The Rules of the Game

By Carol Broyles

Shoulders slumped with dejection, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry sat across from each other on the narrow hotel beds. The room was two dollars a night, which was almost exactly how much the two partners had between them. The decision they faced now was whether they should stay another night in comfort at the hotel and go hungry tomorrow, or camp and ensure themselves something to eat. The roll of thunder and sudden hiss of rain on the window pane didn’t make the decision any easier.

Curry studied Heyes, who refused to meet his gaze, instead seemingly fascinated with a knothole in the pine plank flooring. Kid hated to prod him, but they’d have to make the decision soon or it would be too late to check out of the hotel and they’d have to pay for another night regardless.

“Don’t feel bad, Heyes. It could have happened to anyone,’’ Kid ventured, hoping to make his partner feel better.

“It couldn’t have happened. There was no way that cowboy should have filled that inside straight,’’ Heyes protested, the disbelief in his voice still evident. The money in that pot should have been theirs. Heyes was sure of it. And recklessly – although he hadn’t thought so at the time – he’d wagered almost every dollar the Kid and he had. Only to see it disappear on the turn of a lucky card.

“Don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s done,’’ Kid told him, and Heyes nodded absently, his brows still drawn together as he tried to figure just where he’d gone wrong.

“Heyes,’’ Kid began thoughtfully. “You’re about the best liar I’ve ever seen.’’

Still looking at the floor, Heyes grinned briefly, accepting the compliment.

“And I guess the state of Wyoming thinks we’re about the best thieves they’ve ever seen,’’ Curry continued.

Heyes looked up at last.

“What are you getting at, Kid?’’

“You never cheat at poker. Most people would say a liar and a thief would think nothing of cheating. And I know you could – you know every way ever invented to cheat at cards, and remember how you palmed that ace to beat Big Mac McCreedy at his own game? Cheating would be child’s play for you, but you’ve never done it. I was wondering why.’’

Heyes considered, running a hand through his dark hair.

“It may sound crazy, Kid, cause most people wouldn’t consider playing poker a very respectable way to make a living. But playing cards is the only *honest* thing I do really well. I can’t defend the stealing we did. And the lies are to protect us. But it wouldn’t feel right cheating at cards. It would spoil all the fun in winning. I guess a man has to have one pure thing he can stand up and be proud of.’’

Curry nodded slowly, as Heyes searched for an analogy.

“Kid, if you could cheat at that fast draw, would you?’’

“No.’’ Kid sounded definite.

“Even if it meant your life?’’ Heyes asked.

“Not even then.’’

“That’s what I mean,’’ Heyes explained. “That’s your *one thing.*’’

“So you’re saying it’s a matter of principle,’’ Curry said.

“Exactly.’’ Heyes nodded.

“So even if you’re broke and feeling bad because you think you let your partner down, you’ve still got something to be proud of,’’ Curry finished, his blue eyes locked with Heyes’.

Heyes was silent for a long minute, then he suddenly smiled. Curry was so plain-spoken and easy-going that it was sometimes easy to forget how astute he was.

“You feel like spending the night under the stars, Kid?’’ Heyes asked, still smiling.

“Heyes, if you can find a star out in this rain, you just may be the genius you think you are,’’ Curry ribbed him as he started to pack up his bedroll and saddle bags.

Five minutes later they were descending the hotel steps onto the street, which was already becoming muddy. Heyes tilted his black Stetson up and let the clean drops splash onto his face. There was a tiny break in the clouds, through which gleamed a single star.

Shaking his head with a chuckle, Heyes followed Curry down the street. In a world of material possessions, Heyes had two dollars, a loyal partner, and his honor. And it felt good.


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