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Jim Thompson

Texas By The Tail

1

Lint-like threads of cigarette smoke cloyed around the four men, mingling with the faint fumes of very good whiskey, occasionally swirling away from them with the soft explosions of some very bad words. It was the night of the last day of Fort Worth's internationally known Rodeo and Fat Stock Show. The room was one of the hotel's best, a bargain-by its tenant's standards-at thirty dollars a day.

As the man next to him crapped out, Mitch Corley took out his wallet and peered into it deliberately through old-fashioned, steel-rimmed spectacles. He was playing the rube here in Fort Worth, the big frog from a little puddle, the small-town rich man. He wore a ranch-style hat, an ill-fitting suit, and a pongee shirt with a string tie (and mannerisms to match). Glancing cautiously from his wallet to the three other men, he looked fifteen years older than his thirty-five.

'All right with you fellas,' he said, 'if I shoot two hundred?'

'Two hundred?' The red-faced drilling contractor groaned. 'Jesus Christ, shoot two thousand if you want to!'

'Yeah, what the hell?' frowned the cattle buyer. 'I thought you were a crapshooter, Pops. God knows you talk a big game!'

Mitch hesitated, letting their irritation mount, then slowly counted five twenties onto the bed. 'Reckon I just better stick to a hundred,' he said. 'Don't feel so lucky tonight.'

There was a chorus of groans and curses. With dogged patience, the lease dealer suggested that Mitch might do well to pull out. 'I reckon the game's a little too fast for you, Corley. Maybe you better go back to Pancake Junction or wherever you came from, and match pennies with the mayor.'

'Now, don't you go a-pokin' fun at me,' Mitch grumbled. 'I done lost three hundred dollars tonight, an' I aim to get it back.'

'Then, shoot for Christ's sake! Crap or get off the hole!'

Mitch said that he was going to shoot, and he was going to make it two hundred after all. He again opened his wallet, glancing at his watch as he counted out another hundred. Almost eight minutes yet: eight minutes before the payoff and the take-out. He would have to stall a little.

Clumsily picking up the two dice, he let one fall to the floor. That took care of a minute, in all, which left him approximately seven more to kill. Again-for the third time, now-he took out his wallet.

'Holy God!' The drilling contractor slapped his forehead. 'What now?'

'I'm goin' to shoot another hundred, that's what! You think I'm a piker, I'll show you.'

'Shoot it! Shoot five hundred, if you want to!'

'I reckon you think I won't.' Mitch glared at him crankily. 'I reckon you think I ain't got five hundred.'

'Pops,' the cattle buyer said wearily. 'For God's sake, Pops.'

'All right!' Mitch slammed more bills onto the bed. 'I'm shootin' five hundred!'

He picked up the dice, setting them with an invisible movement of his fingers; fixing them to the necessary position. He rattled them- or appeared to. Actually, the dice remained set: he was only clicking one against the other. He threw them with feigned awkwardness.

The red cubes spun down on the bed's tightly stretched blanket. Came up on a six and an ace.

'The man sevened,' intoned the lease dealer. 'Want to shoot it all, Corley?'

'You mean a whole thousand? A whole thousand dollars?'

'Goddammit!' The contractor hurled his hat across the room. 'Shoot something! Shoot or pass the dice!'

Mitch went for the grand. He came out with a six-five. He was taunted and jeered and cursed into going for the two thousand.

'Why not? You're shooting with our money!'

'All right, by gosh! I'll do it!'

He spun the dice out again. A four-trey faced up on the blanket. As the others groaned, he reached for the money.

'I reckon I just better shoot a hundred this time,' he said. 'Or maybe just fifty. If that's all right with you fellas.'

It was damned well not all right with the fellas, and they made him know it. The hell he'd drop the bet to peanuts while he held a bale of their money!

'But four thousand dollars,' Mitch protested. 'Four thousand dollars!'

'You're covered,' the cattle buyer said coldly. 'Shoot!'

'Well, all right,' Mitch said nervously. 'All right, dang it!'

He rubbed his hand against his pant leg, wiping the sweat from it before picking up the dice. His nervousness was not entirely feigned. Once, even with the best of surgeons, the scalpel may slip. Once the most skilled of knife-throwers may throw a little too close. Once-only once-the high-wire walker may misstep to eternity. So with the dice handler.

No amount of skill or practice is completely impregnable to luck. There is no statute of limitations on the law of averages.

Two minutes to go. Eight thousand dollars on the bed. Just about all they were carrying, Mitch guessed. Certainly all that it was safe to take away from a group like this. And the taking would have to look very good. No sevens or elevens this time. Nothing that a square might do legitimately. An Honest John might make seven or eight straight passes in a row, but a hustler had to play it cute.

He clicked the dice. He threw them awkwardly. Then stood chagrined as the others snorted with laughter.

'Up jumped the devil! You got a big four, Pops.'

'Now, god-dang,' Mitch whimpered. 'God-dang it, anyways!'

'Want to bet a little more, Corley? Give you six to five.'

'Danged if you won't,' Mitch grumbled; and they laughed again.

Joe, of course, is the lowest point on the dice. Above it are Phoebe Five (a hard gal to know), Easy Six (three combinations), Craps (three), Eighter-Decatur (three), Quinine (a bitter two), Big Dick (two) and the fielders, Heaven-eleven and Boxcars, which have no bearing after the initial roll. The theoretical odds against five and nine are approximately three to two, as opposed to six to five for six and eight. The odds are two to one against ten and four, but any crapshooter will swear that ten is an easier point to make.

Obviously, Little Four has little going for him. As if recognizing the fact, he normally stays out of sight after showing his luckless little face.

'Roll 'em, Pops! Let's see some craps!'

'Don't rush me,' Mitch whined. 'I'm rollin' these here dice!'

He threw them. A big ten (four on the bottom). He threw again-nine. Then, eight and five and six. Where the hell was Red? What the hell was she waiting on? With so much riding, these guys could be hard to handle. He was getting tense, and tension was hell on control, and-

There it was! The signal. The muted, familiar cough, coming from just outside the door. It went unheard by the others, lost in their own noise.

'Seven dice! Let's see a six-ace!'

'Come on, Pops! What the hell you waitin' for?'

'Give me time, dang it! Stop rushin' me!'

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