Two Feds Walk Into a Bar...

Now under veil of darkness, the air conditioning in the Gold Strike Saloon was beginning to fight back. Dorian’s coat lay folded and draped across his medical bag, the broad brimmed hat perched atop it. This did call more attention to his pistols than he preferred. However, the quarter credit ante and a pot that never exceeded five credits wasn’t the sort of a draw to make a body get tetchy.

Jennifer was dealing. “Ante up, my lovelies,” she announced to the table as hands in the early stage of arthritis fumbled out five cards to each.

Dorian tossed his coin, then gathered up his cards. “Darlin’,” he chuckled, “you have cursed me. Ah’d best take three.” Forget the fact that he was discarding two kings and a jack. Having won the last couple hands, it was time for a little humility.

He was seated in his customary position, back to the corner, able to take in the entire bar room, the swinging doors, and the street beyond the plate glass windows. So far, the regulars at the Gold Strike knew how to go about the business of drinking cheap liquor. Carlotta was at her ease behind the bar. She’d just set a plate of the establishment’s barbecue in front of a formidable looking miner. The fragrance was enough to set his own stomach growling.

The kid was still there. Looking right at him.

He’d come in nigh on thirty minutes past, his eyes sweeping the room until they found Dorian. Out came a ragged little book, by the looks of it a half credit dreadful. The kid kept poring over the little volume, his study punctuated with bouts of unabashed staring at the dentist, until his eyes would drop to repeat the cycle. He wasn’t wearing a gun, so at this point, Dorian regarded him as just a curiosity.

“You’re the doctor,” the dealer replied as three fresh cards scooted toward him. Jennifer slipped a stray wisp of hair behind one ear as she glanced about the table. Anybody else?”

McAllister dropped a pair. “Yup,” he nodded. “Two, if you please. Doc,” he asked, “what’s that piece of shiny out back beside the barbecue pit?”

Dorian offered to pour from his bottle. “That, my friend, is the Denta-Kiln-Twenty-Five-Hundred.”

“I didn’t get no part of that,” the local replied. “Thankee.”

“Bettah days,” He lifted his glass, clinking with those who were keeping up. After swallowing the shot, he continued. “It’s a kiln. Ah’m borrowin’ tha saloon’s wall power tonight tah complete a set of ceramic crowns. Speakin’ of which,” the dentist flipped open his pocket watch. By his timer, Jacy’s new crowns had another thirty-two minutes’ firing, followed by an hour of cooldown before the safety locks would disengage.

His gaze trailed upward, taking in Maria’s photograph. It seemed an odd thing to him, the way he’d resorted to glancing at the picture. While Dorian’s inner skeptic would choose to scoff at these musings, an impression was taking root. Something he couldn’t quite identify…or perhaps, had yet to muster the courage. “Is this how it’s supposed to happen?” he questioned himself on more than one occasion. “Then what the Tā mā de was Shakespeare thinking?

“Tick tock…Earth to Doc.” Simon raised an eyebrow. “Care to join us?”

Adler gave a wry smile as he tossed an ante. “Ah beg pardon,” he said as the pocket watch slipped into his vest. “Just a touch of rumination.”

“Well, ruminate on this,” the little man proclaimed as two more bits landed in the kitty.

“Simon,” Jennifer observed, “I thought it was part your bedtime.”

McAllister chuckled. “It is. Mark my words. He wins this pot, he’s on his way home to Raul fastern’ you can say “whips and chains.”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Simon offered a smirk. “You calling, or stalling?”

“We know, alright,” Jennifer smiled. “It’s called window shades, Simon. You should look into them.”

“Ah salute you, sir,” Dorian grinned as he filled glasses. “To love unbound…or not…”

“And I gotta fold,” McAllister chuckled after his drink. "South ridge at six o’clock is gettin’ a might close.” He dropped his cards on the table. Good night, y’all. Simon, take the doc to the cleaners for me.”

Adler nodded a farewell. “That’s a certainty,” he said as he laid his own hand down. “Garbage in, garbage out.”

Jennifer dropped her cards. “White flag for me, too…what is that about?”

Dorian’s eyes had lifted. “The makings of a bad joke,” he observed. “Two Feds walk intah a bar…” He lowered his eyes. Wouldn’t take much to follow the progress of two purple bellies in full battle dress as they went from patron to patron. “Deal us a fresh hand, Jennifer,” he said quietly.

She was in the act of tossing out cards when the soldiers stepped up. “How long you been here?” asked one of the pair.

Dorian pointed at the bottle. “That was full when we started,” he smiled. “Bout two hours, Ah conjure.”

The soldier regarded the table, with it’s collection of shot glasses, cards, and the small pile of credits in the center. He handed a tablet to Simon. “Any of you know this person?”

“No,” Simon passed the device to Jennifer.

“Me, either.”

The tablet crossed to Dorian, its’ screen aglow with a frozen video image. He couldn’t make out a lot of the surrounding, as the camera was focused on a single doorway, and the figure who appeared to be exiting. The man held a bag of some weight, judging by the dip to his shoulder. Though the clothing looked familiar, he didn’t need to waste his time studying that, when the image of the man’s face was so clearly displayed. Thomas Devron…Lunar Veil’s mechanic, looked up from the screen.

“Can’t say Ah’ve evah seen ‘im,” Dorian said as he casually returned the unit.

The soldier eyed him suspiciously. “What’s your name?”

“Dorian Adler, Doctah of Dental Surgery. Mah card, sir.”

“Lotta guns for a dentist,” the Fed observed. He nudged the muzzle of his weapon toward the pearl handles on Dorian’s belt.

“Difficult neighborhood,” Adler quipped. “Sometimes, display can be tha best deterrent.”

The soldiers eyed the little group for a moment, then turned. “Go home,” the lead ordered. He dropped Dorian’s card onto the tabletop. “Lock your doors.”

“Sage advice,” the dentist nodded as the soldiers moved off. “Ah conjure tha streets are gonna start clearin’. Y’all might want to be behind yah doors before it’s just all Feds with attitudes rangin’ about.”

Jennifer stood. “Don’t need to tell me twice. It was fun.” She gathered her things, politely tucked her chair, and made her way into the night.

Simon was still seated. “I never called,” he said, disappointment in his eyes.

“Please do, sir,” Dorian gestured.

Simon’s cards landed on the table. “Nothing,” he said. “Nothing!”

The dentist laughed. “There’s a classic tale from Earth-That-Was. The lead character had a great quote. “Sometimes nothin’ is a real cool hand,” he grinned. “Tha title eludes me fah tha moment..”

“Sounds good,” Simon smiled as he scooped up the meagre pot. “Nice meetin’ you, Doc.”

“Likewise.” Dorian watched the little man as he hurried out into the street. A pair of roving Fed soldiers immediately blocked his path. Out came a screen. Devron’s image again. ”They’re hot tah find our machanic,” Adler thought of the building purple threat.

He checked his pocket watch. An hour and ten ‘til he could pack it up. Then again, Dorian rethought the notion of heading back to the ship before morning. The sight and noise of the mule, poorly driven as it would be by himself, was exactly not the big neon arrow Lunar Veil and her fugitive mechanic needed pointing in their direction tonight.

Perhaps it would be wise to book a room from Carlotta. He glanced toward the bar. All but a few stools were empty.

And there was that kid. Staring holes into him.

“Alright, young man,” Dorian said aloud, “yah been lookin me ovah all night. C’mon. Sit down an’ tell me why.”

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