Saturday, March 27, 2010

Do You See What I See (Part 2) Gulf Coast Poker Magazine Issue 1

“What do you see on that table, son?” The Grey Bear pointed to the five cards face up in the middle of green felt. “ I say that’s two clubs and a spade. They say that’s three clubs,” he hissed at me. “What do you see?”

One of the gangsters looked at me menacingly.

I hadn’t played much cards but I knew the suits at least or so I thought. Now, being asked this question I forgot everything. If somebody needed a poker school it was me. I peered at the five cards on the table, and got my bearings. That’s a heart, yes what else could it be, I thought to myself. That’s an Ace of… diamonds, definitely, that’s a 5 of clubs, an 8 of clubs… clubs right, spades look like shovels, yeah, clubs look like clovers and that’s a 9 of… clubs.

I turned to the old man about to answer and he put a giant paw on my shoulder and said, “Now, remember I said two clubs and a spade. “ He paused and seemed to grow taller and bigger with each passing moment. “They say three clubs. And, think real carefully about what you are about to say, son.” His breath was heavy with bourbon, his eyes bloodshot, but his voice didn’t waver and his grip was unflinching.
I looked again at the table, everybody looking at me, “It’s… three clubs.” I braced myself for a smack and told myself to roll with the punch if it came, I could probably make it to the door before he could get his cane on me, I plotted out how to elude the bouncer and thought I might just be able to make it out alive.

The smack didn’t come.

He paused, red with anger. He lifted his head and pounded the furthest card, the 9 of clubs with his cane. “Fine,” he grimaced. The table waited with me, and then the politician began to nervously laugh, the others followed suit. The old man turned even redder and then started laughing too. “It’s a good thing you mothertruckers aren’t cheating me in my own place. Kid, push this to that man over there.” He flung some hundreds to the table. He tucked another in my top pocket, “Now, get me a bourbon and branch, and get comfortable we’re playing some cards. You just became my eyes…”

“Your-your eyes?”

“Yah, so you better get that squeak out of your voice, so I don’t have to get somebody else to be my ears .”

I was dazed.

“Get moving!” he bellowed.

I did as he asked and walked out toward the bartender for the Bourbon and Branch.
I told him what happened, “You did good kid,” he nodded.

“But he lost the hand.”

“Right, and you had the balls to tell him that. And truth is he didn’t care if he lost the hand, he probably knew that he lost the hand, he just wanted to make sure you were honest and more importantly not a coward.”

I still wasn’t getting it.

The bartender laughed at my ignorance and continued, “Now… he knows if you can stand up to him and you and can tell him the truth, he won’t have to worry about one of those thugs getting to you and one day you lying to him about a river card in the future. Course, he could have just told you about the last kid that did that.”

“The last kid?”

“Yeah, the last kid that told him what the cards were and was dumb enough to lie about a river card. You can only find him on a milk carton.” He let that sink in. “See why I told you not to go back there? Now get him his bourbon and branch before he gets any angrier.”

Friday, March 26, 2010

Do You See What I See (Part 1) Gulf Coast Poker Magazine Issue 1

Do You See What I See?

The old man beckoned me into the back room with a hurried, flippant wave. I had been cleaning tables and bar-backing for a week and he barely did more than grunt at me when I had done something right, and he just fired me evil glares when I mis-stepped. I wasn’t worried about being fired when I spilled a tray of beer bottles I was more afraid for my life. I had seen the old man come out the smoky back room and splinter two wooden canes on the door frame and rattle off a string of expletives that would make a porn star cringe, but somehow I had escaped his wrath. Fortunately to that point I answered to the bartender and just avoided the man they called Old Grey Bear.

I had seen the men that filtered in and out of that room throughout the night, they came when the bar was open and when the bar was closed, and they were the type that scared most people and I could tell he scared them. The Texas Hold 'em and Omaha poker game never seemed to stop it only ebbed and flowed, and it wasn’t unusual to see a guy walk in on my Tuesday shift and walk out when I returned for work on Thursday. The bartender told me the old man wasn’t so much a bar owner, as he was a guy who owned a bar so he could play poker and that’s all he did.

But I only watched the comings and goings, from a distance, as the only piece of advice I was given by the bartender was not to EVER go in there and the knowing look he gave me when he said it was chilling.

So, when the old man sternly stomped his cane and saw me pass by the half-closed door I froze in my tracks. He looked over his reading glasses and peered at me like a big cat in thin cover eyeing a limping member of the heard.

It got worse, “Boy! In here. Now!” he bellowed.

I swallowed hard, stole a glance back at the bartender, who shrugged helplessly, and I walked into the back room. The acrid cigarette and heavy cigar smoke hung like a fog over the room. It wasn’t so much poorly lit, as it was just the smoke captured the light in its thickness and made it feel like the last intact room of a house ablaze.

The old man flipped his cane upward, grabbed its base, whipped it behind him and in one quick motion captured a wayward chair with its hook, and pulled it to him. He pounded on the chair with the shaft and glared at me, “Sit.”
I tried not to look at the other men, but all eyes were on me. A well known local politician nodded like I was holding a baby for him to kiss not like I was spotting him sitting with the other thugs at the table. They included several guys who looked like they had gotten their fortune from pharmaceuticals, but weren’t pharmacists, and they eyeballed me with disdain. I scanned a couple of other familiar faces, I couldn’t quite place, and before I could look any longer, the old man pounded the chair again, “I said SIT!”

I did.

I had never said a word to the owner, this old man, a combustible pitbull of rage, who could probably take most 20 year olds in a fight even though he was 80 something, and suddenly I was seated next to him in a game that featured stacks of hundred dollar bills, more money than had ever passed in and out of my pockets in my lifetime.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What's Cracklin below (follow up to What's Cracklin')

Jackson, from Jackson, studied each of our faces, we leaned in like kids on our first camping trip the wind picking up at just the right moment, whistling in Jackson's pregnant pause. Jackson, glanced a steely gaze at the corporal, "Kegs of beer.... a whole mess of monkey spiders." He started laughing busting our balls again.

Tony, who preached patience in poker but most needed poker school out of any of us to learn it, spoke "No there's not. It's full of experiments."

The volume lowered to conspiratorial again and everybody edged toward Tony. Jackson was disbelieving, "Experiments?' pointing a knife my way, "You've been reading too many of his books..."

"No, I did go into the hatch last week," Tony pulled out a key chain, "turns out the key to the sheds works on the lock on the hatch too."

We looked at the Corporal, he shrugged it was true.

"Well, what did you see?" Jackson pressed, "Out with it private. Experiments on what? People?"

"No..." he shook his head "They figured out how to turn steel into gold."

"What's that... Alchemy?" the corporal asked.

"I guess."

"No," I had to interject "that's impossible, alchemy has been a pipe dream for centuries, and besides the belief was that you'd transmute an element close to Gold on the periodic table into gold... not steel, maybe platinum or even better lead. True, Persians did attempt this, and as a side effect created modern chemistry but alchemy has been debunked"

"Listen to Professor smarty pants" Jackson mocked, "You learn that in college too where they taught you how to unhook a bra, do a keg stand, and add two plus two?"

"I read a lot. Matter of fact, I'm reading a book on alchemy right now, which is where Tony probably got his inspiration for this ghost story, huh Tony?"

"I don't know what book is your foot locker, I don't have a key to that," Tony said. "But I do have a key to the hatch." He held in it the air and we got quiet again. As we did the wind grew louder and it swayed the key tempting us.

Slowly, we all looked at the Corporal, even disbelieving me.

He shifted uneasily from side to side, "Well, alright boys," he seemed inspired. "See what I'm going to do is call an end to this little poker game right here. And you see this pot right here, I figure you all forgot to ante an extra $20, and since I'm winning this pot without a showdown, I'll just take it and head to bed. Know what I mean." He started pulling the money from our stacks.

"No way partner we don't got no extra ante," Jackson stood up "and even if we do I got Kings full. How you going to beat that Corporal." He flung his cards to the table.

"That's a nice hand but see I got a royal flush and you can believe me and you can award me the pot and go into that hatch without me showing or "knowing" what you are up to... If I have to spell it out to you, you can also not believe me that I have a royal flush and I'll fold, you'll win the hand without these antes and we'll play poker all night instead?"

Jackson fumed getting it, "That's a big pot."

Corporal nodded, "It is."

"Maybe you should just keep the extra antes. Sure seems like you are asking me to give up a lot more than these guys... Know what I mean."

"That is true. But that's poker. Sometimes you are the fire hydrant and sometimes you are the dog. Look at it this way, Jackson from Jackson, sounds like there is a bigger pot down below. And in case any of you guys bring anything back I want my share too. Know what I mean?" The corporal swiped up his money and stood eyeing each of us.

We nodded. As soon as the Corporal was out of ear shot, we all quietly got up and followed Tony toward the hatch. When we first made camp months ago nine tanks sat in a perimeter around the hatch with one turrent facing every direction, but now after months of inactivity and apparent disinterest from the Iraqis, only one tank remained, and the rest were sent elsewhere. We knew the crew inside was probably sleeping or playing poker too.

The perimeter had long since stopped looking outward and they damned sure weren't going to start looking inside the facility so we walked pretty freely toward the hatch. I immediately noticed the sand that had built up on the hatch since we'd been there was displaced and only a thin film of sand sat on it now. Tony or somebody else had definitely been in it.

He slotted the key into the lock, turned it, and eased the massive lock open. It clanged loudly agains the hatch. We all warily looked to see if anybody had heard.

"Wait til you see this guys," Tony smiled.

He pulled the hatch open and clicked on his flashlight, we followed suit and stepped down into the long dark, damp flight of stairs.

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