Christmas was a little less than two weeks away. Ezra was walking past the church when a familiar voice hailed him.
"Ezra! I need a favor."
"Good day, Mr. Sanchez." He started to hurry away.
"C'mon, Ezra, you can sacrifice a few minutes for a good cause."
"Well," he said reluctantly. "If all it's going to cost me is time..."
He followed Josiah up the church steps and into the sanctuary. Seated in a pew were two children: a boy about Billy's age, and a girl who looked to be slightly older. Ezra glanced at them and turned his attention to Josiah.
"What services did you require?"
"I gotta go out to the Williams place and deliver last rites."
Ezra looked at him in surprise. "Didn't you do that last month?"
Josiah nodded. "The old gentleman likes to be prepared. I need you to look after the children for me for a little while."
"Baby-sitting now?" Ezra smiled in mild amusement.
Josiah took him aside. "They were orphaned recently. Just arrived in town on the train to live with relatives in Eagle Bend. Aunt and uncle are on their way." He turned to go. " I'll be back in an hour or so."
Ezra nodded reluctantly. "Try to make it forty-five minutes," he called after Josiah's retreating back.
He turned to the children and forced a grin. They stared back. Ezra sat down beside them.
"Well, children, my name is Ezra. And you are...?"
"Asa," replied the boy shyly.
"Ruth," the girl whispered softly.
Ezra thought a moment. What should he say to them by way of conversation? They seemed to be very quiet children. Well-behaved, he thought gratefully.
"So, are you two looking forward to Christmas?"
Ezra paused again. "Have you been good so St. Nicholas will bring you nice presents?"
They looked at each other, looked at him and shrugged.
He was starting to think unkind thoughts about Mr. Sanchez leaving him in this predicament. "Haven't you been good?"
Ruth nodded. "We're Jewish," she said simply.
"Ah." Ezra nodded in understanding.
"It's Hannukah for us," she continued.
"I can show you a game," the boy said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a small wooden top.
"Show me," smiled Ezra, secretly grateful for the diversion.
"It's a dreidel," explained Ruth. She took it from Asa and pointed to each side as she talked. "The letters on each side are ‘shin,' ‘hey', ‘gimel,' and ‘nun.' It means ‘a miracle happened here.' We use candy or nuts or raisins--"
"--Or gelt," Asa piped up.
"Those are coins. You spin the dreidel and when it stops you have to do something. It depends on the letter on top. If it's ‘nun', you don't do anything and the next person spins. If it's ‘shin,' you have to put a coin in. If it's ‘gimel,' you get all the coins. If it's ‘hey,' you only get half."
Ezra smiled thoughtfully. "Sounds like my kind of game."
"We have coins, see?" Asa held them up in his palm. "Want to play?"
"Show me how," said Ezra.
It took Josiah a little over an hour to return to the church. He found Ezra hunched in the corner playing the dreidel game with the children and looking somewhat frustrated.
"Ezra, you're relieved now. Thanks for your services."
Ezra nodded and straightened. He said his good-byes to the children and started to leave. He passed Josiah on his way out.
"Have fun?" Josiah grinned.
Ezra looked at him, and shook his head, puzzled.
"I've tried for the past hour, Mr. Sanchez, but I simply cannot uncover an angle to this game that can be exploited. Now, I ask you, what kind of a game is that?"
Josiah's eyes sparkled in merriment. "This time of year, it's the best kind."