...the broadly grinning Ed Pine held the snake up above the table for inspection, the rattle flicking against the scarred wooden surface.
“There you go--now, see! That wasn’t so bad, now was--oh, jackals in Heaven, look out, Marshal!”
The violently writhing creature leaped out of the old man’s hand. It bounced off the table and hit the floor in front of Villanova, convulsing desperately and seemingly looking for something to sink its teeth into despite its no longer boasting its head!
Being no friend of snakes dead or alive, Villanova leaped onto a near chair, screaming, “Christalmighty--corral that devil, you old coot!”
Pine stepped back, bellowing laughter and pointing jeeringly at Villanova while Eva rolled her eyes in disgust at her father’s funning ways, and hurried over to Villanova’s side of the table. “He’s just foolin’ with you, Marshal.” She planted one of her boots on the snake’s still wildly writhing body and wrapped a hand around it, about four inches back from its ragged, bloody front end.
Eva held the beast up in front of Villanova, stitching her sandy brows together as she said sweetly, “It can’t hurt you, Marshal. See here--its head is gone. This ole viper’s dead as a boot though the nerves in the tail ain’t got the message yet.”
The girl reached up to close her hand over the cocked pistol that Villanova hadn’t realized was in his own right hand. He looked down at Eva’s small, pink hand and his cocked Smith & Wesson.
The old man had stopped laughing. Pine stood on the other side of the table, head canted to one side as he studied Villanova critically, his vaguely wary, suspicious eyes flicking from his daughter’s hand on the cocked gun to Villanova’s flushed face, and back again.
A pine knot popped in the stone hearth.
From inside the gunnysack on the table came another low rattle. There were another three or four snakes in there, writhing around, no doubt looking for a way out.
The girl pushed down on the gun. Villanova had a mind to shoot the old coot, but that might ruin his chances with the man’s daughter. The outlaw lowered the weapon, depressed the hammer, and gave an embarrassed chuckle.
“Shit!” he said, jumping down off the chair. “You sure had me goin’, old-timer!”
He reached for his cup and threw the whole drink back to steady his nerves.