Take a peek inside GALLOWAY'S GAMBLE . . .
The beginning. . .
“I’ve always been favored with the mixed blessing of
an excellent memory, for the good and the bad.”
- Jamey Galloway
February, 1852: Late on a cold Texas night, in a well-tended log cabin, Cara Landry sits still in a rocking chair by the glow of a lone lantern. Pale and pretty, she keeps her hands warm under a blanket across her lap. Her two boys, just shy of four and five years of age, sleep under quilts on a straw mattress in the corner. The steady rhythm of their breathing is the only sound in the room.
Then, outside, footsteps scuff through sand and gravel.
Sketched by moonlight, a big man’s shadow crosses the
drafty window near the front door. After fumbling at the
latch, he stumbles in. Drunk. He shoulders the door shut
The woman’s quiet voice sounds as chilly as the night
air. “Reuben. I’ll be taking the boys and leaving you.”
“You be what?”
“What you made me do at the saloon—that’s the end
of this. I’m your wife. Not a whore.”
In two strides, swarthy Reuben Landry reaches the bed.
When his strong laborer’s hands yank both boys out from
under their quilts, they wake with a yelp. With one son
under each arm, he faces his wife. Drunk as he is, his words
are clear. “You ain’t takin’ nobody. You ain’t goin’ nowhere. I swear, Cara.”
She stands. Her blanket slips to the plank floor, revealing the Colt Dragoon revolver she raises with both hands. Almost as long as her forearm, the black pistol weighs near four pounds. But she aims it steady, elbows braced against her ribs. Her thumb cocks the hammer.
Reuben pouts, not at all taking her seriously. “Now, that’s a hell of a thing. I gave you that gun, girl.”
“For protection, when you’d be gone. But you’re what we need protecting from.”
“Is it loaded?”
“Like you taught me.”
His smirk softens into a charming, snaggle-toothed smile. “Now, sha, set that gun down so we can talk.”
“Put the boys back in their bed.”
The big Colt doesn’t waver. So he lets down the smaller kid, who scuttles to the far side with wide eyes. But Reuben doesn’t put the older boy down. Instead, he raises his long knife under the chin of the son thrashing in his grip.
“Let him go,” Cara says. “And then get out. Don’t come back ’til you can see straight.”
Reuben lowers the knife, as if surrendering. He tosses his son onto the bed. A heartbeat later, he lunges blade-first at his wife. Cara squeezes the trigger. Time seems to slow. Stinging smoke and fire explode from the gun.
The shot hits Reuben in the chest. His eyelids flutter in surprise at the sudden flow of his own blood.
“Hnnh . . . ain’t that a hell of a thing.” He falls to his knees and pitches forward. Dead, two yards from Cara’s feet.
* * * *
That dead man was my father. The woman who killed him was my mother. The boy who struggled for his life was my brother, Jake, older by thirteen months. And I was the tot who cowered. That night is my first vivid memory. I still recall it, right down to the whiskey on his breath, the thunder from her gun, his blood spreading in a ruddy pool on the floor.
But then I’ve always been favored with the mixed blessing of an excellent memory, for the good and the bad. And, with a new century turned not long ago, I reckoned if that old gunfighter and gambler Bat Masterson could end up a sportswriter in New York City, well, I should write a book myself, before the details blurred into tall tales.
My brother and me rambled through an odyssey that included honor and treachery, tears and laughter, cruelty and kindness. Our journey took us from fighting in the Civil War to escaping from Indians, from the open range to high-stakes poker on grand Mississippi riverboats. Though we rarely looked for trouble, trouble had a way of finding us.
We had no forewarning that we’d someday be forced into a titanic struggle against a formidable enemy, with the very existence of our hometown Serenity Falls hanging in the balance. We learned that Fate rarely nudges us in the right direction—and life, like cards, is a chancy proposition. If you want to win, you’ve got to be willing to lose.
As William Shakespeare wrote, “Yield not thy neck to fortune's yoke, but let thy dauntless mind still ride in triumph over all mischance.”
Everything you will read here I saw with my own eyes, or heard from trustworthy witnesses. It’s all pretty much as it happened.
James B. Galloway
Jamey and Jake fight (sort of) as Confederate soldiers in the Civil War. . .
. . . Those Yankee troops had us outnumbered and pinned down. “Fire at them, God damn you!” our Captain Mercier shouted.
Hunkered in our hiding place, behind the toppled tree and dense brush, I turned to see my brother Jake reloading his Remington pistols. He had a look on his face I knew well, and didn’t like. He was about to try something, even if it was something dumb. “Jake, we’re
“Probably. Maybe we should charge.”
“What? Why would you even think that?”
Jake frowned. “Jamey, I’m your big brother.”
“You look up to me.”
“You being humble and all.”
“I stay here hidin’, what kind of example would I be
settin’ for you?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“I’ll tell you. I’d be a coward.”
“And if you run out there?”
“Well, that’d be brave.” A dubious pause. “Wouldn’t it?”
Jake snorted. “Well, now you got me conflicted.”
“Better a live coward than a dead hero.”
“Cowards die many times before their deaths,” Jake said, quoting Shakespeare. “The valiant never taste of death but once.”
“I can live with that,” I said . . .
Jamey and Jake hit the road. . .
. . . Brother Jake and me both knew: there was nothing keeping us in Serenity Falls. It was time to go and see if we really could make our way in the world as professional
Although Mama wasn’t happy about our decision, she’d
seen it coming, and she didn’t object. She even helped us pack,
and as we waited with her and Cruz in front of the Shamrock
for the stage to pick us up on a chilly January morning, she said
a little prayer for us: “Dear Lord, please watch over my idiot sons.
Give Jamey and Jake courage. And strength. Help ’em be good
and peaceful. Forgive the rebellious sins of youth.” She paused.
“Oh, and please help ’em be smarter than they sometimes tend
to be. Amen.”
“Amen,” we mumbled.
“When’ll you be back?” Mama asked.
We both shrugged.
Mama sighed and cast a glance heavenward: “Dear Lord, you have your work cut out for you . . .”
Sometimes you win. . .
. . . Gideon Duvall smiled and laid out his cards. Four queens.
Our host Emile Doucette whistled. “Tough to beat a quartet of ladies.”
“Wanna bet?” my brother Jake said.
I modestly set down my hand: the three, four, five, six . . . and seven of diamonds. Gideon’s queens may have been prettier, but my workmanlike straight flush prevailed.
As I raked in my winnings, Gideon stood, flashed a crocodilian
smile and shook my hand with a bone-crushing grip. “Next time?
Different outcome, son.” He headed for the door.
“Comes to poker,” Doucette said, “Gideon Duvall’s the Big ’Gator.
You bested him your first time.”
Jake came over, holding a handwritten note. “What’s that?” I
“Invitation,” Jake said.
“Gideon Duvall, for a rematch. On the Queen of New Orleans.
Sailing from Memphis to St. Louis.”
Doucette whistled again. “That’s a rich game. A word of advice?
Don’t press your luck.”
“Luck’s not why I won,” I said, not meaning to brag.
“That confidence could serve you well,” Doucette said, “or cost you every penny. . . ”
Sometimes you lose. . .
. . . Gideon Duvall’s royal flush beat my straight. I stared, unblinking. How could I have been wrong?
As Gideon accepted accolades, he flashed a pearly smile. “Money talks, mes amis. Mostly, it says . . . au revoir.”
Brother Jake steered me outside into the chilly darkness, and I paced the riverboat’s promenade, replaying the final hand in my brain, over and over. “Fifty. Thousand. Dollars.”
“Lotta money,” Jake said.
“Gone. Like black magic. Duvall could not have had those cards.”
“But he did.”
I stopped. “H-h-how did I not see it?”
“You got greedy. He played you like a fiddle. And you rosined up
“I thought for sure you knew.”
“And you didn’t tell me?!”
“Jamey, you’re a great poker player. But you need to pay attention
if you’re gonna beat cardsharps like Duvall.”
“Awww . . .” The boat’s steam whistle moaned in sympathy. “You
could’ve told me.”
“Look,” Jake said, “I play reckless ’cuz you almost always win. If you’re gonna start being reckless, I gotta rethink this whole system . . . ”
And sometimes you risk it all. . .
. . .“Look,” my brother Jake said, “we got less than three weeks ’til this whole town’s evicted.”
Gideon Duvall’s eyes twinkled. “Then we better get started.”
“Why, selling Mr. Krieg a railroad,” Gideon said.
Jake cocked his head like a confused pup. “But we don’t own a
“When we’re done,” I said, “neither will he. But we could end up
with enough of his money to save this town.”
“Or we could end up in jail,” Jake said.
“Your way, we could end up dead,” I said.
Juliet’s eyes narrowed. “Why would somebody like Krieg fall for
“Greed bewitches,” Mississippi Mike Morgan said, tapping a finger to the side of his head. “Turns smart men stupid. Lures ’em to their doom. Always has, always will . . . ”
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