Word Count: Up to 1300 words
Deadline: Thursday, July 14, 2011 4:30 pm EST
Submitted for Friday Flash Fiction
This is Part 4. Here are the first three parts, if you would like to read them
Part 1: The Lone School Marm
Part 2: The Lone School Marm SpeaksPart 3: The Lone School Marm and the Art of War
"Ok, gentlemen," The Dealer said, "Ante up."
It was the usual crowd at the Old Tin Cup on a dusty Friday night, with one exception. A slight and mostly silent man had joined the game this time. He was dusty and had a weary posture. The brim of his brown, leather stetson was pulled down, covering his eyes and shadowing his face.
So far, he'd played a pretty tight game, calling here and there, and never raising the bets as they traveled around the old pine table. This was fine with the Dealer, who was no stranger to trouble from outsiders but certainly didn't care for it.
This old gang had a certain rhythm to their game and strangers never seemed to sense it when they sat down to play. They just bumbled in and mistakenly thought the best way to join the group was to show off and prove that they had the chops to play with the big boys. They had no sense of grace about them, always splashing their money in the pot, calling blind, and assuming that because the gang was old, they were also soft or stupid. This stranger was different though...steady and calm.
There were plenty of years behind these good old boys, some good, some bad. But they came through it all together and ended up with a respect for each other that made them close-knit and powerful. And the Dealer had been with them all along, was one of them really. He never liked gambling, though, despite his love for the game of poker. But his years of dealing had given him certain insights into all of them, and they knew it. Away from the table, he was considered neutral and the fellows often consulted him when they had disputes. He also represented the gang when they had common interests that needed worked out with others. The Dealer could not be bluffed.
"Raise," a quiet voice said, which pulled the Dealer out of his thoughts. "Thirty dollars."
Jeb whistled and said, "That's a pretty steep bet there, stranger."
"You gonna call?" the Dealer asked, nonplussed.
"Heh," Jeb said, "Well, it's only money...Call."
Jeb always said this when he had a good hand, the Dealer knew, but didn't let his face reveal it. The rest of the folks at table fell out of the hand and fixed their eyes on the stranger, waiting to see what his game was. He'd have to show his cards now.
"Well," Jeb said, "Whatcha got?"
The stranger turned over his cards and said, "Ten-high flush."
"Oh, well," Jeb said, "I guess that won't beat my full house...Aces over tens."
He chuckled as he dragged the pot towards him and started to stack his winnings. "You got to get up pretty early in the morning to catch me, stranger."
"Oh, I get up early every morning," the stranger revealed.
"I 'spect you get the worm then, most times, don'tcha?" Jeb replied.
"Nope," the stranger said, "That worm keeps slipping away from me. It's getting to the point now when I think I'd better give up sleeping and spend all my time chasing that worm."
"What's your name, son?" Jeb asked, curious.
"Susannah," the stranger replied.
"Funny name for a fellah," Jeb said.
"Ain't a fellah, sir," she said.
Jeb leaned in towards her and started to tip Susannah's brim back to see her face.
She stayed his hand and said, "I'd rather you didn't do that here."
Jeb sat back in his chair, his mouth hanging open. She did tip her hat up quickly so that for a moment the shadows fell away and the gang could see her feminine features. She pulled the brim down and settled back into a favorite pose of her fathers: Legs outstretched, leaning back with her hands crossed at her waist.
"So, are we going to play cards or sit here catching flies," the Dealer said, amused by the fact that every member of the gang now had their jaws hanging loose. "Ante up, gentlemen."
This certainly was an interesting woman who had managed to get into the Tin Cup and join this table, and past the Dealer's bullshit detector. He shuffled the cards as he mused. It's been a long time since anyone anywhere had been able to bluff him. He wanted to know more about her but respected the table, the game, and her skill too much to fuss here. Still, her worm hunting story interested him very much and wondered what could survive standing in this woman's way. He dealt the hand.
The game continued for another hour or so before the group decided to call it a night. The Dealer knew they were all going home a bit richer this night, Susannah having kept up with the game, calling except when it was time to show her cards. She never raised or stayed in to the end of the hand for the rest of the night. He suspected she did this on purpose, to put the old boys in a good mood.
"Well, boys," Jeb said, patting his vest pocket stuffed with his winnings, "Let's retire to my place for an after game drink and cigars."
The gang grumbled cheerfully at the thought as they stood and stretched, happy with victory. The Dealer packed up his cards and kept one eye on Susannah.
"Come on, son," Jeb said and winked, "I'd like to hear how you got to be such a smart player."
He put his arm around Susannah and led her out of the saloon.