“Ya God damned, yella belly, chiseler!” Michael, the town priest, bellowed at me. “You had cards up yer sleeves the whole game!” By this time, after about two dollars worth of whiskey was in ‘em, I reckoned Michael was full as a tick, and he was just creatin’ a fuss to cover his losses. Unfortunately fer me, his blabberin’ had some truth to it, and the people in this town didn’t much care fer bunko artists. If I was found out, I’d reckon I’d be run straight outta town. However, Michael had garnered a reputation fer shootin’ his mouth when the goin’s got tough fer him in Texas Hold ‘Em.
“Pull in your horns, ya godly drunkard, I ain’t got no cards up my sleeve, and even if I did, I wouldn’t need ‘em. Yer Poker face is about as solid as the crap that comes outta me after I eat the food of this here fine establishment.” The other people in the saloon gotta kick outta that one, even the bartender and the other fellas that I’d done busted outta the game earlier. That was the reaction I needed outta ‘em, I needed to make sure Michael was the joke, and that no one was gonna take ‘em seriously. “Now why don’t you hobble yer lip, and let’s wind up this here match.”
“Shut yer mouth, a swindler like you has no right talkin’ to a man of God like that. I say you got cards up yer sleeve, and I never lie,” Michael claimed.
“If that’s so, then maybe that’s why yer such a deadbeat poker player!” I joked back. Again, I proved to be makin’ a fool outta Michael; the patrons’ laughter got louder. Michael didn’t much appreciate bein’ the butt of a joke, and the more people laughed the angrier, and stupider, he got. He got up outta his chair and leered at me.
“You think it’s funny, what yer doin’? The lord doesn’t take kindly to those who break his sixth commandment ya goddamned sinner!” Michael hollered at me. I thought to myself how funny it was that most of my loudest opponents in Texas Hold ‘Em were some form of holy men. Like Michael, they all lost their flannel mouths once they started turnin’ up losses while gambling, some I didn’t even swindle before they started runnin’ their mouth’s. Some were heeled and could think of nothin’ better than to draw on me. Since those times I learned to always carry a six shooter, and to spot whether my opponents did the same. Judgin’ from the holster on his right thigh, Michael was lookin’ to be one of those times.
“Well I guess it’s good that I ain’t goin’ to bed with ya, otherwise the Lord himself might have to come down here, and then I’d actually have to fight for my money!” I blasphemed back. The entire saloon was in an uproar of laughter, Michael, the town idiot at the center of it all.
“That’s it! I’ll show ya what cheaters get around here!” hollered Michael, as he began to move his hand towards his holster. Before Michael could even bring his gun up to aim, I had taken my gun outta it’s holster and rested it neat in between my two hands, with my left hand leaning on the hammer. I fired two shots: one shot the gun straight outta Michael’s hand, and the other hit Michael’s hand, makin’ sure he would continue to stay unarmed. The two-bit preacher fell to the ground clutchin’ his holy hand in pain and hollerin’ the Lord’s name in vain.
“Not even a holy man points a gun at me without someone gettin’ hurt. I suggest that you lay off the liquor while playing a hand, yer life just might be a little longer that way.” I grimaced at him. I often times react completely on instinct when I see someone pullin’ a gun, somethin’ of a habit from the service. I learned to defend my life as a second nature, and a threat to my life can give me a bit of a blow-up. Unfortunately, I didn’t need to be causing no ruckus, I needed to quit while’n I was ahead.
As I began thinkin’ about how to weasel my way outta this situation, I looked around and realized the peanut gallery had switched from laughing at Michael’s expense to givin’ me a collective evil eye. I reckoned that my hasslin’ of the priest was all in good fun, but shootin’ him mighta’ pushed my luck.
“You should learn to keep yer trigger finger in check drifter, you can’t just come into a town and shot up our holy man”, said a local. His words struggling to escape from his mouthful of tobacco, causing black lines of spit to run through his knotted, snow white beard, makin’ him look like one of them Zebras. “You’s in a whole heap a’ trouble boy.”
“I say we outta hang ‘em, any man who’d shoot a holy man must surely be of the devil!” accused a small woman, with an eye patch on her left eye, and wrinkles like she was 70, though her hair being a golden blonde got me thinkin’ she was younger.
“I say we beat his pretty little face in, I get first gut punch,” said a towering man as he cracked his hairy knuckles.
“Now, now let’s not be so barbaric,” the town doctor said in a gentle voice. “We have guns for the sake of executions, much quicker and more humane.” At least someone cared.
Shootin’ Michael was not the best idea on my part; as it turns out some people just don’t stand for their Gospel sharps gettin’ shot, even if they are mudsills like Michael. “I reckon I owe y’all an apology, holy men are best to be respected, I agree. My shootin’ this here fine fellow was a simple misunderstandin’ on the part of my reflexes. Ya see, I’m somethin’ of a coward when it comes to guns, I get skittish when folks pull ‘em out. Sometimes it makes me do stupid things like shoot; however, I think we can all just push this incident under the rug, Michael should be just fine. Let’s all remember to turn the other cheek.” My ploy of innocence looked to have calmed my angry mob a bit, even if they were still arguing over how best to tan my hide. However, Michael would not turn his left ass cheek for me.
“My goddamn hand’s bleedin’ out, I’m gonna die! Yaarg! That damn hustler is a liar, a blasphemer, and a sexual deviant! String ‘em up!” I didn’t get a chance to talk back to the angry mob, or to ask Michael how he knew about my sex life. At the order of Michael, the mob of town’s people began comin’ down on me like the mallet of a particularly stupid judge. I began to inch my way back, but too little effect. I was cornered like a rat between the saloon walls and the pissed off town’s folk.
All of the sudden a queer looking guy landed between me and the crowd, he had jumped from the second floor of the saloon. He landed on all fours facing the crowd as if he were a jungle man, with the wind swishing around his loose clothing. He wore a large, circular hat that appeared to be made of straw, with metal trims on the edge. The hat came to a shallow point, and spread out over his head to about a shoulder’s length from his head, like a parasol. As he stood up, a foreign character was on the back of his upper clothes, created by a long, snake like design with golden scales, that went over his left shoulder. He had a sheath hanging by the left side of his waist, tied to his side by a cloth belt. He then quickly unsheathed a long, thin blade and pointed it directly at the crowd. “This guy must have a death wish” I thought to myself.
“I shall deal with this man”, commanded the mysterious stranger in a heavy accent. He then turned around to face me, and stretched his arm out, as if to barricade the crowd from me with his sword. His sleeves were danglin’ lazily off his arms, as if they were made fer a bigger man. His outfit was snow white, with a cut away on his neck, revealin’ much of his chest, and a red, fire shaped trim around the neck and sleeves. The end of the snake design was apparent, it was the creature’s head breathin’ the fire that created the trims. It’s nose made up about half of its narrow face. The other half of its face was covered had thick, fiery, red fur that extended as a narrow line across the top of his body.
“Hey, get the hell outta my way.” The giant started to approach the stranger, crackin’ his fists. The stranger didn’t even turn around; his glance was fer me alone. His eyes were narrow and slanted, he was an Asian man. The Eastern Man didn’t give a continental about the giant’s threat, which seemed to both offend and stun the hard case.
“Please, join me at the table.” The stranger pointed his sword at me, while askin’ me, I guess the “please” was just good manners. I sat down at the same table I played Michael at, with my new “friend” opposite of me. He sheathed his sword and assumed a distinct posture, placin’ both his hands all neatly in his crotch. “I noticed your skill with that gun.” He liked to be gettin’ straight to the point I could see.
“Anybody coulda’ made that there shot. Michael’s fat arse made himself an easier target than a dead fish in a glass barrel when he got drunk.” The crowd growled like mutts ready to tear me apart. “Uh, not that I took pleasure in shootin’ his hand, no matter how like a dead fish it was.” My attempt at unstirrin’ the ruckus I caused was about as successful as it woulda’ been if I’d done threw a dead fish at ‘em.
“No, you made that shot so quickly, it was barely visible. You wield that gun with the grace of a katana. You hit your precise mark and put your weapon away, before most people can react.” The easterner was flatterin’ me, but oddly he sounded none too impressed. “My name is Hasame, and I have a job for one with your talents.” I had a feeling he was gettin’ around to offerin’ me some fancy job, probably to track some bounty down or kill someone he didn’t like. I was about to stop him there, but Michael did that favor fer me.
“Yer all a bunch of morons! Why haven’t ya’ll killed them yet!” Michael was not about to let our conversation go smoothly. At his hollerin’ the crowd again started inchin’ over to us, but this time I decided to put some fear in ‘em. I shot two bullets directly at the floor in front of the giant, stoppin’ ‘em all dead in their tracks. I can’t stand people who interrupt me.
“Thank you for that.” Hasame continued. “I have great need for an American with your talents, I am . . .”
“Stop right there partner, I ain’t in no mood to be taking on no jobs”. I had absolutely no desire to do any job that required my shootin’ talents, I was just fine drifting from town to town playing poker and relaxin’. I liked to avoid fightin’ when I could, often times I completely outclassed the people who I shot, that of course was if they were even game enough to be more than a yappin’ mutt. A shoot out ain’t no fun if yer targets don’t know the trigger from their trigger finger, and they certainly ain’t worth the bullets, bounty, or pissed off family members. Hasame took off his hat and gave me a stern glare, as if he was annoyed at being interrupted.
“Tell me, am I correct in assuming that you were in the military?” He gave me a quizzical look, but his eyes had a certain commandin’ look in ‘em, as if he was a law man interrogatin’ a criminal. He quickly glanced at my scar across my eye, and my burn scars on my hands. Fella’ must’ve assumed my time in the service because of my injuries and gun handlin’. Hasame, must be in the military where he’s from, and he must’ve been in it for a good long time to have that keen an eye for battle wear.
“Look china man, that ain’t none of yer business! I told ya, I ain’t takin’ no job’s and that’s all you need to know about me!” This set Hasame’s eyes on fire with anger.
“Insolent commoner, have you absolutely no manners! When two people meet, they honor each other by exchanging names, you have yet to give me your name. You yell at me as if I was an annoying beggar asking for change, and then you refuse my request! Lastly, I am not a man from China, I am Japanese!” I was taken aback by his reaction, manners were obviously very important to this man, but I honestly didn’t care a continental, I still wasn’t goin’ to take his job, and I wanted him offa my back.
“Well partner, don’t you just come in here givin’ orders like you are some eastern city-slicker business man talkin’ to his damn slaves! I don’t want yer job, and I ain’t goin’ to take it, I am fine right where I am.” My fist pounded the table with a loud thud, like a stubborn ass buckin’ an annoying ranch hand.
“By right here, you mean playing your card games, well I don’t think anyone will wish to play you if you cheat.” The crowd came back to their senses from the startlin’ I gave ‘em, and I could feel their eyes on me.
“I ain’t no damn cheater!” Just as I said that, there was a sudden white flash. “I win all my games fair and square and . . .” As I spoke I felt a cool chill on my right arm, as if it was exposed. I looked down and my sleeve was cut open, with my hidden cards spilled out all over the floor.
To Be Continued…