Western Short Story
A Bad Draw of the Cards
J. R. Lindermuth

The outlaw was busy currying his horse when Abel Kane entered the stable.

Rowdy Joe McKibben glanced at him, but didn't hesitate in his task. "Figured you'd be along sooner or later, Sheriff. They tell you where to find me?"

"Jacobs did."

Rowdy Joe nodded his head. "Never should have teamed up with those fool amateurs."

"I have a warrant for your arrest, Joe," Kane said, his pistol pointed at the outlaw. Don't go doin' anything foolish like going for your gun."

"No use to it. I ain't had no luck since comin' to Texas."

Despite all the stories he'd heard, Kane didn't see anything fearful about the outlaw. McKibben was a scrawny little man with dark hair and beard, gimlet eyes and a sallow complexion. He wore a shirt faded from many washings, his trousers were torn at one knee and his boots appeared so old and worn Kane expected it might not be many more days until his toes were exposed through the leather. All evidence his career hadn't been profitable lately.

Kane had given the liveryman money and told him to go up the street to the saloon and have a drink. It was a precaution he took to assure the safety of an innocent bystander. The warm air in the stable was thick with the mingled odor of horses, warm straw bedding and manure. Dust motes floated in the streams of light filtering through cracks in the rough wood walls of the barn.

Kane grinned. "What happened to you, Joe? You had a reputation back in Arkansas. How'd you end up with that bunch of fools anyway?"

McKibben shrugged. "Good men seem to be in short supply around here. One of 'em recognized me when I was in a saloon havin' a drink. They begged me to take them on, teach 'em the outlaw trade. I figured, what the hell. Nothin' to lose. All they had to do was follow my orders." He snorted what might have passed for a laugh. "Guess you heard about our first attempt to rob a train over in San Saba County?"

"That was you? Every lawman in the state had a laugh over that fiasco."

The outlaw hung his head. "Don't rub it in. I had drummed my plan into their fool heads and they assured me we could pull it off. What happens? We come up to the express car just as a conductor opened the door. He yells 'What do you riff-raff want here?' And they all took off like scared rabbits."

"What did you do?"

Rowdy Joe shrugged again. "What could I do? I had no idea how many guns were on that train. I had no choice but to go runnin' off, too."

Kane gestured with his pistol. "Let's go outside. Light ain't so good in here and I don't like you bein' so close to your mount."

The sheriff followed his prisoner out the door, both of them blinking in the glare of the bright sun. A few horsemen and wagons passed on the street, their presence raising no more than an occasional curious glance.

"I set up another train job," Rowdy Joe continued, "but they failed me again. They begged me for one last chance. Like the fool I am, I gave in to their pleading. Another disaster."

"The train you waylaid outside of my town?"

"The very one. There was a safe on the train, just like I'd been told. We used too much dynamite. Blew the car all to hell. Safe stayed intact. We'd blown all the dynamite. No way to open the danged thing. 'Okay, boys,' I sez. 'We can still rob the passengers.' We got ourselves a couple hundred dollars, some whiskey and even a nice picnic lunch some woman was carryin'. Would have got away with it, too. Except that fool Jacobs let his mask slip and some people on the train recognized him. Reckon you rounded all those boys up?"

"Yes, I did."

The outlaw shook his head. "Lady Luck sure dealt me a bad draw of the cards when I come out here."

"And now I've got you, too," Kane told him. Readying his shackles, he noticed Rowdy Joe's hand inching closer to his holstered gun. He wasn't sure how fast on the draw the outlaw might be, but he didn't want to take any chances. After all, the man did have a reputation in the past. "Why don't you unbuckle your gun belt now, Joe, and drop it to the ground. I'd rather take you in alive then draped over your horse's back."

Joe grinned. "You pretty fast, Sheriff?"

"Fast enough. Besides, my gun's already drawn."

Rowdy Joe shifted around so the sun was at his back and in the sheriff's eyes.

Kane blinked and shielded his eyes with his other hand. "Move back where you were, damn you. No tricks now, Joe."

The words were barely out of the sheriff's mouth when Joe drew his pistol and snapped off a shot. Realizing he'd missed, McKibben muttered, "Ain't got no luck at all." He took off running.

Rowdy Joe had made it only a few paces when Kane's shot took him down. Squealing in pain, the outlaw yelled, "Don't shoot again. I'm bad hit."

Kane stood over him, pistol still in hand. He kicked Joe's weapon out of reach and knelt beside him to examine the wound. "Not that bad. You'll live to make it back to town and stand trial. I warned you not to try any tricks." He secured the shackles on McKibben's wrists.

"No luck. No luck at all," the outlaw said.