Sometimes the bad guys win. Laughing Wolf had known that his whole life. How could he not know, when white men had been driving his tribe from their homes for generations?
As he watched Alfonse King and his goons follow Lizzie out of the saloon doors into the street, Laughing Wolf knew that this was one of those times. Lizzie had tried to do the right thing, had risked her future for the sake of the people in this town. For that, she’d been robbed of her power and her future.
Because sometimes the bad guys win.
Ernie appeared behind the bar and poured them each a large glass of whiskey.
“This one’s on me,” he said.
“Not today,” Laughing Wolf replied, pushing it away.
With growing determination, he stepped away from the bar and out through the swinging doors. Bells and feathers rattled against the coup stick in his hand.
This wasn’t over yet. He could start a new game, one where his coup magic would let him free Lizzie. But for that to work, he needed to start a fight.
“Hey, Figgis,” Laughing Wolf said.
King’s foreman turned just in time for Laughing Wolf’s fist to collide with his jaw. It was the most perfect and satisfying thing Laughing Wolf had ever done. Teeth and blood sprayed in a fine arc. The grumpy thug staggered back in shock and pain.
The coup stick pulsed with power. The worse the odds, the more glorious it was to count coup, and here he was facing six men with six-shooters.
As Alfonse turned to see what was happening, Laughing Wolf lunged at him with the stick.
There was a bang. Pain smashed through Laughing Wolf like a sledgehammer. His leg gave way and he sank to his knees, staring in horror at the pulped muscle and shattered bone that had been his shin.
He looked up. The world was spinning, but Alfonse King was perfectly clear, standing over him with a look of disgust. Beside him, smoke drifted from Figgis’s gun barrel, blood running from between his lips. Behind them, Lizzie looked lost and broken.
“Idiot,” Alfonse said. “I won at the poker table. I won at the great chess game tying you all to this town. I’ve never found a game I couldn’t win at, but you keep challenging me.”
“There are other games,” Laughing Wolf said, looking past them at Lizzie. “No-one wins by giving up.”
Lizzie looked back at him. Her slumped shoulders straightened. She cast aside the pack of cards she had been clutching and looked around.
Laughing Wolf could feel his strength fading. With a trembling hand, he raised the coup stick.
“Still fighting?” King took the gun from Figgis. He pointed it at Laughing Wolf.
There was another bang and a terrible burning pain in Laughing Wolf’s belly. He slumped forward, his face landing between King’s boots, his arm and the coup stick stretching out past the businessman.
“Stupid fucking redskin,” Alfonse said.
There was a click as the hammer was pulled back on a gun.
As the world grew darker, Laughing Wolf saw a slender hand pick up his coup stick. There was a rattle of bells and feathers and the soft thud of wood tapping flesh.
“What did you-” Alfonse began.
“Stop talking,” Lizzie said, her skirts rustling inches from Laughing Wolf’s face. “I counted coup. You’re mine now.”
Two of the other thugs were visible from where Laughing Wolf lay. They drew their pistols.
“Tell them to drop the guns,” Lizzie said.
“Drop the guns,” King repeated.
“Are you sure, boss?” Figgis said. “All she’s got is a damn stick.”
“A stick that could steal your boss’s soul,” Lizzie growled.
Laughing Wolf laughed. That wasn’t how counting coup worked. It just gave you control over someone for a while. But then, white folks seldom bothered to learn about other people’s games. Away from the poker table, they were easy to bluff.
Laughing brought blood to his lips. He wondered if it was better or worse that that didn’t hurt. But it was an idle sort of wondering. Everything seemed far away now.
“Drop the guns,” King repeated.
There was a thud of weapons hitting the dirt.
“Now tell them to leave town,” Lizzie said. “And not to come back.”
“Leave town,” Alfonse repeated. “Don’t return.”
One by one, the men walked away. After a few minutes, there was a sound of hooves disappearing into the distance.
“Ernie, grab a gun and keep it trained on Mister King here,” Lizzie said.
She knelt beside Laughing Wolf, her face inches from his.
“We’ll get you through this,” she said. “I’ll send for a doctor, and-”
This time it hurt to laugh. But it was worth it. This was the way Laughing Wolf wanted to go. The punchline of a joke on every greedy bastard who’d ever tried to trample folks into the dirt.
“Sometimes the good guys win,” he said.
Then he closed his eyes and went to sleep.
* * *
As a writer, I have a habit of doing the worst things to the characters I love most. Even when I’m ghostwriting, the secondary characters I create to fill gaps will often be put through the wringer. Maybe it’s a sign of a sadistic streak. Maybe it’s just that attention it how you show a character that you care.
Either way, it’s a habit that’s struck down poor Laughing Wolf, who wasn’t even in the original outline for this series. He emerged from between the details of Lizzie and Alfonse’s conflict, and now look at him.
Aren’t writers the worst?
If you enjoyed this, you can read the previous episodes of this little series here:
- The One Night Town – Using magic at the poker table, Lizzie tries to learn more about a town on the edge of the old west.
- Sometimes You’re a Player – Leaving town proves tougher than Lizzie expected.
- Gathering Dust – new arrivals mean a big decision for Laughing Wolf.
- Blood Washes Out, Bullets Don’t – It’s time for the inhabitants of the Pawn Sacrifice saloon to pick their sides.
- High Stakes – Lizzie makes her play for the town’s freedom.
And if you’d like to receive a free e-book, as well as stories straight to your inbox each Friday, consider signing up for my mailing list. There’s no cost and you can unsubscribe whenever you want.
Next week, I’ll be returning to these characters one last time. What will happen to our nameless frontier town? Find out in seven days.