Right away, Roger could tell something wasn’t right.
The men around the campfire were too quiet, and none would meet his eyes. They just stared into the flames.
Finally, Roger saw the problem — his cards were strewn through the dirt and his tin supper bowl was overturned. A few droplets of Frenchy’s chili dribbled away from the firepit.
The vittles were no big loss and were the start of all his trouble anyway. After just a few bites, Roger’s belly had started rumbling, and he’d taken a quick leave of the poker game.
He never would have left his cards behind if hadn’t been for that internal emergency of his, though.
“Alright,” he growled. “Which one of you cowards stole my cards while I was … indisposed?”
At first no one even flinched, but then Roger moved a hand to the butt of his six-shooter. “Out with it!”
Slowly, each man turned sheepish eyes toward old Pete. No one wanted to rat him out, but then no one wanted to eat lead, either.
“Why, you lowdown scoundrel,” Roger said as he stomped to stand in front of Pete. “What have you got to say for yourself?
Pete panned the faces around the fire, then looked up at Roger with pleading eyes. Smudges of chili stained one corner of his mouth.
“Everyone knows you did it, Pete,” Roger said, but his voice was losing its anger.
He hollowed out a spot of ground with his boot, then poured some water from his canteen. Finally, he leaned forward and brushed the remnants of chewed poker card from the other corner of Pete’s mouth.
“Well, I reckon if you ate Frenchy’s chili, you better drink up.”
The dog wagged his tail heartily and licked Roger’s face before lapping up the muddy elixir.