These are short stories put up each Friday that you can read for free. By the next Friday the post will be taken down and a new one will go up.
Cecil and Old Rich and several of their men rode hard and rode fast, coming out of the canyon and out along Grasshopper Creek. They kept up the pace and found themselves on the outskirts of Bannack by nightfall. Cecil steered them toward the main drag and then stopped outside the Crystal Palace.
“Let’s have a drink,” he said, and started down from his horse.
Neither Old Rich or any of the others argued with that and within a minute, two for some, they were inside.
The Crystal Palace had seen better days, but then Bannack had seen ‘em too. Three years ago Virginia City had beaten her out for the title of territorial capital. That and the gold playing out had played havoc on her fortunes. Several boarded-up saloons, dry goods stores, and other signs of decay had met them on their ride in. Usually that’d mean better days for the Crystal, but she was about as dead as could be, just four patrons playing poker at one corner table.
“Whiskey,” Cecil said as he came in, raising his money up for the bartender to see. A bottle was quickly produced, six glasses as well. “Drink up, men,” Cecil continued, not paying much attention as he made his way over to the card table.
“We’re full,” one of the men said before he’d gotten within ten feet.
“Oh, I see a–” Cecil started to say, pointing the one empty chair there.
“We’re full,” the man said again, and Cecil could tell it was one of the men with his back to him. The Civil War veteran nodded, put up his hands as he did so, even though he knew the man that’d said the words couldn’t see him.
“Sorry,” he said, and took a few steps backward before turning about, a sour look on his face as he glanced at Old Rich, a few of the men.
“What the hell was that all about?” Old Rich said as he and Cecil huddled down over their glasses of whiskey at the bar.
“Beats me,” Cecil said, looking over his shoulder at the table. The men continued to play cards, just the four of them.
“Can you get in?” Old Rich pressed. “We could use the money, after all.”
Cecil nodded, though he wasn’t sure he could get in. If he could, he knew he could take ‘em, however. “I dunno,” he said at last, taking a sip of whiskey as he darted his eyes about in thought, “I figure they’re not gonna leave an empty chair for long and–”
Just then there was the scrape on the floor of a chair moving backward. Cecil and Old Rich looked back at the table and saw one of the men getting up, shaking his head in frustration all the while.
“Lost, and lost bad,” Old Rich said, and Cecil knew the old timer was right. It was then that the man at the table, the one that’d spoken – he was sure – turned about and looked at him.
“We’re not full anymore,” he said, giving a mischievous look their way.
Cecil smiled, stood up straight and straightened his jacket. “Don’t mind if I do,” he said, and started over. Old Rich warily watched him go.
“What’s the game?”
“Draw poker,” the man replied as Cecil sat down. The veteran sized him up – the man was about his age, approaching 40, a few scars around the eyes but a face that could be trusted…if it was called for.
“I’m in,” Cecil said, and soon the cards were moving, a two-bit ante on each hand and not much more than a dollar raised on any of ‘em. Cecil quickly got a feel for the game quick, the players even sooner. He saw their tells, their shows, their signs and their tactics. Within the hour he had a sizable pile of winnings in front of him, probably $35 or more if he had to guess.
“You’re good,” the man said, the first thing he’d said since the game had started besides the basic call for cards.
“I play when I can,” Cecil said with a smile, then, “name’s Cecil Hampton, veteran of Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah.”
“Are you?” the man said. “Well I’m Kendrick Drake, veteran of Lee’s Army at Petersburg.”
Cecil frowned. “That was a tough affair.”
“That it was. What’s also tough is this round of cards you’re giving us, isn’t that right, Bob?”
Kendrick glanced over at one of the other players and the man smiled and laughed along with Kendrick. It was a kind of forced smiling and laughing however, and it made Cecil feel uneasy all of a sudden. The next hands reflected that, with $18 changing hands, all of it his to the other players.
Cecil knew he had to catch his cool back, and when the next chance to shuffle came up he knew it was time. In went the good cards, out came the bad. The next four hands went well and Cecil was up $12. When it was time to shuffle again he decided to give it another go.
“What’s wrong with your arm,” Kendrick said, pointing down at Cecil as he shuffled those cards.
The words froze Cecil’s hands in mid-shuffle and he looked up, glanced over at Old Rich nervously. The old timer was still in the saloon but several of the other men had filtered upstairs with the whores or out across the street to the other saloons.
“What do you mean?” Cecil said at last, smiling and continuing on with his shuffle.
“I mean…why are you stuffing the deck?” Kendrick said, and from under the table came a ‘click’ sound.
Cecil looked from the table to Kendrick, meeting his eyes. “I don’t know what you mean, I–”
Two shots and Cecil flew backward into his chair. Kendrick didn’t waste any time and spun in his chair, locked onto the rest of Cecil’s men. Old Rich was taken completely by surprise by the move.
Two shots in him, one in the head, and Old Rich was dead.
“Ugh!” one of the men at the poker table grunted as one of the men at the bar got a shot off and hit him in the chest.
Bob shot that man and…
…Kendrick finished off the other man at the bar.
“C’mon,” he said, starting to sweep up the money from the table, “let’s get out of here before anymore of ‘em come.”
Bob and the other man nodded to that and the three were soon out the door.