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"Tyrone Butler?" Frank Rode asked.
"Say, weren't you involved in that whole Dodge City mess a while back?" he asked.
"What mess?" Billy Brookens asked.
"You know, that shootout in the plaza thing," Chase said. "It was in the newspapers."
"I remember that," Pete Brand said.
Ty Butler looked at the other four players at the table. None of the four were particularly good poker players and this was a good reason why. None of them were paying attention to the hand.
"Comin' out," Butler, the dealer, said. He ignored their questions and their conversation.
"Jack, no help . . . three, too bad . . . pair of kings on the table . . . a queen for the dealer."
Brookens bet his kings, tossing ten dollars into the pot.
Brand frowned at the three on the table with his eight and ten, all unsuited, but he called. He always called, no matter what he had. It worked in his favor once in a while, but mostly he just tossed good money after bad.
Leadville had been easy pickings for Butler, who was planning to leave the next morning. He'd built up a nice poke, plus he'd rested up enough after the whole Dodge City fiasco that the others were talking about. Standing side-by-side in the streets of Dodge with Bat and Jim Masterson, not to mention Neal Brown, had been invigorating, but everything leading up to it had been tiring. Yet he now felt renewed and ready to travel again. Leadville had been a good place to recuperate, both mentally and physically.
"That dust-up in Dodge was nothin' compared to what happened in Tombstone right after that," Rode said.
"I heard Masterson ran out on the Earps and left them and Doc Holliday to do the dirty work," Brand said.
"I heard a lot of things about Bat Masterson," Brookens said, "but never that he was a coward."
"First time for everything," Rode said.
Butler held his tongue and dealt out the fifth and final card. A queen joined his other queen on the table. He had one in the hole. He felt he had the winning hand, but that was nothing new. Brookens had kings on the table, but Butler had a read on the man. That was all he had. It was more likely that Brand had lucked into three threes by staying in. It was going to cost him money. Rode was out of it, and demonstrated so by folding.
Brookens bet his kings, Butler raised, and Brand foolishly reraised. With two raisers Brookens knew his kings were no food and went out.
"I raise again," Butler said.
The kid had three threes. He could see it on his face. Nine times out of ten that was a winning hand. This was ten but the kid wouldn't consider that.
"I'm puttin' the rest of my money in against you, Mr. Butler," he said, pushing his cash into the center of the table.
It wasn't much because he had been losing all night, but it was all he had. Butler covered the bet.
"I got three treys, Mr. Butler," Brand said. "Can you beat that?"
Butler turned over his third queen.
"What's wrong with you, boy?" Rode, the oldest player at the table, asked. "Ain't you been watchin' this man play all night?"
Pete Brand looked as if he was going to cry. Finally, he just pushed his chair back, got up, and went to the bar.
Butler collected his chips.
Rode gathered the cards to deal.
"The kid was probably wrong about Bat Masterson bein' a coward, too," Brookens said.
"He was," Butler said.
Brookens and Rode looked at him.
"Bat left Tombstone to go to Dodge to keep his brothers alive," Butler said. "That's why he wasn't at the O.K. Corral. And any man who says different is going to have to deal with me."
Rode shuffled the cards and kept quiet. Brookens opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it.
"Way I heard it," a voice from the bar called out, "Masterson didn't even go to Dodge. He just plumb lit out from Tombstone and kept goin' until he reached Trinidad, and he's a-hidin' out there."
Butler didn't know the voice. He turned to see who the speaker was. The man was in his early thirties, was holding a mug of beer and smirking for the benefit of his friends standing at the bar with him, of which there were three.
"That's Troy Smithson, Butler," Frank Rode said to him. "Don't let him goad you into a gunfight. He's fast."
"I know about Smithson, Frank," Butler said. "I've been here long enough for that."
"Then you know to ignore him," Billy Brookens said. "Come on, gentlemen. Let's play cards."
But Troy Smithson was not easily ignored. During the time Butler had been in Leadville—close to a month—Smithson had goaded or called out three men and killed them all in a "fair" fight. The town laws—such as it was—turned its head because Smithson worked for one of the largest mine owners in Colorado. He wasn't a miner, he was more of a bodyguard, or enforcer.
Apparently, now that he had heard Butler's word about Bat Masterson, he'd decided that Ty Butler would be his next victim.Denver Draw
The Gamblers. Copyright © by Robert Randisi. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.