Western Short Story
Great white plumes of dense steam shot out from beneath the train’s engine as it released pressure from its huge boiler. Behind the engine, weary passengers stepped from the railcars onto the old wooden platform, grateful for the chance to stretch their legs.
As the travel-weary passengers stepped off the train, they instinctively clutched their coats about the neck or pulled their hats down tight upon their heads as they were greeted by a gust of cold October wind. The old sign hanging above the station door danced in place. Its squeaking announced to all that they had arrived at the little boom town of Placer Valley.
The station bustled with activity as passengers met loved ones and workmen unloaded luggage onto the platform. They removed freight from boxcars that had been pulled along behind the passengers and transferred it onto waiting freight wagons.
As the station’s activity dwindled, one lone passenger was left standing in the doorway of the last passenger car. He was an unassuming man. Nondescript and of average stature. What set him apart was that he was extremely well dressed for this part of the country. His clothing looked to be tailor made including the black wool overcoat that hung down past the tops of his polished black boots.
He wore a large black hat and the finest leather gloves. He wore a large ornate silver belt buckle. No doubt hand crafted by a highly qualified silversmith. Possibly from somewhere back east. He carried no guns on his hip as many did in Placer Valley.
One small suitcase was the extent of his luggage. He traveled light, not expecting to stay long. He stepped out onto the platform. He shivered as a blast of cold wind hit his face.
Setting the case at his feet, he quickly buttoned up his overcoat, grabbed the case back up and began the short walk down Main Street as there was no one to meet him at the station. His walk ended in front of Macy’s boarding house.
The Silver Spur saloon was a short distance from Macy’s. It was located in the rougher part of town. Fights were quite common here. The shootings and stabbings had become less frequent since the sheriff moved his office directly across the street. He also stationed one of his deputies inside the saloon on Friday and Saturday nights.
The office of the town doctor was adjacent to the sheriffs and the Doc was always available until midnight. His heaviest business of the day took place after the sun went down. It consisted mainly of broken bones and bloody noses.
The offices’ prime location had the added advantage of a shorter distance for a man to stagger for help on those rare occasions when he found himself at the receiving end of a bullet or a knife.
Inside the saloon, three cowboys sat at a corner table playing poker. Two of the men were the Yates brothers, Jacob and Jason. They worked for their father under the Star Z brand. They were hard working boys during the week but Saturday night was their free time and they always took full advantage of it at the Silver Spur. They had money and plenty of it.
A good bottle of whiskey, a good game of cards and an occasional good woman was their normal routine. A fine cigar was also high on their list of priorities if the bartender happened to have any in stock. Tonight was one of those nights. The thick blue smoke hung heavy over the table choking the dim flame of a nearby lantern.
The third man at the table was a young buck from the Box K ranch. His name was Johnny Weston but he went by the name of “Kid”, Kid Weston. He was a big man. Not so tall but he carried a lot of excess weight. He was also a braggart. Some would say he was a stubborn braggart, with a big ego and a chip on his shoulder to boot. He was not well liked.
He carried a pistol low on his hip and had the reputation of being all too eager to clear leather when he had been drinking. The whiskey tended to dull his senses and slow him down. It contributed to a very dangerous combination for the Kid and whoever he drew against.
The last man he drew on was faster, and a good shot to boot. He was more interested in playing cards than killing someone, so shooting the Kid’s gun out of his hand suited him just fine.
Good fortune was with the kid that night, but it didn’t suit him well. It did more damage to his ego than to his hand. It was an embarrassment to him as he had bragged himself up to be good with a gun.
Along with the excuses, he swore it could never happen again. He wanted to prove it and looked for the man the following day. The shooter was smart enough to have left town before he was forced to kill the boy.
A lot of people didn’t like the Kid and a few downright hated him. They were disappointed in the fact that this fella’ hadn’t actually killed him.
With his life intact but his ego badly damaged, it was only a matter of time before the Kid found the right opportunity to redeem himself, and his detractors would have another opportunity to hope for his demise.
The cold night air and the well-dressed stranger blew into the Silver Spur saloon. He closed the door behind him as he scanned the scene before him. It looked to be a fairly decent room. A well shined bar top and a large mirror against the back wall added a bit of class. The counter under the mirror was well stocked with empty bar glasses and assorted bottles of whiskey. Beer on tap was always a plus and this saloon had two spigots.
He locked eyes with the bartender for a moment. There was a slight acknowledgment between the two. The bartender went back to wiping down the bar. The deputy on duty was aware he had entered the room.
The piano player noticed the stranger enter as he was worked at pounding out a tune. The stranger had heard the tune before. It surprised him as he knew it had not been penned that long ago. He wondered to himself how the player had gotten his hands on the music so quickly. Obviously the piano player had good connections down South, Quite possibly New Orleans where he had first heard the song.
There was no space at the bar but that was of no concern to him. He wasn’t interested in standing alongside half drunk cowboys who asked prying questions of him and entertained themselves with the notion he might want to buy them a drink.
He carefully scouted the gaming tables off to his right. Several had room for more players and he weighed the advantages and disadvantages of each. Choosing in his mind the table he thought would best suit him. He walked over to it, stood back and studied each man as they played through a few hands.
He watched for signs of weakness and strength. He took note of body language and the way they held their cards. He listened to the tone of their voices, the way they talked and what they said when they held a winning hand or were bluffing with nothing at all.
One of the men was close to drunk and the other two were not far behind. It would certainly be to his advantage to join in on this table and as luck would have it, this was the table he needed to be at.
When the current hand was finished the stranger spoke up. “Would you boys be interested in adding another player to your game?”
All three players looked up in unison. Jacob and Jason Yates were fine with it. Kid Weston eyed the stranger with caution. He had questions. Was he a gambler by trade? How well did he know how to play? Did he have much money and would he be able to get it from him?
Jacob Yates was the first to speak. “Those fancy clothes you’re wearing tell me you’re not from around here. Do you earn your money at the card table or do you earn it by way of a more respectable occupation?”
“I’m here on business,” replied the stranger. “I’m only looking for some lawful entertainment to pass the evening. If you don’t mind, I’d appreciate the opportunity to join you boys for a few hands.”
The three agreed to let the stranger sit in but before he had a chance to remove his coat and take a seat the Kid spoke up. “Show us you can afford to lose a hundred dollars before you take that seat.”
The stranger pulled a number of bills from his pocket and counted out one hundred dollars and laid it on the table. “Now may I sit down?” He questioned.
“Be my guest,” replied the Kid. “I could use another hundred dollars.”
Introductions went around and when the strangers turn arrived he had no intention of revealing his true identity so he introduced himself as Mr. Stewart.
“Don’t you have a first name?” Asked Jason.
“Maxwell,” replied the stranger. “But I never use it.”
“Well then, how shall we call you?”
“Mr. Stewart suits me just fine.”
“OK, I can live with that. Why don’t you go ahead and deal the cards, Mr. Stewart. The game is five card draw, deuces are wild.”
The Kid watched Mr. Stewart carefully as he shuffled and dealt the cards. He planned on keeping a close eye on him just to be sure he wasn’t a gambler on the take. The Kid didn’t like the fancy clothes or his highbrow attitude. His first impression of the man was not a favorable one. But that wasn’t so unusual for the Kid. He didn’t like anyone at first sight.
The game went on for a couple of hours and Maxwell Stewart showed himself to be a mediocre player. He started out with two losing hands but then managed to win one with a pot big enough to put him ahead. As the night progressed, all things seemed about even. Jason had a run of bad luck and went bust after a couple of hours. Jacob and the Kid held their own, but after three bad hands in a row, Jacob finally went out as well. The two men left the table and went up to the bar.
The kid spent most of the evening bragging on how he was the best card player in town and on how he was going to not only take the hundred dollars Maxwell Stewart had laid on the table but also the rest of the bills he had in his pocket.
The evening was getting on and most of the patrons had left for the night. The kid was drunk and not making good decisions. Maxwell Stewart was reading him like a five-cent novel.
The pot was the biggest one of the evening, but neither one of them would call. The whiskey had made the Kid over confident. He wanted to take it all and he pushed Mr. Stewart into adding to the pot with the money he had in his pocket.
“This is it,” he bragged. “I’ll put in the last fifty bucks I have and if you don’t have enough on the table, you can even up with the money you have in your fancy pants pocket, I’ll be more than willing to take that from you as well.”
“Are you that sure of yourself?” Asked Mr. Stewart. He was confident the Kid would not back down now. He also knew he held the winning hand and the pot would soon be his. The biggest concern he had at the moment was what the Kid might do when he realized he had lost it all. He needed to be ready for anything.
The Kid kept on him. “Go on, put your money down if you think you have me beat. I told you I’d get it all from you. I’m the best damn poker player in town and I’m about to prove it”
Maxwell Stewart added the cash from his pocket and called the bet. The Kid laid down his hand and Stewart did the same. The Kid’s face went white and his jaw slacked as he stared at Stewart’s cards, and then back to his own. He leaned forward to get a better look at the cards Maxwell Stewart had laid on the table. It didn’t do him any good. They hadn’t changed.
“That’s impossible,” cried the Kid. “I know I had the winning hand. You’re a cheat! I don’t know how you did it, but somehow, you cheated.”
Jason and Jacob tried to calm the Kid down but it was a losing battle. Maxwell Stewart sat calmly in his chair while the Kid threw his fit. When he could get a word in, he finally spoke up and calmly stated, “The cards are on the table ‘Kid’ and the cards don’t lie. You lost fair, so I suggest you deal with it like a man.”
That infuriated the Kid. “I’ll deal with it alright. I’ll deal with it right here and now.” He jumped to his feet and drew his gun.
The piano player stopped his playing and ducked behind the piano. He knew the routine. He had been through this scene with the kid too many times before. His hope was that this would be the last.
The bartender stood his distance and let the matter play itself out. Jason and Jacob moved out of the line of fire.
Stewart jumped out of his chair and backed away from the table. He stood with his hands empty and away from his sides. “Don’t shoot. I’m not carrying a weapon. I’m telling you Kid. I didn’t cheat. I won that hand fair and square.”
“I don’t believe you,” Shouted the Kid. “Somebody give this cheater a gun. I want his death to be fair and legal like.”
The deputy who was posted to the saloon drew his pistol and ordered the Kid to drop his weapon or he’d arrest him for menacing.
The Kid refused. “No man cheats me and gets away with it. He’ll feel the burn of hot lead before he gets any of my money.”
The deputy implored the Kid to holster his weapon. “If you don’t holster that gun right now, I’ll arrest you for menacing. If you kill him, I’ll make sure you hang for murder. I’m telling you for the last time, holster that weapon!”
The Kid thought better of the situation and reluctantly holstered his gun, but he wasn’t through with Maxwell Stewart. The whiskey and his stubborn ego had gotten the better of him. “Get yourself a gun Stewart,” ordered the Kid. “Tomorrow morning you and me are gonna’ settle this. I’ll see you outside the saloon at ten o’clock sharp.”
He turned and left the table in a rage throwing open the front door on his way out. A cold gust of wind blew into the room and scattered the cards from a nearby table.
Maxwell Stewart turned to Jason and Jacob. “You two were here. Did I cheat? Did you see me cheat at all?”
The Yates boys both agreed. “No sir, as far as were concerned you won that money fair and square.”
The deputy settled the disagreement right then. “OK Stewart, gather up your money and go. I suggest you leave town before tomorrow morning and don’t even think about challenging the Kid. He’s fast when he’s sober and he won’t let this go.”
Maxwell Stewart scooped up his money and hurried out the door. He headed straight for the boarding house and went up to his room…and went to bed. Things were going as planned and he needed his rest to finish the job in the morning.
As the clock struck nine, Maxwell Stewart was already up and heading down stairs for a good breakfast. At nine forty five he went back to his room and watched from the window, waiting for the Kid to call him out. At ten o’clock Stewart saw the Kid walk up the street past the boarding house toward the saloon.
He threw his suitcase onto the bed and opened it up. Inside was a custom made and finely tooled black leather gun belt and two ornately decorated silver Colt revolvers with white pearled handles. They were two of the finest hand crafted revolvers ever to be found.
He strapped on the belt and positioned it exactly where he needed it. He checked the revolvers and slid them easily into their holsters. He had been hired to do a job and he was about to follow through. He walked down the narrow wood stairs of the old boarding house and out the front door to the street.
The kid stood ready and waiting.
Maxwell Stewart made his way toward the Kid. There was a bitter chill in the crisp morning air as an icy gust of wind swirled up the dust between the two men and blew it down the street.
“I didn’t think you’d show,” said the Kid as he held his stance.
“And neither did I,” interrupted the sheriff as he and one of his deputies stepped out from his office with rifles in their hands. Looking in Stewart’s direction, he stated his concerns. “I hear my deputy told you to leave town if you knew what was best and here you are with guns on. Are you crazy or did my deputy misjudge you? Looking at what you’re packin’, I’d say it was the latter.”
Stewart responded to the sheriff’s question as he moved in closer, but never taking his eyes off the Kid. “You’ll have your answer in due time sheriff. The Kid called me out. This is a fair fight.”
The sheriff and the deputy raised their rifles and aimed them, one at the Kid and one at Maxwell Stewart.
“I’m the law in this town and even though this fight may be fair, it’s also over. If either one of you go for your guns you’ll get a rifle bullet.”
The Kid’s eyes were focused on Stewart as he answered the sheriff. “You’re not the law, sheriff. You were hired to uphold the law. This is a fair fight and you’re interfering with the law, not upholding it.”
“Call it what you want, Kid. We can sort all that out in due time, but right now I suggest you both drop your gun belts nice and easy like.”
As usual, the Kid was stubborn. “No sir, sheriff. I won’t do that.”
The sheriff was determined to put an end to this before any shots were fired. He took a daring and foolish chance by stepping between the two men with his back to the Kid. It was a bad move.
The Kid was already in motion. His shot hit the sheriff. The deputy didn’t hesitate. He fired at the Kid. It all happened in the blink of an eye. The sheriff and the Kid lay on the ground. The Kid didn’t stand a chance but the sheriff was still alive. The Kid’s bullet had lodged itself in his side. Stewart didn’t move a muscle.
The Doc came out of his office and ordered the deputy and Stewart to carry the sheriff into his office. As for the Kid, he was taken to the undertaker.
The Doc closely examined the sheriff. “It’s not a bad wound; you’ll recover once I get that chunk of lead out of your hide. You’ll need to stay off your feet for a few days.”
The following day Maxwell Stewart headed toward the station. As he stepped up onto the platform, a voice hidden from view spoke up. It was an old acquaintance who didn’t want to be seen with Stewart.
“The deal was you kill him and then you get paid. You didn’t kill him so the deals off.”
“I understand perfectly,” replied Stewart. “Things don’t always work out as planned. I’m not leaving empty handed. I did make out well at the poker table.”
He stepped up to the train and disappeared into the car. The acquaintance headed back to the bar as the train headed south.
© Copyright 2020 by Scott A. Gese All Rights Reserved.