Some Things are Permanent

Benjamin sat, shuffling the cards through his hands. Even though he didn’t actually play anymore, he still enjoyed the sound the cards made as he moved them from one hand to the other. They had a certain scent to them that never failed to make him smile as he remembered the games played and the hands won.

He would have liked to play a hand or two, but the sheriff had absolutely forbidden it, since learning that he played with a marked deck. No matter how much he tried to explain that the markings were on a place where he couldn’t feel them while dealing… No matter how many times he told the sheriff that the marks could only be detected when you held them, fanned, as you would during play, it seemed to make no difference. The sheriff was firm in his rule: no one could play with a marked deck, whether they were intending to cheat or not. The temptation would always be there.

However, the simple act of shuffling the cards was relaxing for him, so he shuffled them now. He caught the scent of lavender and glanced over one shoulder. One of the girls was coming over to his table. He could tell it was one of the girls because he could see the peach of her flesh at her shoulders and legs. No other woman would be so scantily clad.

“Hello, my dear,” he said, as he started laying out the cards on the table. He could play solitaire, at least. No one placed bets on solitaire, so his tiny marks meant nothing.

“Hello, honey,” she replied, sitting down beside him. She kicked her feet up on the table in a most un-ladylike manner. “How’s everything going with that lawman? Is he still giving you a tough time?”

“He keeps telling me what a school teacher should and should not do,” he said, shrugging. By her voice, he knew it was a girl who called herself Pansy. Whether that was truly her name or not, he could not say. He shrugged. “I feel compelled to remind him that I am not yet a school teacher. He does not seem to care.”

“Lawmen are funny like that,” she said, shrugging.

He noticed a dark marking on Pansy’s otherwise pale thigh and frowned. He squinted attempting to decipher what it might be. However, before he could, Pansy offered an explanation.

“My ma always told me not to put anything permanent on myself that I might later regret,” she said. She heaved a sigh. “It’s funny how… when I got the tattoo, I thought it was true love and it would last forever. Then, as soon as someone better came along, he dropped me like a hot potato. Most they could do was add a ‘d’ to the word love.”

“You should always listen to your mother,” he said, moving the black queen onto the red king. For some reason, what he’d told Pansy struck him as humorous. He chuckled softly and then nodded to himself. It was something that his own mother had said to him often enough.

“Good advice,” Pansy said. She looked away as a man strode into the saloon. “Here comes trouble,” she said, as she put her feet on the floor.

The man stepped over to Benjamin and slammed his hands down on the table, scattering the cards. “What are you doing, talking to my woman?” he demanded.

Benjamin arched an eyebrow at him. “Miss Pansy is an employee here,” he said, waving at her. “As am I. Is she forbidden from conversing with her co-workers?”

“Get outa here, Clem,” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “We were through when you took up with that two-bit farm girl, Betsy.”

“You’ve got my name inked on your thigh,” Clem retorted.

Pansy gave him a bitter laugh and lifted her skirt to show him the tattoo. “Loved,” she said, “Past tense, like our relationship.” Dropping her skirt, she said, “Now get outa here, before I call the sheriff.”

Benjamin gasped when Clem struck Pansy across the face. He was on his feet just in time to keep her from falling into the table. As he steadied her, he sent a glare at Clem. “Whatever your disagreement might be, there’s no excuse to strike her.”

“You stay out of this,” Clem snapped. He grabbed Pansy by the arm and pulled her away from Benjamin. “This is between me and Pansy.”

Shaking his head, Benjamin looked around for someone to help them. Most people were keeping back from the group. He couldn’t really blame them. However, he dearly hoped that Miss Rose had sent someone to fetch the sheriff.

When Clem moved to strike Pansy a second time, Benjamin stepped between them. “Stop,” he said, as a blow caught him on his upraised arm. He squeaked when Clem shoved him backwards. However, his intervention had given Pansy a chance to run out of reach of her attacker.

Benjamin gasped when Clem caught him by the arm. He raised his other hand, to block a blow that would have caught him on the ear. “Stop,” Benjamin said a second time. This time, his words were echoed by someone else.

Clem paused and turned around. A tall figure was standing in the doorway of the saloon. When he spoke again, his voice was soft, but it carried a hint of a warning in it. “You wanna stop that, Clem,” he said. “As it stands, you’re going to come with me to the jail for the night. Don’t make it worse by doing that man any harm.”

Growling, Clem shoved Benjamin back and away. He stumbled and nearly fell, except that he caught himself on the table. He heaved a sigh and then turned to face the lawman as he was dragging Clem out of the saloon.

Sighing, Benjamin turned to where he’d seen Pansy flee. “It’s safe to come down now.” A slight figure peered out of the doorway that led into the kitchen. As a guess, he smiled and said, “The sheriff has him well in hand, Miss Pansy. Are you hurt badly?”

“Just bruised,” she said, returning to his side. “I can’t believe Clem hit you like that! Are you all right?”

Benjamin smirked. “Just bruised,” he said, shaking his head. What was he thinking? A year ago he wouldn’t have done that. Something about the town was changing him and he couldn’t decide if he liked the change or not.

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