Table of Contents
Killer in the Window
The modified Colt bucked against Clint's palm, sending two quick shots up to the window across the street. He wasn't sure who else was in that second-floor room, so he did his best to be as accurate as possible. Both bullets found their mark without shattering any glass or even nicking a window frame.
The rifleman jerked up and back as hot lead ripped through him. His finger clenched around the trigger to send a wild shot into the large wood sign directly over Pace's main entrance. . .
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CROSSING THE LINE
A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author
Jove edition / November 2009
Copyright Â© 2009 by Robert J. Randisi.
eISBN : 978-1-101-14900-3
Pace's Emporium wasn't the best place Clint had ever played cards, but it was the finest establishment of its kind in town. Considering that the town in question was Trickle Creek, Kansas, that wasn't saying much. Built around a pair of mills that had been shut down after a rockslide choked off the town's main water supply, Trickle Creek had carried on well enough. There were railroad tracks not too far away, a well-used trail bringing travelers straight down Main Street, and enough drinking going on to keep most of the local saloons flush for a long time.
Clint had intended on riding through Trickle Creek without much thought, but Eclipse had other ideas. The Darley Arabian stallion began fretting as soon as he caught sight of civilization. At first, Clint figured the big fella was thirsty. After stopping in front of a trough, Clint had climbed down from the saddle to let him drink. When Eclipse didn't so much as flick his tongue into the water, Clint guessed he was hungry for something other than what he could get from grazing. Leading the stallion to a stable forced Clint to venture a bit further away from Main Street.
If Eclipse had wanted to trick Clint into staying in town, the plan had worked perfectly. The smell of a hot meal perked Clint's interest, and a sign advertising a local poker tournament held that interest even longer. Clint put the Darley Arabian up for the night at the livery and even paid extra for some good greens. Eclipse pulled his weight more than enough, so Clint figured he owed it to the stallion to indulge him every now and then. Besides, there was plenty in Trickle Creek to keep Clint busy for a day or two.
Before sundown that first day, Clint had found Pace's Emporium. By that same evening, he'd made it to a lucrative little game being played there. A little ways past midnight, he'd caught the eye of a tall brunette dealing Faro at one of the tables lining the perimeter of Pace's main room.
Judging by the crowd around her table, Clint realized he wasn't the first one to spot the pretty dealer. When she stood up to shake winners' hands or wave to someone else in the place, she proved to be taller than a good portion of the men surrounding her table. Her dark red dress clung to a trim yet shapely body, which she displayed proudly. Clint caught her sweeping her long hair over her shoulder just to make sure the players got a look at the ample cleavage shown by her dress's low-cut neckline. More than once, she'd snapped her eyes up to catch Clint watching her from across the room. When that happened, she flashed him a warm smile followed by a playful wag of her finger.
“You watching this game or the one over there?” one of the men at Clint's table asked.
The man to Clint's left turned to look toward the faro tables and then chuckled. “He's just watching Delilah work her magic, is all.”
The first one to cut into Clint's line of sight sat directly across from him. He didn't need to twist around to get a look at the pretty dealer. “Him and every other man in this place. Ain't none of you ever seen a woman before?”
“What's the matter, George?” the man to Clint's left grunted. “Has it been a while since you seen one?”
While everyone else at the table found that amusing, George obviously didn't. “You wanna dip your wick into some whore? Go do it. You wanna play cards? Stop gawking and do it!”
While he may have cracked the first joke, the man to Clint's left was the first to stop laughing. “Delilah ain't a whore,” he snarled as he began getting to his feet.
Reaching out to nudge the other man back into his chair, Clint said, “Forget about it, Jack. He's right. We're here to play poker, and it's my turn to bet.”
Jack looked to be about twenty years Clint's senior, but he wasn't some frail codger. The wrinkles under his eyes were more like cracks etched into stone and the gray dusted throughout his bushy hair made him look weathered instead of just plain old. Although he could have easily pushed himself all the way up, Jack allowed himself to drop back onto his chair. “Guess I'll let it slide,” he grumbled.
The man directly across from Clint smirked as if he'd won a major battle. Unable to let a sleeping dog lie, he mumbled, “Damn right, you will.”
There were two others sitting at the table that hadn't spoken up yet. One was a skinny banker named Wendell, and the other was big enough to make the chair beneath him look like a poorly constructed toy. The other men called him Bull. It wasn't the most original nickname, but it was appropriate.
“That's enough of that,” Bull said. “We ain't here to gawk at women, and we ain't here to kick up trouble.”
“Fine by me,” Clint said.
“What about you, George?”
Grudgingly, the man across from Clint nodded. “I guess.”
Since that was the best truce he could expect, Clint looked down at the two pair he was holding and shoved in a five-dollar bet.
Without taking his eyes off of George, Jack said, “Call.”
“Five to me, huh?” George asked. “That's the best you could do? Make it ten.”
Bull sighed, glanced at his cards, and promptly folded them.
Just then, Clint noticed the pretty faro dealer again. Unlike the last few times, he hadn't watched her just because she was a fine-looking woman in a formfitting dress. Instead, she'd caught his attention because she'd been staring at him with enough intensity for Clint to feel it from all the way across the room. When he met her gaze, he saw her shake her head.
“Ten?” Wendell groused. “Did you make a hand for yourself after all?”
“One way to find out,” George told the banker. “Call or fold.”
Letting out a pained groan, Wendell plainly wanted to fold. However, since he'd been the one to make the initial bet, he found it difficult to abandon his investment so easily. When he placed the correct number of chips in the pot, he might as well have been handing over one of his own children.
Clint had played plenty of poker in his years. He knew when another man was posturing because he had a real hand and when he was just trying to look strong. At the moment, George struck him as a man who was impatient and making a bet just to save face after being scolded by Bull. His intention had been to raise, just to push George out or soak him for a few extra dollars. When he touched his chips, Clint got another searing gaze from the faro dealer.
George sat as he always did, leaning one elbow against the table and holding his cards in a wide fan. “What's the matter, Adams? Too rich for ya? Maybe you'd like to ask that whore you fancy so much?”
“She ain't a whore!” Jack roared.
Clint couldn't figure out what was bothering the dealer, but she shook her head fiercely. He must have been staring a bit too hard at her, because George realized where Clint was looking and twisted around to see for himself. A split second before George was facing her, the dealer shifted her attention to one of the players at her own table.