From beneath the brim of the silver-trimmed, black hat, dark eyes rested on the $25,000 pot. The player’s shrewd gaze moved to his cards. A royal flush. And, yup, flushes were being played; he’d checked. With a rueful, dimpled smile, he took the only choice he had.
Across the table from Heyes, his blond haired opponent, drooping, disconsolate, over his own cards looked up from the heap of nothing he’d been dealt. “You fold?”
“You mean,” hope sprang in the bright blue eyes, “I finally won one? I win this hand?”
“Since there’s only the two of us playing, Kid, I’d say you’d got a fighting chance, huh?”
Kid Curry’s hands, still hesitant with disbelief , reached for the pot.
Then, a set of improbably well manicured fingers caught his wrist.
“What the Sam Hill do you think you’re doing?” frowned the dealer.
“I won. Heyes folded, so…”
“Heyes WHAT?” outrage quivered in the dealer’s voice. An equally outraged hiss sounded from the audience gathered to watch the game.
The dealer turned on the dark-haired ex-outlaw, “You FOLDED?”
“Uh huh.” Heyes gave his fuming interlocutor his very best, charm-twinkling smile, “I folded.”
“‘Cos if I hadn’t, Kid would have lost 15 hands on the trot and he would have had to…” Heyes broke off. Throwing as much appeal as he could into his brown-eyed gaze and again mustering up a smile to die for, he took the dealer’s hand in his own and brought her fingertips to his lips. “He’s my best friend. I had to. Have a heart, ma’am, I mean – just look at him!” He turned his charm on the audience, “All of you, look at him! You gotta feel for the poor fella!”
Kid Curry stepped up to the metaphorical plate and threw first the dealer, then the watching crowd, his own most winning and endearingly boyish smile.
The dealer looked from Kid, back to Heyes. She freed her hand from further kissing and drew herself up. “Listen, Dumb-Dimples! I didn’t type you – I mean, I didn’t deal you a royal flush and a $25,000 pot just so you could come over all noble and fold! You know perfectly well Mizz Maz wants Kid to lose and this story is being written for her benefit because she’s feeling poorly…”
“I’m real sorry to hear that, ma’am,” interrupted Kid, “but, all the same, I still don’t see why I hafta …”
“Quit stalling and get on with it, Blue-Eyes!” called one of the watchers.
The Dealer’s incisive tone cut through both Kid’s plea and the incipient heckling. “I’ll make myself plain, either you two play this scene properly, OR, I write a nasty incident concerning hungry polecats, chopped liver used as bait and your most tender portions, AND I type it so fast it’ll make your hats spin Am I making myself clear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” gulped Kid.
“Yes, Mizz Cally Coe,” agreed Heyes, crossing his legs, protectively
“SO, let’s wind back time two minutes. Heyes, it’s your play.”
With an apologetic glance at his partner, Heyes said, “I see you and,” he laid out his cards, “…Royal flush. Read ’em and weep.”
Cheeks reddening, Kid Curry stood to face the final consequences of his losing streak.
The audience, hungry-eyed, pressed forward. Lips were licked. Dusty spectacles were hastily cleaned. Above their heads fluttered a banner announcing: ‘Ex-Outlaw Appreciation Society [Curryette Section] Grand Strip Poker Tournament’.
Head held high, Kid removed his last remaining garment.
As the crisply laundered and previously strategically placed bandana fell to the floor, above the noise of whooping women, Kid could just hear the voice of Cally Coe: “Get well soon, Mizz Maz!”