Kay throws down her cards, pushing back from the table with a series of decidedly unladylike curses, the sudden noise like a gunshot in the otherwise uneasily silent saloon.
For a brief, tense moment, it seems certain that one of the hired guns working for Vortiger’s outfit is going to pull iron — maybe even old “King” Cole Vortiger himself — but even in his own territory, Vortiger knows that there are just some things you don’t do.
Vortiger has surrounded himself with rough hard-bitten men; men who would be outlaws if Vortiger didn’t make the laws to suit himself on this range. Even they know you don’t draw on a man when there’s cards on the table, and you don’t shoot a man in the back…not where anybody can see, anyway.
Territory in this wild, untamed country is controlled by powerful men, men who control range and water rights sometimes for hundreds of miles in any direction — in times gone by these men would have been called kings…and Cole Vortiger has done much since he came to the range to ensure that everyone living on the Avalon Mesa knows it.
The tense moment passes. Seeing his chance gone, Vortiger nods to his men, carefully avoiding the hateful glare of his woman, Morgan. As the man across the table from Arthur slowly pulls the pile of bills and golden eagles toward him, Vortiger’s boys start to slip out of the saloon.
Now, there are only two men at the table. Arthur, and the man they call Anvil.
Anvil smiles, the skin crinkling around the faded eyepatch but — strangely — not around the distant, grey eye that remains in his rough cut features. His hands move quickly and efficiently to stack the coins and bills in front of him, and then to gather the cards scattered on the table from the last hand. His win in the last hand was substantial…almost enough to match that in front of Arthur, who is doing his best to project confidence as he faces the most notorious gunman and gambler in the territory…worse yet, he’s one of Vortiger’s men, and — in a cruel twist of fate — the town Marshal, wearing Uther Britton’s badge.
He shuffles the cards with almost blinding speed, then stops, holding the deck out absent-mindedly toward the boy, Percival. “I don’t want there to be any doubts when I take this man’s money — cut the deck, and deal.”
Anvil’s lip curls up slightly. His distant, slate grey eye focuses on Arthur. He pauses, and then pushes everything in front of him toward the center of the table.
“I’m all in…but that doesn’t quite cover you,” he says, nodding toward the noticeably larger pile of cash in front of Arthur. Slowly, his hand slips beneath the table, and you hear the unmistakable sound of metal sliding against leather. Quickly, the barrel of a gun appears above the surface of the table. Arthur tenses, but he quickly twirls the gun, turning the barrel back on himself, and presenting the worn wooden grip to Arthur. “Maybe this will make up the difference?”
It is instantly recognizable: a custom-made colt revolver. Arthur almost reaches for it then, but lets Anvil put the pistol down on the table. He remembers this gun: it was his father’s. It’s once-perfect grips are marred by the notches cut into it, each representing a man gunned down while Anvil represented what goes for law in this lawless land.
“It’s a fair bet,” Arthur whispers, peeling up the edges of his cards. A full house: kings over deuces. He smiles.
Arthur Britton is not leaving the Avalon Mesa without his father’s gun.