Episode 1: High Stakes


10/27/20237 min read

Amelia Lancaster's saloon, ‘The Silver Dollar’ buzzed with the energy of gamblers and fortune-seekers. Amidst the poker tables and occasional clinking of glasses, sat Owen, the irreverent jester of the Lancaster family, his grin as unshakable as his losing streak.

Amelia, the stalwart saloon owner, approached Owen, her eyes narrowing at the mounting pile of lost chips. "Owen, I've seen happier faces at funerals," she quipped, her tone a mix of annoyance and affection.

Owen, undeterred by his financial misfortune, flashed a grin that could outshine the neon lights outside. "Ah, sis, just greasing the wheels of the local economy," he chuckled, waving a hand as if dismissing his losses. "You know, stimulating business!"

“She’s right, Owen.” A player at the table bellowed, stroking his chin while he spat tobacco on the floor, concentrating hard on the cards dealt to him.

Amelia sighed, half exasperated and half amused, and leaned in closer to Owen. "Stimulating business, you say? More like subsidizing the entire town's nightlife single-handedly.”

“And Duke, what the hell! We’ve talked about this!” Amelia pointed at the man who spit tobacco, and shot him a look full of daggers, all while throwing a towel at his face. “Clean it up yourself, I’m over it.” The table grew quiet with a few hushed snickers, as he bitterly pulled the towel off himself and bent over to wipe his chew off the floor.

“Stop! He might cheat. We don’t need him peeking at our cards. Wait until after this hand, Ms. Lancster.” One of the players exclaimed. Amelia rolled her eyes and nodded walking away to put the empty glasses behind the bar.

Duke took a big gulp of his beer and wiped its remnants off his mustache. Amelia came back and eyed him, with a look of disapproval. She folded her arms to ensure the tobacco would be cleaned up.

“Alright fellas, lay em’ out, show what you've got!” Another player at the table exclaimed. They laid their hands down showing another loss for Owen, and a loss for Duke who ironically discouraged Owen’s gambling habit.

“Looks like I’m not the only one who could use a break.” Owen slyly smiled, eyeing Duke from his peripheral while placing a hand on his shoulder.

“Shut up, Owen.” Duke scowled, pushed his hand off, scooting his chair out as he pulled a cigarette out of his front pocket. “I need fresh air.” He walked away swearing under his breath.

“Dammit Duke!” Amelia went to go after him, but just then, a raucous cheer erupted from a nearby table in the corner of the room. At that table sat a mysterious man, clad in a dapper suit that seemed oddly out of place in the dusty saloon. Owen and Amelia didn’t recognize him. Although it wasn’t uncommon for outsiders to pass through and rest during their travels. The man had a stack of chips in front of him, a tower that seemed to defy the laws of probability.

Owen leaned closer to Amelia, his eyes glinting mischievously. "Well, well, looks like we've got a contender for the town's luckiest man. Maybe he's got a four-leaf clover hidden up his sleeve?"

Amelia raised an eyebrow, intrigued despite herself. "Or perhaps he made a deal with the devil," she replied, her lips quirking into a half-smile. "Either way, I hope his luck rubs off on you, Owen. You could use a break."

The mysterious man glanced over at Owen’s table and leaned back in his seat, watching them from afar as he pulled out a cigar. He placed it in between his lips without lighting it, moving it back and forth from each corner of his mouth. It was a nervous habit he carried with him.

Owen, always one to lighten the mood, tipped his hat. "Seems to be your lucky night!" He called across the room.

The man with all the luck smirked and cocked his head to the side, intrigued. After briefly hesitating he motioned for Owen to come and join his table. “Want to try your hand over here?” His face lightened and he seemed more relaxed.

“Owen, don’t…” Amelia trailed off, trying to stop her careless brother from yet another gambling fiasco. But it was too late. Owen was already halfway across the room as he turned around and flashed his bright smile, shrugging. He was good-looking and he knew it. All the while being overly-confident, which often times got him into trouble. He carried a sort of charm wherever he went. Unfortunately for him, his charm wasn’t one that carried much luck.

“C’mon, what's another hand or two?” Owen quipped as he neared the stranger’s table.

Amelia let out a sigh as she grabbed empty beer glasses and ash trays. She looked down and found a shot of whiskey Duke had left on the table. She gulped it down in one quick motion. She tried to take off the edge and not to let the situation bother her.

“You never back down from a challenge, do you?” The man asked. “Well, you could say that,” Owen paused. “Let’s give it a go.”

The man let out a chuckle and cracked his knuckles. “Anybody got a light?” Someone at the table tossed a vintage cigar torch lighter in his direction. He lit up his cigar, the flame flickering with smoke clouding his face.

“What’s your name, stranger?” Owen asked, genuinely intrigued.

“I’m Silas Pike. Pleasure to meet you.” He stuck his hand out. Owen went to quickly shake it, and as he did, the man tightened his grip. Owen, caught off guard, pulled his hand back as Silas smiled.


“You’ve got quite the grip there.” Owen placed his hand back on the table as the dealer tossed cards throughout the table. Silas smirked and put his hand up, almost in a half shrug.

Owen caught a small glimpse of discomfort from Silas.

“Ok boys, what’ll it be?” The dealer called for everyone to listen up. “Fold.” One man said. “Same.” Another chimed in with an agitated sigh.

Silas looked over and locked eyes with Owen. “Mmm, I’ll raise you $20.”

“I’ll meet you there, and call it.” Owen nervously shuffled in his seat, and started tapping his foot. He did this when he was feeling especially anxious. Something about Silas was unsettling, but he couldn’t figure out why.

“Ok, let’s see it.” The dealer called out. Owen, miraculously, had won the hand. The table started laughing. “Wow, you're now, what, 3 for 14 on the night?” The men in the saloon jeered with loud laughter.

Silas pursed his lips together. “How about one more?” The table grumbled. “I don’t know, I think I’m calling it tonight. I’m going to grab a beer at the bar.” One player said as he tucked his chair in to grab a drink. “I’ll come with you.” Another declared.

“Looks like it’s just you and me.” Silas flashed a crafty smile.

“Eh, what’s one more?” Owen cleared his throat. He could win another, couldn’t he? Maybe this man’s luck rubbed off on him?

The cards were shuffled and the dealer quickly dealt their cards. “Whenever you’re ready, Owen.” Owen drew in a deep breath, trying to decide what to do. “Ok, I’ll place a $20 bet.” He leaned in towards the table, linking his fingers, trying to relax.

Silas sneered. “That's it? How about all in?” He said it loud enough for a large portion of the saloon to hear. The atmosphere drew quiet, awaiting Owen’s response. Tucking the side of his face into his hand, Owen began to sweat nervously. After what seemed like minutes, he shifted again and then rubbed his hands together. “I guess I’ll match it.”

The saloon filled with whispers. Owen really might be one of the worst gamblers in the history of Star Dust Junction. Some people chuckled, and Amelia stood behind the counter of the bar, disappointedly shaking her head.

"Alright fellas, let's see your hands." The dealer called out.

Silas dropped his hand. Royal flush. Owen’s heart sank. He placed his own hand, two aces and the rest of his hand was crap. He was hoping Silas was bluffing. Owen stood up and put his hand out to offer congratulations. Silas stood, grabbed his hand, an and squeezed hard. Owen, completely surprised went to pull back, but Silas was just getting started.

Quickly, he pulled Owen, slamming him against a wall with his forearm. Silas drew a pistol with his free hand and placed it near Owen’s head pointed upwards.

“Dammit Lancaster! You’re an idiot! You’re willing to keep throwing it all away, aren’t you?” He screamed. The entire Saloon immediately fell silent. “You owe The Collector money, and you’re still losing it day after day!” Silas hit Owen hard in the gut with the pistol. Doubling over, Silas pulled him back up by the collar.

“Oh now it all make sense. He still can’t handle his own business.” Owen was out of breath, and still trying to be funny in a dangerous situation. Silas huffed and slammed Owen against the wall once more.

A loud noise broke out next to Silas and Owen. Glass shattered everywhere, as another one followed directly after it. Silas turned to look and Owen moved his head to the side past Silas so he could see as well. It was Amelia. She had thrown two beer glasses against the wall, decimating them. She was holding a shotgun in her hand, and quickly cocked it, aiming straight at Silas.

“I think it’s time for you to leave.” She snarled. Silas slowly let go of Owen, taking a step back. “Drop your gun, and don’t you ever step foot in here again.” Silas took another look at Owen. He was clearly afraid, but wanted to fulfill the message from his boss.

“He’s pissed, watch your back.” Silas hissed. He set his pistol on a nearby table, straightening his jacket and smoothing back his hair that had become partially misplaced during the scuffle. He promptly left.

Slowly the saloon started talking again, but in a hushed tone. Owen put his hands behind his head, relieved.

“Are you okay?” Amelia’s rage was replaced with compassion. Nodding Owen drew in a large breath. “I need a drink. You have impeccable aim by the way.” Amelia thought to scold him, but decided against it. This was Owen coping and she knew it. He never showed his true feelings. He hid behind humor.

Amelia led Owen behind the bar into a small storage room that she stayed in occasionally. There was a small cot and a chair with a side table. “Who was that?” Amelia asked Pouring a glass of whiskey, and handed it to Owen who sat on the cot.

“Um, that was Silas. He works for Clayton Harlow. You probably know him as The Collector.” Amelia’s eyes widened, and she almost dropped her glass.

“Should we inform Jesse about your..problems?” Amelia carefully asked.

“You want to get Jesse invovled? Hell no. He’s got enough on his plate. I’ll be fine, really.” Shaking her head, she knew Owen was one to turn down help. He was too prideful and didn’t like worrying others. "How much..?" But Owen interrupted, "I promise it's not as bad as it looks. Clay's just getting a little impatient is all."

Just then a booming voice carried through the saloon. “Oweeeeen!”

Amelia exchanged a worried look with Owen. "Looks like Jesse might already know." Amelia grimaced as Owen bit his lip, anxiously tapping his leg.

To Be Continued...