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“What the hell was that?” asked Maite as she stared at the door Donny had just gone through.
“My apologies.” The barkeep was suddenly standing over their table, drinks in hand. He was a bear of a man, the dirty apron he wore barely covering his large belly. His bare arms were massive and covered with thick curly hair, in contrast to his head which was bald. He had a jagged scar that crossed across his left check.
“These are on the house,” he said as he placed the drinks on the table in front of Maite and Kepa. “You know, he isn’t a bad kid, but when he gets a few drinks in him, it brings out a meanness.”
“Thank you, er…” said Kepa as he picked up the glass and took a sip.
“Benjamin Jones. Most just call me Big Ben. Doesn’t help that my ma was from England,” he added with a chuckle
“Well, thank you Big Ben,” said Kepa as he took another sip.
“Who was that guy?” asked Maite.
“Donny McCowen,” answered Ben as he pulled up a chair. “His pa owns one of the bigger cattle outfits around here. They think all of the land belongs to them. They hate the sheep, call them hoofed locusts. And so they tend to hate you herders too.”
“I haven’t even seen a sheep yet!” exclaimed Kepa.
“Doesn’t matter, really. They hate all of you Basques.”
“At least you don’t hate us,” muttered Maite as she took a sip of her own drink.
“I owe my life to a herder. Before all of this–” Ben swept his hand, indicating the bar — “I was a cattleman, fancied myself a cowboy even. I was up in the hills with my horse, when we were surprised by a thunderstorm. My horse got spooked and threw me. I landed hard on the ground, hit my head on a rock.” He pointed to the scar on his cheek. “That’s where I got this. Anyways, a herder found me and took me to his camp. I caught a fever and thought I was going to die, but he took care of me until the next supply run came and was able to bring me to town.” Ben shook his head. “They’re just people, you know, trying to make a life. I don’t know why everyone has to always be fighting.
“Anyways,” said Ben as he stood and put his chair back at another table. “Those drinks aren’t going to serve themselves, and I certainly don’t want those guys serving each other.” He pointed to the group of men at the bar. “Nice talking with you.”
Kepa and Maite lifted their glasses. “Same.”
“So,” said Maite when they were alone again. “What about the zatiak? Have you seen anything?”
“No, nothing, but then I’ve only been to my room and in the dining hall. You?”
Maite shook her head. “No, nothing either. I have a small room with a couple of the other young women. It’s not in there, at least not as far as I’ve seen.” She took another sip. “Do you think De Lancre is with these cowboys?”
Kepa shrugged. “They’re mean enough for him, it seems. But, I haven’t seen any hint of him yet.”
“We’ll have to keep our eye out, for both him and that Donny.”
“Well, I’m heading out in the next day or two, for the hills,” replied Kepa. “I don’t think I’ll find much up there. But it’s the role I have in this bubble. I don’t think I can just ignore it.”
Maite sighed. “I’m just not sure what to do. Last time, it was so obvious. Blas’ suitcase was glowing so brightly.”
Kepa nodded. “I guess they can’t all be that easy.”
“If you call Blas getting roasted alive easy.”
“There is that.”
Maite took a last sip of her drink. “Let’s get going. I have to get up early to feed you guys.”
Kepa nodded as they stood up. “Thanks Ben,” he waved as they headed to the door.
Once outside, they walked down the steps and turned down the walkway, heading back to the boarding house. After only a few steps, however, two figures silhouetted by the moon appeared in front of them.