Monthly Archives: August 2013

Forty Feet Between Them, Pt. 6

Red’s anger lasted only a moment before he regained control of himself. Fury gave way to shock and then disgust. “Is that all you got to say? I tell you you’re a villain and that I’m going to end you, and that’s all you’ve got?” Red shook his head. “Jesus, do you want me to kill you?”

“You can try.” John Quinn reached for his glass of whiskey and emptied it, his eyes locked on the younger man’s. “I’ll see you in the street in an hour’s time. We’ll do this right. No talking, no posturing, no grabbing innocent goddamn girls and threatening to kill them. No money. Just you and me and the guns.”

John Quinn smiled. A network of wrinkles formed at his eyes, a map of a lifetime of pain and violence. “Hope you’re good at the fast draw, son.”

“I ought to shoot you dead right now, you old bastard.”

“You don’t have a gun. I do.”

Red looked over his shoulder at Franklin. The man was busy looking at an empty spot on the wall. Red snorted and turned back to face John Quinn. “Do you now? Of course you do. I bet you got these folks so afraid of you, you can just walk in and take whatever you like. Break any rule. Is that it?”

John Quinn looked around the room, regarded the eyes of the men and women there. “You know what Rose told me when she realized who I’d shot?

“She said, ‘He’s going to kill us all.’

“You think I’m the villain? Maybe you’re right, but you know what?” John Quinn folded his hands on the table and leaned forward. He smiled. He tapped himself on the chest. “That’s what people say about me. ‘He’s going to kill us all.’

“You know what those people see when they see us? Forces of nature, boy. Like a wildfire, or a twister, or a thunderstorm. Unstoppable. Terrible. Maybe even a little bit awe-inspiring, from a distance.

“But you’d best pray they don’t get too close to you.

“Here we are, in the middle of a crowded bar, and ain’t nobody talking but us.

“Outside. Noon. Nobody has to get hurt but us.”

* * *

Red went somewhere else. John didn’t much care where. He figured one way or another he’d be done with this whole business in a few hours.

Slowly, the people in the bar seemed to begin breathing again. John Quinn raised his hand, gestured for another drink. Someone slapped him in the back of the head from behind.

“What in the hell is wrong with you? Do you want him to kill you?”

John Quinn sighed. “What do you think, Rose? You think I want to get shot dead in the street?”

“I think you’re an old fool.” She slapped him again. “Hell, I know you’re an old fool!”

John Quinn snarled. “Damn it, what in the hell are you hitting me for?” He turned to look over his shoulder and saw Rose standing behind him, her hands balled into fists, tears cutting through her make-up. “What’s wrong?”

“He’s going to kill you, you fool! He’s younger. He’s faster. He’s going to put a bullet in you before you can even–”

“I’m more experienced. You think I’ve never been in a duel or a shootout before? You think he has?” He snorted. “There’s a world of difference between shooting some dumb bastard in the back in the middle of nowhere and facing someone head on. Two men meet with forty feet between them, and it ain’t just the slow one who dies. It’s the worse shot. It’s the unsteady hand.” He smiled. “It’s the one that ain’t been wearing bulletproof goddamn armor for half his life.”

Rose of Sharon stared down at the older man, her face hardening into stone even as the warm tears continued to slowly fall from her eyes. “And what if he shoots you in the head?”

John Quinn looked away. Some of the other patrons and workers turned to look at him and Rose of Sharon, but only for a moment before quickly turning away. “That won’t happen.”

“Oh, no? It won’t.”

John said nothing. He simply shook his head.

“You know, I know you don’t believe that. I know you don’t believe the things people say about you. You’re too smart for it. You know you’re not invincible.”

“Of course I’m not.”

“Then what are you doing?”

He’d shot that fool kid, Billy Joe, rather than try and reason with him. Or he had tried, but not very had. He thought of Elliot Whitmore; for every person who’d ever met John Quinn that had wound up like him, there were two that had wound up like Keith Rivers. He thought of angry young men with guns. He thought of his mother, forty some years dead, of his father bleeding out before his eyes. He thought of all the children he’d left parentless one way or another.

“What I have to,” he said.

“You know, you ain’t a kid with no family anymore.”

“I still ain’t got a family.”

“You could,” Rose of Sharon said. She sniffed once. She wiped the last of the tears away from her eyes. There’d be no more shed for John Quinn that day. She turned. She walked away. She called over her should. “You could have.”


No Update – 8/29

Sorry, folks. I’ve got no steam for tonight. Extra long post on Friday!

Forty Feet Between Them, Pt. 5

Red Peterson came to town two days later on a chestnut horse. Like his brother, he had a shock of red hair atop his head, a sprinkling of freckles on his face. He wore blue jeans and a white shirt, and a single revolver sat low in its holster on his left hip.

His face was expressionless, his blue eyes as hard and as cold as ice. Folks watching from their homes shut their doors and their windows as Red passed by. Those who were in the street, with tasks they couldn’t abandon or else nowhere to go, turned their faces away and prayed silent prayers to be left alone. A little girl no older than ten, thin, with dark hair and wide eyes and a dirt-stained dress watched the rider. She stood motionless as he stopped aside her and Red Peterson gazed down at her with his boyishly handsome face and his cruel eyes.

“I’m looking for the coward and murderer John Quinn.” The little girl stared up at him, offered him no response. “The man who shot my brother, little sister. Do you know where he is?”

The little girl pointed further down the road and said, “Rosie’s.” Red tipped his hat to her and continued along.

* * *

The inside of Rosie’s was just like Red remembered it, although he hadn’t been inside in over a year. It was full of the sound of men and women laughing, the smell of smoke, glasses clinking against each other, animal lust hanging heavy in the air. It brought back memories, some happy, some unhappy. Days spent laughing with friends. Nights spent sobbing into the shoulder of a woman whose affection he had paid for. His love, Maria. The hunter, Gustav. Buy Billy Joe his first drink. Buying Billy Joe his first woman.

It was too much. He stood in the doorway, his eyes screwed tightly shut like dams holding back the torrent of what was inside him. He took a deep breath, let it out, opened his eyes again.

“Going to need your weapons, Red.” Red looked over his right shoulder. Franklin sat there, his enormous heads folded neatly on a table, an arsenal behind him. Little holdout pistols, big irons, knives of all kinds.

“I’m here for the man that murdered my brother, Frank.”

“I know, Red. That’s why I need you to empty your pockets. Ms. Rose ain’t going to have no violence in here.”

Red snorted. “No more violence, you mean. Did you forget that a dumb kid was shot dead in here just a few days ago.”

Franklin looked up at Red. He tapped the tabletop. “No, Red. I surely have not.”

“He’s got his guns, don’t he? Ain’t it only fair that I keep mine?”

“You know the rules.” Red sighed and took off his belt, set it on the table. He turned to go, and Franklin said, “Everything, Red. Everything.”

A fixed blade, seven inches long. A folder small enough to keep in a pocket. A snubnosed revolver tucked into a boot. Two thin bags of lead shot meant to be tightly gripped in a fistfight. Franklin’s eyes went a little wide at everything Red had managed to hide on his person. “Satisfied?” he asked, and all Franklin could do was nod in silence.

It was easy to pick John Quinn out of the crowd. He sat alone, a black hat and a glass half-drained of liquor on the table in front of him. His eyes, dark and hard as flint.

Dark and hard and locked on his own.

The two men stared at each other from across the room, forty feet between them. The force of John Quinn’s stare was enough to stop Red in his tracks. But only for a moment. The younger man continued his forward advance until he was standing directly in front of the elder one, and then he sat down.

Rosie’s was silent, half the eyes in the building locked on the two men, the other half desperately trying to find something, anything else to look at. Ages passed. The room buzzed with nervous energy, a spring stretching to its breaking point, a gun cocked and ready to fire.

“Your brother died screaming about debts and threatening to shoot some poor girl in the head,” the old man said.

Red frowned. “My brother died shot through the neck. He died suffering.”

The older man shook his head, the silver hair at his temples . “I ain’t going to apologize for shooting him. I don’t make it a habit of apologizing for the deaths of fools that can’t control their liquor, their temper, or their bad ideas.”

Red’s nostrils flared. His eyes narrowed to slits. His lips pulled back in a snarl. “No, I suspect you don’t. I suspect you ain’t never apologized for any of the people you killed in cold blood. I suspect you ain’t never done anything but go from town to town, dressed the way you do and walking the way you do and talking the way you do and killing whoever you please for whatever reason you invent.

“I know you, John Quinn. I know you for the black-hearted villain you are and for the ruin you visit on the people in your path. And I ain’t never going to apologize for shooting you, neither.”

The older man looked Red in the eyes. He blinked, once, twice. But he didn’t turn away. “No,” he said. “No, I suspect you won’t.”

Forty Feet Between Them, Pt. 4

Short, late post tonight. My apologies, team.

John Quinn rubbed his cheek, his flesh still stinging where Rose of Sharon had struck him. Or maybe he just thought it did. Or maybe he just had to keep his hands moving so he had something to focus other than what she was telling him.

“Red’s a farmhand at the Robbins place. About two days’ ride north. He’s a good enough kid; doesn’t cause any trouble, always squares his debts. But he’s got a temper.”

“Show me one of them good old boys that doesn’t.”

Rose of Sharon shook her head. “He’s not the kind to flip a table and throw a punch. He’s the kind to sit there quietly and leave. He gets a grudge, he nurses it and dwells on it until it fills him up, you hear me? He doesn’t pull his gun and fire like the things a snake fit to bite him; he takes his time and he aims and he measures his shots in pure hate.” Rose of Sharon went silent for a moment. Quietly, she added, “I guess he’s kind of like you that way.”

John Quinn snorted. “Kind of like me?”

“You know that story you told me about the house you burned down and the kid you shot in the face?”

John Quinn winced. He’d told Rose about Zechariah Wharton and Keith Rivers once, in a moment of weakness, and he’d never forgiven himself for it. To her credit, she almost never brought it up. Almost. “Yeah.”

“Well, a year back, back when you was still out… out doing whatever it is that you do, there was a man staying in town. A hunter from back east. He was courting one of my girls, telling her how he was going to take her back home with him and they’d have a good life together in wherever the hell he came from. Now, Red Peterson liked this girl, and he was none too pleased when he came in one day and found her hanging off the arm of the hunter. But he saw her happy, and he didn’t do or say nothing.

“Not until the hunter told the girl they were going to get married and then disappeared the next morning without a word.

“Red tried to comfort the girl, but she wasn’t having none of it. She pushed him away and just set to crying over her own broken heart. No one could do anything to cheer her up, and Red just sat watching her suffer from the other side of the bar, his face getting darker and darker. Finally, he just got up and he set off to the east.”

“Went to go beat the hunter to a pulp, is that it?”

Rose of Sharon was silent. “What’d the kid do?”

“I don’t rightly know,” she began. “But there was man that came from the east a few days later. He was asking if anybody in town had gone missing recently. Said he saw a bunch of buzzards circling a spot not too far from the road, so he went to go check it out. Found them feasting on a body.”

“The hunter?”

“Probably. All he said was he found a body that’d met a bad end.”

John Quinn arched an eyebrow. “A bad end? What’s that mean?”

Rose of Sharon shrugged and looked away. John Quinn frowned. “Why are you telling me this?”

Rose of Sharon turned her head back to John Quinn. She studied him for a moment. Concern “You know where I’ve heard that before? ‘Met a bad end?’”

John Quinn shook his head.

“From you. The only other person I’ve ever heard say that is you. The only other person I’ve heard of doing something that a body would have to say that is you”

John Quinn said nothing. He couldn’t hold Rose of Sharon’s gaze, but he wouldn’t look away.

“And that’s the kind of person we’re up against, John Quinn. A man just like you.”

Forty Feet Between Them, Pt. 3

A gunshot echoed through Rosie’s like the crowing of a rooster gone mad.

John was out of bed and on his feet before he could think, his hands pulling his pants up to his waist, his mind registering the weight of his revolvers on his hips even as he cinched his belt. He was an animal operating off of pure instinct, and as his left hand opened the door that led from Rose of Sharon’s bedroom to the second-story landing, his right hand drew the ironwood-gripped .45, thumbed back the hammer, raised the gun to the level of his eye.

“Get out here, John Quinn! Stop hiding behind your whore and give me my money!”

The kid, Billy Joe Peterson, was down in the lobby, a revolver in each hand. Two men of about his own age stood at his sides, both armed with shotguns. He turned from side to side, his revolvers held at the ready. All around the three marauders, the girls and the patrons who were already awake watched uneasily. Some of the cowered in fear; the more experienced tried to appear as cool and unperturbed as possible. Even with Rose of Sharon’s prohibitions against weapons, it wasn’t uncommon for tempers to flare and give way to threats or worse.

John watched the scene below him quietly from the cracked door, waiting to see what the kid would do. At least he wasn’t dumb enough to try and take a hostage; if he were, Old Timmy Greene, the bartender, would have pulled the gun he kept under the counter and shot him dead. Hell, it was a small wonder someone hadn’t put a couple rounds into the kid and his friends already.

“You get down here now, John Quinn! You and me got a score to settle!”

John Quinn sighed and pushed the door open all the way. “The only score you got to settle is with Rose. It ain’t good manners to go around shouting and pounding your chest and putting holes in folks’ roofs.”

Every eye in the lobby turned to him. He stood there, the cold morning light from Rose of Sharon’s bedroom window illuminating him from behind. His features disappeared, blurred and became indistinct, until there was only the specter of an old man, a gun in his hand, his body covered with the marks of wounds that had scarred him but hadn’t killed him. Billy Joe’s men raised their guns, but he snapped at them, “Put them things down, you fools! You’ll kill his bitch!”

John Quinn’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to bring your guys to town, son?”

“The money, John Quinn.”

“I’m not giving you a damn thing, boy. Go home.”

The hard expression on Billy Joe’s face wavered for just a moment. His men looked to him, but they missed his uncertainty. They only saw steely determination, and they turned their heads back to John Quinn, reassured that they would get what they’d came for.

“Then I guess I’ll have to show you I ain’t fooling around.” Billy Joe kept his eyes on John Quinn and holstered one of his guns. He cast a single glance to the side, and then he enacted his plan. His free hand snapped out like a snake striking, and it grabbed the blouse of the girl who had the misfortune to be standing next to him. She screamed and she struggled, and Billy Joe pulled her in as close as he could. He was fighting to get his arm around her, his gun against her temple, and to do it all while speaking, while not taking his eyes off of John Quinn.

“You get down here and get on your knees with your hat between your hands, and I won’t shoot the whore. You hear me? I’m going to–”

He’d spread his attention too thin. The girl had nearly struggled free, and when he turned to pull her back, a shot rang out. People screamed and scrambled away. Billy Joe dropped to his knees, eyes wide with fear and surprise and pain, his revolver and the girl forgotten as his hands clawed at the hole that had suddenly appeared in his throat, his men too confused and frightened to return fire on the man who had shot their boss right through his neck. The building was in chaos, and John Quinn looked down on it all, smoke trailing from the barrel of his revolver, some ancient death-dealing ghost.

He took a deep breath and he called out, “Take him and go. I ain’t going to have no fool bleeding to death on Rose’s fine floor.” His words echoed like a lion’s roar. The screaming stopped. The movement stopped. Billy Joe’s men looked up at John Quinn uncertainly then back down at their leader. He clasped one hand to his neck, as if he could stem the flow of blood with his fingers, and with the other he clawed desperately at the air, reaching for help, for forgiveness, for one last attempt to hurt the man who had done this horrible thing to him.

The sound of the hammer locking into position filled the air, almost as loud as a gunshot in the quiet lobby. “I’m not saying it again.”

The two boys looked at each other, and without speaking a word, they leaned down and picked up Billy Joe, dragged his increasingly pale and motionless body out the door. John Quinn watched them go, and then his eyes scanned the room out of habit. What he saw unsettled him.

Every eye in the place was looked on him. Every face was filled with anger, with fear. Even the girl who’s life he had just saved was looking at him with a look he couldn’t quite place; she wasn’t afraid of him, exactly, but she was terribly afraid of something.

He turned around to find Rose of Sharon, but she found him first. She slapped him. Hard.

“John Quinn, you fool, don’t you know what you’ve done? You shot Red Peterson’s brother!” Her lower lip quivered, tears welling up in her eyes. “God damn you, John Quinn. You shot Red Peterson’s brother, and now he’s going to kill us all.”

Forty Feet Between Them, Pt. 2

A few hours later, the moon sat high in the cold night sky behind clouds that stretched from horizon to horizon. It burned like a lantern behind frosted glass, and the stars did not shine. John Quinn stepped into the street and took a deep breath and smiled to himself. The satchel that lay slung low across his shoulders was heavy with the night’s winnings, and the round of ale he had bought to soothe the egos of the men who had last to him had done little to lessen its weight. He pulled his overcoat.

A voice, high and with a faint mocking tone to it, called out from above him. “And there goes John Quinn to sleep in the fields under the open desert sky. Why don’t you come back inside where it’s warm, John?”

John turned and looked up to see Rose of Sharon smirking down at him from the second-story balcony of her building. She was wearing one of the dresses she had made herself, drawing silk and velvet and cotton from an untold number of garments and fashioning them into a red dress that shimmered in the light and clung to her figure while still maintaining a respectable degree of modesty. After all, there was a business to be run and it wouldn’t do to have the clients confusing her with her employees. John smiled up at her and tipped his black felt hat. “You won’t be having any more of my money tonight, Rose. Some other day.” He turned to leave, but she called out after him.

“I don’t want your money, John Quinn! I just want a body to talk to.”

He cocked his head a bit to the side. There was a game they played sometime, teasing and taunting at each other. A playful jab danced at the edge of his tongue, but instead he looked up and past her at that starless night, at the moon hidden away behind clouds and he shivered though he was not cold.

Rose of Sharon saw that John’s resolve was cracking and pouted at him. “Come on, John. Enrique tried to square away some of his gambling debts with a bottle of some clear liquor he says he carried five hundred miles. Come up and have a drink.”

John laughed and shook his head. “I never could say ‘No’ to a woman with a strong spirit.” He walked back inside Rosie’s leaving the cold desert night behind him.

By the time John reached the doorman, Rose of Sharon was already standing on the second-story landing waving for the man to let John pass with his coat and his gun. John slid through the crowd, the mass of people still quite large but somewhat quieter than when he had first sat down to play poker and made his way up the stairs. He walked past the other bedrooms, some open and empty, some shut with the soft noises barely audible over the din below, and stepped into Rose of Sharon’s room.

It was the largest room in the building other than the floor downstairs, and Rose of Sharon had decorated its walls with gifts from lovers and suitors the world over. A serape from Mexico. The horns of a sheep from Colorado. The skull of a great bear from some land to the north whose name she could not recall. Bones and art and clothes and furniture and delicacies from as far as men could travel by foot. There was a bed, large enough for two people to sleep side-by-side on their backs and still stretch out some. There was a crowded bookshelf. There were two doors, one which opened out onto the balcony Rose of Sharon had called to John from and one which locked and served as a safe. Finally, there was a couch, and here Rose of Sharon lay with rehearsed grace and feigned impatience. “You certainly know how to keep a lady waiting, John Quinn. Why, I almost thought you’d gotten lost on your way upstairs.”

John said nothing, but arched one of his eyebrows and sat beside her. She looked much the same as she had when they’d first met ten years before. She was younger than him by over a decade, and her face was just starting to show the wear from a life spent laughing, smiling, frowning, shouting, and crying. She was a strong woman, but expressive. She was unapologetic about letting the world know what she was thinking and feeling. John saw a few lone strands of grey in her chestnut hair, but they blended well with its natural sheen. He wanted to put his arm around her, pull her close and kiss her. Instead he took the glass that she offered and sipped at the clear liquid within. “Good,” he said. “Kind of sweet.”

She nodded and sipped from her own glass. “Tell me, John. What were you doing standing out there looking up at the night sky?”

John almost said, “Nothing,” but looking into Rose of Sharon’s hazel eyes, he knew she’d get him to speak his mind eventually, whether it was now or after another glass of Enrique’s liquor. He sighed, picked his words carefully. “Do you remember decades ago when there were a few years where there was barely any sun at all? Probably not. You were probably just a baby, bawling and drooling in your daddy’s arms.” Rose of Sharon punched him in the arm, hard, and John laughed. This was another game they played, and John respected her for playing it well. “Well, on nights like this I get to think about those years. I was just a boy myself, just beginning to get stubble on my face and bad ideas about girls in my brain. It was bad. Nothing grew. Not enough sunlight, you see. No rain or snow either, but it was colder than I remember it being since. No seasons. Just one long grey nothing.” He took another drink of the liquor, held it on his tongue for a bit before swallowing. “Folks died. A lot of folks died.” He shook his head. “Call me a sentimental old fool, I guess, but on nights like these, I look up, and it’s like there’s nothing above us.”

“You’re a sentimental old fool, John Quinn,” Rose of Sharon said. She said it softly and sweetly, and as she said it, she took the empty glass from John’s hand and set it on the floor. She cradled his body in her arms and laid him down so his head was resting on her lap. She ran her fingers through his hair, gently at first and then mussing it like she was petting her favorite dog. “This isn’t like you, John Quinn. Where’s the gunslinger that doesn’t need nobody? Where’s the grizzled, hard-drinking man that spends his nights sleeping under the stars with the snakes and the coyotes?”

John snorted. “I didn’t turn around and come back so I could be mocked by a little girl in a homemade dress, Rose.”

She slapped him on the top of the head. Not hard, but he wasn’t expecting it, and he jumped. “No, you came back inside because you’re afraid of the dark and you’re sick of cleaving to rattlers for companionship.”

John chuckled, fumbled around on the ground for the glass, held it up. “That must surely be it.” Rose of Sharon refilled it, and they sat in silence for a while. “I busted some kid in poker earlier.”

“Oh? Who?”

John shrugged. “Some brat. I went all in with a flush, and he tried to match me with a straight.”

“His own fault for not reading the cards. Should have seen the flush on the table.”

“He’d been drinking. That’ll make any young man cocksure. He got real upset, though. Took to calling me a cheater.”

Rose of Sharon laughed. “Why, John, if ever there were a sign that you’ve been away from these parts for too long, it is surely that the youth isn’t afraid of you.”

John ignored her, stared straight up at the ceiling and at some point past it. “It’s a cruel world to live in, where an old man can take everything from a young man.”

“Oh, stop that. You aren’t that old, and you didn’t swindle him. He bet all his money his fool self and he paid for it. You taught him a valuable lesson, if anything.”

“I know, I know. I remember being his age, though. Young and angry. It’s a shame this world doesn’t have more to offer a boy like that. I think he’d take well to good, honest work.” John sighed. “I just–”

“Hush, John Quinn,” Rose of Sharon said softly. She laid her hand alongside his head, tilted it up slightly so he was looking into her eyes.

He hushed.

Forty Feet Between Them, Pt. 1

Alright, that’s enough short-form stuff for now. Let’s spend some time with an old friend!

It was a night like any other in Rosie’s. The man on the piano was playing with a careless glee, the beer in his glass jump up and down in time with his pounding of the keys. The girls were everywhere in their tight, low-cut tops and their short skirts, throwing their heads back and shutting their eyes and laughing with practiced ease at every joke the boys told. Some folks danced on the wooden floor, some folks sat at the counter of the bar telling their tales, and some folks kept their hats pulled close over their eyes and their cards held tightly in their hands as they looked suspiciously at their fellow gamblers.

All save one.

John Quinn sat with his back straight and his head held high, a black hat on the table before him. His hair was greying at the temples, a thin network of wrinkles framing eyes as dark as the night sky. The sleeves of his white shirt were rolled up to his elbows in deference to the others at the table, and his black vest and his black jeans and his chapped hands showed the dirt and the wear from many long hours spent on the road. Those dark eyes moved unhurriedly between the two cards he held in his hand and those that sat on the table: the jack of spades, the ten of hearts, the five of clubs, the four of hearts, and the nine of hearts. “All in,” he said.

Enrique threw down his cards in disgust. James McCoy swore and shook his head. But a young man, no older than his early twenties with a shock of messy red hair atop his head and a day’s worth of patchy stubble on his face looked hard at his cards. Three empty mugs that had once been full to the brim with the house brew sat on the table before him. “Alright,” he said after a few moments had passed. “I’ll see you, you old bastard. All in.” He pushed his pile of chips forward and grinned. John watched this with subdued amusement, a single arched eyebrow betraying his feelings.

“You sure about that, son?”

The boy’s grin turned into a sneer as he leaned forward in his seat. “Maybe you don’t know me, Mister, but I’m Billy Joe Peterson. I was born with a mouth full of teeth and raised by wolves. I drink whiskey for water and I eat rocks for breakfast. I’m the best shot with a gun you’ve ever seen, and I’ve killed two handfuls of villains.”

John regarded Billy carefully. “Is that so?” he asked, but the kid didn’t pay him any mind.

“I been gambling since I could talk, and I’ve won and lost more fortunes in my twenty years than you have in all your days.” The boy chuckled. “I ain’t afraid of you, old man. All in.” He placed his cards face up on the table. He’d had the queen of diamonds and the eight of spades in his hand, and he crossed his arms as he said, “Straight, queen high. Beat that.”

“Flush, queen high,” John said as he laid his own cards down. The queen of hearts and the two of hearts stared up at Billy. He leaned forward in his seat, jaw hanging open, both of his hands propped on the table surface, and whether it was the drinking he’d been doing or the shock of losing, it was some time before he said anything.

“You cheated!”

“I did no such thing, son.” John indicated his rolled up sleeves. “Where could I have hidden a card?”

“You’ve got them under your hat, then! You can’t play with your hat on the table! You’re a no-good cheater!”

John frowned. “Now look here, boy. I too was young and a fool once, so I’ll attribute such slander to the drink and to heated emotions, but it isn’t wise to accuse an honest man of cheating at cards.” He leaned forward and folded his hands together on the tabletop. “It isn’t healthy.”

Billy glared into John’s eyes, but John held his gaze. At last, Billy grunted and stood up from the table. He adjusted his hat, dusted off the front of his shirt. He glared at John once more, as if hoping that the extra few feet of height he had granted himself by standing would be enough to intimidate the older man. “This ain’t over between you and me. I’ll be seeing you again, and I’ll be wanting my money.”

“Go home, son. Sleep it off.”

“Fuck you, old man.” Billy turned his back on the table and walked to the front door of Rosie’s where a tall, well-muscled man stood watch over the firearms that the customers had turn in before being allowed entry. Billy pointed to a single heavy revolver, and the man handed it to him along with the handful of cartridges he had pulled from its chambers. Billy took the gun and slipped it into the holster that hung low on his hip. He cast one last glance over his shoulder where John Quinn and the others motioned for a fourth to join the now vacant seat at their table.

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