Lizzie tugged at the reins, steering Hunter and her little waggon onto the patch of dirt next to Laughing Wolf’s grave. She jumped down from the driver’s board and stood beside the freshly dug earth.
“I wanted to say thank you before I go,” she said. “You didn’t just save me from Alfonse King. You saved me from giving up just because I lost one source of power.”
She took Laughing Wolf’s coup stick from the waggon and planted it in the ground at the head of the grave.
“I’ll learn to make my own one of these,” she said. “And to channel my magic through other games. I might not have the cards anymore, but I’ve got other options. Thanks to you.”
She got back onto the waggon and rolled out toward the edge of town. She could do that now, with King’s spell broken. They were all free to move on.
Ernie was packing saddle bags on a horse outside his saloon.
“Thought you were staying,” Lizzie said as she passed.
“Figgis is taking over King’s business,” Ernie said with a frown. “Made himself sheriff too. I don’t want to be around for that.”
It figured. Lizzie wouldn’t have wanted to stick around under Alfonse’s henchman either. But then, her plan had always been to leave. To get back to her old work, gathering investment information for businesses back east. Earning herself a nice Washington town house full of fancy dresses and parties.
She rolled on past the saloon, the store, and the houses of the little frontier town. People peered nervously out from behind their curtains.
Just past the end of the street, a body swung from the branches of a wind-swept tree. Death suited Alfonse King. Pallid skin contrasted with his sharp suit.
The thugs who had left him to face the penalty for Laughing Wolf’s death were back. One of them had climbed up the tree to cut the body down. Two others stood below, ready to catch it. They turned as she passed.
“Hey you!” one of them called out. “Stop there!”
“Sheriff Figgis wants words!” another shouted.
They picked up hefty sticks and started running after her.
Lizzie felt annoyance as much as fear. All she wanted to do was leave town, but these idiots were making even that difficult. Without the magic of playing cards or a coup stick to help her, she wasn’t ready to deal with them.
She snapped the reins and Hunter picked up the pace. Soon the men were left waving their fists in futility.
Looking back, she should have felt triumphant. Instead, she felt ashamed. Was she really going to leave this place in the hands of men like Figgis?
She wheeled the waggon around and headed back up the road into town. The thugs beneath the tree yelled in alarm as she thundered through them, knocking one to the ground.
Other men emerged from a doorway at the far end of main street. Leading them was Figgis in his patched and dusty suit, a sheriff’s star gleaming on his lapel.
Lizzie didn’t have a plan, but she had more righteous determination than she’d ever felt in her life.
Pulling on the reins, she brought Hunter to a stop outside the tavern. Ernie stared at her in surprise as she leapt down and strode toward Figgis.
Four men flanked the sheriff. Like him, they all had six-shooters at their hips.
“I’m arresting you, Miss Wayne,” Figgis said, grinning like a cat with a mouse between its claws. “Not sure what for yet, but we’ll find something.”
“Your boss couldn’t beat me,” she snapped, stopping face to face with him. “What makes you think you can?”
“This.” Figgis patted his pistol. “Plus you ain’t got your magic stick this time.”
The men closed in. Figgis started drawing his gun.
Lizzie had never been a soldier, a lawman, or a hired thug. But years of card tricks had sharpened her reflexes and the deftness of her fingers. With a single smooth motion, she stepped forward and punched Figgis squarely in the nose. As he staggered back, his grip on the gun loosened and she twisted it from his hand, spinning it around to aim at his so-called deputies.
They stood stunned, guns half-drawn.
“Shoot her, you idiots!” Figgis gasped, blood streaming down his face. “She can’t shoot you all.”
“Not alone.” Ernie appeared around the waggon, a shotgun in his hands. His customers had emerged from the saloon behind him. Most of them were armed.
The thugs exchanged nervous glances then raised their hands.
Figgis flinched as Lizzie’s hand shot out, snagging the silver star off his jacket. Still aiming the gun with one hand, she used the other to pin the badge onto her chest.
Around her, the townsfolk disarmed Figgis’s men.
“Get out,” she said, glaring at Figgis. “If I ever see you around here again, your boss won’t be the only one swinging from that tree.”
As Figgis and his men tramped despondently out of town, Lizzie turned to Ernie.
“You got a room spare?” she asked. “Looks like I’m going to be here a while.”
“Of course, sheriff,” Ernie said. “Right this way.”
Lizzie’s neighbours cheered as she made her way back to the saloon.
She smiled. This place wasn’t so bad, for a one night town.
* * *
That’s it for Lizzie Wayne and the Gamblers’ Frontier, for now at least. Next week, I’ll be starting a new science fiction series.
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