Another short story for the week. I'm on a bit of a roll...:
The cigarette smoke makes my eyes start to burn. Sweat beads up along my brow. I wipe a strand of long, blonde hair off my forehead. I've got too much riding on this game. Far too much.
"Call or fold, lady," says the dealer. He's already pissed off that I'm even in the game. I begged him, and when that didn't work, I bribed him.
"Call," I say. It's my last hope. I can't fold. If I do I've barely got enough money for the next ante. This pot's big enough to get me the cash that I need, but my cards probably aren't. Two eights.
"You sure about that, darlin'?" asks the man across the table, the only one still left in this game. John Rider, our town's gambler, womanizer, and scumbag. His father owned half the herds in the region, but his son was never a rancher. Now he just drinks and gambles, a sleeps with prostitutes, and then drinks some more. "You'd better be."
All eyes turn to me. "I'm sure, Mr. Rider."
His eyes narrow. He chews at the end of his cigarette. The dealer frowns and barks at me, "Throw 'em down! Let's see what y'all have."
I lay my cards down first. John gives me the ugliest smile I've ever seen, leans forward, and slips his hand underneath the table. Then, in dramatic fashion, he slaps his cards onto the table.
A ten. An eight. A three. Two Jacks.
"Sorry, Ma'am," his sneer lingers as he pulls all the chips in.
Panic siezes my chest. Without that money my son will die, just like his father did. The nearest doctor is too far. My final attempt at trying to get enough cash to take him to Dallas has failed. He'll die. I have to resign myself to the fact that he'll die.
Unless... "Wait!" I shout. I jump out of my chair. It careens backward and falls over. Everyone in the saloon freezes. Heads snap to see what's going on. Rider's sneer turns south. I muster all the courage I've got. "You're a cheater."
"I'm sorry-" Rider starts.
"You cheated!" I yell, even louder this time.
"Darlin', you'd better sit back down and-"
"No! Admit it! Admit you cheated! Give me my money!"
"Easy missus," says the dealer. "You don't really mean that, do you?"
"I do. He's a dirty rotten no-good cheater."
Rider jumps out of his chair. His hand flashes to his side. The barrel of a pistol comes back up at the end of my nose.
"Shut yer trap, woman."
"All right, John," says the dealer. "Put the gun down. We know you ain't a cheat. Ma'am, that's a serious accusation. Tests a man's honor."
"He ain't got any!" I say. It's my last hope.
The dealer nods to a man nearby, who asks Rider to take off his coat. He does, slowly. They check it. Nothing. My heart starts to beat faster. Rider's snarling sneer makes my stomach turn.
"Well, I'm sorry, ma'am, but it doesn't seem like-" starts the dealer.
"No! It's true!" I say. They're starting to lose their patience. "Check under the table!"
The dealer's frown deepens but he nods. Rider balks, "You serious? You checked my coat! That's enough! I'm clean!"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Rider. Has to be done."
Rider pulls his gun again. "Like hell it does. Back off!"
"He's a cheat and he knows it!" I shout.
That's breaks the camel's back. He swings the gun back around at me. A shot rings out. I close my eyes, but the bullet ever hits. Instead, it's the dealer's gun that's smoking. Rider's eyes are wide. The bullet is lodged squarely in his chest. He spins, falls back, and fires. The dealer catches the bullet in the forehead.
In the mayhem that follows, I grab enough money from the table to get my son to Dallas. I leave before they can hang me.