The Winning Hand

The Box Canyon Serial appears below after The Winning Hand

The Winning Hand

by Kevin Bannigan Jr.

My friend—okay, let’s be honest from the get-go, he wasn’t much more than an acquaintance—Brady had just made an outrageous claim.

“Impossible,” I said. “No one, not even Doyle freakin’ Brunson—shit, probably not even Jesus himself—can play poker as many times as you have and not once lose.”

Brady shrugged. “I don’t know what else to say.”

“The truth maybe?”

Brady laughed. “Let me say it another way, to see if it clicks in your tiny little pea brain. I have never left the casino without at least as much as I brought in.”

I’d had enough. “When you going to play again?”

“Tomorrow night, after work.”

“You won’t mind me tagging along, will you?”


“And if you end up winning, I’ll tag along the next time too.”


“And the time after if I have to. I’m going to come with you until you lose, which you will, because no one in the history of poker has won every single freaking time.”

“I’ll call you when I’m heading over to play tomorrow.”

I shook my acquaintance’s hand. “Looking forward to it Brade.”

* * *

The following night Brady sat at one of the tables and played for a few hours. I sat at the bar nearby and observed. But I wouldn’t be satisfied on this night; Brady won over three hundred dollars and walked away from the table a very happy man.

Three nights later was a different story. Just a few minutes into the game, Brady had a flush and was betting aggressively. The game was Texas Hold ’em. The dealer flipped the last card face up and it happened to be the king of clubs. There was one other king on the board which made Brady’s flush vulnerable to a possible full house. And, even though I didn’t want Brady to lose his money, I couldn’t help but smile when his opponent revealed that he did indeed hold a full house.

Brady looked stunned. I admit to enjoying the feeling of triumph that came over me. Really, how surprised should I have been? No one can play poker consistently and not lose sometimes. I decided not to rub it in.

Brady stood and shook hands with the old man who’d beaten him. The old man nodded and gave Brady a sheepish grin. Brady came over and sat at the bar. I asked him what he was drinking.

“Anything you want. Just make it a double.”

* * *

It was an hour later when Brady suddenly downed his half-a-glass of beer and stood up.

“We gotta go,” he said.

I looked at my own glass, still a quarter full. “Why the sudden rush?” I asked.

“Let’s go man.”

I was about to tell Brady to chill out, when he turned to me and pleaded. “Please.”

Something was wrong. The first thing that came to mind was that some large, muscular man who Brady owed money to had just walked in, all outta bubble gum. I suddenly wanted to leave too. “All right. Let’s go.”

Brady immediately started walking towards the escalators.

“Damn dude, wait up,” I said.

Brady jogged down the escalator steps. I did the same. By the time I reached the parking lot Brady was gone from sight, but I saw him when I turned to the right. The old man walking a few feet in front of him. That’s when my stomach went sour. Brady was gonna jump the old man and take his money back. He was drunk and about to do something extremely stupid, and it was up to me to make sure that didn’t happen.

“Brady!” I yelled, picking up my pace. By the time I caught up with Brady he had gotten the old man’s attention.

“Can I help you son?” asked the old man.

“I really hope so,” Brady said.

The old man didn’t respond.

“God, this is so embarrassing. You see, I have a wife and two kids.” Brady turned and gave me a look that I couldn’t interpret. “I . . . I really shouldn’t have been playing cards tonight. Please sir, I beg you, can I have my money back? Please?”

The old man laughed. “I don’t believe this. You can’t be serious.” He looked around. “Where’s the hidden camera?”

Brady removed his wallet. He flipped it open and revealed a picture of two young children, one boy and one girl. I have no clue who they were. “I need that money. My boy’s birthday is in three days. I’ll never gamble again, I swear. Please, I’m begging you sir.”

The old man was shaking his head.

“My fiancee will leave me if I go home broke again. I’m at your mercy.” He voiced even cracked for dramatic effect. I knew before the old man spoke that Brady had hooked his fish.

The old man groaned. “How much did you come with?”

“Two thirty-five.”

I almost smacked Brady right then; he had come to the casino with one hundred and seventy dollars.

The old man sighed, removed his wallet, and gave Brady “his” money back. “I hope you’re ashamed of yourself.”

“Oh God sir, you don’t know how much this means to me. Thank you. I swear this will never happen again.”

Without another word the old man got into his car and we walked to mine. I drove Brady home. Neither of us spoke on the way home. Before closing the door the bastard said, “Told ya.” I peeled my wheels and sped off.

It was despicable. Never, under any circumstances, does a poker player ask for his money back. It’s like the cardinal rule in poker etiquette. I truly hated Brady at that moment. But what I hated even more was that I couldn’t help but admire the bastard, just a tiny little bit.

◊ ◊ ◊

Kevin Bannigan Jr.
Kevin Bannigan Jr. is an avid reader and writer of all thing unusual, uncanny, and unsettling. He is inspired by his favorite writers, including: Richard Matheson, Ken Follet, Dan Simmons, Stephen King, among many others. He also has a love of cinema, and hopes to one day have a screenplay of his turned into a feature film. His fiction appears in several anthologies, all of which can be found on his Amazon Author Page.




Box Canyon

The Box Canyon

A Serial in Eight Parts

Previous Episodes: 12 3 4 5 6

Episode 7

It was late afternoon when the gunman came back down the arroyo. He stopped when he saw where the runoff from the side canyon entered the arroyo. After a moment he disappeared into the mesquite and brush. Sam soon saw him enter the side canyon and ride slowly, looking for tracks. Sam followed along on the canyon edge, losing sight off and on.

Sam saw the gunman stop and tie his horse when the brush fence came in view. He moved cautiously forward until the cabin and the horses grazing in the box canyon were visible. Returning to his horse, he removed a small spyglass and returned to study the horses. Looking for brands, Sam reasoned. Returning to his horse, he spent a long time studying the mountain side opposite the box canyon before riding back down the side canyon. When he got to the arroyo, he rode north and disappeared.

As dark settled in Sam returned to the cabin and made another batch of corn dodgers and roasted more venison. While they cooled he prepared for the next day. He filled both his and Chester’s canteens and retrieved his bedroll. When the corn dodgers were cool, he put them in a sack along with the extra venison steaks he had roasted.

He stuffed his pockets with 50-70 shells, hoisted the sack and bedroll on his shoulder. Carrying the Remington rifle and the water he climbed up to the spot that he had previously scouted out and made himself as comfortable as possible. Sam spend the night in fitful catnaps.

* * *

Sam watched as the hills turned from blue to golden as the sun rose.

It was almost an hour before he saw movement across the canyon. The gunman came across the side of the canyon and took up a position across from the cabin. He rested the long barrelled Sharps on a boulder and watched the cabin. From the way he had come, Sam guessed that the gunman’s horse was at the mouth of the side canyon.

From behind a juniper tree Sam watched, the long Remington Rolling Block leaning against one of the limbs. Eventually he sighed, raised the butt of the rifle to his shoulder, and drew a bead on the gunman. He held his aim low because of the angle, took a breath and let it out. He did not fire.

It had been years since the war and even then he had not shot at an individual. This was different than aiming cannons at the Union boats and barges at Sabine Pass. Time and again Sam took aim and then hesitated. A hour dragged by.

“Him or me,” Sam muttered and took aim one last time. The big Remington roared and shards flew from the rock inches from the gunman’s head, which immediately disappeared behind the boulder. As the echo died away, Sam cocked rifle, rolled back the block and reloaded. The  silence that remained after the echo was overwhelming, and everything seemed to stand still for Sam. Then a hand reached up and the Sharps disappeared behind the boulder.

For long minutes nothing moved across the canyon. Then a rock rolled from between a mesquite and a boulder farther up the canyon wall and Sam sent a big .50 slug where the rock had come from. Leaving the rifle, he quickly moved along toward the canyon mouth, keeping out of sight as much as possible. When he reached the arroyo he descended to the mesquite bosque and within minutes as able to locate the gunman’s horse.

After seeing that the gunman had used the javelina trail to climb the canyon wall, Sam found a good comfortable hiding place by a large mesquite. With a good view of the horse and trail, he settled in to wait, Colt in hand. Time dragged as he forced himself to be patient. The gunman would come to his horse sooner or later. The horse stood quietly, having grown used to Sam’s presence, occasionally shaking his head at flies.

As the sun rose higher and higher, the basque grew warm. Sam could hear the doves in the trees calling to one another and a coyote came sniffing after the horse until he saw Sam and quickly disappeared. As it grew warmer, Sam wished he had not left his canteen back at the juniper tree.

Long hours passed. As the temperature rose, he soon had to fight off drowsiness and force himself to stay alert. In the quiet the small birds flitted in the trees and a brown bird with a russet chest flew erratically, chasing bugs. A woodpecker with a red head worked on a nearby mesquite.

The sun was high overhead before Sam heard footsteps…

To be continued

2 thoughts on “The Winning Hand

  1. I’m enjoying this series. Not normally a reader of westerns, this doesn’t have the same feel, even if that’s the setting. Very nicely done.

  2. My apologies, my last comment was for Box Canyon.

    Here are my thoughts on Winning Hand.
    I loved the twist at the end, definitely unexpected. Very nicely written.

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