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The Worst Table

Never ignore a rule.

By Mark GagnonPublished 4 months ago 3 min read
The Worst Table
Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

I was on vacation exploring famous locations in the historical wild west. As luck would have it, I arrived in Deadwood, South Dakota, on Wednesday, August 2, 2016. It was exactly 140 years ago to the day when James Butler Hickok (aka Wild Bill) was killed. I had to stay and learn all I could about the real man and the legend.

My first question was, if his name is James, why did everyone call him Wild Bill? Apparently, James had a very pronounced overbite. Kids can be cruel little monsters. At school, they nicknamed him duckbill, which sent him into a wild rage every time he heard it. As he got older, James grew a mustache to cover the deformity, but the nickname Wild Bill stuck.

Wild Bill was an excellent marksman, and after spending time in the military and law enforcement, earned a reputation as one of the best gunfighters in the west. Another attribute, using the word loosely, was his love of cards—poker, to be exact. It was during a poker game at Nuttall and Mann’s Saloon that he was shot in the back by Jack McCall. The cards in his hand were a pair of aces and a pair of eights, from then on known as the dead man’s hand.

I had learned all I could about Wild Bill, including his non-affair with Calamity Jane. It was getting late, so I rented a room at the Mineral Palace and Gaming Hotel across the street from where Wild Bill was shot. The room was typical for a casino hotel. The bed was comfortable, and without meaning to, I fell into a deep sleep.

I woke with a start to the sound of a tinny upright piano playing a jovial tune I had never heard before. People were milling around dressed in costumes directly from the 1870s. The room was reminiscent of an old west saloon. I caught sight of myself in the mirror behind the bar, but it couldn’t be me. I sported a long mustache, and was dressed stylishly for the times in a long coat with wide lapels, a shirt and tie, and knee-high boots. Strapped to my waist was a holstered six-gun on one hip and a large knife on the other. I fit in perfectly.

Instinctively, I headed to the bar for a drink. I must be asleep, was the only answer that came to mind. While I was still trying to sort out my current reality, a similarly dressed man walked up to me and said in a friendly tone, “We have an empty chair at our table and the game is just starting if you’d like to join us.”

I enjoy a friendly game of poker from time to time. Besides, interacting with the locals might help me figure out what’s going on. I grabbed my drink and followed him to the table. I have one rule I learned in the army and never break, always sit facing the entrance. This rule has helped me out of several potentially deadly situations. Unfortunately, the only empty chair placed my back to the door. I didn’t like it, but I took the seat.

We had been playing for about an hour. I was careful not to win big or lose big. Everyone was in good spirits, and I learned a lot about what it was like to live in Deadwood during the 1800s. The dealer delt the next hand of Five-Card Draw. I picked up my hand and froze—two aces and two eights. The dead man’s hand. Everyone at the table stared over my shoulder.

The loud bang of a door being slammed across the hall jolted me back to the present. I sat straight up, cold sweat pouring down my forehead. Later that evening, I went to the hotel restaurant for supper and insisted on a table with a seat facing the door.


About the Creator

Mark Gagnon

I have spent most of my life traveling around the US and the globe. Now it's time to draw on these experiences and create what I hope are interesting fictional stories. Only you, the reader, can tell me if I've achieved my goal.

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