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There's Just No Figuring

A card game. A beautiful horse. And how a gambling debt gets paid. In The Gutter.

There's Just No Figuring by Oliver Brennan

Before he climbed out of the old pickup Marshal Henshaw grabbed his Colt .45, popped open the cylinder and rolled it to make sure there was a full six. Fence posts stood sentry, unfinished soldiers waiting for their orders. The rails were nowhere to be seen, could be they’ll use wire instead. He chewed on a tab with the texture of chalk, for the particularly nasty heartburn that started after the chorizo omelet Annie made special for him before his trip — it was worth every burning burp. Marshal Henshaw popped another chalk-tab and put his hat on. The wet grass under his boots wasn’t too saturated. Must not have rained here like it had in Galveston. Thunder clapped and he looked to the sky. He put a boot onto the old porch, rested a hand on his holstered weapon and waited. A horse whinnied, maybe because of the thunder.
“That badge give you rights when you’re trespassin’?” The over-under shotgun came up with the voice of Eddie Harbour.
“Eddie.”
“Yessir, that’s me.”
“Well, sir. I’m a United States Marshal, so I’d say this badge gives me some leeway on trespass laws, even in Texas.”
“Could be no one knows you’re out here,” Eddie said.  His teeth were stained yellow with tobacco and he spit a long line of brown juice toward Marshal Henshaw’s boot. “That truck don’t look like a company car.” He didn’t mention the horse trailer attached to it.
“It’s the one I like havin’ in my company. Always feel too uneasy in them old Crown Vics from the office. As for someone knowin’ I’m here… I’d put my money on the knowin’ part.”  Marshal Henshaw stepped full onto the porch.  It creaked under his weight. “That a Spanish side lock?” He pointed to the antique shotgun Eddie was aiming in his general direction.“It is,” Eddie said.
The United States Marshal planted his feet, took a sideways stance, motioned toward the three horses out under the Spanish moss, leaned against a post and said, “I’m here to collect.” He’d won the Arabian out there fair and square.  He didn’t know before the hand was dealt, before he made the bet, that it was on Eddie’s property, might’ve walked from the table if he had.
“Well, Goddamn. It is personal.” Eddie put his shotgun down, rested it barrel up against the old house. “Beer?”
“Won’t say no.”
Eddie opened a cooler and pulled out two Lone Stars, tossed one at the Marshal. The moisture from the ice sweated down the side of the tall can. They cracked them open at the same time. Foam popped out of Eddie’s and he sipped off the top.
“That a catfish pond down there?” Marshal Henshaw nodded his head toward a small brown pond with a short dock and what looked like a feeder.
“You know, I never figured you’d be the one,” Eddie said while he sipped his beer.
“Not planning on givin’ that horse up too easy then?”
“Not planning on givin’ it up ’tall.” The Arabian dug its hoof into the ground, sick of being behind the electrified rope. “Was my sister’s, that horse.”
“Hard to believe you had family.”
Eddie spit another long line of brown juice out past the porch.
“Hard to believe a lot a things, Sheriff.” Eddie smiled and spit again.
“You sell those catfish to a restaurant?”
“Fished it with my nephews is all,” Eddie said. He finished the beer, crumpled the can and tossed it into an old paint bucket.
“That horse I won fair and square,” Marshal Henshaw said.
“Not from me you didn’t.”
“Well, Eddie, per the papers I got here, he’s mine now.” Marshal Henshaw pulled out a folded proof of purchase for the Arabian.
“I don’t give half a shit what’s on that paper.” Thunder clapped again. Lightning tickled the horizon. Eddie stood up and reached for the shotgun.
Marshal Henshaw drew and fired. He got Eddie Harbour in the heart, he suspected, because the man went down like a heavy sack. The Marshal walked over, looked down at Eddie and shook his head, mumbled a prayer for the poor man’s soul and put a copy of the proof of purchase on Eddie’s chest. Blood bubbled from the wound like the spring in a creek. Marshal Henshaw walked toward the corralled horses — two Tennessee Walkers and the Arabian, who’d settled down and watched him. Maybe the horse was happy Eddie was gone.
“Seems you’re coming with me,” he said to the Arabian. The animal walked a tight circle in anticipation of potential freedom. Marshal Henshaw observed the handle on the roped electrified fence.  Plastic, round, not meant to conduct electricity, as it should be. Eddie was a slick son-of-a-bitch but, the Marshal figured, not smart enough to rig the fencing. He grabbed the handle and set to open it. The jolt of electricity shot through his arm so fast he lost his breath, couldn’t move his hand away. Spittle flew from his quivering lips. The charge twisted through him, and straight to his old heart. Marshal Henshaw went down, rolled on his back and had a moment with the clouds before his eyes closed for good.  The fence fell open. The Arabian made another tight circle then stepped over Marshal Henshaw’s body. The Tennessee Walkers followed and all three animals ran the ranch.


Oliver Brennan lives in Portland, Oregon, where the rain is relentless. He's been to Texas more than once, and each time it taught him something — Texas is different. He's working on his first novel. It’s crime ridden and violent — just the way he likes it. He listens to heavy metal when he writes. His favorite animal is the wolverine, not because of the comic; but that’s a different story.