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Episode 56

Too Late to Damn

The blaze within the stone open hearth washed the well-appointed office with a fiery glow and welcoming heat.

Lined with wooden bookshelves groaning with leather-bound tomes, the center of the room was dominated by a massive mahogany desk. The desktop was ordered and uncluttered. A blotter, a pen and inkwell on one side and a humidor on the other.

At the middle of the desk sat a crystalline chess set of finely etched pieces. A servant stood to one side of the desk with a silver tray waiting for his master’s will. On the other stood the massive Sikh bodyguard. Seated behind the desk in a high-backed chair of antelope hide was the limping man, who was reading the note brought to him by the servant. As he read the message the man’s brow creased and his face darkened.

The silence of the room was broken when the limping man leaped to his uneven feet and slashed at the chess set with his exquisitely crafted wooden cane, shattering the crystal pieces and sending them asunder in a spray of shards and powder. The servant trembled at the old man’s fury. The Sikh stood still and silent as an ancient pillar. Crumpling the note in his hands, the limping man looked up at his huge bodyguard.

“Find this man Joe Wiley. Wherever he is under the sun. And provide him with an agonizing death,” the old man said as cold as winter.

The Sikh touched the hilt of his dagger and bowed before, wordlessly, turning to leave the presence of his employer.


***


The tiny, lazy cantina provided one of the few places free from the sweltering afternoon sun that baked the land ruled by Juarez.

Outside of the squat adobe building the streets were empty aside from a handful of locals having their siesta in any available shade. Inside the cantina was a simple but welcoming environment, the air cooler and stirred by a boy working a hand fan with a foot pedal for ten American cents a day. Bottles of sangria, tequila, and whiskey were lined up behind the bar. A large Mexican man sat behind the bar, his brushy mustache covering a third of his fat face. He slumbered, leaning on the bartop. He absent-mindedly swatted at a fly, murdering it with surprising speed before returning to his afternoon nap. His only customers were two gringos seated in the dimmest corner of the great room, both in chairs that faced the bar of sunlight at the cantina’s only entrance.

Seated at the corner table were Joe Wiley and Ben Temple. A bottle of whiskey, two shot glasses and a deck of cards between them.

“Your deal,” Joe said.

He watched as the old man effortlessly shuffled the deck despite his blindness.

“I’ll never get over how you do that. Or how you seem to always win.” Joe shook his head.

“Practice son. Practice and faith in the Lord,” Ben answered him.

Joe let out a snort at that.

As the blind old man dealt the hand Joe looked out from the shadows of the cantina and into the brutal heat. He looked past the humble little shacks to the flat landscape with mountains of faded blue limning the horizon. And his mind wandered for a moment back to Mercury Wells and Sister Adeline Tibbets. He shook off the haunting memory and gathered his hand.

Two deuces. An eight of spades. A queen of heart and a four of clubs.

“Damn you, old man,” he said. But Ben could hear the reluctant smile in his voice. He kept the smile from his own face as he examined a full house, ace high.

“Too late for that, son. Far too late for that.”


The End


This episode concludes SNAKEHAND. THE SIDEWINDERS series continues with LA GRINGA.

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