Friday, September 12, 2008

The Poker Game (Prequel 1)

This was written some time ago, before I had the current plan for what I wanted to do with this story. It technically is part of the story, it just takes place about a week or two before Chapter 1 and was originally written as a sort of a fun writing exercise. It doesn't really advance the story, just sort of introduces you to some of the characters on a relaxed night at home. It might be fun to read just as a stand alone tale.

George Washington “Wash” Monahan took the worn deck of cards and tapped it deftly on the stained, sticky, and chipped tabletop. The oily smoke from the lamp coiled out of the sooty glass chimney and mixed with the smell of the fireplace, stale cigarette smoke, and sweat. He reached across the table and turned the flame up on the cracked oil lamp that presided over the bunkhouse poker game, then put the deck down in front of Jesse, who tucked a peppermint stick into the side of his mouth like it was a quirly, deftly shuffled and started dealing for the four of them.

“Allright, lad.” Wash said. “About the fight last week. Talk.” The Irishman leaned forward keenly, his blue eyes eager and the fireplace behind him lighting his tousled reddish hair in a devilish halo.

Saint cringed. Couldn’t they just forget about the damn fight? He'd thought it was funny while the excitment was still on him, but in the cold light of day, the thought of it just made Saint feel tired and annoyed.

Wash continued, “We been waitin’ for ya to get back from your run. All ye said before you left was ‘The Yarl boys are busted up good' and then ya left. We ought to give you a clip round the ear for that.”

Tommy spoke up from where he lay on his upper bunk, not looking up from his dime novel. Another lamp, perched on the bare beam over his head, bathed him in a circle of yellow light and reflected on his silver spectacles. “You ought to give him a clip on the ear, anyways. Luis, this book’s really good. I’ll go back and read it to you when you want to hear it.”

“Gracias.” The swarthy teenager quipped, picking up his cards as Jesse dealt them. “I saw that when Jesse brought it in, an’ hoped it was for us. I've been wanting to hear a new book." He peeled four cards out of his hand and pushed them in front of the tall, blond youth who sat across from him.

“Man trades four has an ace at the door.” Jesse muttered in his twangy Nebraska drawl as he deftly dealt out four more cards to the Mexican youth. The peppermint stick shifted to the other side of his mouth. “What, Saint didn’t tell you all about that fight? It’s his story.” He shot Saint a mock-innocent look.

Saint stretched his long legs out under the table, gave Jesse an exasperated glance, and tossed two cards down before picking up the two new ones Jesse pushed towards him. “Isn’t anything to tell. The Yarl boys decided to act like they normally act. They grabbed me, and I made them let go. End of story.”

“My bollocks, end of story.” Wash quipped, laughing. “I dinna think you’ll pass off that sad offering. We know ye better than that.” He arranged his cards in his hand and glanced at them.

Luis frowned briefly into his hand and stuck an unlit quirly between his lips. “Nah, ‘way I heard it, you near tore the front off the Silver Star. Anybody raising?”

Saint snorted dismissively. “It wasn’t like that.” He mumbled, tossing a half-dime onto the table.
Seeing the coin lying on the table, Luis face fell. He watched Wash meet Saint’s bet with another half-dime, and then Jesse hesitate before dropping 5 pennies onto the pile. Everyone was looking at him. He cringed like his guts were being strung out by dogs, then dropped 5 pennies onto the table.

Jesse grinned at him. “What, Luis? Straight flush?”

“Shut up.”

“Okay, well, this is too good. You remember we went down there to deliver that feed order to Thomasin’s, right?” Getting cranked up, Jesse removed the candy from his mouth and gestured with it as he spoke. "Well, it was kinda warm that day, and we worked up a little bit of a sweat loading that stuff into the warehouse out back. So Saint wants to go down to the Silver Star for a couple sarsaparillas.” His blue eyes had lit up with mirth and the long spill of his cornsilk hair gleamed in the lamplight as he became animated with the fun of the tale.

On the bunk behind him, Tommy had dropped his book beside him and sat up, ducking the ceiling beam and dangling his legs over the side, his attention on Jesse’s story.

Saint rolled his eyes and got up to put another log into the fireplace. Sparks flew up the chimney and clung to the thick black soot coating the firebox. Jesse went on. “I wanted to go down to the main store to pick up some peppermint sticks for Lily and me. And also, the penny press book for Tommy. So I went on back with Thomasin, and Saint went on down to the Silver Star.”

Saint sat back down with a slight look of embarrassment on his face and picked his cards back up, trying to ignore the epic as it unfolded.

Jesse chattered on. “So by the time I got down to the saloon, the Yarl brothers had seen Saint go in by hisself and I reckon thought they might have a little fun.”

“Well, You know those two stupid apes have it in for us. I guess they figured getting one of us alone was about their only chance of having the upper hand.” Saint muttered.

Luis spoke up. “Raise.” He tossed a dime onto the pile.

“Huh?” Wash jerked his head back and glanced at Luis like one would a fly buzzing around one’s ear. “Oh, yeah, here.” Another coin clinked to the sticky surface of the table.

Jesse absently tossed a dime into the pile, and continued with his tale. “Yeah, you know some fun was had.” He laughed. “They stood behind him at the bar, calling him an Injun lover, a Yankee, and an Eye-talian bastard and all. You know, the usual.”

“Well, “ Luis quipped. “‘The usual’ mostly means Storm ends up in jail. This time it wasn’t Storm in the fight, and this time none of us spent the night in jail. So this ain’t so usual.”

“S’anyhow, by the time I get over there, one of ‘em’s got Saint by the front of the shirt. Saint don’t even blink. Hell, he don’t even spill his sarsaparilla. It was like the Yarl boy was asleep or something, Saint just put down his drink with one hand, pulled off his hat with the other, and slammed his head into Rob Yarl’s face. That ol’ boy let go a him and fell back like somebody’d shot him. I mean it was beautiful. He fell fat ass first into a table, busted it in half, and laid on the floor holdin’ his nose, which by now looked like a stomped-on rotten tomato.

Wash’s eyebrows went up and he looked at Saint with admiring approval. “Rob Yarl weighs eighteen stone if he weighs an pint, lad.”

Saint shrugged and held up his hands. “He might be bigger, but he isn’t faster. Really, you guys, it wasn’t any big....”

“Oh, it ain’t even got good yet.” Jesse bit off the end of his stick and crunched for a moment, then pointed the bitten end at Saint and grinned. “So Saint turns around to give some to the other one and damned if Levi Yarl ain’t gone and pulled a big knife on him.”

Luis mouth dropped open and Wash’s eyes got huge. Concern shoved the mirth right off the Irishman's face. “Aw, now, lads, that ain’t something to jest over. Ye could’ve gotten yourself killed!”

“Well, “Jesse continued, munching noisily around his words, “true. So it’s a good thing Saint was drinking a sarsaparilla. He picked the bottle back up by the neck and cracked it against the bar behind him. Pop flew everywhere. All this so fast you could barely see it happen.”

Wash stared at the younger men. The story, at least for him, had lost a good bit of it’s charm.

Jesse went on obviously, enjoying the memory. “Levi Yarl takes a swing at Saint with the knife, right? Saint sideswipes it, scoops up Yarl’s hand with the busted bottle and slams the whole thing, hand, knife, and bottle into the bar.”

Tommy was leaning out of his bunk so far it was hard to believe he didn’t actually fall out of it. Apparently, the story had taken a turn even he hadn’t seen. The paperback lay untouched on the bunk beside him.

“Yarl screams like somebody’s granny with a mouse up her skirts.” Jesse took another loud crunch of his peppermint stick and chewed a few more times. “So Saint just grabbed him by the shoulders of his shirt and heaved him over the bar.”

Saint smirked. “Hell, he was going that way, anyway.” He watched Luis intently. The kid was the only one who’s attention was still on the game.

“You staying in, Saint?” the boy asked impatiently.

Saint studied him closely for a moment more, smiled, and then closed the fan of cards in his hand, placing it face down. “Nope.”

Luis’s eyes narrowed in annoyance and he tossed another half-dime down.

Jesse didn’t even seem to be aware that his own fingers were tossing a series of pennies into the pile as he continued with his tale-spinning. Luis elbowed Wash, who fumbled to drop another half-dime onto the growing heap, his eyes never leaving Saint and Jesse.

“I wouldna tell Lynch you were in a knife-fight, lad.” Wash said grimly. “Where was Jack while all this was goin’ on?”

Tommy piped up, “And Jack is....?”

“The bartender.” Four voices offered in unison.

“Well, “ Jesse said, popping the last of his candy into his mouth, “At that point, Jack had reached under the bar, gotten out the shotgun, and was on his way over. “

“Mainly to make sure neither of those two fools was getting up for more.” Saint commented. “He hates those guys.”

“So he wasn’t mad?” Luis asked.

“Not really. Not at me, anyway. But he did say he was going to make Rob Yarl pay for the table since it was his ass that broke it.”

Luis, sensing the spell was about to be broken, fidgeted nervously. He knew the guys would never have laid down the kind of coin they had in the pot if they hadn’t been distracted. “Anybody raising?”

Jesse and Wash snapped their attention back to the here and now. Wash took in the expectant look on Luis’ face. He studied Saint,who was leaning back in his chair with a smug look on his face, arms crossed and his cards face down before him. He looked at the pile of coins, many of which were his, in the center of the table.

“Call.” Luis quipped happily, revealing three aces. Jesse sat staring, stunned.

Wash fanned out his extremely hopeless hand in front of him. “Dammit.”

© 2008 Regina Shelley


R. I. Emskeim said...

This made me laugh out loud. I'm an English major in college and this was a fantastic mixture narrative and description that I enjoyed immensely! I am so excited to have some new, fun reading material!

Regina said...

Hey, thanks for the kind words! Glad to have you join us!