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 Game On

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Keays

Keays

Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 62
Location : Camano Island Washington

Game On Empty
PostSubject: Game On   Game On EmptyWed Jul 20, 2016 6:22 pm

Heyes stood in front of the vanity and struggled with getting his tie just right. Miranda finally got tired of the repeated sighs of frustration, and moved in to assist.


“Here, let me do it,” she offered, as her fingers undid the most recent failed attempt. “Why are you so nervous? It’s just a poker game.”


“A poker game that could cost us twenty grand,” Heyes pointed out. “Not to mention the reputation of our young company, even before it really gets started.”


“I have every faith in you,” she assured him, as she completed the knot. “There. How’s that?”


She stood back, and they both examined the completed task in the mirror.


Heyes nodded. “Yes. That’s better. Thank you.


“Come on,” she said, as she turned back to him and rubbed his arm. “Tell me what you need to relax. And don’t say sex, because we already did that.”


Heyes chuckled and slipping his arms around her waist, he moved in for a kiss. She accepted the offering, but couldn’t help laughing throughout the process.


“You scoundrel,” she accused him. “Is that all you can think about?”


“Oh, so I’m a scoundrel again, am I? And no, it’s not all I can think about, but it is high on the list.”


He pulled her in close, one hand around her waist and another squeezing her lovely buttock. They had just finished making love, but he felt his arousal taking hold again. The way she was moving her pelvis against him had an uncanny way of focusing his attention. He started to maneuver her towards the ruffled bed, and she laughed as she pushed him away.


“Hannibal, we don’t have time.”


“Yes we do,” he insisted.


“But you’re all dressed, and in your fine suit. You’ll put creases in it.”


“I can take it off.”


“Hannibal…”


Ignoring her mild protesting, he gently pushed her down onto the bed...


Xxx


“Gentlemen! Gentlemen!” Mr. Hardy announced to the gathered group. “If I may have your attention, please.” Casual discussion ceased, and all eyes turned to the host.  “It is now five forty-five, pm., and the game is scheduled to begin at six. I realize that you all have been informed of the procedures, but I feel it is important to reiterate the details now, just to be sure that we all understand them. You will not be playing with cash money. Twenty thousand dollars in chips have been placed at each setting on the table. Once the game begins, the doors will be locked and there will be two armed guards standing outside. The only persons permitted to enter will be either myself, or one of the deputies. There will be no alcohol served during the game, and no firearms allowed under any circumstances.

“If there is any suspicion of cheating or fraud, knock on the door, and the guards and myself will deal with the situation. If any of you are carrying a concealed weapon, I strongly suggest that you relinquish it now. If one is found on you, once you have entered the room, you will instantly be removed from the game, without compensation.”


‘Oh crap!’ Heyes thought, but then realized that he wasn’t the only one, when, as other players grumbled, they proceeded to unbutton dress jackets, or pull up pant legs. He smiled, and opening up his own jacket, he pulled out a small pistol that had been nicely tucked into a shoulder holster. One of the aforementioned guards came around with a small basket and collected all the firearms.


“Be rest assured,” Mr. Hardy continued. “Your property will be returned to you after the game. Now, once the game is completed, you will all return the chips to me and I will give you another receipt for the amount in your possession. You will then present that receipt at the bank, and the amount shown will be deposited into your personal accounts that have already been set up for you. From there, you can transfer those funds to any financial institution of your choice. Any questions?”


“It seems an awful lot of bother,” Mr. Dickson commented. “Why don’t we just play with cash, then when the game is over, it’s over. I don’t like anybody else having control of my money.”


“I assure you, Mr. Dickson, it is for your own safety,” Hardy responded. “As many of our players realize, this game was robbed some years back. Though the money was fortunately returned, it still made us aware that our security was sadly lacking. We have had this new system in place for a few years now, and it has proven sound. Any other questions?”


“I just don’t like playing with chips!” Dickson continued to protest. “I want the feel of cold, hard cash in my hands, when I’m placing a bet.”


“We have been over this before, Mr. Dickson,” Hardy reminded the gentleman. “Though it is late now, you are still welcome to withdraw.”


“No, no,” Dickson declined, with a heavy sigh. “As foolish as it all is; I’ll play by your rules.”
“Fine,” Hardy agreed. “Gentlemen, if you please?”


The double, cherry oak doors opened, and the eight players filed into the room. Just like everything else in the Brown Palace, the poker room was high class. Eight plush, leather arm chairs were placed evenly around the circular, dark mahogany table, and twenty thousand dollars’ worth of various colored chips, were neatly stacked in front of each position. Ten unopened boxes of cards were displayed in the middle of the table, awaiting the first hand.
Moving into the room, Heyes kept a close eye on Mr. Dickson. The man complained too much about the security procedures, and if he hadn’t already been high on Heyes’ list of suspects, that would have done it.


Everyone made their way around the table and chose their place. Some of the gentlemen stretched, others cracked their knuckles, while others straightened their ties and tugged on jackets. Each individual had their way of beginning a game and rituals must be observed. Heyes smiled, stretched out his neck and shoulder muscles, ran his hands through his hair and sat down.


“Gentlemen,” Hardy announced. “It is now six o’clock. May Lady Luck shine upon you.”


And with that, he backed out of the room and closed the doors. This act was instantly followed by the sound of the lock turning.


A silence settled over the group for a moment, but then Mr. Waring, who was sitting to Heyes’ left, pushed himself to his feet.


“Gentlemen,” he stated. “The game this year is 7 card stud, straights are allowed and Aces are high. As the oldest, and longest attending player of this game, I reserve the right to begin the first hand.” He reached over and collected all the boxed decks to him. “Mr. Pierce,” he said to the gentleman on his left. “will you choose which deck we will begin with?”


Pierce, a middle-aged dandy, puffed himself up. He came to his feet, chose the deck, and slapped it, with a show of importance, onto the table in front of Mr. Waring.


“That one,” he stated and then sat back down.


“Mr. Longstreet,” Waring continued. “Will you removed the rest of the decks from the table, please?”


“I’d be honored, sir!” And that gentleman proceeded to do just that.


Heyes sighed. He never was one for rituals and this was getting tiresome.


Waring opened the chosen deck and threw aside the empty box, as he and Longstreet sat back down again.


“Mr. Heyes,” Waring continued. “Would you be so kind as to cut the deck.”


Heyes decided it was best to play along. “Of course, sir,” he stated with a pasted on smile. He accomplished the task and sent an openly condescending look around the table. Inwardly, he felt the reward of having set up his first anti-tell. Those who were not crafty enough to see beyond it, assumed that this was Heyes’ best attempt at a poker face, and made the mistake of assuming that he was transparent and would be easy to read.


Having accomplished this first smoke screen, Heyes allowed Waring to retrieve the two halves of the cut deck. Instinctively, he watched Waring’s hands, to make sure that he indeed honored the cut. This was a shifty move that he was not soon to forget, and he did not want to get caught flat footed on it again. He was satisfied and the cut was accepted honorably.


Waring proceeded to shuffle the deck and then smiled at his fellow players. “Gentlemen! The game is on!” And he began to deal out the first hand.


Xxx


Miranda entered the café and glanced around at the tables, looking for her companions. The establishment was doing a fair business for supper, and all of the tables were occupied, but it still didn’t take her long to zero in on her cousin-in-law. He spotted her at the same time and sent her a wave.


“Hello,” she said, as she waved the two gentlemen to remain in their seats. “Good evening, Mr. Finney.”


“Please, call me Kevin,” Finney requested. “We are all supposed to be good friends, are we not?”


“Yes, we are,” Miranda agreed, and chuckled. “The way you’re dressed now, you fit right in with the gang.”


“Hey!” Jed took offence. “Just ‘cause we ain’t in our suits, don’t mean we’re grubby.”


“True,” Randa accepted. “It’s just that I’ve only seen Mr…Kevin in his suit, so now, seeing him in casual wear seems a bit of a letdown.”


“I assure you, madam, I will be back into suitable attire, when we attend the gaming room this evening. At the Brown Palace, even the low-end players dress for the occasion,” Finney told her. “But in the meantime, I must play the part.”


“Of course.” She leaned in and whispered, playfully, “And it’s Miranda. We are old friends, after all.”


“Aye, yes. Miranda.”


“How is he doin’?” Jed asked.


Miranda rolled her eyes. “Keyed up. But I believe that I helped him to relief some of that stress, right before he went down.”


“Ah, good,” Finney approved. “We can’t have our key player tipping his hand, due to nerves.”


Jed took note of Miranda’s smile and twinkle, and snorted humorously. “Yeah, I bet.”


“Interesting,” Finney continued. “I would have thought that Mr. Heyes was far too good a player to have a problem with nerves before a game.”


“Yeah, but it’s been a while,” Jed pointed out. “The small games at home don’t offer ‘im much in the way ‘a challenges. And like we pointed out to ya’ before, there’s a lot ridin’ on this game. I ain’t surprised that he was nervous.”


“Yes,” Miranda agreed. “I spent the whole day with Bridget, because he wanted the day alone. To prepare, he said.”


“Yep,” Jed concurred. “He don’t like ta’ be crowded when he’s gettin’ ready for a job. Whether it’s crackin’ a safe, robbin’ a train, or playin’ poker. I tell ya’, we all learned pretty fast; not ta’ bother Heyes, once he gets ta’ schemin’.”


The large waitress plowed her way through the standing room only crowd, like a barge pushing through river weeds. Without bothering to ask, she replenished the two coffee cups in front of the gentlemen, and then she turned to the newcomer.


“Ma’am,” she greeted Randa in a raspy voice that had been on duty all day. “The special for supper today is pot roast. Will that suit?”


“Oh yes, thank you. That will be fine.”


“Fine. Coffee?”


“Tea.”


The matron of a waitress nodded and quickly headed back to the kitchen. The place had really packed up in the short space of time since Miranda had arrived. They should have seen that coming, what with all the new people in town for the big game. Those not playing, or staying at the Palace, had to eat somewhere, and this seemed to be the place. Patrons were even doubling up with strangers, just to get a place to sit. The manager might even have to send one of the dishwashers over to Anna-Lee’s place and get her to pull a double shift. The tips ought to be good, at least.


“I walked with him down to the lobby,” Miranda told them, as she picked up the conversation again. “While we were at the top of the stairs, he was still nervous. He insisted on tugging at his tie and running his hands through his hair. And then, it was amazing to see, as we walked down the stairs, his whole mood softened with each step, and a calm professionalism took over. By the time we got to the lobby, he was cool and relaxed. No sign of stress at all. He’s very good at this, isn’t he? This taking on a persona. Like a tiger changing its stripes.”


Jed grinned in admiration for his cousin. “Yep. He’s a master at it.”


“You seem to forget that your husband was an accomplished con artist,” Finney reminded her. “It was this ability that made him such. It is also why I hired him to do this job. I have done undercover work myself, but I’m no poker player. He’ll flush out our man, I’m sure.”


From out of nowhere, a tea service on a tray landed on the table beside Miranda. She glanced up to thank the waitress, but that woman was already on the other side of the room, tending to the orders of new customers. Randa glanced around at the now filled to bursting café, and took note that there were even people lining up at the front door. The flowing conversations were loud and animated, giving the place the atmosphere of a bawdy house more than a family café.


“Well,” Randa commented. “I don’t suppose we need to worry about being over-heard in here.”


“That’s why I suggested it,” Jed told her. “I figured it would be busy tonight. And we’re just another bunch ‘a people in town to support one of the players.”


“Aye, yes,” Finney agreed. “Again, hide in plain sight.


“Yeah,” Jed concurred. “Which is exactly what we’re gonna be doin’ after supper. Them low anti games’ll be hoppin’ tonight.”


 “Aye,” Finney agreed. “I’m not much at the games, I’m afraid. But I shall remain inconspicuous, just to keep my eye on the situation.”


“Uh huh,” Jed responded. “Did ya’ get a look at them two deputies who will be guardin’ the poker room for the night? I strongly suggest that ya’ don’t go nowhere’s near those doors for the duration.”


“I have no intentions of doing that, Jed,” Finney assured him. “No, indeed. Sometimes discretion is the best, and wisest course of action.”


“I didn’t see them,” Miranda admitted. “Are they intimidating?”


“Let’s just say,” Jed explained, “that one of ‘im alone, would block out the sun, at high noon, on a cloudless day.”


“Oh.”


Three plates of pot roast dinners clattered onto the table, quickly followed by three sets of cutlery.


“There you go, folks,” the waitress announced. “Enjoy.”


“Yes!” Miranda responded. “Thank…you…”  She trailed off as she found herself speaking to the broad retreating back of the busy woman. “Oh my. She’s actually balancing four more plates on her arms, as well as our three. I don’t think I could be a waitress.”


“Just wait until ya’ got an infant at home,” Jed told her. “I don’t know how Beth does it, but she always seems to have four or five different things goin’ on at once. And managin’ ‘em all, quite nicely.”


“Oh my,” Randa repeated, with a sigh. “Hopefully Sally will help out. How about you, Kevin? Do you have children?”


“Ah, regretfully, I never married,” Finney informed her. “I’m often away from home for extended periods of time, and that does make it difficult to maintain such an intimate relationship.”


“Yes, I suppose it does,” Randa concurred. “Well, perhaps one day.”


“Aye, perhaps.”


“What are your plans for the rest of the evening?” Jed asked Randa. “Ya gonna spend it with Bridget?”


“No,” Randa informed him. “Apparently there is a little gathering being put on for the wives of the players. Just tea and dessert, and of course, gossip. I thought that might be fun. After that, I expect I shall retire to our room and sleep the night away. I will look forward to hearing all about the game and its aftermath, in the morning.”


“Hmm,” Finney contemplated. “Do be careful what you say at this gathering. We don’t know if our man has a woman accomplice or not. And yet, at the same time, if you could keep your ears open for anything that might sound suspicious. It does seem that when people, both men and women, get into a social setting, they often relax and let things slip.”


“I’m no undercover agent,” Randa told him, with a smile. “but I shall do my part. I certainly know where I will be able to find you two.”


“Yep,” Jed agreed. “I am looking forward to a night of friendly poker, and whatever else takes my fancy. Ah, I mean, like Roulette or Blackjack. You know. Not…”


Miranda laughed. “Yes Jed, I know what you mean.”


Xxx


Heyes checked his next down card and felt a twinge of disappointment, though he certainly didn’t let that show on his face. The cards were not running well for him this evening, but the night was still young, and the pot still relatively small, so he wasn’t going to despair yet. He glanced at the pot and contemplated his decision.


“I will begin the betting on this round, with $100 into the pot,” Waring announced.


Heyes tried not to hold a grudge against Waring for his rather tactless comments from the previous evening. He was a large, and somewhat boisterous man, who, like Mac’s friend, Mr. Peterson, would often say things without thinking. On the other hand, it may have been Waring’s attempt at intimidating a man who was known to be a worthy adversary. Hit Heyes with his past, and put him at a disadvantage and the ex-outlaw just might fold under pressure.


It was all part of the psychological aspects of high stakes poker, and Heyes couldn’t hold it against the man for trying. He, himself, knew that simply by his reputation, he was having an effect upon the other players. At the social the night before, the other guests greeted him and Miranda politely enough, but where one or two latched onto him, treating him as though he were a long lost buddy, others avoided him.


He knew what his advantages were, and he intended to play them to the hilt, so he could hardly blame Mr. Waring for attempting the same strategy. Time would tell how good a player he was.


Completely unaware of the scrutiny he was under, Waring continued on with controlling the game. “Mr. Pierce? How would you like to bet?”


Pierce played with his chips and thought about his next move. Finally, he made up his mind.
“I’ll meet the bet.”


Now there was a piece of work, Heyes thought. A real dandy, dressed to the nines, with gold rings and watch chain, and pearl inlaid cufflinks. His dark black hair was shiny with grease and slicked back, giving it the appearance of being painted onto his skull, rather than actual hair growing from it. His black moustache and goatee were also greased and trimmed to perfection giving him the appearance of a dastardly villain in a dime novel, rather than the strived for look of an accomplished gambler. Heyes was not impressed with his appearance, nor his ability at the poker table.


Waring nodded in acceptance of Pierce’s bet. “One hundred dollars, from Mr. Pierce.  Mr. Dickson?”


Heyes’ eyes narrowed ever so slightly. Was this the man they were looking for? He hadn’t given anything away if he was. The only hint of an accent in his speech, was of the eastern part of the country, and since Dickson had already admitted to being from New York, this could hardly be held against him.


Or did he claim to be from the East, because he knew that he would not be able to fool actual westerners with his attempt at the western accent? That could also make sense. Don’t even try to mimic the accent of the group you need to fit into. Admit right from the get go, that you are new to the area, and no one is likely to question subtle differences in speech and behavioral patterns.


Dickson had put up quite a fuss about the payout system though. Heyes found that interesting. Most players would appreciate the added security of no actual cash changing hands. Money would go directly from the hotel safe, to the various accounts at the bank. It was a good way to handle large amounts of money changing hands. But apparently Dickson hadn’t thought so. Was that disrupting his plans for a get-away? Or was it simply what he claimed? That he liked the feel of real money in his fingertips when he made a bet. Heyes could also relate to that.


“Same,” Dickson responded to Waring’s inquirery, and placed his own bet.


“Mr. Longstreet?”


Now, here was a real gambling man. Heyes liked him. He was confident at the poker table, not arrogant like Hargitt, or flashy like Pierce. And he knew how to play poker. He spoke with a slight southern twang, which could of course, be a way for covering up an English one, but Heyes didn’t think so. He sounded too much like Kenny did, when he got excited and allowed his southern roots to show, for it to be an act.


Heyes pretty much checked him off the list as a suspect, but not as a competent adversary in the game. Heyes might be here, undercover, to catch a criminal. But he was also here to win.


“$100 and I’ll raise it, $50,” Longstreet announced.


All eyes then travelled to Mr. Wyles. He smiled and then shrugged.


“I’ll fold.”


Heyes almost snorted, but he contained himself. Wyles did not strike Heyes as any kind of a poker player at all. He reeked of old money, and had a sense of how the game was played, but he had no backbone. For that disadvantage to make itself apparent, this early in the game, was not a good sign. At least, not for the player himself. It was great for the others, as it gave them the advantage of knowing that Mr. Wyles would likely fold under pressure and begin announcing his tells once the pot got big.


“Mr. Bates?”


Bates ran the chips through his fingers and Heyes inwardly sighed. For professional gamblers, some of these players were wearing their thoughts on their sleeves. But then, not all of them were professionals. Just like at Mac’s annual game, some of these fellas were simply too rich to know what to do with all their money. Being in as prestigious a game as this one was more of an ego boost than it was a challenge of intellect or ability.


Mr. Bates was a typical wealthy man who was pretending to be a risk taker.


“I’ll meet the bet,” he said, and deposited the appropriate amount of chips into the pot.


“Mr. Hargitt?”


Now Hargitt was a man whom Heyes hadn’t quite figured out yet. He was professional enough to know how to hide his tells, but he didn’t seem to know how to bet. So far, he’d lost the most by betting big, when he should have folded, or at least just meet the current bet. But he liked to show off and flash his money around. Was it simple arrogance that had him doing this, or was he setting up a pattern to put the other players off their guard?


Heyes was keeping an eye on him.


“I’ll meet the current bet,” Hargitt announced with a flourish. “And raise it another $50.”


Heyes groaned, inwardly. He was doing it again.


“Fine,” Waring acknowledged. “Mr. Heyes?”


“I’ll fold,” Heyes said, as he laid down his cards.


“Oh dear,” Hargitt commented. “Again? Lady Luck not showing you her charms tonight, Mr. Heyes.”


Heyes smiled. “Not yet, Mr. Hargitt. But the evening is young.”


“So it is!”


Xxx


After dinner, Miranda separated from the men, and they all retired to their separate abodes in order to dress appropriately for the evening. She approached the front desk and noted that now, indeed, the safe did have a burley guard in front of it. The shotgun was most impressive.


“Good evening, Mrs. Heyes,” the attendant greeted her. “May I be of assistance?”


“Yes,” Miranda stated. “Where is the lady’s evening tea taking place?”


“Oh, yes ma’am. Up on the third floor. In the party room,” the clerk informed her. “Shelton can show you the way.”


The bellboy quickly stepped forward to assist.


“Oh no,” Miranda stopped him in his tracks. “That’s quite alright. I know where it is. And I need to freshen up, before I go. Thank you.”


“Oh, of course. Have a pleasant evening, ma’am.”


Miranda returned to their room and quickly accomplished a minor toilette.  She changed back into her evening dress from the day before, freshened up her hair and features, and declared herself ready to meet the opposition. She really had no idea what to expect from the other ladies of the troop, but she hoped that it would be an interesting evening, in any case. She was well acquainted with these society dos’ and knew that they could be extremely political. She hadn’t needed Mr. Finney to caution her to be careful; she’d had plenty of practice at guarding her interests, while married to William.


With one final look in the mirror, she deemed herself to be ready for the adventure. One final tuck of a stray lock, and she was out the door to engage in her own brand of sparing.


As she entered the café on the third floor, she was again awed by the plush extravagance of even this small setting. Of course, it wasn’t quite on the same level as the restaurant on the top floor, but it did equal its quality with the open lounge on the first floor. The owners had spared no expense in making this one of the finest hotels in the West.


She stopped at the open double doors and surveyed the interior, seeking out some familiar faces. It didn’t take long before high spirited laughter caught her attention, and she spotted four ladies sitting in a lounging area over by a large window. She took a deep breath of fortification, and prepared for battle.


“May I help you, ma’am?”


“Oh, no thank you,” Miranda told the host, who had come up on her unexpectedly. “I’m with the party over by the windows.”


The host followed her gesture and then smiled knowingly, as he recognized the poker wives.


“Of course,” he said. “Allow me to escort you.”


Miranda smiled and nodded, not really wanting an escort simply to walk across the room, but knowing that the man was only doing his job. And expecting a tip.


Upon nearing the table, a number of the ladies looked up and saw her coming towards them. Smiles and waves were sent her way, as the host presented her to the group.


“Miranda, how lovely to see you again,” Mrs. Waring greeted her. “When we didn’t see you in the restaurant for dinner, I feared that you would not be joining us this evening.”


“On the contrary,” Miranda assured her. “I’ve very much looked forward to this. How are you all?”


“Oh!” Mrs. Wyles declared. “I am always so nervous, the night of a big game. I don’t know why Mr. Wyles continues to come every year; he never wins!”


“Yes,” Miranda observed. “You would think that would be a deterrent.”


The other ladies politely laughed, as Miranda sat down in one of the plush arm chairs that encircled the low glass table that was laden with delicate pastries and fruit.


“What would madam like to drink?” the host asked her.


Miranda did a quick look around the table and found that all the ladies were indulging in white wine. Tea did not seem to be the favored beverage for gamblers’ wives.


“I’ll have a glass of your preferred white,” she stated. “I think its crispness would go lovely with the fresh fruit.”


“Indeed,” the host agreed and smiled at the compliment. “I’ll have the waiter bring you a glass. Would anyone else like another glass?”


“Oh, yes please,” Mrs. Bates accepted.


“The more the better!” Mrs. Wyles declared. “I need something to settle my nerves. We’re going to wind up losing my families estates, if he’s not careful!”


“Shall I have the waiter bring the bottle over?” the host hopefully suggested. “Perhaps that would be easier.”


“Capital idea!” Mrs. Wyles agreed and nearly up-ended her emptied glass as she set it back on the table.


Miranda allowed her gaze to drift out the window, in search of something more appealing to look upon, but alas, night had fallen. All there was to see was darkness where the mountains were, and the lights from the streets below.


“We don’t seem to be all here,” Miranda noticed. “Are the other ladies not coming?”


“Mrs. Longstreet should be along,” Mrs. Hargitt commented. “And since Mr. Dickson, nor Mr. Pierce are married, that should account for all of us.”


“Where did you dine this evening, Miranda?” Mrs. Waring enquired. “Surely you could not have found a more pleasant establishment than the restaurant right here at the hotel.”


“I’m sure,” Randa agreed. “But I met with my cousin for dinner, along with a mutual friend of his and my husband’s. We had a pleasant enough time.”


“Oh, good gracious!” Mrs. Waring complained. “You are a guest at the hotel! Why did you not invite your friends to join us here? I can’t imagine a meal anywhere else, being half as divine.”


Miranda smiled, knowing that she couldn’t tell them that she and her friends had preferred the privacy of the lower-end establishment.


“I’m afraid that my friends are not comfortable in such grandiose surroundings,” she informed them, sheepishly. “Being far more accustomed to gambling houses and cafes instead.”


“Oh.” Mrs. Waring seemed taken aback.


“Good evening, everyone!” Mrs. Longstreet hailed them, as she zeroed in on their table. “So sorry, I’m late. It takes so much longer to get into this gown without my servant girl here to help me!”


Mrs. Wyles and Mrs. Bates both raised a brow at her.


“Oh, my dear!” Mrs. Hargitt professed. “I can’t imagine leaving my girl at home! However did you manage?”


Mrs. Longstreet smiled knowingly. She’d had no problems getting into her gown, but it was always fun to provoke the other ladies into an uproar.


“It was quite the feat,” she stated. “Thank goodness the scullery maid was on hand.”


“At least they’re good for something,” Hargitt announced. “But really! How degrading for you. I hope you didn’t tip the peasant. I dare say, they get paid well enough, if they are fortunate enough to be working here.”


“We must tip something,” Mrs. Longstreet continued with her tease. “In order to keep up appearances, you understand.”


“Yes, I suppose you have a point,” Mrs. Hargitt conceded. “Still…”


“Speaking of keeping up appearances,” Mrs. Waring commented innocently. “I notice that you’re wearing the same gown you were wearing last night, Mrs. Heyes. Are your other gowns too difficult to don on your own?”


Miranda smiled, patiently.  “On the contrary, Mrs. Waring, this is my only evening gown that still fits me. As you know, my husband and I have just now returned from our long over-due honeymoon, and I’m afraid that I didn’t have the foresight to pack anything with an expanding waist.”


“Oh, ho ho,” Mrs. Hargitt twittered. “Too much rich eating while on vacation? You must be careful, Mrs. Heyes. When a man marries a trim figure, he expects it to remain so. You don’t want to gain inches and lose a husband.”


Mrs. Longstreet, along with Miranda, looked at Mrs. Hargitt with some surprise.


“I believe, what Mrs. Heyes is referring to,” Mrs. Longstreet discreetly explained. “is the reality of her wifely condition. I suspect there will be a new little addition to your family soon?”


Mrs. Hargitt turned red in embarrassment over her misconception.


Miranda smiled broadly and confirmed the inquiry. “Yes. We expect, later this winter.”


“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Mrs. Wyles exclaimed. “How marvelous! I assume this will be your first, of course.”


“In a sense,” Randa concurred. “But we adopted a daughter right after we married, so in actuality, this one will be our second.”


“Indeed.” Mrs. Hargitt’s brow went up in judgement. “Adopted. I can’t imagin…”


“That’s wonderful,” Mrs. Longstreet stated. “How very generous of you and your husband.”


“She’s a wonderful child,” Miranda gushed, with motherly pride. “We love her to pieces.”


“How unusual,” Mrs. Bates commented. “I can understand a woman bonding with someone else’s child, but a man? How much convincing do you have to do, to get your husband to agree?”


“It was actually the other way around,” Randa informed her. “Sally was a child with whom he was already acquainted, and he was the one who insisted. It didn’t take much convincing though; I knew she was special the moment I met her, and she’s just as much our child, as this new one will be.”


“Well,” Mrs. Bates conceded. “I would never have thought.”


The waiter then arrived with a chilled bottle of their finest Viognier and discreetly made the rounds of the table to top up the glasses. A fresh, chilled glass was set down in front of Miranda, and promptly filled.


“Madam?” he asked Mrs. Longstreet. “Will you be drinking wine tonight, or would you prefer something else?”


“Wine would be lovely,” she stated. “Thank you.”


Another chilled glass appeared from out of nowhere, and was placed on the table in front of the new arrival. It was promptly filled.


“Ladies,” the waiter addressed them all. “I shall attend to you this evening. And please, enjoy the fruit and pastries. Compliments of the house.”  And he took his leave.


“I should think they would be complimentary,” Mrs. Wyles sniped as she popped a chocolate dipped strawberry into her mouth. “With the prices we pay for the room, we ought to get something out of it!”


“So,” Mrs. Hargitt intervened. “Are we going to place our usual bet on who’s going to win the biggest pot this year?”


“I suppose so,” Mrs. Wyles whined. “I certainly won’t be betting on my husband. We lose enough money at this event.”


“I can’t blame you there,” Mrs. Longstreet commented. “Who do you think will be the winning horse, then?”


“Most likely, Mr. Waring,” Mrs. Wyles presumed.


“Yes!” Mrs. Waring whole-heartedly agreed. “My husband has won this game for the last three years running. I think that is a wise bet, Mrs. Wyles.”


“I don’t know,” Mrs. Longstreet mused. “We do have two new players this year. One of them might surprise us!”


“Oh please!” Mrs. Waring argued. “An Easterner and a convict? Hardly competition for a true master of the game.” She suddenly remembered whose company she was keeping, and smiled at Miranda. “Oh! Nothing personal my dear. I’m sure your husband is at the top of his game, within his own circles.”


Miranda smiled pleasantly. “None taken, Mrs. Waring. I completely understand your ignorance on the matter. After all, why would a lady of your refinement concern yourself with the exploits of a lowly ex-outlaw.”


“Exactly!” Mrs. Waring agreed. “You are a very wise and open-minded young woman. But then, I suppose you would have to be, wouldn’t you?”


“Really?” Miranda asked. “What do you mean?”


“Well!” Mrs. Waring continued, as she sent a knowing smile around the table. All eyes were upon her, eagerly anticipating the inevitable conversation. “You would have to be, wouldn’t you? To have married such a man as Mr. Heyes. I must admit, I was surprised by your obvious refinement and intelligence. When my husband informed me that Mr. Heyes and his wife would be joining us, I pictured a woman somewhat more—bawdy.”


Some minor gasps of surprise, followed by quiet tittering of laughter followed this statement.


“That was hardly becoming, Mrs. Waring!” Mrs. Longstreet commented. “Mr. Heyes himself seems quite the gentleman.”


“I also understand that he is quite the conman,” Mrs. Waring continued. “Perhaps that is his strong point.”


“You may find that my husband has many strong points,” Miranda responded. “I would not have married him, if I were not confident of this.”


“Yes indeed!” Mrs. Bates agreed, and she sat forward, eyes all alight with curiosity. “You must tell us, Mrs. Heyes. What kind of a husband is he, really? What would entice you to take such a chance on someone with his history?”


Miranda smiled and relaxed, sensing the difference between honest curiosity and rude condescension.


“I must admit, no one was more surprised than myself,” Miranda explained. “But from the moment I first met him, I sensed more to his character than what was generally assumed. He and his cousin have over-come great adversity in their lives. They made bad choices at a time when they were too young to understand the consequences, and yet they have both managed to turn things around. Hannibal is a fine man, and a fine husband. I couldn’t have asked for better.”


Mrs. Waring cocked a brow and almost smirked. “Are you sure that a pair of chocolate brown eyes, and a dimpled smile had nothing to do with your infatuation?”


Miranda laughed. “Believe me, Mrs. Waring, the first time I met Hannibal, he looked nothing at all like he does today. Prison was extremely hard on him, and it showed. No. I fell in love with his spirit and his soul, not his appearance. Though I would be lying, if I said that I was not pleased with his physical transformation.”


Appreciative laughter followed this statement.


“He is, indeed, a handsome man,” Mrs. Longstreet agreed. “I’m sure he turns a lot of heads.”


“Still,” Mrs. Waring put in, not willing to be out-done. “Handsome is as handsome does. I still wonder if men of that character can ever really settle down to married life.”


“Who wants married life to be settled?” Miranda asked, playfully. “Hannibal is a wonderful husband and father. But there is certainly something to be said about being married to a man who still has a bit of the rogue to him. Life with him is never boring.”


This was followed by whoops of laughter and a summons to their waiter, for more wine.


“Well,” Miranda continued, after the waiter had departed. “We’ve discussed one of the new players, what about the other? What do you all think of Mr. Dickson?”


Disappointed silence followed this question. The majority of the ladies would have been quite happy to continue discussing those attributes to being married to an ex-outlaw.


“He is a non-contender,” Mrs. Waring snarked, feeling slighted at having the tide of opinions turn against her. “An Easterner of no consequence.”


“But how would you know that?” Mrs. Longstreet queried. “We know nothing of his background, nor of his ability at the table.”


“Exactly!” Mrs. Waring pointed out. “If he had any ability at all, we would have heard of him. But nothing! I can’t imagine how he even got invited to the game!”


“There must be some background on him,” Mrs. Hargitt insisted. “We don’t hear very much about the eastern players. Perhaps he knows somebody, who knows somebody, who knows of his abilities back there. He may be a fine player, and a contender.”


“Yes,” Miranda agreed. “If you are unaware of a person’s history, it is best to over-estimate their ability rather than under-estimate. He may be better qualified to be here, than you imagine.”


“I doubt it,” Mrs. Waring countered. “I will bet on my husband to win—again.”


“Yes,” Mrs. Bates agreed. “I will also bet on Mr. Waring.”


“Myself, as well,” Mrs. Wyles concurred. “He has won the last three games in a row. I think it’s safest to go with the proven horse, rather than risk it all on two new-comers.”


“You all have valid points,” Mrs. Longstreet admitted. “But I will bet on my husband. More familiarity with his main opponent now, could give him the edge.”


“What of Mr. Pierce?” Randa asked. “Is he not worthy of consideration?”


All the ladies snorted.


“Poor Mr. Pierce,” Mrs. Longstreet mused. “He fancies himself a professional gambler, and a ladies’ man, but I’m afraid that he is neither. He does well enough to live the high life, and to buy himself feminine company while he’s here, but I doubt that he ever comes out ahead.”


“Oh dear,” Randa sympathized. “Well, I will certainly be betting on Hannibal to win. But it will be interesting to see what abilities Mr. Dickson shows, since nobody here seems to know anything about him.”


“A dark horse, indeed,” Mrs. Hargitt commented. “I’m sure he will fade to a lighter color by the end of the evening.”


“I’m sure you’re right, Mrs. Hargitt,” Mrs. Wyles agreed.


“Now that that’s settled,” Mrs. Bates interjected. “Let’s get on to what we all really want to talk about. Come, Mrs. Heyes; let’s cut to the chase. I want details.”


“Oh yes!” Mrs. Wyles approved. “Let’s face it, the man was in prison for how many years? And then he meets you! I get goose bumps, just thinking about it!”


Excited giggling took over three of the ladies. Mrs. Waring looked irritated, and Mrs. Longstreet simply sent Miranda a knowing smile. She wasn’t going to get out of this one.


Miranda sighed. The last thing these ladies wanted to hear, was the truth. They wanted stories of a lustful, virile outlaw, who had been deprived of sex for so long that he was likely to ravage the first woman who came within striking distance. The fact that Hannibal had been so traumatized by his experiences in prison, that, for a time, he wasn’t even capable of the sex act, was not what bored and lonely women fantasied about. It certainly wasn’t what they wanted to hear now.


Miranda put on a brave face and smiled at her audience.


“Well,” she began. “The first time he touched me…”
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Keays

Keays

Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 62
Location : Camano Island Washington

Game On Empty
PostSubject: Re: Game On   Game On EmptyWed Jul 20, 2016 8:21 pm

Jed entered the Brown Palace and stopped in the lobby to do a quick assessment of the area.  Down the hall, he could see the two goons guarding the doors to the poker room. One of them noticed his arrival and gave him a quick scrutiny before deciding that, for the time being at least, he was not a threat. He said something to his companion, who also glanced towards the Kid, and then both men returned to guard mode.


Jed smiled to himself. He had come prepared to keep his own eye on that door, just in case of trouble, but one look at those formidable guards, and he was satisfied that the room was secure. He nodded at the clerk at the check-in desk and made his way towards the open lounging area that had been converted into a gambling hall for the evening.


The mood within the area was jovial, but not raucous. This was an evening for gentlemen, not cowboys. Even though the games here were not of the high-stakes nature of the main event, they were expensive enough, with a $20.00 buy-in for all of the games represented. Formal suits were not required, but neat and casual was expected. Jed had judged the situation correctly and was comfortable in his white shirt with a string tie and gray trousers. Some of the men openly wore their gun belts, Jed included, but many opted for the more discreet shoulder or ankle holster. Jed doubted that there was a single man here who was not armed in some way.


He casually strolled through the lounge, checking out all the games and deciding which one he wanted to join in on first. He spotted Finney across the room, and the two men acknowledged one another, then the Yard man disappeared. Jed smiled to himself. Finney was just as talented at fading into the background as he and Heyes were, when they wanted to. Obviously, the detective was working and wished to remain anonymous. Jed was happy to oblige.


Blackjack, roulette, and poker were all offered up for entertainment, and Jed looked them each over until he finally decided on one of the poker games. He waited until the current hand was done playing, and approached the table.


“Evenin’,” he greeted the players. “Room for one more?”


“Sure,” came back the unanimous response. “Pull up a chair, join in.”


“Thanks.”


“I’m Tom,” the first player introduced himself. “This here is Ethan, then Nobel, next to him is Brian, and then Joe.”


“Howdy. I’m Jed.”


“Okay,” said Brian. “The game is Stud, and the anti is $20.00.”


“Yep,” Jed agreed as he dipped into his inside shirt pocket. “$20.00. Let’s play.”


Xxx


“$200.00 to meet the pot, and I raise another $300.” Waring announced.


Heyes thought about his hand and whether or not it was worth the risk. He watched as the other players all made their bids and was glad to have the extra time to make his own decision. Dickson met the pot, as did Pierce. Longstreet met it and raised another $100. Hargitt met that and raised it another $150. Predictably, Wyles folded. Heyes wondered again, why he even bothered to come to these games, year after year. The man did not know how to play to win. Then Heyes nearly cringed, as Bates met the pot and raised it himself, another $50. He then smiled smugly, as though he knew that he had the winning hand. Heyes knew that he did not.
Then all eyes were on Heyes, waiting for him to decide.


Heyes smiled, then shook his head. “Too rich for this hand. I fold.”


Bates snorted derisively and Pierce smiled like a snake in the grass, both men mistakenly assuming that Heyes’ reputation as a poker player far exceeded his actual ability.
Everyone looked to Waring again, and he did not disappoint.


“I’ll meet the current bid and raise it $100.”


The betting carried on like this for another round, which then left only Waring and Pierce still holding the game.


Waring made his bet and the pressure was on Pierce to decide what he was going to do. The pot was substantial, but not as big as it was likely to get before the night was done. Pierce debated, stroking his moustache as dollar signs danced before his eyes. Finally, he made his choice.


“I’ll meet your bet, and raise you another $50.”


Waring smiled. “$50, and call.”


Everyone leaned forward, as both men placed their cards down on the table. Heyes smiled. He was glad he had folded.


Pierce cursed as Waring raked in the chips to join his ever growing pile.


“Damn you,” Pierce grumbled. “There ought to be a limit as to how many times the same player can win this game, year after year.”


Waring chuckled. “Nobody says you have to keep coming back, year after year.”


“I had hoped, that with two new players this year, things might get a little more interesting,” Pierce commented. “Unfortunately, neither one of them seems to be showing much gusto.”


“Don’t count me out yet, Mr. Pierce,” Dickson snapped back. “It’s not always the horse leading the pack that wins the race. Of course, you Westerners probably don’t realize that, since all you race out here are those rangy cow horses that can’t run more than a quarter of a mile. Come back East and watch a real horse race, and maybe, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.”


“I have been back East, Mr. Dickson,” Pierce countered. “I’ve bet on many a thoroughbred, and played in a number of high stakes games. Funny thing is, I don’t seem to recall your name ever showing up on the roster. Yet you claim to be quite familiar with the games back there.”


“Perhaps I play in a different league than you,” Dickson returned with a sneer. “You may feel more at ease, playing on the same level as Mr. Heyes, here. I suspect that prison poker is more your speed.”


“Gentlemen, please!” Waring interjected, before things got out of hand. “The night is still young. Plenty of opportunity for anyone to take home the big pot. Mr. Heyes, if you would be so kind as to deal this next hand.”


“Yes, of course, Mr. Waring,” Heyes agreed, as his mistrust for Dickson grew. “That is certainly one talent I was able to bring out of prison with me.”


“Yes, quite,” Waring commented, again attempting to calm the waters. “Let’s continue, shall we?”


Heyes nodded, and taking the deck, he passed them over to Mr. Bates. Bates cut the deck three times, and handed them back. Heyes shuffled them, and still keeping his eyes on Dickson, began to deal out the cards.


“Are you sure that the deck is complete, Mr. Heyes?” Dickson asked him. “Not one short, by any chance?”


“I assure you,” Heyes responded as he finished dealing the first round. “That the deck is complete.”


“How can you assure us of that, without counting them?”


“I know when a deck is short, Mr. Dickson,” Heyes assured him. “I can feel it.”


Dickson snorted. “Surely you can’t tell just by the feel of a deck, if it is one card short!”


“Surely I can,” Heyes returned. “And if you were half the poker player you claim to be, you would be able to do so, as well.”


“I must admit,” Hargitt spoke up before Dickson could respond. “I tend to agree with Mr. Dickson. You do have the reputation as a card sharp, Mr. Heyes. Not to mention, a safe cracker, and, of course, a thief. How can we be sure that you did not slither your way into this game, in order to steal from us?”


Mr. Waring puffed himself up in preparation for an explosion. “Mr. Hargitt…!”


Heyes raised a hand. “It’s quite alright, Mr. Waring,” he assured their host. “I’m sure that Mr. Hargitt is not the only man here who has concerns on that matter.” He looked around at the other players, and aside from Longstreet, none of them could meet his eye. Heyes smiled sadly. “That’s what I thought. Let me assure you all, here and now, I have a lot riding on my intention and ability to stay law abiding. I have a lovely wife, a growing family and an honest livelihood. I did my time in prison, and I have no desire to end up back there again.”


“Yes,” Hargitt laughed. “Five years of a 20-year sentence. Hardly what I would call ‘doing time’. Seems to me you got off easy, and now you think you can simply coast through life.  Marrying a wealthy widow, didn’t hurt.”


Heyes felt the muscle in his neck twitch, but all he presented to the players was an indulgent smile.


“You may consider five years in the Wyoming Territorial as easy time, Mr. Hargitt, but I assure you, it was not,” he said. “As for my wife, I warn you not to go there. She is a fine woman, and I will abide no disrespect.”


“Indeed,” Mr. Longstreet interjected. “We have all met Mrs. Heyes. She did not strike me as a woman who could be easily duped into a marriage by some fortune-hunting scoundrel. As for your insinuation that Mr. Heyes is cheating, I have yet to see any evidence of that.”


“I believe that is the whole point of being successful at cheating,” Dickson stated. “I understand that Mr. Heyes is a master at deception. Of course we would not see it.”


Heyes smiled dangerously. He really was hoping that Dickson would turn out to be their man. “Poker is a game of deception, is it not, Mr. Dickson? And I don’t need to cheat in order to win.”


“I don’t notice you winning much here, so far,” Dickson pointed out.


“Then there is hardly any point in accusing me of cheating!”  Heyes responded, his patience finally coming to an end.


“Mr. Heyes is correct!” Waring cut in. “Enough of this bickering. Mr. Heyes was invited to join this game because of his ability as a player, just as all of you were. Unless any of you see any indication of cheating, I don’t want to hear any more about it. And that goes for any comments concerning Mrs. Heyes, as well. The next hand has been dealt. Let us begin!”


“Here, here!” Mr. Bates agreed.


As luck would have it, Heyes found himself with a very promising hand for this round. Now, he had a problem. He was the dealer, this time around, and now is when he gets a good hand? If anything was going to encourage accusations of cheating, that would. Should he let the hand go, in order to keep the peace, or appearances be damned and play to the hilt?


It didn’t take him long to decide. The gambler in him could not let a good hand go. He played to win, and this time around, he did. Predictably, Mr. Dickson snorted his opinion.


“Mr. Dickson!” Waring exclaimed. “Your attitude is beyond acceptable. The only reason I can think of for you to be continuing with this nonsense, is that you feel intimidated by Mr. Heyes’ ability and that you wish to discredit him before he has the chance to prove himself. I, for one, am pleased to have Mr. Heyes with us, this year. Even if it does mean losing my winning streak. The group was becoming stagnant, with the same players over and over again, every year. Some new blood, especially some that offers us a challenge, can only make the game more exciting, and take the level of play up to a new level. I will not tolerate one man ruining the evening for the rest of us. Especially one who is also new to this game. One more outburst like this, and you will be excused, with no compensation. Do you understand, Mr. Dickson?”


Dickson paled considerably throughout this onslaught.


“Yes, of course, Mr. Waring,” he humbly conceded. “My apologies. And to you as well, Mr. Heyes. My apologies for my rudeness.”


The two men locked eyes, and Heyes saw nothing of contrition in Dickson’s manner. He smiled, none the less, and nodded his acceptance. If Dickson was his man, he did not want to alienate him, and he certainly did not want him leaving the game.


“Good!” Waring also accepted that the matter was truly closed. “Now, I suggest that we take a half hour break. It’s one a.m., and I’m sure that we could all use a stretch of the legs.”


“Oh, thank goodness,” Bates commented. “I need the privy, and then a good solid drink after that. Some more of those tasty sandwiches wouldn’t be unwelcomed either.”


“I’m sure there will be more coming in,” Waring assured the party. He stood up and walked around to the double doors and gave them a solid rapping. They opened, and one of the armed deputies poked his head in. “It’s time for a break, Deputy. We’re coming out.”


“Yessir,” the deputy acknowledged, and came into the room. “I will remain in here while you leave, and make sure than none of the chips leave as well.”


“Very wise, Deputy,” Waring agreed. “Gentlemen, if you would please file out, one at a time, and keep your hands away from the chips, thank you.”


Heyes scraped his chair back, and standing up, he stretched out his back and shoulders. He hadn’t realized how cramped up he was getting, until the opportunity came to move. He had to stop letting Dickson and Hargitt get to him. Hargitt, he could understand; he was testing the waters. But Dickson was another matter. He wasn’t sure what was going on there.


Stepping out into the hallway, Heyes began to make his way towards the impromptu gambling hall, when he spied the Kid already coming towards him.


“Hey, Heyes,” Jed greeted him, as they met half way. “How’s it goin’?”


“Not good,” Heyes admitted, with a sigh. “Let’s sit down over here, where we have some privacy.”


The open café in the center of the first floor, was virtually empty at this time of night, so the partners picked a quiet table, where Heyes could keep an eye on the other players, but still be able to discuss things with Jed, without having to worry about being overheard.


“What’s goin’ on?” Jed asked.


“Well, for one thing, I’m losing,” Heyes griped. “I’m down ten grand. Just before the break was the first winning hand I’ve had all evening.”


“Oh,” Jed commented. “Yeah, that ain’t good.”


“On top of that,” Heyes continued. “I really can’t be sure who our man is.”


“Yeah?” Kid asked. “You seemed to think you had a good idea before ya’ went in there. That turn out to be a false trail?”


“I don’t know,” Heyes admitted with a frustrated sigh. “I sure hope it’s him; the guy’s being an ass. But he’s not giving anything away. I can’t even hear a hint of an accent. The only reason I can suspect him, is because nobody knows him. He’s new to this game.”


“Yeah, but so are you.”


“At least they know me by reputation,” Heyes reminded him. “That counts for something. Dickson claims to be from back East, and so far, I can’t find any flaws in that story.”


“Maybe his is from back East,” Jed pointed out. “We’re all assumin’ this guy is native to England, but maybe he ain’t. Maybe he just went there to ply his trade until things got too hot for ‘im, and now he’s come home.”


Heyes looked at his cousin with mild enlightenment shining in his eyes. He smiled.


“I never thought of that,” he admitted. “We might not be looking for an Englishman at all.”


“Yeah. I ain’t sayin’ that’s the case, but it’s somethin’ to consider.”


Heyes nodded agreement.


“Excuse me, sir.”


Heyes glanced up to be met with one of the porters, presenting Heyes with a large sandwich and a mug of ale.


“Yes?”


“It was decided that a small meal would be provided for the players during the break, rather than when the game re-commences. On the house.”


“Oh!” Heyes brightened up. “Thank you. Ah, can I get one for my friend, as well?” Slight hesitation followed this request, and Heyes quickly added, “On my tab, of course.”


The porter smiled with relief. “Oh, yes sir. No problem.”


“Good.”


“Thanks, Heyes,” Kid said, as the porter departed. “I am kind’a hungry.”


“Hmm, they make an incredible sandwich here, too. It’s a meal in itself. Here,” Heyes continued over a mouthful, “take the other half, then we’ll split yours when it comes.”


Jed grinned and grabbed the handful of sandwich.


“So what’s this Dickson fella doin’ that’s got ya’ pissed at ‘im?”


“Just being obnoxious,” Heyes informed him. “He keeps proddin’ at me, accusing me of cheating based on who I am, and where I spent the worst five years of my life.”


“Geesh,” Jed grumbled. “And he’s gettin’ away with that?”


“No,” Heyes admitted. “Waring’s let him have it a couple of times. Threatened to have him removed from the game, if he doesn’t stop it. But that in itself isn’t what has me concerned. I can take a bit of heckling, sometimes that’s part of the game. But my main concern is why is he doing it?”


The porter returned at this time, and placed another large sandwich and mug of dark brown ale down in front of the Kid. Jed ginned through his current mouthful and nodded his thanks. A quick swallow of beer, and the conversation continued.


“Do ya’ think it’s more than just tryin’ ta’ throw ya’ off your game?”


Heyes shrugged again. “I don’t know. It depends. If he is who he says he is, there could be a number of reasons for it. The first is the obvious one: he sees me as the biggest threat in the game, and he’s trying to un-nerve me. Or, he really does think that because I was an outlaw, and did time, that I cannot be trusted, and he really does believe that I’m cheating. Even though he can’t prove it. On the other hand, if he’s who I think he is, he may suspect that I’m here to weed him out, and he’s trying to discredit me right from the get go. All I need to do is figure out which it is.”


“Yeah. And in the meantime, you’re losin’.”


Heyes frowned. “Thanks for the reminder.”


“Just keepin’ ya’ on your toes, Heyes.” Jed then sat back and tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle a yawn.


Heyes’ frown deepened. “I don’t mean to be keeping you up; you could go to bed, ya’ know.”


“No, no, that’s alright,” Jed waved the suggestion away as he fought with another expression of exhaustion. “I’m fine.”


Heyes tightly clenched his jaw against the contagion, determined not to be dragged down by it. “There’s no reason for you to stay up,” he continued, once he felt in control again. “You see those two rather large deputies over there?”


“Can hardly miss ‘em.”


“Well, they’re doing a really good job of guarding that door,” Heyes pointed out. “If anybody inside that room, or out, tries to pull anything, I’m quite confident that those gentlemen will be capable of dealing with it.”


“I donno, Heyes,” Jed countered this reasoning. “What if the guilty party decides to hold the game hostage?”


“Hostage?”


“Yeah. And what if he does realize that you’re in there to catch ‘im? He might let the other players go, and just hold you hostage, demandin’ to be allowed to leave with all the money, or he’ll blow your brains out. What then?”


“I think you’re being a little melodramatic…”


“And how could I face Miranda, knowin’ that your body parts were strewn all over the inside ‘a that room, while I was in my bed, snorin’, instead ‘a watchin’ your back?”


Heyes sighed. “Can’t knock your logic there.”


“No,” Jed agreed. “So, I’ll just stick around and play some poker, or some blackjack. Keep an eye on things.”


“What about Mr. Finney?” Heyes asked. “Is he still on the job?”


Jed sat up straighter, his mood changing to more serious matters.


“That guy is scary,” he admitted. “Geez, Heyes, I thought you and I were good at disappearin’ in plain sight, but he’s downright spooky. I’d have my eye on ‘im, certain that I’m keepin’ ‘im in my sites, then suddenly I’d spot ‘im way on the other side‘a the room. How does he do that?”


Heyes shrugged. “I told ya’ he was good.”


“Yeah,” Jed agreed, emphatically. “All I can say is, I’m glad he’s workin’ for us on this job, and not against us.”


“Well, technically, we’re working for him,” Heyes pointed out. “But I get your gist. For an unassuming little man, he could have been dangerous for us.”


“Yep.”


“Excuse me, gentlemen?” Waring’s voice sounded from behind Heyes. “The game is about to re-commence.”


“Ah! Thank you,” Heyes said. “I’ll be right there.”


“Certainly,” Waring agreed. “Just so you know, everyone will be searched thoroughly before re-entering the game room. For everyone’s security, you understand.”


Heyes’ face fell in disappointment as Mr. Waring departed.


“Damn,” he grumbled. “Oh well. I suppose they are just being careful. I’ll see you later, Kid.”


“Yep,” Jed repeated, as his partner stood up and prepared to leave. “Oh, and Heyes? Don’t ya’ think it’s about time ya’ started playin’ ta’ win?”


“Yeah, yeah.”


Heyes made his departure and went over to join the group of men milling about in front of the large double doors. It seems that everyone was having to wait their turn to be searched by a deputy. Heyes inwardly cringed.


Jed grinned while he watched his partner’s back tense up with dread as he headed for the inevitable.  He sighed contentedly and stretched out his full length while producing yet another, jaw snapping yawn. That done, he eyed what was left of Heyes’ sandwich, but decided that he’d had more than enough to eat already. Time to get back to work.


He stood up and made his way back into the make shift gambling hall. He hesitated by the poker game he’d been playing at, but decided that poker wasn’t doing him any favors this night. He scanned the room, debating over what should be his next game when Mr. Finney was suddenly standing at his elbow.


Jed jumped, his right hand dropping instinctively towards his holstered gun. He then relaxed and sighed with relief.


“Geez, Mr…Kevin,” he grumbled. “Ain’t I told ya’ already, not to do that to me?”


Finney smiled softly, as though he had enjoyed giving the ex-outlaw a start.


“And how is our friend, Hannibal, doing with his game?” Finney asked, nonchalantly.


“Not so good,” Jed admitted. “Ain’t nothin’ linin’ up for ‘im, as of yet.”


“Ah,” Finney nodded his understanding. “Not to worry. The night is still young.”


“Uh huh.”


“And how are the games of chance treating you, tonight?” Finney asked.


“Not much better,” Jed admitted. “I think I’ll go try my hand at blackjack.”


“Aye. Fine idea.”


Xxx


The players settled back down in their appropriate chairs around the poker table. Heyes did a quick calculating of his chips and was satisfied that none had been touched or moved in any way. He permitted himself a discreet reckoning of everyone else’s chips as well, and knew that everything was in exactly the same positions as they had been, when the game had broken for lunch.


He sighed deeply, gave his fingers a crack and settled in to play poker. He had decided he was going to change strategy during the second half of this game. Enough trying to second guess the bad guy. Finney had cautioned him that their man was a genius at disguise, so he wasn’t going to let himself be found out that easily. If he was in the game, the best route now was for Heyes to play to win and hope that having his plans threatened, would rattle their prey just enough for him to make a mistake.


Aside from that, Heyes knew that he had to turn things around. He couldn’t afford to lose his stake. But he knew that his focus had been divided between two objectives and therefore, he hadn’t been successful at obtaining either one. It was time to get serious. Find his direction and, as the Kid had said, start playing to win. Everything else would work its way out.


Xxx


Jed made his way over to the blackjack table and took possession of one of the empty chairs situated around the card table. The dealer acknowledged him and Jed nodded back, but the other players ignored him, focusing instead on their own cards and attempting to keep track of the count.


With the previous hand played and now a new player in the mix, the dealer shuffled the shoe, thereby throwing off any counting that the other players may have been attempting. A couple of the players sent Jed a disgruntled look, as though it were his fault that the dealer was only doing what a good dealer would do. Keep the shoe shuffled on a regular basis and prevent any of the players from remembering an accurate count.


Jed smiled to himself at the sore losers and settled in to play. It wasn’t long before he was thinking that he should have left poker for the blackjack table, hours earlier. His losing streak over there had not followed him over here and soon he had a growing pile of chips in front of him. A couple of the players packed it in and left, but two others still remained and the betting continued.


When it comes to blackjack, each player is only betting against the dealer so there really isn’t any need to keep an eye on the other players at the table, but Jed still liked to do so. He was discreet about it though, as a player being scrutinized at this game may take offense at the intrusion and get huffy about it. But Jed’s long years of watching his partner’s back had ingrained the habit into him to always be on the lookout for cheaters and scoundrels, even when he and Heyes had been scoundrels themselves.


Tonight was no exception to his rule, but decided early on, that there wasn’t much in the way of cheating being attempted. Some of the players who came and went were trying to count the cards, but that was allowed, so long as they didn’t start writing things down. And as long as the dealer shuffled the shoe on a regular basis, counting cards wasn’t really going to give a player any kind of advantage anyway.


Jed smirked at the concentrating expressions on a few of the faces and was rewarded by a middle-aged man sending him a scowl.


“What’s your problem, mister?”


“Who? Me?” Jed asked with exaggerated innocence. “Nothin’. Just wonderin’ why yer botherin’ ta’ count the cards, when it ain’t gonna do ya’ no good.”


The scowl deepened. “Who says I’m countin’ cards!”


“Sorry,” the Kid backed off. “I didn’t mean nothin’ by it.”


“Sorry!” the player repeated. “Damn! Now I’m off my game.” He threw in his cards and gathered up what chips he had in front of him. “I’m gonna go play some poker. If I’m gonna be scrutinized, there may as well be a reason for it!”


He stood up and stomped off towards the table that Jed had earlier vacated.


“Well, I hope he has more luck over there than I did,” Jed commented. “They play mean poker at that table.”


“Ah, don’t worry about it,” commented the young man sitting next to Jed. “That fella’s been losin’ all night. Some folks is just bad card players.”


“You got that right,” Jed agreed. “You seem to be doin’ alright.”


The man smiled at the pile of chips stacked up in front of him. “Yeah. I hope you don’t break my run ‘a luck.”


Jed smiled. “I’m certainly gonna try.”


The man smiled back and offered his hand. “I’m Clancy. Clancy Gilmore.”


“Howdy,” Jed greeted him, and they shook hands. “Jed Curry.”


If Jed had been expecting a reaction from his new friend, he would have been disappointed. Clancy’s repression remained friendly, but neutral.


“Howdy. You from around these parts?”


“I am now,” Jed said, as the dealer began to hand out cards again. “I live in a small town west of here, called Brookswood.” Then he decided to push the envelope. “But I used to hail from up Wyoming way.”


“Oh yeah?” Clancy responded. “I spent some time in Wyoming. It’s a real purdy state.”


“Depends on what part yer in,” Jed told him, dryly. “How about you? Where do you hail from before Wyoming?”


“Kansas.”


“Oh yeah?” Jed perked up. “My folks were from Kansas. Lived and died there. I got out as soon as I could.”


Jed instantly felt a tension develop in the other man’s body language, as though he suddenly regretted claiming Kansas as his home town. But why would he lie about it?


“You fellas gonna stop jawin’ and play cards?” one of the other players demanded, irritably. “Yer makin’ it hard ta’ focus, here!”


“Oh, sorry,” Jed apologized and sent a sheepish smile to Clancy.


That young man smiled back, but then turned his attention to his own cards and the play began.


Xxx


Heyes sat calmly as he watched the other players go through various emotions, all based on their individual personalities. The pot was big, at least $80,000, and this was when the more easily intimidated participants began to sweat.


Waring sat stoically, waiting for the betting to make its way around the table. He had a good hand but he wasn’t about to let that be known to the general public. He sat and watched as each player held true to the course, or crumpled and fell to the wayside.


Pierce had bet to the pot and hoped that the moisture he could feel dripping down his forehead was perspiration and not his oily hair tonic. He wouldn’t be able to tell without wiping his hand across his skin, and he wasn’t about to do that and risk coming across as some kind of dandy.
Dickson was grumpy as usual. He was eyeing Heyes on a regular basis, either trying to un-nerve him or actually looking for any signs of cheating. Heyes smirked inwardly. Even if he was going to cheat in this game, nobody here would be able to spot it. If Dickson thought he was going to figure out Heyes’ tell, he was again, looking for ghosts on the wind. He eventually did place a bet, but he kept it close.


Longstreet folded. The game this year was proving to be too rich for his cards, and he had the good manners to withdraw from the final rounds and watch, to see who would be the victor.
Wyles also folded. The pot was too big, and his pile of remaining chips too small for him to want to risk any more of it. If he left the game with at least some money in his pocket, perhaps his wife won’t hen peck him to death during the trip home.


Bates was running out of chips and the chinks in his armor were beginning to widen. He wasn’t ready to give it up yet, though, and he placed his bet, just to stay in the game.


Hargitt was in for the long haul. Now that Dickson had been subdued from his haggling, Hargitt seemed to think it was his personal duty to run Heyes into the ground. It was unacceptable for some lowly ex-con, no matter who he used to be, to take control of this game, and Hargitt had appointed himself as the player who would make sure that it didn’t happen.


Heyes liked that idea. A player who begins to take things personally isn’t going to be playing to his full capacity. Emotions will get in the way of both logic and intuition, and since Hargitt had already shown himself to be a reckless bidder, all Heyes had to do was hold his own, until Hargitt hung himself out to dry.


Heyes’ mind was flicking like quicksilver. He knew his chances with the cards that he held, and he now, finally, knew how he was going to play his game. He smiled and glanced around at his fellow players and they were all watching him. With a sigh, he counted out his chips and added the appropriate amount to the pot.


The tension was mounting as the pot grew and all eyes now turned to Waring.


That gentleman smiled and shook his head.


“Not this time,” he admitted. “I fold.”


The next one to crumble was Pierce. His nerve only lasted so long, and when he compared what he had in front of him, to how much he’d have to put into the pot just to stay in the game, it was too rich for his blood. He folded and hoped that the next deal would give him a more competitive hand.


Dickson scowled and gnashed his teeth against the inevitable. Eventually, he followed Pierce’s lead and folded. There was no good sense in sending good money after bad, and as much as he wanted to see Heyes crushed, he would wait and launch a new attack with the next round.
Bates was sweating and constantly looking at his hand and then at the pot. Back and forth, back and forth. He had just enough chips left in front of him to meet the current bet, and if no one else raised it, he might just have a chance at $80,000. Or, he could go home broke. Finally, while biting his lower lip, he made a show of counting his chips and then pushed the whole lot into the pot.


Heyes inwardly groaned. Bates should have followed the example of the two previous players, and folded while he still had chips in front of him.  The chances of him having a better hand than both Heyes and Hargitt, were slim to none. But it was done, and now everyone looked to Hargitt.


Hargitt puffed himself up, smiling with his own self-assurance.


“I’ll meet the pot,” he announced. “And raise it, fifty dollars.”


This move elicited nervous murmurings from some of the other players, but a loud groan over-shadowed them all.  Mr. Bates did not have the chips left to meet the raise. He was out of the game, and broke.


Heyes sighed. “Alright, Mr. Hargitt. I’ll meet your raise, and call.”


Hargitt smiled triumphantly and laid his down cards down on the table, spreading them for all to see. Whistles met this action. Hargitt’s hand would be hard to beat, and Heyes couldn’t do it.


“Congratulations, Mr. Hargitt,” he said, good-naturedly. “You’ve won the biggest pot of the
evening. So far.”


Hargitt smirked at Heyes, as he hauled in the pot. “It sounds to me like you’re not ready to admit defeat yet, Mr. Heyes. Another round?”


“The night isn’t quite over yet, Mr. Hargitt,” Heyes responded. “I’m still in the game, if you are.”


“By all means. Another hand.”


Xxx


“Another card,” Jed requested.


The dealer flicked him one from the shoe, and Jed hissed through his teeth when he saw the denomination.


“Damn, I’m out,” he admitted and threw in his hand.


Clancy sent him a sideways glance and tossed in another bet. The next player folded and the one next to him asked for another card. He smiled and placed another bet. The dealer called the game and spread out his hand. The other player groaned and gave it up. Clancy grinned like a schoolboy and spread out his hand for the others to see. Sure enough, it beat the dealer’s hand by two.


“Good play,” Jed complimented him. “You seem to have a knack for this.”


“Yeah,” Clancy agreed, feeling relaxed again, now that he was winning. “My brothers and I would always play 21 back home, all the time.”


“Back home?” Jed asked. “Ya’ mean, in Kansas?”


“Yeah,” Clancy clarified. “In Kansas.”


“I ain’t heard this game called 21 in a long time,” Jed commented. “And certainly not in Kansas. You sure you’re from…?”


“So what?” Clancy asked, becoming defensive. “That’s what my family called it. Is that a problem for you?”


“Noo,” Jed assured him. “No problem. Just sayin’.”


“Good.”


The dealer collected in his winnings for the house and new cards were dealt out for the next round. Jed checked his spread and decided to hold.


“So, you’ve spent time in Wyoming, huh?”


“Yeah,” the lad concurred as he checked his hand and asked for another card. “I gotta admit, I prefer it here in Colorado, though. Why?”


“Well,’ Jed shrugged. “I’m just kind’a surprised that ya’ ain’t heard ‘a me.”


“Heard of ya’?” Clancy asked. “Why should I?”


“So you live in Wyoming, but you ain’t never heard ‘a Kid Curry, Hannibal Heyes—the Devil’s Hole Gang?”


Clancy looked over at Jed, and his uneasiness returned. “Oh. Well, ah…yeah, I guess I’ve heard of ya’. I don’t pay much mind to that kind ‘a thing…”


“You’re Kid Curry?” came an inquiry from the other side of the blackjack table. “Hell, I was wonderin’ what happened to you. Once them trials was over with, you kind’a just dropped outa sight, didn’t ya’?”


“Ah, yeah. Sort of,” Jed admitted, feeling slightly irritated that his rapport with Clancy had been interrupted.


“Damn!” the player cursed again, and then got up from his chair and came over to Jed, his hand outstretched. “Well now, I just gotta shake that famous gun hand. Just goes ta’ show, ya’ never know who yer gonna run into at a shindig like this.”


Jed smiled politely and shook the man’s hand. “Yeah, thank you. Ya’ just never know.”


“Name’s Jack Tobias. It sure is good ta’ meet ya’. Say, how’s yer partner? I heard he got paroled. Is he around here somewhere?” And he began to look around the lounge, hoping to spot the other half of the infamous duo.


“Yeah,” Jed confirmed. “Ah, he’s in there, playin’ in the big fancy game. They ought to be done soon.”


Jed noticed Clancy give him a quick double-take with that information, then quickly covered the reaction and went back to studying his cards.


“Is that so?” Tobias exclaimed. “Well now, I guess that do make sense, don’t it? He always was a sharpie, weren’t he?”


“Are we playin’ cards, or jawin’!” complained the other player. “Let’s get on with this.”


“Oh yeah, right,” Tobias agreed. “Time ta’ play cards.” He then turned and gave Clancy a gentle shove on his shoulder. “Damn! You’ve lived here in the West, and you don’t even know about Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry? Geeze boy, you gotta get out more.”


Clancy grinned nervously. He sent Jed a quick glance and then went back to studying his cards.
Jed backed off, not wanting to spook the youngster. But the hairs on the back of his neck were starting to rise up, and he knew that something more was going on here.


“Ah, deal me out’a this round,” he told the dealer. “I need a beer. I’ll be back though.”


“Very good, sir,” the dealer acknowledged. “Leave you chips and no one will take your place.”


“Yeah, thanks.”


Jed got up and headed for the bar. He casually scanned the area, looking for Finney but couldn’t see him. Damn, just when he needed the man, he couldn’t be found. He sighed and caught the bartender’s eye.


“One beer,” he ordered.


The barkeep nodded and set about pulling it.


“You wanted a word, did you?”


Jed nearly jumped out of his skin. “Damn!” he cursed. “Stop doing that!”


Finney smiled. “That young fella you’re sitting with—not setting well with you, is he?”


Jed paid for his beer and took a sip. “No, he ain’t. He claims to be from Kansas, but got real uncomfortable when I told ‘im that I was from Kansas as well. Like he got caught in a lie, or somethin’. On top ‘a that, he claims to have been living in Wyoming for a while now, and he thinks it’s a ‘purdy’ state.”


“Oh, aye,” Finney exaggerated his agreement. “That’s a sure give away that he’s not whom he claims.”


Jed gave him a look. “It ain’t just that,” he insisted. “He’s been livin’ here, loves the West, so he claims, but ain’t never heard ‘a me and Heyes. I can’t put my finger on it, but that just ain’t right. Somethin’s goin’ on here.”


Finney nodded. “Aye. Your ego aside, I tend to agree. When I was here the last time, I would have had to be living in a barrel to not hear of Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes. Granted, some time has passed since then, but hardly enough to wipe you from living memory.”


“Well, thanks for that, at least,” Jed grumbled. “Most of the fellas here know who we are, even if they don’t know us on sight. But he ain’t never even heard of us. And sayin’ that Wyoming is a ‘purdy’ state!  Well…maybe up north, in the Yellowstone. But…most people just complain about the wind.”


“Aye,” Finney agreed. “I’ll saunter over in a little bit and join in the game. Perhaps between the two of us, we can rattle him enough to show his other hand.”


“Good.”


Jed picked up his beer, took another sip and headed back to the blackjack table. Finney strolled off in the opposite direction.
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Keays

Keays

Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 62
Location : Camano Island Washington

Game On Empty
PostSubject: Re: Game On   Game On EmptyWed Jul 20, 2016 9:05 pm

The bets were large, and the pot was growing quickly. The stress of the previous hand was nothing compared to the atmosphere in the room now. For those who had already left the game, the tension was off, and they could sit back and watch the strategies being played out. But for those still in the game, the mood was tight.


Waring took a deep breath and let it out through pursed lips. He was determined to stay in the game, knowing that he still had a chance at the big pot, but he also knew that he was playing catch-up. His big mistake was assuming right from the start that he would, again, be the big winner tonight. Knowing of Mr. Heyes’ reputation at the poker table was nothing compared to actually watching the man in action. That privilege itself, was almost worth losing to him. Almost.


“I’ll bet to the pot,” he stated. “and raise by $2,000.”


Dickson didn’t hesitate. “I’ll meet that bet, and raise another $1,000.”


Pierce was definitely sweating now. His fine moustache drooped, and his slicked back hair had lost its hold and strands of it were falling down over his eyes, adding to his appearance of desperation. He’d lost all composure and was looking at his cards, then the pot and then at the small pile of chips still left in front of him. His mind was racing; what to do, what to do.
He glanced around at the other players and realized that his pile of chips was one of the smallest at the table. Did he want to risk it all? As it stood, he’d have to contribute $3,000 to the pot, just to stay in the game, and he still wanted to have some fun, before he left town. Oh, what the hell. He’d give it one more go around.


“I’ll bet to the pot,” he finally announced, and pushed the appropriate amount in to the middle of the table.


Hargitt took the time to meet the eye of each player who was still in the game, as though ridiculing them for thinking that they actually still had a chance.


“I’ll meet the current bet,” he stated, confidently. “And raise by $20,000.”


Groans made their way around the table. Waring and Pierce both threw in their hands in disgust. Neither of them had the funds to beat that bet. Dickson was glaring at Hargitt for deliberately pushing the pot so high, taking it out of reach for all but three of them. Dickson had enough to meet the bet and stay in the game, but only if Heyes didn’t raise. If he did, Dickson was out.


All eyes turned to the soft dimpled smile. Heyes knew that this round was between himself and Hargitt. Dickson had enough to meet the pot, but nothing more. If he was smart, he would fold on this hand and keep enough to still have a good time in town. But Heyes knew that Dickson wasn’t particularly smart, and that he also had a grudge going. If Heyes met the current bet, and then raised, he would push Dickson out of game, allowing him to limp away with what he still had in front of him. But Heyes wanted what Dickson had in front of him, he wanted that fool to push everything he had into the pot, and then be forced to call it.


“I’ll meet that bet,” Heyes said, and pushed his chips in.


Silence then, as everyone looked to Dickson. He bore his gaze into Heyes, feeling like he was being set up, but still not able to let the chance go. Heyes sat back, relaxed and confident, waiting for Dickson to make his choice. Heyes’ nonchalance irritated Dickson even more. With this much money at stake, how could he not be sweating? He didn’t even have the good graces to squirm under Dickson’s hard gaze. The man was infuriating.


“I’ll meet the bet,” Dickson announced. “And call.”


Hargitt smiled. With a haughtiness intended to irritate, he set his cards on the table and fanned them open. Whistles of admiration did the rounds, but Dickson cursed. He threw his cards onto the table in a huff and sat back with folded arms to nurse a wounded ego. The only way this could be made acceptable, is if Heyes also had to throw in his cards.


But Heyes did not throw in his cards. He set them down and casually fanned them out. Silence followed as everyone took in the hand. It was a hand that could have been beat, but Heyes had taken a chance on it and played it to the hilt. It had been a true gamble, but it paid off.


Hargitt’s smugness deflated. To his credit, he rallied and offered his congratulations.


“Well played, Mr. Heyes,” he said, with a slight tremor in his voice. “It seems that you have now won the largest pot of the evening. So far.”


Heyes nodded, and grinned with satisfaction, as he racked in his winnings.


“Well,” Mr. Waring commented as the previous deck was discarded, and a new one brought onto the table. “It seems we are at a tie, gentlemen. By the rules of this game, there can be only one man standing at the end. One more hand, and the winner will walk away with over $100,000 in their bank account. If you wish to take a break, now would be a good time.”


Glances went around the table. Nobody seemed interested in walking away now.


“Let’s play poker,” Heyes stated.


“To the last man standing,” Hargitt agreed.


“Fine,” Waring accepted the decision. “The last hand. May the best player win.” And he tore open the box of the final deck.


Xxx


Jed returned to the blackjack table, all smiles and amiability. He glanced at the chips in front of Clancy and grinned all the more.


“You are doin’ good,” he commented. “I’m gonna have ta try real hard, just to keep up with ya’.”


Clancy smiled over at him. “Like I said, I’ve played this game a lot.”


“Yeah. It shows.” Jed agreed. “It takes a real good memory to consistently win at blackjack. What do you do for a livin’? You a banker, or somethin’?”


Clancy snorted. “No. I’m no banker,” he said. “I ain’t really settled on any one thing yet. Maybe I’ll become a private detective, or something. Might be, I’d be good at it.” And he grinned at Curry, as though making a pointed joke.


Jed laughed. “Yeah, ya might be, at that.”


“Gentlemen, is this chair available?”


Jed did a good job of covering his surprise. He looked up at the new arrival and swore that he was looking at Finney, but the accent coming to his ears was a flawless, southwestern variety that had no resemblance at all to the Irish lilt.


“Ah, no,” Jed responded, as he indicated the empty chair to his right. “Plenty ‘a room”


“Good,” Finney said, and pulled up the chair. “Name’s Hardcore. I came up here from Texas on some ranch business, and didn’t realize it was a big night in Denver. Couldn’t find a place to spend the night, so thought I’d do some gambling.”


“Howdy,” Jed played along. “I’m Jed Curry.”


Finney’s brows went up. “Really?” he exclaimed. “The Jed Curry? The fastest gun in the West, Jed Curry?”


“Well, yeah.”


Finney shook his hand with an over-kill of exuberance. “Imagin that! Kid Curry himself, sittin’ here, right next to me, playin’ blackjack.”


“That’s what I said!” Tobias announced from the other side of the table. “Can you believe it? And this young whippersnapper here, didn’t even know who he was.”


“Really?” Finney was incredulous. “You never heard ‘a Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes?”


“Well, I have now!” Clancy snarked, feeling put upon. “I ain’t never gonna forget ‘em after tonight.”


“Aw, that’s alright,” Jed said, quickly coming to Clancy’s rescue. “We’re kind’a old hat now, anyways. Can I buy ya’ a drink?”


“What? Oh…” Clancy was taken by surprise. “Yeah, sure. I guess.”


“What’ll ya’ have?”


“A beer, I suppose.”


“Sure thing,” Jed agreed. “Anybody else?”


“Well hell, if yur buyin’,” Tobias stated. “I’ll have a beer as well.”


Jed nodded, and looked to Finney.


“I’ll have a whiskey, thank you kindly.”


On his way over to the bar, Jed shook his head in mild disbelief. Finney was really playing this for all it was worth and Jed felt that he needed a moment away from the table, in order to compose himself. On top of that, offering to buy the table a round was the best way to get people relaxed and talking.


After he ordered the drinks to be delivered to their blackjack table, Jed did a casual stroll through the lobby on the pretense of using the privy. He had no real reason for doing so, other than to satisfy his own sense of caution over the status of the poker game. He wasn’t surprised to see two different, though equally as large and forbidding deputies, still guarding the doors. It had been a long night for those not caught up in the game, and it wouldn’t do for the guards to fall asleep on the job.


Jed puffed out a heavy sigh and carried on with his business. He really hadn’t expected the game to be over yet, but he still wanted to keep an eye on things, just in case something nasty went down before the game was officially over. So far, everything appeared pretty quiet, and he was eager to get back to the blackjack table to deal with his own intrigue.


The drinks had already been delivered when Jed headed back, and he could hear Finney’s feigned accent coming to him from all the way across the room. Granted, it was the wee hours of the morning, and many of the casual players had headed home or to their rooms for some shut-eye before the pending dawn. But it was still outside the norm, for the quiet and unassuming Yard man to be speaking in such loud and vibrant tones. He would have been good as a flimflammer himself.


Jed stifled a yawn as he sat down with that same group, but he wasn’t quite successful at hiding his tiredness from the others.


Clancy chuckled. “Havin’ a hard time keepin’ up, old man?” he teased him.


Jed smiled, good-naturedly. “Yeah. I gotta admit that pulling these all-nighters ain’t quite as easy as it used to be. Bed was starting to sound pretty good.”


“You ain’t plannin’ on callin’ it a night, are ya’?” Tobias asked, showing real concern. “We’re just getting’ warmed up here.”


“Oh no,” Jed assured them. “I’m here for the long haul.” And he smiled nonchalantly at Finney.
“Good!” Finney exclaimed as he banged his fist upon the table. “The night is not over yet!”


Xxx


Since Heyes and Hargitt had been sitting beside one another throughout the night, with them being the only two players left in the game, they decided to give themselves a little bit more room. The two men positioned themselves so they could engage in the subtleties of the game without putting too much strain on their necks by having to turn to watch the other player.
Everyone else at the table pulled back to give them room to spread out. The only rules were to remain quiet and not maneuver around behind either player. Only the person in the game would know what their down cards were. If this rule were even suspected of being breeched, the hand would be forfeit, and a new deck brought into play.


“Alright Gentlemen, here we go,” Waring announced, and after shuffling the deck, he dealt out two hole cards to each player, quickly followed by their window card.


Everyone leaned forward to get a look at who would be off on a running start. Hargitt found himself with the highest up card, with a ten of spades compared to Heyes’ two of hearts. He took a look at his two hole cards and decided to play it safe.


“I’ll meet the anti,” he announced. “$20,000.”


Heyes glanced at his hole cards and played the same. “$20,000.”


Chips were slid into the quickly expanding pot, and both players looked to the dealer.


Waring dealt another window card. Hargitt bagged himself a Queen of diamonds, while Heyes settled for the five of hearts.


Hargitt smiled and placed another bet. “$5,000.”


“I’ll meet your bet, and raise another five.”


“Fine,” Hargitt agreed. “Another five into the pot.”


Waring smiled. Both players were out for blood. They were biding their time, each waiting to see if the next window card was going to set them on the road towards the possible winning hand. If neither man folded after their next card, then it was going to be a fast and furious rush to the top of the pile, to see who would go home rich and who would go home broke.


Xxx


Clancy was still doing most of the winning at the blackjack table, while Jed and Finney appeared to be doing most of the talking. Tobias had decided to call it a night, and headed off towards his room, but Clancy wasn’t done gambling yet. He just wished the two older men would stop talking, as it was breaking his focus.


“So, you’re the infamous Kid Curry, huh?” Finney continued. “Are you really as fast as they say you are?”


“It depends on who said it,” Jed answered him. “Some claim I ain’t so fast, anymore. But ya’ know, I ain’t seen any of ‘em confident enough ta’ challenge me.”


Finney laughed and slapped Jed on the back. “That says a lot right there, now don’t it?”
“Yeah, it do.”


“C’mon, will you fellas stop talkin’!” Clancy complained. “If ya’ wanna visit, go over to the bar or somethin’.”


“Oh my,” Finney responded. “Isn’t this youngster gettin’ full ‘a himself. You didn’t mind talkin’ when someone was buyin’ ya’ a beer. Maybe ya’ better buy him another beer, Curry. Just to keep ‘im happy. And while you’re at it, I’ll have another whiskey.”


Jed sent Finney a hard look, but decided to play along. He caught the eye of the bar maid this time and indicated to her, his order. She nodded and headed off to fill it.


“You fellas sure did get a lot of attention with your trials,” Finney continued. “How come your partner got sent up the river, and you got off scott free? A little one-sided in the handing out justice department, weren’t they?”


“Yeah, they were,” Jed agreed. “But it don’t matter none now. We got ‘im out.”


Finney laughed louder than ever, and again gave Jed a slap on the back. “It may not matter to you, but I bet, it sure as hell mattered to him!”


“Yeah, I’d like ta’ bet too,” Clancy snarked. “Shut up.”


“Oh my,” Finney teased him. “I think it’s past your bedtime. Here, here’s yer drink comin’. Now drink up and let’s have an end to this unpleasantness.”


“The only unpleasantness is you fellas talkin’,” Clancy complained, but then helped himself to his beer, all the same.


“So how’s life treatin’ ya’ now?” Finney continued the conversation. “You fellas stayin’ out’a trouble with the law?”


“We’re sure tryin’,” Jed informed him. “We’re both married now, got families. I’m workin’ out on my father-in-law’s ranch.”


“Really?” Finney sounded incredulous. “Kind’a hard work for a fella your age. How about your partner? He doin’ the same?”


“No, as a matter a fact, he ain’t,” Jed grumbled, showing some irritation. “He up and married himself a rich widow, so he don’t have ta’ work. Spends most ‘a his time playin’ damn poker!”


“Really?” Finney repeated. “Not a lick ‘a work out ‘a him?”


“That’s right,” Jed groused. “It wouldn’t matter, if he won at poker, but he don’t! He loses more than he wins. And I tell ya’, I’m gettin’ the feelin’ that his wife is getting’ tired of it too. They got one young’un already, and another ‘un on the way, and he ain’t doin’ nothin’ ta’ help out.”


“Well don’t that just beat all,” Finney sympathized. “Just goes to show, once a dead beat, always a dead beat.”


“Yeah!”


“Will you guys shut-up!!” Clancy demanded, standing up and swaying a little bit. He quickly caught his balance and leaned towards the two other men, looking as though he might be reading to throw a punch or two.


The dealer stepped back, give time for this altercation to settle down before continuing the game. If it continued on in this vein, he’d have to call for assistance.


“Oh calm down,” Finney placated Clancy. “Can’t ya’ see, Jed here has a real grievance?”


“I got a real grievance, too!” Clancy insisted, his speech slightly slurred. “I’m tryin’ to play cards here, and I can’t focus on anything with you two jawin’ away, like that.” He turned to the dealer. “Ain’t there nothin’ you can do about this? Ain’t this table supposed ta’ be for card playin’, and not two old men cryin’ into their booze.”


“Yes sir,” the dealer assured him. “I would suggest that you two gentlemen…”


Finney slammed his fist into the table and stood up to be nose to nose with Clancy. “Don’t you go bringin’ him into this! If you can’t focus on the cards with a little distraction goin’ on around you, then you ain’t much of a card player!”


“Just ‘cause you two geezers are too old to stay focused long enough, don’t mean…!”


“You young upstart! I ought to come over there and put you across my knee!”


Clancy snorted. “I’d like ta’ see you try, old man! I’d drop you faster than a hot poker on brandin’ day!”


“Aye laddie. I’m sure you’d be likin’ to try it!”


“Aye, don’t ya’ know that I would!”


Silence settled over the blackjack table as Jed realized what Finney had just done. Get Clancy just enough into his pints that his tongue loosened up, get him riled into anger and then suddenly switch back to his own natural Irish accent.


Clancy had fallen right into it. Hot under the collar, and his defenses down, he got caught off balance when he heard the more familiar accent from his home continent. Before he could stop himself, his natural Cockney lilt burst forth, and he gave his own cover away. His eyes popped and his jaw dropped with surprise, at the stupidity of his own mistake.


Grabbing the chair behind him, Clancy threw it at the two men who had successfully set him up, and then made a dash for the hotel lobby. Finney and Jed both ducked, but were up in an instant and running after their quarry. Clancy grabbed more chairs as he ran, tossing them behind him, in an effort to slow down his pursuers, but Jed and Finney weren’t quite as old and decrepit as Clancy would have liked to believe, and both men easily avoided the missiles.


Other players got out of their way, cursing at their games being disrupted, but still curious as to what was going on. The assumption was that someone had been caught cheating, so most cheered on the chasers, and some even made an attempt to stop the young fella, before he got away. But Clancy dodged them. He might be a little drunk, but he was still young and agile, not to mention, scared to death of being caught.


He ran headlong into the hallway and tried to make a dash towards the lobby and then out the front doors, but he spotted two obstacles that he could not push out of his way: The two burley deputies who were still standing guard in front of the poker room.


Abruptly changing direction, Clancy ran for the stairway, and taking three at a time he headed into the darkened upper hallways of the sleeping hotel.
 
Jed came to the lounge with Finney right behind him. He glanced to his left, and seeing the two deputies undisturbed, he ascertained that their quarry had not gone that way. Jed made a quick turn to the right and ran up the stairs, while Finney carried on into the lobby and dashed over to the check-in counter.


Nobody was on hand at that time in the morning, and Finney pounded on the counter top.


“Hello!” he yelled. “Clerk!”


“Hang on, just a minute,” came a distracted voice from the back room.


“I don’t have a minute!” Finney countered. “My friend and I spotted a young man cheating at Blackjack. My friend is in pursuit. Go, quickly! Or send for the sheriff!”


The night clerk sauntered out to the counter, rubbing his sleepy eyes. “No point calling for the sheriff at this time of the a.m.,” he grumbled. “He probably ain’t even out’a bed yet.”


“Well send for some law official!” Finney demanded. “There must be somebody on duty.”


The clerk jerked a chin towards the deputies who were guarding the poker room.


Generally a calm man in the face of danger and frustration, Finney was about to wring the clerk’s neck.


“My good man, those deputies are busy; they cannot leave their post,” the detective pointed out. “Get a law officer over here, or I shall make the arrest myself.”


“Yeah, well. That’ll work.”


Finney practically threw up his hands in frustration, but he didn’t waste any more time on the half-awake night clerk. Pushing off from the counter, he hit a run and tackled the stairs, full speed ahead.


Xxx


With only two players left in the game, it didn’t take long for them to reach the seventh card. Along with his first two window cards, the Ten of Spades and the Queen of Diamonds, Hargitt now had the Ace of Diamonds and the Ten of Diamonds showing on the table. These four cards could be the beginning of anything, including the deadly Royal Flush, and he was betting like he knew it was going to turn into something big.


Heyes knew that he also had the makings of a good hand, with the Three of Hearts to add to his fist two of the same suit, but that Queen of Spades wasn’t going to help him. The final card was going to make or break it. He also knew that he didn’t have any Diamonds in his hand, and if a Royal Flush was what Hargitt was going after, this could get nasty. The pot was huge, the largest Heyes had ever played for. If he won it, he could pay back the original $20,000 to Scotland Yard and still go home a wealthy man. But if he lost, well, he wouldn’t be broke, but he’d be in his wife’s debt and he sure wasn’t comfortable with that.


Both men bet to stay in the game. After all, that is what this game was all about, wasn’t it? Play big or go home. Or better yet, don’t show up at all. The whole room waited with baited breath as the final card, face down, was dealt to both the players. Apparently, both men felt that they were still in the game and placed their bets accordingly.


“Alright gentlemen,” Waring announced, as he sat back to watch how things would unfold. His job was now done. “It’s showdown time.”


Heyes picked up his down cards and sorted which cards he was going to keep, and which ones he was going to let go. He glanced over at Hargitt and wasn’t getting any reading from him. Heyes had to admit, that as the stakes got higher, Hargitt’s nerve got stronger. It was impossible to read if his opponent was disappointed or elated, at the hand that he now held.
Heyes had gotten what he wanted in that final card, but would his hand be strong enough to win? Nothing could beat a Royal Flush, and if that is what Hargitt now held in his hand, then he already had this game in his pocket.


Hargitt smiled at Heyes and placed his bet. Heyes’ heart sank, just a touch. Hargitt looked smug, but it could just be an act, trying to un-nerve Heyes into folding rather than meet the large bet that Hargitt had just made.  But Hargitt didn’t know his man very well. He knew that Heyes had a reputation as a strong poker player, but that would only be on the level of outlaws and convicts, not professional men, like he, himself. Heyes would crumble; Hargitt was sure of it.


Heyes looked up and met his eye, and Hargitt felt a slight tremor go through him. The gaze was steady and confident. There was not a hint of the cowardly outlaw there, and Hargitt knew, even before Heyes placed his bet, that the man was going to do it.


“I meet your bet,” Heyes said quietly. “And I call.”


Hargitt looked around the table at all the eyes upon him. He smiled and licked his lips in anticipation. Turning his steady gaze now to the man seated beside him, he placed his cards on the table and fanned them for all to see. Gasps made their way around the table. Aces, four of a kind. It would be a tough hand to beat.


Heyes felt his knees go weak. Hargitt had not produced the Royal Flush that Heyes had been worried about. In fact, he had not produced the winning hand at all. Heyes sighed deeply as the stress was released from his body, and he too, fanned his cards out upon the table.


Even bigger gasps made the rounds, and everybody started talking at once. Everybody except Hargitt and Heyes. Hargitt couldn’t believe it. Who would have thought that Heyes would have pulled that off? A Straight Flush, six high. Not a Royal Flush, but just good enough to win the day. When their eyes met, the look he sent to Heyes was not that of a good loser.


“Congratulations, Mr. Heyes!” Waring exclaimed as he came around to shake the winner’s hand. “Well played, sir. Very well played!”


“Thank you.”


“Yes, indeed,” Longstreet agreed. “It was almost worth not being in the game, just to be able to sit back and watch that round.”


“Indeed, an excellent game,” Pierce mumbled, as he came around to dutifully shake the winner’s hand. “Never seen the like before.”


Wyles and Bates also offered their congratulations and then quickly retreated to gather in what little they had left of their own chips.


Dickson remained seated at the far end of the table. His jaw was set tight in anger. How could Hargitt have let that happen? That fool, going on about what a great poker player he was, and then he lets some lowlife ex-con beat him at his own game! What a chump. If only Dickson hadn’t been shut out early on, he would have given Heyes a run for his money. Now they’d all have to wait until next year, to get even. That’s if Dickson was even invited to come back again, next year. He hadn’t exactly left a good impression.


Heyes and Hargitt both stood up, and Hargitt was able to compose himself enough to offer his hand to his opponent.


“Very well play, Mr. Heyes,” he choked out. “I hope you will consider returning next year, so that we all may have a chance to redeem ourselves.”


“Oh,” Heyes was hesitant as he looked to Mr. Waring. “I’d don’t know…”


“Of course,” Waring assured him. “The winner is always invited to return the following year. It would be a pleasure to have you back again.”


Heyes grin took over his face. “Thank you,” he said. “I will certainly keep it in mind.”


“Well,” Waring announced. “Time to get these chips into a safe place, eh gentlemen?” He walked to the door and rapped gently upon in. It instantly opened and a deputy poked his head in. “We are done, Deputy. Time to get these chips sorted and counted.”


“Yes sir.”


Xxx


Upon reaching the first landing, Finney stopped and listened for any sounds of pursuit. He cursed silently with the realization that he had taken too much time with the useless clerk. Now he didn’t know which way or how far up the chase had gone. Taking a deep breath, he reached inside his jacket and pulled his small pistol out of its shoulder holster, and listened some more.
The hallway was darkened, but light coming up through the open center of the hotel helped to illuminate a great deal of the long corridor. Finney strained and listened, but he could not see or hear anything, other than the noise from the gambling down on the first level. Finally, he made the choice, and started up the stairway to the next landing.


Again, there was nothing to suggest that the two men had gone this way. Following his instincts, and the knowledge that most people, when frightened and feeling trapped, will run to high ground, he decided to carry on up one more flight.


On the third floor, he stopped and listened again. Then he heard it, the softest of sounds just when there was a lull in the activity downstairs. It sounded like a door closing, followed by the soft thump, thump of feet running along carpet. The sounds had come from the floor above, and grabbing the balustrade, the detective pulled himself around and started up the next flight of stairs.


Just as he was starting up, a figure appeared at the top of the next landing, and both men stopped dead in their tracks. Surprise held Clancy in place as he gapped down at his second pursuer. Then his own pistol was in his hand, and he fired a wild shot down at the detective. Finney ducked as the bullet tore out a large splinter of wood from the railing, and then they were both on the run again.


“Stop!” Finney yelled, more out of protocol, than expecting any positive results. “Scotland Yard!”


As he expected, Clancy simply ran faster. Finney came up to the landing, then ducked to the side when he saw the young man ahead of him, twist around to fire again. The bullet whizzed by to embed itself somewhere in the woodwork behind the stairway. Finney carried on in pursuit, hoping that the shots had been heard over the gambling noise, but so far, nobody seemed to be reacting.


And where the hell, was Jed!


It was darker up on this level than it had been on the second floor, but Finney could still make out the form of the man running ahead of him. The figure was panicked, desperately trying different doors in the hopes of finding one unlocked. What help he thought that would be to him, was anyone’s guess, as Finney was close enough behind him to see which room he might duck into. But a desperate man will seek out a hiding place wherever he can find it.


Checking the doors had slowed Clancy down, and Finney was catching up to him. Clancy knew he was at the end of his rope, and turning to face his pursuer, he raised his gun to fire again. But Finney was on to him by then. Ducking low and making a mad dash for Clancy’s mid-section, the detective hit home before the shot could be fired, and both men went to the ground.


“I’m a detective from Scotland Yard!” Finney informed him. “You’re under arrest.”


Clancy didn’t agree. He squirmed around and punched Finney in the face. Finney grunted and fell back, but recovered quickly. Both men scrambled to their feet, and before Clancy could start running again, Finney pushed him against the wall, then grabbing his shirt collar, pointed the pistol in his face.


“Settle down!” Finney ordered him. “You’re under arrest. Now come along, quietly.”


“Ya’ cannot arrest me!” Clancy gasped out. “I done nothin’ wrong!”


“Aside from shootin’ at an officer of the law,” Finney pointed out. “and disguising your own natural accent for nefarious means.”


“So were you!” Clancy pointed out. “And besides, that not be a crime!”


“But cheatin’ at blackjack is.”


“I was na’ cheatin! Yee canna prove it!”


“I don’t need to prove it,” Finney pointed out. “All I need is somethin’ ta’ arrest ya’ for. And that’ll do it. Now come along. We’ve got a lot ta’ talk about.”


Finney pulled Clancy away from the wall just as a thudding pain shot through the back of his skull. His vision exploded into stars as a sudden nausea attacked his stomach, and he dropped to his knees, fighting to stay conscious.


“Bloody hell, boy!” came a second cockney accent to Finney’s ringing ears. “Lookit the mess ya got us inta’!”


“What did I do?” Clancy whined. “I didn’t do nothin’!”


“Shuddup!” the second voice snarled. “That’s the last time I listen ta’ my bloody sis. “Take yur nephew with ya’!” she said. “Show ‘im a good time!” she said. Blimey. Now were for it!”


Finney felt himself being grabbed by the back of his jacket, and then hauled to his feet. His head spun, and he would have fallen again, if he hadn’t been shoved back up against the railing. His hands clutched behind him, at the wooden barrier between himself and oblivion, as he tried to get his vision to focus.


His assailant grabbed his lapels and shook him.


“Damn you, you bloody peeler,” the man snarled in his face. “How the hell did you track me all the way from London?”


Finney squinted, his vision beginning to clear. He gazed at the mug of a face and thought for sure that the dim lighting and the knock on his head was playing tricks on him.


“Tobias?” he questioned. “From the blackjack table, are ya’?”


“Yeah,” Tobias confirmed. “One of my many names. But that ain’t the point!” And he gave Finney another rough shaking. “How the hell did ye’ find me?”


Finney’s head was spinning from more than injury to his skull. They had zeroed in on Clancy as their man, but it turns out, Clancy was just the up and coming apprentice. Tobias had been their culprit all along.


“Don’t want ta’ talk, eh?” Tobias snarked, and shook him again. “I see, no good citizens are rushin’ out a’ their rooms ta’ help ya’, so I figure I’ll just take care a’ business, right here and now. Grab ‘im, Charlie boy. Help me send our Scotland Yard man ta’ ‘is final restin’ place.”


Charlie, nee Clancy, paled at the thought. “But Uncle Freddie, ya’ said there’d be no killin…”


“Shuddup, ya’ bloody fool. Don’t be usin’ me real name. Now, give me a hand.”


The sound of the hammer cocking back on a pistol is much the same in both continents. Now, that sound came to Uncle Freddie, clear as a bell, just as he felt the cold steel of Jed’s colt press into the nap of his neck.


“I really don’t think you’re gonna be doin’ that,” Jed’s calm, but steady voice informed him.

“Back off of him.”


“Easy friend,” Freddie suggested as he raised his hands. “No need ta’ get hasty.”


“I ain’t bein’ hasty,” Jed countered. “You alright, Kevin?”


“Aye,” Finney confirmed, and picking up his own gun, from where it had fallen, he turned on Clancy. “It would seem that cheatin’ at blackjack is now the least of your problems.”


Clancy groaned.


Xxx


Heyes walked out of the poker room feeling like he was walking on air, with his mind adrift in a swirling cloud of disbelief. The vacant look to his eyes and the foolish grin on his face might lead one to believe that he was imbecilic, but, of course, nothing could have been further from the truth.


His eyes cleared and focused as he became aware of unusual activity in the lobby, especially for this early hour of the morning. There were a number of male guests, all looking ruffled and unkempt after their rude awakening from night slumbers. Other, more official looking gentlemen were speaking with several of the guests, and taking notes on what was being discussed.


Heyes frowned, then his imbecilic grinned returned when he spotted his cousin coming towards him.


“Hey,”


Jed sent him a quizzical look, noting the odd expression on his face.


“Heyes,” he returned the greeting. “How did it go?”


“Kind of better than I expected.”


“Yeah? Well, I ain’t surprised, considerin’ your competition. Did ya’ win enough ta’ bring us out on top?”


Heyes’ smile grew, even though disbelief was still in his eyes.


“Ah, yeah,” he breathed. “Closest I can figure, off hand, mind you, is $330,000.”


Jed’s jaw dropped. “You won $330,000!?”


“Yeah.”


“In a poker game!?”


“Yeah.”


“Jeez, Heyes! What were we doin’, robbin’ banks all them years? You’re a rich man.”


Heyes’ smile took over his face. “I feel like we should be hightailin’ it for Devel’s Hole, before the law catches on.”


Jed grinned. “No foolin’. You sure don’t have ta’ worry about people accussin’ ya’ a’ bein’ a gold digger, now. You got more money than Miranda.”


“Well, it’s not all mine, Kid.”


Jed’s expression dropped. “It ain’t?”


“No. I gotta pay back the $20,000 to Scotland Yard.”


Jed puffed. “Pittance.”


“Besides that, Jed, this was a job our company got hired to do,” Heyes pointed out. “I would never have gone into the game, if Finney hadn’t hired us. Therefore, according to Beth’s financial strategies for running a business, any profits get split into thirds. A third for you, and third for me, and a third goes back into the company.”


Jed’s expression exploded into a twinkling grin again. “A third for me?”


Heyes’ dimples danced, and he nodded energetically. “Yeah!” But now it was Heyes’ expression that dropped. “The only down side to the whole thing, is that I didn’t weed out our culprit. I don’t think he was in the game.”


“Ahh, you’re right about that, Heyes,” Jed playfully agreed. “There was two of ‘em, and they were playin’ blackjack all along.”


“Blackjack!?” Heyes was incredulous. “What were they doing playing blackjack?”


“Not playin’ poker,” Jed smirked. “I spotted the younger of ‘em tryin’ ta’ cheat. You know what it’s like cheatin’ at blackjack—it’s kind’a obvious.”


“Yeah,” Heyes agreed. “Odd that they would even try it.”


“Yeah, but this kid was young. He didn’t know what he was doin’,” Jed pointed out. “I suspected somethin’, so I got Finney to join us at the table, and he started pushin’ that youngster ta’ make a mistake. Like we was sayin’ before; that detective could’a caused us a lot of grief, back in the day.”


“Yeah,” Heyes agreed. “So it worked?”


“Sure did. The kid broke under the pressure. Finney tricked ‘im inta’ droppin’ his fake accent, and once he’d done that, he panicked and ran. I lost ‘im up on the fifth floor, but Finney found him again. Thing is, that’s when we found out that there was another one on the loose, and he was the more dangerous of the two. They was all set ta’ throw Finney off the fourth floor when I came upon ‘em. That sure would’a made a fine mess, right in the middle of the luncheon lounge.”


Both men looked over at the exquisite tables and chairs, all covered in plush white upholstery and fancy linens.


“Yeah,” Heyes agreed, cryptically, then looked around at the now thinning crowd in the lobby. “So, where is he?”


“Oh, he kind’a got a knock on the head,” Jed explained. “Doc’s takin’ a look at ‘im. The sheriff has already taken the two prisoners over to the jailhouse. Not sure what’s gonna happen to ‘em now. I expect we’ll learn more tomorrow. Or I should say, later today. You hungry?”


“No,” Heyes emphasized. “Tired.”


“Good. Me too,” Jed agreed. “I sure can’t pull off these all-nighters like we used to. Why don’t we both get some shut eye, and we can meet up fer a late breakfast later. Maybe Finney will have some news for us by then.”


Heyes nodded agreement. Now that the euphoria of his big win was wearing off, he was exhausted. “Good idea, Kid. I’ll see ya’ later.”


Xxx


Heyes quietly snuck into their room. Like many of the hotel guests, Miranda had apparently slept through the excitement of the big chase along the corridors. She was snuggled into the blankets, sound asleep and with a soft snore going.


Heyes smiled, and quickly striping down, he settled in under the covers. Miranda shifted slightly and moaned as half of her consciousness returned to her. Heyes wrapped his arms around her and kissed the nap of her neck.


“Mmm,” she murmured. “What time is it?”


“Early,” Heyes whispered. “Go back to sleep.”


“How did it go?”


“Good,” he said. “I’ll tell you all about it, over lunch.”


“Okay.”


“Wake me at 11:00.”


“Okay.”
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Keays

Keays

Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 62
Location : Camano Island Washington

Game On Empty
PostSubject: Re: Game On   Game On EmptyWed Jul 20, 2016 9:18 pm

Jed, Steven and Bridget were already seated in the open café on the third floor of the Brown Palace when Hannibal and Miranda put in an appearance. Bridget instantly jumped up and ran, in a most unladylike manner, to embrace her dear friend.


“Hannibal!” she squealed. “Jed has been telling us all about it! $330,000! I can’t believe it. You and Jed are set for life. Oh Beth will be so thrilled. What a shame she’s not here.”


Heyes returned the enthusiastic greeting and then, they all sat down at the table.


“Congratulations to both of you,” Steven said. “You fellas are developing quite the reputation. A good reputation, I should say!”


“Yes,” Heyes smiled. “I still don’t quite believe it. But I checked the bank account before meeting you here, and sure enough the money is there.”


“Don’t worry,” Miranda teased him. “It won’t take you long to get used to being a wealthy man. You’ve seen how well I have adjusted to it.”


“And you won’t have a freeloading husband on your hands anymore,” Heyes countered.


“You were never that!” Randa insisted. “You always worked hard, and I expect that you will continue to do so. I can’t imagine either one of you just sitting around and doing nothing.”


“I can,” Heyes countered, with a grin.


“Yep, so can I,” Jed concurred. “But…I guess we won’t. A little too young to retire, and besides, I think havin’ our own business is workin’ out kind’a well at the moment.”


“Sure is.”


“I’m really lookin’ forward ta’ taken Beth out and buyin’ her some of them things we couldn’t afford to get before,” Jed announced. “Maybe I’ll bring her back here. There really ain’t anything in Brookswood that compares.”


“Oh, please do!” Bridget insisted. “I miss her.”


“You folks are coming out for Thanksgiving, aren’t you?” Heyes asked them. “And Christmas?”


“I expect so,” Steven concurred. “One of them, at least.”


“Oh, I know,” Bridget intervened. “But it’s so much more fun having her here. Like you said, Jed, Brookswood doesn’t offer the same shops and restaurants that Denver does.”


Hannibal and Jed exchanged smiles.


“Looks like you’re committed,” Heyes told him.


“Yeah, sure does.”


“Oh!” Steven announced. “There’s Mr. Finney.”


“Oh.” Heyes turned in his chair and gestured towards the Yard man. “Mr. Finney! Over here.”


Finney nodded and headed their way, the host for the café quickly catching up and taking the lead. He wouldn’t want his boss to think that he had been slacking.


“Here you are, sir,” the host said, as he pulled out the empty chair for Finney. “I will send the waiter right over. Our lunch special today is pheasant with a raspberry sauce, roasted chestnuts, long grain rice and fresh seasonal vegetables.  We have a lovely chardonnay that compliments the pheasant, or, if the gentlemen prefer, a French Merlot.”


“Thank you,” Heyes told him. “We will certainly consider that.”


“Indeed, sir.”


The host bowed his head and departed, leaving the friends to continue with their conversation.
“You’re looking a little worse for wear,” Heyes observed. “Jed said you took a bump on the head.”


“Aye,” Finney concurred. “But that wasn’t so bad. I’ve been over at the sheriff’s office all morning, having a lovely chat with our two guests. I haven’t had much sleep.”


Hannibal and Jed exchanged smiles.


“I can certainly understand that,” Heyes agreed.


“Yep,” Jed sympathized. “I know what I’m gonna be doin’ on the train ride home.”


“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,” their waiter announced his presence. “My name is James, and I will be serving you, today. Would you like to place a drink order?”


“Oh, yes,” Heyes agreed, and looked to his wife to order first.


“Oh!” Miranda looked surprised. “I must admit; I don’t care much for Chardonnay. Something light and crisp, I think. The Viognier was lovely, if you still have that.”


“Of course, Ma’am.”


“Well, I love Chardonnay,” Bridget announced. “I will have a glass of that.”


James nodded, as he wrote down the selections.


“I’ll have the Merlot,” Steven said.


“I’ll have a beer,” came Jed’s request.


“Just tea for me, my good man,” Finney stated. “I’m going to be up for a while yet. I’m afraid, any alcohol now would only be a deterrent.”


“Oh, Mr. Finney, are you sure?” Heyes asked, disappointment creeping into his voice. “I wanted to treat everyone, before we all went our separate ways.”


Finney smiled. “Do not concern yourself, Mr. Heyes. I’ll take you up on some fine cognac later this evening. How is that?”


Heyes grinned. “Fair enough. For myself, I’ll have the Merlot.”


“Very fine choices,” James said, just as he said to all his guests. “I’ll return shortly with your drinks.”


“Mr. Finney,” Miranda asked, unable to contain her curiosity any longer. “Have you been able to find out anything about your two culprits?”


“Oh yes,” Finney responded, with a satisfied smile. “As is often the case with the criminal classes, young Charlie was so terrified of spending the rest of his life in prison, that he was happy to turn on his uncle.”


“Well, it’s not always the case,” Heyes grumbled.


Finney smiled over at him. “Quite right, Mr. Heyes. Present company excluded. As I recall, you remained extremely loyal to your compatriots. I was of course, speaking in general, and of a class of criminal far beneath the standards of yourself and your partner.”


Miranda grinned, her eyes twinkling. “Oh, good save, Mr. Finney. Well done.”


“Thank you.”


“But what did you find out?” Bridget asked. “Are they the men you were looking for?”


“Oh, aye,” Finney informed them all. “Fred Utley is indeed the man we were seeking. Apparently, things were getting hot for him in England, and since he’d always wanted to have a go at the big poker game here, he decided it was time for a transcontinental sea voyage.”


“This game is known in England?” Heyes asked, surprised.


“Aye,” Finney concurred. “And it’s no wonder. When there is an opportunity to walk away with over $100,000, just as you did last night, word spreads to those who practice the game.”


“Yes, I suppose,” Heyes agreed. “I guess, it never occurred to me that word would travel that far.”


“Ah yes,” Finney insisted. “You may be surprised to know that even yourself and Mr. Curry are becoming the heroes of some of the more popular Wild West novels to travel across the waters.”


“Oh yeah?” asked Jed. “We’re getting’ known, even over there?”


“Aye. Though with much embellishment on the truth, I’m sure.”


“No doubt,” Heyes agreed.


Jed grinned, his blue eyes alight with mischief. “Maybe we could travel over there and put on shows. They’re sure enough popular here.”


Heyes rolled his eyes. Jed ignored him.


“We could have posters made up, and sell replicas of your hatband.”


“My hatband!?” Heyes was incredulous. “Why would anyone want a replica of my hatband?”


“I donno, Heyes,” Jed admitted. “But you sure do seem ta’ like it. Hell, we could start doin’ shows right here. Or back East. They sure do have a fascination with outlaws, back East.”


Heyes snorted. “I think I’ll stick to our current profession.” He smiled, his eyes twinkling. “It does seem to be working out pretty well for us, so far.”


“Have you told Jed about Nathanial?” Miranda asked her husband.


“Oh!” Heyes brightened up even more. “No, I forgot, with everything else going on.”


“What about Nathan?” Jed asked. “He was fine when I left.”


“No, not Nathanial Gibson,” Heyes corrected him. “Nathanial Brenner.”


“Who?”


“Remember I told you about that young boy who was on the train, when Morrison was transporting me back to Wyoming for trial?”


“Yeah,” Jed concurred.


“Well, we ran into him, in Santa Marta,” Heyes continued. “Actually, he kind of ran into us. He’s a young man now, on vacation with his parents before he heads back East to begin collage. He’s going to be majoring in the American West. Outlaws in particular. He says he wants to write his final thesis paper on me.”


Everybody’s brows went up in surprise.


“What!?” Jed almost sounded incensed. “Well that’s just great. It ain’t like ya’ ain’t got a big enough ego as it is. Now yer gonna have some book written about ya’?”


“Double negative, Kid.”


“What!”


“Never mind. And it’s not a book, just a thesis paper. But it’s still an honor. And you’ll be in it too, ya’ know. Can’t have one without the other.”


“Uh huh,” Jed didn’t sound convinced. “And just when is this gonna happen? You gonna move back East ta’ help ‘im write this thing?”


“No!” Heyes insisted. “He’s coming out here, next summer.”


“Oh yeah?” Jed asked. “Where’s he gonna stay? There sure won’t be room at your place, not with a new baby an’ all.”


“Yeah, I know,” Heyes agreed. “I haven’t figured that part out yet. But I’ll think of something. C’mon, Kid. It’ll be fun.”


“Well, we’ll see,” Jed conceded.  “So long as you don’t go getting’ too full ‘a yourself. You can be real insufferable sometimes, Heyes.”


Heyes grinned, his full dimpled charm dazzling forth.


“I think that’s great,” Steven put in. “I have to admit, it would be nice to get your story right from you two fellas, rather than those silly dime novels. I mean, a lot certainly came out at the trials, but I have a feeling the lives you two led were far more intricate than what was revealed there.”


“Yes,” Bridget agreed. “Just listening to some of the stories Clementine has told us, or just hinted at, suggests that there’s a lot more there than meets the eye.”


Miranda sat back and smiled. “Yes,” she said. “It will make for some very interesting reading.”


“Oh boy,” Jed grumbled. “And you can bet that Beth will want to read it. You know, Heyes, we could get into a lot of trouble over this.”


“Hmm,” Heyes nodded agreement. “I’ll have to be careful. Still, I want to do Nathan justice for his paper, and be honest about it.”


“Oh sure!” Jed griped. “Be honest! Now’s a fine time ta’ pick up a new trait.”


“I’m just as honest as you are, Kid.”


“I for one, would be very interested in reading it,” Finney cut in on this typical sparing. “It could be extremely informative for us at Scotland Yard. It could become our new handbook on criminal activity.”


Fortunately, before further comments could be made, James arrived to deliver the drinks and take the lunch orders.


“Oh dear,” Heyes muttered. “We haven’t even discussed that. Would everyone just like to go with the special?”


There was a round of enthusiastic agreement to that suggestion, and James departed to take care of business.


“Back to the subject of the current criminals,” Steven started up the new conversation. “Will you be transporting them back to England to stand trial?”


“Ultimately, yes,” Finney informed him. “It may take some time to get the extradition papers organized, and the sheriff wants to make sure there are no crimes here, for which they need to face charges for. In the meantime, they will both be held at the prison in Canon City, until their passage over-seas can be arranged.”


“That could take months,” Steven said. “Will you be remaining here, all that time?”


“Oh heavens, no,” Finney assured him. “Once I have my report completed, I will return home. Thankfully, it will fall to others to escort the prisoners back. My job here is nearly completed.”


“Yeah,” Jed agreed to some extent. “but they nearly killed you last night. At least, Uncle Freddie did. If he gets charged for that, won’t you have to stay and testify?”


“Aye, I would,” Finney agreed. “But I won’t be layin’ charges against him for that, until they arrive back home. I’ll get a written statement from you, Mr. Curry, as a witness to that event, and that will be presented in court when they go to trial.”


“What about the younger man?” Miranda asked. “Do you think he’ll do much time?”


“No,” Finney admitted. “He’s not the criminal his uncle is. He wouldn’t even ‘a been here, but his mother begged her brother, Freddie, to bring the lad on an adventure to the States. She wasn’t aware, you see, of her brother’s nefarious activities, and thought that it would be a grand experience for the lad. I’m afraid, she was right. But not in the way she imagined. Still, perhaps a good lesson for him. He’s a very frightened young man right now, and some time in prison here, might do him a world ‘a good.”


Heyes grimaced, but made no comment. Finney still caught the response.


“He’ll be treated fine, Mr. Heyes,” the Yard man assured the ex-con. “The warden will be informed of the situation, and keep a special eye on him. On both of them. We want those two back in England, safe and sound.”


Heyes smiled and nodded. “Of course.”


“But why were they here in the first place?” Steven asked. “I thought the whole idea of Hannibal being in that game, was to weed them out. But they weren’t even in the game.”


“Ah yes, you’re quite correct there, sir,” Finney told him. “It seems that they had managed an invitation into the game, but then got word that an undercover agent would be present, trying to trick them up, so they withdrew. Little did they know that by entering the game, they had blocked Mr. Heyes from joining in, and by withdrawing, they opened up the window for him and Mr. Dickson to proceed. They really did hang themselves. If they had remained in, they would have shut Mr. Heyes out, and perhaps taken home a great deal of money.”


“So they weren’t planning on scamming the game at all?” Heyes asked. “Just enter into it as an honest player, like everyone else?”


“So it would seem,” Mr. Finney concurred. “And let’s face it, the new security measures would have deterred any attempt at a con. And another coincidence, is that those security measures were mainly brought about because of your last inclusion in the game, Mr. Heyes. It seems your old gang were doing you a favor, even back then.”


“Good ole’ Wheat and Kyle,” Heyes grinned. “Loyal to the end.”


“Uh huh,” Jed sounded skeptical of the ultraistic motives. “Ehh! Here comes lunch!” he
announced.


Xxx


Later, that evening, while Bridget and Miranda were visiting with Clementine, the gentlemen were relaxing in the lounge at the Brown Palace. As far as Heyes was concerned, he owed Mr. Finney a cognac, and he wasn’t about to renege on the promise.


All four men sat back in the comfy arm chairs and allowed the aroma and the flavor of the warm alcohol take over their senses.


“This is nice,” Jed admitted. “Thanks, Heyes.”


“You’re welcome,” Heyes returned. “You’re looking better, this evening, Mr. Finney. Did you finally get some sleep?”


“Yes,” Finney informed them. “But I’ll have no trouble sleeping tonight, either. Tomorrow is going to be another busy day.”


“I’m sure it will,” Steven agreed. “When do you expect to be heading home?”


“Early next week,” Finney told him.


“It’s going to be a cold sea voyage, this time of year,” Heyes commented.


“Aye, well, there’s nothing for it,” Finney accepted the inevitable. “Fortunately, I have no problem with sea travel. I expect to be spending most of my time, in my cabin, catching up on paper work. Or reading.”


“In the meantime,” Steven said. “You’ll have to come over to our place for dinner. You can meet Clementine.”


Both Jed and Hannibal snorted, almost upsetting their cognac.


“Oh great!” Jed laughed. “Can we come and watch?”


“Oh now, Kid,” Heyes interjected. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”


“Why would there be a problem?” Finney asked, innocently. “Is this woman unsavory?”


“No, no,” Heyes assured him. “She just—uninhibited.”


Jed snorted again.


Heyes smiled, but turned sincere again. “No, she’s alright, Mr. Finney. She doesn’t hold with convention, is all. A free spirit, you might say. I’m sure you’ll enjoy meeting her.”


“She sounds intriguing,” Finney agreed. “I’ll look forward to it.”


“Speaking of free spirits,” Heyes asked, though he sounded hesitant in the asking. “Have you heard any more from Julia?”


Finney grinned. “Oh, aye,” he admitted. “I felt reluctant to bring it up over lunch, as I don’t know how accepting your wife is of your previous romances.”


“Another previous romance, Heyes?” Jed asked, with a twinkle. “Ya’ didn’t tell me about that one.”


“Sure I did.”


“No, ya’ didn’t.”


“Sure. On that same expedition into Devil’s Hole. The young English woman who was pretending to be Mr. Finney’s wife. I told ya’ about her.”


“Yeah, ya’ told me about the English woman pretending to be Mr. Finney’s wife, but ya’ never said anything about you an’ her, getting’…you know.”


“Sure I did.”


“No, ya’ didn’t.”


“I didn’t?”


“No!”


“Oh. Well, we did. But, she was heading back East, and well, you know what our situation was. So…” he shrugged to end that thought.


“Yeah.”


“Anyway, Mr. Finney,” Heyes continued. “You have heard from her? How is she?”


“Her father passed away some years ago, and she returned to England to attend to his affairs,” Finney informed him. “She has a good income through her inheritance and decided to stay.”


“Oh,” Heyes nodded approval. “So, she never married?”


“Aye, she did, briefly. But the man turned out to be a scoundrel and a gold digger. Fortunately, she became wise to him, and had the marriage annulled.”


“Ahh!” Heyes grinned and nodded. “Good for her. Ah, does she know, about…?”


“You?” Finney finished the enquiry.


“Yes.”


“No, she does not,” Finney informed him. “Would you like me to inform her?”


Heyes pondered this. “I think I will write her a letter,” he finally decided. “Let her know the real reason, we couldn’t be together, and, everything else. If you would be so kind to deliver it to her when you return, I would appreciate that.”


“Of course,” Finney agreed. “We have remained in touch on a casual basis.”


“Thank you.”


“So, will you and Jed be heading home in the morning?” Steven asked.


“Yes,” both men answered at the same time.


“There’s still a lot to do, to get the ranch back up and running after that fire,” Jed commented. “And Jesse ain’t in no condition ta’ be doin’ much of it, himself. Sam will be helpin’ ‘im, but their other hired hand, Ben, is still in the hospital here, recovering from his burns. At least he’s gonna make it, though. For a while there, it was touch and go. Not to mention, I don’t like bein’ away from Beth and T.J. for long. I get ta’ missin’ ‘em too much.”


“That’s good about Ben,” Heyes said, then smiled and admitted, “I do miss our daughter as well. And, with the new one due this winter, we have some preparations to make to the house. Some re-organizing is in store for us, I think.”


“Ahh, wedded bliss,” said Finney. “What a wonderful state to be in.


Heyes raised his glass for one more toast. “Home,” he said. “May it always be a good place to come back to.”


“Indeed!”


“Yeah, to home.”


“Aye.”


Everyone tapped glasses.


 

To Be Continued
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