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A closer inspection showed that the old wooden building was badly run down and in need of repairs, built before the colonists got the hang of shaping raw wood. From somewhere inside Ezra heard the sounds of hammering. He took a moment to study the sign over the door before entering ‘God is Love in all Forms’. Ezra shook his head. Josiah couldn't have not known how that would be taken. He just didn't care; Josiah embraced all religions with an open mind, something his fire and brimstone missionary father would never had done. But when they had made Josiah they hadn't just broken the mold, Josiah had taken a pickaxe to it and shattered it. He was one of a kind.

Ezra made his way inside and took a seat in one of the empty pews near the middle of the church, watching the big man work. Josiah was now sanding one of the long wooden pews with his back to Ezra.

"Won't live long with your back to the door old man." Ezra said and had the satisfaction of seeing Josiah jump at the sound of his voice.

"Then it’s a good thing you're here to watch it for me isn't it, son?" said Josiah as he picked Ezra up in a bear hug that left the younger man gasping for breath.

"Put me down your wrinkling ma jacket," demanded Ezra, "and I'm not your son." That had been a running joke between them for years; Josiah’s calling him son and Ezra denying the fact. The feeling of the student and his mentor ran deep, neither willing to admit to just how far. "What kind of mess have you gotten yourself into Josiah? I thought an anthropologist’s job was to observe what was going on around him, not join in."

"What can I say, I’ve gone native." Josiah sat down and smiled at his former student. Ezra had came and he couldn't be happier. Josiah considered Ezra to be vegetating in his life at the university. Teaching was a noble occupation to be sure and Ezra was good at it. But there was so much more he could be doing, so many more people he could be helping as well as himself by exercising that brilliant mind of his. By getting him to come to O'tam, Josiah was hoping to break Ezra out of the complacency he had made of his life.

"Ah can see that," Ezra looked around at the interior of the building. It showed Josiah’s loving touch with the handmade items. He was curious at his mentor's appearance; he was dressed in appropriate apparel. He wore jeans and a loose cotton shirt with a leather vest. A wooden cross lay on his chest, hanging from a leather cord around his neck. He looked like a defrocked man of God and Ezra wondered at that. Was Josiah trying to seek spiritual enlightenment or redemption for past sins? "You always enjoyed working with your hands, is that why you're rebuilding this church?"

"Amongst other reasons, lets go get something to eat and I’ll tell you about my life here and you can tell me about the plans to fix what’s wrong on O'tam," he said taking Ezra by the arm and leading him out the door. He wasn’t going to give his boy time to start the lecture he knew Ezra wanted to give him on the dangers of living on backwater worlds or going native.

+ + + + + + +

Buck checked the fire and the rabbit-like animal Chris had shot for their dinner. It was roasting nicely, almost ready. Buck looked over at Chris, who was trying to find a comfortable position, leaning back against his saddle as he sat on the hard ground. They had made an early camp when it became obvious that Chris was having trouble getting used to riding again after so many years. With a cup of coffee in his hand Buck sat back against his own saddle and chuckled. That earned him a glare that quickly turned into a quiet laugh.

Buck shook his head as he told Chris. "You should have taken Ez's advice pard and rode as much as possible before we left Earth."

"Didn't think I'd have too, we used to do this all the time when we were growing up, hell we practically lived on horseback before you discovered girls." Chris replied.

Both men smiled at the memories that came back to them then; of two nine year olds meeting for the first time; the friendship that grew over the years, of Buck’s father and mother dying in a transporter accident and Chris' parents gaining custody of the heart broken eleven-year-old; of being raised as brothers on the Larabee's working ranch; the ups and downs that molded them into the men they had become today. They both looked up at the same time and smiled.

"With few exceptions, I wouldn't change any of those years." Chris said as he tried shifting his weight again still trying to find a more comfortable place to rest his aching body. "Damn it Buck, couldn't ya at least pretend to be a little saddle sore." Laughter filled the evening air as they settled down and watched the stars come out.

+ + + + + + +

High above their heads in the darkness between the sun and the planet the Starship Enterprise was readying to leave orbit. Captain James T. Kirk left the captain's seat and walked over to his first officer's station. "Mr. Spock, what do you think about our staying a few days and taking a look around this system?"

"I see no reason to delay our departure Captain. This is an orderly star system with six planets, only one of which is a class M type."

"Someone must find it interesting to start causing trouble on the planet. I was thinking of checking out the planet's moons and perhaps the asteroid belt between the outer two planets. I'm sure there’s a reason for us to stay"

Spock raised his eyebrow at his captain and paused a moment before speaking. "The ship's computer could use the asteroid belt for running calibrations on the new sensors we picked up on Earth. Mr. Scott did say that he’d like to run a diagnostic on the engines to make sure; (as the engineer put it) that those dock hands hadn't damaged his engines." Letting the sentence end he watched for his Captain's reaction.

Jim smiled at his first officer, "I knew I could count on you. Carry on Mr. Spock."

+ + + + + + +

Over supper Josiah and Ezra caught up on friends and family back on Earth before moving on to what had brought Ezra to O'tam.

"Josiah how could you tell those Starfleet people that I'd be a willing participant in this predicament?"

"I didn't say any such thing, they asked me if I knew anyone with an understanding of the time period and of course I thought of you. You are the leading expert in the field aren't you son?" Josiah said with a sly smile. "And you’ve been well trained by Maude on how to deal with people. Especially in getting them to do what you wanted them to do."

Ezra gave his mentor a look of pure exasperation; he knew when he was being conned. But before he could reply and ask Josiah about what was really going on, Josiah caught sight of a young man entering the restaurant and waved him over to their table.

"Nathan come join us. Have you eaten?"

"Yes I have," said the young healer, "but I wouldn't mind some dessert and coffee if you're buying," said Nathan Jackson, the town's Healer.

The tall dark skinned healer took a seat across from Josiah’s companion, taking note of the man in the fancy clothes. A dandy, thought Nathan to himself as he took in the red jacket and ruffles. If the man doesn't take care he'd burn that fair skinned complexion under our bright O'tam sun. Just what we don't need, another tourist to keep out of trouble.

Josiah made the introductions. "Ezra I'd like you to met the town's Healer, Nathan Jackson. Nathan this is my good friend from the University of Virginia, Ezra P. Standish." The two men shook hands, each eyeing the other, trying to figure out what the older man saw in the other to indicate the deep friendship each saw they had with Josiah.

Over dessert, talk turned to town gossip. As the town Healer, Nathan saw or heard just about everything going on in the town and surrounding area. Most folks counted on Nathan for the latest news as he made his rounds of the out lying ranches and farms. As long as it had nothing to do with the medical conditions of his patients or if it didn’t mean betraying a personal trust, Nathan didn't mind passing on the local gossip. Nathan chuckled as he brought Josiah up to date on the local saloon troubles.

"Ziv’s at it again, he’s trying to turn the saloon into a typical Ferengi night club. He can't understand why he can't bribe Judge Travis into letting him, so he keeps trying." Seeing Ezra’s interest he added another tidbit of local gossip.

"There’s also his problem of Ms Inez Recillos. She was hired for the job of running the place or so she thought but once she got here Ziv tried to make her be a Dabo girl, said it was in her contract in the fine print. To which Inez told him as she held a knife to his lobes, that she’d cut them off if he tried to force her or her staff be Dabo girls. Then she ran the edge of the knife across his lobes to make sure he got the point. He tried to bring her up on charges but no one would bear witness against her. But the judge did say she had to work the full time of her contract with Ziv, but not as anything other than the manager of the place. Told Ziv that the Rule 221 wasn’t allowed on O’tam, Judge didn’t explain what he meant by that but Ziv seemed to know. As for Inez, she’s got another six months left on her contract. Most of the town will be sorry to see her go. Inez’s a nice lady, a good cook and she tries to keep Ziv honest, at least in the saloon."

"The Judge appears like an erudite gentleman to have ascertained the Ferengi’s Rules of Acquisition."

"What’s rule 212?" asked Nathan not sure what erudite meant but didn’t want to asked.

"Rule No: 212: Employees are the rungs on the ladder of success. Don’t hesitate to step on them."

"I can see where that wouldn’t work here, Ziv would most likely get himself shot for trying that on most folks. Wonder why he tried it on Inez?"

"Ferengis are a sexist race, their women are little more than property." Ezra explained

"That’s not right." Nathan shook his head then smiled, "But it does explain his behavior toward some of the ladies in town."

Josiah added the information he knew Ezra wanted to know. "Ziv won the saloon five years ago from the last owner in a poker game. He makes good money when the cattle drives go through on their way to San Francisco. He and his cousin Gin have a few businesses on the side and for the most part are law abiding. Or at least as far as anyone’s been able to prove."

Ezra asked, "Perhaps we can adjourn to this establishment for after supper refreshments and meet these remarkable people," as he stood up he added, "ma treat."

Josiah and Nathan watched him head for the door as they got to their feet, Nathan fell back a few steps and waited with Josiah as he paid for the meals. Nathan had gotten the feeling that Ezra didn’t care much for Ferengis and wondered why. As they left the dinner Nathan asked, "Does your friend have something against Ferengis?"

Josiah scanned the street before starting off in the direction of the saloon. This gave him time to think on his reply before answering.

"Yes," knowing that this wasn't going to be enough of an explanation for Nathan, Josiah continued. "Most of what I’m going to tell you is a matter of public knowledge so telling you this isn't breaking his trust."

"Twenty-three years ago Patrick Standish, Ezra’s father, was killed when the ship he was traveling on was found abandoned in space with all the air locks open. All hands were lost, everything valuable had been stripped from the ship. The official investigation stated the transport was over taken by pirates, but they never allowed the families to see the Captain's log or the ship's security tapes." Josiah and Nathan were almost at the Ferengi’s saloon and saw Ezra pass through the bat wing doors ahead of them.

"What isn't part of the public records is that the families of the passengers and crew hired a private investigator to look in to the matter. He came up with a Ferengi captain who had sold parts of the ship and its cargo, as well as personal items belonging to the crew and passengers. He even managed to get a voice recording of this individual bragging on how he did it complete with an unpleasant description of the bodies floating out into space.

The Federation doesn't have many treaties with Ferenginar and couldn't or wouldn't push for an investigation, stating this wasn't enough evidence to make a case with. The Ferenginar government wouldn't do anything unless the families could come up with bribe money to buy their help. They couldn't so the crimes went unpunished."

Josiah stopped at the boardwalk in front of the saloon. Turning to Nathan he added. "Nathan I know you won’t betray a confidence and won’t speak of what I just told you. But I wanted you to understand where Ezra is coming from. He still feels the hurt of losing his father so young. So please don't speak of it to him."

"Ya got my word on it Josiah." Nathan vowed. He knew the pain of losing a parent. His own mother had died a few years ago and his father went to live with his older sisters in Boston. He stated now that Nathan was able to take over the practice it was time for him to retire and enjoy his grandchildren. Nathan missed them both, especially the talks he had with his father.

+ + + + + + +

Ziv was surveying his domain from the raised platform where he played poker with anyone willing to be relieved of his or her money. It was a slow night, few individuals were eating supper and fewer still were drinking, none were playing games of chance. Ziv frowned at this. How was he going to make a profit if he didn't get more people into his saloon and at the gaming tables? Rule of Acquisition No. 18: A Ferengi without profit is no Ferengi at all.

While the sheriff was on his payroll he had yet to find a way to make Judge Travis take bribes or... Ziv didn't finish that thought, it wasn't healthy to threaten people on this planet. Too many of them carried weapons and most were more than willing to use them. Judge Travis had earned his position by merit and was well respected. If he or any of his family went missing there’d be hell to pay.

Ziv was putting himself into a sour mood. Looking up his disposition suddenly got better. There, standing just inside the doors, stood a red coated tourist, a human and by the looks of his attire one with money. The night just started to look a whole lot better.

Gin, Ziv’s cousin and business partner (junior partner) was polishing the bar. He noticed his cousin’s sudden interest in the stranger who just walked in. Well this should change Ziv’s mood, a new mark to make profit from. Gin frowned at the fresh layer of dust that settled back on the bar he had just cleaned. This planet was far too dry by Ferengi standards. Four Corners only got rain for a third of it’s year and never continually. On Ferenginar seeing the sun was considered a bad omen. Here Gin had to wear sun block every time he wanted to go outside during the day or burn. How he missed dear old soggy Ferenginar and longed to go home. Someday, somehow he’d find a way to get off this appallingly dry planet.

Ezra stood in front of the batwing doors and took a good look around. The place wasn’t a typical small town saloon; it showed the Ferengi influence. But then Four Corners wasn’t a typical small western town. The saloon opened up into a large room, a wooden bar on one side. Tables were scattered across the main floor in front of a small stage that was situated under the upstairs balcony. The staircase came down from the upstairs on the far side of the room, next to a raised platform where the owner played poker. There were mirrors placed strategically around the room. The owner playing at this table could sit with his back to the wall and still see everything going on anywhere in the room. Games of chance could be had at a number of tables, but no one seemed interested. Ezra even saw a Dabo table set up, a game his Mother had taught him never to play with Ferengis as they made up the rules as they went along if they weren’t playing with other Ferengis.

The saloon was in a good size building, with rooms upstairs for rent and a kitchen for serving meals.
Josiah and Nathan entered behind Ezra. A lovely young woman of Spanish ancestry asked them where they’d like to be seated.
The three took a table near the bar. There was a young man with long sandy brown hair standing at the bar drinking a beer. As they sat down Josiah saw him and called him over. He wanted to introduce him to Ezra.

+ + + + + + +

Vin Tanner was enjoying his beer. He was tired having spent the day helping Virgil Watson at the hardware store, working there part time to earn a few extra dollars. Ms Nettie’s birthday was coming up and he wanted to get her something nice. Tomorrow he’d finish the job and be able to get back to Ms Nettie’s ranch. Being in town too long made him feel claustrophobic.

Vin hadn’t missed the stranger with Josiah and Nathan when he came in. After studying the fancily dressed man, Vin decided he was more then he seemed to be on the outside. Those clothes looked new. He was either from one of the cities or it was an indication that he was an off-worlder, therefore an easy mark. But Vin didn’t think so. Something about his eyes and the way he looked over the room as he came in showed more predator then prey. Ziv was going to find out the hard way if Vin’s guess was right and tried to get the man into a game of poker. Vin heard Josiah call his name. He moseyed over and took a chair.

"Evening Josiah, Nathan," Vin acknowledged each with a nod of his head. Looking straight at Ezra, he waited.

"Vin, this is the friend from the University I spoke of, Ezra P. Standish. Ezra this is Vin Tanner, he is the best guide and tracker in this part of the country if not the whole planet. He’s also one of the men along with Nathan I thought might be interested in jointing that marshals program of yours." Josiah said.

"Not mine Josiah. I’m only here to advise, not to participate," Ezra reminded him. Josiah just smiled back at the younger man.

Vin took in the friendly banter between the two men and Nathan’s reactions. Nathan didn’t seem sure if he liked this rival for Josiah’s friendship. In Nathan’s eyes Josiah had taken his father’s place. The talks they shared helped Nathan feel better about his choices in life. Nathan didn’t voice it much, but Vin knew he’d like to do something more exciting than to be just a healer.

"Nice to met ya," Vin told Ezra, he turned to Josiah and said. "Judge is out of town." He finished his beer before he added, "See ya tomorrow." And left.

"A man of few words," remarked Ezra.

"You need to listen if Vin says something. It will be worth remembering," snapped Nathan.

"Ah meant no disrespect, Mr. Jackson, just stating the obvious." Ezra said in his own defense. "Ah take it Mr. Tanner is well liked and respected. May Ah inquire to what his story is?"

Nathan felt a little silly for snapping at Josiah’s friend. He didn’t know yet if he liked the off worlder but that didn’t mean he should be bad mannered. He was raised better than that. He would make up for it with what he knew about Vin. After all it wasn’t like it was a secret. Standish could ask anyone in town and they’d tell him. Only if he got it from Nathan would he get the facts and not a tall tale that they’d enhance with their own views.

Nathan sat back in his chair and took a sip of his beer before he started. "Vin’s from Texas." Seeing Ezra didn’t understand he clarified. "About twenty-five years ago an influenza outbreak went through the settlement there, killed a lot of people. Let the children alone and strangely the older population as well. Vin lost both his parents and went to live this his grandfather when he was very young. The old man taught Vin how to live off the land, he didn’t want his grandson to end up in an orphanage if anything happened to him."

"And of course it did," Ezra interrupted. Josiah kicked him under the table.

"Go on Nathan I never heard the story from someone who didn’t add their own spin to it. It would be nice to hear it from someone who didn’t embellish it." Josiah told him.

"Vin’s grandfather died a few years later and Vin took off into the wilderness, might have been about nine or ten at the time. He lived on his own for over two years before anyone was able to find him and only then because he stopped to help an injured Naturalness. He helped the man get back to his people. On the way back the man was able to talk him into staying with the tribe. They gave him enough freedom so he never felt trapped, got him used to being with people again. By the time he was in his teens he was making his living as a tracker and guide for the local ranchers and tourists around Texas."

"Ten years ago Ms Nettie, a rancher near here was checking her fences after a bad rain storm and found Vin more dead than alive in the creek running through her property. Someone had beaten him some thing awful and there were marks of an energy weapon on his back. Ms. Nettie was in her fifties then and wouldn’t weigh a hundred-pounds soaking wet, but somehow she managed to get him on her horse and back to her ranch. To hear her tell it, the teenager didn’t weigh as much as a good size sack of potatoes. She sent her eight-year-old niece into town for the Healer, my Father at the time. I was home from school on vacation and we rode out there. We met up with the Judge and he went with us. Good thing too considering what happened later."

Nathan took another swallow of his beer before continuing. "Vin was out of his head with fever, we got it down but it took a few days before we could get any answers out of him. Vin was still pretty much out of it but we did get the gist of his story. He was guiding a troop of tourists to one of the out lying ranches west of Texas. They told him they were thinking about buying it and settling down on O’tam. They wanted to see the land around it as well as to get a better idea of the area. They insisted at stopping in the hills at what most believe was once an O’tam community. There are places in the hills and mountains where you can find odd shape buildings half buried in the ground. They’ve been deserted a long time, long before the settlers got here, maybe even the O’tams. The O’tams asked that we don’t bother them till after they are gone. Any way they started digging through the ruins there. He tried to stop them and got beaten and tied up for his efforts.

That night he got himself untied and tried to make it out of camp. But he didn’t make it. The so-called tourists started shooting at him. He got as far as one of the dwellings they uncovered and took cover inside. Vin remembered trying to find a way out the back when they started firing on the house. There was a flare of light and he doesn’t remember anything else till he woke up in Ms. Nettie’s bedroom."

"What occurred next?" question Ezra.

"Well the Judge sent out feelers to find out what he could about Vin Tanner. It didn’t take long for the Judge to find out his life story and the local law could document what he told us. Vin had been hired to take a group out into the area and bring them back. The sheriff went out there to check on Vin’s story. He found the camp and the destruction of the site. Also found the bodies of all but one of the tourists Vin took out there. He wanted the Judge to hold Vin for questioning. The Judge was out of town when the sheriff got the writ asking to hold Vin till he got there. The town’s sheriff at the time was Sheriff Jack Bull, a narrow thinking man; an original idea would have died of loneliness in his head. He rode out to Ms. Nettie’s with one thought on his mind and that was to bring in Tanner as a murderer."

"I take it the Sheriff didn’t consider Vin innocent until proven guilty?" asked Josiah.

"No and it was lucky that my Father and I were out there checking up on our patient when he arrived. The fool actually tried to bully his way past Ms. Nettie. She almost shot him." Nathan said this with a smile as he remembered the look on the Sheriff’s face when Ms Nettie put her Spencer rifle in front of his nose and threatened to shoot him. She told him that the boy was in no condition to travel and he wasn’t a killer. The Sheriff started waving the printout of the writ around saying he had a right to bring Vin in. My father got it away from the Sheriff and read it. He stepped to Ms. Nettie’s side to back her up. The writ only wanted Vin for questioning, there was nothing in there about Vin being a murderer. Sheriff Bull couldn’t get past both of them and he knew Ms. Nettie would shoot him if he tried. So he agreed to wait for the Judge to return. That didn’t mean he kept his mouth closed. The old fool started some nasty rumors about Vin being a wanted killer and that Ms. Nettie and my Father were protecting him."

"By the time Judge Travis got back the Sheriff had half the town believing they had a mass murderer in their midst. The Sheriff from Texas and the Judge burned up the communications servers between here and there, but in the end they proved that Vin was at Ms. Nettie’s when the murders were committed and out of his head with fever. There was no way he could have been able to make it out of bed let alone travel the distance to get there."

The three men finished their drinks and ordered another round. Josiah looked thoughtful as he said.

"Of course there is the mystery of how Vin got to Four Corners in the first place. Texas is a far piece from here and not easily traveled. How did he travel that distance in one night to be found by someone who would help him? And what happened to the missing tourists who most likely killed the other looters and took off with the plunder from the ruins? You can see why people make up their own explanations to these questions."

"What variety of explanations have the respectable citizens of Four Corners arrived at?" asked Ezra

"Everything from teleportation to some kind of psychokinetic powers. That the real Vin Tanner died at the ruins and an O’tam is posing as Vin. Or that Vin really is a mass murderer hiding out in Four Corners.

"What do you think Josiah?" asked Nathan. He had never asked the learned man’s opinion on this subject before and he was curious.

"I think that the energy from the weapons fired at the house activated some kind of O’tam transporter and that’s how Vin got to Four Corners. As to why here and not somewhere else I don’t know. As to what happened to the looters, thieves don’t share. One of them must have wanted it all for them self and killed the rest."

"That has the highest probability. Why has Mr. Tanner stayed in your fair community?" asked Ezra.

"Vin feels beholding to Ms. Nettie. Once he got well he wanted to pay her back for her kindness and for having put her out for taking care of him. Casey, Ms. Nettie’s niece was only eight at the time and the two of them trying to run that ranch by themselves was hard. Most folks were happy to see young Tanner stay and help out," Nathan told him. "Plus I don’t think Vin ever felt at home anywhere else like he does with Ms. Nettie, not since his ma died. Ms. Nettie treats him like a son and he responds to that. A win, win situation for both of them I’d say."

Before Ezra could respond to that the saloon owner came up to the table.

"Josiah, Nathan how are you this evening?" asked Ziv, waiting for an introduction to the stranger. Ignoring their answers for the most part, he looked the mark over. There were definitely credits on this one: Ziv could smell it. Josiah made the introductions, leaving off Ezra’s last name. As Ferengis go by one calling, Ziv didn’t notice.

"Ziv, this is Ezra, my friend from Earth. Ezra, the saloon’s owner Ziv."

"Ah do admire your saloon sir, Ah’ve always been fascinated by this time period. The chance to examine the real thing was one Ah couldn’t pass up." Ezra made a point to gaze around the room letting his eyes settle for a moment on the gaming tables."

Ziv followed Ezra’s gaze and asked, "Do you play poker Ezra?"

"Yes, and Ah do want to try ma hand at a game while Ah’m here." Ezra put just enough expectation in his voice to gain the Ferengi’s interest. "Though Ah must warn you ma friends tell me Ah’m quite good," looking hopeful that Ziv would invite him to set in on a game.

"Well so am I. We can test our skills against each other," replied Ziv. "When would you like to play?"

"The night is still young," answered Ezra as he pulled out a handful of bills from his jacket. "Ah exchanged my credits for the local currency before leaving San Francisco. Ah do hope this will do? Ah prefer playing for cash, there’s something about the feel of it in your hands that makes the game more authentic, don’t you agree Ziv?"

Ziv swallowed hard, the mark had just pulled out enough cash to buy the saloon. The human was loaded. "Oh yes, that will do perfectly. We’ll play for cash, less misunderstanding that way."

Ziv couldn’t believe his luck. The off worlder thought he could play poker and admitted it in front of witnesses. Now when Ziv took his money the tourist couldn’t go running to Judge Travis saying he didn’t know what he was getting into. The Judge had made Ziv return a large pot after his last victim went to the Judge and complained that he hadn’t understood the rules. Just because Ziv had kept changing them through out the game shouldn’t have mattered.

"Perhaps I could interest you in a game now? Josiah, Nathan would you care to join us?" asked Ziv." He indicated the raised table where two other players were waiting.

Ezra and Josiah agreed to a game and went with Ziv to his table. Nathan went along to watch. On the way Nathan pulled Josiah aside and whispered. "You got to stop Ezra before he loses all that money. You know Ziv cheats at cards."

"Don’t worry Ezra’s been taught all the tricks by an expert." Josiah whispered back.

Nathan didn’t hold with big stakes gambling. A penny ante game between friends was one thing. A friendly game where no one got hurt by losing more than they could afford was all right. Ziv’s games were never friendly; he took his victims for all they had, leaving them destitute more often then not. While Ziv had never been caught openly cheating, there was no other explanation for some of his unexpected wins. The Ferengi handled the cards sloppily and changed the rules on inexperienced players.

By midnight, only Ziv, Ezra and the town banker Jeff Smith were still in the game. Josiah and Virgil Watson, the town’s hardware owner, had dropped out early when Ziv kept raising the level of the pot. But they stayed to watch.

Ezra had originally planned to play only a few hands to determine how dangerous the Ferengis was and now much influence he had in the town. Ezra didn’t care for Ferengis for personal reasons, but he knew better than to let that influence him. There was always an exception to the rule, but Ziv wasn’t it.

Ezra had been watching when they made their way to the owner’s personal table. The barmaids kept out of Ziv’s reach. The two young girls hardly seemed old enough to be working in a saloon. Ms. Recillos waited on their table herself. She carried a wicked looking knife in her belt. The Ferengi dropped even lower in Ezra’s judgment. Ms. Recillos shouldn’t have to defend herself or the girls under her charge from their own boss.

Besides, the Ferengi cheated. Worse, he cheated badly. The mirrors around the room were obvious. Seemingly they were innocently placed to cover the floor and bar to make the already good-sized rooms appear larger. Ziv could study a mirror in the opposite direction of his opponent and see the refection within a refection of his opponent’s cards. All Ezra need to do was keep his cards close and covered in his hands. The tabletop was covered in cloth with sensors no doubt imbedded in it. Ezra had ran his hand discreetly under the tabletop and felt flat thin circuit boards embedded in the wood, a sensor net. He had rebuilt too many boards in his youth to mistake the feel of them. No doubt they were sending signals from the player’s cards to Ziv. Ezra took care of that by taking his handkerchief from a pocket and patting his face and neck with it. By placing the folded cloth on the table instead of replacing it in his pocket he was now able to lay his cards down on top of it. The handkerchief was treated with chemicals that blocked any sensors from reading his cards.

Ziv was fuming; the human turned out to be a better player then Ziv had planned on. He wasn’t winning that many more games then Ziv was. But his pile of money was bigger than Ziv’s. He wasn’t about to let a mere human beat him at a game of chance. Ziv looked over at the Banker, his pile was smaller but he had won more than Ziv had planned for him to. Given time Ziv was planning to own the Banker as he now owned the sheriff, but not if the man didn’t lose more. Ziv looked over at the other human and tried once more to see his hand in the mirror. The damn human kept his hands over his cards, not allowing Ziv to get a clear look. And something was wrong with the table, it wasn’t responding to him. If Gin damage those sensors with his constant cleaning he’d take it out of his credits.

As the hour got later there were no customers left in the saloon. Only Josiah, Virgil Watson and Jeff Smith stayed to watch the action at the table. Nathan had long ago gone home to get some sleep. The two young barmaids also had been told to turn in. Gin and Inez Recillos sat at a table near by to get what ever was needed for those who stayed.

The poker game was now between Ezra and Ziv. The pots had grown bigger over the last hour at Ziv’s request. The Banker decided it was too rich a game for him. The one time Ezra had tried to bow out Ziv made a remark in Ferengis to Gin that made him laugh. Even if you didn’t understand the words you got the meaning by the nasty sounds they made. Ezra stayed in and Ziv found himself losing more often and always the larger pots. It was well past dawn when Ziv found himself with a winning hand but no money to back it up with. Somehow the human had won the last two large pots leaving Ziv with not enough cash to cover his bet. He had already taken the money out of the saloon’s cash box. It was time to put up or shut up and show your hand. He was about to throw in his cards, even if it meant he lost the game to a human. The human spoke, and as he did so Ezra laid his cards on the table in front of him.

"You shouldn’t make comments about an individual’s Mother when you are unaware if the individual you’re directing them to can converse in the same language. Someone less well-bred then maself would of challenged you to a duel or simply shot your ears off. Ah maself prefer to thrash you at a game you imagine you know now to play. In reality you play so badly that you can’t even cheat competently at it."

"You understand Ferengi, Mr.?" Ziv realize he hadn’t asked the stranger’s last name. Humans go by two callings. Not that it mattered. He was only a human after all.

"Standish, Ezra P. Standish and the delightful woman to whom you tried to insult is Maude Standish, ma Mother."

Gin’s feet hit the floor with a loud thump. Only Jeff and Virgil looked over at him. Everyone else’s attention was locked on to Ezra and Ziv.

"Maude Standish of Standish Enterprises?"

Ezra nodded his head and smiled.

"The one and the same."

Ziv’s mind was racing, he held a winning hand and the chance to win over a Standish was tempting. It would make his reputation on Ferenginar. To take down a Standish (even if it was only the son) would make him a hero in the eyes of his fellow Ferengis. Maude Standish had ruined many a Ferengis’ scheme to make profit. Ziv turn his eyes to Jeff Smith.

"Sorry Ziv I can’t open the bank till eight, you know that." The banker told him checking his watch. "That’s not for another hour and a half."

"Well it looks like this hand is mine. Ah win again, Ah was so looking for a challenge, too bad Ah didn’t find one." Ezra reached out to rake in the pot, only to have Ziv stop him with a question.

"Perhaps there something I can offer you that you’d be willing to take in place of cash?"

"What possibly could you offer me to do that?"

"The saloon."

"This room is not worth as much money as is on the table." Ezra responded.

"No not just the room, the saloon, this building." Ziv couldn’t believe Maude Standish’s son was so dense.

"You’re offering this building and the saloon."




"That’s not enough, hardly worth ma time, nor is it worth the money on the table." Ezra pushed everything he had won tonight and what he started the game with over to the center of the table adding it to the pot.

Ziv’s eyes got bigger. There was enough cash there to cover his projects for the next two years. Greed overcame his caution as well as the chance to enhance his reputation.

"Everything then, everything that goes with the saloon." Ziv told him.

Ezra stared at Ziv till he had Ziv’s and everyone else in the room’s attention fixed on him.

"Let me make sure Ah understand you Ziv. In order to cover your bet and make it worth ma while to stay in this game you are offering me, in front of witnesses the following. The saloon, the building the saloon is in, the ground under said building, anything that goes with the building and everything it takes in order to run this establishment in place of cash to cover your bet."


At Ezra’s nod of agreement Ziv called to his cousin.

"Gin go get all the deeds concerning the saloon." Ziv told his cousin.

Gin hurried to his cousin’s side and hissed at Ziv "You know the Ferengi Commerce Association has forbid any dealing with the Standishes. You’ll get us in trouble."

"Do what I say Gin, go." swatting his cousin off. "I’ll handle the FCA." Ziv laid his cards down and Gin went to do Ziv’s bidding.

Ms. Recillos came over to the table and before anyone could stop her she took the knife out of her belt and drove it into Ziv’s cards, pinning them to the table. She then pulled out another knife and did the same to Ezra’s.

"So no one can say the other cheated." She went back to stand beside Josiah and Virgil as they waited for Gin to return.

When Gin finally came back his hands were filled with papers. Dropping them on the table he said. "There, that’s all of them."

The banker picked them up and sorted through them. "You’ve got a different deed for each part of this business. There’s one for the land, the building, the saloon, the upstairs rooms, the kitchen, the stock and contracts for the staff."

"Is that enough for you Mister Standish?" asked Ziv.

"It will do," he said, taking a pen out of his jacket and handing it over to the banker.

"Mr. Smith before we show our hands will you do us the honor of writing a brief line or two on the back of the saloon’s deed for Ziv to sign that he agrees to the conditions stated. The others can sign as witnesses after we show our hands."

"Sure of yourself’ aren’t you Standish?" Hissed Ziv.


The banker did as he was asked and Ziv signed the paper. Ezra checked to make sure Ziv actually signed his name and not written something down in Ferengi that he could declare wasn’t his name at a later date.

"Who gets to go first?" asked the banker.

"Why don’t we allow Ms. Recillos that privilege. So that neither us can accuse the other of cheating," smiled Ezra, "If that’s all right with you of course Ziv."

Ziv knew to say no would open him up to a cheating charge later so he agreed. Inez Recillos walked up to the table in full sight of everyone there, pulled out her knife and turned over Ziv’s cards. A straight flush, jack of diamonds, ten of diamonds, nine of diamonds, eighth of diamonds and a seven of diamonds. A very good hand, a winning hand. Ziv reach for the pot.

"Not so fast, we haven’t seen Standish’s cards," said Virgil, The others in the room had all but forgotten Virgil Watson, but he had been quietly watching both sides and he wanted to see this through to the end. Inez pulled out the other knife and turned the cards. Ace of spades, king of spades, queen of spades, jack of spades, and a ten of spades; a royal flush.

"Ah do believe a royal flush prevails over a straight flush, Ziv," said Ezra.

Ziv fell back in his chair, he had lost. That was impossible. He was Ziv, a Ferengi; he never lost. He looked over at Standish sitting back in his chair with a smirk on his face; evil bastard. Ziv caught his eye to let him know he wasn’t going to take this lying down. Ziv watched as Standish reached under the table and pulled something lose. Standish then tossed that something to Ziv who caught it. It was part of a sensor net. Ziv snapped his mouth closed, forgetting his protest at losing. Later he’d find a way to get even.

Josiah watched Ziv back down when Ezra had pulled out what looked like a piece of a sensor card. So that was how Ziv had been cheating, he’d never thought to check for anything so obvious. Ezra picked up the deeds and contracts from the pile of money as well as a handful of bills. The Banker was busy counting the pot, happy to be handling the large sum.

"Mister Smith, if you’ll give me a receipt for the total when your done, Ah would like to open an account at the bank. Will it be alright if Ah come by later this afternoon to do the paperwork?" Ezra told him.

"You trust me with this much money. Mr. Standish?"

"By the time you’ve finished counting it and join Josiah and maself for breakfast it will be eight o’clock. We can then walk over to the bank with you, seeing you safely to your place of business. Therefore Ah don’t see why not. Excuse me Ah need to speak to Ms. Recillos." Besides, Ezra thought to himself, Ah already know how much money was in the pot and there are too many witnesses who saw you with the cash for you to get away with stealing any of it.

Ezra walked over to where Josiah and Ms. Recillos sat. He tore up her contract and placed the pieces in Ms. Recillos’ hands.

"Ms. Recillos Ah believe these are yours. Now that you are released from your contracts with Ziv, would you be agreeable to staying and working with me? There is also the issue of the under age barmaids. These are their contracts. Ah give them to you for safekeeping. If it is not acceptable to dispatch the young ladies back to their homes, tasks should be found that keep them off the saloon floor. As the manager, you can employ new assistants to service the saloon floor that are … older."

Inez studied her new boss and smiled. "He’s everything you said he’d be Josiah, and more."

"What have you been up to old man?" Ezra accused his mentor.

"Just helping out a friend." Josiah said as he patted Ezra on the back. "Inez will be of great help to you as you settle in. She has a keen mind for business."

Which reminded Ezra, "Ms. Recillos the first thing Ah wish you to take care of is the removal of that table. Ah’m certain you are acquainted with the one Ah’m discussing. Ah believe it would make exceptional kindling."

Laughing, Inez said. "I’ve been wanting to get rid of that thing since Ziv and Gin dragged it in here. And Mr. Standish, it would please me if you would call me by my given name of Inez. All my friends do and Josiah assured me we are going to be friends." Inez walked away before Ezra could make another comment.

Josiah and Ezra turn their attention to Ziv and Gin who still sat at the table.

"It might prove to be a bit harder to remove them from the residence," mused Josiah.

"Does it matter? You got me to get the contracts from them."

Josiah smiled and asked Ezra. "Now that you own a part of this planet what are you going to do with it?"

"Josiah stop trying to change the subject. You knew Ah couldn’t walk away and let those children work here. Ah suppose Inez has been the only thing stopping Ziv from using them… inappropriately?"

Josiah sighed. "Ziv has documents that state the girls are older them they are. They are so afraid of him they won’t say otherwise. The Judge can’t do anything unless Ziv hurts them first and then it would be too late."

"Josiah," Ezra’s sigh matched his friend’s. "Not only have you gone native, you’re starting a new profession as a con-artist. Please find someone else to practice on besides me." Ezra picked up his hat and placed it on his head. "Shall we take the Banker to breakfast and then to the bank, where you can watch me create another reason that will tie me to this planet."

They stopped to pick up the money and the Banker. Virgil had already left to get some sleep. He’d let Vin open the hardware store today. Ziv and Gin glowered at Ezra as he picked up the cash.

"Ah see no reason why you can not clear out your personal items by the end of the week. Ms. Recillos is on ma payroll and will supervise the removal. If you decide not to remove said items by that time, they will be boxed up and left out on the sidewalk." With that Ezra and Josiah left with the Banker in tow.

The Ferengis could only glare at the back of Standish as he left. Even if the human had a fatal accident the saloon would not go back to them. Also it would make an enemy of his Mother; a fate worse them death if the rumors about Maude Standish were true. And no doubt they were. No, there had to be another way to get the saloon back. Ziv would find it and get his revenge on this Standish as well.


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