Maria Faust and her Zombie
companion, Mr. Tall, encounter big trouble
under the big sky in

The Cold Rock Gamble

A 4-Episode Weird Western!

by Stanley "Buck" Weiss
About the author


Episode 1:
"Get Her, Boys!"

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MARIA FAUST DRAGGED HER SLENDER RIGHT index finger across the card table in a slow one-inch circle. Curly locks of red hair hung down around her soft and porcelain like face as she flashed her bright green eyes at each of the four men she was facing.  Men had told her that she had the features of a beautiful doll before, but few had the guts to add that her eyes had the same cold look of one.

In her left hand she held five playing cards.  Five cards that she knew would make the men sitting with her pull their pistols and accuse her of swindle.  Of course it was swindle.  She was very good at cards.  Good enough to know when to cheat so badly that you knew you'd get caught.

Maria had arrived in the small Nevada town of Cold Rock seven hours before.  Her employer, Sir Reginald M. Wormfall of Wormfall's Cabinet of Curiosity had sent her a telegram from New York requesting that she negotiate the purchase of a peace pipe from a local tribe. The peace pipe was rumored to have the power to elongate the life of the men who smoked from it.  Pipe of youth or not, the good gentleman wanted it for his showroom and he would pay Maria well to get it for him.

She blew one of the curls from in front of her face before letting her voice slide out like sweet honey.  

"Well --" There was one cowboy still in the game.  "-- you gonna show me those cards, Sugah, or should I just drag that pile of cash over right now?"

Maria had met with the Indians only to discover that six of their children and the school mother that the Quakers had sent to teach them English had disappeared from the small schoolhouse north of the village.  Maria surveyed the scene and surmised from the tracks and scuffle marks that they had been taken by men on horseback.  The tribe leaders were in no mood to discuss the sale of their pipe with their children gone, so she offered her services for their retrieval; six children and a schoolmarm for the right to display the peace pipe in The Cabinet in New York for one year, not a bad deal.

The dust covered cowboy smiled out from under his wide brimmed hat.  "You show me what you got under that dress of yours, girl, and you can drag that money in." He paused to spit in the small brass basin sitting next to him and then tossed a few bills into the large pot.  "Anything else is going to cost you another ten dollars."

It had taken only three hours to track down Shotgun Ron and his boys.  The town was a piss poor, dried up, and dying mining venture, and these boys were throwing money around like they had just hit the jackpot.  The gold, it was as good as the rock to these sick bastards; she could hear breathing and weeping silently not five feet under the floor boards of the room.  This is what she did for a living.  Travel the west looking finding, buying, or hustling artifacts for Wormfall to place under glass in his Cabinet.  It wasn't the most stable job, but it had its rewards.  Playing cards with two bit thieves in shit towns like Cold Rock, Nevada was not one of them.

"Why, Mr. Shotgun."  The words poured out of her mouth like molasses and got another lust filled laugh from the men around the table.  "I do believe you are being fresh with me."  Maria tossed a ten-dollar bill in the pot and asked the man to show his cards.

She had been in the town salon, known as The Hind Quarter, for about twenty minutes before she found the back room where Shotgun and his boys were holed up.  She used her looks to get into the room where the boys were having a private celebration, a flash of her money to get a game, and her talents at cards to stack the deck in her favor.

Shotgun Ron laid down his cards with a smile.  "Full house, Jacks over Bitches!"  He let his jaw go sideways in a little laugh.  "Kind a like it's gonna be here in a few minutes, right boys?"  The men around him all slapped the table and made approving remarks.

Maria placed her cards on the table and sat back.  Shotgun, Maria wondered why they called him that, she saw no shotgun with him, continued to laugh as he reached into the middle of the table for the money.  There was a slight shaking of his eyes as they fell on Maria's cards.

"Well, isn't that interesting." Maria said as she sat there resting her hand over the small circle she had drawn with her finger earlier in the game.  "Looks like we both got full houses.  Except mine are Aces over Assholes!"

The laughing stopped dead.  The men looked at each other and then to the woman in front of them.  This was not the look of admiration or lust that Maria had seen when she first entered the room.  This was a look of death and pain.

Those looks told Maria a lot about the kidnapping of the schoolmarm and her Indian children.  These men were not the masterminds.  They were bandits and rapists.  They did things for money and pleasure.  They forced their will on others to make them forget that they were only shit stains in the pants of the world.

Tension hung in the room like a wet sheet drawn tight on a line.  The four men had become like one creature, bent, poised to strike, only waiting for the head to say the words.

"Who are you," Shotgun asked through clenched teeth.

Maybe, Maria had underestimated his intelligence.

The other men were fingering their holsters.

"Where are the children, Andrew?"

The man known as Shotgun Ron looked aghast at the speaking of his birth name. He pulled his gun so fast Maria almost didn't see it coming, almost.

"I say again woman.  Who the hell are you and how the fuck do you know my name?"

She knew it because it floated around on the surface of his mind like a beacon.  His name, his hatred of his family, everything; his childhood of killing animals in his Colorado mining town rested like black and putrid rot on the top of a poisoned watering whole.

But why they called him Shotgun?  She could read surface thoughts, and if she concentrated, deeper thoughts of the people around her.  It was a talent that she had always possessed.  Mamma Magdalena, had taught her a great many things while Maria was her protégé, but even the great hoodoo priestess could not read minds.  Yet, Maria couldn't get deep enough into any of their inebriated and lust filled heads to pull out the information she needed.  That was the reason for the card game.  Sometimes the hard way was the only way.  And sometimes the hard way happened to be so much more fun.

"I can hear the school teacher under the floorboards."  The poor woman was crying and sputtering quietly through her broken mouth.  "But" She dragged the last words out as she slowly tapped the table where her index finger had drawn the circle not two minutes earlier.  "The Indian children aren't down there.  I am going to need to know where those kids are, Andrew."

"You ain't gonna know shit!"

The other men had stopped laughing.  They just looked back and forth from Maria to their leader.  Shotgun pulled the hammer back on his Colt and motioned toward Maria with his outstretched hand.  "Get her, boys!"

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On to Episode 2 : Introducing Mr. Tall

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The Cold Rock Gamble is copyright by Stanley "Buck" Weiss. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)