Six of Hearts: 'Memory'

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"Draw." I stared at the man, and then looked down at the deck. The game had been over for almost an hour. I had raked in the cash, ending up with almost fourteen gold eagles in my pocket, and then he had said he wanted to play one last game. No cash. Just cards. And now with the cards spread before me, I figured it was the setup for one of those trick-deal card tricks. I was game.

I slid my finger over the fanned cards, and plucked one card from the deck, turning it over. The Six of Hearts.

"Okay. So now I have to remember the card, right?" The dealer just stared at me a second.

"Nope. You'll never be able to forget it. Guarantee you that." That accent. It was driving me nuts. Not quite creole, but close...

"That memorable, huh? Well, then you best get on with the trick, before I-"

"No trick. Just a game. And your card." He glanced back down at the table.

The cards were gone. And in the place where my card had been, there was a revolver.

"Oh... Madre de Dios..." I whispered, crossing my self. He just chuckled. It was beautiful. The barrel was topped with a double-pronged sight, and the handle was curved around in a strange way. I ran my fingers over it... it looked like it was made for me.

It was made for me. It was a Card. They found their slingers, not the other way around. And the Dealer... Hell. I had just won thirteen... oh... oh... boy.

"Well... what's it gonna be, fella?" He slid the gun towards me. "Draw... or fold?"

I didn't know what I was doing. I found myself picking it up, just to feel the heft of the Gun in my hand. It felt warm. It felt worn in, and smooth, and comfortable. Natural.

"I gue-" My words dropped in my mouth, half-formed. He was gone. I had drawn the Card.

And now I was going to have to play it.

I don't know what I was thinking the next day. It was a little crazy, knowing that I had a weapon of that sort on me. A weapon that had killed more people than I could count.

That's when I realized that I really didn't know anything about it. It looked like a .38 caliber, a Colt. That was good - I knew I could get those slugs pretty easily. Cheap, too. But beyond that... I didn't even know what to call it. Six, sure.

I didn't even know what I was supposed to do with the damned thing.

Two days later, I was going for a drink. I could use one - I had just finished pounding out enough horseshoes to get the whole Wells Fargo fleet shod. I heard him screaming before I opened the door.

"...if ONE of you got-dang hicks has the GUTS to go against sommun with a CARD, then you go `hed an DO IT! HUH?"

He was wearing a mask. Big fella - had Charlie's entire safe slung under one arm. I didn't think he was that big, but there you go. And he was pointing around a hand cannon with a barrel big enough to drop an eagle down. Everyone in the whole place was just staring at him, arms raised, when his eyes fixed at me. I don't know how he knew. Maybe he felt it. I sure as hell did. Drawing wasn't even a conscious action for me, the gun was out of the holster before I could think. I fired first - but two gunshots went off.

He slumped to the ground, a pair of holes through his chest, as the man behind him blew the smoke from a sawed-off Winchester, tucking it back into his duster.

"Nice shot."

"Same." He bent over, plucking the pistol from the man and tucking it into an inside pocket. "Time to go."

I didn't argue the point. Didn't even stop to get his name before we left. Hell, I barely stopped by home to get my things.

I just didn't want to be there. Didn't want to be pinned down in one place. I had just killed a man, and more like him were going to come. Hell, they were going to come no matter where I ran. But this way I might at least be out in the desert somewhere. Away from Charlie's. Away from Linda and Bess. Away from Gus and his ridiculous obsession with cribbage.

Maybe I could do some good. Maybe there was a reason the Gun had come to me.

That's when the other fella turned to me and asked me how much of a bounty was on my head.

"Nothing." He smiled.

"New hand, huh?"

"You might say that."

"Name's Eli." He grinned, showing off five gold teeth. "I've had Coyote for two years."

"What's the card on `er?"

"Eight of Spades." I nodded, though that meant nothing to me. I was just making conversation, trying to get my brain around what was happening. I was a goddamn blacksmith, and not a very good one at that, not a gunman.

"So... where are we headed?"

"Better question." He reached into one of his pockets - I realized then just how many were in his jacket - and pulled out some pemmican, chewing on it. "What do you want to do with that thing?"

I chewed over the question a while before I gave him an answer. "Anything that doesn't involve killin' someone, if possible." He laughed.

"Bill's it is. I think they're up in Kansas right now."

"Buffalo Bill's?"

"Yep." He didn't say much else, just riding on ahead.

Now, at the time, we were in the old Texas territory, and I was dreading the ride up to the area around Dodge City-State on horseback. Thankfully, Eli was too. We swung up to Dallas.

Now, for those of you that have never been to Dallas, it's not like most City-States. It's got the wall. Oh, hell, it's got the wall. Thirty feet of steel-reinforced brick on every side, with gates for the two roads and the rails.

The rail was as big as I remembered it as a kid. It took almost an hour to get through the ticket line, and almost as long to get onto the thing. But once we were in the third passenger deck, I relaxed a little. We were on the way to Dodge, and we were doing it in style.

That's when we started talking... and things kind of got odd.

Now, I know that some folks around are just a little unhinged. Me, I was getting there. I had never killed anything before, and here I was carrying a tiny murder machine.

Eli, on the other hand...

"And that's when the cactus punched me!" He laughed, a crackling sound, and lit a cigarette. "Crazy thing was that when I came to, all it had taken was my crackers."

"Uh-huh." I just nodded, convinced that I was dealing with a madman. "So what's at Buffalo Bill's, again?"

"He... knows about the Game." Eli leaned forward, folding his hands, and took another draw on the ciggy perched in his lips. "Sort of took it on himself to make the Show as a place where the new guys could come, make themselves at home, an' learn how the Game's played." The rail lurched forward, and I heard the high-pitched whine that mean the steam dynamo was starting up in the front - we were out on open plains now.

"An' then what?"

"Well... then you figure out what you wanna fight for. An' then you go do it."

"That simple?"

"More 'r less." He grinned that same shit-eating grin that I was starting to hate. "You'll always end up where the Dealer wants ya, anyway."

"What do you mean?"

"That's why he picked you, an' not the others at the table, fella. `Cause he knew you'll do what you'll do. The Dealer plays the Game too." He chuckled. "It's a lovely lil' mess you're in, innit?"

Now... I could keep yawin' about how I got to Buffalo Bill's. I could tell you all about how I found out about Memory's name. I could even tell you about how I ran into the Loathed and Reviled Punching Cactus of Phoenix Flats.

But really, I don't think I've the time tonight, kid. Sixty miles to cover tomorrow... I need my sleep. You best get some shuteye, too. I'm gonna stoke the fire a little. You can...

Huh?

Shit, kid. You think I really know what the Dealer is? Hell, I think if I knew that, I'd know just about everything.


So anyway, kid, we were on the way to Dodge, me an' Eli.

Now, let me tell you something about rail travel. It's fast, but it's not too comfortable unless you're springin' for a luxury box on the top deck. Oh, sure, it's better than sittin' in the saddle for six hours at a time, but most of the rails you get nowadays really skimp on anything that isn't top-of-the-line. Our bench was pretty worn, had a few bad springs in the cushion, and it was too narrow to really lie back on, so I ended up sleeping sitting up, and waking myself whenever I leaned too far forward.

Still, I managed to get a little shut-eye. And by the time I woke up in Dodge, I was feeling far more rested. Eli took the lead when we headed from the station - he was more at home out here than I. Fact was, I had never actually been to Dodge before.

Now I wondered why.

It was more strung-out than other City-States. There was a wall, but it didn't look like any of the fortresses that the other City-States were. You could see the vast railyards, where men were plating together new steam dynamos by hand and by great steel armatures. Warehouses full of grain and goods, in a row as far as the eye could see down the side of the tracks, right to the edge of the city. And - this was the strange part - not a single soldier in sight. I knew that Dodge had been neutral ground when the southern City-States had their brief rebellion, but I didn't figure that the city's aversion to soldiers would have lasted this long.

It wasn't until I started into the city that I realized why that was. Everyone in Dodge was packing a firearm. Slugtossers, mostly, but they looked a bit better than most. At least most of them didn't look like they'd explode if you fired one off. A few fellas were wearing Smythes, gleaming white steel that shone brighter than any silver, right out in the open. No wonder people didn't mess with Dodge... if they did, there would be nothing left of them.

"So where are we going?"

"I need to see if Bill's is still- well, yeah. We're good." Eli grinned as he gestured to one of the posters for Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and Congress of the Rough Riders of the World. Two parts vaudeville to three parts riders showing off onstage, I could see why it was so damned popular, especially among the State-dwelling folk. Dodge was the furthest west the show went while performing, presumably due to the fact that any further, and folks would have seen it all.

"So what's Bill like, anyway?"

"Buffalo Bill's a good guy. Just keep your wits about you... oh, and hold on to your wallet."

"Why's that?"

"The game is Omaha Hamlet. Kings are dead, Queens are wild, and Jacks are low." Buffalo Bill Cody passed out cards with an ease that was mostly the result of an incredible amount of practice, puffing on an ancient-looking cherokee pipe. A long salt-and-pepper goatee trailed a good three inches from his chin, and his mustache, while trimmed, was unwaxed. The two other players at the table were a scrawny little guy in flannel and a black fella with the biggest damn nose I've ever seen. Almost looked Greek, know what I mean?

"Bill." Eli grunted as he walked into the tent, nodding at the older man.

"Eli Guthrie. To what do I owe this pleasure?" Bill set his pipe aside, briefly glancing at his cards before he turned over the first three.

"New game. New player."

"Again?" He allowed himself a smirk, shaking his head. "Seems to be starting quicker and quicker." The smirk faded as Eli set down the hand cannon. "Four of Clubs. Damn." He picked up the gun by the barrel, and set it aside, getting a pitiful shake of the head from the black fella. When he spoke, his voice was a little higher than I expected, soft. Real pleasant.

"At least it should be over fast this time."

"You'd think." Bill just laughed, tossing a few wooden nickels into the center of the table.

From there, the conversation sharply veered into topics far too controversial to be discussed in mixed company, so I'll just say that the scrawny fella who didn't talk much ended up winning, not that it mattered since they were just playing with chips. Afterwards, he left, leaving Bill, Eli, the black man (whose name, I gathered, was Samuel) and myself.

"So..." Bill turned to me, rubbing his eyes. "Fired `er off yet?"

"Just once."

"Not enough, then." He turned back to his pipe, leaning back in the folding chair. "It'll take you a little while to get the Six's specialty down."

"What is it?"

"I don't know." He allowed himself a faint smile. "It's a little different for each gunslinger. Just the way they work, I guess... but you'll know it. Sure as by the time you're done, you'll know her name."

"And how do I get that?"

"Same way you get anything in life. You learn it." He packed a little more tobacco into the pipe, lighting it again. "We'll start in the morning."

"Suits me." I helped myself to a slug of whisky, flinching a little. Strong stuff - Canadian. "Hey, Bill. You gonna keep that Gun?"

"The Club? Naaaaaah." He shook his head. "I've never picked one up for more'n a minute. Not my place." He took a few moments to puff, blowing a lazy smoke ring. "I'm just holding it for now. Better it sit around in my box, waitin' for the next game to start than float around in the hand of some idiot that's gonna try an rob a bank with it."

"Fair enough, fair enough." I decided against the obvious questions - how long did they stay there? Who did he give the Guns to? Did the Dealer himself pick them up, or did they just... leave?

Now, I was curious, but you have to understand... I was also terrified of the answer. Absolutely petrified.

I would be lying if I told you that I didn't sleep that night. I did. Like a bump on a log. No dreams, no interruptions, just me and a comfy cot. Slept late, too, all the way in to eight in the morning.

When I finally got up, Bill had set up a bunch of haystacks with targets on the far side of the ring. He took me down to the other end, and told me to try to hit them.

Now, you have to understand, the Guns are amazing. They're accurate, durable, and never misfire. They put power in your hands that a man dreams of. But if you stink, you still stink. Took me a good ten or twelve times reloading before I could hit the targets with any kind of regularity.

Then, I got lucky. One right in the square center of a target, a yellow patch in the center of a black circle. Bill clapped my shoulder, laughing. "Bout time. Now let's see if you can't do it again!"

"Again?" It struck something inside me. Yeah, that felt right. That was what I wanted to do... you want me to do it again? Done. My arm came up, and I squeezed off three more shots, one after the other. Each hit the same hole, sending off a spray of hay. I stared at the target for a good thirty seconds after that, just trying to see if I had done what I thought I did.

"By George, I think you've got it." Bill started to walk away, just as the word came to my lips.

"She remembers..."

"Yep."

"Memory."

"That'd be her. We're done for now..."


Wild Cards
Spades: 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - J - Q - K - A
Hearts: 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - J - Q - K - A
Clubs: 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - J - Q - K - A
Diamonds: 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - J - Q - K - A
Jokers: Red Joker - Black Joker
Introduction - The World - Gameplay - Stories of the world
On the Attainment, Ownership and Passing of The Cards
Variant Rule: Hands