All Stories, Crime/Mystery/Thriller

Stagger Lee by Frederick K Foote

Six-sided cubes, ivory colored, black-eyed dots, tumbling, bouncing, rattling, futures and fates in the balance. The dice rock and roll in the alley, under the streetlights, reflecting neon red and blue and sometimes, once in a while, colored with flecks, hints, sticky drops of arterial or venous blood.

Black Stetson, scarlet hat band, spit-shined Stacy Adams wearing, blood oath swearing, death-dealing Stagger Lee holds the pair in a hand darker than his sparkling kicks. Mumbles prayers, listens to the rattle chatter close to his ear, blows his boozy breath on them, rolls, hard, ivory dancing on the street stones, bouncing off the soiled brick wall, quick, spin to a three and, and a four – Seven! The seventh son, the seven days of creation, seven steps to heaven. “Seven! About time I get to drink the fine wine of good fortune.”

Billy De Lions, sparkling in gold chains, diamond rings, a gold watch, black stingy brim, burgundy hued suit and black silk shirt with fire-red tie, and white spats on black pointy toed shoes with steel toe taps, nods his head and grins. Billy points a long finger with a manicured fingernail at the three. “Wait, just a mother loving minute, that die is tilted, caught in the crack. I look from the front, glide to the right, list to the left and step to the back side. I judge the angle. I pray for divine guidance. And, behold, it is clear to the unjaundiced, exacting vision of justice, and fair play – that’s not a three. A five! More a five than a three. Five fingers and the four seasons breed a bastard nine – a devious and tricky number associated with deceit, death, and misery. Still, only a shadow on your parade, Stagger Lee. You might drink this bitter draught and still prevail to taste the Holy Grail of Good Luck.” Billy rocks back full of laughter and delight.

Stagger Lee leans to the left, turns to the right, kneels to get a better eye on the suspect die. Stagger Lee stands and holds out his hands fingers spread in the harsh streetlight. “Looks like a three to me. Undisputable the Trinity, the Three Faces of Eve, the three wishes and the third time is the charm. Looks to my eyes to be a trio as clear as the onyx skies, fair moon, and  winking stars.”

Billy De Lions flexes his foot to confirm the razor in his shoe, tugs at his coat pocket to feel the weight of the derringer waiting there, touches the sap in his back pocket. “Well, Mr. Lee a disagreement between thee and me is as rare as a forest without a tree. Your sight, in this dim light, and the yoke of years you bear take a toll on vision, these observations all point to my claim, but I’m forever generous of soul and heart, and a respecter of my elders, shit, man, you can roll again.”

Stagger Lee studies his hands. “Hum, my antique eyes might fail me now and then. Younger eyes, spry eyes give rise to a lively claim.” Stagger Lee studies Billy for a minute. “Now, my hands, my hands rarely fail, in fact, they haven’t failed me yet.”

Billy sneers and slips to Stagger Lee’s left. “Well, you can roll again and maybe get a lucky hand to augment your unfailing hands. Go on, be my guest.”

Stagger Lee flexes his hands, makes a right-hand fist, his left-hand points a black spear of a finger at Billy De Lions. “I got a seven with my right hand. Never failed. Now, with my left, I got to do something with my lefty, sinister, sneaky, sly hand. Got any suggestions in your generous soul or out of respect for the old?”

Billy eases his hand into his coat pocket. “You owe me if you don’t roll. I’ll take that Stetson lid if you can’t pay. You can buy it back some day.”

Stagger Lee stretches his arms wide. “I shoot my old forty-four left handed, but I left that iron on my bed stand.  Ancient and forgetful I am”

Billy grins as he starts to withdraw the derringer. Stagger Lee’s quick as a cobra, with fingers as hard as rebar closing like a vise on Billy’s pampered fingers, crushing, bending, snapping bones as Billy screams in pain and drops to his knees.

Billy pleads tears in his eyes. “No! No! Stagger, Stagger, man, man. Please! Please! Man…”

Stagger Lee squeezes harder, smiles wider. Billy fades to black under tidal waves of pain.

Billy returns to consciousness on his back looking up at Stagger Lee standing over him rattling the dice in his right hand.

“Hum, you may be wrong. You may be right. You might live to daylight. You might not. What you think Billy? Lean on divine intervention and call your fate.”

Wrenching in pain Billy pleads. “Ah, man, man, Stagger, Stagger I got three little girls all smiles and curls and pink petticoats— “

“Cut your throat or I could bash in your crown like Jack on the hill?”

“Stagger, Stagger I got a sickly wife, with a bad hip and a weak heart, sweet and kind, as mother’s milk. She— “

Stagger Lee gives a bright gold tooth smile. “Might be a widow before dawn. I think you was right. You was right, Billy.”

Billy leans forward to cover his left-hand slip, sliding crafty fingers into his shoe past silk stockings to the warm pearl handle of the straight razor. “Right? I was right? About what? What, Stagger?”

Stagger Lee squats and looks into Billy’s swollen and teary eyes. “That must have been a nine. It rolls in decorated with your deceit, death, and misery. A bad luck number for sure. For you. Yeah?”

“Stagger, man to man. I got money, in my pocket. I got money in the bank. I got diamond rings in pawn. All yours— “

“Billy, man, you also got something in your hand there. Yeah, you do. I give you a chance to use it too. I stick out my neck, out there like that.” Stagger Lee stretches his neck toward Billy. “Go on, man. Take your best shot. But, ah, if you fail, fall short, leave me alive, I drag you down to Mott Street. Give you the best seat in the house. But not too close to the flames, but close enough to hear the choruses of little girl screams and a mother’s high-pitched solo. Sit you where the wicked, warm wind will bring you the sweet stench of burning flesh and flakes of ash to decorate your vest. Your move, Billy.”

Billy bawls like a baby and tosses the razor deep into the dark alley. “Stagger, Mr. Lee, think, the Sheriff will come for you noose in hand— “

“I thank you for your concern. I do. I just might call on the Sheriff first. How about that?”

Billy’s out of arguments, pleas, and tears. He sees Death standing just to the left of Stagger Lee. He watches Stagger Lee remove his waistcoat and hand it to Death. Sees Death carefully fold the black coat over his arm.

Stagger Lee rolls up his sleeves, reaches down and lifts Billy by his shirt with his left hand. He rattles the dice in his right hand. “Open wide, Billy. Let’s roll one last time for old times’ sake. Wider. Come on wider than that.”

Just wrecking ball, bowling ball sized fist pounding flesh to a pulp, pulverized by size fourteen feet, cursed and spit on by full laughing lips; Billy De Lyons is no more and a lot less than he used to be.


The Sheriff got the news, heard the tales, caught the gossip. With great reluctance, he visited the crime scene and viewed the bloody pile of mush that was Billy’s remains.

The Sheriff reasoned that he had seen enough bad men in his seasons to know when to fold his hand, take down his tent, turn in his papers and away he went.

He left the county, the state, the country, changed his name and joined the priesthood. And still, he had nightmares about Stagger Lee.


The High Sheriff picked up the slack, called up a posse of one-hundred and ten men, but none answered his call. Not one.

Come the evening, twilight, and dusk brings Stagger Lee to the High Sheriff’s office.

Stagger Lee beat and repeat beat and bound the High Sheriff. Rock fisted Stagger Lee took the High Sheriff’s snow white stallion and dragged the High Sheriff behind.

At the High Sheriff’s manor on the hill, Stagger Lee plunged his wife, Questa’s willing well from dusk to dawn. From dawn to dusk Questa, full of lust and greed rode Stagger Lee’s black steed.

The High Sheriff, compelled to watch, fell into a state of paralytic shock.

Stagger Lee was trying to take his leave, but Questa caught him between her thighs, braced him with her bright eyes, and promised to be at his side until death do them part and beyond.

They rode side by side on two white horses into the ebony night.


The Governor called up the Guard under a General of renown.

The General called up a Company of snipers, stalkers, cutthroats, scalp-takers, mother rapist, sadists, and condemned murderers.

The Company commissioned Hellhounds, Bloodhounds, Coonhounds, Bulldogs, and Mastiffs to track and tree Questa and Stagger Lee.


The Company ambushed the lustful pair crossing Quiet Creek at sunrise.

Questa killed fifty of the Company with gun and knife.

Stagger Lee killed fifty-five.

The Company took Stagger Lee and Questa alive, barely breathing, but still seething in a bloody rage.

Questa had one-hundred wounds, and Stagger Lee had one-hundred and five.

Quiet Creek ran red for a week and was rechristened, Bloody Battle Creek.


The Judge wore a mask, sat behind a curtain, and had his clerk speak his lines.

The jury sat behind a wall and listened, but tried not to hear the proceedings.

The prosecutor stood in a wooden box and never revealed his body, face or name.

Not a single spectator attended the ten-minute trial.

Found guilty on the spot; Stagger Lee and Questa hooded, bound, and gagged were marched straight to the gallows.

The minister said, “Good riddance.”

The trap door dropped.

The knots snapped their spines; the nooses crushed tender flesh, the ropes stretched thin.

Thunder roared, the sun went black and when the lightning flashed their bodies were gone.


The Devil greeted Stagger Lee and Questa at the Gates of Hell.

“Stagger Lee, I have strong words for you and my word’s the law that you and Questa must abide by.”

The Devil’s wife stood by Satan’s side and cried out, “Satan, don’t be a damn fool. Don’t let those two homicidal usurpers in here! No way! No how! Send them away, far away, forever and ever.”

Satan, full of pride, arrogance, and ambition to humble Stagger Lee, summoned the new arrivals into Hell with a curt wave of his hand.

The very same hand that Stagger Lee crushed with his powerful right hand as he punished the Devil with his battering ram left fist.

Questa, beat the Devil’s wife like she was a red-headed, left-handed stepchild.

Beaten badly, and banished from Hell the Devil and his wife fled on broken and damaged limbs to Heaven on High seeking sanctuary there.

The Lord did not turn them away or give them grief. He figured by and by Stagger Lee, and Questa would be up his way, and he would need all the help he could get.


So, goes the never-ending saga of Stagger Lee.


Frederick K Foote

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6 thoughts on “Stagger Lee by Frederick K Foote”

  1. Coincidentally, I recently added “Stagger Lee” to my phone. Love Lloyd Price and his swaggering backup singers. It doesn’t take a roll of the dice to find the quality in Mr. Foote’s continuing excellence. And Satan had best watch out, Stagger Lee doesn’t mind shooting a poor man down. Snake eyes and boxcars and mama needs a new man.


  2. Hi Fred,
    Stagger Lee is one of those characters who will never leave you once you have read about him.
    And Questa isn’t far behind!
    Brilliantly dark and entertaining!!


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