Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and twenty nine.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Nutty Bites Podcast.
Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, puts an end to a long run of odd circumstances.
The Draw: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 2
“I need to freshen my cup,” said Thomas Blackhall, “and a stretch of my legs might change my fortune.”
“Don’t dally, replied Anders Flaks, “I’ll have left by morning, and you’ll lose your chance to squander your earnings.”
It wasn’t a large barroom, but the frontiersman made the most of his journey. First he moved to the stonework mantle, and stole warmth from the fire, then he sat for a time with the increasingly inebriated gathering of Anders’ former challengers. After letting the eldest, a man named King, complete a fishing tale regarding a bass that had apparently pulled him along an endless river for several days before allowing itself to be caught and eaten, Thomas exchanged words with William, the barkeep.
Finally, he returned to his opponent, passing across a fresh ale to match his own.
“Perhaps a little drink will dull your skills,” Blackhall said.
He wore a tight smile.
“I’ve been victorious from behind mountains of gin bottles, but I appreciate the gesture,” replied Flaks.
Thomas nodded and raised his beverage to his lips, then took up the cards as Anders pulled heavy from his hops.
As he dealt, Blackhall discussed constraint. “I might suggest moderation, sir, as spirits are often the road to ruin. In fact, my very journey to this place was set off by a priest of the name Collins. Well, I suppose it goes further back then that: The hamlet of Montcliff, had taken a collection, largely encouraged by the Father, to build a vessel to ply the great lake.”
As Thomas spoke, Flaks raised his brow, but kept his peace.
“The moneyed gentleman who’d settled the area, and was landlord to most of its inhabitants, had found the work beyond him. He’d absconded, and the district was left to sour under mismanagement from afar. The people of the small community held several meetings, and the decision was made that what little they could pool would be invested in a ferry, with the proceeds reaped by all. So long as the influx of trade from the south continues, such a venture can pay well in short order. Collins had only the best interest of his parishioners at heart when he championed the cause.”
Anders held high a pair of fingers in a bid to exchange his cards, but, with a quick examination of his hand, Blackhall shook it off.
Before continuing his story, Thomas had taken three of the five tricks.
“The fund was to be transported to the shipwright by the father himself. Collins had argued hard against carrying such an earthly load, for his flock knew nothing of his nature – knew nothing of the lust for dicing which had been the impetus for his entry into the priesthood.”
Flaks’ set down the shuffled deck, and retrieved his stein.
“I thought you said it was drink that lead to self-destruction,” he said.
“All axles need grease,” Thomas replied. ”Father Collins imparted the tale to me through his sobs, several pints after he’d lost his trust. The clergyman had done well upon the road, but temptation is a sleight thing when journeying amongst the pines, and quite another in town. Worse, he’d taken to easing his anxiety with wine, and by the time he’d reached society, he’d convinced himself that it would be best – a boon even – if he were to turn his penchant for risk to obtain a quick profit for his beleaguered assembly.
“It was a lucky scoundrel who met such a proposition lurching into the Bucking Pony.
“The game drew quite a few eyes, and when one rascal took an impossible series of throws and won the full pot out from beneath the crowd, tensions flared.”
“Who could have anticipated the arrival of Doc Schofield, the temperance man, and a cluster of matrons, intent on singing away their sins? In shame, Father Collins was the first to bolt, and he was soon followed by the rest. The miscreant simply slipped away in the chaos.
“Do you mean to take the sum back by force then?” asked Flaks. His left hand moved to his money-pouch, while his right hand dipped beneath the table-top.
Thomas raised high his brow. “I make no claims as to its justice, but I’ll not murder you for the funds, no – nor the deaths of the Fultons, nor the dozens of broken and betrayed behind you.”
“Then quit your babble, and present your points.”
Blackhall paused to consider his cards, then began the process of their play.
When all had been counted, Anders found himself defeated a second time.
“Let us double the odds,” he said, “I always win it back in the end anyhow.”
Thomas nodded his assent.
“Most take your talk of being the seventh son of a seventh son as gambler’s patter,” he said, as he laid out his bet, “but I know better. Despite your inescapable good fortune, however, you only seek to misuse your endowment. Your luck has always come at a price – at the expense of those around you.”
“There are plenty of harlots, both here and at home, who squeal odes to my luck,” replied Flaks.
The man spoke through a stiff jaw, and Blackhall judged it a fair moment to hold his own tongue. Instead they both settled into silence, and moved cards and money about the table for some time.
As Anders’ purse shriveled, so did his mood.
“Blast you and your bloody tricks,” he muttered, “- but I always win it back. Just a moment while I see if these fellows can spare some coin. Just one – two – more hands.”
He rose to approach the pair who’d yet to succumb to the lullaby of drink, but Thomas stopped him short.
“Waste no effort,” he said. “I’m a man who can only afford to make his own fortune. I knew how to void your charms. Your taste for spirits hid the concoction which I’d fostered upon the road. To most it would be a curse, as if the universe had deigned to foil the victim at every turn, but, to one with fortune to spare, such as yourself, it will only act to level your advantage.
“I suspect you’ll find the world cruel in the same manner that a beast raised in captivity finds it difficult to navigate the wild once released from the pampering hands of its human benefactors, just know, as you lay in the gutter cursing me, that I had no interest in killing a man in cold blood.”
With that, Thomas collected his hat, and the shipwright’s fee, and stood. He moved to the sleepy-eyed proprietor and invested a small portion of the funds against the debts owed by the defeated inebriates, then departed.
As he stepped from the establishment’s veranda, an odd howling chased Blackhall through the door – it was a staggering, high-pitched squeal: For the first time in his life, Anders Flaks was crying.
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