“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…”
“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.”