A Grave Gamble|
A Grave Gambler
By: John Smarr
Duke Destry emerged from the saloon sweating in the blistering summer sun. He walked onto the dusty, dry streets of Los Desaparecidos, a grimy old mining town deep in south Texas. He spied his horse Digno tied out front near a trough, slopping up water, seemingly indifferent to the heat. Destry had spent the past week in Los Desaparecidos. He was an outlaw, due to unfortunate circumstance and more than a few notoriously frowned upon decisions. He was being pursued by a man called Arkansas Bob Allen.
Arkansas Bob Allen had made somewhat of a name for himself as a bounty hunter in the Arizona Territories and had been on Destry’ trail for the greater part of half a year. Destry knew Bob Allen was full of steam, but lacked the courage to start the engine. He had given the bounty hunter clear chance at McClellan city three months back, going so far as to make sure Bob Allen knew where to find him, to settle this once and for all.
Yet Allen never showed, Destry doubted he ever would. That’s part of the reason he’s been less than morally upright with this city and its citizens. Who’s to stop me? He often thought, but then he would remember his family lived just outside the city limits; this thought alone was enough for Destry to stop himself from committing any truly atrocious acts.
As Duke Destry stopped in the middle of the street he lit a cigarette he had rolled the night before and inhaled deeply. He closed his eyes and stretched as he exhaled with a smile. He was relaxed, and did not notice the street strangely empty at midday. He also failed to recognize the man peeking out holding a pistol at the side of the saloon. Nor did he notice the other man crouching on the on the roof of the bank, aiming a rifle at Destry.
Dude Destry strolled down the middle of the street lost in thought and smoking his cigarette. He was oblivious to the tick-tick-tick sound of the nervous boy at the window inside the tavern, who was no more than twenty but hold a gun in his trembling hand wearily pointed at Destry. Duke Destry was totally unaware that he was surrounded. Another man a few years older than the boy and calmer knelt behind a broken wagon and squinted as the wind blew dust relentlessly into his eyes.
“Destry! We’ve got you cornered on all sides. Throw down your guns and raise up your hands!” Yelled the man at the side of the saloon, he walked forward and wore a sheriffs badge on his vest.
Destry spun on his heels faster than a jack rabbit on a hot greasy grittle and fired two shots toward the sheriff, sending him diving to the left for hope of cover. But it was too late. Hot lead rained down from above and sprayed at him from all sides. He spun, his eyes darted from side to side, from window to door, towards the sounds of gunshot. Suddenly Destry stiffened and his eyes widened. He took a step, then another and dropped to his knees. He was gasping for breath now and closed his lips around the cigarette, inhaling deeply what he knew was his last breath. As he exhaled the cigarette dropped from his lips hitting the ground in a mini explosion of embers. He fell to his side, finally dropping his pistol.
The four men, the sheriff, the boy, the deputy and the saloon owner hurried from their hiding places to Destry, his hand still feebly reached in vain for his pistol.
“We got ‘em! I never thought we’d do it! Not to Duke Destry! Not that easy!” Shouted the boy, still shaking as much from excitement as fear.
“I can’t believe we got em’!”
“Only just,” replied the sheriff, fingering the brand new bullet holes in his brown overcoat.
“He’s still alive, let’s get him into the old jailhouse.”
They four carried Destry through the adobe door into the old jailhouse, all the cells empty with a long table in the center of the room. The placed him on the table.
“Kid, go fetch his ma and sister. He aint got much time left,” the saloon owner said. The kid rushed out of the room. The men crowded the table and examined the dying man, him stay alive long enough to say his goodbyes to his ma and sister. The saloon owner and the sheriff walked outside, they could stand the crying and stench of death no longer. Eventually the family carried the body out, reclaimed the horse Destry loved so much, and left to bury him at the top of the cemetery hill, just 15 feet from where his pa lay buried.
“Well I guess that’s the end of that,” the deputy said, utterly exhausted.
“I guess so,” replied the sheriff.
It was dark and just after ten o’clock at night when Arkansas Bob Allen rode into Los Desaparecidos. The squelching heat had been replaced by an ominous, out of season cold spell that kept most indoors. Arkansas Bob could see the light of the saloon up ahead, he wondered to himself if the rumors where true. That dog of man Destry shot down in the street a day before yesterday by a bunch of local dupes and a kid. He did not know how he felt about how things went down. After tying his horse to the post near the trough Bob Allen strolled into the saloon. Immediately a wave of smoke, liquor and perfume nearly overcame his senses. It was a nice change from the dirt and the sweat he was accustomed to.
The usual crowd lounged in their respective places. The saloon owner was in the back corner behind the poker table shuffling cards, looked up at Arkansas Bob once, nodding and leveling his gaze. He has eyes like a hawks, Arkansas Bob thought. The Kid sat beside him strumming a guitar and humming a sad little ballad. He abruptly stopped when he noticed Arkansas Bob staring him down. The sheriff at the bar drinking a stiff whiskey, the deputy by his side frantically talking about something. He seemed excited, worried even, but the sheriff did not appear to be concerned in the least. He looked to Arkansas Bob and a goofy kind of smile crawled upon his face.
“Well, well. If it aint Mr. Arkansas Bob Allen; notably gallant, but typically late,” the sheriff sneered.
Arkansas Bob gave the sheriff a cold look and leaned over the bar. The bar keeper was a heavy set man with a mustache and a good temper. He gave Bob a whiskey.
“Did you notice grave diggers house while you came in? Their eating well tonight, I hear tell them even throwing a party. Haven’t been paid this well in years,” The Kid yelped at Bob.
“I surely did kid, and I imagine I know the cause for celebration,” Bob replied.
“Duke Destry is dead, and I want to know which one of you shot him!”
“We did,” the sheriff replied.
“Who is we? Bob asked.
“I had no part of it,” the barkeeper spoke up, “I don’t condone guns, or violence of any kind.”
“That’s fine for you barkeep, now I want to know which one of you boys shot Duke Destry!”
“Thing is we don’t know, and that’s the way we like it,” the saloon owner said.
“See, out of four shots, fired repeatedly, only one hit him,” the Kid said, “We don’t know who killed him.”
“No one’s bragging neither, no sir no one’s taking credit for that little piece of metal,” the saloon owner said behind a cloud of cigar smoke.
“Damn shame, all these months hunting the man and I could have found him right here all along,” Arkansas Bob sighed.
“That aint the way Destry tells it Bob,” the Kid couldn’t keep his mouth shut, “he tells it you never even tried to catch up to him.”
Bob stared at the kid for a moment.
“You talk too much kid.”
“No offense intended Bob, put Destry did say it,” the deputy said.
“Destry talked before he died?”
“Yes, he lived for an hour before he passed on.”
“Who did he talk to?”
“He spoke to his ma and his sister mostly. He told them how much he loved them and how sorry he was for not always doing the right thing to make them proud. They told him he always did the right thing and he was loved.”
Arkansas Bob drank from his glass and silently wondered to himself how a man like that could be loved by anyone. His spite and hatred for the man was like fire. Finally he spoke.
“What did he say about me?”
The room became silent all of the sudden. No one spoke until the sheriff broke the silence.
“It wasn’t pleasant, but I reckon you better hear it all,” he said.
“We got a new judge in the city now Bob, a young fellow from New York and we went to him with our complaints about Duke Destry. How he’s wanted by the law in three states. How he gallops about and abuses this town like it’s his own private party just because he’s born and raised down here, it aint right.” The sheriff took a drink from his glass, preparing for the hard part.
“We then told him how we hired you, to track down and kill Destry…and how we aint really had much results for our efforts.” He finished his glass and asked for another.
“No wait here now sheriff”
“Let me finish Bob. Thank you barkeep,” he drank from his glass again and continued.
“This judge gets the dander up, and tells us to grow a pair and act like men or leave town to move someplace where real men can protect us. Well, he got us kind of riled up so we got together and all agreed to work as one so the next time Duke Destry exposes himself we would kill him,” the sheriff said.
“But that’s not all Bob,” the sheriff said nervously.
“Come now sheriff you don’t really believe,” the deputy began but was cut off.
“Quiet deputy, that’s not all, Bob there is more. He got real fired up when he talked about you. He said the slower he ran away, the slower you chased, and that you fear of him far outweighed your hatred to track him down. He said he waited for you, even sent word- but you never showed up. He said he’s easy to find now, but if you ever set foot within ten feet of his grave he will kill you.” The whole room felt an uneasy tension as the sheriff finished.
“I’m not scared of that man, he’s crazier than a run over coon,” Bob said brazenly.
The Kid laughed.
“Now we’ve got a regular Wyatt Earp, too bad your rough and tough gun-slinging ass wasn’t here two days ago!” The Kid said, laughing. The others followed and erupted into laughter.
Arkansas Bob rushed the Kid and slammed him into the wall of the saloon. He grabbed him by the throat and squeezed his hands hard, choking the air out of the Kid. The Kid squirmed in a vain attempt to break free, he gasped for air and made a gurgling sound.
“Well he lied! He lied on his deathbed, just like he’s lied since the day he was born,” Arkansas Bob yelled, finally loosening his grip. The Kid slumped to the floor coughing, his pride hurt more than his throat.
“I looked all over McClellan City, in every saloon, whore-house and cattle barn. Destry couldn’t have been there more than a few hours,” Arkansas Bob feigned sincerity and took another drink of whiskey. His eyes roamed the room, searching for any hint of doubt in the eyes of his beholders. They said nothing, and he relaxed; satisfied.
Suddenly the door to the saloon swung open and a dark figure wearing a black cloak wandered through the threshold. Arkansas Bob spun and had his pistol drawn in half a second; the saloon owner behind the poker table pulled out his pistol much slower, watching with great interest from the shadows. The dark figure removed the hood of the cloak, revealing a woman.
The men at the bar let out a collective gasp. To their surprise the women was none other than Shania Destry, the sister of the Duke. She glided up to the bar like a specter, her feet covered by the long over-cloak.
“Hello Shania,” the bar keeper said.
“Give me a bottle of whiskey,” Shania said without missing a beat.
“Your ma’s been hitting the bottle mighty hard as of late, she’s a fine woman even though her son was a devil. Might she should tone it down a little, no shame in coming into town now Duke is dead,” the barkeeper spoke up. Shania raised her head and stared into his eyes for an instant before handing him her dollar piece and taking the bottle.
“The bottles not for my ma barkeep, it’s for me,” she replied back. She pulled the plug from the bottles top, and drank a hearty gulp straight from the bottle. Like a woman gone mad she took another gulp and her eyes lit up like fire, and darted from man to man until settling on Arkansas Bob.
“Well I’ll be, if it isn’t Mr. Arkansas Bob Allen, come all the way down here to pay respect to my big brother. Too bad you weren’t here two days ago…right Bob?” She smirked, and cocked her head to the side, “Seems you always had a thing for him.”
“You know my brother and me were just talking about you day before yesterday, he’s real sorry you see…he’s been missing you,” she said.
“We already told him,” the sheriff said.
“Well did you tell him about the part were Dukes going to reach up and grab him from beyond the grave if Bob ever dare set foot near that cemetery!” The strong drink was taking affect. Shania could not control her tongue.
“We did,” the deputy replied.
“Then Bob you out to feel mighty lucky tonight, all these months spent searching for my brother and now you know right where he is. Just up that cemetery hill, at the top 15 feet from the tallest tree. All you got to do is walk up there,” she smiled, and strolled towards the door, just before walking out she eye Bob and said, “Isn’t that nice?” She left laughing, and drinking.
“The whole family is a bunch of crazies,” Bob remarked after she left.
The Kid, still riled up from being choked nearly to death stood up and looked to Arkansas Bob.
“Say Bob, you aren’t scared of old Dukes grave are you?” he asked softly, “The rest of us are. What about Bob, are you afraid?”
Arkansas Bob calmly took another drink from his glass.
“Let me tell you something Kid, I was never scared of Destry while he was alive. Now why would I be afraid of him when he’s dead?” Bob said.
“I don’t believe that for one minute-” the Kid began when Bob jumped up and put his face to the Kids and peered into his young, blue eyes. Bob started to choke him again when the barkeep stepped in.
“Come now Bob, we don’t mean any offense and we sure don’t need any more bloodshed,” said the barkeeper.
“You didn’t let me finish Bob,” the Kid took a few steps back and caught his breath.
“Like I was saying, I don’t think you’re a coward Bob…and I damn sure know you aint afraid of anybody in this room, especially not me. I doubt there’s anybody afraid of me!”
“Sure,” replied Bob.
“Anyway, I’m not even saying you were afraid of Destry while he was alive! But, I am willing to bet you won’t call on Destry tonight,” The Kid said, while picking up his guitar and strumming a soft, sad ballad; the Kid always felt more comfortable with a guitar in his hand than with a gun. Now the soft, slow strumming added an eerie presence to saloon felt by all in attendance.
“You best shut up before you really get hurt,” Arkansas Bob said looking the Kid dead in the eyes. The Kid wasn’t done talking, not by a long shot.
“As a matter of fact I’ll bet my last 30 dollar gold piece that you won’t walk out of here at midnight tonight and visit Destry’s grave.” He placed the 30 dollar gold piece on the bar.
“Where did you get 30 dollars?” Bob asked.
“It took me five months to save Bob, and I bet it against your 30 that you won’t do what I just said,” the Kid replied. He began to tap the gold piece on the bar, making a wooden echo sound of ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta.
The Kid briefly wondered if he had pushed the man too far, if he wouldn’t get a bullet in his chest rather than an extra 30 piece of gold for his troubles. He held his breathe, and tried to stop tapping the gold piece on the bar but he could not. It was as if his hand was being controlled by something else, he couldn’t stop tapping that gold piece on the hard wood, ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta. Arkansas Bob downed the last of his whiskey and looked up.
“I’m going to tell you something kid, I don’t like you. I never have liked you and I probably never will like you. You got a big mouth. A big mouth with a 30 dollar gold piece,” Bob continued.
“Well it so happens I have one too, and it covers yours,” Bob slammed his own gold piece down on the bar. The bet was on.
“Well I guess by the end of the night, one of us will be a richer man,” said the Kid.
“That’s right, and when I get back I don’t want to see you around this town ever again. You pay me what is due to me, and you get out of town before mid-day tomorrow; or I’ll kill you,” Bob spat on the Kids boots.
“I’ll second that bet. I’ll take that bet,” the saloon owner spoke up from behind his smoky poker table.
“You think I’m a coward too?” Arkansas Bob asked frowning.
“I’m a betting man, it’s what I do,” the saloon owner remarked as he shuffled a deck of cards.
“And I’ll put another thirty dollars in gold against you going up to that hill tonight.”
“You don’t think I have the nerve?” Bob asked the saloon owner.
“No I didn’t say that Bob, I just bet 30 dollars you don’t go up there tonight,” he replied.
Arkansas Bob pulled another 30 dollar gold piece from his satchel and placed in down on the bar next to the other two pieces.
“Fine; keep an eye on the money barkeep,” Bob said.
“Sure thing Bob,” he replied.
Arkansas Bob put on his long overcoat, so long the coat length stopped just shy of his ankles. Before leaving he turned to the room and glared at its occupants.
“Any other betting men, how about you sheriff?” he asked.
“No Bob, I lost my money earlier today.”
“But if you haven’t, what bet would you make?”
“I reckon I’d bet against you Bob.”
Arkansas Bob shook his head, “A bunch of yellow sissy’s, not a man among the lot of you. Why do you all think I’m afraid?”
The sheriff took his time, and thought about how to put what he was going to say.
“Well Bob, because we all would be afraid,” he finally said, “See Bob you can draw your gun real fast, fastest I’ve ever seen, except that gun won’t make a lick of a difference when up in that cemetery.”
“I don’t get my guts from my gun, I had nerve long before I could even carry one,” Bob said as he started to walk out the door.
“Hold on now Bob,” said the saloon owner, “Since you have to go up there by yourself and do this, how are we going to know if you done it?”
The room was silent again; aside from the faint, nervous ta-ta-ta sound the Kid couldn’t stop himself from making.
“How do you mean?”
“Well how will we know you just didn’t go to the edge of the cemetery, instead of going all the way?”
“This,” Bob pulled out a long bowie knife, “I will stick this in Destry’s grave, and come sun up you yellow boys can go up there and see for yourself how far I gone.”
“Seems fair,” the Kid piped in, “Why not fire a gunshot off from the hilltop while you’re at it?”
“I’ll fire two gunshots once I’m up that hill, one into the night sky to prove I’m there, and one into the gravestone of the dirty dog Duke Destry,” and with that Arkansas Bob turned and left the saloon; pistol in his holder and knife in hand.
Arkansas Bob stepped into howling wind blowing dust up and around from the dirty street. The wind had considerably picked up since Bob had arrived in town. He walked along the last white picket fence of the city limits and stared up at the cemetery hill, the lone tall tree at the top swayed back and forth in the heavy wind. All of a sudden he felt an unnerving presence; he knew the feeling well, he was being watched. He looked around, turning to all sides peering around the cemetery but there was no one in site and nowhere to hide, save for the lone tree on top of the hill.
Slowly he walked through the gate into the cemetery. The wind picked up and nearly blew away Bobs hat, but he caught it quickly. Gravestones surrounded him on all sides and despite the howling wind the place felt silent. He still couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched.
Out of the corner of the eye he saw it; a dark silhouette of a person, cloaked in black, walking down from the top of the cemetery hill. Bob put his trembling hand on his pistol and watched as the figure seemed to glide down the hill toward him. The night was cold and the wind was wild, yet Bob began to sweat with fear.
The figure was now less than ten feet away from him. Bob was just about to pull his pistol when the cloaked person lifted the veil. It was Shania Destry, Dukes sister; she had been up on the hill all night.
“Hello Bobby,” she wearily said, the empty whiskey bottle dangling from her left hand.
“Come to see Duke? You are braver than I thought,” Shania lifted up her empty bottle of whiskey.
“I wish I had a bit more of the juice left for you, it might make the trek up there a little more easier on you…” a crazy smile crept across her face, “but I reckon a man like yourself doesn’t need to get his nerve from the bottle.”
“I just came from up there, talking to my brother. You better hurry up, he’s waiting for you,” and with that she turned away and walked down the path, laughing like a mad woman all the way down.
Arkansas Bob rolled his eyes he continued to walk up the cemetery hill; he was nearly to the lone tall tree. Then he saw it, the sparkling new grave stone atop fresh dirt pile. It was Destry’s grave. The wind was relentless now blowing his overcoat every which way. He stared down into the freshly matted dirt with despise. Bob knelt down and slowly stuck the knife into the soft dirt of the grave, pulled it out once as the wind blew ravenously all around him and reached back and viciously stabbed down again into the dirt grave.
Bob tried to stand but something was holding him to the ground. Fear flowed through his body, the kind of fear Bob had never felt before. He struggled to get free. He cursed and pulled out his pistol. Two quick shots coming from the hilltop were heard in the saloon in town. The two betting men inside frowned; they were out 30 dollars.
It was morning in Los Desaparecidos and the Kid stood in the middle of the street. The wind had died down considerably from the night before, and he stared hard at the top of the cemetery hill. The sheriff and the saloon owner emerged from inside and joined him in the street.
“Still no sign of Bob?” asked the saloon owner.
“Maybe he didn’t have the guts to do it, and didn’t want to have to face us,” the Kid proposed.
“That’s not it,” replied the saloon owner, “Look, his horse and equipment are still tied up to the trough post.” He pointed to horse standing idle by the water trough.
“Hmm, you’re right,” said the deputy joining the group.
“I hope he aint dead,” said the Kid, “it’d be my fault, for goading him on like I did.”
“Now don’t you worry Kid, its daylight now and we are all clear headed. We all know that the dead can’t really hurt anybody. Let’s go up to that hill right now and see for ourselves what happened,” the sheriff said.
Just as the four men were starting to walk towards the cemetery hill they heard a whistle and a song being sung in a beautiful falsetto voice, the unmistakable voice of a woman. They all turned and were surprised to see Shania Destry skipping down the other side of the street. Unlike the night before, she seemed chipper and cheerful. She saw the four men and smiled.
“Well howdy!” She exclaimed, holding a china drinking glass.
“Howdy Ms. Destry, say what’s that glass your holding there?” asked the deputy.
“It’s his favorite glass; he used to drink out of it when he was just a boy. I’m going to go put it on his grave,” she answered.
“I’ll go with you,” said the deputy.
“We’ll all go, we need to know what happened out there,” said the sheriff.
The group trudged up the hill towards the lone tall tree and Destry’s grave just beyond it. As they rounded the tree all four men stopped dead in their tracks; shocked at what they saw. The Kids eyes widened in horror.
“I knew it! I knew it!” he sobbed, “I got a man killed!”
“Calm down Kid, there’s got to be an explanation,” the deputy reassured him.
“It’s not your fault Kid.”
“What do you mean?”
“The whole story is right there in front of you, just look at it.”
“He came up here; the man had more courage than I thought. Here is where he knelt by the grave,” the deputy pointed to the indention’s in the dirt.
“He pulled his knife from his belt and stabbed it into the grave, like he said he would. That’s when everything went wrong. The wind was blowing wildly and hard last night, and Bob’s long overcoat was blown over the grave. Unbeknownst to Bob, when he slammed the knife into the grave he stabbed through his own coat as well, essentially pinning himself to the grave. Here are signs of the struggle that came next,” the deputy said pointing to the body and rustled grass and matted dirty.
“He must have thought it was Destry himself come up from the grave to grab him. Frankly I’m surprised he didn’t die from fright alone. Confused and afraid, Bob fired a shot into the freshly dug grave, and when that didn’t free him from his bondage it seems in frantic rush he accidently shot himself in the gut,” the deputy said, and pointed to Bob’s body.
The body was face down. It was sprawled out next to Destry’s grave. Blood had seeped into the ground all around his stomach, staining the dirt. Shania Destry stood over the dead man’s body with her china glass cup. She smiled. Then she gently placed the china glass on her brother’s grave, in front of the sparkling new grave stone, so new it hadn’t a scratch on it. Nearby the saloon owner picked up Bobs pistol.
“Wait, this doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
“Bob’s pistol, it’s a six shooter. Now that holds six rounds and one in the chamber, but I knew Bob well and he never carried his gun with more than six rounds. He would never carry an extra round in the chamber, it was far too dangerous- I’ve seen more than a few men lose their man hood because they chose to carry an extra bullet in the chamber and it accidently discharged in their pants. Bob never carried more than six rounds in his revolver, and only one round has been spent,” the saloon owner remarked, confused.
“But we all heard two shots last night, and he obviously shot the grave,” said the Kid, pulling out Bobs bullet from the loose soil, it hadn’t penetrated the ground deep.
“If Bob only shot the grave…then who shot Bob?” the sheriff asked aloud.
The hilltop was silent, except for the sweet falsetto voice of Shania Destry singing her song as she skipped back down through the cemetery towards town. After a while, the saloon owner spoke up.
“What do we do with Bob’s body?”
“My ma and pa always told me it was best to let sleeping dogs lay,” the sheriff said, “I suppose that goes for dead dogs as well.” He started down the hill; he had work to do before noon day meal. The three others followed him down, not one daring to look back.
5/12/2012 10:42:15 PM
Comment on this fan fiction!