Please note, this is a scene that was deleted from The Alchemy of Desire during the first round of edits, but I hope you enjoy it. It shows a little more of the “brotherly” interaction between Diah and Cager.
Diah secured the last of their supplies in the four large saddle bags they’d bought earlier that day. “Are you sure we have everything we need?”
“Pretty sure,” Cager replied, not bothering to look up from the shiny brass rifle scope. He slid a lens into the end and peered through it. “Amazing!”
“You can hit a buffalo from almost a quarter of a mile using this device,” the man behind the counter boasted.
Diah snorted. “If you have a weapon that can fire that far with any measure of accuracy.”
Cager slipped in a new lens and took another peek. “My rifle can.”
The man behind the counter seemed impressed, but Diah just rolled his eyes. By rifle, he meant a wand that was crafted to look like a rifle. He never quite understood his brother’s fascination with having wands disguised as guns. “While you continue playing with that, I’m going to drop off our supplies at the hotel.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to take a look at this? You of all people should be interested in the latest technology.”
“If you’re referring to the limited technology the government will allow, not really.” He didn’t intend to speak loud enough to be overheard, but the scowl on Cager’s face let him know he had been.
The man behind the counter laughed. “Don’t worry, young man. You’re not the first non-wielder to express frustration with the new laws since the war. There have been many of your kind that have passed through my shop over the years to gather supplies on their way to places without so many government restrictions. I comply with the current laws — I don’t want any trouble with the Feds — but I remember how it was before the war, too.”
Diah gave him a half-smile, and Cager’s expression darkened. Not that it mattered. Most people never realized his brother was a wielder. Cager liked it that way. He preferred to keep his secrets to himself, whereas Diah saw no reason for deceit.
He hefted the bags onto their horses. Although he considered himself strong, he knew he couldn’t carry the almost two hundred pounds worth of supplies through the crowded streets of St. Joseph on his shoulders, even if the distance was a little more than three blocks. Behind him, the streams of smoke on the river announced the approach of another riverboat. He hoped they would be on it when it pulled out in the morning. The sooner this nonsense was over, the better.
It took him nearly an hour to drop off the bags at their hotel and then secure the horses at a nearby livery stable for the night. When he returned to the store, the man behind the counter was wrapping the rifle scope in several layers of brown paper. Cager leaned against the wall a few feet away, talking with a man dressed in well worn buckskins. A trapper, from the looks of him. And one who hadn’t had a bath in several years, as well, judging by how the caked-on dirt stiffened the sleeves of his shirt and outlined his fingernails.
“It’s rather late in the year to be going to Dakota Territory without a place to stay,” the trapper said as Diah approached them. The musty smell of smoke surrounded him like a halo. “Winter comes early to those parts. There’ll be snow on the ground by October.”
“I understand that,” Cager replied. “I don’t intend on staying up there that long. I just want to snag myself a buffalo. It’s one of those things I said I would do before my thirtieth birthday.”
“And I’m telling you that you ain’t going to find a guide willing to take you into those parts at this time of the year. Most of the folks familiar with the area are either returning east now like me or preparing to hunker down for winter. Besides, them Sioux have been acting a bit antsy lately.”
The more Diah listened, the more he thought this was a bad idea. But Cager remained resolved to go. “Surely, you must know someone who’d be willing to take us up there for the right price.”
The trapper scratched his grizzled beard. “Well, there’s Oni Matthews.”
The man behind the counter looked up from his wrapping. “That’s just asking for trouble.”
“Shut up, Clarence,” the trapper said. “No one knows those parts as well as Matthews. Of course, that knowledge comes at a high price, especially considering all the dangers involved. You can lose fingers and toes in those Dakota winters. But, seeing as how you’re determined to go, I can arrange a meeting.”
Cager’s mouth formed a tight line. “Tell Matthews we’ll meet him in the Golden Rose tonight.” He snatched the scope from the counter and stomped out of the store.
Diah followed him. “Maybe we should listen to his advice and wait until spring.”
“I told you before, you don’t have to go if you don’t want to, but I need to get that hide to Lamont before the solstice. That’s a little less than four months away. I can’t wait until spring. Besides, maybe that old goat was trying to talk us out of it so he can find it himself.”
“You didn’t tell what we were looking for, did you?”
Cager stopped and pulled him out of the middle of the street. “I’m not stupid enough to do that, and you’d be wise to follow my lead. We’re going buffalo hunting because I want to kill one before I turn thirty, got it?”
Diah nodded. More tricks, more deception. That was how Cager worked. “Next question: why do we have to meet this Matthews person in a saloon? Why can’t meet him in the dining room of our hotel?”
“You’ve seriously spent too much time on the farm reading Mom’s bible.”
“Don’t mock me! Just because I’m still trying to act civilized in this town doesn’t make me less of a man.”
Cager replied with a cold, half-laugh. “I’m assuming this Matthews is a trapper type. How many of the guests would be happy to see that walk into their prim and proper dining room?”
“You have a point. I just hope we don’t have to wait too long in there. I hate saloons.”
“What do you hate about them?” Cager asked as he resumed walking. “The tits? The legs? Or knowing your moral code makes them all off limits?”
“Why does everything revolve around sex with you?”
“Because it’s one of the few things left in this world that still brings me pleasure.”
Diah sighed but said no more. Maybe one of these days, Cager would settle down, but he wasn’t going to hold his breath. They entered the Golden Rose as the sun was setting and found a table near the bar. He lowered his eyes and focused on the grains in the wood instead of the abundance of woman flesh that filled the smoky room.
“Want anything to drink? Sarsaparilla?”
He clenched his hands into fists and fought off the urge to belt his brother. He always knew how to get under his skin like that. Instead, he counted to ten before answering, “A beer will be fine.”
Cager laughed as he went to the bar and returned a few minutes later with two mugs of warm beer. He glanced around the room. “Slim pickings here. Not sure if I want to chance it tonight with any of these gals.”
“You mean you’ll ignore your carnal desires for once?”
“Yeah, maybe you’re rubbing off on me. I’m getting pickier.”
Diah gave him a wry smile. “Quality, not quantity?”
“When was the last time you got laid?” Cager’s grin widened when Diah stared at the floor. “That long, huh?”
“I prefer to spend my time trying to find a proper wife instead of bedding anything that comes my way.”
His brother took swig from his mug. “At least you’re not whining about Becky Morris anyone. I never understood what you saw in her.”
At the mention of her name, Diah felt a little twinge in his heart. When he returned home from war, he discovered Becky had married someone else and then had died in childbirth a few months after that. Time had dulled the pain of loss and betrayal, but he doubted he could ever feel the same way for anyone else again. He had yet to meet a woman that could stir those emotions in him like she did.
At last, Cager broke the silence. “I guess we won’t be waiting here long,” he said as he nodded towards the doorway.
Diah turned and saw the trapper from earlier was talking to an Indian woman. His squaw-wife, probably. Strangely enough, her clothing appeared more civilized that her husband’s. Her long sleeved burgundy shirted belted around her small waist, and a long navy skirt flowed underneath it. She was kind of pretty, in an odd way, with her coal black hair and high cheekbones. He wondered how someone like the trapper had convinced her to marry him. She had to be a good thirty years his junior. Her eyes scanned the room before settling on them. Then she approached their table alone.
“Good evening, gentlemen. I’m Oni Matthews. I understand you’re looking for a guide into the Dakota Territories.”