Word Count 1,392
Note to reader:
I took a bit of liberty with the characterizations in this story. The thoughts and actions of the characters may not quite fit with what you have seen in the Lancer episodes. My intention was to have fun rather than to stick strictly to the cannon of the series. Hope you enjoy the read.
Once again, he spread out the five cards cradled in his hands. Each card slid to the right of its neighbor as his thumb caressed the satiny smooth surface. His lips parted into a ghost of a smile. There it was–a tiny nick on the edge of the lower left corner of each card. The deck was marked.
Johnny Lancer slowly tracked the tip of his tongue along the edge of his upper lip. His gaze darted beyond his cards and back to his hands. Was this hand that would excite most men into dumping their whole wad in the pot setting him up to lose? Or was it meant to string him along, giving him another chance to win to keep him from suspecting he had been cheated when the time came for his luck to change.
A gentle voice spoke from across the table. “Your bet.”
“I know. I’m . . . thinkin’.” Johnny leaned back, his chair wobbling on two legs. He drummed his fingertips against the back of the cards–the light tapping clearly heard in the stillness of the room. Bet or fold? Which should it be . . . and if he bet, how much? Should he see the last bid, or did he dare raise the stakes?
Johnny looked into the eyes watching him. How much patience did the dealer have? How long would he string him along with winning hands before turning the table on him?
“So . . . what is it going to be, Boy? You betting or folding?” There wasn’t so much as a flicker of the man’s steel blue eyes.
He’s good, thought Johnny. Real good. Maybe I should cut my losses and get out while I still got the shirt on my back . . . but–.
Shifting his gaze to the chips near his elbow, Johnny rocked forward with a clump of his chair legs on the rough wooden floor and laid his cards face down in front of him. He dropped his hands to the table and starting pushing his entire stack of chips toward the pile in the center of the table. Then he saw it: the ever so slight twitch of anticipation at the corner of the other man’s lips and a brightening of his eyes.
Johnny dragged his chips back toward him. “I fold.” He scooted back his chair and started to rise.
“Nope. I just know when to quit.” Johnny flashed a broad grin and chuckled as he gathered up his chips. He dumped them into a can on his side of the table and turned away.
Another set of footsteps followed Johnny. At the door of the line shack, a hand came to rest on his shoulder. “So, tell me; why didn’t you call my hand? Your cards had to have been pretty impressive the way you bid the pot up at first.”
Johnny turned, looked up at his slightly taller brother, and smiled again. “Scott, you did a real fine job of markin’ them cards and stackin’ the deck. I watched real close when ya was dealin’, too. Ya couldn’t have done it any smoother. I never saw ya deal one second or slip one card off the bottom, and four aces was a mighty temping hand to play out.”
Scott Lancer scowled. “So how did I give myself away this time?”
“Ya just ain’t learned how to keep a poker face. How many times I gotta tell ya? Don’t move. Not even so much as a flicker of one eye.”
“I didn’t move my eyes. I didn’t even blink.”
“You don’t have to blink. All ya gotta do is open your eyes a little wider. Oh, and I caught the corner of your mouth move, too, when ya thought I was gunna add my whole pile to the pot.”
Scott shook his head and let out a noisy breath. “I can’t believe you saw that. I guess I just wasn’t cut out to be a crooked dealer.”
“Oh . . . I don’t know.” Johnny rolled his eyes and skewed his mouth. “Ain’t too many players would’ve caught on. ‘Course it only takes one . . . the right one . . . and you’d be takin’ up residence in boot hill.”
Scott chuckled. “I guess that means I’m not ready to hit the road as a professional gambler, yet.”
“No . . . but I do think you’re about ready to take on Jelly and Murdoch tomorrow night.”
“You really think so?”
“Yep.” Johnny waved one hand toward the bunks along the far wall. “We might wanna make sure they hang their guns over there on that peg, though . . . just to be safe.”
“I agree. I wouldn’t want either one of them having to explain my demise to Teresa.”
“Well, in that case, we’d best get back to work.” Johnny gave his brother a slap on the shoulder. “We’ve only got until daylight to finish fine tunin’ ya. If we don’t get that corral mended and the roof patched tomorrow, we’ll both be pushin’ up daisies. Murdoch’d have our hides for sure if he knew what we been doin’ the last couple days. Somehow I don’t think he’d think learnin’ to cheat at cards was more important than gettin’ this place shaped up before winter.”
Scott’s brows hitched upward and he let out a soft chuckle. “I’m sure you’re right,” he said and lead the way back to the table on the far side of the one room cabin. He took his seat once more opposite the door and gathered up the cards. “What shall it be this time?”
Johnny settled into the chair across from his brother. “Better go with five card draw. Deal me a possible flush and you three queens. Give Murdoch two aces and a pair of threes. Jelly gets four spades. On the bottom of the deck you need to put the card I’ll need to finish out my flush, the other queen for you, another ace for Murdoch, and a spade for Jelly. Make sure they’re in the order you’ll need ’em.”
For the next four hours, the brothers played every game of poker they knew, and by the time they quit, Scott was proclaimed the best, crooked dealer Johnny had ever had the pleasure of meeting. Neither one felt much like getting up the next morning, but somehow they managed to drag themselves out of bed. They even had the broken poles in the corral fence replaced and the new shingles neatly nailed to the roof in time to be relaxing at the table when Murdoch and Jelly arrived for the scheduled poker game that evening.
As the other two men settled into their seats, Scott picked up the deck of cards that was on the table and began to shuffle them.
Murdoch laid a small box in front of his son. “Those cards look a little worn. Why don’t you use these? I brought along this new deck just for the occasion.”
When Scott’s imploring eyes met his, Johnny shrugged, leaned back in his chair, and let out a long sigh. The one thing he hadn’t counted on was their old man being smart enough to supply the cards.
Johnny yawned. What a waste of time turning Scott into a first-rate card shark. It didn’t look like he was meant to make his debut as a crooked gambler tonight, after all.
As his brother riffled the new deck, Johnny noticed a glance pass between Jelly and Murdoch. Something in the gleam of their eyes, or perhaps the anticipation he sensed in them, made him wonder if he hadn’t better pay close attention when the deal passed to either one of them. The game just might be less than honest after all.
Originally posted to Lancer Yahoo groups October 15, 2003
Minor revisions made February 2014
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