The Gambler and the Cowboy (by Doreen)

Summary:  (If the episode “First Born” had never happened)
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  2800

The Bank of Sacramento was large and airy, but in the heat of a July day was still like an oven, the only ventilation being from the front door which was closed.   It was 10.30am, and there were 2 bank cashiers and the Bank Manager in one half of the room, with a dividing wooden structure separating them from their customers – who were 3 in number. A very attractive lady of about 20, in figure hugging blue dress, and two young men,  whose appearances though different, had a strange similarity.

The young lady was being dealt with by one cashier, and as she stood at the tellers desk, the two young men awaiting their turn, studied her keenly.  Both appreciated a fine looking woman, so they drunk in her appearance and studied her in silent admiration.  As they brought their eyes up to the top of her head, on which a hat seemed to sit precariously, their eyes met, and both knowing the others thoughts simultaneously smiled at each other in a secret manly way.

The first man was aged about 28, tall and slim, with dark brown hair and dark green eyes and a pencil thin moustache.  He wore a white shirt, black tie, black trousers and hat, with silver buttons on his black waistcoat, and was roguishly handsome. Although he did not carry a gun and holster, he had in the inside of his jacket a small derringer  – his one and only true friend. He never went looking for trouble, but he was always prepared – just in case.

He looked out of place in Sacramento – his attire was the trade mark of a man from Mississippi who worked on the Riverboats – for he was a professional Gambler.  He had been brought up from a young age in an orphanage in New Orleans, never knowing his parentage. All he knew was his father had died before he was born, and his mother had supposedly died shortly after his birth.  The man never knew whether these facts were true or false, survival was all that mattered.  So, at the age of 12 he left the orphanage to make a life for himself.  Becoming self reliant, he had watched the card sharps and quickly learnt all the tricks of the trade, growing with confidence and winning more and more card games until he had become the man he was, the Gambler.  He never cheated, for he was expert enough to survive without the need for such deception.  However, other men could never accept his winning as pure talent, and on the occasions they had questioned his integrity and accused him of cheating, they were silenced by the quick draw from the inside of his jacket – his faithful derringer which never left his side.

He had been in Sacramento for about a month, playing the cards every night, and winning more and more.  Being a cautious man, he had banked his winnings each day, and his bank account had grown considerably as each day passed.  Now he felt the desire to move on and return to the life he knew best, the riverboats of the Mississippi.  In a way, he envied the cowboys of the west their lifestyle.  He had dreamed of having family to live and work with, for he loved the sights and sound of the western towns with their cattle, their freedom of the range, the great outdoors.

However, it was not to be and so the desire to return to his eastern way of life far out weighed the desire to stay in the west.  Not that there were loved ones to return to.  No one loved him and he loved no one.  His only desire was to return to the sights and sounds of the Riverboats which he had grown up with and which he called home.  After checking the times of the next stage east, he was in the Bank to close his account and then catch the ll.00am stage. So, it was with interest that after watching the pretty female, he studied the young man waiting his turn in the bank – the Cowboy.

This cowboy was aged about 23, not quite as tall as the Gambler, but dark haired and green eyed, with a slim but muscular figure, handsome and looking younger than his age.  He wore tan trousers, shirt and green jacket, and tan hat, and his gun and holster were strapped to his left side.  He looked like he belonged in Sacramento, for he was a cowboy through and through.

He had traveled from the family ranch in Nevada with a herd of fine horses for the Army, which had been delivered safely with the help of three of the ranch hands.  Being a fair man and seeing a job well done, he had willingly allowed the three men time to explore the sights and sounds of the Sacramento area, and given them a week’s holiday.  The bank draft he had collected from the Army was substantial, and rather than risk robbery, he decided to place it into the family bank account before returning home.

The youngest of 3 brothers, he was in charge of the horse side of the business and felt a glow of satisfaction that he had completed this latest transaction without a hitch. Moreover, his two brothers, especially the oldest, could not complain. He constantly strived to prove himself to his father but mostly to his older brother that he was an adult and capable of the responsibility thrust upon him. This time he had done his job well.  He looked around the Bank, and in the heat removed his hat, showing his dark wavy hair, and fanned himself to get some relief from the warm claustrophobic atmosphere.

After gazing at the young lady, he turned his attention to the other man, strangely dressed for the western town, but who, even in the heat, did not seem to show any discomfort.  A man who stayed cool under pressure.  The Cowboy easily recognized this was a professional Gambler.  In a way he envied the Gambler his life, his freedom to play poker at will, to drink and take in the pleasures of the saloon or gambling house with no responsibilities.  He well remembered in his rebellious youth, his father criticizing a gambler’s way of life. This had only awakened the desire of the Cowboy to seek it out in his deceased mother’s place of birth, New Orleans.  In his late teens he had often wished he had someone who shared this secret desire, but his two brothers looked down on such a lifestyle with distain, like his father.  So he had dreamed alone.

As the years passed by, the desire had diminished, and he realized in his heart his life was on the ranch, The Ponderosa, and would always be so.

Both men caught each other staring, the cowboy on the gambler, and the gambler on the cowboy.  Slightly embarrassed, they gave each other a smile and nod of the head, and then both looked away.

The young lady in the queue had finally been attended to, and she turned and left the Bank, unaware of the two handsome men who had taken in her appearance.  The Gambler walked over to the cashier to withdraw his money.  The second cashier opened his desk and the Cowboy walked over and proceeded to finalize his business by putting in his bank draft.  The two men finished their transactions at the same time, the Gambler placing his considerable winnings inside his jacket.  Both he and the Cowboy turned to leave the hot atmosphere of the Bank when suddenly there came from outside the sound of horses galloping, and then shouting, screaming and gunfire.

Before anyone could think of the outside commotion, the door to the bank was pushed open, and three men, guns in hand ran in, one shooting at the ceiling, while the other two trained their firearms on the two customers and bank staff.  The Cowboy looked at the men with their guns trained on them, and realized that this was the Walker Gang.  Their pictures were in every sheriff’s office in California and Nevada, as their trademark was the violent robbing of banks and the murder of anyone who stood in their way.  There was no need for many words for all the banks occupants knew their place in this scenario.

The outlaws scanned the customers, taking the gun from the Cowboy and throwing it into the corner of the room.  The Gambler had no holster and gun, so he was motioned to lie on the floor with the Cowboy, and be very quiet and still.  The head of the Walker gang, John Walker, raced to the bank manager’s desk, and demanded the money held in the safe while the other two outlaws, Pete and Dave, kept their eyes on the two customers.

The Bank Manager, nervous and afraid, fumbled with his keys, and John Walker shouted loud for him to hurry up, while Pete and Dave looked between the safe, the bank staff and the two men they were guarding. The Cowboy had been in this situation before; he knew that a nervous hand could soon fire a gun, so he kept still, his eyes meeting the eyes of the Gambler.  The Gambler likewise looked at the Cowboy, and with his eyes scanned down towards his inner jacket.  There, the Cowboy could just see the outline of the trusty derringer, and he nodded his understanding to the gambler.  The outlaws missed the slight movement of the two men on the floor, as they nervously trained their eyes on the safe that was still to be opened.

One of the bank tellers whose nerves were at breaking point suddenly could not take the situation anymore, and blindly started running for the back office where he had thought he could lock himself in until the nightmare had passed.  However, John Walker seeing that the teller was fleeing shot him in the back, and with a scream the teller fell, dead!

The Bank Manager finally, with shaking hands, opened the safe.   The outlaw then picked up the case he had brought in with him and began filling it with the money. Outside the forth member of the gang, Steve, had been holding the horses ready for a quick getaway when suddenly a burst of firing caught him off guard.  The sheriff had, for once, been in the right place at the right time and had seen the arrival of the gang making their way into the bank. He had carefully crept up on the lone outlaw outside, and had shot him down.

Horses neighed, people screamed.  Human nature being what it is, Pete and Dave looked quickly outside to see what was going on, and though it only took a couple of seconds, it was all the Gambler needed.  He quickly put his hand in his jacket and withdrew the derringer, and in a micro-second he was up and firing, shooting the nearest outlaw Dave in the chest.  Meanwhile, the Cowboy showed agility beyond comprehension as he rolled the length of the floor to where his gun had been thrown, and grabbing the pistol in his left hand managed to fire at Pete hitting him also in the chest.

Both outlaws fell dead within a couple of seconds.  John Walker at the safe pointed his gun at the two men, but the Gambler and Cowboy fired simultaneously at him, one hitting him in the heart, the other in the head.  Suddenly, the last of the outlaws lay very still.  It was over.

Outside, many voices were yelling, screaming, crying.  Then silence fell as a lone voice, the sheriff, could be heard calling to those in the bank.  Inside it was quiet; the suddenness of the shooting had taken all by surprise.  The Bank Manager could see the outlaws were dead, and arose from where he had flung himself down when the shooting had begun.   He crossed the room and opened the front door, shouting to the sheriff that all was well.

The sheriff hurried in to view the scene.  Three dead outlaws and one dead cashier lay prone on the floor.  The Gambler and the Cowboy looked at each other, knowing that their actions had saved the day and caused the death of three dangerous men. The bank manager informed the sheriff that they had been saved by the two strangers – so differently dressed yet somehow similar.  Strangers five minutes ago, now heroes!

The Gambler and the Cowboy, strangers before, now allies, looking at each other slowly smiled.  Words had not been needed – they had somehow worked as one without a word having been said and the job was accomplished.  The Gambler reached down to the Cowboy and offering him his hand pulled him up from the floor.

 “Thanks” said the Cowboy.

 ”Glad to be of service” said the Gambler in his noticeable southern drawl.

The sheriff – grateful that he had not had to contend with three dangerous outlaws, thanked the two men, and began the grizzly task of  delivering the bodies of the dead robbers and the cashier to the undertakers.  This time no money had been lost, only life.

Leaving  the sheriff do his duty, the Gambler and the Cowboy quietly moved outside to the cooler air of the main street, each reflecting on the events that just occurred.  Each took deep breaths as they knew that they had come close to facing certain death.

From start to finish, the violent incident at the bank had taken no more than five minutes.  Five minutes for five men to die and two to become heroes.

The sheriff walked outside and stood by the two men.  Looking at them he said,

“There will be a considerable reward for the capture of the Walker Gang, and you two will be able to share it.”

The Cowboy, looking back into the Bank inquired,

“Did the dead cashier have family?”  The sheriff nodded.

“Give my share to his family then”, he said.

“My share too,” added the Gambler, amazed that the Cowboy had suggested what he had planned to say.  Different men, but so similar.

Suddenly, there was a flurry of dust, and along the main street could be seen and heard the stagecoach which would take the Gambler back east to his beloved riverboats.  The Gambler with a smile turned to the Cowboy.  He outstretched his hand and the Cowboy shook it.  No words were needed.  They both knew that they had faced death together, and had both survived with each others help.

The Gambler tipped his hat to the Cowboy and walked over to the hotel to collect his belongings and then within two minutes was out and climbing into the small confined space of the stagecoach.  The Cowboy walked slowly towards the hotel, passing the stage as it stood waiting to leave.  He glanced into the coach, and seeing the Gambler, smiled and said,

“My name is Joe Cartwright; we made a great team back there!”

The Gambler smiled back, “Pleasure to know you Joe Cartwright, I’m Clay Stafford.  It has been a quite an experience!”

With that the stage driver climbed onto the stage, and with a whoop of the whip, the stage moved off and disappeared from view.  The Cowboy watched the stage, then slowly made his way to where he had left his horse, deep in thought.

How easy it would have been to climb on that stage with the Gambler, and head east to the kind of life he had often yearned for.  He felt that he and the Gambler would have made good companions even though they had barely known each other for fifteen minutes.  Yes, he thought.  He and the Gambler would have been good friends.  He slowly unhitched his beloved pinto and swung himself onto his saddle, and with a sigh pointed his horse towards the direction of Nevada, family and home.

In the stage, the Gambler reflected on the Cowboy.  In such a short time he had come to like, trust and wish for his friendship.  I could have enjoyed life in the west with such a companion, thought the Gambler.  The stage rolled on, the distance between the two men growing with each minute.

The Cowboy and the Gambler, who would never meet again, never know each others fate in life, but for five minutes on that July morning had been truly, Brothers in Arms.

***The End***

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