The Old King
When my granpa heard about the rustlers gettin' their hands on an Ace, he didn't seem afraid or angry. He jus' seemed kinda, well, sad. the sherrif was scared, but he was gonna meet 'em in a show down anyways.
When we got home, granpa went upstairs while i told ma and dad what was happenin'. Grampa came downstairs with a box, and a gunbelt. funny thing was this gunbelt didn't have no places to put cartridges. Just a holster, and a couple of hooks.
When dad and ma saw that, they shooed all the little ones to bed, and I started to go to, 'cept granpa said, "Let 'im stay." Dad frowned, but nodded, and my mam didn't look none to happy, but I sat down and watched my granpa take out a gun from the box, and then a couple of jars and a little brass thing with a tube on it.
That gun was a little bit different than most I'd seen. Sleek and black, with a brass and wood handle. Except my granpa didn't break it in half to load it. He half-cocked it, and then set it between his legs so he could look down the barrel, and then he carefully wiped the chambers with wire and cloth. Well, I asked about it, and he said, "Gonna have to teach them rustlers what for, Jim." He was real careful about cleaning the chambers too, taking his time with each one.
"But 'pa, they've got an Ace!" And I admit, I was sayin' it like it was somethin' wonderful, even though they were gonna kill the sheriff and anyone who got in their way. Granpa glanced at me and nodded. "You can't win against an Ace, grampa!" I said, worried now.
Then he did something I'd never seen before. He put a little brass cap in one of the barrels, and then took that brass doohickey and screwed a little curved horn onto it. He turned it upside down and pulled a little trigger on the brass, and then put the tip of the horn in the chamber. I saw some black powder pouring into it. Just a little.
"That's an old gun, granpa! You can't win a gunfight with that!"
He took a deep breath and sighed. "You're young yet Jim. This here is an old colt Navy Revolver. But it's got another name too. You're right - most times, you can't win against an Ace. But the Ace ain't always the high card, Jim. when you play 'nuff card games, you learn that right quick. And there's only one other card you can have to make Twenty-One with an Ace out." He took out a goodly sized lead ball and set it in the chamber, careful and easy. Then he put in a little bit of paper, and swiped some grease over it.
He did the same thing for the next chamber, always careful and thoughtful. He paused at the fifth chamber, and added a little more powder to that one than the rest. He caught me watchin', and he smiled. "You can't load 'em all heavy, Jim. You do that, and He'll shake himself apart in time." I remember that especially. Called it 'Him'. most times, gunslingers don't call 'em 'him', only 'her' or 'it'.
He finished and slipped the gun into the holster. I could see the mark on the bottom - a K and a heart, plain as day. "This here's a different Card. This card ain't like the others. It's the only card a Dealer will pick up before the owner's dead, Jim. That's 'cause it's the last gun you'll ever fire, and it's the last six bullets you'll ever shoot. One way or another, you'll never pick up and shoot a gun the rest of your life." I swallowed, and nodded. He was so serious, I didn't have it in me to try and argue.
He stood up and put on that old belt. He always stood straight and tall, but I could see that gun weighed heavy on him. "Most gunslingers don't do too much thinking, Jim," he said as he put away his tools and the gun supplies. "They're apt to let their gun do the thinkin' for them, or they're too hot to do any thinkin' themselves. Ain't the same thing - that's another thing you'll learn when you get older." I just sat and listened, 'cause I was thinkin' that these would be the last words i heard him say.
"You don't see to many young'uns with the Kings. That's 'cause to use a King, you gotta have your wits about you, and know what to do with one. That's what makes a king different. You can beat an Ace with a King, if you play the Cards right." He dusted himself off, and he glanced at me.
"Now, you mind your ma' and da' while I'm gone." But as he said it, there was a smile on his face, jus' a little one, like he knew what i was gonna do. I didn't plan on it though; I didn't even think about followin' him right then. I didn't want to see my granpa gunned down by a buncha thieves and rustlers.
I followed, though, even though my mam and da' told me to go to the room and read to my brothers and sisters. I snuck out, and followed my granpa to town.
Well, they were there all right, waitin' for the sheriff and the few men who would dare to stand up to them. Weren't any, of course - just the sheriff. And then my grampa walked up, calm and easy as you please. He had the gun out already, up on his shoulder, where he couldn't get it down fast enough to beat a draw if he'd wanted to. The rustlers laughed about that, I tell you, and it made me sore, hearin' them like that. And then I thought, why didn't they sober up? Couldn't they see my granpa had a Card too?
They did sober up a little, as the church bell rang. On the third ring the sheriff drew down and was dead faster than he could even draw his gun. The one with the Ace just shot him dead before he could even move. But the others tried to gun down my granpa. And, I mean tried, 'cause not one of them could lay a shot in him. He just stood there, plain as day, not movin', and they couldn't hit him. Or, maybe they DID hit him, and it was like my granpa was a ghost.
He just lowered that old gun, and took aim, and shot them dead, one by one. Took his sweet time. Didn't rush, didn't hurry, didn't worry about them runnin' off - and two of them tried to. They didn't die easy, either - the took the bullets and fell over, moanin' and cryin' about bein' shot.
The last one, the one with the Ace, he was lookin' at my granpa kinda peculiar like, and my granpa pointed the King of Hearts at him and waited. It was that fifth shot too, the one he'd put extra powder into.
"That there a Card, old man?"
"Reckon so," my granpa said, his hand not waverin' at all.
"Ain't an Ace, though."
"You think you can win?"
That bastard pulled the trigger on my granpa, and there was a dry click. That rustler's eyes went wide and my granpa put a bullet right between his eyes, and he dropped like a stone. Only then did my granpa lower the gun, and wait for a few minutes. Sure enough, a man i ain't never seen in town before walked up and took that Ace from the rustler's hands, and shuffled the Card back into his deck.
"You still got your one shot left, ol' pa," he said. My granpa nodded, and the dealer nodded right back, before he walked into the saloon. My granpa waited and I knew he knew i was there. I walked out, and watched him put the Card back in His holster. He looked sown at me and ruffled my hair.
I smelled gunsmoke and blood, and dust, and I felt a little older right then. "Like I said, Jim, you can't always win with an Ace." I nodded and we walked back home. He didn't take his gunbelt off; he wore it every day after too. Like the dealer said, he had one shot left.
I ain't gonna ask him what it's for. But sometimes I stay up late, and I can see as he looks into the fire that he knows what it's for. And that scares me, a little.
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