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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