Texas Hold 'Em (Smokin' ACES) - By Kay David

Chapter One


He didn’t need another frigging disaster.

But when Timothy Santos found himself in a fight, he didn’t back down. Some of his friends might have even said he looked for them. Either way, his life depended on how he handled the scuzzy biker coming his way. And not just because of the broken whiskey bottle the man was waving in the air.

They’d been pounding at each other for what felt like the whole damn night. His cowboy boots slipping on the sawdust-covered floor, Santos swayed in the lingering September heat, one bloody fist at his temple, the other one protecting his jaw. The roadhouse was nothing but a roof, a bar, and some scattered picnic tables. Corrugated sheets of rusted tin, propped up with sawed-off broom handles, served as windows. A dry west Texas wind whistled through the openings, leaving a layer of grit that covered everything from the beer kegs to the barstools. On their own accord, the ceiling fans spun overhead.

The local bikers used the place for entertainment, to do business, and generally make trouble, and it’d been packed since midnight, the band behind the chicken wire making their steel guitars wail. The temperatures had finally begun to cool off, but the same couldn’t be said for the crowd, especially the man drawing near. Santos blinked then shook his head, his sweaty hair sticking to his neck, his cowboy hat lying crushed on the floor.

“C’mon, old man,” he taunted. “Is that the best you’ve got?”

The men who ringed them hooted with laughter and urged his opponent to hit him again, their catcalls lewd and vicious.

“Let’s see it, Nasty,” someone cried out. “Show the bastard how a real rider fights. Cut off his dick and send him back to his momma…”

The sunbaked biker standing opposite him had been called Nasty so long no one knew his real name anymore. Grey hair frizzed around his face, a skinny braid the same color hung off his chin. His eyes were bloodshot and red patches of broken veins dotted his nose. Underneath his tattooed gut was a layer of hard muscle—Santos knew because his fist had bounced off it twice, and all the big guy had done was smile. What made things even worse was that he didn’t even know why Nasty had started the fight. The other biker didn’t have to have a reason, though. Arguments broke out on an hourly basis at the bar. That was part of the fun, or so the other patrons claimed.

Nasty closed the gap between them and thrust the jagged spike of the bottle neck so close to his face, he felt the air move. Santos stumbled into the sticky wall behind him but the other man moved faster than he expected. The glass sliced his skin from his shoulder to his elbow. The cut didn’t feel deep, and for a second, it didn’t even hurt. Then a bright red line burned down his arm like a fuse, and the explosion of pain that followed almost knocked him off his feet.

He tottered for a second, and then he held up his palms, blood dripping down his left arm, leaving ruby drops between his cowboy boots. “All right, all right…” Leaning over, he took a deep breath then swept up his straw cowboy hat, beating it against his thigh before cramming it back on his head. “You win, damn it, you win.”

Nasty roared then strutted in a circle, the bloody glass in his hand glinting off the bare light bulb swinging overhead. Cheers went up around the room while a flurry of money changed hands. Finally, he dropped the bottle, ground it beneath his feet, and bowed to the applause that followed.

Santos pointed a wobbly finger. “This ain’t the end of it, Nasty. Next time, I promise you’re gonna be the one bleedin’—”

The biker stilled, and everyone seemed to freeze with him, the sour smell of bodies, booze, and confrontation rising between them. Then Nasty threw back his head and howled. Wrapping his arms around Santos in a bone-crushing hug, he squeezed until Santos saw pinpoints of light.

“You betcha there’s gonna be a rematch, you worthless piece of shit,” the old biker cried. “You and your sorry gang ain’t nothing but cowboys on Harleys, and I mean to beat your dumb asses ’til them hats is the only thing left!”

The audience bellowed, a loving family brought together once again by sharing a little old-fashioned fun. Someone slapped a beer in Santos’s hand, and someone else