Monday, November 12, 2007

PART II: Maurice's Friend

You watched him open the door for Maurice, and watched Maurice playfully doff his cap and insist his friend enter first, and with a quick step Maurice followed suit, not even touching the handle. Maybe Maurice had OCD and that was why he never touched the handle, you pondered for a moment, until you realized just how dirty he always was.

For every bit of folksy tramp Maurice was, his friend was genteel and tweedy aristocrat. Gold jewelry lined his fingers and wrists, a poppy sat in his lapel and a bold wide tie hung to his waist accenting the pinstripes to his tailored suit. He wore a bowler, probably concealing his depleted hairline, and he had a sparkle to his eye. That being said, the gold was somewhat dull, a stray string belied the moneyed and pressed look of his suit, and his shoes were scuffed, polished, but scuffed.

From the start, he did not appear to be what he presented himself to be. To you, he radiated flim-flam man and his crisp chatter, though disarming, only reinforced it. The table filled with intelligent lawyers, judges, councilmen and doctors also immediately was suspicious. Eyes darted to one another as Maurice's friend approached with a wide smile.

"Good Evening kind sirs, my friend Maurice has told me of your game and that there might be an open seat tonight?" He nodded his head to the two open chairs. Despite his too large bowler slightly riding down his forehead in the process he still look noble and dignified as he took to his seat. "Yes, yes?"

He was down before anyone could reply. The table took in a silent breath and you realized they were looking to you to decline the spot. You wondered how to frame the excuse and then, Maurice was upon you. His thin smile in your face, "Mr. Henry Tyson Esquire won't be here tonight, and as I," he fished out his pocket watch which probably didn't work,"am on time, and you have a practice allowing those not on time, to have their seat taken by those that only show part of the time, it seems well within the rules that Mr. Barrymore be allowed to sit with us, for not only is seat open it'll be open all of the night and it's his to take as no part-timers are here to stake a claim, so it's taken. You are so kind."

He smiled again.

That was that. Maurice' double-talk had cut off all possible avenues of nos and his friend Mr. Barrymore was already cutting a deck. He smelled of Lavender, actually he wreaked of Lavender, and if not for that being a pleasing scent to you, it probably would have been quite a distraction. You watched two of the older judges light their first cigar an hour earlier than they normally would and you were quite confident it was to counter the cologne.

Mr. Barrymore talked with a roll, his vocabulary an extensive one, and like Maurice he often made little sense, he just made little sense with grander adjectives. However, Maurice was an accepted oddity and novelty that was more laughed at than with, but Barrymore had grand tales that meandered through a litany of famous names and often ended with a belly laugh that was contagious. You quickly realized it wasn't so much the stories that were funny but Barrymore's laughing.

Barrymore played through the tournament, and made a decent mess of many of the hands, but he had a lucky streak that enabled him to go deep enough to just miss the money. Barrymore missed a flush draw and boldly proclaimed, "I played those two because they were suited, and one night I once won every hand with a flush or a straight, on a cruise on the Atlantic, you'd think with the titanic Titanic crash I'd avoid such venues, but I do like the chase and though I bludgeoned my opponents with suck-outs, I can't refrain from playing same-said hands anon. Because I when I hit, I take all the chips. Alas... though it is you that have all my chips." He bellowed laughter and the table followed suit, "You'd think I'd learn. Forsooth, the only thing chasing has ever got me is a couple of ex-wives, a treatment of penicillin, and busted at cards." He laughed harder, "I jest, gentlemen, about the penicillin... it wasn't one treatment it was two." Suddenly, you realized he had fished out a monocle, and with each guffaw it fell anew.

When the tournament ended, with Maurice grousing about finishing second again, Mr. Barrymore pulled out a stack of greenbacks, "I know Maurice says you gentleman sometimes finish the night with a cash game or two and I just want you to know I'll play." He spread the hundreds provocatively, "But beforewarned I'll not chase the straights, just the flushes so expect a better effort." His eyes twinkled.

The table's unease was palpable. All eyes turned to you again...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

PART I: Maurice

Maurice slithered into rooms and slinked out of them. Sometimes you'd be playing and he'd be there over your shoulder stealing a peak at your hole-cards and then smiling that thin grin when you'd be startled by his hot breath on your neck. You never saw him open a door, and rarely saw him enter, but when you did it would be on the heels of another at the last second as the door was almost closing.

His belly looked as though it had a belly of it's own, as he'd wear a fanny pack forward under his nondescript grey sweatshirt, and digging into it would often come with a show of the larger white hairy stomach. Fortunately, he'd often just undo the buckle and set the entire pouch on the table. It was swollen with dollar coins and dirty, wrinkled five and ten dollar bills. They were always sticky and despite his promises to "wash 'em next time" his currency never cleaned up. It was hard not to imagine him trolling a circuit of small denomination treasure troves like under motel vending machines, amongst the dirty cushions of dilapidated sofas in flophouse lobbies, or beneath the floor mats of unlocked parked cars just to get his buy-in every week.

He'd always arrive late, and sometimes his seat would be filled by a part-timer, and he'd rankle his nose at you, glare at his century old pocket watch, and spittle, "Always early are we?" he'd sigh, "Early it is aren't it." Then he fade into the background watching some hands and minutes later he be gone with no one seeing him leave.

As eccentric as Maurice was, sometimes wearing fingerless leather gloves which only highlighted the mechanic's stump rather than concealed it, he was sharp as a whip. Once in a heated discussion about him and much debated realization that nobody knew how he got an invite to the game in the first place, it was hypothesized that Maurice was one of those career panhandlers. Maybe he lived in Old Metairie in a quiet cottage, but commuted to downton New Orleans to prey on the tourists. Yes, you had all agreed it'd be an easy life as long as he had no drug problem, a good patter, and a sympathy inducing aura. He certainly he had the second two and despite the smell of stale cigarettes he never seemed drug addled only odd.

That story quickly became the accepted truth. When Maurice was questioned about profession or education, he'd lapse into his double talk and answer with a wink or a reply like, "Goat milker, tropadore, and sandwich board wearer--this week." He could avoid a question like a silky tongued politican and if cornered would often overbet the pot and put the focus back on to the game.

With few records kept, despite many players being accountants and number lovers, it was specualted that Maurice was definitely one of the winningnest players. He often came in second, occasionally first, and several times he'd be out early. He'd leave with a similar speech each time, along the lines of "I thank you for the trouble of allowing my unskilled, dimwittted play, play amongst you pillars of society, country-club members, and aris-tocracy. I trust you'll allow me to make another donation, same time next week."

His play consisted of amazing calls, bold bluffs, and people reading skills. At times it felt like he could read the cards that everyone held, but if he was cheating he was smart enough to never win too much. You had done some research on sharps and discovered his stumped finger was an advantage in dirty dealing if he was one. When discussion of Maurice came up and this was submitted to some of the players, everybody avoided his deal.

It didn't take long for him to notice he took many uncontested pots when the cards in his hand, and some of the worst players, who's ego demanded they could only be beaten by being cheated, didn't even look at their cards and just returned them to him. He'd smile and finger the button. "Position is a powerful weapon in this game. But what's your favorite position is the real question? Ah, judges?" Then he'd rake a pot.

Yet, despite all those concerns that Maurice was a sharp, nobody ever asked for him to leave or accused him to his face. He was too much a novelty and a breath of fresh air, despite his presence demanding an air freshener for any room, for anyone to really object. Besides wasn't if fun to beat a real life card cheat.

But then one night Maurice brought a friend...

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