The two men were sitting at a table in the back of a bar in Marrakech. It was hot. It was late. The overhead fans spun in lazy circles casting a march of shadows on the two patrons below.
The bartender was cleaning a glass. He got mostly westerners in here, either low life bums down on their luck with no money to get back home, or French, British, and Americans who were doing business and didn’t want to be bothered.
He looked casually at the two men, one French, one American. The Frenchman was in a rumpled white suit. Why white in such heat? The American looked like an oil rigger or longshoreman except for the whip on his belt. It didn’t matter to Hassan. They paid for their drinks. Who cared what else they did.
“I’m tired of chasing you all over the fucking world, René. I find something and you steal it from me. You find something and I steal it from you. Where does it end?”
“It ends with you giving up, my friend. Go back to your university in America. Teach your little boys and girls and let me do the real archeology, Henry.”
“That’s just it. We don’t do real archeology. You once said you were a shadowy reflection of me and that we had both fallen from the purer faith. When was the last time either one of us played by the rules let alone the laws for the acquisition of antiquities from the dozens of nations we’ve plundered?”
“Plundered, yes I like that term. But it’s profitable plunder, isn’t it Henry?”
“I want this ended René, tonight. I’m tired of the game. One of us is going to win once and for all.”
“Which implies one of us permanently loses. What do you have in mind?”
The American pulled is six-shot revolver from its holster and slammed it loudly on the table. The Frenchman, who never went armed, jumped, frightened that it might go off.
“It’s just this, René.” Henry released the revolver and dumped six shells on the table.
The bartender had looked up when he heard the noise and then ignored the two foreigners. Everyone else had left. It was after hours. Who cares if they shoot each other? He could rob the bodies before the police arrived and if necessary slip a bribe into the constable’s pocket.
Henry fingered through the shells, picked one, put it in one of the chambers, and then snapped the cylinder back into place. “A simple game. One round, six chances, three for you and three for me.” The American spun the chamber. “I put the gun to my head and pull the trigger. One in six chance of dying.
If I live, I spin the chamber again and you do the same for the same odds. We take turns. Me, then you, Me then you, Me then you.”
“I don’t believe I like this game. If we keep on with it, sooner or later, one of us will become a corpse.”
“Only six times, René. Three for you and three for me.”
“So let’s say we beat the odds and are both alive after the sixth time the trigger is pulled, Henry?”
Oh, we put a little wager on it, René. First guy to chicken out gives the other guy his next big find or the cash equivalent. Ready to put your money and your life where your big mouth is?”
The Frenchman’s facial expression turned sour. He was not a man for violence. He let others perform those chores for him. He was even less of a man for personal risk, though he was not shy about traveling to the most remote corners of the world.
But this could be a chance to get rid of his greatest rival. Of course, the reverse was also true.
“What’s the matter, René? Chicken? Take off your hat.” The American abruptly tossed his fedora on the chair next to him.
“Perhaps we should part ways now Henry, and pick up our little game at some later date.”
“Not a chance. I’m just drunk enough to do this.” Henry picked up the revolver, spun the chamber again, put the barrel against his right temple and pulled the trigger.
He spun the chamber and handed the butt end of the pistol to his adversary across the table.
René had a passing acquaintance with firearms and gingerly took the weapon. He removed his own hat laying it gently on the table. Then he awkwardly held the gun in his right hand and hesitantly put the barrel lightly against his head. Closing his eyes tightly, he slowly squeezed the trigger.
The Frenchman jumped at the metallic sound of the hammer coming down.
“My turn.” Henry quickly took the firearm away from his opponent and spun the cylinder. Then he quickly put the barrel to his head again and pulled the trigger.
“That’s two for me and one for you, René. Your turn.” He spun the cylinder rapidly and then handed the pistol back.
“Are you sure we should continue?”
“You took the pistol and used it. That means you accepted the conditions of the game. If you quit now, you owe me your next big find. Ready to give up?”
His pride stung and his greed aroused, René took the gun from Henry and, a bit more quickly this time, placed the barrel back against his head. He still closed his eyes before pulling the trigger.
He jumped again when the hammer fell.
“Here you go, Henry. Two for you and two for me. Your turn.”
The American took a long swig of whiskey from his glass before grabbing the gun. He looked to be sweating as much from the tension as the heat now. He spun the cylinder but was slower to put the barrel to his head. “In for a penny…” He pulled the trigger.
“That’s three for me, René. I’m done. Your turn. Your last turn.” The American spun the cylinder again and then pushed the revolver in the other man’s face.
The French archeologist was weighing the odds. Every time the cylinder spun, he had a one-in-six chance of death and a five-in-six chance of survival. Henry had survived his third and final trial. René had one more time to go with the pistol. He’d made it the first two times, a one-in-six chance each time. It was a one-in-six chance now. He might survive like Henry. He might end up dead.
“Very well, Henry.” René pushed the pistol in the other man’s hand aside and abruptly stood up. Surrendering whatever prize he found next might cost him dearly, but his life was still worth more. There would be other finds later. “You win.”
“Ha, I knew you couldn’t stomach it, René.”
“I agree to your terms. Whatever rare artifact I next discover, it will be yours. We have been adversaries all these years so you know whatever else I am, I’m a man of my word.”
Henry put the gun on the table and stood. “Yeah, I know. Work hard, René. I hope you find something interesting.”
“Adieu, Henry.” René picked up his hat, placed it on his head and respectfully tipped it to his opposite number. Then he turned and walked out of the bar, only slightly tripping once. Bourbon was not his drink.
From the bar, Hassan sighed and then called out. “Time for you to leave, too. We’re past closing.” His English was heavily accented but he knew the American understood him.
“Fine. Just let me clean up here.”
Henry sat back down, poured the last of the whiskey into his glass, and gulped it down. Then he opened the revolver’s cylinder. Empty. René hadn’t seen him palm the shell instead of actually loading the gun. He muttered to himself, “Do you really think I’m that stupid, René?”
Dr. Henry Jones, teacher, rogue, finder of lost antiquities, reloaded his handgun, snapped shut the cylinder again, and returned the firearm back to its holster. Then he put his own hat back on, stood, and staggered out of the bar, regretting that he was up so late and had gotten so drunk. He had to catch a flight in a couple of hours to South America.
Prompted by Iain Kelly’s story Snake Eyes, I joined in on the Friday Fiction Challenge hosted by Simply Marquessa. The idea is to write a short story based on a selected song lyric. The lyric for Friday, October 13th is “Shut up and put your money where your mouth is…” More details can be found at Waking Up in Las Vegas.
For some reason, the first thing I thought of was a game of Russian roulette. I needed two adversaries who would be desperate enough to engage in such an endeavor, so (and you probably recognized them) I chose Henry (Indiana) Jones Jr. (Harrison Ford) and René Belloq (Paul Freeman) from the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The action takes place before the beginning of that film, though by the time the events in that movie take place, it seems all bets are off, as they say. Of course, my story isn’t part of the Indiana Jones canon, so you can’t blame Spielberg for not anticipating my wee tale.
Historically in the mid-1930s, Russian Roulette is known but was typically played with five shells in the six-shell cylindar, not one, thus the odds of death would be five-in-six rather than one-in-six. I didn’t like that, so I monkeyed slightly with history.
I also looked up the odds involved and chose the act of spinning the cylinder after each attempt, which would still be insanely dangerous, but would explain to René how it could be plausible for Henry to survive three separate trigger pulls.
Hope you had fun reading this.