Saturday, June 28, 2008

Shark Chum LuAnne VI: Cold Cuba

Walking into Hart's Casino poker room in New Orleans, was a surreal experience for Randall. To the unknowing, the room looked like a cross-section of America. Conventioneers, tourists, businessmen, sometimes local politicians, and generally good folk sat elbow to elbow in usually cordial games. To Randall who knew by reputation or face the seedier players in town it was like he walked in with a special pair of goggles. He'd instantly spot the partners running signs at one table, a team of three or four at another table, and the grifters, sharps, lowlifes, "reformed" criminals, and degenerates spread throughout the room. Everybody else was blissfully unaware.

On one table, there was a thug who Randall knew was responsible for killing at least two people sitting next to a doctor from Peoria. On another table a bad card sharp who dealt seconds in a bar game sat next to a large women tourist. Some of the cheats even wore Mardi Gras beads like they were from out of town. And sprinkled through that lot were the local pros that somehow managed to make a living even with the minefield of deep-pockets chasing flush dreams on every hand, and crooked players attempting squeeze plays or whipsaws at every turn.

As Randall surveyed the 28 table room, looking for Taun and getting a lay of the land, the smell of stale smoke overwhelmed him, and a raspy voice whispered into his ear, "Who you looking for Randall... the next you?"

He turned and and immediately felt the hand of Cuba Perilloux slide into his own. "Where you been stranger?" Cuba's eyes sparkled. Randall took in the cartoon of a man. A cigarette defying physics hung on his lower lip, a dirty painter's cap sat slightly askew on a nest of stringy brown hair, and out from his t-shirts and shorts sprouted four un-toned tubes of flesh that were his arms and legs. His grip indicated a surprising sinewy strength and Randall returned it.

A necessary evil he thought and turned on the charm, "Cuba, Cuba, Cuba, how's life?"

"I can't complain," he took a satisfied drag from his cigarette and blew into the faces of a group of tourists walking by. "Course it'd be better if this was still a smoking room. You know I missed a jackpot 6 months ago coming to the rail to smoke."

"Smoking will kill you."

"Nah, Randall, not me, as you always said something else or somebody else will first," Cuba never lost his gallows humor, and laughed at his own wit, "Right?"

Randall, nodded and watched Stacy enter the poker room and put her name on the list and sit at the bar,"So How's ya mamma?"

"She ain't too bad, look the kid ain't here yet, he will be. Give it a couple of hours. There's a soft game on table 8. Maybe we can trap those tourists in seats 8 and 9. Like old times."

Randall squinted and studied the table. Running squeezes and passing signals with Cuba was not anything he was looking to get involved with at this time. Within seconds he was laughing to himself. The "tourists" in 8 and 9 were running their own traps working with seat 3. In fact, they were whipsawing the player in seat 1 as he watched. He grasped their system within seconds.

They weren't using the most common system of placing chips on different spots on their cards to signal to their teammates the strength of their hands but they were using a variation. He could probably break the code fairly easily but he already knew it had to do with the position they placed their cards after looking at them and the number of chips they played with in their hands or riffled on the table after doing so.

In one way Cuba was right, they would be a soft table because Randall would know their cards
every time, but he had other things on his mind. "Let's get a beer, Cuba," Randall pointed to the bar.

"This game's so soft though," Cuba raised his eyebrows.

"Let's get a beer."

Randall led them to side of the semi-circle bar Stacy wasn't on and ordered quickly, Cuba getting a Bud Lite and Randall an Abita Amber.

Cuba, had tipped off Randall about Tuan, he was kind of Randall's scouting service for Hart's casino. If Taun played as well as Cuba promised, Cuba would get a nice little finder's fee. Randall had worked with Cuba for many years, and kind of outgrew the scamp, but still fed him small tasks like this one as he was a likable rogue.

Cuba, tried to make his mark by dealing seconds and wasn't half bad, unlike Lazy though he lacked the grifter's innate sense of timing. His problem was juicing his customers too much. In fact, Randall found Cuba when the kid tried to cold-deck a room full of deep pockets in a game they played on the West Bank. Randall, of course, was setting his own trap with a more subtle game plan, when Cuba and a buddy slipped a cold deck into the game.

Randall spotted it immediately. The first mistake was Cuba snapped his fingers at a girl and in a raspy voice said, "It's Bloody Mary time." It felt out of place, and Randall had long ago cultivated a feel for when things were out of step from what they should be. The girl brought out his bloody Mary drinks on a platter and placed the platter half over the table. Randall eyed Cuba as she did it and spotted the transition that was fairly smoothly done. Under the tray was a sleeve, that held a deck of cards and with Cuba's turn to deal he quickly slid the deck out that he was using for the new one. Everybody's eyes of course were on the waitress above the table and not Cuba's hands below it. The near spill of the Bloody Mary was an obvious and needed touch that even the players not eye-cornering her cleavage had to focus on. Except of course Randall.

Randall's scam was slightly more sophisticated but he determined to see how Cuba's cold deck would play out.

Cuba turned to the player next to him and ask for the cut. As the idiot had done all night he just tapped. A small smile started at the corner of Cuba's lips. Must of have known the player to his left was a tapper, and planned on his seat placement Randall thought. Not bad.

They were playing seven card stud. When Randall got his hand he felt conflicted emotions. Wow, it's funny, he thought I was a target, kid has no clue. His top jack was matched by two more underneath. Though funny this kid had thought Randall a mark this was also troubling. This attempt looked like it was going to be a ham-fisted scam. Randall looked on with dismay as the players showing an A and K, his two targets, couldn't contain their happiness.

The cold deck, so called because, an older used deck is swapped out of play, for a deck that has been preset with cards in a certain arrangement got it's name because the cards from the new deck would literally be cold. The friction of playing a deck of cards heated them, you put a new deck into action and there was a notable absence of heat. As a result, getting coolered or cold decked also referred to having a huge hand lose to one of the few hands that could possibly be higher, because cheats would prearrange for these monsters to go to toe-to-toe in huge pots.

Randall's, anger grew as the first round of betting played out. The targets showing an A or K weren't born yesterday, and if Cuba's cold-deck, which apparently was going to consist of three or four huge hands losing at showdown to his straight flush, or low quads, played out the targets would get wise. Once the game was suspicious of foul play Randall would never be able to run his play later in the night.

He made a snap decision. When Cuba put the deck down, Randall elbowed the Bloody Mary right onto it. Cuba's eyes went wide with horror. "What the Fuck--man!" he screamed at Randall. Even better. Randall would have an excuse to take the kid outside and be alone with him.
The table leaped to help. Randall, made it worse as he "fumbled" the glass and dumped the full Bloody Mary all over the cold deck. No chance those cards would play.

He acted weak, "I'm... I'm... Sorry."

Cuba took the bait, "You fucking idiot!"

The players needed a distraction from their own big hands, they were about to get fleeced with, because they were going to be angry too. And Randall determined that distraction would be him taking Cuba outside. Plus, they knew Randall didn't take to being called a fucking anything.
Randall turned from the cards throwing his three jacks into the muck and jabbed his forearm into Cuba's throat. All 170 pounds of Cuba backtracked gasping. With his other arm Randall kept him up and pushed him out the door.

"Call me... Call ME a fucking idiot? You'll be lucky I don't kill you kid."

The other players forgot about the hand and followed them out the door.

Randall winked at his partner to let him know he hadn't completely flipped his lid.

Cuba took two hard slaps to the face, they landed like punches. His testosterone melting under Randall's ruthless slaps, he slumped against the wall. Randall kneed him in the stomach taking his wind. Cuba grasped at air and fell to the pavement.

Randall waved the onlookers away, he had done his damage.

Then he knelt and whispered into Cuba's ear, "You pull that cold deck stunt again, they'll be fishing you out of Lake Pontchartrain. Listen to me very closely you fucking leech. When we get back in there you tell that little waitress of yours to get lost with that tray. And you deal the rest of the night honest, and me and you will have a little conversation later. You do those things and I want need to lay another hand on you. You don't... and I'll drop you off the Causeway myself, tonight."

Randall, let Cuba roll on the ground and went back inside to do damage control. Before the two targets could start whining about their trip Ks and Aces they had to give up, Randall commanded the spotlight. "Now, let's get this shit cleaned up. We're playing Hold 'Em now. And I'm so god-damned pissed I don't want to hear another peep from anybody for two hands."

"We can't talk for two hands?" Randall's partner, thankfully, asked the obvious before someone else could.

"That's right, you say another word you'll be lying in the gutter with that guy," Randall menacingly eyeballed his secret buddy.

The other players didn't take to being talked to that way either. But they knew Randall well enough to give him a couple of hands to cool off. And Randall broke the silence quickly enough mid-way into the second hand with a long, tale that meandered over a couple hands, and soon the trip Aces and Kings were forgotten.

At the end of the night, Randall took Cuba on a drive and he took the kid under his wing for a bit. The first lesson he taught the kid that night was never underestimate your marks or anybody for that matter. "Don't make it obvious going for a big score all at once," he had said. Sure enough the kid was going to beat four sets of quads with a straight flush. Fucking idiot Randall told him. He made sure the kid got the picture that Randall probably saved his life by kicking his ass. Problem was Cuba never could stop being sloppy or figure out how to conceal his angles. Randall had to cut him loose at one point, but kept him around for harmless jobs like this one. Some people never change and Cuba was one of them, he was a guy that could never see the big picture even now.

Randall listened to him drone on about stealing big chips from his table mates. He'd risk getting banned from the casino, that he made his livelihood, in over stealing a couple of black-chips. Kid just didn't get it. He refrained from giving Cuba another lecture, that time had long since passed.
Then Cuba, very obviously jumped up from his seat, and pointed to a group of Vietnamese kids walking toward to the poker room, "That's Tuan."

"That's subtle," Randall thought rolling his eyes.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Shark Chum LuAnne V: Troubled Water

As Stacy's rickety truck shook from the temporary bridging of the twin span riding into New Orleans, Randall was lost in thought. The ride had been one of long silences and trivial conversations. They were almost there but there was much to be resolved. Or would it just linger longer, Randall thought as he eyed her toned calves.

A old Paul Young song came through on the radio. They didn't realize the lyrics until too late and the silent mood worsened. "Every time you go away, you take a piece of me..." Randall rolled his eyes as he turned to look out the window. This was going to be brutal. As it played on, he recognzied that Stacy couldn't and wouldn't change the channel because then it would be her acknowledging the sentiment.

He contemplated turning the radio down and discussing Tuan or the plan, but he worried doing so would be him acknowledging it. So the song lingered, trapping them. He didn't like ballads and he liked this one even less. Syrupy, he thought.

Stacy picked up the speed a little bit, as if she could fast forward the song, by passing cars.

Finally, she spoke, "The new twin span is coming along. Should be an impressive bridge." A line of cranes and concrete poles in the water flittered by. They looked promising. They looked new. That was good to see.

"Two years after Katrina," Randall replied, welcoming the interjection "and still not finished."

"Bridges take a long time to build," Stacy muttered absently.

"Yeah." Ugh, he thought to himself.

The silence returned. They knew nothing more to add to the bridges conversation.

The water lapped at the concrete stantions. As they rode it looked almost tranquil and serene with hardly a whitetop. The concrete stantions looked like giant spears coming out of the water and contrasted the still blue sky. Construction workers milled around atop each one. They didn't seem to be in a hurry. Randall searched for something to interrupt the song's lyrics.

He was going to comment on a dark mercedes with tinted windows speeding past but the Paul Young tune mercifully abated. A temporary reprieve at best as the intro of "She's Gone" by Hall and Oates started. Randall, quickly turned off the radio, "I'm tired of the 80s. So... what's your approach?"

"What's my approach? You want me to run it past you?" Stacy had a little venom to her tone as she passed another SUV.

"Never hurts to practice."

"Like run lines? I don't think so," She realigned her grip on the steering wheel, "I'm going to sit down next to this kid, flash my bankroll, flash my cleavage, and take an interest in all things Taun. I'll shower him with compliments, I'll let my eyes promise more than I'll deliver, and after a couple of hours of being impressed with his play, and doing some heavy flirting, I'll offer to bankroll him in a couple of the bigger buy-in circuit events coming in a couple of months with an extremely generous split for him. It's a piece of cake. We've done this a 1000 times."


"And... Of course," she testily eyed him. "I'll get his number and then I'll call him and tell I want to put him in up in the private game next week. Kind of a trial period, then we'll get him in LuAnne DuBois' game and the plan will unfold."

"You are a pro, this is just like the time..."

"No, Randall, we aren't going to share war stories," she interupted. "We can avoid discussing "us" all you want but this is a one time thing. It's LuAnne DuBois and that's it. I'm not coming back in the fold. I'm doing you a... no, I'm doing myself a favor."

"A favor? You need some new statues?"

"No. College tuition ain't cheap. I got all I need. Statues...," she allowed herself a laugh, "But I want to keep it and have some left over for my son."

"Look... about...,"

"About? Wow, that's loaded. No. Randall, no," She spoke resolutely, "We'll discuss it... but we won't now." No we won't. He thought.

"It," he thought to himself. He had bad car rides but never with something so heavy hanging over him. It was like going to a funeral of a guy who died only because he knew Randall. He had been to a few of those, but this was like riding with the corpse to the funeral.

As they finished driving over the last of the twin-span he went back into internal thought. He pondered things that normally never filtered into his consciousness. He didn't think he had ever loved anybody. He was always focused on the current hustle and the next hustle, and living in a seedy business as his, he never trusted anybody until the money was doled out and he was a 100 miles out of their lives. Double crosses and after-the-money-split hold ups were like traffic accidents and your house. Most accidents are within 5 miles of where the person lives. Same with "third-party" hold-ups which are usually just friends of your partner, they usually take place 5 minutes into a drive-off.

Stacy had never crossed him. He was never pulled over by masked men with shot-guns after his take. She had never taken up with a younger better Randall. He always thought he meet that guy after a job, under a ski-mask and a too itchy finger, but it never happened. Stacy could have. She was dangerous as they came. She pulled emotional strings with detachment but like a sociopath she could fake any emotion and convince you she cared about anything especially you. He always wondered if she was playing him from the start. If she truly cared about "It" or it was just emotional capital. Certainly, she got a bigger take because of her leverage.

He wondered again, if he was right when he thought for a while she was as empty and bankrupt as he was inside. Yet... her love for her son seemed sincere. He hoped it was and recognized it was the first time in a long time, he hoped somebody else had a decent honest emotion just for them and not because it helped out some angle he was playing.

He wondered if he was denying that there was always something tugging them both to each other. Most people were simply pawns to Randall, they had to be, he couldn't survive or do what he did if they weren't. It's a fools fault if you fool them, was his code, and everybody's a fool. Once you care about the fool, you're the fool.

Had he made her this way? He had let her fall for him when she was young and simply eye-candy, and then he pushed her into situations like a pimp. Pimp, the word she called him in Reno. Then, he saw she was quite devious, her assets weren't solely physical and then when he continued to step on her heart, she became calloused. Of course, she fell for a target or a recruit every now and then, yet she never double-crossed Randall. He expected to her too, but she didn't. Not once.

He didn't know why she was so loyal. And it was that loyality, touched at something in a space he long thought vacant. He prayed they wouldn't discuss "It."

As the city beckoned Randall spoke again, "I am going to test him though."

"Test him?"

"See how the pressure affects the kid. I'll be playing too. I'm going to be gunning for a win... of course but at the same time, I'm going ride that kid like he's Secretariat. The heat is coming."

"The heat... Oh, jeez," Stacy smiled again and arched that eyebrow.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Shark Chum LuAnne IV: Spear Fishing

Lazy and Stacy studied the faces on the screen carefully. They were humoring Randall but were getting something out of it. They never doubted his methods because his results were always lucrative but he did take things a bit too far. This was a war-room and most of the faces were familar to them. They knew who they wanted to fleece and who they needed to fleece."

"This is Tom 'Lead Foot' Givens, from Huntsville, former nightclub owner and sleaze peddler, now a poker player that plays the big club games in Atlanta and Birmingham, including some legit ones where the dealer isn't on his take, and plays them well," Randall flicked through slides keeping an eye on Lazy as he was keeping an eye on Stacy. "He'll be here. He'll have a lot of money. He's a principle target."

"This feels an awful lot like school," Lazy drawled.

Stacy laughed.

Randall didn't mind the comment but did the reaction. She was bordering on flirting with Lazy. Randall knew why. He chose to ignore it for the moment. He waited.

They comported themselves and Stacey broke the silence, "Lead Foot?"

"He gives out multiple reasons for the nickname," Randall answered. "Sometimes he lies and says he used to drive stock cars. He'd probably tell you that. He didn't. Though his Granddaddy did, like most of the moonshiners. Lead Foot also plays fast, lives fast, and acts fast. Just about the opposite of the one and only Lazy."

"No call for that..." Lazy feigned hurt.

"What are the other lies?" Stacy asked.

"One. His foot's a prosthetic and made out lead. War injury. He might tell that one to you, Lazy. It's not. He never served. He does have a club foot and once wore a protective boot. Never was lead though. Two, and this one has many variations but essentially boils down to giving people the lead foot when they cross him made famous by any number of incidents he'll make up. Anyway, he's a steady cautious player that usually only puts his money on the line when he has the nuts or an edge. He's not afraid to make sure he has the nuts or an edge either. Course when he's in a hand he's pushing on you hard. Giving you the lead foot."

Randall went through some of the other targets but didn't invest too much time covering the material. The meeting was lacking the key player and that was the real object of this meeting deciding who that would be. After picking him they'd review their targets more carefully. He would be the player who would scoop the biggest pot, the player nobody would see coming and nobody would know was leaving. Randall needed an unknown. He almost wished Lazy wasn't his sleeper and his player, but reminded himself only Lazy could pull off his job.

"Let's get to the candidates," he said. He toggled up another slide on the laptop projector, it was a Vietnamese kid who looked all of 15.

"This is Tran Hung Dao. He's from New Orleans. He's gifted. He doesn't realize how gifted he is. Him finding a backer to get him into a game is plausible."

"Can we trust him?" Stacy asked.

"Can you gain his trust is the more important question," Randall left it there and waited. Stacy didn't show her ire, but he knew she didn't like recruiting and as she got older and her recruits stayed the same age it bothered her on a couple of different levels. He suspected her son's ascension into young adulthood was one of them. She was a pro though, she'd get it done.

"Tran Hung Dao..." Lazy repeated. "I've dealt that kid. Tran Hung Dao. Interesting name. That's the name of a famous Vietnamese general who stopped Khubla Khan's armies."

"How do you know these things?" Randall asked.

"What is most interesting," continued Lazy, "besides probably creating hit and run military tactics, this guys' most successful victory involved what I guess you could call a con. In the battle of Bach Dan River General Tran's men in small boats baited and lured the larger Mongol vessels to follow them in successive skirmishes until they got to a shallow part of the river. As the Mongols prepared to overwhelm them, the tide went out and their boats were crippled as they sank and ran aground because of the spears Tran's army had placed in the riverbed. So the kid is named after a con-man. Oh, he was also a poet and unoriginal as the same ploy was used against the Chinese two centuries previous. Still, a con's a con."

"Again, how do you know these thing?" Randall asked.

"I read A... lot. Who's the other candidate?"

"Will we get another lecture with him too?" Stacy teased Lazy. He smiled in return. Stacy accepted it with one of her own barely glancing at Randall through the side of her eye.

"Depends on the name. Patton... yes... Rommel... certainly..."

"How about Beau Broussard?" Randall interrupted as Tran's slide came off the screen.

"Beausoleil? Because yes, I got quite a bit on a Beausoleil Brouss..."

"It's just Beau," Randall clicked the slide to show a rail-thin LSU student, "He's better known as BB2Cartman on Fulltilt, as BBCuNRaZU on Stars and BBustnDOnkeys on absolute account. I didn't think he was real, and maybe an online scammer because he can mulit-table 25 hands at the same time but he is real. He's lethal. Only problem is he's never played live."

"Do I get to woo this kid too?" Stacy arched an eyebrow, angrily but seductively. She was channeling a black and white film star.

"No. That's another problem. I think he's gay. He's been rumored to have a relationship with an Italian pro, the flamboyant one."

"Aren't all the Italian pros flamboyant?" Lazy asked. "It's in their DNA. Like Alberta Tomba."

"Silly," Stacy whispered, "Tomba wasn't gay. But... how may Italian pros are there, I can think of two the pirate looking dude and that scarf wearing kid, though I'd have to call them both flamboyant. Is one of them..."

"His boyfriend is irrelevant because he no longer has one... which makes things easier... however, his sexuality is relavant because that presents a bit of a problem. We'd need a different tactic with him then just Stacy's considerable charms."

"What's wrong with the Asian, again?" Lazy asked.

"He's got a leak."

"What a coke habit? Everybody's got a leak," Lazy rolled his eyes.

"He's got a conscience."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Shark Chum LuAnne III: Fish Spice

Randall realized a phone call wasn't going to do the trick. This hustle was going to require Stacy, and unfortunately Stacy would require a visit. This was going to be easy.

As he pulled up the shell driveway, he eyed Stacy's ramshackle, rambling house. It one long series of additions, and far enough from the coast to survive the storm despite it's rundown appearence. Like Stacy's life itself, its add-ons sprawled across the property in fits and starts, that meandered everywhere but at the same time nowhere at all. From the outside it looked a do-it-yourselfer mess, but the inside was a different story.

She had learned to not show her ill-gotted gains ostentatiously from Randall, her beat up pick up truck parked on the grass with it's lifetime of miles was testament to that, and so too was the house. However, just because she didn't show them didn't mean she didn't have them. The first room to the house, a kind of trailer park family room that was the white trash mess of shag carpeting it should be was for prying eyes. The dogs barking like mad that rushed the chain linked fence around the back of the house took care of the other windows.

Most people hide their mess in the back of the house and greet their guests in a formal room that represents a way of living nobody lives. Stacy's did the opposite. One door led to the rest of the house and it was always closed. But opening it led to a tacky luxury of lottery winner from West Virginia. Only a few people saw past that first room. And those did were suprised by marble floors, Italian statues of woodland nymphs cavorting in the nude, a center fountain, and woven tapestries everywhere. It was Stacy's best guess of what a rich person's house should look like.

Stacy was the inverse of house in one way as all her upgrades were on the outside. And only in the inside were the vestiges of the white-trash cocktail waitress Randall had picked up all those years ago. But her outside was malleable and like the calculated messiness of her greeting room, she give her face and posture the polish of society dame or take on the baring of a butch lesbian. Randall always thought if he needed her to play a man she could pull it off even if she had to piss on a fence with their targets. Her body was her palette and her looks were always a perfect representation of who she was playing.

When she opened the screen-door, the recogntion of Randall was instant, her icy blue-gray eyes burned into him. Today, she looked like a hot housewife. A really hot housewife.

"I didn't expect to..." she started. Then she stiffened, "No, no, no."

"You haven't heard me yet," Randall said. "You don't know."

"I do know. Just like I knew in Reno. Just like I knew in Tunica. Just like I knew the last time in Pensacola, I know." Randall couldn't help but notice Stacy's ample chest as she shouted at him, she had gone up a size, she was pushing not be able to pull off classy. His eyes lingered as his mind forgot the hustle for a second. He always liked a fiery girl. He always liked Stacy. He liked Stacy a lot.

She was still protesting, "I don't do this anymore... What are you looking.... Get your fuckin' eyes up! You gave up your looking privileges a long time ago, Randall."

Randall nodded like a sheepish school boy then couldn't help himself and muttered "You don't wear that shirt if you don't want 'em looked at."

"Randall get the fuck out of here."

He smiled, it always used to melt her. It didn't.

"Alright, I'm not looking.... but, yes, you can do this."

"No I was serious when I told you the last time we were done," she spitted it out.
"We ARE done everything. Done working. Done everything. I can't this time or any time"

"You always can," Randall said, "It's what you do. And you are the best," a little flattery, she always likes flattery. But it was true. She was the best.

"No. I got... I got my son."

"Oh," Randall frowned for a second, "Call his dad."

"No. Not call his dad. Get the fuck out here." She pushed on the screen door and leaned into him.

Randall held up one finger, "You won't be saying that in 3o seconds. Call his dad."

She tilted her head exasperated, "His dad's dead. My son lives here now."

"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that," Randall lowered his head, "Well.... call his babysitter."

"Jack is 15."

"How old?" She couldn't possibly have a 15 year old. Were they that old?

"He's 15. He doesn't need a babysitter."

"Good." Randall smiled, "Let's get going we've got a lot to talk about."

"We do have a lot to talk about. . . but I have a feeling that's not what you want to discuss. Look, I can't do this anymore. I have to be here. I swore I'd never let you in my life again and now I don't even have to think about it. My first obligation is to Jack. Randall please leave."

"This one's different..." Randall kept her from closing the screen door.

"There's not a thing you can say Randall. The answer is... No!"

"It's LuAnne Dubois."


"I know..."

"But you'd need a..."

"Lazy Eddie been at the Belle for six months..."

"He's dying..." Then it hit her. "You motherfucker! Of course. Of fucking course."

"So... let's go."

"LuAnne Dubois?"


Friday, June 6, 2008

Shark Chum LuAnne II: The Sleeper

Randall Breaux's first phone call was to Lazy Eddie, a dealer at the Belle Riveria, and the most important piece of the hustle. Lazy, contrary to his name, was one of the hardest workers in the business. He grew up in a family of grifters, and after his dad had shorted him one time too many he took his grift on the road and became an "entrepreneur." He started out as a pool hustler and then moved to cards before he started to become too well known. He had talented hands and found manipulating a deck as easy as a making a combination shot on a crowded table

On his own, he'd work a city over in a couple of months. When focused on poker, he'd move into town, find the best game, usually at a country club or in back of a bar and fleece everybody one crazy night. He had a knack for slowly walking away with everyone's money. Then he'd be gone. Then he'd be just a story, the guy that had the run of his life the other night, then it was that one guy last week, then it was this dude a month ago, and then it was remember that one guy that one time who talked real slow, moved real slow and got run over by the cards. He'd never wear out his welcome but when he'd disapear he'd be on the cusp of it. Still, there were always a few players who'd never forget his face.

Rumor on the coast was that six months ago when Lazy came back into town he had gone straight. He had never been prosecuted for cheating or been arrested for anything at all but even as careful as Lazy was, people knew he won a might too much for just a poker player. Other people traveled the same circuits he did, and heard the same stories repeated time and time again. Only so many times can the same guy leave town with a bulk of the locals bankrolls before the rounders learned they had to get to town before Lazy not after him. Lazy might have been discreet, but he was by no means anonymous to the other rounders. In fact, he bordered on legend status.

So when he came to Biloxi, at first no pro would ever sit in a game he'd deal but plenty of idiots would. A room manager that owed Randall some favors and quite a bit of football money hired Lazy, and after six months of constant surveillance Lazy had proven himself even to the manager who thought Randall was running some sort of uber scam. Even the locals who knew to be suspicious saw nary a wrong move now remained seated when he came to deal at their table instead of taking their customary 30 minute walks. Lazy, actually did quite well as an honest man, he was well liked as a dealer, his patter was sharp, and the players tipped him well because he never made a mistake and could take all the grief even the worst drunk could dish out.

His best skill was cultivating his likable persona, he did everything slow except of course his job, he dealt the cards as quickly as anyone. When he talked he had the effect of putting his listener on the edge of his seat just because they were forced to wait for the every word to come. Lazy remembered everybody's names, and winked at the players when they ran a bluff. He never misread a hand and the right guy always scooped the pot. Course Lazy would always talk about what he'd rather be doing and would walk between the tables as if going the wrong way on escalator; slowly, awkwardly, making little progress.

Before his first day, a story circulated that Lazy was in fact sick, and he had gotten a steady job to pay for his hospital bills. His weekly trips to New Orleans supported that belief, so too the hospital wrist bands from Oscher's cancer ward he'd sometimes forget to pull off. This helped his tips, and even the most grizzled rounders now thought Lazy was on the straight and narrow. Lazy's weight loss was the most telling indicator that he was not long for life. There was a certain pity that the shark was now forced to give up his freedom just to fight death.

Randall smiled when Lazy answered the phone, "I only got two minutes right now... and maybe, 5 months for a future... so make it... snappy." People were laughing in the background. Randall could tell Lazy was at one of the beach bars.

Randall spoke but six words, "LuAnne Dubois. It's on. Next weekend."

"See, you got... the wrong number.. and for a guy that ain't got much time, that's a terrible thing... to do," Lazy replied, "Besides, I don't work on Fridays... bossman." More laughter.

After the click, Randall smugly thought about how carefully he had placed his sleeper in the casino and how stellar an asset Lazy was. It had been a while since he had used a sleeper but it was going to be one of his bigger payoffs. Randall and Lazy had worked a sleeper scam once before, in Berlin, Germany of all places, where he set up his horse in a fake office with a fake secretary, an ugly one who scared away even the most committed salesman or snooping local, and paid him to sit tight for six months. That was the toughest part for a sleeper. Randall had tried that gambit other times in the States only to have an action junkie or a less professional grifter cost him a lot of money by playing in town thinking a venue away from the hustle was safe. It never was. The community was too small.

With Lazy, Randall had found just the right sleeper, in Berlin he was content to "work" his 9 to 5 every day and lay low. He was an awkward looking prodigy who looked like a Lynard Skynard roadie, but for the Berlin hustle Randall had him looking like a stockbroker. Randall found him when he was still mostly a poker shark, working over yokels in a Delaware beach bar on his way to Atlantic City and the kid was almost unaware of how gifted he really was. They formed an uneasy and temporary partnership. Lazy knew in his business he couldn't even trust his father, and though that wasn't his father's intention it was a valuable lesson he learned by shorting the kid so much. Each time Randall gave him his weekly stipend, Lazy trusted him for seven more days. Randall for his part never trusted anybody especially his horses.

Randall took care of getting them passports, got the Euros they needed and they embarked on a bold plan. The Berlin scam was simple, every couple of nights they'd walk into the pool hall next door to their "office." Randall would make a show of losing money to his stud and would tell everybody how good the kid was but still be willing to put money on the line to lose to him. The bar catered to what remained of the U.S. servicemen there and sympathic English speaking Germans. He sold that the kid was the greatest pool player ever and he sold that he was dumb enough to keep wagering with him despite knowing that. He'd get drunk and yell how his guy could beat anybody in the room, of course, anybody watching would know the only guy Randall's horse could beat was Randall.

They'd also note Lazy didn't drink and sometimes would return Randall's money! He'd also always refuse a game for money from anyone else because as he'd slowly tell them he didn't gamble to make money but just to have fun with his partner. Firstly, he was a business man trying to make a go of international commodities trading, though Randall hinted they were involved in more cash friendly businesses. To everybody he met, Lazy was a square with just a little bit of talent. Some thought he was some sort of math nerd Randall was exploiting to build his ample bankroll, that bankroll combined with what looked like Lazy's average pool skills, and Randall's inflated opinion of them made them target number one in Berlin.

The real target was the bar owner. He was in the crosshairs for Randall and Lazy because he had a penchant for playing over his head for lots of money. After losing too much to a couple of gifted American army boys he stopped looking for games. He had his hands in a lot of questionable businesses, making his place a one-stop sin destination for the bored U.S. Army. As a result he had plenty of cash he didn't deposit in banks. He'd still play for huge stakes now, but only if he knew the player. He was the kind of guy, a sleeper scam would have to be used but the payout would be worth the months of laying in wait. Randall was happy to pay his cousin who was stationed in Berlin a nice finder's fee for the tip.

Six months in, Lazy, the international commodities broker, and Randall were being the usual obnoxious beasts, but this time they were celebrating and this time, for the first time, the kid was drinking. Randall was at his loudest and flashing money again. He couldn't help but brag about their huge score that day and it was no coincidence that just that night the owner was also playing. The owner who was finally ready to take the Americans' money and after catering to the less moral of the American he had adopted a bit of the European belief that Americans were arrogant and needed a to be taken down a peg or two.

He enjoyed putting them in their place and he made the loud mouthed Randall a proposition. If they played tonight he'd play for 5k a game. If they didn't play, he intimated they'd not be welcome back because the patrons and he himself had just about enough. Randall acted insulted and then lashed back they would play for 20k or nothing. This was music to the owner's ears, but he didn't think Randall had that kind of money. Randall smiled and went next door to the "stockbroker's" office. He returned with a briefcase full of Euros.

They had just completed the deal of their lives and had a lot of cash on hand. They moved to a private room and the game was on. 20 grand it was. The owner was going to take special satisfaction in finally beating down the idiot that was annoying his patrons every couple of nights.
Lazy, the drunk horse, lost the first one badly, even though the owner tried his best to make it look close. Randall doubled or nothing it, after paying out the cash. The owner agreed and Randall's guy seemed to get his barings straight. When the match was over. The owner knew he had given the stockbroker too much rope trying to make it look close to get another game and ended up hanging himself. Of course, when Randall giddy with the win and now fall down drunk taunted him for the contents of the case the owner was all too ready to play for it. Randall counted out 150k. Randall, told them he was going to double his money, but he turned the knife a little bit as this time it was he that questioned the owner if he had that kind of scratch.

The owner couldn't believe his ears. He had seen this guy for six months stink up the joint and now these idiots wanted to play him for 150k. This was the opportunity of a lifetime. He made all the phone calls he needed to get that kind of cash on hand, and within an hour it was there. So to was an extra 150k. He was glad to see the horse was still drinking and he overheard Lazy privately cussing Randall for setting up those kind of stakes. It was too much pressure, he didn't feel comfortable, he said and Randall dumbly assured him it would be alright. Fools, the owner thought, drunk fools. The owner knew this series wouldn't be close. He didn't even bother drugging their drinks, he had watched this kid for six months he didn't need to.

He was really surprised when it was close. He was even moreso when Lazy won. The kid had had the night of his life.

Lazy only won by one game and was in the zone getting just the right rolls every time. They won ultimately by the skin of their teeth but they won. At least that's what the locals thought. Randall smiled, realizing as always, winning the money was the easy part, getting out of the bar and then out of town was the tough part. When the owner had offered to play for another for 200k, the insisted they would but the next day. Randall hated to leave the money on the table, but he knew they couldn't play that game. Greed kills. If they won, they'd never leave the city. The were on a plane that night. He sipped his drink and felt real remorse that his cousin was later found dead but that was the game Randall Breaux played, high stakes sometimes meant deadly stakes.

Anyway, he had his horse in place, with far more lucrative returns awaiting them. He licked his lips and reached for his phone again, now his recipe needed just the right dash of spice.

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