Friday, December 2, 2011


December 2nd and time for the next pearls of original tales from the convoluted brain of me...L.J Holmes.

My daughter tells me I'm nuts to have twelve blogs...having twelve blogs is a cakewalk compared to coming up with new stories every day between 11/27 and my second time over the hill birthday on 12/12. Will this brain that has recently suffered a

mini-stroke stand up under the pressure...and if it does, will anything that comes out of it be worthwhile?

Here goes installment SIX:

L.J. Holmes

My name is Lou. Actually my name is Louise Anne Corey, but I haven't used my full name since I was eleven years old and came to live at the Silver Saddle Saloon. I came here after my parents and my brother were killed by a band of marauding Indians while we were heading to Oregon. This is California, or at least that's what Lil, the owner of the Silver Saddle tells me.

Lil took me in 'cause I had nowhere else to go and she liked the way I look. She told me I had nice bones and the men who come down from the hills with their pockets bulging with gold would like me too.

At first Lil kept me away from the saloon 'cause I didn't know how to dance, I sung like a frog with a bad case of consumption, and my figure was only just beginning to show signs of the curves that were yet to come. I was a kid.

In my early days with Lil, I slept in her rooming house across the dusty street from the saloon. During slow times, Lil spent many an hour showing me how to flip my skirt to the tunes I often heard pouring out of the saloon on the nights the miners were in town. My voice? Well if the piano player bangs the keys hard enough, you really can't tell that a cat serenading beneath the moon sounds better.

I was fifteen when Lil finally decided I was ready to turn in my dust rag, which is how I earned my keep, for the wilder, crazier world beyond the swinging doors of the Silver Saddle Saloon. But nothing could have prepared me for this new, and unpredictable world.

My dancing, which was little more than tossing my skirt high enough into the air to give the drunken patrons ample glimpses of my gartered legs and petticoated waist, brought many a cheer, and many an offer of further games. Those were conducted upstairs in the privacy of the bedrooms provided as an extra service by Lil. My dancing also, more times than not, would start major brawls as one man fought another for the right to cart me up to those skimpy rooms.

Mine was not the only form of entertainment offered at the Silver Saddle Saloon. Because it has the word "saloon" in its title, it's quite natural for the miners to expect they could drop a nugget of gold onto the bar and be served chest searing whiskey.

Alcohol and money combined to make for drunkeness. Drunkeness and uncouth ruffians led to disagreements over some of the most ridiculous things, but these disagreements sometimes led to everyone in the saloon ripping into each other with their fists, broken bottles, or worse. It was not at all unusual for these fights to lead to gun play, sometimes in the saloon; sometimes out in the streets.

Gold, alcohol, and women...together these elements led to many kinds of crimes. but perhaps the slickest crimes committed inside the Silver Saddle were those committed by card sharks.

What is a card shark?

I wondered that myself the first time I heard some of the other girls working for Lil talking about it.

A card shark is a professional gambler, and according to Lil, these pros go from settlement to settlement plying their trickery on the unsuspecting who have more money than sense. These professionals know how to "stack the deck"...which is another term I did not understand.

Stacking the deck, Lil says, means the shark knows how to shuffle the card so he is dealt the winning hand each and every time...I know! I find that amazing too!

I remember watching a shark once. His name was Cal and he was out of St. Louis, which I was told is in Louisiana.

I watched him shuffle and could hardly believe my eyes. How he can know what cards are going to turn up when he moves those cards around so fast is beyond me, but he won each and every time until he challenged Old Leroy.

Leroy is a big, old...thirty-five is old...miner, who spends the week up in the hills with his chisel and a crusty old mule named Jack...short for Jack-Ass. Leroy is known all around Deadweed for his mean temper. He's also known for being a sore loser.

I'll never forget the day Cal challenged Leroy. It was right before the Founding Day Celebration. I remember because the sheriff got Mr. Tibbs and Mr. Whitmore to put red, white and blue paper all over Deadweed, and had Barney build a platform just on the outskirts of town.

Anyway, it was a Friday night. Leroy always showed up on Friday nights, and he'd downed three of Mike's...Mike's the brakeep...Stove Burners. He was working on the fourth when Cal issued his challenge to the burly drunk. Leroy is not one to pass up a dare...just in case you ever run into him in the future.

Both men set themselves up at the round wooden table farthest from the swinging doors. Cal called for a fresh deck that Lil ceremoniously produced.

I was up on the stage finishing up an energetic routine with Sue, another of Lil's girls, so I didn't see Cal shuffle and deal. I didn't actually see the first three hands, but Leroy was losing and losing big. Everyone was becoming nervous because they could see Leroy was turning that awful purplish-red color he gets just before he explodes.

My set ended and I bounced off the stage and was latched onto by a young miner sitting two tables away from the Big Game, so again, I was kinda distracted from the real drama unfolding nearby.

Back at the table, Cal shuffled for the fourth hand. Leroy was betting everything he had in his pockets, so he'd get back what he'd lost so far. The shuffle was more blindingly rapid than usual...or at least that's what Molly, another of Lil's gals said aferwards; then came the deal.

Cal dealt the first card to Leroy face up. It was an ace. A smile of wicked satisfaction spread across the otherwise ugly face of the burly miner. Cal's own first card was a four.

The spectators gathered around the table let out a huge groan of relief. Maybe things would turn out all right after all. No one wanted an exploding Leroy.

The second card went down face up. For Leroy another ace, for Cal a king. Leroy's confidence restored, he ordered another drink, gulped it, and belched it as the next two cards were dealt face down.

Cal, an actor of great ability, peeked at his cards and remained stony faced. Leroy on the other hand, grinned from ear-to-ear like a man who knows he's got this hand made. Another card was dealt face up. For Leroy a two, for Cal another four.

Leroy was so wrapped up in what was buried in his hands, he didn't notice Cal's four had come from the bottom of the deck, but old Skeeter, a semi-friend and frequent rival of Leroy's did. He knew better, though, than to try convincing Leroy of anything when he had that pair of aces showing.

Leroy pushed all his gold nuggets into the center of the table. Cal matched the bet. Leroy proudly turned over one more two and declared two pair, aces over dueces and was reaching for the pile of gold when Cal reached across the stop him.

One by one Cal revealed his hand. One king and two fours were already showing. Cal flipped over another card...the third four, and then the final card, the fourth four.

By now the whole place was aware of the vein popping at the side of Leroy's neck. Those of us who know him, dove for cover. That's when Skeeter yelled out that Cal had dealt to himself from the bottow on the deck.

That's all it took.

Leroy reached across the table with his ham sized hand, grabbed Cal around the throat, pulled him out of his chair into the air, and squeezed.

There are those who tried to stop the inevitable. Perhaps if they hadn't most of Lil's patrons would not have gone back to their hovels with gashes from broken bottles or lethal fists.

I myself, got tossed around and my dress shredded as I tried to crawl to the nearest exit. Mike very wisely, ducked behind the bar and stayed there till the dust settled.

As for Cal, Leroy squeezed until Cal's eyes bulged, his skin turned a deep, deadly maroon, and his neckbone snapped. (He was buried the next day on the hill outside Deadweed in an unmarked grave, but Leroy went back a couple of days later and placed a wooden plaque that read...He Cheated In Life, Let's See Him Cheat In Death.)

All in all, life in Deadweed is unpredicatble and dangerous, but it's the only life I know. I know my parents wanted better, but you roll with the punches, and well, I did survive. Many others did not. 


Tanja said...

He cheated once too often.

gail roughton branan said...

Now that's something would never occur to me. A short story western!

Jodi said...

Now that weren't never ended that way a piece down the road in Deadwood. Mr. Wu woulda fed that sorry cheatin' card shark's body to his pigs! =)
Just curious, Lin, how did you come up with the title?


Lin said...

The titles always come to me first. She's a dance hall girl wearing frills, so the title gave me the rest of the story.

Thanks for asking Joelle.

Tanja said...

I thought it was a pun on "thrills" - but then, I would!