short synopsis of the story.

    Estaban spends the next twenty minutes asking questions about the play and the role that Ruby has in mind for him. Josie explains in detail the role of Mercutio which Estaban indicates a strong interest in playing. He agrees to the performance under one condition, that Ruby find somebody else to fill in at the Lucky Lady’s kitchen during the opening performance so that his sister Maria can watch the show.

    During the break many of the elves in attendance head back to their homes while another group of patrons enter, consisting of fifteen miners, seven human, six dwarven, and two ogres. This appears somewhat unusual, as workers from most of the region’s outlying mines tend to only come to town on weekends.

    Dorita approaches the group and ushers them over to the available barstools and a couple of tables. Those at Ruby’s table quiet down to hear Dorita’s conversation with the group’s mining foreman, a dwarf named Svien Tholstad, who indicates that they workers from the Whitewater Mine. That mine is at Whitewater Baldy Mountain, in the New Mexico Territory around 100 miles to the northeast. They’ve been working non-stop for over two months until the mine hit water and flooded. Some pumps had been ordered to fix it but won’t arrive for a few more weeks so the owner gave the group leave. They have stopped off in Promise City on their way to Tombstone.

    Hmmm... Ruby thinks... might be a good time to get some business...and keep my mind off my missing partner... "Excuse me ladies, I'm going to greet the newcomers," Ruby says, standing.
    She walks over to table with the newcomers. "Evening gentlemen. I hear you're new in town. You've come to the right place, Dorita will take good care of you." Svien looks up and says, "Why thank you Ma'am. We was told that this was the only place in town that'd house non-humans. We've camped outside the last three nights and are all looking forward to a real bed for a change."

    "That's true, the El Parador is the only place in town for non humans. And they have the added bonus of having the best food in town too. But..." she smiles, "MY saloon also allows non humans and I'm the singer there. You show try to stop by at some point. You won't be disappointed." Svien says, "Well, if that's true then why are you drinking and hanging out here?" "Because these are my friends too," Ruby answers, "And because I like variety. Plus, I used to live here myself, before I decided to settle down in Promise City."

    "What is the name of your Saloon?" Svein asks. "The Lucky Lady Dance Hall and Saloon," Ruby says, her smile widening while she picks up the edges of her skirts, "And I am she," she says with a curtsey. Svien says, "Well, I don't suppose you'd be willing to sing us a song to better entice us to visit there?" Ruby laughs, "You just missed me singing a song so divinely with my friend," Ruby waves towards Madge. "But I do so love to sing and will accommodate your request." She curtsey's again and takes a few steps away from the table.

    "Estaban, would you be a dear and play for me? These gentlemen would like a song and I'd like to sing for them. Something dwarvish perhaps?" Given the number of Dwarven patrons that the El Parador gets Estaban is familiar with dozens of their drinking songs and ballads. He runs through the list until he comes to one that Ruby and Madge are both at least somewhat familiar with. He briefly runs through the lyrics with both of them and then begins to play.

    Ruby easily sings the dwarven song, adding flair where she can. She wanders around the saloon as she sings, lightly flirting, stealing sips of drinks and sitting on laps as she does. It feels good to be back to her old self, more happy and carefree than a long time. For a moment she even forgets her boyfriend is missing. Madge sits down after the first song, having a limited repertoire of dwarven songs. Ruby knows more of their tunes from her traveling days to various saloons and continues to accompany Estaban for another four songs, all of which are well received by the visiting miners.

    When she is done she curtsies again to applause. "How was that?" she asks the miner. The miners all applaud and offer to buy a round of drinks for Ruby and her friends as well as Estaban. The Whitewater Miners get room keys from Dorita and following another full round of drinks head upstairs for the night. Maybe they'll stop by tomorrow, Ruby shrugs. She heads back over to her lady friends. "I think we all need another round of drinks, what do you all think?"

    Josie and Madge both agree and another round is ordered. Josie talks at length about the wonders of San Francisco. Estaban returns to the table. "Miss Ruby, I was wondering, when exactly are you planning to put on this performance of Romeo and Juliet?" She replies, "Well, not until the new addition is finished, so we have a much larger and nicer stage to use. Plus we need some time for building sets and making costumes and, of course, practicing. So I don't have a date set or anything, but it'll be a little way off. Why?"

    He smiles and states, "I find the idea.... Fascinating. I have always enjoyed performing before a crowd. I have no idea how fine an actor I could be but welcome the opportunity." Josie comments, "Ruby, I have an idea and suggestion if you would want to perform this sooner. Let me direct and help produce the show. I certainly owe you a favor after today and tomorrow and I have far more experience with productions than you or anybody else with the possible exception of Mr. Booth. I could also give you many suggestions about playing Juliet."

    Ruby doesn't hide the surprise on her face. "Really Josie, are you being serious? Wouldn't that mean you would have to stay here? Were you planning on staying here?" Josie replies, "Well, I wouldn't mind. Pauline wants to get going first thing in the morning, which for actors tends to be around nine, maybe ten. I have that errand to do in the morning and may not be back in time. I'd really hate to hold them up. They really don't need me for the performances in the three New Mexico communities, nor do I have any real desire to go to those places. It's Colorado that I want to see and perform at. I could stay here for a few weeks and then take the train to meet up with the Company for when they arrive in Denver."

    "A...A few weeks? Is that enough time?" Ruby still can't remove the shocked look on her face. "Josie, I am so.. flattered. I think it would be just wonderful. I'm just not sure it's enough time. We don't have seasoned actors like you are used to. I mean Conrad and I could do it, sure...I just... Do you really think we could do it?" Ruby's eyes start to twinkle and a large grin forms on her lips.

    Miss Marcus says, "Certainly we could. I've always wanted to direct, but I doubt Pauline would ever let me. The show probably won't have the same polish as a professional acting company, but I doubt any of the locals will mind or even notice. And that idea of playing up the swordfight scenes should work wonderfully if we can talk your town's fencers into participating."

    Ruby answers, "But where would we do it? Is the Lucky Lady's stage large enough?" Ruby's grin grows wider and it's obvious she doesn't really care if the stage is large enough or not. "And it would be so perfect for you to direct it anyway, you're right I don't have any experience. With you and Conrad, how could it be bad? This is so exciting, isn't it exciting Madge?" Ruby is practically clapping her hands at the thought of doing her production much sooner than she thought. And taking the parts she didn't want to deal with out of her hands.

    Suddenly she stops and the grin fades. "Oh, but I am supposed to go away with Jake for a few days... I can't not go. I mean, I don't want to not go. We have something very important to do while we are away and I can't miss it." Josie says, "So go, we can make the casting decisions before you leave. I can work with the actors individually when you are away and we can hold our first rehearsal a day or two after you return."

    The grin immediately returns. Ruby hops out of her chair and practically jumps on Josie, "I am SO excited!" She says, hugging her friend tightly. "It's going to be the best show ever, I can't wait! We have so much to do!" Ruby finally lets go of Josie, then hugs Madge, then Estaban, then Pedro, then anyone else in the general area. "Oh I can't wait to tell Jake!" She stops momentarily, remembering that he was currently missing. But her euphoria won over and she continues to bounce around the Cantina.

    Finally she sits and just smiles a goofy smile. She pats down her flyaway hair and smoothes her gown. "So what do we do first?" Josie replies "First we need to make up the cast list and determine a potential person for each part. We should actually make two lists, one for actors the other for swordsmen. Estaban's enthusiasm will help, given that Festival showed that he is the best swordsman in town. We will have him choreograph the fight scenes and he can help to persuade the swordsmen onto the stage. We will then need to pay visits to each actor to convince them to participate. I may need to make a visit to Fort Huachuca as well if we wish to have some of their soldiers participate."

    Ruby says, "Well, it sounds like you know what you are doing. I will speak with Conrad and we will get started right away. But why the soldiers from the Fort? Would they also be for the fight scenes? Josie answers, "Yes, of those competing in the fencing competition half were from the Fort. I'm thinking that we should at least ask Sergeant Ball. He was a semi-finalist and with him in the production you can guarantee that there will be several soldiers in the audience of each performance. That would be good for your business, as soldiers do tend to enjoy drink. There being present would also help to ensure that the rest of the patrons will not become unruly." "Josie you are so smart!" Ruby states.

    Ruby then exclaims, “Let's have a drink to celebrate our future success." A bottle of wine is soon brought over and Ruby pours three generous glasses. Ruby raises her glass, "To the best production of Romeo and Juliet this town has ever seen!" she says cheerfully, then adds, "Course, it's the only production of Romeo and Juliet this town has ever seen..." She giggles then clinks her glass to her girlfriends, drinking her glass of wine down. "I have not been this excited in a long time!"

    Ruby pours herself another celebratory drink. "We must get started right away then. But you should not travel to the fort alone. If I am not here to go with you, maybe Conrad could go. Although I do not know if he can miss work. Someone will have to go with you. Do you have any ideas?"

    Josie says, "Okay so you and Conrad will take the two lead parts. We will have Estaban as Mercutio and also have him understudy the part of Romeo. I don't plan to perform but you can consider me your understudy."

    She pauses and reflects back upon the earlier conversation with Conrad.
    "We will make the assumption for now that among the Festival swordsmen we can find a Tybalt, Paris and Benvolio. We'll start with Conrad's suggestions of Hans Schmidt, David Tomlinson and Sergeant Ball.

    We still need to cast Juliet's parents Lord and Lady Capulets, Romeo's parents Lord and Lady Montague and Escales, the Prince of Verona.
    Plus the Roman Priest Lawrence, the Nurse. All of those parts are essential. The casting those might also help to improve your saloon's standing in the community depending upon whom you ask. You may wish to discuss that with your friend Jake, he strikes me as one to look for opportunities."

    Then also need to decide on how we will do the remaining parts that Conrad mentioned. We could use individual actors or multiple parts for the same actor for the Priest John, Romeo's servant Bathasar, Capulet servants Sampson, Gregory and Peter, Montague servant Abram, the Apothecary, and Rosaline. We may want to eliminate some of those parts entirely, for example the Priests Lawrence and John could be combined into a single role. The four male servants could also be swordsmen as well if we get more soldiers involved."

    "Hmmm... that is a lot of players. I have to admit, I'm not that familiar with the play, the minor parts especially. I've only just read it with Jake. But I would think it might be nice to have more people from the community involved. More interest that way. I will speak with Jake and see what he thinks about the other parts. Maybe we could have some try-outs too, then we would see who is interested. But definitely want the soldiers if we are going to emphasize the sword fighting. We don't need anyone actually getting hurt doing the play."

    She replies, "Ah, but what a performance it would be if we have eight swordsmen fighting simultaneous, using true fencing moves rather than the standing play acting. The sight of the Montagues and Capulets in battle would be quite riveting. Even if the remainder of the acting is less than stellar the show would still be quite memorable and encourage people to promote attending."

    Ruby laughs and raises her glass, "Ah, but I don't plan on giving a less than stellar performance Josie! I can't speak for Conrad but I would bet he wouldn't either. But you are right, the sword fighting would be spectacular. It was very popular at the festival, so you are right to use that angle. Of course, I wouldn't want it to overshadow me," she smiles cockily.

    Madge had been silent up to this point and bursts out in laughter. "Oh Ruby, I doubt that anybody or anything in this town could ever overshadow you."

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    Prelude Part H, “Where did you go?”, May 22nd, 1882:

    "Do you think so?" Ruby laughs. The wine made her happily giddy adding to the effect of being so excited. "But that is a good point. I want people to pay attention to my acting. I think for the sake of the show, while I don't love the idea, I will have to change my hair color. I want to be taken seriously."

    "What do you think? About changing my hair?" Madge says, "Oh no Ruby, never. That's your signature look. Without your flaming red hair you wouldn't be the Ruby West that the town would be coming to see." "But Juliet didn't have red hair..." Ruby says, tugging on her long locks. "Well, I guess you're right. I never hide my hair. I hate doing that," she says running her fingers through the wavy mane. "I just want people to come to see the show, not just to gawk at me. I mean it, I want to be known as a serious actress, not just a flake that looks good."

    Josie exclaims, "Ruby, the only way to convince anybody that you are a serious actress is by being a serious actress. It does not matter how you look, just how you perform while on the stage." "I know, you're right. And I plan on it for the show." Ruby turns to Madge, "You've been sitting here awful quiet. Do you want a part in the play? I do wish there was some songs and I had considered asking Kate to help write some to truly show off Conrad's and my vocal talents but now I don't think there will be time. So it's just be a boring speaking part," Ruby smiles.

    Madge replies, "I'm afraid I can't participate in your play....my employer would not allow it."
    Josie says, "As for songs, you can make your next play a musical. Don't try to take on too much all at once."

    Meanwhile, much to Jake's surprise he and Gonzales do not reappear inside of his room at the El Parador. Instead they are inside of a great hall made of stone, forty feet wide and sixty feet long with an arched ceiling nearly fifty feet high in the center. The room is lit by magical light. The walls and floor are all made of the finest marble stone while the beams and ceiling are made of the same sturdy oak as the door. Each sidewall has a pair of stone archways with wooden doors.

    At the far end of the room is an elaborate fountain made of the same marble. The center of the fountain has a statue of a naked female wood elf holding a pitcher, from which the water flows out and down. The simple furnishings of the room do not match the splendor of the building, consisting of a wooden table and a half dozen unmatched and rather cheaply made chairs. Manuel points towards the fountain and says, "Well, let's get that bucket over there and introduce Old Walter to her new home."

    Jake moves to the fountain tilts the bucket towards it, looking up at Gonzalez to make sure this is where he wants the fish. When Gonzalez nods, Jakes turns the bucket sideway. The water and fish splash into the fountain. Jake looks around but cannot see her, "I heard her go in." He looks for a another moment before he shrugs.

    Jake stands and clears his throat, "I never formally agreed to this but since we have gone to all this trouble to get Walter here alive, and since she did inadvertently do a great service, seems only right." He sticks his hands in his pockets and says, "So I will accept your generous offer and .... well... what I mean is, thanks."

    He then takes off his hat and scratches his head with his other hand while staring at the fountain. He seems to find something very amusing. "I have this image of one of your apprentices, her long red hair nearly brushing the water as she sits at the edge of the fountain and drops chunks of bread into the water while that big old fish gobbles them up." Jake looks over at the old wizard, "Gobbles them up and keeps the secret."

    Gonzales replies, "Things will be as we discussed sir. As for secrets, I trust you to not mention this location to anybody other than my apprentices, who obviously already know of it." He moves towards one of the doors, which opens inward into the room. Jake cannot see what is on the other side. Manuel says, "We should go now. It will be around 11:30 P.M. back in Promise City, and people will start to worry about us." Jake nods and hesitantly steps through the door as indicated by Gonzalez.

    He emerges inside of Mr. Gonzalez’s room at the El Parador. An elaborate door is now along the northern wall. Gonzales follows him out and shuts the door behind him. Jake looks curiously at the door and his surroundings. He shrugs and walks down the stairs into the common room. From the stairs he sees that there are currently around a dozen patrons in the Cantina, including Ruby and her friends Josie and Madge who are sitting at one of the tables.

    Madge's eyes glance towards the staircase and she then catches Ruby's attention and gestures that way. Ruby turns her head to see Jake Cook descending down the stairs from the second floor. When Jake arrives at the bottom of the stairs he notices Ruby, Madge and Josie at a table together. A small smile comes unanticipated to his lips. He pauses only a moment and walks directly to the bar, "Pedro, mi amigo, another one of those fine bourbon's por favor."

    Ruby's heart flutters in relief when she sees Silver Jake Cook order a bourbon and take a seat at the bar. Curious as to why he came from upstairs, and even more curious why he didn't come to say hello Ruby thinks, He must be up to something... "Excuse me for a moment ladies, I want to share my good news with someone." She winks at them then bounces across the room. She comes up behind Jake and whispers in a sultry voice into his ear, "Heya Handsome, want to buy a lonely lady a drink?"

    "Lonely? You mean THE Lucky Lady, do you not?" He turns and faces her, "What will you have? Some bourbon perhaps? Pedro, mi amigo, uno bebida para mi amor." "I WAS lonely without mi amor," she teases, "But now he is back and I am a chica feliz." She slides onto the stool next to Jake and as she does he notices her coordination is off slightly. "So I have some great news. But first I want you to tell me what you were up to with Mr. G."

    "Him? I was sitting here enjoying a bourbon and chatting with Pedro, and happened to mention I was going to do some shopping for someone's birthday...." he raises an eyebrow and continues, "when that meddling old coot manages to hear our conversation. One thing leads to another and he has an idea for a gift I could get for someone...." Jake again raises his eyebrow, "and of course he could NOT just tell me. He had to show me, and of course that gave him an opportunity to lecture me on endless topics. If I may make a long story short, I have much better ideas on what to get this special someone."

    Jake takes a sip of his bourbon but keeps his eyes on Ruby's. "His heart is in the right place, it is just that his methods are a pain in the behind. So do NOT embarrass him and tell him I did not like his idea." Jake takes another sip and then says, "So tell me your great news."

    Ruby cocks her head while continuing to look curiously at Jake, "So what was his idea, the one you didn't like? And what did he lecture you about?" Jake replies, "Now it would not be fair to the old guy to go around and giving away his ideas and embarrassing him. He has another idea for something he wants to do that I think you will like, but I am NOT telling you about it. No ruining fun surprises. You get too nosey and folks will stop getting you gifts," Jake admonishes her in teasing way.

    "Frankly, I do not even remember half of his little lectures," Jake chuckles, "I stopped listening. You know how he gets. Rest assured we did not squabble. I tried hard to be nice and respectful. He is not a bad sort, he just drives me loco sometimes. Now, enough about that, what is your great news. Were you only kidding about that since you are not all that interested in telling me?"

    "I do have good news but I'm not done with you yet. When am I going to find out what it is? My birthday is soooo far away," Ruby giggles. "I don't want to wait! I know you two were up to no good. But really, the two of you got along? You were really nice to him Jake? Where did you go?" He replies, "You will find out what I am getting you when I give it to you, no sooner. You think Gonzalez and I were up to no good? You cannot be serious," Jake says with some incredulity. "Do you imagine that if I was running off to get into mischief I would choose him as a partner? Ruby, I told you I tried to be nice, we were civil and did not fight. Do not expect us to start having a guys night out any time soon though,"

    Jake rolls his eyes. "I do not exactly know where he took me, some place back east. Like I said before, you know how he is only telling you what he wants you to know when he wants you to know it." Pedro finally delivers the bourbon and Jake hands it to Ruby. "To pleasant surprises," he says and clicks her glass with his without waiting for her and takes a sip. "If you pester me about your present that I have not actually acquired yet, I might change my mind...." Jake leans back on the bar and gives her a smirk. While Jake and Ruby are talking Madge excuses herself from the table with Josie and heads upstairs to see Mr. Gonzales.

    Ruby's lips form into a pout over Jake's admonishment of her. "I was just curious..." She stares over at Jake with her big green eyes before looking down at the drink in her hand. Finally she takes a sip and places it on the bar. Suddenly she smiles, "Oh my good news! We're going to do the play soon. And Josie is going to stay in town and direct it! I'm so excited! But she wants to do it in three weeks. I told her you and I were going away soon." Ruby pauses and scrunches her nose, "Do you think it's a good idea?"

    He states, "Going away or the play? If the play makes you that excited, then do it. Why not? I would like you to come to Tucson, but if you do not have time in the next couple of weeks we will go another time. We are going to visit there more often anyway, so missing one would not hurt. I still need to go, and if you can come that would be splendid. If not, we will have our little celebration with my friend shortly after your play." Jake drinks again and finishes with a satisfied, "Ah." He pushes his hat back on his head. "It is nice to have nothing more to worry about than making sure there is enough bourbon in stock. What are you worried about, we have plenty of time and you will be a wonderful Juliet. Do it, do the play."

    Ruby begins to pout again, "No, you're not going without me. I meant if I should do the play. I don't want you to leave me." Ruby's hand is on her bourbon and she looks down at the floor, "I'm not letting you go without me." Then she looks up at Jake from under her long eyelashes, "Oh, but I will be a good Juliet, won't I?" She ends with a smile.

    "You will be a marvelous Juliet," Jake says sincerely. "Enough of the pouting, I told you I wanted you to go with me. I was just giving you the choice. It is settled, we are going to Tucson together in about a week. We could even go sooner if you wanted. No more pouting, the world is a wonderful place." Jake is smiling, relaxed and leaning against the bar.

    Ruby pretends to continue pouting, but she can't... her lips turn into a smile without her full permission. Suddenly she giggles, "I can't wait! You still owe me celebrating! But we can go when you are ready darling. I say the sooner the better for a party and I an very excited to really get to know you know who." She hops off her stool and cuddles up to Jake. "Now let me tell you all about our plans..."

    Ruby keeps her arms wrapped around her lover while excitedly telling him all about the plans that are being made. She particularly reminds him they need to re-read the book together and that she would like his help with suggestions for the extra acting parts as per Josie's recommendation. "And I can't wait to have our final fantastic show with you sitting right in the front being my biggest fan. Everyone will want to see it because it will be so perfect and I'll finally be like a real actress," Ruby beams. "I am SO looking forward to this. Will you help baby?"

    He says, "I will think about who might make good additions to your play. You know I will help where I can. I am quite looking forward to being in the audience as well." Jake looks across at Josie and says, "Madge has run off, is girls night out over?" Ruby sighs. "Well, actually," She looks around the room. "Come here..."

    Ruby takes him by the hand and drags him into the kitchen. She doesn't see Dorita so she begins quietly, "Something happened today. You'll probably be mad but it really was not my fault. This morning, when Josie first came..." Ruby fills Jake on the meeting with Earp and how they are supposed to meet with him again tomorrow. "And Madge is very very unhappy and wanted to speak with Mr. Gonzales over what to do. She thinks we are in a lot of danger."

    Jake exclaims, "Damn fool, that Wyatt Earp. Behan finds out about him and Josie... well we do not wish to be in the middle of THAT. I can see how Madge would be more than a little upset being dragged into that. It is one thing being dragged into the cowboy war, but it is mighty hard to fight what is left of the cowboys when they are wearing badges." Jake shrugs, "We will do what we can to stay out of trouble."

    "But what should I do? I can't help it, trouble always finds me. We got talked into helping her tomorrow. Maybe you should come too?" Ruby plays with Jake's shirt buttons, "Otherwise hanging out with the girls has been fun enough but I can think of more fun things to do for the rest of the night."

    He states, "Yes, I will come along. I am not any better at staying out of trouble, but I suppose I can be handy putting trouble in its place." Jake drinks the last of his bourbon and rests the glass upside down on the table in the kitchen. "Enough of all that, let us move on your ideas for the rest of the evening." His nostrils flaring slightly with a deep breath, Jake runs a finger slowly across her lips while looking at her with hungry eyes and the faintest of smiles.

    "Ahhh, you must have missed me darling." Ruby leans up against the kitchen table then pulls Jake to her and kisses him passionately for a few moments. Breathing heavily she says, "Alright let's get home." She takes his hand again and they head back to their table. "Josie, has Madge come back yet? I am getting very sleepy and decided to call it a night." Ruby's eyes twinkle with mischief and tell another story.

    Before Josie can answer, Ruby strides to the bar and comes back with two fresh glasses. "Sorry darling," she says to Jake, "But we have to finalize a couple of plans so we might as well have another quick drink." She pours one for herself and for Jake. "What time are we meeting?" she says ands sips her drink, "Jake is going to accompany us so we'll be safer."

    Josie's eyes light up. "That may not be safe. They will not be expecting Mr. Cook. Ruby, did you have to tell him?" She replies, "Yes Josie I had to tell him, I don't keep things from him, we have no secrets. I don't recall you saying not to tell him." Ruby's eyes narrow slightly but she keeps her temper under control. "It's already not safe to have brought Madge and I into this. Mr. Cook will look out for us certainly more than your boyfriend and his associates will."

    Josie says, "Oh, I'm so sorry. In matters of the heart I do not always think straight. I'm just trying to protect the man I love," Josie states. After an uncomfortable silence she says, "I guess I'll call it a night. I will stop by the Lucky Lady between 9:30 and 10:00 tomorrow to collect the two of you. I'll go leave a message for Madge at the Gay Lady to that effect unless you know where I can find her now."

    Ruby immediately softens. "It's alright Josie, I understand." She glances around before continuing quietly, "There was a time your boyfriend trusted Mr. Cook and I have no reason to believe that has changed. It'll be alright. I can guess where Madge is. I'll leave her a message right now for you." Ruby stands. "Jake, maybe you can walk Josie home? "If you care to have an escort," Jake offers his arm, "all things considered it is not a bad idea."

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    Prelude Part I, “End of the Evening“, May 22nd, 1882:

    Ruby tells Jake “When I get back we can go home.” She smiles at him knowingly before bouncing to the stairs. Ruby heads up and knocks on Mr. Gonzales door. She lets herself in while calling out, "Hello? Mr. G? Madge? It's Ruby..."

    He opens the door. He and Madge are inside of his regular room at the El Parador rather than inside the mansion. Ruby recalls now that neither Madge or he have ever mentioned her knowing of the mansion, and that while she often refers to him as being her teacher, Gonzales has never called Madge one of his "little birds". Gonzales has an angry look on his face.

    Once Ruby shuts the door Manuel states, "Madge has updated me as to the Earp situation. She is afraid of them, with good reason. We have decided that she will not be accompanying Miss. Marcus at all tomorrow. Instead, I will go in her place, as Mr. Austin, and will introduce myself to them as being Madge's instructor. I will provide them with the magic protections they are asking for provided that they first agree to never bother either you or Madge again."

    Ruby nods. "I just told Josie that Jake was going to be accompanying me and she..well... got a little mad at first. She is worried about her boyfriend. I suppose I can understand that but I have no desire to get involved in this again either." "But Mr. Gonzales, they don't know you, and you will be in a lot of danger, because they don't know you and won't trust you."

    He replies, "I know, that is why I am going as Mr. Austin rather than myself. If the Earps knew about Mr. Gonzales that could put the El Parador and everybody here in danger. Actually, we should probably come up with a French name to introduce myself as. As for trust, what choice do they have if they want the magical enchantments?"

    Ruby nods. "You are right, as usual." She pauses. "Do you still want me and Jake to come along?" He says, "That's up to the two of you. I would hate to put you in danger Ruby, but it's not like I'm the one who involved you in this. Most times when I've done anything with Mr. Cook I have come to regret it, but I'm willing to take the change given that Wyatt Earp has always thought highly of your young man."

    She says, "I know none of this is your fault. It's Josie's for not even asking us!" Ruby pulls on her hair for a moment. "And I know you don't trust Jake, but you are right, Wyatt has trusted him in the past. If you go alone with Josie they may believe that something else is up, making it even more dangerous for you. I don't want you to go alone teacher."

    Ruby pauses, saddened by Gonzales lingering feelings about Jake. "I had hoped you would be over your distrust of Jake by now, maybe even grow to like him eventually. I guess that is never going to happen." She looks at the floor as she kicks some dust with the toe of her boot. "We will go with you, I can't let you take all this on yourself."

    Gonzales says, "Well, we can talk about me and Mr. Cook at a later time. Right now we need to get Madge back home, she's had a far more stressful day than she had planned for." Yes Mr. Gonzales," Ruby replies sullenly and thinks “Like Madge is the only one who was caught surprised…” She says, "I'll walk her home. Jake was walking Josie home so I'm sure I'll meet up with him on the way. Come on Madge, let's go." Ruby smiles and nods towards the door. "A good night's sleep will do you well." Ruby waits by the door for her friend to be ready.

    Once they are out of the El Parador Madge stops and gives Ruby a big embrace. As she hugs her Madge begins to cry and says, "Thank you....I...I didn't know what else to do." Ruby hugs her friend back tightly while stroking her hair. "It's ok, it'll be alright." Ruby is silent and lets her friend cry for a while before speaking again. "Are you alright? I know there is danger involved, but is there something else I don't know?"

    She states, "Yes....back when he was a lawman here we had an affair. I....I don't know what to do. I want to help him....but if he finds out about my relationship with Al....the Earps are not people to cross. I don't know what he'd do. The way he looked at me today...he still has feelings for me, I know it."

    Ruby blinks. "You and Wyatt Earp?" She glances around the make sure no one else heard and repeats in a whisper, "You and Wyatt Earp? Madge, I had no idea..." Ruby puts her hand on Madge's arm. "Ok, look. How would he find out about Al? And besides, he's with Josie now. I think he really likes her, so I bet it's all fine. And why would you now being with Al cross him? I'm confused."

    Madge stops crying and laughs, "Oh no, silly, obviously not Wyatt Earp. I meant his brother Warren. Do you think I would have even gone on the ride with Josie if it had been Wyatt! Yes, I know I'm a bit too old for him, he's six years my junior, but it seemed a good idea at the time. But he has this jealous streak in him. How would he find out about Al? I have no idea, but you found out didn't you?"

    Ruby laughs in return. "I thought you were mad there for a second." Ruby pulls some hair off Madge's face. "And I didn't find out about Al. You told me," Ruby smiles innocently. "I didn't tell you anything you hadn't already figured out for yourself," Madge states. Ruby replies, "Honestly, I didn't know anything until you told me earlier tonight Madge. You know I have a way of getting information from people...So I'd bet that no one else knows either."

    "Either way, you won't have to go tomorrow and you should be ok, don't you think? Warren has his own troubles to worry about now." Madge answers, "Yes, I suppose you are right Ruby. Thank you for being a friend." They arrive at the Gay Lady and Madge kisses Ruby on the cheek before heading inside.

    "Night Madge!" Ruby calls after her as she watches her friend depart. She begins her walk back to find Jake. The alcohol must be affecting me, I don't remember where Josie is staying... Ruby meanders her way back to the Saloon, breathing in the cool air deeply until she remembers the way Jake was looking at her before they split up. She speeds up and arrives back at the Lucky Lady, making it there before him.

    She hurries upstairs and decides to change into something more enticing. She throws her gown to the floor before settling on a black corset and panties, with matching black stocking and garters, covered with her sheer black robe. Ruby lets her long hair all the way down and fluffs it as she admires herself in the mirror. It's been a while since I dressed up for Jake...

    Then she wanders over to the window and sits on the ledge, peeking out up at the stars while she waits. Jake leaves Josie at her destination and goes home. When he arrives at his room he stops and just admires Ruby sitting in the window. He lets out a low whistle and says, "Remind me to do again whatever I did to deserve this."

    Ruby stands tall and flips her hair from one side to the other. "I guess that means you approve?" she says with a smirk. "Yes," Jake unfastens his gun belt and hangs it on its familiar location on his side of the bed. "Though I would add appreciate, enjoy, admire and some other words too. Now, what were those other ideas and do they involve any dancing?"

    "Now darling," Ruby purrs as she slides back onto the table and crosses her legs at the knees, "Are you asking me to dance for you? It has been quite some time after all..." She lets the robe slips off her shoulders as she smiles smugly, "You know my ideas are generally naughty, if you want to hear them you'll have to come a little bit closer." She motions to Jake by curling her finger towards herself, "And I'll whisper them to you so no one else can hear..."

    Jake comes forward, doing all he can to keep the small smile on his face from growing enormous too fast. Jake gently pushes Ruby’s knees apart and she responds by throwing her head back and laughing. He wraps his arms around her and placing his hands on her back pulls her straight to him. She wraps her arms and legs around him tightly. Jake pulls Ruby’s hair over her shoulder then kisses her neck slowly as she whispers her naughty ideas of what's to come into his ear.

    After tormenting Jake for long moments with her teasing as his kisses get lower she slides off the table and pushes him back into the fluffy chair. She takes her long sweet time dancing for him, continuing to tease him until he can't take it anymore and he carries her to bed, where Ruby makes good on her promises. When they finally finish they fall into a blissful sleep, both forgetting their early morning appointment the next day.

    The morning comes and the puppies start yipping to go out. Ruby drags herself out of bed to open the door. The light is bright and as she rubs her eyes she remembers that she is supposed to meet Josie early.

    She walks over to the bed and pokes Jake. "Get up lazybones," she says in her deep just-woke-up voice. Then she wanders downstairs to let the dogs out and get some coffee. "What time is it?" She asks Niles, who is dusting off the bar. "Morning Ruby. It's about 9:30am." Ruby's eyes pop open and she starts back up the stairs. "If someone comes looking for me tell them we'll be right down!" she calls back over her shoulder as she runs up, holding down Jake's shirt as she does.

    She bursts into their room, "Now you really have to get up and get ready, we're late. I don't like being late for Mr. Gonzales." Ruby begins frantically dressing, choosing a dress instead of her leathers for less suspicion. "Come on Jacob Cook get up!" When Jake just moans from the bed Ruby, only half dressed, walks over then suddenly hops into bed, grabbing the canopy frame and jumping up and down on both sides of her sleepy man. "I...said... GET...UP!!"

    Jake squirms around on the bed dodging her feet and covering his head with his arms, "Alright, alright! I am up, I am up." Jake rolls out onto the floor. "I liked the dancing last night better than this one," he says pulling himself upright.

    "Of course you did darling," Ruby laughs, reaching for Jake so he can help her off the bed, "That dancing had a very different goal." He grabs her waist and twirls her to the floor. "Now that you're up, get dressed please," Ruby says sweetly while getting herself dressed too. Once they are both presentably dressed and armed they head downstairs to get some coffee and wait for Josie.

    After some time goes by and they are both more awake Ruby comments, "You know, maybe Josie said to meet her at the El Parador, I don't remember. Maybe we should go there?" Jake agrees and they head over. Once inside they are greeted by the smell of warm breakfast goodies and are soon sitting with plates piled high by Dorita while they wait for Mr. Gonzales and Josie.

    Mr. Gonzales is the next to join them, attired as the human Mr. Austin. He seats himself at the table with Ruby and Jake and orders food from Dorita. "Ah Mrs. Figures, it is wonderful to see you again and to get an opportunity to dine in your fine establishment," he exclaims. She just roles he eyes, deciding to humor her Grandfather and his play acting.

    "Good morning Mr. Austin," Ruby says while stuffing a piece of her favorite muffin in her mouth. "Good day to enjoy Dorita's fine cooking. Hope you are feeling well today?" He replies, "As well as can be expected under the circumstances. So, have either of you thought of a good French name I should use as my alias when talking to Mr. Earp. If I'm passing myself off as Madge's teacher it would make since my being French, plus I know the language fluently."

    "I forgot you do," Ruby comments, pausing eating briefly. "I should remember, I'm jealous you've traveled everywhere." Ruby looks up briefly before looking back into Mr. Austin's blue eyes. "I don't know much French, only what I have learned from Katherine so far. What about taking the name of that guy she used to work for? The one we met in New Orleans. I forget his name." "A good idea," he states. Ruby comments, "Josie is late, I hope everything is ok." "I'm sure that she will be along soon," he states as he digs into his breakfast.

    When the three are close to finishing the meal Josie storms into the El Parador, obviously upset. She notices Ruby and Jake and starts to head towards the table, stopping suddenly when she sees Mr. Austin.

    She then continues her approach and asks the man "Are you Madge's teacher?" He looks up and says, "Oui, I am. And I recognize you from the festival. Your acting company did a splendid job." Josie says, "Thank you. Sir, I'm afraid that there is some mistake. You cannot come with us, you are not expected. Couldn't you just convince Madge to do what you have taught her?"

    Austin replies, "Madge is going nowhere, and that is final. Personally, I don't think that any of us should be going anywhere. You are putting myself and these others in great danger. Whether I am expected or not you will have to settle for either me or nobody young lady."

    "Ok everyone, calm down." Ruby stands and faces Josie. "Wyatt knows you, me and Jake. It'll be ok. Besides, Wyatt will be happy that we have brought Mr. Austin along, being Madge's teacher, he can do what she can do, only better. Plus," Ruby lowers her voice, "It will be safer for all of us."

    Josie points to Mr. Austin while still staring at Ruby and exclaims "Do you even know this man." Before she can answer Austin states, "No, not really. I've had a drink at their saloon before but that is the extent of it. But Madge knows me very well and she can vouch for me. As I said before Miss. Marcus, I don't have to go at all and frankly would prefer not to. But if your friend wants magical assistance I'm the only person in this town who will help you. Take it or leave it."

    "I trust Madge," is all Ruby says. She looks at Josie and shrugs, before sitting back down to finish the last bites of her breakfast. It was up to her now. Josie reluctantly agrees, stating that she will go rent a carriage. Austin replies, "That is a good idea." She leaves the El Parador. He then signals Dorita to bring him another plate of food and comments, "Nothing like a good debate to build up the appetite."

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    Prelude Finale - Part J, “Final Meeting with the Earp Vigilantes“, May 22nd, 1882:

    Ruby finishes her breakfast quickly. She had been through enough in the past months to not be nervous about today It didn't have to be bad after all. "I'm ready when you two fine gentleman are. Let's go meet Josie and get this over with so we can go about enjoying our day." Ruby smiles as she rises from the table. Before exiting the Cantina she finds Dorita and thanks her with a hug for breakfast. She waits for the boys out on the porch.

    Ruby doesn't have to wait long until Josie pulls up out front with the rented carriage, pulled by a pair of horses. Inside Austin looks across to Jake and says, "Well, now that the ladies are gone, what's your plan? I'm figuring on helping these Earps but making it known to them not to bother any of you folks again."

    "Plan?" Jake replies with a look of surprise, "It is hard to plan when you do not have a bloody idea what they are up to. I suppose that is not entirely true. It would make sense that they are trying to avoid Behan and his men, whatever is left of the Cowboy Gang that found its way into that corrupted group. I never did hear what particular service they wanted from Madge." Jake shrugs, "Outwardly, we are just going for a nice ride in the country side and that gallant gentleman gambler, Jake Cook, is along to keep the ladies safe."

    Jake smirks for a second and then gets serious again. "I have an ambivalent relationship with the Earps. I certainly had my problems with them, they did not think twice about abusing me to manipulate Katherine. They seem to be using black mail again. Wyatt did cut me some slack on a couple of occasions, though not substantial. It has been said the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Though I think it is quite a stretch to say Wyatt Earp is my friend, we and the Earps certainly both had trouble with the Cowboy Gang. I would hate to lose the option of having them in on any future trouble with what is left of the Cowboy Gang. Instead, why not just tell them to not bother the ladies any more, and say nothing about me. My plan for today remains unchanged, I am along to protect those in the carriage. Beyond that, I will make it up as I go along. If there are any choices to be made, I will certainly discuss them with you if circumstances allow it." Jake hefts the canvas wrappings that hold his two rifles and then his small travel bag. "How does that sound?"

    Gonzales says, "Good. I'll continue to play up that my relationship is with Madge and not Ruby. I'll let him know not to bother Madge or her girlfriends. How does that sound?" Jake nods his agreement.

    Ruby doesn't have to wait long until Josie pulls up out front with the rented carriage, pulled by a pair of horses. Ruby barely waits for the carriage to stop before hopping up inside. "I hope you're not too angry," Ruby smiles. "Madge was just very frightened." Josie says, "We shouldn't talk about this in public. Where are the men?"

    Ruby shrugs, "They're men, how do I know?" Noticing Josie's nervousness and disproval of her comment she gets out of the carriage. "Sorry," she says sheepishly, "They're inside. I'll go get them." She starts in, but turns back, "Really, it'll be ok." Ruby then heads inside and finds Jake and Mr. Gonzales / Austin. She laces her arm through Jake's. "You two boys ready?" Jake states, "Yes. We are coming." Still arm in arm with Jake, Ruby looks to her teacher, "Mr. Austin? Let's go."

    Ruby leads them outside to the carriage. Jake helps her up and she deliberately sits in the back seat. While their destination again today is the Cochise Head mountain to the east Josie begins the journey north, turning northeast a mile later and then southeast when the mountain can be seen in the distance little more than a miles ahead. Austin keeps looking back and comments that it does not appear that anybody is following them.

    Jake nods and continues to look around as well. Once they are out of town he unwraps the canvas bundle to reveal a Spencer carbine and a Vetterli rifle. He places them at their feet. "It would be pleasant to not need those today." He makes small talk as they ride, but his attention is elsewhere. His hands wander to his pistols to just touch them reassuringly and his eyes scan the horizon.

    As they reach Cochise Head Austin whispers to Jake, "Three O'clock, 120 feet away, between the large oak and the shrubbery. Jake casually glances to the right, seeing a rifle barrel sticking out of the bushes. He also notes a similar rifle barrel to the left around 100 feet up the nearest hillside concealed by some high grass. Fighting the urge to duck, Jake casually whispers back, "Yes, what a lovely day to lay down in the grass on that hill too." He nonchalantly buttons his duster.

    Ruby chats away with Josie, mostly discussing ideas for the play, trying to distract Josie from her worries as they ride. Ruby stays relaxed, knowing Jake and Mr. Gonzales were on guard. They ride for another 200 or so feet when Wyatt and Warren Earp both step out from behind hiding places behind rocks and approach. Neither man is carrying any weapons in their hands, but Wyatt has two revolvers holstered in his belt and Warren has one.

    Josie stops the carriage and runs towards Wyatt. Warren moves closer to the carriage and asks, "Who's your friend Cook?" Jake says, "This would be Mr. Austin. As I understand it, he has come instead of Madge. Mind if I get out and stretch my legs, or are we continuing on from here?" Warren says, "No, we're staying here. Leave those rifle in the carriage, our scouts will give us enough warning if we should need them."

    Ruby climbs out of the carriage, followed by Jake. "Good morning Warren, Wyatt. Mr. Austin is here to give you what you have asked of Madge and then we'll be on our way." Ruby stretches and looks casually up to the sky. "Nice day," she comments easily. Austin steps forward. With his usual Texas drawl he says, "Howdy boys. You may have seen me around Promise City before."

    Wyatt says, "I don't believe that I have." Warren says, "I have, but we've never been introduced." He replies, "I go by the name of Austin." He then drops the Texas accent and switches to a French accent continuing, "Although my name is really Jacques DuMont. Madge Duprey has been my student for a considerable amount of time. She has told me what you want from her and I have agreed to come in her place to do as you wish." Wyatt says, "Well, I guess that is acceptable."

    DuMont/Austin/Gonzales raises his voice an octave and says, "Sir, what is NOT acceptable is your threatening my apprentice." Wyatt says, "I made no such threat." DuMont says, "Oh really? It was clearly an implied threat that you would expose her to the authorities unless she did as you asked. Let me make one thing very clear Mr. Earp. I am not afraid of you and you would be wise to not make an enemy of me. Now, I will do as you ask but first you need to promise me that you will NEVER contact Miss. Duprey and her girlfriends again."

    Wyatt gestures to Josie and says, "Now see here. Miss. Marcus and I have a relationship." DuMont says, "Not her. I was referring to that Miss. West over there and Miss. Duprey's dancers at the Gay Lady, Julia and Fifi. If I hear of you contacting any of those four ever again I will not be happy. Do I make myself clear?" Wyatt and Warren exchange glances. Wyatt says, "Yes, you do sir. Warren and I both agree to those terms, as will Sherm McMasters. I wish you to make all three of us invisible."

    Jake butts in, "Wyatt, is that to escape from this area, or are you still working on revenge? Frankly I do not care how many more Cowboy Gang members you put in a six foot hole, as a matter of fact the more the merrier. However, if you are using this as a method of surprise attack it might cause whatever is left of the local law to be looking hard for folks that could create that effect."

    Wyatt says, "We'll be careful. There aren't many cowboys left and a few of them are still wearing badges. I'm content to let them go for now. But one of the four men who put the bullet in my brother Morgan's back is still walking around Tombstone and I can't rightly leave until he is taken care of." "Who is that?" Ruby asks.

    Wyatt replies, "A man by the name of Hank Swelling. That half-breed, Florentino "Indian Charlie" Cruz confessed to what happened that night. There were four of them there, Cruz, Frank Stillwell, Frederick Bode and Hank Swelling. I've now sent three of them to Hades, only Swelling remains. If Morgan is going to rest in peace I have to see this through."

    Ruby nods, "I understand." She pauses. "If it had been any of my friends I would be doing the same thing. I just wanted to make sure who I knew to stay away from in the days ahead. What will you do afterwards?" Wyatt says, "Well, Josie's heading up to Colorado so I guess we'll do the same."

    Ruby nods again. "Well, I'll stop with my silly questions and let you get about your business." She stands next to Jake and holds his hand, waiting to see what will happen next. Wyatt gives a signal and the men Ruby and Jake have met before named Sherman McMasters and Turkey Creek Johnson arrive. Wyatt speaks privately to the two. Johnson moves back to watch what happens as the other three men approach Austin. "Okay, we're ready for you to work your magic," Wyatt states.

    Austin replies, "It is not that simple, I have some preparations to do first." He heads back to the carriage and removes from his pocket a bag, a metal flask and a book. He reads a few pages of the book and recites an incantation. He then measures out some powder from the bag, which he stirs into the flask. He caps the flasks, gives it a vigorous shake, and then drinks the contents of the flask. He then reads a few more pages before returning to the others.

    Wyatt says, "What was that all about? I thought all you had to do was say a spell." Austin gives him a skeptical look and comments "Oh, so now you are an expert on magic?" Wyatt says, "Magic in general no, but I've heard about how invisibility is done." Austin gives him a stern look and states, "Sir, I do not trust you. Up until I cast the spells upon you and your companions then you need me. The is not the case afterwards, so I was protecting myself against the event that you and your companions make the mistake of trying to harm me."

    Wyatt remarks, "And could you have placed those same protections upon me and my companions?" Austin says, "No, it is a spell for wizards only." Wyatt glances towards Jake and says, "Ringo had similar protections and Cook managed to get around them." Jake interjects, "How would I know if he is doing the same thing Ringo did? What exactly are you trying to say?"

    Wyatt says, "Some of my boys once rode with Ringo, they know that he used wizard magics. Marshall Berg has been telling everyone that it was your shot that brought down Ringo Mr. Cook. Obviously his protections weren't as good as he hoped them to be." "Obviously," Jake remarks. "You will excuse me if I do not understand why you bring all that up." Wyatt gestures to Austin and says, "Just pointing out to the gentleman that magical protections can sometimes be overrated."

    Ruby watches silently from next to Jake, hoping there isn't a showdown between Wyatt Earp and Manuel Gonzales. Jake says, "That is a fine way to set him at ease when he is about to provide help to you." Jake shakes his head back and forth. "I suppose you know your business." He takes a couple steps back away from where Wyatt and the wizard are standing. Austin looks to Jake and says, "It appears that neither Mr. Earp or I are very comfortable with each other."

    He turns back to Wyatt and says, "Then let's just get this over with. Invisibility is rather overrated, as it does nothing to mask sounds or smells. It can also be detected through magical means. I will cast the spell but do not feel that the spell alone allows you to do anything you wish. My suggestion to you would be to set aside this quest for vengeance and move on before the Federal authorities become involved."

    Ruby turns to Austin. "The bargain was for them to be invisible and they would leave Madge alone right? So let's just give them what they want and be done with it so we can get home." Austin replies, "I guess I'll follow the advice of this saloon singer, she seems driven by common sense." He approaches the men and prepares the necessary components and incantations to make the spell work. He casts the spell upon the Earp brothers and McMasters. Austin says, "Well, it's done. Let's leave." He walks back to the carriage and sits in the back.

    Josie turns to Jake and Ruby and says, "Give me a few minutes to say goodbye to Wyatt. It may be a while until we see each other again." Ruby nods, "Take your time Josie, we'll be waiting for you in the carriage."

    Jake and Ruby hop into the carriage next to Gonzales to wait. Ruby keeps her eyes on Josie to make sure the goodbye's go smoothly. When they enter the carriage Austin is just completing a spell of some sort. Once they are seated he mutter to Ruby and Jake "That woman's boyfriend is a fool." "Besides the obvious," she whispers back, "Is something wrong?"

    He replies, "I don't like him. Even though he threatened two of my students I still came here to assist, and he then threatened me. Right now he has a chance to just ride away and be with her but instead he wants to continue with his obsession. That will surely lead to his downfall, how can it not? He's going to break her heart."

    "Unfortunately I've seen some of the stupid things obsessed people do. But it's not our business between the two of them. I will say that he," Ruby nods her head towards Wyatt, "Is full of himself and thinks he can do anything he wants. He's threatened me many times. I'm glad he's not the law here anymore."

    Jake does not engage in the conversation with Ruby and her mentor. Not fully trusting the Earps either, he is instead listening and watching carefully for any unusual sights or sounds that might indicate they are in danger. He cannot fathom any reason they should be at risk from these men, but there is something uncomfortable about the whole business. He also scans the surroundings periodically to make sure there is not others watching or approaching. Austin taps Jake's arm, having noticed Jake looking around intently. He whispers, "The spell I just cast upon myself was Detect Invisibility. I'm not going to let any of them out of my sight."

    They wait for Josie to finish up her goodbyes with her invisible beau. She then walks back to the carriage. Ruby offers a hand down to Josie, "Don't worry, you'll make your self crazy if you do. You'll see him again soon." Josie climbs on board and sits beside Ruby. The first two miles of the journey are in total silence, other than Josie wiping tears from her eyes and blowing her nose into a handkerchief.

    As they near the town Austin says, "Drop me off at the Long Branch Saloon." Josie does as instructed. She then rides up to the Lucky Lady to drop off the other two. Ruby hops off the carriage but turns back to face her friend. "I know you are worried Josie, and I can't tell you not to worry or be afraid. But he is just doing what he thinks is right. Can't say I blame him." She squeezes her friend’s hand. "If you need someone to talk to come and get me."

    Ruby asks, "Jake are you ready?" "Ready," he says gathering up his guns and following Ruby into the saloon. Ruby waves to Josie and walks back into the Saloon with Jake. "Well, that went smoothly. Too smoothly it seems. Do you think something was up with that whole scenario?"

    "Besides all Hades breaking loose if they do what they said they are going to do?" Jake shrugs, "I would not put anything beyond him. What you really want to know is what he said to Josie when she said goodbye. I intend just to keep out of trouble and be very visible here in Promise City so there is no question I was not in Tombstone."

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