Dead Man's Hand
“One of the unfortunate aspects of Western history is that too many people who have not taken the trouble to ascertain the facts are continually expressing themselves with assumed authority on what did or did not happen.” -- Louis L’Amour, “Man from Battle Flat”
We know that James Butler Hickok died on August 2, 1876, in Nattal & Mann’s Saloon at Deadwood, Dakota Territory. He was shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall at a poker table. What we don’t know, for sure, is what was the poker hand that Wild Bill held at the time of his passing. Accounts vary. Quite likely, the dead man’s hand was red, very red, not black. Red with blood. Two bloody Marys and two red dimes. There are no credible sources claiming that Wild Bill’s last hand was black aces and black eights until the 1926 book Wild Bill Hickock: The Prince of Pistoleers by Frank Wilstach. This book was published 50 years after the murder of Hickock at Nuttal’s. Also, the earliest form of poker in the Old West was played with a 20-card deck, 10-J-Q-K-A, rather than the 52-card deck that became popular later.
I am planning on using this shorty story as the opening chapter of my next novel. I will likely be posting additional chapters as I complete them.
two bloody Marys, two red dimes
Dead Man’s Hand
Genoa, Nevada, 1867
The man dressed in snakeskin pulled the ornate dagger from his belt and slammed it down viciously on the Comanche Kid’s hand, the hand that had reached out to collect the poker pot. Reuben Taz had told the Kid to stop cheating. Taz had even whispered the warning so only the Kid would hear, sparing him possible embarrassment. The Comanche Kid was rumored to be the fastest gun in Nevada and vicinity. He had nine notches in his .36 caliber Texas Patterson. Taz was not afraid of the Kid, although others sitting at the poker table in the Genoa Saloon were afraid, very afraid.
Reuben Taz pulled the dagger from the screaming and swearing Kid’s hand and with a blur of motion stuck it in the Kid’s throat, unleashing a gusher of spurting blood. The Kid rose from the table and clutched his neck as he collapsed in the floor in a fetal position. Soon a huge puddle of blood appeared under and his around his body.
“Get the doc!” the bartender Wooly Olsen, who also happened to be the owner of the Genoa, ordered.
“Too late for that,” one of the patrons nicknamed Slim said after he checked the body. “I’ll go get the undertaker.”
“I guess this is mine,” Reuben Taz said as he raked in the pot.
Taz winning hand was a pair of black aces and a pair of one-eyed jacks. The Comanche Kid’s hand had been a pair of red queens and a pair of red tens, although a third queen had fallen from the Kid’s sleeve as he fell to the floor. The pot included a dime novel entitled Hornswoggled at Hell Creek. The Kid had put up the book when he ran out of double eagles. Taz had been looking for a copy of that particular dime novel. He had been informed that it contained information pertaining to the death of his late father.
“You better stick around,” Wooly Olsen said to Reuben Taz. “The sheriff will want to talk to you.” Wooly offered Taz a bottle. “On the house. I didn’t like the Kid much.” He nodded toward the redheaded dance hall girl name Rhonda. “She’s on the house too. A real wildcat, so watch out.”
Reuben retreated to a table at the back of the bar with the bottle, two glasses, and Rhonda in tow. They sat and he filled their glasses and he began to skim through Hornswoggled at Hell Creek. Soon he said to Rhonda, “I’m heading way up north, to where my father died.”
Rhonda whispered back, “Best to leave this place. The Kid has a partner who rides with him. A very bad man. He raped and beat me.” She ran her hand up and down his leg. “Take me with you! I’m tired of giving cheap dances with happy endings.”
“Why did they call him the Comanche Kid?” Reuben asked.
Rhonda answered, “You will notice a string of scalps hanging from his horse outside. The hair belongs to Comanche, mostly women.”
“He scalped women?” Reuben muttered. “That reminds me . . .” He jumped from his chair to the floor and landed on the Kid’s body. Taz took the Kid’s scalp carefully. He made a careful circular cut around the hairline, braced his foot on the dead man’s shoulder, and gave the hair a quick jerk. The hair came off in one neat piece with a loud pop. It couldn’t have been neater if the victim had been alive.
“Now that will piss off the Comanche Kid’s partner for sure,” Rhonda concluded grimly.
“So tell me about the Kid’s partner, honey,” Taz demanded.
“His name is Goliath,” Rhonda replied. “I doubt that’s the name his mama gave him. More like a nickname he got after he grew up. Really grew up. The guy is huge.”
Taz said, “Goliath was my father’s dog’s name. I was just reading about him in this book.” He held up the dime novel.
“Please read some of that book to me,” Rhonda asked sweetly, so he did:
“The paleontologist, Lady Hannah Monroe, at breakfast at the Red Horse restaurant in Helena, received a telegram from newspaper editor Robert Barnes in Virginia City. The telegram indicated that sources reported the outlaw Captain Taz could likely be found at a dogfighting event at Cripple Creek on the Musselshell River. Hannah tossed Shag a piece of breakfast ham and asked, “Shag, you ready to kick some mangy dog butt, girl?” She read the telegram aloud to those who had joined her for breakfast.
Shag barked twice, becoming quite excited.
“I’m betting on Shag,” Sheriff of Helena Leslie Baxter, also known as Shorty the circus clown, proclaimed. “I’m likely to win a pot of money placing bets I kin then spend on entertainment. Cripple Creek will be swarmin’ with painted ladies.”’
Taz said, “It was this bitch Shag that killed my father’s dog. He paged ahead in the dime novel and read another excerpt:
‘“Release your dogs!” the referee called out once more. The two gladiators locked in combat again. Shag had worked herself into a higher level of frenzied fury, and she began to dominate her much larger opponent. Goliath spent most of the rest of the fight on his back. Shag broke Goliath’s front leg high up in the shoulder, as well as one of his back legs in the knee joint. She had practically scalped Goliath, tearing a big chunk of skin off the top of his head alongside one ear. Goliath began to throw up an incredible amount of blood, and then he got quite still as Shag paused her relentless attack to survey the damage. Kid Sock and Sweet Sean sat there helplessly, watching their pride and joy take one last faltering breath, and then Goliath died. One of the spectators, dressed in a snakeskin hat, vest, and boots, stormed out in a rage.’
A hand for the whore
“Is that all you are going to take?” Rhonda asked. “The Kid’s hair? What about the ring on his finger? It looks valuable.”
Taz pulled out his other knife, a Bowie knife, and said to Rhonda. “You want the ring, you can have the ring.” He quickly chopped off the Kid’s hand at the wrist and put it in his bag. “So tell me more about this Goliath fella.”
Rhonda replied, “He’s a back shooter. They say he shot a deputy sheriff while he was taking a leak. We better get out of here before he shows up. Where way up north are you heading, Reuben?”
“Hell Creek,” Taz answered.
“Where’s that and what’s there?”
“Where’s that is the Montana Territory and what’s there is dinosaur bones, gold, my father’s bones, his killer,” Taz snapped.
“The gold interests me but not the other, much,” Rhonda said. “Can I go with you?”
Taz pulled out the dagger again along with the Kid’s hand. He removed the ring from the Kid’s finger and tossed it at Rhonda. He pointed the dagger at her and snarled, “You can go with me, but if you piss me off I’ll cut off your tits and leave you for the buzzards. They got to eat too. Let’s go!” Taz said as he rose from the table.
On the way out the door he tossed the dead man’s hand on the bar and said to Wooly, “That’s for the free bottle. You should pay me for taking the whore.”
Wooly said, “I’ll give you the Kid’s horse for taking the whore. My wife wants the whore gone.”
“I don’t want that mangy horse,” Taz snapped, “but I’ll take the string of scalps hanging from it. I have a mule the whore can ride. Or she can walk.”
Rhonda looked like she might now be regretting her decision to leave Genoa.