Supernatural: so not mine.

All right, so, day four of the crazy self-imposed ficathon challenge, and I'm still on schedule! Over half way through, it's looking good :D. Today's prompt is from ladyjanelly. No spoilers, preseries, outside POV. Hope you enjoy, and thanks to everyone who's been reading and commenting this week so far...


You Don't Mess Around With Slim

It ain't about the money. It never has been, not since the first time, back in eighty-three, when we was still playin for hard-tack and bullets. It's about the thrill of winnin, that's all, the thrill of beatin the other fella in a fair fight. Course, it ain't no fun if the other fella ain't got no skill, but the worst thing is if he cheats. I seen folks cheat for any number of reasons, to keep their pride, their green, their lives; everyone's got an excuse, but don't none of that change the fact that they done given up the one thing a man can keep after his soul's gone right up pretty to meet his maker: his reputation.

Now me, I done played a parcel of games in my time, and I seen every kind of cheatin you can imagine. I ain't talkin no hustlin, here, neither; I figure, a fella's dumb enough to get took in by a smooth tongue and a coupla thrown games, he deserves what he gets. I ain't never been took by no hustler since twenty-two, and that boy was damn near a perfect liar.

Cheaters, though, they's different. I been in the game so long now, it's like I can smell em. Playin for higher stakes these days, and that brings out the desperate folks and the greedy ones, the ones as'd sell their own mothers to get whatever it is they're hankerin after. Some of em do, too, and Lord if that don't turn my stomach.

This boy, though, he weren't no desperate man, at least not to start with. A hustler, clear as day, a young un, too, relyin on his pretty looks and fakin bein drunk. Won a tidy pile from the rednecks as was in the bar that night, and acted like he didn't have no clue how he'd done it, all flashin teeth and rueful shrugs. Yeah, I seen dozens like him, but I was watchin him anyway, jus for somethin to do, you get me? Small-town bars can get mighty tirin for a body, and ain't nobody can begrudge an old man a little entertainment.

I been watchin him for a half hour when I see he's got someone with him. Scrawny kid, couldn't've been no more'n seventeen, hidin in the shadows readin, not gettin involved. Only reason I know the hustler's with him is the way he looks, every now and then, jus a quick glance like he's caught somethin out the tail of his eye. Checkin on the kid. And that, I says to myself, now that is interestin.

So we have a game, me and the hustler, and he's good at what he does, knocks them balls down smooth every few shots, keeps em bouncin round the table for the rest, loses to me, but not by too much, looks so crestfallen I almost believe him myself. Second game goes the same way, and we up the stakes, we're dancin now, playin the game, only Hustler don't know I seen his cards.

Third game, and he almost wins. Most folks have cleared out of the bar now, it's a weekday night after all, and we got the pool room to ourselves, me and Hustler and the kid, who ain't turned a page in ten minutes. Hustler's lookin mad now, first genuine expression I seen on his face, but he still don't get that he ain't stackin the deck no more. We's playin my game now.

Fourth game, and that tidy stack of cash is gone like it never was, and Hustler's lookin even madder. The kid's worried, too, looks up from his book and tried to catch Hustler's eye, but Hustler's too busy tryin to salvage his wounded pride. Asks me what he can put up as collateral. This is what we come to, then, always get here sooner or later, and that's my cue.

"I'll take the most precious thing you got," says I, and Hustler's face hardens, but he raises an eyebrow and he still don't get it.

"Yeah," he says. "OK."

In the corner, Kid draws in a breath, says somethin, quiet like, but Hustler flicks a finger and I see these two don't need no words to talk. Brothers, then.

Hustler pulls a set of keys from his pocket and plunks em down nice as you please. We shake hands. Yeah, he still don't get it, but I done gave up bein disappointed in folks way back before this boy's granddaddy was born. We'll play to three, I says, and he looks like he wants me to explain, but I cain't. Them's just the rules.

He wins the first game, and he's all smiles again, cocky swagger back in the set of his shoulders. Kid's given up pretendin now, he's watchin us, intense, like a buzzard. He don't look near as confident as his kin.

Second game's half over, and I sink two in a row, and Kid's suddenly breathin loud enough that Hustler notices and looks round.

"Sam?" he says, and I figure that's Kid's name, and I gotta approve, nice and simple like.

Kid's chest is heavin, but he shakes his head. "I'm OK," he says.

Hustler nods and turns back, and I sink another, and then again, and Kid's loosenin his collar and wheezin like a broken squeeze-box. Hustler's real antsy now, and he goes over to Kid, and I figure now's the time to clue him in, so I start talkin, all casual like, while I'm linin up the next shot.

"What exactly you think it is we're playin for, boy?"

Hustler glances at me, but don't look no longer'n that, he's too busy listenin to his brother's breathin.

"My car," he says, like he don't care too much about that no more. "Listen, we should call this off, my brother's sick. Keep the money."

"Ain't no stoppin this game now," I says, and I check the angle. "And I don't recall sayin nothin about no car."

Hustler looks up at that, frowns deeper. "What?" he says, still distracted by his bro – he don't get that that there and this here, they's two sides of the same coin. "You said..."

"I said the most precious thing you got," I say, and sink the ball, and Kid starts to rattle like he's stuffed with seed corn, and Hustler looks from me to him and then he gets it.

"No," he says, straightenin up, and his eyes are real wide now, nostrils flared, like he cain't really take it in. "I didn't agree to that." He talks big, but I can see from his face he knows he's been took; he shook my hand, sure as Jesus Christ's my Lord and Saviour, and there ain't no goin back now.

"Dean," Kid croaks, and he's lookin pretty poorly now, and I cain't help but feel a mite sorry for him, I always do for them as end up bein the prize in the game, but rules is rules.

"It's OK, Sammy," Hustler mutters. "I'm gonna sort this out, OK?" And he looks at me with murder in his eyes, but I ain't been worried about murder for a good few years, not since oh-three when a drover done stabbed me for winnin his horse.

"You stop whatever it is you're doing to him right now," says Hustler, and he look older'n I thought he was now, like he's been a lot more in his life than a two-bit pool shark. "You stop, or I swear to God I'll send you right back to Hell."

I done heard that before, of course; most of em start with threats, before the tears and the bribes. "Boy," I says, "you got no business mentionin me and that place in the same breath, and I ain't doin nothin to your brother. You made the deal; ain't no way to break it now. You walk away from the game, you forfeit your stake."

Hustler stands real still, and he's got this look on his face like he's hopin and prayin to wake up any time now. Kid's breathin ain't gettin no worse, but it ain't gettin no better either, and his eyes are rollin in his skull like a spooked horse.

"And if I win?" says Hustler, and I know he's moved on to the next stage of the game.

"You get your green and your kin," I says. Fair's fair, after all.

Hustler swallows and nods, picks up his stick, but it's still my shot and I only got one ball left on the table, and damn if that boy's jaw don't get as tight as a preacher's purse-strings when I sink it and the black, and Kid slumps over in his seat. He don't cut and run, though, and he don't give up. There's one game left, and all to play for.

It's his break, and I'm waitin now, because right about now is when they cheat, desperate folks and greedy folks, and this one just as desperate as the rest now. There's none of that smile and swagger to him no more, he's hard and silent and I'm a mite surprised, cocky sumbitch like that, I done thought there'd be nothin but yellow beneath the act, and here I find steel instead.

He's two shots in and there's sweat drippin in his eyes when Kid makes a chokin noise and he shoots wide, and now he's lookin terrified and I'm still waitin. I take my shots slow, give him a chance. He's watchin, standin over by the corner, hand pressed against Kid's cheek like he's tryin to make him breathe jus by wantin it so hard. His other hand's clenched round that pool cue so tight it's a wonder the damn thing don't just snap right there and then.

I get four, and then it's his turn. He plays quiet, starin at the ball with the same look of concentration his brother had earlier, and I see now these boys got the same stuff in them, must have got it from their daddy or their momma, only difference is Kid don't try to hide it.

It don't help, though – he's still one down when he goes under, and Kid's completely out now, and I'm still waitin, I ain't never seen no-one hold out like this since Kentucky back in sixty-eight.

I take my shots, and I'm down to the black, and Hustler's leanin over, fingers pressed into the table so hard they's gonna leave marks, and I cain't hear Kid breathin no more. Hustler's four down, and it's my shot, and he knows I can sink it blindfold. So I'm waitin.

It don't come, though. Hustler hustles nice as you please, but seems like he don't cheat. He's full of surprises, as it turns out. And I cue the shot, and he closes his eyes like he's talkin to Our Lord, so he don't see it when it goes wide, but he sure as hell hears that there ain't no clunk of ball hittin pocket, and he opens them pretty eyes wider'n a day-old baby, and I ain't never seen a man look so much like the hangman's rope jus done broke.

He's got it back, after that, and he sinks every one of them damn balls even though his hands are shakin like prairie grass in a storm. The black goes down sweet as you like, and I grin and offer him my hand, but he don't even seem to see me, he's just staggerin over to the Kid and droppin to his knees right there on a floor I wouldn't make my dog sleep on, if I had one, which I don't, not since old Joe died back in fifty-one.

Then them boys are on their feet, Hustler's haulin Kid the hell out of there, but he's got one hand on the back of Kid's neck the whole time, maybe like he's tryin to give him strength, maybe like he's tryin to take it. And when he's gone, I realise he ain't even took his cash. Ain't no use in hollerin after him, though, so I buy myself a fifth of Jack. I ain't never been one to look no gift horse in the mouth.

And that there, my friends, is the tale of how I done met a hustler who weren't a cheater. Or maybe he was, but he had the good sense to know that there are some things you just cain't cheat.