Authors: Tabor Evans
Tags: #Westerns, #Fiction
LONGARM AND THE WHISKEY WOMAN
By Tabor Evans
U.S. Deputy Marshall Custis Long has been sent to Arkansas to investigate an unusually large moonshining operation. Shutting down the operation is, of course, the responsibility of the Treasury Department, but the agents assigned to that area don't seem to be doing their jobs. Longarm goes under cover, posing as a wealthy land-owner from Arizona who wishes to get into the whiskey business in order to find out exactly what's going on. 217th novel in the "Longarm" series, 1997.
Longarm stood up suddenly, drawing his revolver with his right hand and kicking his chair backward with a snap of his leg. He said, pointing the revolver, "Freeze!"
Before him were five other poker players and a waiter from the bar of the saloon. They were playing poker in a small, private back room and the waiter had just come in, ostensibly to bring them a fresh round of drinks. The waiter had come up and put his tray down on the table next to the man at Longarm's immediate left. The man had been in the act of picking the tray back up when Longarm had suddenly erupted, drawing his revolver. Now all the players and the waiter, who had been caught while straightening up, stared at him. Longarm reached out his left hand, taking the waiter by the shoulder and moving him back. He said, "Get over there against that wall."
The player on Longarm's left looked up, his face blustering. "Now what the hell is this? What call you got to be drawing a gun in this game?"
Longarm said, "Everybody just keep their hands where I can see them. I'm going to show you a little bit of magic."
One of the players said, "What kind of magic?"
Longarm said, "We started off this hand with just one deck of cards. I had just cut them when the waiter came in and set his tray down and began handing out drinks. I'm going to show you how that tray sitting down on that one deck turned it into two."
The player to his immediate left went slightly white in the face. He was a youngish man--Longarm guessed him to be not quite yet thirty--wearing a broad-brimmed plantation hat and a white ruffled shirt with a string tie. He had taken off his tan waistcoat and it hung over the back of his chair. He began to bluster, "Now hold-"
Longarm let him get no farther. He put the revolver squarely between the man's eyes and said evenly, "Shut up and keep your hands flat on that table." He turned to the rest of the players and said, "Watch this, gentlemen." With that, Longarm picked up the waiter's tray with his left hand and flipped it behind him. There were two decks of cards sitting on the table that the tray had covered. They were identical in color and pattern. Longarm said, "Looky here what I found."
A little murmur ran about the table and questions came thick and fast. "What is this?"
"What is going on here?"
"Where did them two decks come from?"
"What is all this?"
Longarm said with a small smile on his face to the man wearing the string tie, "Mr. Colton, how about dealing out the first round of cards. Let's see how they go."
The man he was speaking to, Morton Colton, said, "I'll be damned if I'll do any such of a thing." He looked at Longarm with hard eyes, his face a mask.
Longarm said, "Then maybe the gentleman next to you won't mind dealing them out, face-up, like you were dealing them. Use the deck closest to you, if you don't mind, sir. The other one was the deck I cut. This deck, the one closest to Mr. Colton, is the one that the waiter brought in for him. He carried it underneath that tray and he was supposed to change the decks. I think you'll find out that this deck will give Mr. Colton a pretty good advantage in this hand of cards."
The man in the plantation hat started to rise. Longarm put out his big left hand and shoved him back down into the seat. "Sit back down there, Mr. Morton Colton. I think these gentlemen need to see how you play cards." Behind him, his eye caught movement and he turned, bringing his revolver around. The waiter was trying to edge away from the wall. Longarm said mildly, "Going somewhere?"
The waiter moved carefully and plastered himself back up against the wall.
Longarm turned to the card player on the far side of Colton. He said, "Now, if you will sir, deal those cards, just as if Colton was dealing them, beginning with yourself and turning them face-up."
said, his voice hard, "You trying to get yourself killed?"
Longarm looked at him. He said, "That don't sound real sensible to me. Here's a man standing over you with a drawn revolver. True enough, the hammer ain't cocked, but that won't take but an instant." With that, his thumb came back and the clitch-clatch was clear and distinct in the room as the cylinder turned and the hammer came back to full cock, needing only the slightest pressure on the trigger to send the bullet exploding through the barrel. Longarm let the barrel drift slowly toward Colton's face. The man paled. Longarm said, "You still got any pronouncements you want to make about who's likely to get killed first?"
said through clenched teeth, "This is dishonorable, sir, dishonorable. You will pay, and you will rue this day."
Longarm said dryly, "Deal the cards, neighbor."
The player to Colton's left reached over and took the deck Longarm indicated. He dealt himself a card face-up, then one to the man next to him, and then on around the table. As he dealt, Longarm said to Colton, "As I recall, you had announced five-card draw. Let's see what we all end up with."
The cards went around slowly until the first round was completed. Colton had drawn a king, one of the other players had drawn a jack, and Longarm had drawn a ten. The dealing kept on. After the second round, Colton had two kings, the other player had two jacks, and Longarm had two tens.
The table was all attention now as they watched the cards turning. On the third round, the man immediately to the dealer's left showed three hearts, the man with the jacks now had three of them, and Longarm was dealt a third ten as Colton drew a third king.
The dealer paused and glanced at Longarm. Then he looked at Colton. He shook his head slightly but didn't say anything.
Longarm said, "Keep dealing."
On the fourth card, the player with three hearts drew another. The player with the three jacks drew nothing, and neither did Longarm, nor apparently did Colton. But on the fifth card, the player with the hearts made a flush and while neither Longarm nor the player with the jacks improved their hands, Colton drew another nine to go with the nine he had drawn the card before. He had a full house, kings over nines. It would beat the flush, it would beat the three jacks, and it would beat the three tens.
The dealer stopped dealing. One of the players was rising, swearing bitterly as he started to reach for his pistol. Longarm swung his revolver quickly in the man's direction. He said, "I know how you feel, neighbor, but sit down. Let's let the cards play themselves out."
The man slowly subsided, but all the other players were staring hard at Colton. Colton said nothing, only turned and fixed his eyes on Longarm.
Longarm said to the dealer, "Well, you've got a busted hand and you wouldn't play in this one. The heart flush isn't going to draw any cards. You with the jacks, you'll draw two cards. Give him two cards, dealer."
The dealer tossed two cards face-up to the player with the three jacks. It did not improve his hand.
Longarm said, "The next hand's bust, so he won't play. I've got three tens so give me two cards."
The man who was dealing took two cards and slapped them onto Longarm's hand, face-up. They did not help. Longarm looked over at Colton. He said, "And of course, he won't want any cards." He surveyed the table. "Well, gentlemen, that ought to build a pretty good pot, wouldn't you say? You've got a flush, you've got three jacks, three tens, and a full house. When it's all over with, Mr. Colton's going to walk off with all the money."
The man with the three jacks said, "What are we going to do about this son of a bitch?" His voice was hard and tense, and his eyes were fixed on Colton.
The man who had dealt said, "I don't quite understand how he did it yet. How did he get that other deck in here?"
Longarm jerked his head toward the waiter. "Very simple operation. He didn't have to do any fast shuffling, didn't have to stack the deck. He didn't have to do anything. That waiter over there did it all back behind the bar before he brought the round of drinks out. He came in carrying the tray with an identical deck underneath it, which was already arranged so that we would play them just as we did. When he set the tray down on the deck I'd just cut, he left that cold deck. And by the way, the reason they call it a cold deck is that the man who's dealing it has a cold lock--nothing's going to change it. When the waiter drops that deck, he picks the other one up as he's leaving, the one we've been playing with, the one that I'd just cut. It's a nice trick, but I've seen it before."
The man across the table said in a hard voice, "Well, you explained how he done it, but you ain't said yet what we're going to do with the cheatin' son of a bitch."
Longarm reached over with his free hand and spread out the money in front of Colton. He said, "Well, that looks to be about a thousand dollars in front of him." Then he reached his hand into Colton's coat, which was hanging over the back of the chair, and fumbled around until he found the man's wallet in an inside pocket. He pitched the wallet into the middle of the table. "Somebody look in there."
The man who had drawn the three jacks reached over and unfolded the leather wallet. He counted the money inside and said, "Looks to be about six hundred more here."
Longarm said, "Take it out. Pitch it in the middle of the table and then give Mr. Colton his wallet back."
said, "You thieving son of a bitch. Are you planning on robbing me?"
Longarm said, "Well, which would you rather have? The beating of your life and then we rob you, or do we just take the money? Now, it's your choice. You can pay us in skin and blood and bruises and broken bones and money or maybe, and I'm only one vote, we'll just take your money."
stood up very slowly, his eye on Longarm's gun. He said, "I haven't won that much. I started with almost one thousand two hundred dollars and you're going to take all my money? All sixteen hundred dollars?"
Longarm said, "That would be about right."
turned to face him. He said, "I'll get you for this."
Longarm said evenly, "I wouldn't count on that, Mr. Colton. I wouldn't count on that at all. In fact, if I's you, I'd stay just as far away from me as you could get, because next time, I may not be so obliging."
The man who had the three jacks, a tall man with big shoulders and a broken nose said, "Wait a minute, you're not going to let the son of a bitch walk out of here scot-free, are you?" He put his big fist down on the table and hammered it up and down softly and said, "I want a piece of him."
Longarm said, "Never did catch your name, friend."
The man said, "The name is Frank Carson, but that ain't important right now. I want to beat this son of a bitch half to death. I don't like to be cheated."
"Neighbor, we've got to make the punishment fit the crime. He was trying to cheat us out of money, so we're going to take his money. If he had done something to us physical, then I'd be all in favor of beating the hell out of him, but I don't see how it would be fair to do both."
The man sat back down in his chair and thought for a moment. He glanced at Longarm and slowly leaned back. "Well, maybe you're right. The bastard will never play poker again in this town. I'll see to that." The man's face relaxed and he smiled ruefully. He said, "Anybody that would cheat in a card game ain't fit to live with himself anyway, and this bastard's got to live with himself the rest of his life. I reckon that'll be punishment enough."
"Along with the money that he won't be leaving here with," Longarm said.
The other men at the table laughed. Frank Carson said, "Yeah, along with the money."
Longarm gave Colton a small smile. He said, "Well, Mr. Colton, I guess you better start walking for that door. These gentlemen appear willing to let you go, and were I you, I'd just stick that empty wallet in my coat pocket and get the hell out of here."