Western Fiction posted March 7, 2018 Chapters:  ...28 29 -30- 31 

This work has reached the exceptional level
A cheating gambler runs out of luck.

A chapter in the book The West

The Gambler

by Thomas Bowling


The Chilwitz leave a bad taste in the Travelers mouth.

Chapter 30

Traveling through Nevada, I stopped in Osceola. A lot of people think that the biggest gold nugget was found in California, but it was discovered in Osceola. They had a sign saying as much when you entered the town. That made the town a destination for everyone wanting to get rich by mining or wanting to cheat people out of their money.

Main Street was a dirt path, barely wider than the path I had been riding on. There was a two-story whitewashed building that served as saloon, restaurant, hotel, and brothel. A lot of saloons were no more than tents, but a tent wouldn't do for the place where such a huge gold nugget was found. Whenever cowboys came to town, which wasn't often, they headed for Duggar's. I saw an old man standing in front of the saloon. He had long, stringy, white hair, and a beard that covered his chest. He was so frail and skinny that I swear, the only thing holding him upright was the sand in his boots. I tipped my hat to him, but he didn't respond. He was the white equivalent of a cigar store Indian.

The ride had been so dusty that even my bay horse looked like a gray. Sand had worked its way into every crevasse of my body. I felt old and tired. I figured it wouldn't be long before I would be standing in front of a saloon. When I walked into the room, the bartender didn't speak. He just stopped wiping down the bar to let me know he was aware of me. He poured a glass of whiskey and put it in front of me. The first drink tasted like a shot of fire. So much sand fell off my lips that the drink was gritty, but it tasted fine. By the fifth one, it was downright good.

“Give me a room for the night and a prostitute,” I said to the bartender.

“Do you want a bath too?”

“Am I dirtier than the woman?”

“That depends on which parts you're washin'.”

“Do you have a pretty one?”

The bartender looked me over. “She's pretty enough for you, and she won't cut your throat and take your money when you fall asleep."

“That's all a man can ask for.”

The next day, I brushed the sand off a table and sat down. The same bartender was there.

“Bring me a steak,” I said.

“Sure, cowboy. How do you want her cooked?”

“Throw it in the fire. That should do it.”

“We never had any entertainment here before. Maybe you should stay awhile.”

“Give me a whiskey,” I said. “Leave the bottle.”

While I was eating, the prostitute sat down and asked me if I wanted to go back to the room. In the daylight, she wasn't as pretty as in the dark, and she wasn't that pretty in the dark. I told her I had gotten my fill the night before. “I've never been turned down by a man before,” she said and left in a huff. My guess is she had never approached a man in the light of day before.

After I ate, I picked up my bottle and wandered over to a table where four men were playing poker. Without saying anything, I pulled up a chair and threw some money on the table.

“You got a name?” The man with the deck in his hands asked.

“Everybody's got a name,” I said.

The gambler snickered his disdain for my answer. I immediately didn't like him. For one thing, he asked too many questions.

He felt the need to introduce himself. “My name's Jake Silver.”

He was a big man with black hair and mustache. He wore a vest with sparkly stones on it and a black Stetson hat. A Stetson hat set you back six dollars, so I knew he was a professional.

“Do you plan on talkin' or playing poker, Mister Silver?”

Jake had fingers that were well trained. You couldn't tell what side of the deck he was dealing from. The cards seemed to just fly out at you. Jake's deck was broken in. I never saw a deck of cards so worn. Every card had folds and notches, and he knew what each card was without turning it over. I wanted to be sure, so I let him play a few hands to prove he was a cheat.

He had a gold watch chain that he fiddled with when he was deciding how to bet. If he played with it for less than ten seconds, he had a good hand. If he twirled it for more than ten, he was bluffing. He may have been a professional cheat, but he had a lot to learn about poker. You never play the cards, you play the man.

In the first hand, I was holding two pair, a sucker's hand. Good enough to raise with, but not good enough to beat his three of a kind. As the game went on, he let me win a couple of small pots, just enough to keep me in the game. Whenever the stakes were high, he always had the best hand. This wasn't Jake's lucky day. He was winning, but his luck ran out.

“I've traveled all across the country,” I said. “But I never saw a cheat like you.”

“You better watch your mouth mister. I've killed men for callin' me a cheat.”

“Well, I'm sayin' you're more crooked than my elbow, and I'm still alive. You make an Apache look honest. I'm glad you told me your name. It's a shame to kill a man and not know his name.”

The other cowboys backed away from the table. For a few seconds, nothing happened. Then, Jake made the biggest mistake of his life. He went for his gun. Before he cleared leather, I put three balls of lead in his chest.

I wasn't a fast draw, but I never played poker without a gun on my lap. I figured if Mr. Silver could cheat at poker, I could cheat at shooting.

I stood up with my gun ready, in case Jake had any friends that wanted to avenge him, but there are no friends at a poker table. I gave Jake a glance. “You shoulda just walked away.”

When I was in the cavalry, I had killed enough Yankees and Indians that one two-bit card shark didn't matter. I scooped up the money and stood to go. As I was leaving, I said to the cowboys, “When the sheriff gets here, tell him he didn't leave me any selection.”

I had gotten into the habit of making sure I could leave in a hurry. Every morning before I ate, I would saddle my horse, roll up my gear, and tie it to my saddle. More than one time it served me well.

I got on my horse and rode. I let the horse walk easy on my way out of town. As I passed the sheriff's office, I saw the sheriff running out the door and toward the saloon. He must have heard the gunplay.

“Come on, girl. Better pick up the pace.” I galloped away, and never looked back.

This was the west for Jake Silver, a cheating gambler from Boston.

To be continued . . .

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