Two familiar figures …
No, strike that.
Two kinda familiar, but unusually spruce, figures stand outside a small restaurant. Thumbs are hooked into vest pockets. Well polished shoes are widely planted.
Curry: “This is where you’ve booked for dinner?” He scans the posted menu. “Looks pretty fancy,”
Heyes: “Fanciest restaurant anywhere on the West coast of America according to that piece I read.”
Curry: “Cailles roti avec leur …” He squints. “…Looks like uff? What the Sam Hill is that?”
Heyes: “It’s – well, it’s…” He shifts his feet. “It’s French, Kid.”
Heyes receives the ‘look’.
Curry: “Have you seen the prices? For this kinda money I could get me a new suit.”
Brown eyes check out the execrable light blue outfit.
Heyes: “Wouldn’t go amiss.” Without pausing for that to sink in. “We never used to quibble over prices, Kid.”
Curry: “We used to rob banks, Heyes. Makes a difference to a man’s income.”
Heyes: “Look, we decided to come to Monterey ‘cos it’s full of rich folk on vacation, throwing money around and giving easy pickings at the poker table, huh?”
Curry: “WE decided?”
Heyes: “Okay, my idea – but you agreed.”
Acknowledging shrug from Kid Curry.
“And, for once, we have us a stake…”
Another acknowledgement from the blue-eyed one.
“Which I am gonna double and double again when we meet up with that Eastern dude who’s so keen to hear all about the Wild West while I teach him poker…”
The shrug this time indicates no more than – maybe.
“Then, my word on it, we eat what’s been called…” Slim fingers pull a clipping from a brown vest pocket. “…A gastronomic extravaganza for the discerning palate of the connoisseur.”
Curry: “You reckon we have ’em, huh?”
Heyes: “Have what?”
Curry: “Discernin’ palates.”
Heyes: “Frankly, no. But, after months of beans, jerky, salt pork and bad coffee, I sure wouldn’t mind trying to develop one.”
Mulling. A nod.
Curry: “Lotta truth in there, Heyes.” Undertone. “Here he comes.”
With broad smiles our boys stride out into the street to greet a young man whose appearance epitomises ‘Eastern dude’.
The boys sit with their sucker – sorry, I mean their new acquaintance – in an upmarket saloon. Heyes, cigar clamped between his teeth, deals the cards. If the glance he throws Kid verges on the larcenous – well! No one is perfect, huh?
ABOUT AN HOUR LATER
The dude, whose expression somehow looks more knowing than earlier, pulls a sizeable pot towards him.
Dude: “I win again! What do you know?!”
Heyes: (sourly) “Must be beginner’s luck.”
Dude: “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just fetch another beer. Can I bring you anything? Joshua? Thaddeus?”
Two shakes of two ex-outlaw heads. The dude walks away.
Curry: “Sure he isn’t cheatin’?”
Heyes: “Pretty dang sure. Leastways I’ve seen nothing.” Pause. “I’m pretty dang sure he’s no beginner neither – but we can’t call him out for having played poker before and having the luck run on his side.”
Curry: “We could…” Pause. Mute conversation. “But we won’t. He never said he couldn’t play – not in so many words.”
Heyes: “He said he was real keen to see poker played Western style. He said he’d appreciate the chance to try his luck ‘gainst someone who’d seen the golden peg struck at Promontory, rode the Chisum trail, been the tracking champeen of all Southern…”
Heyes tails off. He meets the sympathetic gaze of his partner.
Curry: “‘S’orright, Heyes. Maybe you were so busy silver-tonguin’ him, you didn’t realise the soft soap was flowin’ in both directions. An’ you couldn’t be expected to foresee Cuthbert bein’ a better player than…”
Outrage on the face of a former leader of the Devil’s Hole gang.
Curry: “…I mean, you couldn’t be expected Cuthbert – lookin’ the way he does – and called the second dumbest name I ever heard – would be able to take advantage of the cards runnin’ in his favour…” Lower tone. “He’s comin’ back.”
Dude (aka Cuthbert): “I decided against beer – time to switch to whiskey.” A bottle and three glasses are placed on the table. “It’s the good stuff! On me.”
He pours with a generous hand. The expressions of the ex-outlaws as they take their first sip suggest that while Cuthbert may verge on disingenuous when describing his poker skills, his verisimilitude when describing whiskey quality is absolute.
Cuthbert: “Your deal, Thaddeus.”
Fortified by ‘the good stuff’ Heyes rallies.
Heyes: “What do you say we take a break from poker? Have a bet on something else. Something light-hearted. Just for fun.”
“What about – let me think…” Exaggerated brow wrinkling. “I know. Suppose I deal twenty-five cards and try to make five pat hands?”
Mulling from the dude.
Cuthbert: “Sure, why not?”
Our two boys are alone. A plethora of cards – none forming a pat hand – litter the table before an utterly chagrined Heyes.
Heyes: “He musta stacked the deck! He musta!”
Curry: “Well…You were watchin’ like a hawk. D’ya see anything?”
Heyes: “No, but…” Frustrated, he shuffles the cards into alternative – but still non-pat – hands. “He musta! It was twice running! The odds are…” Shuffle. Scowl.
Curry: “Heyes, if you wanted to call him for cheatin’, before he left woulda worked better.”
The scowl on Heyes’ face gradually relaxes.
Heyes: “Nah, it coulda been luck. Maybe. Besides, IF he was cheating, he soft soaped us to a table and took our money without us spotting a dang thing. I reckon us – US – bearing a grudge would be kinda…”
Curry: “Pots callin’ kettles?”
INSIDE THE FANCY RESTAURANT
Heyes and Curry have just entered.
Curry: “This is a mistake.”
Heyes: “We booked and I gave ya my word we’d be dining here, Kid.”
Curry: “Yeah, but…”
Heyes: “You want me breakin’ my word?”
Curry: “No, but…”
A snowy-aproned waiter bustles towards them.
Waiter: “Bien venue a Chez Pierre, Messieurs. Suivent-moi, s’il vous plait…”
Heyes (sotto voce): “You’re hungry aren’t you?”
Curry (ditto): “Not arguin’ I’m hungry!” Half reluctantly, he follows Heyes to a table. “I could eat a horse!”
Heyes: “You probably don’t wanna go saying that too loud in a French restaurant.”
TWO DELICIOUS HOURS LATER
In the middle-distance two replete ex –outlaws have pushed back their chairs. Long legs stretch out before them. Lower vest buttons are unfastened. Heyes and Curry each hold a brandy glass in one hand and let the other rest – comfortably – on a full belly.
Up glides a waiter. The folded check is presented on a silver salver. Heyes takes it, flicks it open with one slim finger. We see his lips move. His eyes meet those of the waiter. An apologetic shrug. Make that two apologetic shrugs. The waiter’s fingers click. Over goes the dapper Maitre D’. Rapid explanation from the waiter. Outraged chest swelling and eyebrow lifting from the Maitre D’. Gallic gesticulation. French fury. Continental choler. Again with apologetic shrugs from our boys.
LATER – THE KITCHENS
Hannibal Heyes, jacket off, sleeves rolled, is up to his elbows in soapy water. Kid Curry, also in shirt-sleeves, is rapidly wiping dish after dish.
The chef, a vast individual with magnificent mustachios, is berating them. Belligerently. Not to mention, bilingually. Or, at any rate, with an accent thicker than crème brulée.
Pierre: “You zeenk you eat ze food of Pierre for nozzing?! Imbeciles! Stupides! Non! Non! Et encore, Non! Eef you not pay in monaaay, you pay in work, hein? Pierre make you sweeeet!”
Heyes (correcting): “Sweat.”
Curry (affable): “Hafta say, Pierre, that meal you cooked was worth sweatin’ for.”
Pierre: “Cooked! COOKED! I – Pierre – ‘e not cook! ‘E create! ‘E compose! ‘E concoct! Am I – Pierre – a mere cook? Pah! Je suis un chef!”
Curry: “No offense. Just sayin’ – that was some meal.”
Pierre: “Eet was not SOME meal! C’est un repas superbe! Non?”
Despite the continued bluster, Pierre is clearly mollified by Kid’s praise. He watches him for a moment and nods with approval.
Pierre: “You ‘ave fast ‘ands! Comme moi! See!” He slices a carrot in the wink of an eye and a blur of steel. “But your slow friend ‘ere…” The blade points, scathingly, at Heyes. “Pfffttt!”
Chagrin widens dark brown eyes.
“Joshua, ‘e lets you do more of ze work, hein, T’addeoos?”
Curry: “Well…” He catches his partner’s eye and shuts up.
Pierre: “Eef ‘e not work plus vite, Pierre cook ‘eem with garlic, comme les autres escargots, hein?”
However, when Heyes glances up, the mustachios twitch with what might just be a smile. Yeah, this chef’s bark is worse than his bite. His face relaxes a little as he watches Heyes and Curry still working with a will.
Pierre (pointing): “Finish zose and we are – ‘ow you say – all square, hein? No ‘ard feeling?”
Mute conversation between our boys. Their nods express, ‘fair enough’.
Pierre sits with Heyes and Curry at the scrubbed table. Three used glasses and an open bottle of wine hint at friendly relations having been established.
Pierre: “Zis – ‘ow you say – Doooode, ‘ees name was Coot-a-boot?!”
Curry: “Yeah – well, Cuthbert.”
Pierre (laughing): “‘Eem?!” More amusement.
Heyes: “You know ‘eem, I mean – him?”
Pierre: “‘E ees… You ‘ave to like ‘eem, but… Coot-a-boot ‘as won ze wages off ‘alf my waiters! Once, before I learn, ‘e won a week’s takings off me! Off Pierre! Zen ‘e say, what I bet ‘e can cut an ace weev…”
Heyes: “A single try.” Pause. A crafty expression flickers in the brown eyes. Slim fingers reach into a bowl keeping cool on a marble slab. “Hey, Pierre, what d’you bet I can make one of these eggs stand on one end?”
Pierre: “Pfffttt! Nozzing!” The chef picks his own egg, licks it, salts it, stands it. Heyes’ shoulders slump and Curry chokes back a laugh. “Pierre, ‘e ees no fool!”
Heyes: “Guess not.”
Pierre (sheepish): “Eet was Coot-a-boot – ‘ee show me. ‘Ee won a free meal wiz zat one!”
Heyes: “Guess Cuthbert’s no fool either. I underestimated him. Still…” Mulling. “…Now he might be underestimating me.”
Curry: “You’re not thinkin’ of a rematch?”
Pierre: “Ees nice idea, but Coot-a-boot ees clever-r-r.”
Curry: “And, I hafta remind ya, we’re short one poker stake.”
Heyes is still holding the egg, turning it in his fingers as his brow furrows, thinking. A smile dimples his cheeks.
Heyes: “Who needs poker?”
NEXT DAY – THE SALOON
Our boys enter, scan the place, spot Cuthbert, stride over. He has his back to them. In full naïve dude mode, with the demeanour of an eager puppy, he is – apparently – in thrall to a grizzled individual.
Cuthbert: “I’d sure like to tell the folks back East I played poker – that was the game, huh? – against a man who once worked a gold claim in Deadwood! Jumping Jehoshaphat, did you ever meet Wild Bill Hic…?” He tails off as a shadow falls across him. He turns. A fleeting nervousness as he meets first icy blue, then hard brown eyes. Then his wide, boyish grin returns. He stands. “Thaddeus, Joshua, great to see you!” Their half-reluctant hands are pumped enthusiastically. “Let me introduce you to Hank. Hank was once a gold miner in Deadwood…” Eyes wide with boyish admiration. “…Isn’t that just fascinating?!”
Hey, you know what, Pierre was right. Even when you know he’s a bit of a rogue, you can’t help kinda liking Cuthbert.
Heyes and Curry touch their hats to Hank, who returns the courtesy.
Heyes (to Hank): “You wanna watch this fella. Last night he had a real run of beginner’s luck. Won near $500 from us.”
Hank’s head goes back. He shoots a suspicious – though also admiring – glance at the supposed greenhorn.
Cuthbert: “Won fair and square.” His eyes flick, momentarily, to Kid’s tied down gun. His own hips are conspicuously gun free. “I hope you fellas aren’t the kind to hold a grudge?”
Curry: “Grudges are for folks with bad stomachs.”
Heyes: “But, we are the kind of fellas who’d like a chance to win back…”
Curry (jumping in): “No!” “We ain’t!”
He glowers at his partner.
Heyes (finishing): “…Some of our money.”
Curry (sotto voce hiss):”Joshua, we agreed…”
Heyes (ditto): “Well, now I’m changing the agreement.” He smiles at Cuthbert. “What d’you say?”
Cuthbert (also smiling): “Sure, Joshua! Poker? Ah, I see Thaddeus does not like the sound of that. What about a more – light-hearted – bet?”
Heyes: “Name it.”
Cuthbert: “Let me think…” Cuthbert’s baby-blues scan the bar, light upon the huge jar of boiled eggs labelled ‘Free With Drink’. “What would you bet I can make an egg stand on end?”
TWO MINUTES LATER
A seemingly disgruntled Heyes, unfastens his pocket watch chain from its buttonhole and drops watch and chain together into Cuthbert’s waiting palm.
Curry (sotto voce to Heyes): “Ya wouldn’t listen, would ya?”
Heyes (to Cuthbert): “Another bet!”
His demeanour suggests the desperate eagerness of an incorrigible gambler.
Cuthbert: “What have you got left to stake?”
Heyes: “Thaddeus’ watch…”
It is summarily plucked from a vest pocket and plonked on the bar.
Heyes: “And…” Pockets are searched. A crumpled note and a jangle of loose change hit the bar. A left boot is removed, a sock rummaged, boot replaced. Another even more crumpled note joins the pile. Cuthbert gingerly unfolds it with the tip of a fastidious finger. “And…” Rapid counting. “…Seven dollars fifty four cents.”
Cuthbert picks up and examines the watch. Mulling.
Cuthbert: “What’s the bet?”
Heyes’ turn to scan the bar. His eyes, too, light on the ‘Free With Drink’ jar.
Heyes: “Thaddeus can eat fifty eggs!”
Cuthbert: “Nobody can eat fifty eggs.”
Hank: “Nobody can eat fifty eggs.”
Curry (aside to Heyes, mouthing only): “Nobody can eat fifty eggs.”
Cuthbert (to Hank, suddenly cautious): “Did you ever see anyone eat fifty eggs?”
Hank: “Nobody ever eat fifty eggs!”
Curry (aside to Heyes, sotto voce): “Why you got to go and say fifty? Why not thirty-five or thirty-nine?”
Heyes (aside, ditto): “I thought it was a nice round number.”
Despite their lowered voices, Cuthbert overhears this.
Heyes (out loud, to Cuthbert): “If I say Thaddeus can eat fifty eggs, he can eat fifty eggs.” Squaring his shoulders. “Hey, City Boy, do we got a bet here? Fifty eggs!”
Cuthbert (eyeing the seemingly dismayed Kid): “In how long?”
Heyes: “An hour.”
Curry (aside to Heyes, mouthing only): “An hour?!”
Cuthbert: “Fifty eggs?”
Heyes: “Uh huh.”
Cuthbert: “In one hour?”
Heyes: “Uh huh.”
Cuthbert (suspicious): “One continuous hour? No breaks.”
Heyes: “Uh huh.”
Heyes: “Uh huh. But I get to shell ’em before he starts.”
An acquiescent nod from Cuthbert.
Cuthbert: “And – he has to keep them down. No throwing up. Nothing like that.”
Heyes: “Uh huh. And the odds – let’s make it fifty to one. Fifty being a nice round number.”
Pause for thought.
Cuthbert: “I’ll have me a piece of that bet!”
Out comes a roll of dollars.
FIVE MINUTES LATER
A small, but keenly interested crowd has gathered. In the centre sits Kid Curry, vest and jacket off, shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest (I spoil you!), towel draped around his shoulders boxer-style, belt loosened, legs akimbo. On a table beside him is the jar from the bar, which holds at least twenty-five eggs. Next to that stands a second jar, equally huge. Heyes is massaging Kid’s belly.
Heyes: “You gotta keep those stomach muscles loose – loose. Keep breathing real regular. Don’t be wasting time chewing. I put in the egg, two chews, swallow. I put in the egg, two chews, swallow. We keep the rhythm. Got it? Easy.”
Curry: “If it’s so easy – how come you ain’t doin’ the egg eatin’?”
Heyes: “It was me came up with the idea! If I come up with the idea AND eat the eggs – where’d you come in?”
Kid Curry blinks. Huh?
Heyes (loudly): “He’s ready! Let’s fetch in the eggs.”
Cuthbert’s brows snap together. His gaze goes to the jars.
Cuthbert: “What do you mean – fetch in the eggs?”
Heyes: “Not those!” Loudly. “Pierre!”
Pierre enters. He carries a very large bowl full of very small eggs. They are carried past a bewildered Cuthbert and set beside Kid Curry.
Heyes: “The bet was fifty eggs, hardboiled, in one continuous hour.” He dimples at Cuthbert. “Nothing was said about them being hen’s eggs.”
Pierre: “Zese are ouef de caille.”
Curry: “Quails eggs.” He sprinkles a little salt and pops three in his mouth. Two chews, gone. To Pierre, “Mmmm. Délicieux.”