Welcome back to our magical old west adventures with our gambling man Sam as he collaborates with the witchy sisters, Snake and Smoke, from our ongoing saga of CONJURING MISERY, brought to you by the combined talents of Jami Gray, Camille Douglass, and Dave Benneman. We start off 2017 and dive into the beginning of the end of our dusty trails with the long awaited Chapter 12…

Sam

“Seeing as how this is a family matter.” I finished my drink and rested my righthand on the hilt of Dragon’s Breath. “I’ll make my way over to Mademoiselle Angelique’s Boarding House where a hot bath awaits.”

“No one moves until I get what I come for.”

Charlie moved to the end of the bar and some of the patrons tip-toed out the door. Not that drunken cowboys are known for their stealth, but there’s nothing like eminent gunplay to sober a man up. 

“Hey amigo, you’re playing your cards all wrong, if you don’t mind me saying.” Smoke moved away from Snake while I had Villalobos’s attention. “First, we don’t have what you’re looking for.” 

“Second.” Smoke spoke up. I slid in the opposite direction. “If you blow Jinx’s brains out for us, we’ll have to exact our pound of flesh from you in return.”

Snake, now left front and center turned to face Villalobos. “Thus making us the hero’s in Meemaw’s eyes.” 

“Since dead men tell very few tales.” Smoke chimed in, and I moved again. “Meemaw would never be the wiser and we’d finally be rid of that degenerate.” 

We slowly flanked Villalobos.

Jinx blinked his eyes disbelieving. “Hey, I’m getting a little sick of this conversation.”

“Shut up.” Four voices shouted in unison.

“I won’t shut up, I…” 

Villalobos pistol whipped Jinx spitting a string of Spanish curses.

Smoke and I both used the distraction to move a little more.

“Stay where you are.” Villalobos waved his gun at me.

“You my friend are holding eights and aces. If I were you I’d fold while I was still drawing breath.”

“You think you are so smart, si.”

“Even you can see you’re outnumbered. If you know anything about these ladies, you should know you’re out gunned as well.” I watched Smoke move a little more and her hands were began to glow faintly. She looked exhausted and I wondered if her magic would work. 

“The man is making sense.” Jinx received another crack to skull for his comment.

Snake opened the fresh pack of cigarillos Charlie left on the bar and lit one turning her back on the show. “The Gringo’s right, you ought to get out of here while you can, and take the pile of cow dung with you.”

Charlie cleared his throat. He’d circled around to the door of the saloon.He braced his double barrel against his shoulder and aimed it at Villalobos. “This is what you might call two birds with one stone.”

“Santa Maria. You said this would be easy pickin’s.” He pistol whipped Jinx a good one and let him slump to the floor then holstered his shooting iron. “Take out your own trash.” He backed out the door holding his hands well away from his gun belt. 

“You folks can tire a fellow out. I believe two beautiful women and a hot bath are calling my name.” I started toward the door but paused with my hand in the air. “The stage is due through here before noon. You two should get some rest.”

“How much rest are you going to get?” Snake asked with a smirk.

“I barley have the energy to walk across the street. Besides I can sleep on the stage coach.” I pushed the doors open wide. “See you in the morning.”

“Good night Gambling Man.”

###

Fat back sizzled in a pan, Ida’s long brown hair hung loose down her back as she worked her magic at the stove. I sipped my coffee slowly. “I’m sorry Ida, you knew I’d be leaving sooner or later.”

A pan slammed down hard enough to shake dust from the rafters. “Later, that’s what I thought.”

I seem to be able to raise the ire on the most timid of women. “Business calls.”

“You are leaving with those two hoodoo witches.” 

“What do you know about them?”

“I don’t have to know about them to know what they are. The air changes when they’re in the area. You can feel it.” She accented this last with another bang of the cast iron skillet.

This last gave me pause. I’m certain not everyone felt what Ida just described. It caused me to consider what other attributes she harbored that were not revealed in the boudoir. A plate slid across the table to me, two eggs and fat piece of bacon and a chunk of bread. “Thank you, Ida.”

“Don’t thank me. Thank Mademoiselle.”

“I’ve thanked her plenty, believe me.”

“Where will you go?”

“The stage to Santa Fe, from there I guess the rail back east somewhere.” I shrugged.

“Will you come back?”

“Can’t make any promises, but if I make it back this way I’ll search you out.” 

A commotion in the next room drew my attention and the hackles on Ida’s neck come to attention.

“They’re here,” she said. 

“Is he still here?” Miss Snake’s voice cut through the air.

“I’ve got to go darling. Take care of yourself.” I kissed Ida on the forehead and tucked the last of my money into her apron.

I pulled on my new white coat and stepped into the main parlor while Mademoiselle explained it was none of their business. “It’s okay Mademoiselle Angelique. They’re friends.”

She hurumphed and turned her large bosom about face leaving us alone in the parlor.

“You don’t look any worse for wear.” Smoke ventured.

“I must say you both look a bit more agreeable this morning as well.” 

Smoke pirouetted in her all black outfit. 

Snake wrestled with her hat which didn’t seem to be cooperating. “Who does that cow think she’s talking to?”

“She’s very protective of me.” I grinned opening the door to usher them outside. “However,” I continued in a conspiratorial tone, “if she knew she had the last dollar I have to my name she would have thrown me out on my ear.”

“How are you planning on traveling with no money?” Smoke turned looking concerned.

“I hoped you would stake me into a game once we hit Santa Fe.” 

“And until then?” Snake punched her hat. “Damn it.”

“I will either travel on the kindness of benevolent strangers, or stay on here until I can earn some money.” I checked my time piece. 

They looked at one another, a knowing smile grew on Snake’s face. “No one had ever described me as a benevolent stranger before.”

Smoke gave me a shove. “Let’s go, I’ll stake you after I hear the tail of the red scarf and what lies beneath it, and it better be worth it.”

I walked toward the livery where the stage should be pulling in soon. Snake threw her hat and stomped it down ten or twelve times before giving it a swift kick sending it further up the street.

“Can I help you break in your new hat Miss Snake? I feel awful about losing the old one.” Smoke gave me a wary look and shook her head.

“I suggest you hold your tongue Gambling Man before you lose it.”

I did as suggested. The coach was full after we joined. A banker, his wife, and a judge sat across from the three of us. I played kneeseies with the judge. The ride jarred my achey joints and my teeth rattled like a cup of dice. The self important overindulged judge blew smoke from a cigar into my face while he described all the cases where he’d proudly sent men to the gallows. He recounted how each one died at the end of the rope in vivid detail. My throat closed up and the scar around my neck burned as if the rope that created it still held fast. Leaning over Snake I whispered to my copanions, “Can’t you do something about this blowhard? He’s killing me.”

Smoke grinned. “Snake dear, may I have one of your cigarillos? It seems our companion is a might uncomfortable.”

“Of course sister mine.” Snake offered up one of those hideous smelling prairie dog turds with a mischievous twinkle.

The judge pontificated about a Mexican fellow who took a good five minutes to die because the rope did not break his neck. All the while a chain of smoke rings drifted across the coach and encircled his neck. He paused in his diatribe long enough to loosen his collar and cough. Fascinated, I watched his face turn crimson as the chain tightened around his throat.

“Say when handsome,” Smoke said.

The judge hammered on the roof of the coach, but the driver did not slow the team. The banker and his wife stared spellbound. When the judge’s legs stiffened and he did the very jig he’d recounted about the Mexican, I nodded to Smoke. “When.”

She took another drag and blew the smoke directly at the judge. The chain dissipated and the coach assumed a grave silence. Smoke closed her eyes and passed still glowing cigarillo to Snake. I closed my own eyes and recollected how much I’d learned in the last few days. Nightmares haunted my rest until Santa Fe.

We’ll be back with part II of Chapter 12 in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned…

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