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Sunday 6 May 2018

Wild West Update: The High Stakes Game

In this weekend's session, the Millers had organized a long-planned High Stakes Poker game. The pot would end up being $9000, a monumental prize for the era.

On this occasion a number of wealthy amateurs and professional gamblers came to town, and among them was an old friend... Marshal Jeff Young, from Dodge City (along with David, his Mexican manservant).

The town also saw the arrival of a caravan of Irish Travelers. Doc/Kid Taylor, in his urge to try to legitimize his reinvention as a "law & order" Republican, decided to finally accept town Marshal Fred White's offer of a Deputy's badge, and he was sent to check out what the Irishmen were up to. They claimed to be humble travelers here looking for work, and though he was naturally suspicious, Taylor couldn't see any reason to trouble them further, for now.

Miss Scarlet, the madam who runs Crazy Miller's bordello (the "Den of Sin"), came to see Crazy Miller about a legal situation: a recent client of hers who had become seriously enamored with her, an old prospector named Dixie Thomson, died of a heart attack. And he left her all his wealth in his last will. She was hoping that Crazy Miller could look into just what that inheritance consists of.

Miller headed off to the Tombstone Mine to find out what he could discover.  It turned out that Dixie had sold his mining stake a few weeks back, for $5000.  Miller also found his old tent-mate, Sammy Klondike, and had to break the unfortunate news of Dixie's demise. Sammy was shocked, and even more shocked that he'd left his fortune to some whore, but had no choice to hand over Dixie's meager possessions. Most of these were of no value, but he had an old locked chest; Sammy claimed he'd once seen Dixie open it and he glanced that it was full of cash.

Miller brought the chest back to town, and planned to hand it over to Miss Scarlet for her to open it the next day. Unfortunately, the next morning some distressing news arrived: Miss Scarlet had apparently been kidnapped! A ransom note was left, telling Miller that he had to leave the chest at Cactus Creek if they wanted to see Miss Scarlet alive again.

The Millers cracked open the chest (later using gum to give it the appearance of being sealed), and to their surprise found that while it was full of bills, it was all Confederate Dollars (worthless). There was also an old CSA military uniform, a medal for valor, and a love note from some girl Dixie knew long ago, with a lock of red hair just like Miss Scarlet's.  But no sign of the $5000.

Jeff Young had his own woman problems.  One of the other participants in the Poker tournament turned out to be married to a woman named Hannah, who had been Jeff's teenage beau many years back. She left Jeff a note in the hotel they were both staying it, and met secretly with him. There she confessed to him that she was in a desperate situation; her husband was a very wealthy man, but treated her brutally and horribly abused her. She had heard of Young's career as a lawman and his fame as a shootist and entreated with him to help her... by killing her husband.  Young was unwilling to do this, though he promised he'd help her if she wanted to leave him, but Hannah was too terrified; her husband had sworn he'd hunt her down and kill her if she left him, and his wealth made him untouchable and likely to find her wherever she went.   Young promised her he'd think about what to do.

While Young was pondering what to do, and Kid Taylor and Morgan Earp were being inducted into John Clum's Tombstone Vigilance Committee for law & order, Crazy Miller (with Other Miller and Smiley, the Millers' Scottish bodyguard) headed off to Cactus Creek to drop off the chest. Of course, they stayed nearby in the hills by the Creek, hoping to catch the kidnappers. They waited all night, but no one arrived.

By the next day, the Millers were exhausted. Young still didn't know what to do. Miss Scarlet was still missing, and the Poker tournament was starting. Crazy Miller went out that afternoon, back to Cactus Creek, and he found the chest had been taken. The kidnappers had taken great measures to cover their tracks, but Crazy Miller was a master tracker. He found the trail of a wagon heading into the Creek from town, but no sign of it having left that way; so he headed south and soon found the tracks heading in that direction. He followed it for about an hour, and finally found the wagon... with no drivers; the horses were being led by a carrot on a stick. He'd been sent on a wild goose chase, while the kidnappers had gotten away on foot by walking in the creek.

The Poker Tournament got started to a packed house in the Argent Saloon, including the Earp brothers and a large contingent of Cowboys; Arizona's largest gang (hundreds strong) famous for the red sashes they wore. In addition to Young, contestants included Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and Ike Clanton (who was being cheered on by his fellow Cowboys).

The first round of the poker game saw Hannah's husband get eliminated. Young had decided he was going to confront him, threaten him, maybe even shoot him. But Young was still in the game.  Other Miller tried to keep the husband around by plying him with drink; but the husband claimed to be concerned for his wife, as she'd "accidentally hit her head" earlier in the day. While Young was still well in the game, Hannah's husband wandered off in a drunken stupor heading back to the hotel.

The Poker game went on until dawn. By the end of it, there were still seven players, though Ike Clanton literally had only a dollar left to his name. The Tournament was suspended for 12 hours, with the understanding that as soon as one more player was eliminated (everyone assuming it would be Ike) the tables would be consolidated to six finalists.

Young headed back to the Grand Hotel, and there found a message urging him to go immediately to Hannah's room. When he arrived there, he found her husband was dead; Hannah was crying as she frantically flung herself into his arms, claiming that he'd come in drunk and abusive, accusing her of infidelities, and drew his derringer. They struggled and in the struggle he was shot in the chest.
Young wanted to call in the law, assuring her that she was bound to get off on self-defense; but Hannah pleaded with him to help her cover up the death. She wasn't totally unfounded in her fears that she could hang for this, it was not uncommon in the period that women who killed their husbands would be found guilty regardless of any claims of the husband's brutality; and even if she got off, her reputation would be destroyed socially. Once again, Young had some thinking to do.

The Millers, meanwhile, got another note; the kidnappers had taken the chest and found it didn't have anything of value in it. They demanded the $5000 if the Millers wanted to find Miss Scarlet alive again. Having no clues as to how to find the kidnappers at this point, and somewhat ham-stringed in any attempts to gather clues by the ongoing poker game, they left the kidnappers a note demanding a direct exchange (the money for Miss Scarlet), in the hopes that they could catch the kidnappers and kill them all. This wasn't just about rescuing their valued employee/friend, it was also a matter of principle for the Millers; they refused to submit to being held to ransom by criminals as this would make them look weak.

Young confided with the Millers as to the death of Hannah's husband.  They reluctantly came about a plan.  Now Doc Taylor was far from their favorite person after Taylor had shot Crazy Miller in the head in a dispute, and later the Millers and Taylor had been mutually spreading damaging rumors about each other throughout the town. But Doc Taylor was both a lawman and a town doctor, and they realized that he could rule the death a suicide and in that way prevent any further investigation or charges against Hannah.  To their surprise, Doc Taylor agreed readily; he was already trying to figure out a way to make peace with the Millers, and this seemed an easy way to accomplish it.  Hannah seemed enormously thankful to Young, promising they'd talk soon after the Poker game.

The second night of the Poker game began.  To everyone's surprise, one of the other remaining gamblers went all-in on the first round against Ike Clanton, with a 10-high hand. He essentially threw the game allowing Ike to stay in the running. It was obvious to everyone in the room that the gambler had been intimidated by Ike or the other Cowboys into throwing the tournament. The Millers were disgusted by this, but there was little they could do, other than to let Curly Bill Brocius know that Ike Clanton would never be welcome to participate in a poker game in the Argent Saloon again after this.

The next morning, before the Millers could go see if the kidnappers would show up for the exchange, Doc Taylor was struck by the sight of Miss Scarlet walking into town down 6th street, a bit disheveled, her hands covered in someone else's blood. She told Taylor she was fine. When the Millers arrived at the Den Of Sin, she told them that the mastermind behind the kidnapping had been Sammy Klondike and a couple of men from the Tombstone Mines, after Dixie's money. Their corpses were now lying in several pieces out in the desert. She had managed to seduce one of her captors and convinced him that the miners were manipulating them, and that if they didn't want to end up being murdered by the Millers and their Earp allies, their best bet was to give up on any ransom, kill the miners, and let her go. In exchange, she swore never to reveal the identity of those who helped her. And she was true to their word (though later, I would reveal to the players that it was the Irish travelers who had helped kidnap her and keep her prisoner).  As for Dixie's money, the answer to what had become of it was simple: Dixie had spent it all. He'd sold his mine for thousands of dollars that he then spent on living it up in Tombstone while trying to court Scarlet with money and expensive gifts. By the time he died he didn't have more than $12 in his pocket.

The Poker game continued. Down to four players now, and with no one left for Ike Clanton to intimidate (his opponents being Young, Earp, and Doc Holliday), things did not go well. Doc Holliday (who seemed to get better at poker the more drunk, sleepless and sick he was) made it his purpose to humiliate Ike at the table, whittling away at his cash while insulting him. Ike all but accused him of being a cheat, claiming he was too damn lucky for chance; Doc responded by saying that maybe Poker wasn't Ike's game.  "I know.. let's have a spelling contest!"

Ike went broke at the table, and was clearly furious. Doc was tapping his gun, and things could have exploded right there if the other Cowboys hadn't grabbed Ike and dragged him away.

The contest would go on for another four days; the last three of them were just Young and Doc Holliday (who had taught Young how to play), in a vicious stand-off. In the end, Doc Holliday beat him, but he conceded that Young had become much better at Poker, "for a law man".

The Tournament had been a huge success for the Argent Saloon and the Millers, and Young left feeling vindicated as a poker player. But he had a disappointing surprise when he got back to the Hotel. Hannah had left already, with little more than a thank-you note.  He felt as though he'd been used, and he might well have been right; she'd inherited a huge fortune; Taylor's investigation of her husband's body showed that it was clearly Hannah who had been holding the gun when it let out the killing shot (rather than the two wrestling for it as she had suggested) and her husband had been so plied with drink at the tournament that he was practically knock-out drunk. The PCs were left unsure if Hannah's story had actually been true, or if it had all been a huge deception to manipulate her naive youthful beau into killing the man that stood between her and wealthy freedom.

Young headed back to Dodge a bit heartbroken, but quite impressed by the action in Tombstone. The PCs suspected that maybe they might see him again sometime soon.


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