JUST ONE CARD
“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
"Feller, you’re a cheat!" He bellowed, raising the
"No, I wouldn't do that." Randall kept his seat.
"You were watching me; did you see me do anything
"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
"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
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
“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?
go get them fish,”