On a riverboat heading to New Orleans, Bret is playing poker. One of his opponents, Samantha Crawford, calls him on three queens, and Bret goes all in. Samantha wins with three kings and Bret leaves with the other players. Samantha approaches Bret afterward and figures that he doesn't like losing to a woman. Bret insists that it has nothing to do with her gender and that she's a bad poker player, and Samantha smugly notes that she called his bluff twice. As she leaves, Bret notices Henry Tree watching and then following her out onto the deck.
The next day, the riverboat arrives in New Orleans and Bret goes to a packet company. He notes that their riverboat, the Stonewall Jackson, is scheduled to leave for St. Louis the next day. Bret suggests that they pay him $5,000, and introduces himself. He notes that Samantha is heading back to St. Louis on another riverboat that is almost sold out, while their riverboat is running nearby. Bret suggests that people are curious to see if he can beat Samantha at poker and they'll pay to ride on the Stonewall Jackson if they win. He admits that he needs $5,000 because Samantha cleaned him out, and notes that Samantha is eager to take his money and will book passage on the Stonewall Jackson. Bret doesn't know why she's targeted him but is eager to find out. When the owners refuse, Bret says that he'll book passage on the other riverboat, the Delta Queen. He goes outside and waits, and the desperate owners Bledsoe and Hayes run after him and invite him in.
The next evening, the Stonewall Jackson sails with a full passenger list. Joe Riggs comes over to the poker table and Bret makes it clear they don't want him playing. The gambler tells Riggs that he saw him play at his own saloon in Wagon Wheel, Wyoming, and it was a crooked game. The other players accept Bret's word about Riggs and he says that he'll see Bret again.
Sam comes in and sits down at the table, and Tree is among the spectators that gather. The owners watch and Samantha wins the cut for high card for dealer. Samantha confirms that they're playing according to Hoyle. They play five-card stud and Bret calls Samantha's raise on a pair of nines showing. Bret has a possible straight but Samantha still has the high hand showing, and she raises. Bret calls and raises. She raises him everything that he has and Bret calls, and Bret reveals the card he needs for the straight. However, Samantha produces a copy of Hoyle and notes that straights aren't accepted in stud unless they're agreed to at the beginning of the game. Bret checks the boat's copy and confirms that the rule exists, and leaves the table.
Bret talks to the owners and they say that they checked Bret's reputation and determined that he's honest. Samantha leaves and the owners tell Bret that they drew more fares than the $5,000 they owe him, so he doesn't need to pay them back. Despite that, Bret insists that he'll repay them. He goes after Samantha and he owners figure that they'll get their money back.
On the deck, Bret asks Samantha why she's out to get him. Tree watches from the shadows as Samantha finally explains that he once won $50,000 from George Cross and it was all the money he had. He embezzled the money from his bank to make good, and he was caught and sent to prison. Cross--her father--claimed that Bret cheated. Bret insists that he didn't but apologizes for her loss, but Samantha isn't impressed. He asks what he can do to help her, and Samantha says that she needs $25,000 more to make good for Cross. If she gets it then they'll release it. Bret figures that they both need money and says that the Hoyle trick won't work once the story spreads. He suggests that they set up in Wagon Wheel competing against Riggs and offering honest games, but he needs her to stake him $10,000. Samantha notes that it's a little one-sided, but Bret tells her that it's the only way she'll get her $25,000 and she gets everything he makes past $5,000. Satisfied, Samantha agrees and walks away.
The riverboat arrives in St. Louis and Bret buys gambling equipment. He goes to Samantha's hotel room and tells he that he's sending the equipment to Wagon Wheel and it only costs $9,000. Bret says that he telegraphed a friend to take care of the equipment. He wonders if Cross would approve and suggests that she stay in St. Louis. Samantha says that she wants to keep an eye on her investment. Once Bret leaves to get the tickets, a man knocks at the door claiming he has a telegram for Samantha. It's Tree, who says that Cross sent him and he's a private detective. He tells Samantha that Cross won't understand the deal she made with Bret. Tree admits that he has to tell Cross what's going on, and Samantha offers him $5,000 not to. However, the detective says that he already gave Cross a report.
Cross comes in and gives her $2,500: 10% of her share. Tree says that she gave $9,000 to Bret and Cross tells Samantha to get it back. He explains about Bret buying the gambling equipment, and suggests that Cross can make a better profit by collecting the money Bret makes in Wagon Wheel. Samantha drops her Southern accent and threatens to tell Bret, but Cross points out that she can't without revealing that she set him up. Tree points out that they need each other and come to some sort of agreement, and they haggle until they agree on Samantha getting 25% of the profits... and Tree gets his 25%.
Later, the train heads to Wagon Wheel and Big Mike greets Bret. Once Samantha goes into the hotel, Big Mike tells Bret that Riggs has the town sewn up and nobody will rent Bret the space. Riggs comes out and greets Bret, and says that he didn't think they'd meet so soon. He insists that he runs the table in Wagon Wheel and goes into his saloon, the Golden Bucket. Big Mike tells Bret that there might be one place, owned by Ma Braus outside of town.
Bret and Big Mike go to Ma's place, and she says that she doesn't hold with anyone who drinks or gambles. The gambler insists that he only gambles honestly, and that no one has beaten Briggs because no one will go up against him. Bret has learned that Riggs took the money belonging to Ma's husband and all she has left is the building Bret wants to use. Ma figures that Bret should leave town rather than risk his life, and Bret tells her that people like her and thought she might want to return the favor. The woman gives in and agrees to rent him the building, and makes some coffee.
Later, Bret goes to Samantha's hotel room and says that they have the property and they'll be ready as soon as the equipment is ready. Samantha asks for the bill of sale for the gambling equipment, and Bret hands it over. He asks if she told her father what she's going to do. Big Mike arrives and shows them handbills he made for the new casino, The Square Deck. There's a $5,000 reward for anyone who finds a dishonest game. Bret and Big Mike go out to give away the handbills because no one else will do it.
Riggs and his men hear Bret and Big Mike as the townspeople gather around, and Riggs says that he hates a crooked card sharp and Bret is one. The townspeople consider Riggs' words, and Riffs tells his men to hang back because he can take care of Bret. However, when Bret steps forward to fight him, Riggs has his men draw their guns. The four thugs beat up Bret and Big Mike, and Riggs tells his men to dump them outside of town and kill them if they try to come back into Wagon Wheel.
Sam watches the whole thing from her hotel room window. As she packs to leave, Tree comes in and figures that she's going to leave since she saw Bret get beaten and offer Riggs a deal. The detective points out that she has a deal with him and Cross, and Samantha notes that she has the bill of sales and Cross doesn't need to know. Tree says that they'll wait for Cross and then they'll all talk to Riggs.
Ma takes Bret and Big Mike in, and Bret says that they're going back into town. She figures that if Riggs hurt her, every citizen would know. Bret asks her to take them into town without Riggs seeing them, and she agrees to do it after dark.
Sam, Tree, and Cross go to see Riggs and say that they're Bret's partners. Cross warns that Bret won't quit, and they have the money to buy all the help Bret needs if it comes to a fight. He offers to sell the equipment to Riggs for a small profit. Riggs checks the bills of sale and Cross agrees to sell it for $20,000. Samantha warns that Bret won't quit as long as he has the equipment, and Riggs figures he can go big with the equipment. He'll give them 10% of his saloon's profits for the next three years, and Cross agrees once Riggs puts it in writing.
The trio return to Samantha's hotel room and find Bret waiting for them with a gun. He admits that he knew the story was fake all along and he's happy being a partner. Cross tells him that he isn't and Samantha agrees, and Bret figures that they made a deal with Riggs. Samantha says that there's nothing Bret can do, and Bret seemingly accepts the situation, gives his gun to Samantha, and leaves. Samantha wonders what Bret will do next, and Cross suggests that she has a soft spot for Bret.
Bret tells Big Mike and Ma what happened, and asks Ma to walk into Riggs' place as long as he and Big Mike go with her. They go into the Bucket and Bret says that they came in for some blackjack. Riggs objects, but Ma says that Bret is a friend of hers and the townspeople side with her. The owner gives in rather than anger his customers, and Bret insists on using the same deck that was already being used. Bret reveals that the cards are marked and the other games are rigged. A fight breaks out and Bret and Riggs exchange punches. Bret and Big Mike draw their guns and Bret loudly says that the customers smashed up a crooked casino in New Orleans. The townspeople take the hint and smash up the place, and Ma laughs as her husband is avenged.
When the townspeople grab Riggs, Bret stops them and says that they should go home. Once they leave, Bret tells Riggs that he knows the owner has the bills of sale but he won't be able to do anything with them. Ma offers to buy the bills from Riggs for $2,000 and notes they're worth nothing to him otherwise. Riggs agrees and leaves, and Ma tells Bret that she's going to start an honest place and wants Bret to work for her. Bret offers the job to Big Mike and he agrees. Samantha, Cross, and Tree come in, and Bret tells them that whatever Riggs offered them, they're getting nothing.
The next day, Bret is heading out on the stagecoach. Ma says that she'll send Bret the $5,000 as soon as she has it, and Bret tells her to send it to Bledsoe and Hayes. When Samantha comes out, Bret helps her onto the stagecoach and gets in with her and her "partners". As they leave Wagon Wheel, Bret suggests that they play cards to pass the time. Samantha wins the cut for high card.
Written by Gadfly on May 12, 2019