A Day in the LifeChapter 1 – Six A.M.
It's a God-awful time of the morning, isn't it? It doesn't matter whether I'm still up from a night of poker or just riding into town from somewhere else, no one in their right mind should be up at this time of day. Yes, that implies that I'm not in my right mind, because I usually am awake at this time of day. Or night, if you prefer.
Today was no exception. I'd just laid down three tens after some drunk cowboy that wouldn't know the difference between a spade and a shovel called. Oh, I forgot. You don't know me yet, do you? My name is Bart Maverick, Bartley Jamison Maverick if you want to be precise, and I'm what's known as a professional gambler. I don't like that term – it implies that I actually gamble. I don't. I play poker for a living. Five Card Draw, mostly, although I have been known to indulge in Five Card Stud on occasion. Pappy and Uncle Ben call Stud 'practice' rather than poker. Sorry, you don't know them, either. Pappy is Beauregard Jefferson Maverick, Uncle Ben his younger brother Bentley Jonathan Maverick. I've got one of those myself, although I'm the younger of the two. Brother Bret is Breton Joseph Maverick, and if you call him anything other than Bret he'll get mighty disgruntled.
Brother Bret is slow to anger. Disgruntled is usually about as upset as he'll get; I wish I had a little more of his restraint. As Bret always says, "Easy, Brother Bart. You're too quick to temper." That's not his only attribute. Besides being a relatively placid person, he has a great sense of humor. I like to think I do, too. He's got killer dimples, which he got from Pappy. I missed that particular part of the Maverick anatomy. Although one young lady did refer to me as 'the man with the dancing eyes.' So there, Dimple-boy.
Anyway, the cowboy called when all he had was a pair of Kings. He'd been part of the poker game since about one a.m., and he was drinking long before that. I have to admit, he seemed to have an awfully big capacity for whiskey. I still don't understand how a man can sit and drink that stuff all night. It smells bad and tastes worse. And if you have more than one or two you can't see straight. Literally.
He was smug with his pair of Kings. Wrong attitude when you're playing poker. Somebody could always have a better hand, and in this case, I did. When I laid down the tens he seemed to take it as a personal affront and implied some sleight-of-hand manipulation. Which would have been extremely difficult under the circumstances, being that I wasn't dealing. Please take notice of the fact that I say 'difficult' and not 'impossible.' Pappy taught me and Bret all the tricks of cheating, it's just that we don't use 'em. I said don't, not can't. Cheat me and I'll cheat you back.
Now, under normal circumstances, if you accuse someone of cheating, you usually have a good reason for it. The cowboy's only reason was that little glass of bad-smelling liquor he'd been drinking all night. Bret and I have been playing poker the honest way so long that we have to cheat each other just to stay in practice. So the cowboy was WAY out of line. But I was tired, and just wanted the game over so I could go back to my hotel room and that lovely looking bed.
Two of the additional three men at the table pulled slowly away, waiting for one or the other of us to draw our guns. As Bret is fond of saying, he's the second slowest gun in the West, and he can outdraw me. So if somebody was going for their pistol it sure wasn't gonna be me. I put both of my hands, my empty hands, on the table. The cowboy had eased his Colt out of its holster and aimed, but not cocked, it. "You might wanna rethink that last accusation, mister before you go shootin' up the place. Particularly before you go shootin' up me since I'm not gonna draw on you. I happen to like breathin.' If you don't wanna keep doin' that, there's plenty a men out on the street who'd be happy to accommodate you. I don't happen to be one of 'em."
I just sat there. Risky, I know, but I had the feeling this whole scene could be diffused with a little common sense. Fortunately, I had some help in that regard. The one man still sitting at the table was the town sheriff, Milt Braithwaite. "Put the gun down, jackass. Maverick don't cheat. Him I know. You I don't. The only one I'm gonna run in at this table is you. Ya got five seconds to get reasonable, or ya can spend the next twenty-four hours sleepin' it off."
Fortunately for all involved, the cowboy decided to be reasonable. I let out a breath and looked at Milt. "Thanks, Sheriff. I appreciate the support."
He nodded, and then added, "Really don't wanna have'ta explain all that blood to Declan. He hasn't forgiven me for the last one I killed in his saloon." That would be Declan Savoy, a fairly reasonable man who happened to own the 'Bawdy Lady' saloon, the establishment we were sitting in the middle of.
Declan was a personable fellow who'd tried, on more than one occasion, to get me to go in partners with him on a bigger, grander 'Bawdy Lady'. Declan always retained his sense of humor, and no matter how many times I turned him down he'd just smile and say, "One of these days you're gonna say yes and I won't know what to do."
"One a these days I may surprise both of us," I always told him. Declan had become a friend over the years; not as good a friend as Doc Holliday, but one of the few men I trusted when push came to shove.
Back to the cowboy. After he put his gun away he looked at me like I was a crazy man, or worse, a stupid man. "Still think you was cheatin'," he muttered as he stood and picked up what was left of the money in front of him. "This ain't over. I'll see you sometimes when you ain't got a bodyguard." I'd say he walked out of the saloon, but that would be inaccurate. He staggered out of the saloon and headed downwind.
"You have trouble like that often?" Milt asked.
"Too often," I answered. "I took to carryin' this as a little insurance." I opened my coat just far enough for Milt to catch a glimpse of the Remington derringer and its shoulder holster.
Milt shook his head. "Well, I'd say somebody pushed a little too hard or a little too often, knowin' how you feel about those pea-shooters. Sit back down, gentleman, let's get this game finished."
The other two poker players had evidently had enough, because they picked up their money and declined to be seated. I'd had enough, too, and was more than happy to call it a night. I drank the rest of my coffee, my drink of choice, and was about to push back from the table when Declan himself walked in. I groaned, knowing full well there was another assault on my sense of business coming. A big grin split his face and he walked right over to my table and stuck out his hand.
"Bart, old friend, I thought you weren't due for another day," he said enthusiastically as he pumped my hand for all it was worth.
"Dec, I wasn't. I was cordially invited to leave town under my own power rather than some other way by a most disagreeable man with a badge. If you're ever in Goodson, Nevada, keep that in mind. The local law is very unfriendly."
"How much did you win from him?" Declan asked, knowing why I was usually escorted out of town.
"Not that much," I answered good-naturedly. "Less than three hundred dollars. Would you throw me outta town for less than three hundred dollars, Milt?"
Milt shook his head and laughed. "Nope. Not over that kinda money. Now if it was five hundred I might." Milt got up from the table and stretched. He'd been sitting there since about midnight and he was stiff. "Boys, I've got to go. Cora'll expect me home for breakfast. I know better than to disappoint her." Milt tipped his hat and left.
"Sit down, Declan," I told the saloon owner. "Have a cup a coffee with me."
He looked me in the eyes and the grin vanished. "Don't have time for coffee right now, Bart. I've got some business to take care of. How about we meet at 'Big City Diner' at eight o'clock? Will that work for you?"
I nodded. There went my dreams of bed, at least for the foreseeable future. "Sure, Declan. Anything I can help with?"
"Maybe. I'll know by eight o'clock. I'll see ya there, okay?"
And he was gone. Declan was a big man, about my height but forty or fifty pounds heavier, and I had no idea he could move that fast. Or look that grim. I pulled out my pocket watch and looked at it. A quarter of seven. Well, if I couldn't sleep in the bed I could at least go visit it. And get some of last night's trail dust off of me.
It might have been moving towards seven o'clock in the morning, but the city of Reno was still asleep. That was one of the nice things about this town. The term "sleepy" could still be applied to it. The farmers and sheep herders existed on the outskirts of Reno, but the town itself was more suited to nightlife than daytime. There were three or four good size saloons, in addition to 'Bawdy Lady,' and several excellent restaurants, besides the local diners. Even the shops and stores in town opened late and closed late. And the hotels were, for the most part, elegant and cheap.
That was one of the beauties of Reno. Lots of places to play, or eat, or sleep. I had to walk a whole twenty feet across the street to get to my hotel, a real classy place named the 'Reno Arms.' Jimmy Fillmore was still behind the desk, yawning as much as I was, and he signaled me over.
"Got a message for you, Mr. Maverick. Somebody left a note with your name on it while I was in the back. Sorry, didn't see who delivered it."
"That's okay, Jimmy. They probably didn't wanna be seen," I told him as I flipped him a quarter. I opened the note while I walked up the stairs to my room.
'Mr. Maverick – The man that accused you of cheating at cards is my brother Billy. He's threatening to kill you, and I believe he means it. Please meet me in the dining room at nine a.m. and I will explain everything. At the moment he is passed out on my couch, sleeping soundly, so I expect you to be safe at least until he wakes up. Thank you, Laura Sternhagen.'