Summary: To find justice after a tragedy, Adam and Joe employ unusual and perhaps questionable methods.
Word Count: 1463
Incredulous as he listened to his brothers tell their story, Hoss had questions. He had been in the barn when they came home talking about their quest. “You cheated the cheating card shark? That one who shot Billy when he said he was cheating? How’d you do that anyhow? And why did you do it?”
Grinning and still excited over what they had done, Joe held up a hand. “Yeah, we did it. We talked about the stars out tonight, and Adam was quite informative. He’s as sneaky as we always said he was. When he said things about the stars, I knew what cards to play and they never knew what was happening.”
“The card shark let you two table talk?”
Snapping his fingers, Joe pointed at Adam and then at himself. “He never knew we were brothers. We don’t exactly look alike. We joined the game separately and only used our first names. He had no way to know we were related at all. Even the saloon girls only ever call us by our first names.”
“Joe was poetic as a schoolboy too and sometimes almost giddy.”
“Huh?” Hoss wondered what Adam wanted him to know.
“I was not giddy!” But then Joe was excited to tell Hoss what they had done as Adam could only grin. “Hoss, when I had diamonds and needed one more for a flush, I said how nice the sky was tonight with stars twinkling up above. Adam was next to me and slipped a card to me under the table. I won that pot including the money Adam bet.”
“He heard twinkling and knew I needed a diamond. You know, diamonds twinkle. Clubs, hearts, and spades don’t twinkle.”
“Oh, yeah, but why would Adam bet against you?”
“That was so the card shark wouldn’t guess we were working together.”
“Oh, yeah, that does make sense. All the money would come back to the two of you.”
“Yeah, Adam looked plenty grouchy too pushing money into the pot when he knew he was going to lose it. Adam doesn’t like losing even for a good cause.”
“I did manage to make a good show for that card shark.”
“Yeah, you did. You looked surly enough there for a while he probably thought you were madder at me than at him.”
“I don’t like losing. It took a while before I had anything worth betting on.”
“Yeah, we had a bunch of bad hands. There’s no hope for some hands so we’d fold early on those. As they say, luck is a fleeting thing. You have to grab it when it’s there.” Amused, Adam raised his eyebrow and smiled that crooked smile of his. Hoss nodded knowing how he felt when Joe got on a roll telling a story. “A few hands after my big pot, Adam said how faithful the moon was and how it rose and fell like clockwork. It was number one in his book. You could plant your crops by its schedule. It was the royalty of the heavens.”
“What kind of clues were those?” Hoss was confused how that helped anyone.
“He wanted spades. I figured that out from the planting crops thing. The number one was he could use the ace if I had it. I guessed maybe face cards would do too when he said it was the royalty of the heavens. I didn’t have any face cards, but on the next one, he said the dealer was a prince for the cards he had dealt, but he needed a good draw. I passed him a jack. He must have drawn one too so he had four of a kind then.”
“I did draw one. I think it was supposed to be a set up. That card shark kept raising me until the pot was huge. His eyes got very large when I showed my hand. He thought I was betting big on three jacks.”
“Boy, I ain’t smart enough to play that kind of game. Some of them clues would have been too hard to know.”
“Oh, you’re bright enough, Hoss. Me and Adam talked about this a bit before we went in one at a time to join that game. We worked out some words that we could use to hint at certain kinds of cards.”
Off to the side, Ben joined in. “Hoss, you’re smart enough, but your brothers are sneaky.” Walking over, he addressed Adam and Joe with a frown. “Does Roy know what you two did? He takes a dim view of cheating no matter what your motives are.”
“Pa, Roy’s still gone. Jeb Clinton is a good man, but as a deputy, he wouldn’t do anything about this card shark even after he shot Billy. Joe and I had the same issue with him when we were on that posse with him. He knows what is right, but he has a hard time stepping up and following through to do what is right.”
“Yeah, Pa, I watched that card shark like Adam did. He was so fast, it’s very difficult to see him cheat, but he does and nobody is that lucky. He always gets the cards he needs. We could only win with the best hands. He seemed real upset about it too and kept taking longer with his shuffling.”
Leaning against the fireplace, Adam shrugged. “He could hardly complain and say we shouldn’t have the hands we had because those weren’t the cards he gave us.” Then he had a smirk that was matched by Joe’s.
Joe told Adam to tell the rest of what they did.
“We briefed a few others about how to beat him. After we left the game, a couple of other men went in with their own code to work together. Joe did go tell Jeb what was happening so he was there to lurk around the table before we left.”
“Yeah, he hemmed and hawed about how he wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do and what was Roy going to say about it all. I told him the men at the saloon knew what was going on, and they would back him up. That was all it took. Like Adam says, he has a hard time taking a stand. He’ll go whichever way the wind blows.”
“I would think having him there made that card shark nervous too, but we didn’t want to take a chance that he might shoot someone else. That’s why I asked Joe to go tell Jeb to get him to watch over that game. The card shark will be gone soon.”
“What about the money you won? I don’t know how I feel about what you did, but that is ill gotten gains.”
“We dropped it off with Billy’s family.” It was clear from the way Joe said it that he felt they were on good moral ground with why they had done it.
Pursing his lips, Ben was at least happy his sons hadn’t profited from cheating. “I suppose that does help some that is was for a good cause, but do you have any idea what people may think of you now? Don’t you have any concern about your reputations?”
“Are you worried about ours or yours, Pa?” Adam’s voice had taken on a challenging tone.
Ben didn’t want to argue but had to make his point. “Both.”
“We didn’t have any other way to deal with him. We’re not proud of the methods we were forced to use, but the usual ways of achieving justice were not available to us. He cheated and he shot Billy over it. But no one could prove he was cheating. It was all we could do. At least no one else will die here because of him. Besides, I told that new reporter at the Enterprise all about it. He plans to write a story about it. You know, one of those funny pieces he does. He’ll change the names, but the description of the card shark will be accurate. That story will be picked up and circulated all around. There’s one thing our Sam Clemens can do writing those funny pieces he does as Mark Twain. He can make a man the laughingstock of the west. I hope he can put that card shark out of business.”
That was an angle Joe hadn’t known. He was surprised but happy to know Adam had another way of dealing with the card shark. Both he and Adam would have liked to see him in jail, but out of business would have to do.