Just a Friendly Game of Poker

by Susan Macdonald

Originally published in the fanzine Just You, Me, and the Governor #30, from Neon RainBow Press: a six-gun, six-show crossover combining F-Troop, Alias Smith and Jones, Maverick, Magnificent Seven, Highlander, and Cheyenne. Standard fanfic disclaimer that wouldn’t last ten seconds in a court of law: These aren’t my characters. I’m just borrowing them for, um, typing practice. Uh, yeah, typing practice. They will be returned to their original owners (relatively) undamaged. No profit was made from the writing of this story; ‘tis an amateur work of fiction.

Sergeant Morgan O'Rourke smiled. Not since O'Rourke Enterprises had bought the town saloon had he seen a profit like this. The poker game was in its third day. A high stakes poker game, the likes of which Fort Courage seldom saw. More money was changing hands over the card table than a soldier saw in a year's pay. And O'Rourke Enterprises was taking five percent of every pot.

O'Rourke himself was the dealer. There were four key players, although others had joined in for a spell, then dropped out when it had become too rich for their blood. Some folks had stayed to watch, or started up their own games with much smaller pots. Even though he couldn't claim a cut of their pots, they were buying overpriced food and watered-down drinks. Business was booming, and O'Rourke was pleased.

Bret Maverick and Ezra Standish were professional gamblers. Both wore neatly tailored suits, Maverick in black and Standish in red. Joshua Smith dressed like a cowboy, played like a cardsharp, but had the air of a man who was no stranger to danger.

O'Rourke couldn't quite figure out the fourth man. Duncan MacLeod dressed like a mountain man. He wore his black hair long, like an Indian. He bore an aura of death and danger, even more than Smith. He lacked the mathematical expertise of the other three players, but he had a knack of waiting out bad hands that surprised the sergeant. Such patience was unusual in such a young-looking man.

"I'll see your hundred, and raise you fifty," Smith said.

"Fifty, and another fifty," Standish said.

MacLeod looked at his cards and then shook his head. "Fold."

Maverick glanced at his cards, then at Smith's face, trying to read the man's chocolate brown eyes. "Mr. Smith, I think you're bluffing."

Smith nodded amiably, acknowledging the possibility. "It'll cost you to find out."

Maverick laid his money down on the table. "I call."

Smith laid his cards down on the table: a full house, queens over sevens. Frowning, Maverick also displayed his own full house: jacks over threes. Smith raked in the pot.

Joshua Smith caught his partner's eyes. Thaddeus Jones left the bar where he'd been nursing a watered-down whiskey. He walked over to the card table and collected about half of Smith's winnings.

"Sensible," Cheyenne Bodie noted. The tall lanky drifter sat at another card table, involved in a much lower stake poker game.

"He looks familiar," Vin Tanner said. The brown-haired bounty hunter took another look at Smith and Jones. "They both do."

"You're right." Bodie tried to think where he might have known them from.

"You gonna talk or play?" Trooper Duffy asked the men.

They settled back to their game and the saloon got as quiet as it ever did. It stayed that way for half an hour or more, until Fort Courage's bugler sauntered in.

Trooper Hannibal Dobbs was a short man with curly blond hair. He wore a cavalry uniform with a button missing and a battered bugle hung by his side.

"Hannibal!" Duffy called out. He waved for Dobbs to come over and join them.

At the sound of his real name, Joshua Smith looked up automatically.

The movement caught Dobbs' eye. "Cousin Hannibal! How are you doing?" He looked around and saw Jones. "Cousin Jed! Aunt Sarah always said y'all were like Siamese twins. Never see one without th' other, Aunt Sarah said."

"I thought your name was Joshua?" Standish inquired, his voice deceptively mild.

"Let me buy you a drink, H.D.," Jones offered, trying to distract his second cousin. "Let's find a quiet corner to sit and talk. What a shame you got here just as we were gettin' ready to go." He looked at Smith, then at the door.

Smith held his cards up half an inch.

Jones bit his lip, trying to conceal a frown. His partner wanted to finish out the hand. With their idiotic cousin likely to blab their true identity, the smartest thing Smith could do would be fold – no matter how big the pot was – and walk out. Afterwards, he knew H– (Smith, he corrected, not daring to use his partner's real name even to himself) would claim that walking out would've been too conspicuous, that he didn't want to attract attention. Jones knew better. When his partner had cards in his hand, he didn't want to stop. Jones tried to conceal his worry.

"Never heard anyone call you 'H.D.' before," Duffy said.

"That's on account of me and my second cousin over there–"

Jones tried not to grimace as Dobbs pointed to Smith. "–Both being named after our great-uncle, Hannibal Trelawney. Whenever we got together, we had to use nicknames so's we didn't get confused. They called me H.D. and him Double H. Remember when we were kids, and he was planning to be a Texas rancher when he grew up, and use that as his brand?"

Thaddeus Jones nodded uncomfortably.

Bodie and Tanner sussed it out almost simultaneously. For Bodie, it was the combination of Hannibal and Double H. For Vin Tanner, it was hearing the word 'kids' as he got a closer look at Jones' boyish face and curly hair.

"Hannibal Heyes," Bodie realized. He no longer wore a badge, but he knew his duty when there were desperadoes about. His hand went to his pistol.

"Kid Curry." A shadow of a smile crossed the bounty hunter's lips. He had complained when Larabee had insisted he accompany Standish to Fort Courage, but now he was glad. Fame and fortune awaited the man who brought in Heyes and Curry.

Thaddeus Jones, also known as Kid Curry, drew his own gun.

Bodie swore. He was accounted a fast-draw by most, but Curry's six-shooter had them covered before his gun was even aimed at the outlaw. "Sgt. O'Rourke, arrest these men," he ordered. "They're Heyes and Curry of the Devil's Hole Gang."

"An' there's a twenty thousand dollar price on their heads, dead or alive," Tanner added.

"We don't want any trouble. You just let us leave, peaceable-like, and no one will get hurt," Curry said. "Heyes, time to go. So long, H.D."

Sgt. O'Rourke reached for his Army issue Colt. "'Fraid I have to take you in, Heyes. The Army's the law in these parts."

Heyes upset the table, knocking cards and money to the floor, and putting the table between himself and the sergeant like a giant wooden shield.

"F Troop!" O'Rourke called to the cavalry troopers drinking at the bar. "Stop them!"

Standish and Maverick locked eyes. Both nodded. Maverick poured his beer out on the floor. Trooper Vanderbilt slipped on it and went flying.

Standish shoved the table into the way of three soldiers trying to reach Hannibal Heyes.

Duncan MacLeod saw what the two cardsharps were doing. Clan Currie, he remembered, was allied to Clan MacDonald. And other than some minor property disputes over boundary lines and cattle raids, MacLeod and MacDonald were "aye friends." Duncan stuck out a foot and tripped O'Rourke.

Heyes and Curry ran for the door.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

"The picnic was delicious, Janey," Captain Wilton Parmenter said as he helped Wranger Jane dismount from her horse. "May I treat you to a sarsaparilla?"

Before Jane Angelica Thrift could say yes or no, two men ran out of the saloon. "Hope you don't mind if we borrow these," Heyes said, mounting the captain's horse.

"Beg your pardon, ma'am." Curry stole a kiss, then stole her horse.

Wrangler Jane was too stunned by the kiss to say or do anything. Two cavalry troopers burst out through the batwing doors, running straight into Captain Parmenter, the collision knocking all three of them to the ground.

"Wilton, are you all right?" The buckskin-clad blonde knelt beside him, ignoring the fleeing outlaws.

Sgt. O'Rourke surveyed the damage in the saloon – his saloon – and swore. "They're escaping! Mount up a posse!"

Standish, too, examined the damage. "Don't bother. They'll be long gone before your men even manage to get themselves off the floor." He brushed a speck of dust off his crimson jacket.

"Mr. Standish, we might never see a game like that again," Bret Maverick lamented.

"Alas, Mr. Maverick, I fear you might be right," Ezra Standish agreed sadly.

"Never mind the game. The money!" mourned Sgt. O'Rourke.

"Twenty thousand dollars," Vin Tanner said ruefully.

"Sergeant, my pappy always told me that, in poker, money's just the way you keep score. But a game like that…" Maverick let his voice trail off, unable to find suitable adjectives to describe the game that had occupied the last three days.

"Priceless," agreed the usually mercenary Standish.

Maverick nodded his agreement.