ACE IN THE HOLE
Clint Adams finds himself in El Legado, New Mexico, for what he intends to be a laid-back stopover—a few drinks, a fine woman, and some poker. But when a respected gambler ends up with a bullet in his chest, Clint stands accused of holding the gun that shot him.
To clear his name, the Gunsmith must outrun the sheriff’s posse and hunt down the culprit. Clint suspects a sore loser and the son of a notorious backshooter, Johnny Creed, and when Johnny skips town, the Gunsmith takes to his trail seeking justice…
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The stopover in El Legado, New Mexico, was supposed to be a leisurely one. A few drinks, a few women, some poker. Easy. Lay low. Stay out of trouble. More and more difficult these days, for some reason, but Clint Adams was determined to try really hard this time.
So then why was he out here, no provisions, on the hunt, and yet on the run at the same time?
It had all started out so well . . .
• • •
Settling in was easy. It was all a routine. Find a livery for Eclipse, make sure the hostler knows what he’s doing and will properly care for the Darley Arabian, and get himself settled in a decent hotel. Then leave his saddlebags and rifle in the room and go out to find something to eat.
He found a café the first day that was doing a good business. It either had good food, or it was the only place in town. He went in, got himself a table, discovered—with a steak and vegetables—that it had decent food. The coffee was strong and good, too.
He paid his bill and walked the town, impressed that it was larger than he had first thought. There were several hotels and salons, more restaurants and cafés. The smell of fresh-cut wood in the air spoke to the fact that new buildings were being built.
Of the several saloons he passed, he chose the largest, which was called The Wagon Wheel. Inside he saw a huge wagon wheel hanging over the back of the bar where most saloons had paintings of naked women. All things being equal, he preferred the paintings—but this was obviously cheaper for the owner.
He had a beer, looked over the operation, and then went back to his hotel. It wasn’t until the next day that he went back and took a seat at what looked to be an ongoing poker game.
And he started to win.
That should have been a good thing . . .
• • •
He checked his back trail, didn’t see any indication that the posse had gotten closer.
He turned his attention to the trail he was following. It was still fresh, but there continued to be no sign of a rider ahead of him.
It was difficult to track and hunt someone when you yourself were being hunted.
He’d never been in this situation before. He shook his head. How the hell . . .
• • •
He played poker for a few days, found one of the saloon girls to his liking. Her name was Jenny. She was in her thirties, a strawberry blonde with large breasts and a majestic butt. In bed she was voracious, and he particularly liked how bountiful her blond pubic bush was.
On the fourth night they were engaged in a particularly energetic romp in his room when they both rolled off the bed onto the floor. Lucky for Jenny, Clint was on the bottom.
“Ouch!” she said.
“Hey,” he said, “I cushioned your fall.”
“I hit my elbow.”
“I landed on my rump.”
She wriggled atop him, felt his cock still rock hard inside her.
“It doesn’t seem to have affected your performance.”
“It would take a lot more than a fall out of bed to do that,” he said, reaching around to cup her buttocks. “Do you want to get back in bed?”
She sat up on him, wriggled again, and thought.
“No,” she said, “I . . . I don’t think you’ve been this deep before.”
“It’s the floor,” he said. “No give.”
“Mmm,” she said, rising up and then coming down on him. “Oh!”
“Go ahead,” he said. “You won’t hurt me.”
She started bouncing up and down on him, groaning and grunting each time she came down. Her big breasts began to bounce and bob in front of him, the pink nipples swollen with passion. He tried to catch them with his mouth and succeeded about half the time.
“Oh yes,” she said, “this is nice . . . this is very nice . . .”
She slowed down so she could truly enjoy the way it felt to have him that deep. At one point she stopped bouncing and began to grind herself down on him.
“Oh God,” she said, “is—is that all right for you?”
“It’s fine for me,” he breathed. “Keep going.”
She pressed her hands down on his chest, began to rotate her hips while still grinding.
“Wow,” she said, “wow . . . I’ve never . . . done it like this . . . before.”
“Never had sex on the floor before?”
“No,” she gasped, “usually . . . in a bed.”
“It’s always good,” he grunted, “to try something . . . new.”
“Mmm,” she said, biting her lip and closing her eyes. He felt her tremble, her legs, her thighs, then saw her belly spasm—and suddenly she was riding him like a bucking bronco, gasping and crying out.
And then he exploded.
Clint remembered that time with Jenny fondly, now that he was on horseback and being pursued. He looked up at the sun. He hadn’t had time to pack supplies, and his canteen was only half full. Playing poker was supposed to have been relaxing, and for a while it was . . .
• • •
The game was five-card stud, with six players. The stakes were not high, but Clint was making beer and food money since he sat down.
The other five players had varying degrees of skill.
Dan Brennan was a local store owner who seemed to spend an inordinate time away from his store. In his fifties, he played adequately, but with no great skill.
Hank Wilkins was a drifter in his thirties who had arrived just a couple of days ahead of Clint. He didn’t know the other players any better than Clint did.
Other than Clint, the only other player doing any winning was Carl Lanigan. He was a gambler who had drifted into town looking for a game. Finding this one, he had busted several regulars out of the game already, making room for both Wilkins and Clint. But when Clint sat down, the fortyish gambler started winning less.
The two big losers were Hugo Dargo, about fifty-five, who had been living in town for many years, though no one seemed to know where he had come from. He owned a hardware store and, like Brennan, seemed to spend more time at the poker table than in his store. He never lost his good humor even while he was losing his money.
The bad loser at the table was Johnny Creed. He was in his late twenties, arrogant without reason. He fancied himself good with cards, and good with a gun, but he was a bad loser, and a bad player. Clint had no idea how good he was with his handgun. He didn’t intend to find out.
Clint sat at the table on the fifth day and said, “Deal me in.”
“We almost gave away your seat,” Dargo said. “Thought you wasn’t comin’ back.”
“Just a little late getting started today,” Clint said. Jenny had kept him in bed longer than usual. Or rather, on the floor.
“Well, you’re just in time to deal,” Brennan said, passing the deck to him.
Clint shuffled, allowed Lanigan to cut, and said, “Comin’ out.”
• • •
About midday the sheriff walked in, went to the bar for his afternoon beer. His name was Matthews, he was in his fifties, and he didn’t seem at all concerned that the Gunsmith was in his town. He usually came in and had one beer, just one, without paying—but Clint wondered if he did the same thing in every saloon in town.
“Afternoon, Sheriff,” Brennan called.
“Dan,” the lawman said, raising his beer. “How you doin’ today?”
“Still losing to Mr. Adams here,” Brennan said.
“So am I,” Dargo said.
“We all are,” Lanigan, the gambler, said.
“Well, I ain’t,” Creed said, “not with this hand. I bet five dollars.”
“That’s a big bet for this game,” Brennan pointed out.
“Then fold,” Creed said. “I’m tryin’ to get my money back.”
“I don’t object,” Lanigan said. “I call the five.”
Clint looked down at his cards, one down and two up, two to come. Creed was showing two eights. He either had a third one in the hole, or he wanted them to think so.
“Call,” Clint said.
Brennan did, indeed, fold, as did Dargo and Wilkins.
Brennan, who was dealing, said, “Pot’s right. Cards comin’ out.”
He dealt a fourth card to Lanigan, Clint, and Creed. The sheriff watched from the bar with interest, nursing his beer.
Lanigan received a nine to go along with a five and a six of different suits.
Clint had a ten, a jack, and now a king in front of him, all mismatched suits.
Creed watched a jack fall on his two eights. Absolutely no help, unless his hole card was actually a jack.
“Ha!” he said.
“Your bet, Johnny,” Brennan said, setting the deck down on the table.
“Yeah, yeah,” the youngest man at the table said. “How about ten dollars?”
“Like I said when you bet five—” Brennan started, but Lanigan stopped him.
“It’s okay, Brennan,” Lanigan said. “I’ll call his bet, and raise his ten.”
“What?” Creed asked.
“I’ll call the bet and the raise,” Clint said.
Creed looked unnerved, but then firmed his chin and said, “I raise twenty.”
A couple of the players raised their eyebrows. The play went to Lanigan.
“Well, well,” he said, “you must have a pretty good hand, young man.”
“It’s okay,” Creed said. “Worth another twenty anyway.”
“Yeah, well,” Lanigan said, “I’ll just call the twenty, since we all have another card coming.”
“Adams?” Brennan asked. “In or out?”
“Oh, I’m in,” Clint said, tossing the twenty into the pot.
“Okay,” Brennan said, picking up the deck, “pot’s right.”
He dealt each man his fifth and last card.
Lanigan got an eight to go with his five, six, and nine.
Clint received a nine to go with his ten, jack, and king.
“Possible straight, possible straight,” Brennan said, then dealt Creed a second jack. “And two pair. Possible full house.”
He placed the deck down on the table.
“Your bet, son,” he said to Creed.
“Don’t call me son,” the younger man said.
“Sorry,” Brennan said. “Your bet, Mr. Creed.”
Creed looked at the money in front of him. They were playing with chips, and he had a small stack left.
“Fifty dollars,” he said. “That’s all I got left.”
“I could raise,” Lanigan said.
“I told you,” Creed said, “I have no more money.”
“If he raises,” Brennan pointed out, “and you can’t call, he takes the pot.”
“Or I do,” Clint reminded him.
“That’s right,” Lanigan said.
“You goddamn—” Creed started, but Lanigan cut him off.
“But I won’t,” he said. “I’ll just call you, boy.”
“Don’t call me—”
“I’ll call the bet, too,” Clint said, “much as I’d like to raise.”
Lanigan looked at him.
“You’d like to raise?”
“Well,” Lanigan said, “would you be interested in, say, a side pot?”
“A side pot?”
“Yeah,” Lanigan said, “one just between you and me.”
“You can’t do that!” Creed said.
“It’s up to them, son,” Brennan said. “You’re out of it.”
“Don’t call me son.”
“Just keep quiet,” Brennan said. “We all want to see how this plays out.”
“Whataya say?” Lanigan asked.
“Whose bet is it?”
“Yours,” the gambler said. “You said you wanted to raise. So raise.”
“Fifty,” Clint said.
“Dollars?” Creed blurted out.
“Shhh,” Brennan said.
“Nice bet,” Lanigan said.
“It’s your play, Mr. Lanigan,” Brennan said. As the dealer, even though he was out of the hand, he was still the general at the table.
“Your fifty,” Lanigan said, “and a hundred more.”
“Your play, Mr. Adams,” Brennan said.
Creed looked at the pot in the center of the table—the one he was still part of. Then he looked at the side pot, which dwarfed his.
“I’ll call your hundred,” Clint said.
“That’s all?” Lanigan asked.
“Why not?” Clint said. “There are other hands to be played. Right?”
“You’re right,” Lanigan said.
“And you’re called,” Clint said.
“Pot’s right,” Brennan said. “Whataya got, kid?”
Creed, as if he already knew he was beat, turned up his hole card.
The gambler turned up his card.
“Straight to the nine.”
“You’re beat, kid,” Brennan said. “Mr. Adams?”
Clint turned his card over.
“Straight to the ace,” he said.
“Mr. Adams wins both pots.”
“Well played,” Lanigan said to Clint.
Clint raked his pots in.
“The deal’s yours,” Brennan said to Lanigan.
The gambler gathered the cards and shuffled them.
“You still in, kid?” he asked.
“Naw,” Creed said, “I’m busted.”
“Too bad,” Lanigan said. He tossed a chip across the table. “Have a drink on me.”
“Sure,” Creed said. He picked up the chip and left the table. Another body filled it.
“Table stakes,” Lanigan said to him.
“Sounds good,” the man said.
“Comin’ out,” Lanigan said, and dealt.
• • •
Johnny Creed went to the bar for his drink, gave the bartender the chip.
“Whataya have?” the barman asked.
“Tough beat,” the bartender said, pouring the kid his drink.
Creed downed his drink and said, “They cheated me.”
“You think so?”
“I know so,” Creed said, “and I’m gonna get even.”
“How you gonna do that?”
“I don’t know yet,” Creed said. “But I’ll figure it out.”
The sheriff, who had finished up his beer, leaned over and said, “Don’t go lookin’ for trouble, son.”
As the lawman laughed, Creed seethed, “Don’t call me son!”
• • •
“That boy’s a real bad loser,” Brennan said, back at the poker table.
“Is that supposed to be a warning?” Clint asked while Lanigan shuffled.
“I’m just sayin’, is all,” Brennan said with a shrug. “He don’t like to lose.”
“Then he shouldn’t play,” Lanigan said, “because he’s always going to lose.”
“He’s pretty slick with that gun, too,” Wilkins said, adding his two cents.
“Are you telling me, or him?” Lanigan said, jerking his head toward Clint.
“It don’t matter,” Wilkins said. “Like Brennan, I’m just sayin’.”
“Well, then, deal the cards, Mr. Lanigan,” Clint said. “I can’t start worrying about bad losers who may or may not be good with a gun.”
“Comin’ out,” Lanigan said, dealing the first card. “Ah, big ace for the Gunsmith. It’s your bet, my friend . . .”
Clint reined Eclipse in and stroked the big gelding’s neck. There was no sign of anyone in front of him, or behind him, and it was starting to get dark. It seemed safe to camp now.
He found a likely clearing, unsaddled Eclipse, rubbed him down, and allowed him to graze. After that he built a fire. He had no coffee, but he did have some beef jerky in his saddlebag. He sat in front of the fire, munched on the dried meat, sipped his water while hoping to find a waterhole the next morning. Or a town—a small town, without a telegraph office, where they would not have yet heard about what had happened in El Legado.
If he was going to keep hunting—and running—he was going to need some supplies.
He stared out into the darkness, thought back to his time in the New Mexican town . . .
• • •
After Clint took the big pot from Lanigan, the game settled back to normal, with five- and ten-dollar bets. Clint and the gambler continued to win, and before long the newcomer who had taken Johnny Creed’s seat busted out. From that point on, they played five-handed, until the bartender came over and said, “Gotta close up, gents.”
“Back here tomorrow?” Brennan asked.
“Suits me,” Lanigan said.
“Buy you a beer?” Lanigan asked Clint.
“If the bartender will sell it.”
“He will,” Lanigan said with a smile. “I got pull.”
While the others left, they walked to the bar and Lanigan called out, “Jasper, one more beer for me and my friend.”
“Comin’ up,” Jasper said, “but then you fellas gotta go.”
The barman, who, at fifty, was the owner of his first saloon after tending bar for twenty-five years in other people’s, served them a beer each.
This was actually Clint’s first ever since early in the evening. He never drank when he was playing.
As for Henry Lanigan, he’d been drinking beer all night, but seemed no worse for the wear.
“You play poker very well,” Lanigan said. “Learned from good players?”
“The best,” Clint said. “I’ve sat at a lot of tables with Bat Masterson and Luke Short.”
Lanigan’s eyebrows went up.
“That is the best. Wish I had some time against players like that myself.”
“There’s still plenty of time,” Clint said. “How often have you played in Denver, or San Francisco?”
“I haven’t played there yet,” Lanigan said. “But I intend to. Soon.”
“I’m sure you’ll fit in just fine.”
“You play well enough.”
“How long do you plan to stay in town?” Clint asked.
“Just a few more days,” Lanigan said. “I’ve almost won enough of a stash, although it’s hard to put it together with such low stakes. Oh, and you did take a chunk of it away from me with that side pot.”
“Sorry about that.”
“Oh, that’s okay,” Lanigan said. “After all, it was my idea. I tried to take advantage of the situation and gouge you.”
“That poor kid got caught in the middle,” Clint said.
“Yes, he did,” Lanigan said, “and he didn’t like it. He’s liable to come after one, or both of us.”
“That would be his problem.”
“Well,” Lanigan said, “we better just watch our backs.” He put his empty mug down.
“Thanks for the beer, Lanigan,” Clint said, setting his mug down as well. “Where are you staying?”
“A rooming house in town,” Lanigan said as they walked to the door. “I didn’t have much money when I got here. I’ve actually been having a streak of bad luck.”
“Seems to have improved.”
“A bit,” Lanigan said. “I was doing better before you came along.”
“Again,” Clint said, “sorry.”
“No need to apologize,” Lanigan said. “I like a spirited game.” They stepped outside and Jasper locked the door behind them.
“What about you?” Lanigan asked. “How much longer do you intend to hang around?”
“Only a day or two,” Clint said. “I could stay out of the game, if you like.”
“But I was just passing the time,” Clint said. “You need the stake.”
“I’ll get my stake.” Lanigan pointed. “My rooming house is this way.”
Clint pointed the other way.
“My hotel’s that way.”
“Then I’ll see you tomorrow,” Lanigan said. “Remember. Watch your back.”
They separated and went their own ways.
• • •
When Clint entered his room, he found Jenny on the bed.
“I didn’t see you at work tonight,” he said.
“How could you?” she asked from the bed. “You were concentrating so hard.”
“That’s how you win.”
She tossed the sheet back to reveal herself to be completely naked beneath it.
“Why don’t you try concentrating that hard on me?” she asked.
He smiled and said, “That’s just what I was thinking.”