Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Gambler's Ghost" by Anonymous

Gambler's Ghost

Ace Quimbey paced back and forth in the jail cell until sheer exhaustion forced him to fall onto the straw littered bunk. "I didn't do it! I didn't do it!" he sobbed. "Bank robbin' ain't my line. Ask anybody who knows me!"

"Deputy! Deputy!" another prisoner yelled. "Transfer that tinhorn to the Amarillo jail until he comes up for trial. I ain't had a decent night's sleep since he wuz locked up here!"

The deputy's voice boomed down the jail corridor from the office in the front. "This goes for Quimbey, an' you, too, Garrett, an' all the rest o' you prisoners. The next man who opens his mouth will have nothing but bread and water for a week. Shut up, all of you!"

"I didn't do it!" Ace Quimbey wailed. "Ask Morty the bartender! Ask Jeff Eames who wuz ridin' through from Denver. I'm a gamblin' man. Never stole a dollar in my life!"

Rod Hodgkins, the deputy, gripped the arms of his chair to hold himself in check. He was a patient man, but his nerves were now near the breaking point. "What can I do with that gambler?" he muttered under his breath. "He's drivin' me loco! An' the judge won't be back to hold court till Friday, almost a whole week!"

Suddenly an idea struck the deputy. It was wild, it was desperate. If it failed, he'd lose his job. But he had to do something about Quimbey!

Hodgkins took the keys and went down the corridor. He opened Quimbey's cell. "Come on!" he growled loud enough for the other prisoners to hear. "We're movin' you to the Amarillo jail till your case comes up for trial."

Quimbey staggered out of the cell like a man in a nightmare. Hodgkins had to step in and get the gambler's frock coat and hat. When he returned to the jail office, he motioned for Quimbey to sit down.

"I think you're innocent," he told the gambler, "but the cards are stacked against you. The cashier, clerk and treasurer swore on signed statements that it wuz you who held up the bank last Wednesday when most of the town wuz over to the creek watchin' the boys pull Cy Clements' buckboard from the mud."

Quimbey ran slender fingers through his sleek black hair and raised his pale blue eyes to meet the deputy's gaze. "It wuz somebody who looked like me, perhaps, but it wuzn't me. I wuz playin' a game of solitaire at my reg'lar table in the back of the Union Saloon when it happened. Morty the bartender and Jeff Eames will swear in court I never left the place that afternoon."

"But the court won't take their word against the testimony of the three bank employees. Quimbey, have you any idea who might have been impersonatin' you?"

"Why sure! I told the sheriff it had to be Jake Buhler. He's about my build. He got a key to my room in the hotel, put on my spare suit of clothes. And after I'd been picked up fer the job, he slipped back to my room and changed into his own clothes."

"That might be hard to prove," the deputy mused. "Buhler is a harness maker, outta work most o' the time. What makes you think he robbed the bank?"

"He owed money to 'bout ever'one in town, includin' me," Quimbey moaned. "He'd received threats, an' knew he'd be in trouble if he didn't pay up. But them that he's mebbe paid will keep close-mouthed. They don't care where the money came from so long as they got it back."

Hodgkins took a gun from the desk drawer, handed it to Quimbey. "Now do exactly as I tell you. God help you if you don't!"

Hope shone in the gambler's eyes as he took the gun and shoved it in the waistband of his trousers. "I'm a man of my word, deputy!" he murmured solemnly.

"Get over to Buhler's room. Don't let anybody see you. Use the back stairs. If he ain't there, wait for him — and demand the money he owes you. If you ain't back here before sunrise, I'll be comin' after you!"

Jake Buhler shook like a leaf when he opened the door and saw Ace Quimbey holding a gun. "I ain't Quimbey," the gambler growled. "I'm his ghost, the one who robbed the bank. Now gimme the money you owe him!"

"Don't shoot, don't shoot!" Buhler whimpered. "How did yuh know it wuz me who stuck up the bank, Ace? How did yuh bust outta jail?"

"Dig up the money an' come along with me," Quimbey ordered. "You'll find out!"

Fifteen minutes later Quimbey turned Buhler over to Deputy Hodgkins who wasted no time locking Buhler in the cell that Quimbey had vacated. When he returned to the front office, he found Quimbey spreading money on the desk where the gun Hodgkins had loaned him now lay.

"Buhler paid up, but this money belongs to the bank," Quimbey said. "I believe in playing square."

"Shake!" The deputy said, putting forth his hand. "Any time I feel like sitting in on a game, I'm headin' straight for your table, Brother Quimbey. I know you'll give me a square deal!"

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