A molten sunbeam lanced the wooden slats in the quiet saloon. It spread over the air, over the spread of cards on the poker table’s worn green felt. The stains were darkest where the felt had been frayed; some of them weren’t stains at all but gray cigar burns. The hot sunlight washed the table in its heat, scouring the players’ uneven whiskers, black nostrils aflare with black hairs, tanned faces bent to their hands, and the quiet air was more restless for it, the uneven, encroaching heat that rolled over the saloon like a nettlesome tumbleweed. All sorts of particles in all sorts of shapes gushed upward in the shafts of liquid light. These motes swirled with the dust, and the smoke.

The man with the cigar reached down to scratch his thigh. But a significant look from his tablemate prompted him to raise his hand again, open, aboveboard. He nodded amiably, reaching to pull the cigar from his mouth.

But he couldn’t bluff anymore.

The look in his opponent’s eyes told him too much. If he was going to walk away with his dignity, if not his money, it would take something more than grit to make it to the end of the hand. Thankfully, he knew he wasn’t smart enough to know what that was. He decided to try a joke.

“Knock knock,” he said softly.

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