High Card Wins
Ezra couldn't believe what was in front of him. The man had just drawn the ten of clubs and the queen of clubs to give him a royal flush beating his full house of two eights and the remaining three queens. How could that have happened? The odds just didn't support a feat such as that. Ezra, being the consummate gambler he was, knew what he was doing when he threw the chips in. Hell, he was the one who stacked the deck before dealing to the dark haired gentleman across the table.
"Amazing," he said, almost inaudible.
Brett Maverick grinned. "Yeah, just lucky, huh?"
Ezra smiled at the man's boyish nature even though he'd managed to keep upping Ezra in about every other hand. He had to admit, this was a man that was fun to play, even if he didn't win his money. Hell, he was still right under what he'd started with an hour and a half ago.
Brett Maverick was genuinely interested in the man who sat across the table from him. He was a piece of work. The man always had a straight face when he wasn't smiling cordially at him while speaking in a smooth southern drawl. Ezra Standish had absolutely no tells he could notice, and Maverick could spot a tell when he was playing against even the best. It was said that Brett Maverick was the best of the best when it came to poker, but Ezra Standish was giving him a run for his money, literally. Ezra laid down four nines, winning the pot.
Maverick pulled out his pocket watch and looked at it worriedly. His brother Bart was supposed to meet him here this morning. Even when Brett arrived two hours late, Bart was no where in site and that led him to this game with the local gambler, almost two hours ago. Brett was beginning to wonder if his brother was going to show with the business opportunity he'd hinted at in his letter.
A bead of sweat rolled down between Ezra's shoulder blades. The day was starting to heat up. Maybe it wasn't that. He drew two cards, the six of diamonds and the duece of spades, giving him two pair of deuces and fives with the six not doing him any good. He looked over at Brett Maverick who took three cards and studied them carefully as he added them to his hand. There was no telling what that fella was thinking.
A smirk almost crossed Ezra's face, but he stopped it before it ruined his laid back, nonchalant look he used when playing poker. At least Chris hadn't come in to send him on some mission today. Just as he thought that, he heard the pounding of hooves and wondered how long it would be until someone came to draft him for the adventure of the week. Well, not today. He was playing cards. And playing cards was what he did.
Sure enough, within minutes, Nathan burst in the door of the saloon interrupting the intense card game and the slovenly drunk in the corner from his drink. "Ezra, Chris says saddle up. There's a problem outside of town."
Without moving his eyes from the game, Ezra said, "Not today, Nathan. I am presently engulfed in a most intriguing game of cards."
Nathan didn't argue with him, he just headed back to the livery where the his horse was saddled and ready along with Chris, Buck, Vin, and Josiah's. JD came hurrying along as Nathan relayed Ezra's message to Chris who nodded and spurred his horse towards the saloon.
Maverick's eyes raised from his hand of three threes to see a man clad in black with a flat hat push through the doors in a determined manner and head straight for his table. His throat tightened at the fact that this man was coming for him and he couldn't remember why.
"I see I have to make housecalls now?" the man gruffly asked his card partner.
Ezra laid his hand face down on the table and looked up to the man, a shade of hesitation crossing his face before he spoke. "I'm not riding out with you today."
"I already told Nathan why."
"I am currently engrossed in a spectacular game of cards with Mr. Maverick and I do not wish to ride off after a cat stuck in a tree in the outskirts of town."
Chris looked at Maverick and smiled, only it wasn't a friendly smile. He looked down and shook his head before he turned back to Mr. Standish. "Ezra, I'm disappointed in you. You took a job and now you're putting it on hold because of a good card game? How do you know it's not of dire importance what we have to do?"
Ezra smiled up. "If it was, you wouldn't be wasting your time arguing with me, would you fearless leader?"
Chris had the temptation to knock his smart mouthed partner out of his chair but instead turned and walked out the door, not saying another word.
As he approached the five men mounted, awaiting his command, Chris indicated JD. "You stay in town and keep an eye on Ezra. Make sure he doesn't try to high tail it out of town."
JD, wondering what Chris was talking about, was about to inquire about the leader's notion of Ezra leaving when Buck stopped him. "Better do as he says. He don't look like he's in the mood for back talk."
As JD walked off towards the saloon, Josiah had an idea to saddle another horse. Something inside him stirred the temptation. When Nathan looked at him, Josiah shrugged his shoulders, "You never know."
Bart Maverick had been walking for hours. He knew he should've thought twice before buying that horse from the Mexican in Sonora. Brett would probably be long gone by the time he reached the town of Four Corners. The town had quickly gotten a reputation when it hired seven gunmen to protect the town. Everyone knew of Four Corners and that Chris Larabee resided there. It was also rumored the outlaw Vin Tanner was hiding out there too, but Bart wasn't hunting trouble with the gunslinger and the hunted man, he was just wondering if his idea of buying a hotel would work. It would be perfect. He and Brett would buy the hotel that was going up for sale in a nearby town, fix it up, draw a bigger clientele and then sell it for a nice profit. Of course, there would be gaming run out of it. The Maverick brothers seldomly did anything when gambling wasn't involved. That was, except for today. Bart's long, hot walk had nothing to do with cards. But his spirits suddenly lifted when he noticed the approaching cloud of dust.
Within ten minutes, five riders and six horses had stopped around him. The obvious leader of the group, clad in black, was easily recognized: Chris Larabee. Bart winced in apprehension, wondering what kind of trouble he'd gotten himself into this time.
A mustached man with a broad hat spoke first. "It's mighty dry to be out on foot today, mister."
"My horse came up lame about ten miles back. I'm heading for Four Corners. You gentlemen wouldn't happen to be heading that way, would you?"
"Not right now," Larabee said flatly. "There's a roost of outlaws about two miles that way calling our names."
Bart acknowledged the extra horse Josiah was leading. "Would you mind lending me your horse to get to Four Corners, sir? You would find it in the livery stable well cared for on your return."
"Who said we were from Four Corners?" Chris asked.
"If you're who I believe you are, no one had to say anything. The whole state knows of the seven men watching over the town of Four Corners. Now I'm assuming you five are a part of them."
Chris looked to Josiah, wondering why he did bring that horse. Josiah seemed to sense the unspoken question. "Divine inspiration." He then turned to the man, "You're welcome to ride him, but you'll come along with us and go back to Four Corners with us. I like this horse and don't particularly want to risk losing him."
Maverick weighed his options. Ride along with a posse or walk to town. Get shot at or stay out in the hot sun for Lord knows how long. "If you share your water, you'll have an extra member of your posse today, Mr. Larabee."
JD sat amazed at the talent he was watching. He always enjoyed watching Ezra play cards, but what he was doing today was spectacular. He would win one hand, lose one, win, lose, and win again. JD had seen Ezra sucker people into games by losing to them many times, but Ezra wasn't losing on purpose today. His brow furrowed when Mr. Maverick took the pot and sweat was rolling down the sides of his faces, due to a combination of the heat and stress, JD figured. Brett Maverick didn't seem to be handling the game any better. His smiles became half hearted and forced when Ezra raked in the money and seemed relieved when he laid down a winning hand.
The barkeep brought a bottle of whiskey to the two men, who'd drawn a sizable crowd. Ezra wiped the sweat from his forehead and said, "I would rather have a cold mug of brew right now, my good man. It is unbearably hot in here."
Brett Maverick agreed. "I'll take a beer, too."
The bartender retreated with his bottle only to return with two mugs overflowing and placed one by each man, either barely noticing; they both studied their hands with disapproval.
Ezra was staring into a hand of sheer ugliness: the deuce of spades, six of diamonds, queen of hearts, nine of spades, and eight of clubs. Nothing was going to save this hand.
Brett Maverick was looking at a hand that no one could win with: the three of hearts, nine of clubs, five of clubs, ten of diamonds and the jack of spades. "I'll raise twenty," he bluffed.
Ezra put out twenty onto the table. "I see your twenty and raise another twenty-five."
Maverick tossed out the twenty-five nonchalantly. "I see that and raise twenty-five more."
Ezra saw through the man's non-caring raise and placed twenty-five in the pot. "This should cover your raise and," he placed one hundred dollars out on the table. "This should take care of mine."
Maverick was in too deep to pull out now. "I call."
Ezra swore under his breath and placed the hand of mismatched cards out on the table, not looking up to see Maverick's mouth form the beginning of an ungentlemanly phrase, but he stopped. Ezra's hand was just as hideous as his. He bean to smile when Ezra looked at Brett's hand, noticing his queen was higher than Maverick's jack. "I never thought I would win with a hand such as that," he smiled.
The six men stood atop the ridge looking down into the valley where the five outlaws were rumored to be hiding. Everyone had speculated how much the bank held that these boys robbed, and now it was up to the posse to bring them in and return the money. Chris looked over the men he had riding with him before he doled out the orders. "Vin, you and I'll go in after them and see how nice they want to play. Josiah and Nathan, cover us from the north. Buck, you and Beau-"
"Bart," Maverick corrected.
"Right. You and Bart take the north."
The four men quickly dispersed into the brush around them leaving Vin and Chris to do the dirty work. "I'm sure there's an easier way to do this, I just couldn't think of one at the time," Chris admitted.
Vin removed his hat and ran his fingers through his long hair. "It probably wouldn't have been as fun, though."
Chris, still perturbed about Ezra, barely smiled. "Let's go."
Buck looked over at the man next to him, dressed immaculately, although a little dirty. "You know what to do, right?"
"Shoot the bad guys."
"You plan on barreling in there with me if they need it?"
Bart looked at Buck. "A man could get killed doing that."
Before Buck could make a rebuttal, two clicks sounded behind them, the clicks of hammers being drawn back. They turned to face two large, ugly, unshaven outlaws. "Don't worry 'bout chargin' no one, dude. You can just walk on in. We been 'specting you all."
The door burst open and Chris and Vin charged into the cabin to find it empty except for the stolen loot in the middle of the room. Vin smiled. "Easy."
Chris kept scanning the room, although finding no signs of anyone in it. "Too easy. I don't like it."
A boot dropped behind them and the two men turned on cat feet, only to face two men, each holding two guns. "Might as well drop them. We got your friends outside by now, I reckon."
Josiah and Nathan watched as Buck and Bart were herded into the cabin and the door closed behind them. Nathan turned to his preacher friend. "What do you want to do now?"
Josiah thought a minute. "They apparently planned on us coming, but fewer of us. They probably think they've got us all. You've got the fastest horse out of us, so get back to town and get help. I'll stay here and try to help out however the Lord allows me to."
Within the minute, Nathan was racing back to town, hoping Ezra would be more helpful this time.
Never in his life had Ezra laid down a royal flush and not won. It was utterly amazing. His ten, jack, queen, king, and ace of spades didn't take the pot this time. Brett Maverick was just as stunned when he laid down his royal flush of clubs. The crowd had doubled from its size an hour ago, and everyone in the room was speechless. Two royal flushes! Who won?
Maverick smiled sheepishly at Ezra. "Now what?"
Ezra scratched his head, wondering what should occur now. He could try and sell Maverick on the idea that spades were a high suit, but it just didn't seem gaming to do that. "High card takes the pot?"
Maverick thought it over a minute and agreed. "Sounds fair. I'll cut the deck."
Ezra smiled, "I'll cut the deck."
Brett Maverick looked up at the dumbfounded JD, still awestruck at the two royal flushes that lay in front of him. How come he could never get a hand like that? "Have the boy cut."
Ezra agreed to that and JD cut the deck, hoping it would come out to Ezra's advantage. Maverick drew the ten of hearts and watched as Ezra moved towards the deck. As he was about to draw a card, the doors burst open and a deep voice called out. "Ezra! JD! Come on, the boys are in trouble."
Ezra's eyes strayed downward. There was over three hundred dollars in the pot in the middle of the table. Five seconds is all he needed...
JD hopped up. "Come on Ezra."
Nathan appeared out of the crowd beside the gambler. "Chris, Vin, Buck, and a fella named Bart all got caught. Josiah's watching, but he can't do much good on his own."
Brett Maverick came to attention at the mention of Bart. "Excuse me, was this Bart fella wearing silver tipped boots, have a gold pocket watch, and his hair slicked back?"
"That's him. You know him?"
"He's my brother." He looked at Ezra. "Let's split the damn pot and ride out."
Ezra sat the card he had drawn but not looked at on the table, face down. He gathered his money, almost the exact amount he'd started with hours ago, and headed out to the stables with JD, Nathan, and Brett, leaving the card to be turned over by one of the game's watchers.
"I'll be damned," the man said. He held up the ace of spades for all to see.
"Boy howdy! The boss'll be happy with us when he sees our passel of stars we got!" one of the captors exclaimed. He spit a stream of tobacco less than a foot away from Buck's boot. Before Buck could give the dirty man an earful, another man paraded his self pride.
"Yep, let's see what we got here." He tipped his dirty black hat back and walked around the four men tied together in the middle of the floor as he spoke through his beard. "We got here the almighty Chris Larabee. The boss'll sure be happy to see him. This fella here with all the hair's Vin Tanner. I hear he's wanted somewheres around here. Where about's that, Tanner?"
"Nowhere I'll be riding with you."
"Feisty. This gambler-dude goes by Bart Maverick. I hear you're savvy with cards and guns Maverick. Care to play a game of chance for y'all's freedom?"
Maverick smiled up coolly. "Freedom, isn't that more than one syllable? I'm impressed."
Although his comments drew chuckles from his three other captives, it also drew a swift kick in his hip from the bearded man. "Don't much appreciate backtalkers, dude. And then we got this fella here no one's ever heard of. We oughta just kill him now, I doubt the boss'd care much."
"You'd better not," the original speaker, a large man in overalls, said. "You never know with the boss. He's mighty particular about us killing folks when he ain't around. Better leave 'em all be."
Buck smiled up at the two men speaking. "Killing me would be a very bad idea."
"Why's that?" the bearded one asked.
"Every whore in the state would be after you then," Buck smiled.
"Well, a lady's man, eh?" The new speaker was a wiry man draped in black, much like Chris' attire. He looked to the others. Maybe we should kill him and just hide the body. I don't think I could stand much more arrogance.
Josiah, hiding beneath the one window the house had, heard the whole exchange. Now was a time to act. But, before he could make a move, he heard the oncoming of hooves. His spirits rose quickly, thinking the boys were here to help, but it was only one horse. Most likely it was their leader. Now would be a good time for reinforcements.
They were riding hard and fast, JD being jarred from the left to the right with every step his horse made. He was in such a hurry to save the day, he hadn't cinched the saddle on correctly. His horse had a habit of expanding her belly when he threw the saddle on her, but he usually thought to give it a light punch to contract it, making the girth tight enough for a good ride, but he'd forgotten it today. No one else seemed to notice, although he would be sore tomorrow.
Nathan veered off the main trail into the deep thickets of trees where a dim trail existed. The trail was only wide enough for one horse, so he led, followed by Brett Maverick and Ezra, and JD bringing up the rear. Once they reached the clearing where they'd left the horses before, he quickly dismounted and the other three followed suit and they all crept down to his and Josiah's hiding place only to see Josiah stuck under the window and the five outlaws leading Chris, Vin, Buck, and Bart outside at gunpoint.
A man in overalls was explaining the company to a man dressed very neatly, neatly enough to rival Ezra or the Maverick brothers. "...rounded 'em all up with the lil trap I set up and lookey what we got. Chris Larabee, famous gunslinger, Vin Tanner, a man we could sell to the bounty hunters, Bart Maverick, no good card cheat, and some saddle tramp."
"It was my plan!" the man with the beard exclaimed.
"I'm no cheat!" Bart shouted.
"You call me a saddle tramp again, and you'll be hurting till Christmas!" Buck yelled.
The nicely dressed man, obviously the leader, smiled a dastardly grin. "Corel, seems you've got everyone riled. How about you shutting up?"
He then turned to his four prisoners, eyeing them over one by one. "But, Corel, you did good. Tanner'll make us easy money. I believe it's Tuscosa that wants you for murder isn't it Tanner? And I'm sure Bart's brother Brett can offer us a nice sum for him. As for this one, shoot him when we're done." He then turned to Chris. "Mr. Larabee, I hear you're not a man to face with a gun. Is that true?"
"Can't really say. Your boys took my guns."
"Bailey, grab Larabee's guns. Anyone with your reputation deserves a chance against death. Gun battle, you win, you and your friends can go. I win, you die. Fair enough?"
Josiah had risen from his spot on the other side of the hideout to see the man Bailey emptying the bullets from Chris' guns. He thought hard on how to save them without being shot himself. As he looked frantically around for anything he could use, he stared into the face of Nathan, motioning for him to stay put.
"Ezra has a plan," he mouthed.
Chris was pushed out into the open space across from his captor, a man he still didn't know the name of, and his gunbelt was tossed to him. "Strap it on and let's go," the man demanded.
Chris did as ordered, waiting for a chance out of it. He could easily outdraw this man, but his men would undoubtedly cut him down afterwards. The deck was stacked and it wasn't in his favor. The thought of a stacked deck led his mind back to Ezra who was probably still sitting in the saloon gambling and drinking. He sure could've been a help here today. Chris smiled gravely as he thought of the gambler who was oblivious to the danger his partners all faced.
Just as Chris belted on the gun, a twig cracked under someone's boot to the left of him. He daren't take his eyes off the man in front of him, but was pleasantly surprised to hear the southern drawl from the man he'd given up on. "Well, fearless leader, I leave you alone and look what you get everyone into." he turned to the men holding his friends hostage, all surprised by his sudden appearance. "I will have you know that you ruffians are depriving me of a particularly fascinating game of cards with Mr. Maverick's brother. So, if you would be so kind to release these gentlemen and return the money, I can get back to my game."
Corel snorted. "You're gonna stop all five of us, dude?"
Ezra snapped his fingers, and Brett Maverick and JD both appeared out of the brush, ten feet apart from him on either side. "You don't believe I would walk out in front of men such as yourself without being covered. As you will note, neither of my companions are wearing any firearms, as I too am also sufficiently missing. You see, there are another dozen men hiding in the trees just waiting to blow you to kingdom come. Now, would you like to drop your gunbelts or does someone need to fire a shot into one of your stomachs to make you come peacefully?"
The man dressed in black stepped forward. "Your a damn liar. You ain't got anyone out there."
Before Nathan could reveal his position as planned, Josiah stepped around the corner of the house and cocked his rifle, which was pointed at the man in black. "You would make a fine sacrifice, my friend. By the way, Chris, your gun doesn't have any bullets in it."
Chris cursed himself for not checking before he'd strapped it on, but he had caught onto to Ezra's bluff and took a few steps towards the man who'd planned on shooting him. "You boys made a mistake. You should've known that there's seven of us. Don't you listen to the rumors? You see eight of us now, but that's one more than there should be. How many more are out there? Hmm, interesting question. I bet you there's at least one man, maybe more."
The man smiled at Chris. "Nice try, Larabee. But your I'm calling your bluff. Game's over and you lose."
"On the contrary," Ezra interjected, "we've got plenty of chips to play with."
That was Nathan's cue. A well placed shot slammed into the door jamb behind the bearded man's head, causing him to dive for cover, followed by his partner, Bailey. Buck and Vin took the opportunity to dive for cover, but away from their captors. Around the corner, they went, leaving Bart Maverick with Corel and the man clad in black.
In the hullabaloo, Ezra slid his derringer out of his sleeve and his Peacemaker out from under his red coat, and Brett Maverick somehow ended up with a derringer in his left and a colt in his right. Where the Colt came from JD couldn't figure, but he drew his pistol out from behind his back where he had it tucked into his waistband.
The man in black went for his gun, hoping to draw faster than Josiah could shoot, but to no avail. By the time he'd cleared leather, two bullets had blown in one side and out the other, causing him to topple onto his face.
The outlaws' leader went for his gun, only to have Chris barrel into him before he could level his gun for a shot. The force of Chris' body slamming into him knocked the gun from his hand and they both fell to the ground. The man obviously wasn't a fighter, and Chris laid three punches to the face, quickly knocking him out cold.
Corel, a naturally slow man, saw his partner get gunned down by the man with the rifle and watched as his boss was taken out by Larabee. Out of instinct, he went for his gun, only to be hammered over the head with a large rock Vin had found around the corner of the house. Whether or not he was dead remained to be seen, but at least he was out of the way for now.
The two remaining outlaws had dove inside the hideout for protection, but had no windows to fire out of. When they peered out the door, Brett Maverick's bullet kicked up dust off the doorjamb less than an inch away from Bailey's head and they both pulled their heads back inside. Bailey turned to the black clad man. "Did you see the red coated fella outside just now?"
A worried look crossed the man's face as he glanced over to see the broken window Josiah had taken care of just seconds before. Sweat rolled down his face as he and his partner both stared at a suave man in a red coat with a Peacemaker in one hand and a derringer in the other. "Time to fold, gentlemen. I appear to have the high card."
Out of the five outlaws, only one ended up dead. Corel had a massive bump on his head, a bump Vin grinned about every time he thought about the incident. But, the remaining four were being hauled out today for trial at the country seat. JD returned to the table where everyone loafed around as they watched the paddywagon departing with the remaining bank robbers in it.
Buck was growing anxious to go visit a female friend of his, but didn't want to seem rude, leaving the Maverick boys' company when they were about to leave town. "What's next for you boys? There's no money to be made here playing cards. Ol' Ezra took care of that."
Brett smiled remembering the fascinating card game played in this saloon the day before. "That he did," he smiled. "There's a town a ways from here with a hotel to make money for us and so called gamblers with deep pockets."
"And hopefully no one decides to take hostages there," Bart grinned.
"Goin' through that once is definitely enough," Vin added.
Bart looked at his watch and nodded to Brett. "If we want to meet Beau on time, we'd best be on our way."
Bart raised his glass for one more drink with his seven new friends: the gunslinger, the doctor, the preacher, the ladies' man, the kid, the wanted man, and the man after his own heart, Ezra the gambler. "To adventure, no wait. To an adventure that didn't cost me any money!"
Brett and the seven others raised their glasses and downed the whiskey. Then, the two Mavericks rose and shook hands, leaving the saloon to make a million in the hotel business. As they mounted their horses, Ezra appeared beside Brett with the ace of spades. "That last pot was rightfully mine. Sam Canon saved my card for me."
Brett smiled looking down on the immaculate gambler. "I suppose you want your take?"
"No," Ezra grinned. "Just promise me another good game somewhere down the road."
"I'll see what I can do. Just try to keep me from facing down outlaws next time."
"I'll see what I can do." Then, with a nod from the gambler who'd given Ezra the game of his life, the Mavericks turned their mounts and headed out of town.
Ezra turned the card over in his hand and it disappeared in his sleeve. He turned to re-enter the saloon only to find Chris looking hard at him. "You can put that card back in the deck when we play. I'm in the mood for a good game of cards."
Ezra slapped Chris on the shoulder. "I can do that, but you know, that's not all I'm good for."
Chris looked into Ezra's face, noticing a feature that wasn't there before, reliability. "Yeah, I know."
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