By Norris Chambers

                 Clifton and I and three of his younger brothers were sitting around the fire waiting to check the trot lines. We had already brought in a nice string of fish and were anxious to add to our catch. While we waited we passed the time by telling tall tales.

            “Let me tell you about a little episode I got familiar with when I was out west last fall.”  Their ears perked up and I began telling this tale.

            It started as a friendly game, but the stakes were a little higher than match sticks. Old Bruce and Gus had been holed up in the mountain cabin all winter, and had just about worn out a deck of cards. But the spring thaw had brought a visitor, Randall Giles, a stranger who had dropped in for a little companionship and perhaps a flapjack meal or two. Bruce excused himself and went out to attend to some of the few chores they had.  Gus asked the newcomer if he would like to play a friendly game of poker and received a quick affirmative answer.

            Old Gus didn't have folding money or hard cash, and was putting out about what he thought was a dollar's worth of gold dust for each chip. The friendly stranger had silver dollars and folding bills. The stranger handled the cards well, and since he was winning rather consistently, Gus began to wonder if he were playing fair and square. But his careful scrutiny failed to uncover any dirty work. Randall had shed his coat, and was playing in his shirt sleeves. The sleeves were rolled back almost to the elbows. He certainly didn't look like a professional gambler, and his attire left it a little hard to imagine how he could cheat. But still, Gus, being of a suspicious nature, was watching rather closely.

            Gus, holding three tens, felt like he had a pretty good hand, and had bet rather heavily on it. But when the showdown came, Randall produced a full spread of jacks. Four alike! Gus jumped up from the table and grabbed the heavy iron poker leaning on the hearth of the heater.

            "Feller, you’re a cheat!" He bellowed, raising the poker threateningly.

            "No, I wouldn't do that." Randall kept his seat. "You were watching me; did you see me do anything underhanded?"

            "No, I didn't see anything - but there were only 3 jacks in that deck. We've been playing a card short all winter! You had to cheat."

             "Look," began Randall, “I swear -”

            He didn't finish the plea, for Gus brought the poker down across his head with a powerful swing, and he tumbled heavily out of the chair and onto the packed dirt floor. "Dirty cheat!" muttered Gus, carefully placing the poker back on the hearth.

            The door swung open and Bruce entered. Seeing Randall on the floor, he exclaimed, "My gosh, what happened?"

            "Nothing much," explained Gus. "This stranger was cheating at cards, and I tapped him over the head with the poker."

            Bruce had knelt and was examining the body, feeling for a pulse. He turned to Gus anxiously, "Gus, you've killed him. He's dead!"

            Gus was defensive. "He was cheating. He pulled out four jacks - and you know we only have three. That's all we had all winter. He had to be cheating."

            "Gus, I have to tell you something. I found that other jack yesterday under the wood box. There were four jacks in the deck."

            “What can we do?” Gus exclaimed. “Do we bury the body or take it to town to the sheriff? I didn’t know you found the missing card. I thought he was cheating. I didn’t mean to kill him.”

            Before Bruce could answer three men rushed into the room. One of them wore a lawman’s badge.

            “That’s him.” The officer said, pointing to the man on the floor. “That’s Giles. What happened to him?”

            “He tried to rob us,” Gus lied. “I hit him with the poker.”

            “Good thing!” The officer commented as he bent over the dead man. “He was wanted for robbery and murder. We’ve been hot on his trail all day. There is a $2,000.00 reward, dead or alive. Looks like you made a lucky strike!”

            Neither Gus nor Bruce had anything to say. What was there to say?

            Let’s go get them fish,” Clifton suggested. The group agreed and the story telling session ended. But telling tales is always fun!