SUMMARY: This began as a Pinecone but I couldn’t fit it all in there so here is the rest of the story — Little Joe Cartwright finds that having skill with a pistol and a fast draw isn’t the same as being good in a gunfight, and he has second thoughts about whether he should have gotten himself into such a predicament.
rating = T word count = 1156
A Jack of Spades
The lessons had worked. He knew how to handle that pistol better than anyone in town and could draw it faster than anyone too or thought he could. After watching his older brothers and his father stand up to bullies, corrupt politicians, overbearing sheriffs, and dangerous outlaws, the eighteen-year-old wasn’t about to let a two-bit gambler get away with cheating. The two had exchanged a lot of words in the saloon and now it had come to this. The man had told him to back down from his accusation or step outside.
Now they stood in the street facing each other with the likelihood of a shootout looming ever more likely now. A crowd was gathering on either side of them wondering if the two would actually fight because so far it had been all words. The young man knew he lad let his temper flare, but now there was only a burning in the pit of his stomach to remind him what had started this confrontation and what he had been told about what gunfights were like. In his youthful enthusiasm and optimism, he has thought that there would be more a sense of heroism and valor, but knew at this moment that he was wrong and the advice he had been given has been correct. Remembering what his oldest brother had told him once about his first gunfight didn’t help.
“My insides felt like jelly. I went into an alley afterwards and retched up my lunch. I couldn’t eat anything and keep it down for probably the next full day. At night, all I saw was his face when that bullet entered him. The shock, the surprise and probably then the realization that he was going to die all mingled into one slowly. I’m not sure he felt much pain at least physically. That part was for me.”
Feeling some of that already, he recalled how he had been winning at cards until most of his money was in a big pot. The trouble began with a jack of spades, a simple piece of paper printed with a silly looking prince and the spade at opposite corners. A jack of spades had been in his hand, but he had discarded it to draw a card trying to fill the flush that would win the pot. He had failed but decided to bluff. He had raised and been called. When the gambler laid down his hand, there it was: the jack of spades was there completing the straight he needed to win the pot. He had stood immediately to accuse the man of cheating and it had escalated from there.
Facing a man for the first time though was a lot more overwhelming than he thought it would be. It had seemed so manly but in reality was more painful than anything. Having to ignore all the signs his body was giving him that he was in a crisis was difficult enough, but the thought of what his father would say when he found out was interfering with his ability to think clearly too. He knew his brothers couldn’t be too far away either and wondered what they would do if they got here before this confrontation was concluded. Deciding to give one more chance to the man before they had a shoot-out that would likely leave at least one of them wounded or worse, he made an offer.
“Admit you cheated and walk away. You don’t have to die today.” He had hoped to sound as intimidating as his father or oldest brother, but his voice had come out higher pitched than normal. He guessed that had stolen the impact of his words.
“Boy, you don’t worry me.” The gambler was confident. He had been in fights like this before with cowboys in a number of towns. That he was still upright was proof of his prowess with a pistol.
“Mister, you don’t know me. You shouldn’t mess with me. I’ll ruin everything you are. You shoot it out with me, and your name will be in the paper here. Everyone will know your name and know you cheated at cards in there.” Getting calmer, he was doing his best now to work this out without violence and wished he had had the good sense to think of how to do that earlier.
“I don’t cheat. I play better than you is all.” He could see the kid losing his resolve to fight and guessed he could walk back into the saloon soon to pick up that money and leave this town a much wealthier man than he had entered it a day earlier.
“That jack of spades in your straight was in my hand before I discarded it to draw one. You were the dealer. Now everybody knows what happened. There was only one way that card got into your hand.”
Little Joe Cartwright had been getting worried that he was going to have to fight no matter what he said, but the gambler blanched as he talked. Seeming to get absurdly nervous over a few words when he had all but laughed at the earlier statements, he went to his horse and mounted up, and with only a backward glance, rode out of town. Little Joe nodded in satisfaction wondering what he had said that had been the crucial thing.
Behind him, a very large man in a big hat and a man dressed all in black looked at each other, nodded, and moved back into the crowd. The man in black put the pistol loop back on his pistol. The big man no longer held back the smile he had been hiding. The way that two-bit gambler had seemed to shrink when Adam slipped that loop from his pistol and stood there to the right behind their little brother had been amusing. He was supposed to be intimidating though so he had been forced to hold back the grin he wanted to show. Instead of busting their little brother’s confidence though, they decided to let someone else handle things. They stayed back and waited for Sheriff Roy Coffee to show up.
“Little Joe Cartwright, when your pa hears what you done, he’s gonna have your hide. By rights, I oughta fine you for disturbing the peace. I’m glad I got here and found you in one piece and nobody shot up. You go find your brothers and tell ’em what you done, and then you hightail it back to the Ponderosa. I don’t want to see you in town here for at least two weeks, or I will fine you. Is that clear?”
Tags: Family, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
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