Cowboys of the Old West Series
The Gambler – (a novella)
Jake Stonewall is a cheating gambler who wins a mail-order bride in a poker game, only to find she is Rose Walker, a woman from his past, who could expose his secrets.
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Excerpt from The Gambler:
Jake Stonewall, often known as Ace, held his hand of cards close to his chest, searching out the eyes of the other five men sitting at the gambling table in Dirty Gulch Saloon.
“What’ll it be, Stoneface?” growled Otto Leadbeater, the town’s barber from across the table. The man seemed anxious, but not as nervous as Sam Dowr, the saloon owner sitting next to him. The Wainwright brothers to the right of Jake had folded, since he’d cleaned out their pockets already by winning almost every round.
“You know I don’t like to be called Stoneface,” Jake said in a low voice, stalling, trying to figure out if Tom Wipps to the left of him had a hand that could beat his four queens. “Call me Jake, or Ace. And I don’t like to be rushed, either,” he said, placing his cards face down on the table and fingering the pile of coins stacked up high next to him that he’d already won.
The other gamblers called him stoneface because he always kept his emotions at bay, locked deep inside where no one ever knew what he was thinking.
“That’s right, don’t call him Stoneface,” said Wiley Wainwright with a chuckle, still sore about all he’d lost. “My brother and I just call him Jackass.”
Jake knew the man was trying to get him roiled and break his concentration. Well, that wasn’t going to happen at this point in the game, though his finger was itching to pull the trigger and shut the man up once and for all.
“It’s Jake Ace,” he corrected the man, pretending as if the comment didn’t bother him. “And I’ll just let that comment slide for now.” He looked at the man from the corner of his eye, staring him down. “At least until after I’ve collected all my winnings. So hobble your lip and stop trying to cause a shindy, Wainwright, because it’s not going to work.”
“Let’s wind this up already,” Wiley’s brother, Grover, spouted out.
“I will when I’m damned well ready and not before.” Jake turned back to the game. The pot in the middle of the table was the biggest it’d been all night. Otto already threw in his gold pocket watch and Jake had even convinced Sam to throw in his new tooled leather horse saddle as well. The Wainwright brothers had padded the pot with not only money, but also some fine German cigars.
Jake studied everyone’s body actions next. Sam kept rubbing his hand over his chin, so that meant he didn’t have more than two pairs. He always rubbed his chin whenever he had anything less than a full house. Jake noticed that, every time he came to town to empty the man’s pockets. Otto, on the other hand, kept biting his lip and glancing down to his watch in the center of the table as if he already missed it, so Jake knew he was most likely bluffing.
And then there was Tom who was much harder to read. Jake was starting to think the man had something up on him, until he saw the drop of sweat trickling down the side of Tom’s face. Poker players who knew they had a winning hand didn’t sweat. Sweating was when a man had something good, but not the best it could be, and he was afraid of losing. So maybe Jake could beat him after all. But he had to be sure.
“Copper yer bet already, Stonewall, and stop chasin’ the devil around the stump,” complained Sam.
“Don’t get your dander up, Sam. I’m thinking,” he said in a calm, controlled voice.
Jake scratched his head next, giving the signal to the saloon girl across the room that he wanted her help.
Jenny Mae, a whore who worked the saloon and who Jake had frequented on occasion, came up behind Tom, quickly glancing down at his cards just like Jake had instructed her to do. Jake took a deep breath and waited for her signal.
Jenny Mae liked Jake. A lot. Jake knew this and used it to his advantage. He had promised her a night of booze, good food, good sex, and a new dress to boot if he won the whole shebang. She smiled at him and wet her lips.
Her tongue trailed up one half of her top lip, then across to the other side. Jake watched carefully, but tried not to let the other men know what he was doing. Next, Jenny Mae’s tongue shot across her bottom lip and didn’t stop until she licked it straight over to the other side. Four positions with her tongue meant the man had four of a kind. Jake had his answer.
Unfortunately, it only made him think about how good the tart was with her tongue, and that was only going to get him distracted and make him lose this hand. He shook the thought from his mind, wishing now they’d thought of something different for her to use as a signal.
So Tom was cradling four of a kind, but now he needed to know which cards and if they could beat the four ladies in his hand.
Jake tried not to look directly at Jenny Mae, because he didn’t want to give away his secret weapon. Between the calico queen giving him signals and the four queens in his hand, he had a good feeling about winning the final pot. After all, he’d always had a way with the ladies and it hadn’t steered him wrong but once in all his years of gambling.
Tom’s hand was good, but when the whore jacked up her bodice with both hands next, Jake almost let out a loud sigh of relief. That told him Tom held jacks, and not kings or Aces. Just what he needed to know since he couldn’t read the man the way he could read the others. He normally didn’t need to cheat at cards because he’d become polished at his skill, but once in awhile he had to employ a little outside help.
“All right, I’m in,” he said, finally making his decision. “I’m ALL in, that is.” Jake pushed his entire pile of money into the center of the table and looked over to the rest of the players waiting for them to do the same if they wanted to stay in the game.
“Damn, that’s too steep for me,” said Otto, throwing down his cards on the table, still eyeing up his timepiece with a frown on his face.
“What about you, Sam?” Jake nodded toward the saloon keeper, already knowing he’d fold as well.
Sam looked at his hand and then shook his head. “I’ve already bet my new saddle. I don’t have anything else to add to the pot.”
“How about the horse, too?” asked Jake with a smile on his face.
“You know a man without a horse is as well as dead in these remote parts of Nevada, Stonewall. I’m not giving up my horse.”
“You have the saloon,” Jake added. “How about that?”
Sam’s face turned red and he just threw down his cards on the table. “Dammit, Stonewall, every time you come to town you clean me out. I’m not lining your pockets with any more of my plunder. I’m out.” He pushed away from the table and headed over to the bar where he grabbed a bottle of whiskey and poured himself a drink.
“That just leaves you and me, Tom,” Jake said with a lazy drawl. “So what’ll it be?”
“Jake, you already took everything from me,” Tom protested. The man was the oldest one at the table, and also the filthiest. He looked as if he hadn’t washed in months, and his teeth were rotten and falling out. Not to mention, the tuft of hair on his nearly bald head looked as if it had never seen a comb. He had a thick mustache and a long beard to match it.
“Well, if you’re going to stay in the game, you’ve got to match me. And unless it’s something good, I’d say I just won the pot.”
Tom shook his head, looking defeated. Jake chuckled, knowing the man was about to fold, so he started to reach for his treasure in the middle of the table.
“Wait!” said Tom, surprising Jake and causing him to stop. Jake knew he already had everything the man came in with, so wasn’t sure what he was going to say. Once again, he had a hard time reading Tom Wipps.
Tom wasn’t a rancher nor a business owner. He was a simple miner and Jake figured he was just as poor as the dirt that covered his clothes. “I’ve got something to bet after all,” Tom announced.
Jake glance up to Jenny Mae who just gave him a slight shrug of her shoulders and headed over to stand by the bar. “Well, what is it?” Jake asked curiously, wondering if the miner had been holding out and hiding a nugget of gold.
Tom put his hand into his vest pocket which caused Jake to go for his gun.
“Ease up,” Tom said, his hands raising up in front of him for all to see. “I’m not going for my gun.”
Jake wasn’t all so sure about that, since he really didn’t know the man as well as the others, but he gave him the benefit of the doubt. “All right. But move slowly, and if I see a piece in your hand I’ll shoot you through the heart before you have a chance to blink.”
Jake had had his share of trouble in the past. Being an experienced gambler, and winning more than most men make in a year at every sitting, he’d also had bouts with sore losers who wanted to plug him and steal his loot. That’s where being a quick draw came in handy – in card playing as well as with a gun.
“This is all I have,” said Tom, slowly pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket and sliding it to the center of the table.
“What is it?” Jake asked, reaching out and unfolding the paper, yet keeping his hand on the hilt of his gun and his eyes on every man at the table as well.
“It’s the receipt for my mail-order bride.”