Friday, August 24, 2018

Fish Food

"Look at him," he groused.  "Fucking Fish."

I followed Tony's finger and there he was striding out the other the exit, Morty the accountant.  His wallet fatter at least for the moment.  He lit up a thick cigar self-satisfied in the crisp autum air then leaned on the railing.

"At least, he's not leaving..." I said.  Happy to that fact.

Tony mumbled, "Fucking fish, fucking fish!  That fucking guy."  He pushed out a thick cloud of cigarette smoke into a crowd of mostly women walking into the casino.  He got what he wanted: angry glares and a collective admonishment.

He half lurched at them then defiantly mouthed "What?  What?  What?"

The ladies drew in closer as they neared the door.

"Asshole," one said to another.

"I heard that.  I heard that!"  he screamed.

"Tony..."  I whispered and patted his shoulder.  He spun quickly cocking a fist.

I raised my eyebrows and he lowered it, shaking his head.  He said "Don't man," and removed my steadying hand.  "Man.  Man.  Just don't."

"Can't let them get to you,"  I said trying to steer the conversation back.

"The fucking Junior League that just walked in?"

"No," I said, " The fish.  That fish."

The thick aroma of Morty's cigar wafted over.  I didn't have the nose for it then, but had I, I would have known it smelled as cheap as his suits looked.  Didn't matter Morty the accountant, Morty the Fish, relished it like it was a hand rolled Cuban cigar.

"I don't know how he does it man," Tony shaked his head again.  I could see sweat beading up between the thinning hair of Tony's pate.  "He just fucking calls and gets there."

"You want that ca.."

"Don't!"  He stopped me with an angry wave of his hand.  "Don't fucking give me 'I want that call' speech.  Not when it's fucking 3,000 and rent is due.  I don't want that fucking call.  Don't give me the results oriented spiel.  The result is the only thing that matters today."

"Fine..."  I went through the catalog of encouragements and they all rang hollow.  I stood there and nodded.  Time to just listen.  I knew what Tony was up against and to get the much farther into the hole when he should have been well on his way digging out it made me literally hurt on the inside for him.  I thought I about suspending my rule about loaning players money and then I quickly remembered all the times that went south even for guys like Tony.  Even for guys that couldn't be beat one week.  A year straight the most feared player in the casino.  The guy always walking racks back to the cage.

He sucked at his cigarette.  At least he was taking a break.  Many guys can't leave the table after absorbing a hit like that but Tony could.  It was like the hits bounced off of him like bullets to Superman.  Well, normally they did.

The last two weeks everything had been going normal.  Then a Sunday night, he sat in the only game running a PLO game and ran really bad.  I didn't see it for myself, but I heard he couldn't get a hand to hold.  He kept rebuying.  Then he jumped back into his regular No Limit Hold'Em game a day later but it was like a fuse was tied to his bankroll.  It barreled forward burning up buy-ins left and right.

Some of the time I saw him first hand not be able to win a hand.  Usually ahead but never ever holding.  The dealers winced as they put down the beats and Tony grew ever more irritable.

I had head 17k down by Wednesday.  Thursday he was seen in the pits.  Not Tony, I said.  Yeah, Tony they told me.  Rumors were he blasted off 50k in the week.  I couldn't tell if the number was an exaggeration or an underestimation.  Everybody had seen him losing.

That morningas I rolled in for my shift as I referred to it, I saw him at the loan table.  Bleery eyed and a vacant stare I could read his face.  The 50k was probably well under the actual amount.  "How deep?"  I asked.  He got up from the game and we took a walk

"We--I'm at the bottom of my roll," he said as he steered me to Starbucks on the other side of the casino.

"Take a break," I said.

"This game, they are giving it away," he shook his head.  A break wasn't happening.

"Yeah... how much they give to you?"  I asked.

He leveled a glare at me and didn't refuse the cup of coffee I ordered him.

"No, these fucking fish can't fold," he told me. "Jump in.  The action is great."

We finished our coffee and he shared some of the bad beats he had slogged through with a little bit of gallows humor.  When we got back a seat was open.

Sure enough, Tony wasn't lying.  Morty the fish and five other randoms that didn't have a fold button formed a wall down one side of the table.  A veritable buffet that would reward patience and discipline.  The kind of game you dream about.

An hour into it, while watching Tony making moves he didn't need to make and treading water, I got three streets of value against a Shriner in for a convention who flopped a flush draw made a pair on the turn, and didn't believe I had been betting my overpair (Kings) since my three bet to start the hand.  Tony nodded and to his credit even mired in what had to be the worst run bad of his career seemed happy for me to win.  Even though he knew he wasn't getting those chips from me, and the Shriner was about to call it a morning, he still smiled at my success.

Then Morty the fish with a pile of ill-gotten chips vomited a stack of black $100 chips when his bottom two pair got counterfeited on the river and he couldn't let it go. The nit who had Queens might as well have put that 2k in a vault.

I raised an eyebrow at Tony's direction.  He was buried in his phone.  Thumbing through twitter as though somehow an answer was forthcoming.

"Tony," I whispered as Morty loudy explained his (lack of) thought process.  "It turns around today."

Tony turned to eye Morty's black and green chips, "Yeah, you right."

Tony then dug into his pockets and tossed three $500 chips onto the table.  I could tell that's all his pockets held.   He had 3k in front of him.

Even with the loss Morty had $3500 left.

The next hand, Tony opened to $40 from under the gun.  I spied two red 9s.  I quickly ruled out three betting and opted to just call.  I wasn't trying to isolate Tony.  I wanted one, two or three of the fish behind me to call.  Why not set mine with 9s.

The waterfall started with my call and chips tumbled into the felt behind me.  Morty in the big blind shrugged and called, too.

6 players meant about $240 in the pot.

The dealer burned and flipped the flop with a Jack of clubs leading the way in, followed by an Ace of hearts, and a four of diamonds.  Morty sighed and checked.

Tony seemed engaged and checked behind.  I knew I was checking 9s but wondered why Tony wasn't betting.  He should be leading here with his AceX combos.  No real draws on this board.  Yet, I knew Tony he definitely had something.


Wow, he must be really strong.  Pocket Aces or pocket Jacks.  He's flopped top or second set.  Anything else he'd be trying to trim the field and not let a Broadway draw get there.  He probably should have bet anyway.  These passive fish might not...

The lady from Baltimore, who laughed nervously whenever talking, led out for $120.

What do I know, I thought.  Tony inched ever so slightly closer to the table.

She has an Ace.  Tony must have second set a set of Jacks and is hoping an Ace would bet.  Okay.  Let's go.

After two folds, the burly plumber from Houston called and shifted in his seated.  Then Morty sighed again.  Strong or weak?  I asked myself.  Weak.  That's authentic not any of the bad acting Morty employed when flopping the nuts.  He's calling with a very weak holding but he likes the ever building pot.

The pot was $600 and now back to Tony.

"Plus $400," he said quietly to the dealer as he threw out 5 black chips and four red $5 chips in an assertive confident fashion.  Definitely... pocket Jacks.

I almost forgot I was still in the hand and after a pause remembered to muck my meaningless 9s.

The lady bit at her lip and played with her bigger chips.  Then laughingly said, "I call."  There was the slightest bit of a question in there.  She's strong but worried she's not strong enough.  Ace Jack?  I thought.

The plumber looked at his remaining stack of 1000 and then mucked his hand, "Too much for that hand."  He immediately had to confide to the man next to him what he let go.

Morty shook his head and threw bad money into the pot.

Well, Tony was on his way.  He had gotten $1400 into the pot with a set of Jacks, at least that's how I saw it.

The dealer fired a turn card.  5 of spades.  Total brick.

Morty quickly checked and Tony quietly said "All in" and I could tell he was praying one or both of the call stations would get it in with him.  It was an overbet but both players were the type to pay him off.

All eyes went to the lady who pursed her lips and stroked her neck.  Definitely thinking about folding, I thought.  Then she looked at her cards.  "Maybe, I should fold this," she said, "but hey," another laugh, "My daddy always told me you can't win a giant pot by folding."  Her remaining stack of $1200 went into the pot.  Tony closed his eyes for a second

Morty pushed at the thick glasses that had slid down his thin nose and sneered at the board.  The glasses slid down again.  "I know I'm not good here."

"You are not," Tony snapped to my surprise.  Was he trying to goad a call?  No, it looked like he wanted Morty to get out of the way.  He was running bad.  Chasing away a customer.

"I'm not," Morty nodded.  "But this pot is what..."

"It's just under 4k right now,"

"4K?"  Morty nodded.  "I've never won a 4k pot.  Ah, fuck it I call."

The lady said, "I got Aces and Jacks two pair," and laid her cards down for all to see.

She looked at Tony, he didn't show his hand but told her, "You are behind.  You need an Ace."

Morty pushed at his glasses and watched the dealer burn and turn the river.  2 diamonds hit the felt.

Tony flipped over his pocket Jacks and all eyes turned to Morty, as the lady said, "Oh Jeezh," and started to collect her stuff to leave.

Morty nodded, rocking back and forth.  "Tony, you remember when you called me terrible," he said with a sneer.

"What's with the speech?"  Tony responded.  "Just muck your hand or turn it over if you can beat me."

Morty kept rocking and glared at Tony, "I think you called me what a call station? Right?  A terrible call station"

"Show you hand, sir," the pretty Asian dealer demanded.

Morty ignored her, "You said I'd be broke in a month playing the way I do.  You remember that?  Just calling."

"Yeah, I guess,"  Tony said maybe starting to fear the worse.

"I'm not broke yet," Morty said tilting his head.  He rolled his tongue against his Chicklet like front teeth.

"It hasn't been a month yet, Morty, give it time you'll get there," Tony dejectedly looked up to the heavens.  He knew it was coming.  I knew it was coming.

"No, it hasn't but see if one of us is going to go broke this month..."

Tony got up from his seat, and eyeballed the dealer, "Hold my spot,"  She looked confused and glanced down at his set of Jacks.

"'s more likely going to be you,"  Morty flipped over Ace Three off suit. "Straight Ace to the Five," he said smugly.  "That's why you call!"

The dealer pushed up the cards and looked sadly at Tony who was already walking off.

"Yeah, get some more money,"  Morty giggled.

Tony stopped and spun around.  "You think that's a good play?  You think calling with Ace rag was a good play?  When you were behind a set and top two?  You needed runner runner.  Perfect, perfect."

"Hey, it worked,"  Morty smiled and dragged the pot in.

Tony stopped pacing, "This is it bud. That $600 I just put on the table that's it.  I'm dry after that."

"You told me you had a hundred, a hundred and twenty k in your bankroll," I suspected it but I still struggled to believe it.  "Tony broke?"

"PLO...  Black Jack.. Hold'Em.. it's been insane, it's like trying to hold water, I'm just bleeding out,"  he just kept shaking his head: disconsolate.

I ached.  I steeled myself for the inevitable but it never came.  No, I realized, today he won't be able to ask for it, but tomorrow or next week he would.  He'll ask for that loan he's advised me 100 times over to not give out to others with that same desperation in their eyes. No, today he'll try to make something out of $600.  He asked if I was ready to go back.  I said no, I need some more air but the truth was I couldn't bare to watch the finale.  If it happened today or not.

I watched him walk back into the casino and I asked myself if I could ever spin out of control like that.  The consummate professional down to $600.  Then Morty walked up on me, reeking of his cigar.

"Look at him," he sneered in Tony's direction.  "Fucking fish."

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Thick cigarette breath assaulted me as the man in the tattered Red Sox jacket put his hand on my shoulder, "Hey boss, spare a dollar..." it hung there not as a question but an instruction. I couldn't sidestep it or the man.  His gently tightening grip, neither affectionate nor comforting, but oddly somehow both soft and malevolent made the hairs on my neck stand up.  The harsh cold wind pushed at me, up the darkened street gaining speed between the concrete buildings.  It buttressed me helping the man stop me on that corner. 

I gave him a steely look, and he inhaled quickly through his nostrils, "Sorry guy."  I tried to wave him off, but his hand didn't move.  I had to look him in the eye.

Quiet, gray blue eyes surprised me, they looked like they still had the sparkle of youth, maybe a forty years old but his weathered face told a different story. Craggy, fractured and leathery ridges told of many more years and hardship born of living outdoors.  Then in a flash, those eyes lost their luster and bore into me.

"Sorry guy?"  He said, "I don't think so."  His hand now found the tendon to my neck and his grip gathered force.  There was no paradoxical soft evil holding me, it was throttled aggression.

"Whoa," I tried to jump back. The situation devolving, "Easy brother.  I don't have nothing."

He seemed to summon height and brought his breath full bore on me.  "I saw you just win that tournament in there.  You can spare a dollar."  Again, not a question.

He tilted his head back and forth and raised eyebrows. 

My wallet, fat with $100 bills pressed against, my leg, surely it stood out as obviously as it felt.  I feared merely pulling it out would lose me all of what I had won.

The grip gathered more force, "Spare a dollar, spare two."

I could smell the sweetness of cheap rum on his breath too.  In the shadows, I saw a figure behind him.

Suddenly, the figure burst out of the concrete doorway, "Fuck this man."

This new man had no subltety to him, he bull rushed past the first man. His pupils dilated like saucers, heavy saliva dripping from his lips, but even though I saw those features at the time I didn't process them.  Only the gun had my full attention, a scratched beaten revolver, the barrel pointed at my temple.

The man with the gun spoke, "Give me your fucking wallet or fucking die.  Spare a dollar bullshit, spare the wallet motherfucker."

I shrugged, "This is a mistake."

"Ain't no mistake here, give the man..." the first man started.

I slowly grabbed at his wrist, "Let me explain something to you fellas.  I'm a littel bit irritated you stopped me here in the cold..."

The man with the revolver looked quizzical getting ready to do something even dumber...

"Now, I did win a poker tournament, and that was fun, but I'm a police offer.  So before you go and make an even dumber mistake then this collosal fuck up of an armed robbery you are attempting why don't I spare, why don't I spare you guys by walking this way.  You walk that way and we'll pretend it never happened.  Course I see either one of you on this corner again, there's going to be problems."

"You a cop?"

"This offer has a very small window.  The colder I get the quicker it closes.  So take your fucking hands off me, but that gun away, now, and walk the other fucking way."

My eyes went back and forth between the two.

"Yeah... okay.  That's a deal."  The gun lowered and the two looked at each other with fear, and turned around and walked the other way.  I walked to the corner turned, took two steps into the darkness with the same confident pace and then ran. 

Bluffing isn't fun.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lady Luck - short poker story: part two of two

Continued... from previous post.

I had never seen her before, I kind of stared, she smiled even broader, and said, "All those chips..." All I could manage was “Oh.” She giggled and turned away walking out of the room. I quickly looked over the tough guys at the table to see if she was attached and if my luck just ran out. The only other guy beating the game like me was Jimmy Zees, who locked eyes and shook his head. I froze for a second. He smiled, "When you're hot... I guess you're hot, kid. That's our new waitress Dalia."

I played for as long as I could to make it seem like I wasn't hitting and running even though this Texas Hold em poker game was as soft as they come. I even gave some pots back to those losers when I had the best hand and just mucked. It was for my own security, to get invited back to games I had been crushing I took to giving a little back. I had to let them think they had a chance, but all I could think about was Dalia as I played on auto-pilot. Her legs walked through my mind a hundred times during that game, and that smile lit me up like a Christmas tree at midnight. Finally after one more small lost pot, I said this is starting to feel like online poker as though I wasn't mucking the winner and I had just got bad beated. That was my cue to leave. They still noticed I was leaving a winner.

I put them behind me, as I walked out front. The bar was just about settling down, with only a couple of friends of the establishment still nursing their last drinks when I stepped out of the game. The neon sign from outside glowed over Dalia with a brillant red aura when I saw her again. She was leaning over a table scrubbing nothing. I felt like I had taken a boot to the gut as I drank her in. I swallowed hard like a bluffer with his last dollar in the pot and worked up the nerve to walk up to... Dalia, that name danced through my brain.

She looked up and smiled, that wide inviting grin, that at once made feel at ease and at the same time gave me a cold sweat like I was flu-ridden. I blinked a few too many times, again like a guy trying to steal a pot with nothing, and returned the smile.

She said she had an extra beer and she was sure that Jimmy would let her share one with me before she closed up. I couldn't refuse, no way I was going to refuse, man was I running hot. She talked, I acted like I listened, actually, I did care what she said. Jimmy had already told her I was good folks not like the rest of the guys back there. Jimmy liked her, looked out for her, because she reminded him of his daughter he had told her. That made her laugh. Usually that was a bad line but with Jimmy it was true.

He had also told her I wasn’t the kind of guy to go missing for a week, or for a year, or forever. I was the kind of guy he'd want his daughter to talk to. While we sat, I don't remember what I said, but I do remember her laughing at my jokes, her hand dancing on the table top, and her slender fingers lightly brushing mine, first as if by chance and then with a light purpose. I remember her eyes opening wide, her pupils dilated, and a sweetness that drew me into her.

I couldn't even think about why she'd fall for a guy like me, I didn't consider her running an angle, or her running somebody else's angle. Instead I just soaked in the moment, every hair on my body prickling up, like I was watching an opera singer hold a note I couldn't dream of. I felt my heart started to beat at a weird pitch and I felt something I hadn't felt in years, not since I met my ex-us that first time, and then the cold sweat hit again. I knew what it was. It was love pure as the driven snow.

Then I could see in her eyes somehow she felt it too, a genuine love for a scamp like me, and every sensation doubled. I was drunk for her.

And then in my haze, a line from Sinatra that my daddy used to sing when I was a kid played through my head, "Luck be a lady, luck be a lady tonight." As we sat, I saw him singing it, smiling at me, and nodding his head at one of his vixens.

I shook my head and laughed half to myself half out loud.

"What's so funny?" Dalia asked.

"Lady Luck," I shook my head again.

Then I stood up, took one last long look at her, seering her face into my memory forever, doffed my cap at her, "I gotta go darling."

She said, "See you next week." Half as a statement, half as a question.

I half-turned only seeing those legs that made me chest thump, and lied, "I'll be seeing you," and walked out that bar, and I never looked back.

Dalia, was a once in a lifetime thing, a once in a lifetime lady, but unlike my daddy I knew and understood, lady luck or any of her sisters was the unluckiest thing that could happen to a gambler like us.

P.S. I'm still killing every game I sit in, I was probably the guy holding the stone cold nuts against you last night.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lady Luck--short poker story part one of two

I was ginning. I was on a rush like Darvin Moon at the World Series. Everything was hitting. You know players that say they haven't hit a set in months. I hadn't missed at least two sets in a session in over a year. They always held. The only sets over sets were the ones I was holding top set. I could see flops before they hit. I wasn't soul reading people I was telling the souls what they were going to be.

It was insane, it didn't matter if I was playing Texas Hold'em poker live or online I was simply crushing it. I didn't even know how to play Omaha and I always seemed to get there whenever I'd be forced to play. Double suited and I'd usually hit the flush on an unpaired board.

Play hi-low, hello wheels with every suit on the board. What a fun time. I thought to myself I'm the king of the poker world. I moved up from 3 -6 limit, to 2 - 5 No limit hold'em to 100 - 200 in about the lifetime of a fruit fly. I was winning online poker tournaments like I was a superuser. Yet, even as I would sit down to print money my real life was in a tale spin.

You know that saying lucky in love unlucky in cards? I was the opposite, I couldn't miss when I played a card game so I played all the time. Next thing I know the missus became an ex-us and took my new lexus that I missed even more then her. Still who needs women when you are winning. Or for that matter anything else. For the first time in my life, I couldn't lose.

I spent freely out of my bankroll because why not. I felt like I was on the opposite of a twilight zone episode, some cheery dream that would never end, but deep in my core I feared the moment it would come crashing down. As my broke daddy used to tell me with every new step mommy I'd meet, "Enjoy it while you got it son... you'll understand one day." I knew there was always a sad ending to any Midas touch story but I didn't see mine coming, or know it would hit me like a freight train.

One night, I was playing late in the local den of thieves, behind the bar of Jimmy Zees a connected man with some of the deepest, loosest pockets in the city. I'm killing the game as I always do. I was in auto-pilot with my bluffs not being called and second nuts forced to stack off to me when I held the best of it.

Then lady luck walked through the door. I was in a giant pot with two low lifes from the port, one who smuggled dirty things into the city, and another one who was the captain of the police there but could more accurately be described as number one’s employee. We were playing stud, I had hit a 10 high straight, it looked like the captain had a straight of his own to the 6 or so, and the smuggler easily had two pair but I knew he wasn’t sitting on a boat. Not the way I was running. I put the rest of my chips in the middle. I felt a person walk up behind me and the hairs on my neck stood up in excitement. The partners in crime both pushed their chips to the center, I turned over the winner and they both mucked in disgust.

As I dragged the pot, I laid eyes on what was waiting behind me and surveyed this tall of drink of water with lips you could use as life preservers. "Who was that?!?" I thought as I haphazardly drew the chips in. She noticed my attention and sauntered over to me, in the shortest, sheerest mini-skirt a woman could put on without getting arrested. She softly touched my nose with her forefinger, "Must be your lucky day," she smiled, her teeth perfect, gleaming white, and lips luminescent even in the darkness.

To be continued.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Silverback Issue Two Gulf Coast Poker Magazine part three

My palms got sweaty and my shoulders got tighter with the anticipation of having to make a decision. It only took a half an hour for me to be on the spot. While they were dealing Texas Hold ‘Em Two Times bet the flop and then the turn as he always did, he shook the other two players out the hand, and only Silverback went with him to the river. This was the standard poker game for those two. Yet, it didn't feel standard at all to me.

Action on Two Times and he stared at Silverback’s cards and right through them, I knew he was waiting. Silverback had nothing, complete garbage, and was waiting to make a move if Two Times checked. I was frozen stiff I didn’t know who scared me more. Suddenly I was playing a game ofTexas Holdem in my mind.

Two Times eyes narrowed and then he scratched his nose and practically stared at me. Begrudingly, because I had to, I sent him a signal and as I did Silverback looked back at me, the look he gave me was chilling. It was a look I’d seen him do at the table. I felt like I was one of his opponents and he was staring into me reading my cards as though my eyes were a mirror.

Two Times checked and Silverback, holding his cards even more obviously, so everybody could see I could see what he held, bet. Two Times quickly folded.
Silverback slammed his cane into the table as though he was pissed he didn’t get a call, “I need a break. Kid, come with me.” I followed him to his office.

“Sit down!” he bellowed.

Did he know I had signaled, how could he?

“You think I’m stupid kid?” he put the bottom of his cane to my throat.

“No… No, sir,” I stammered.

“Good.” He pulled the cane away. “You did a good thing tonight. Him offering you money and bringing that thug in there to intimidate you, that took some balls to do what you did.”

Before I could question he lifted his cane above my head where a row of televisions lined the wall above the doorframe.

“I got cameras for two blocks, ain’t nobody rolling up on here to steal from our game that gets away with it. You made the right decision scratching your nose. I hate cheaters. Hate ‘em. You know had you told him I had a decent hand you wouldn’t be sitting in my office right now. You’d be headed to a swamp. Not fun to sleep in a swamp you know," he let that settle in.

Then he continued conspiratorially, “What you are going to do now, is start signaling the truth. See, there a few golden rules in poker, like you can give a man a haircut every couple of weeks or so but you can only scalp him once. Ole Texas Dolly likes to say shear a sheep or skin it, same thing. I prefer scalping, rolls off the tongue. Another rule is you can ride a donkey every day but one day you ride that donkey too hard that donkey’s going to kick back. Well, I guess I rode him too hard. I forgot that you got to give him a carrot every now and then. Donkey’s got to eat too.

“Well, tonight, the donkey gets his treat. In fact, he’ll get his carrot for three more weeks, and then he’ll play the biggest pot he's ever played, and then that cheater is going to get his. That donkey’s going to get put down. You follow?”

“You want me to tip him off to your cards?”

“That’s right, and then one night you are going lie just like you did tonight. You'll signal I’m bluffing with nothing when I have him.”

“What about…” again I was in a corner.

“What about nothing. I’ll show him the tape, tell him if he ever cheats again, I’ll show everybody another tape. Man’s a politician. A married politician who shouldn’t be running around with waitresses from bars like mine and he certainly shouldn’t be trying to push my employees around. Two timing son of bitch”

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Silverback Issue Two Gulf Coast Poker Magazine part two

He looked around the street then got out of his car pretty certain we were alone.
“Silverback shows you his cards doesn’t he?” He smiled the smile most men give to their mother-in-laws when the meal they’ve just eaten was barely edible. I remember thinking how does this guy keep getting elected? To me he was as transparent as they come. He was the type of guy if he saw your hole cards he wouldn't say and thing and just rob you blind. The type that would be a super-user on those online poker

“No…not really.”

“Not really, so he doesn’t show them… but you see them?” The smile some how got bigger, “Huh, kid?”

“Sometimes… look, I’m not…”

“Don’t worry kid, I’m your councilman after all, you can trust me.” He reached out what he meant to be a comforting hand on my shoulder. I had to stop myself from stepping back from it in revulsion. He whispered, “You know what he’s got on me?”

“Got on you…”

“How he always seems to win a hand off me. I can never beat the guy. Never! What’s he got on me kid.”

“I don’t know,” I lied. “ I just read the cards on the table to him, I don’t follow what he’s doing.”

“Don’t lie to me kid, I see you watching his hands! How much does Silverback pay you? Whatever it is quadruple it, and that’s what I’ll pay you. All you have to do is scratch your nose when he’s got a big hand and touch anywhere else on your face when he doesn’t.”

“I’m sorry sir, but I can’t.” I started to turn and the comforting hand on my shoulder turned into a death grip.

“I’m sorry but you can son.” As he said that two large men got out the backseat of his car, “This is officer Mallory and officer Simpson. They are my private security. They make sure that certain things go my way. Do I need them to make sure you scratch your nose when you are supposed to?”


When I went in for my next shift, the bartender asked me what was eating me. I shrugged and got prepped for the evening session in a daze. The bartender saw me dragging my shoulders and said “Something’s bothering you kid, you don’t have to talk about it… but remember you’ll make that right decision, trust yourself you are a smart kid."

He continued, "If it’s some girl don’t worry she won’t be the only one to make you feel that way you’ll get over her and the 100 that come after her, believe me, if it’s your parents better to listen to them now then wake up one day and wish they could talk to you when they are gone, and if it’s something about the game, don’t forget that last boy that worked it ended up on a… milk carton.”

How could I forget, I thought to myself.

That night Two Times showed up with a pep in his step. He smiled a little too broadly at Silverback and even acknowledged me with a nod and a lingering eye lock. Tracking behind him was his friend officer Mallory who was sitting in the game too.

Him introduced himself as though we hadn't met and said "I normally like to play a good Sit and go but I'll try your game tonight." Silverback patted the man on the back in his welcoming way and then Mallory stuck out his huge paw toward me.

He shook my hand more than sternly and I tried not to wince as it felt like every little bone was about to break.

The night started out strange, on some nights I could see most of Silverback’s hands and on other nights he’d guard them even from me, but on that evening I saw every single hand. Two Times was all smiles despite losing some hands to the other players at the table.

To be continued...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Silverback Issue Two Gulf Coast Poker Magazine

In our last edition I found myself becoming an apprentice to the man they called Old Grey Bear or Silverback (a name favored by a couple of young criminals that played in the game). He was a crotchety 80 year old bar owner who wielded his cane more like a billy club than a crutch, and played poker in marathon sessions with the most upstanding men in the city as well as the most wanted. The Texas Hold'em Poker games were legendary in the city.

In his bar, it didn’t matter what your name was as long as you had the cash you could play. On that fateful day, I found myself being the old man’s eyes late at night when the smoke and the dim neon light from the beer signs made it hard for him to see because I had the guts to stand up to him and tell him what he thought he saw on the board wasn’t there. In some ways, that was my first mistake and in others that was my luckiest break.

I had a limited knowledge of the game and though it took me a while to learn the rules of stud, Pot Limit Omaha, and hold’em once I did, I saw that Silverback had this innate ability to bet when his opponents had nothing and get away from a hand when they had something. On his good nights, especially when he was running good, he’d dispense a piece of knowledge or a little kernel of truth about the game and I’d the application of it in the game.

One of the local politicians would bluff at a pot twice but never three times because he believed if a man could call him twice he’d have to have him beat. The others guys at the table didn’t catch on but Silverback did. He called the man Ol Two Times to his face and the man never realized the name was related to his poker leak. I’d watch Silverback call the first two bets with any two cards. If Two Times would bet the river he’d only play the strongest possible holdings, if Two Times checked Silverback would bet any hand he held regardless of how bad it was and win the pot.

Every once in a while Ol Two Times would fire a raise back at him, and sure enough Silverback would quickly move all his chips to the center of the table. It was fun to see him just own the man. No surprise that Two Times was the first player to approach me with an axe to grind with my devious boss. One early morning after my shift I walked out the bar and to the side street where my car was parked and his black Lexus crept up on me.

When I noticed it, I jumped as I thought I was going to get jumped. After a moment, he rolled down his tinted window smiling like a game show host, “It’s alright boy, just me. Your councilman.” I almost called him Ol Two Times, but I caught myself, only Silverback had that privilege.

“Tough break in there sir,” I nodded at him feeling sorry that the politician had lost a big pot when one of the more inexperienced players couldn’t get off a hand and caught a lucky river card to end his night.

“Yes, that seems to happen a lot these days, say kid, you want to grab a cup of coffee or beer somewhere,” he arched an eyebrow.

“I’m not… No, I’ve got to be headed home I’m expected… my mom…”

“Well, you got a second kid?”

“Okay..." This was starting to feel a bit menacing. I visualized the bad actors in a reactment of me marching off to my death. Still, running was a bit out of the question despite how much I the flight response was firing in my neurons.

To be continued...

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.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I Hate Big Hands

I hate big hands. Not AA or KK because I love those starting hands. And sidenote, I hate those idiots that complain about big pairs and then never draw a profit from them. No, I'm being literal. I hate big HUMAN HANDS. You know those big giant hands with fat frankfurter fingers crowned by thick calloused fingernails that are as wide as postage stamps always yellow and blocking any light from reflecting off of possible cards underneath.

In live play, you look at those Ogre hands and you never know if it's your turn to act or if the guy has got a pair of cards buried under there and he is contemplating monosyllabically in his head. "DO... I... CALL? DO... I... BET?" You can hear the thought pushing the pea-sized brain about his matching Easter Island skull like an Astronaut farting his propolsion in a space-station. Anyway, sorry to get off on a tangent, but Astronauts have been known to eat an extra batch of freeze-dried Boston Beans just for the fun of bouncing around the station powered by toots. Come on, you know that sounds like fun.

Back to my anger inspired by big hands. When I see massive hands I make a mental footnote, which is a lot like a real footnote, noticed when first thought about but never returned to, that I need to follow the action a little more closely. And I need to see if the guy folds or not, but my ADD always sets in when he's involved. It's like an observational blind spot. My mind is off thinking about farting astronauts when it's his turn to act and the pot is always pulled in before I can see if his chips have entered it when I do remember about that little mental footnote.

The dealers rarely point out if there are cards under the penis-fingers. Sure enough, like the opposite of Schroedeger's Cat, whatever action you decide to do determines the exact opposite to be true. If you bet, he's deliberating: "DO... I... EAT... TO... NIGHT... WAIT... I... GOT... CARD... S." If you don't bet, there's nothing but air under those Troll palms.

So yes, I hate big hands. F'ing Giant hands possessed by Poker Donkeys, frickin' mules packing up the mountain in a Sysphian quest to win with the worst hand whenever possible and only getting bounced down the mountain and out of the tournament after they've suicide bomber eliminated the best player all but drawing dead but hitting their miracle. You know the guy. He sends you to the rail and he's got a mountain of chips but somehow he beats you to bathroom.

You chose not to pee next to him because if his hands are that big... Yeah, admit it, just like farting your way to an Earthrise on the portal window, this thought has creeped in your mind too.

Still, next time, you see the best player at your table (those rare times it isn't you) get bounced like a check written by Ed McMahon by Giant Hands get ready to reap the riches because Giant Hands luck has run out. If he could put together sophisticated thought, he might question why his luck runs out just after busting the local Phil Hellmuth, but his pea brain can only muster so many thoughts, and it must get tired bouncing around his inner cranium.

But fear not, he'll be there next week to do the same. Try and watch his hands and his cards OR just play some online poker and not see the guy mashing his mouse with brick hands.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What's Cracklin'

"Name of the game is Texas Hold 'em..." Pete dealt the cards slowly to each of us. He gave the same introduction every week, every single week for a year, and we always played the same game, Texas Hold 'em. "You get two cards, there will be a flop which consists of three frags of hope, a turn, which only make some of you knuckleberrys even more hopeful, and then that river which will win me the pot."

Tony rolled his eyes at the Sargeant as he always did and Corporal Timmons shot him a glare... as he always did.

I hoped I'd win, as I usually did.

Marks sweating like a call girl in confession, told us for the 5,000th time he was "Burning up. Dang. This is fucking hot."

Iraq is hot. Steaming, burning insufferable heat. You could taste the sand in the wind and we were located in the most wayward, godforsaken corner of the desert any troop could hope to be. We called ourselves the Lost Guardsmen.

We were entrenched in a large camp, basically guarding a hatch in the ground. A couple of men from DC, CIA surely, had dropped in and taken a look, left and then six months later nothing. Still we guarded it.

Day after day of nothingness. Not that we'd complain. Plenty of guys we know elsewhere dealing with road side bombs and citizens who wave at them one minute shooting at them from a window the next. No in terms of Iraq, despite the boredome we had it pretty good. Most of us had already gotten enough of a taste of action in Afghanistan to know it was all it was cracked up to be.

If whatever we were guarding was valuable the Iraqis hadn't figured it out yet. We didn't feel like soldiers or guards we felt more like inmates. Every couple of weeks a copter would fly in with supplies and fresh decks or cards and we basically played poker and traded our salaries around like it was gold.

That's what Marks thought was in the hatch. Gold. Babylonian gold.

We tried to talk the officers into letting us peak in the hatch but no dice.

Somebody said that they were actually chemical weapons. A warehouse full of anthrax or something.

Others said if it were gold or munitions some warlord would have come looking for it. But nothing.

So we waited and "guarded."

Every night when it got cool and not too windy we played poker. Jackson, from Jackson, Mississippi, had somehow gotten some Makers Mark into camp and we were sipping it. I no longer bothered keeping track of where my rifle was and I thought of a TV show my dad got on DVD recently, Sgt. Bilko.

As we passed around the cards, Pete went through the texas hold'em rules again, and we kept sipping the Makers Mark and talk shifted to the hatch. Jackson spoke first in a quiet whisper, "I've been down there you know..."

"Down where?" The corporal asked.

"Don't get all narc on me, but I've been down the hatch... went last night," I couldn't take it no more.

"You went down the hatch?" The corporal swelled up.

"Yeah, and if you want to know what I saw, you'll agree to shut the fuck up, right?"

"Corporal you can keep it quiet right?" Tony got real close to Corporal Timmons.

The corporal wilted, "If the sarge is fine with it..."

"Of course, I'm fine with it. Now, Jackson, from Jackson, what's in that hatch of ours?"

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


"I can't go for that, no-o, no can do," she smiled with a glint in her eye.

We had spent half a day together, a long reckless day, driving 100 mph on the interstate in a beat up Honda that looked like it would struggle to go 70. Already that morning we took a dip in a fountain in a public park. We split a beer and then she came up with the destination.

We were cutting school. Anything went. Where we were supposed to be it was lunch time, b lunch, the second of three, yet we were far from the cafeteria. I could only imagine the stale baked ziti on a tray.

I watched her struggle to reach the volume knob on the radio. All she had to do was sit up, but for the last half hour she was leaned back as far as the seat would go, her legs perched up with her feet hanging gingerly out the window. She giggled when she finally adjusted it.

She slid a cigarette out of the box on her purse in between us, a Camel lite. As she reached for her lighter, I started to laugh and grabbed her hand.

"I can't go for that," despite doing 90 and weaving through the sparse traffic on I-10, I managed to make eye-contact with my most disapproving look.


"No can do."

She wrangled the lighter from me, and laughed some more.

"No!" I said.

"The window's open. Don't worry."


"Com'n it's not like your mom's going to know."

I shook my head.


I shook my head defeated. I didn't have to say it, she knew I relented. With her I always did. She always got her way. Where has that ever got me I thought to myself?

She smiled her little Meg Ryan, self-satisfied cute as hell smile, and I stopped caring. I just wanted that smile to never go away.

I had agreed to go to the casinos on the coast with her, on our cut day, but on one condition and that was not to smoke in my Mom's car. 30 miles to go and she was doing just that. But she was smiling.

She giggled as she breathed in the cigarette, she made an exaggerated effort to blow it out the window and I appreciated it. I watch the smoke disperse and stared at her long, tanned legs. They shined in the sunlight. I forced myself to look back at the road.

"We won't need I.D.?" I asked again.

"As long as you don't break the bank we'll be alright," she cooed, "just don't hit the jackpot on the slots or anything like that. Would suck not being able to keep it."

"And your sure, Tracey will mark us as not absent?"

"Don't want to ruin your perfect attendence? Jeez... you are already accepted in like five colleges."

"I can't be marked as absent..."

"Yes... It's okay. Stop worrying. You'll perfect attendence will be intact tomorrow. She's fudged plenty of cuts for me. She's the one that collects it and proofs it every day."

"... okay, and she's a space cadet."

"Chill. It's okay."

I sighed. I had never cut school before. In fact, I had never had a beer before, never hung out socially with HER before, but today as I was driving her to school she insisted we go right past it. I always thought she was just being nice to the neighbor boy who drove her to school, but now I didn't know so much. Maybe she liked me... like I liked her.

"And don't worry, we'll go play poker or something, they won't card us," she pulled her seat up and leaned over to me. As she got closer, my heart either stopped, jumped up into my throat, or sped out of my chest. "Don't worry," she lightly flicked my earlobe with her tongue and giggled, "besides, I think poker players are hot." Wow! What a day. "You going to wear these?" She took my sunglasses in her hand and twirled them before me.

"Am I going to be on TV?" I tried to find cool, I didn't really.

"No," she riffled the hair on the back of my neck with a gentle blow.

I re-adjusted my hands on the wheel trying not to lose myself. Our first moment. I took stock of it. Going about 87 on I-10 East with Florida in the rear-view mirror. One day I'll tell our kids about it, screw that tomorrow I'm going to tell everybody about it. "I don't think I'll need them."

"What if I want you to wear them," she was trying to distract me. The hairs all over my body stood up as she put soft lips to my neck.

I swallowed hard.

Her hand found it's way to my hair and she was almost in my seat.

"I want you to wear them," she said huskily.



"Well, I may need a little more convincing?"

"Really?" More laughing. "Let's see how the poker goes."

She pulled away, and then slid the sunglasses on my face, gently.

That was living.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Folding Pocket Twos

It hesistated as if stuck for a moment and then wandered in chaotic fashion downward. I could not help but idly stare at the first rain drop that thunked on my window. The noise had drawn me to it. I waited for others to follow it but they did not come at first. I had only the trail of the drop to divert my attention from the computer, and the darkening of the skyline behind it.

I waited, and waited for the next raindrop to hit. A gust rattled the drainpipe on the side of my house and shifted even the sturdy oak in my front yard but no more drops. Still, I waited for the second rain drop. I looked for darkening mositure on the street but it did not come.

My computer beeped, it was my turn to act. The screen for bwin's online poker site blinked before me. As I looked down, it was just then the rain pittered and pattered on the sill and the window. A wave of wind pregnant with water swept across the street.

"Pocket 2s under the gun," I said as I fired out a bet hoping not to get reraised. Sure enough the agressive player in seat 5 put in a raise. Against him I might be good. The clever player on the button raised over us both. Re-steal.

I thought about making a move myself. Lots of money in the pot. The rain attacked the window with each fit of wind. Should I just shove. The blinds folded. The drainpipe rattled against the gutter it was anchored to. Hmmm. I have but pocket deuces.

I dejectedly hit the fold button. I made it more of decision then I needed to. Even if I was right I didn't need to get involved in the hand. We were on the cusp of the bubble.

I went back to window watching, the rain blurring the dull surroundings out my front door. Bubbles of water coalesced then ran haphazardly down.

This morning my boyfriend walked out angry. I tried his cell, but he hadn't answered. He didn't like me grinding all night on the computer. He hadn't liked his girl, spending more time with a poker site than with him. "Well you should have never transferred money to my account," I snorted to myself, "You should have never got me started. You should have never asked if I wanted to play online poker."

The truth of the matter, James was jealous, I had turned his modest gesture of keep you busy money into a bankroll. I had conquered one level after another and was turning into a deadly force in multi-table tournaments, and poor James tilted away reload after reload. Unlike James I knew how to walk away from pocket deuces, I knew how to get away from something I should have given up long ago.

The screen blinked at me, and I looked at 72 of clubs in the big blind. I noticed the wild player had half the stack he had the last hand. The clever button now had more chips. Maybe he didn't resteal.

The loose player shoved on my blind. Oh well. He can have it. Then I smiled when the clever player called. In a second the rashness of tilt shove was confirmed. The autofold of me and the small blind zipped us into a showdown. Clever player held QQ and Mr. Wild held Q9. J107 came the flop. I snickered again as an 8 came on the turn. I wished for a K or a 9. It didn't come.

I autofolded my 36 from the small blind.

Across the street Mrs. Fischman stood on her doorstep using the paltry cover of her screen door to brave the rain. She called for her cat. I could see it squatting under her house glaring at the rain and ignoring her owner's beckoning.

James and I had steadily drifted apart. Yes, I had become a wife to a computer, poker had become my preoccupation, indeed, my very occupation. I was making far more online than I did waitressing. I had a knack for the game, I had to play poker online.

James was very jealous.

I raised with J8 on the button and collected the blinds and antes.

I raised again with 56 and got a caller from the clever player. Flop came 6104. I bet half the pot. He raised me. I fired back. He folded. One more player until the money.

The wind snarled and whistled and I worried about a power failure. My chip stack would guarantee me an in the money finish but I liked my chances today. Several bad players were sitting on big stacks.

Was James out in this? James packed up his iPod with a little bag of clothes. I assumed he was heading to the beach to gather his tilted thoughts. I didn't like this weather, but he was the type to obsolently sit in a lightning storm... if he was set on a day at the Beach. Far be it for weather to get in the way of what he wanted to do. Part of me thought I should let the worry go, I caught myself think the words... let him go.

"Really? Let him go?" I asked myself. There was a lot to be said for James. He was going places. He had a good head on his shoulders and his father's construction business was booming. Every girl did a double take at his rugged looks and for the most part he treated me great.

I folded a mediocre holding and watched the now thick rain pelt my window.

His failures in poker weighed on me. His frustrations at not being able to let a losing session go. His unwillingness to pitch a hand. I told myself not to judge a person based on poker and I knew I only had to look at some of the awful people that were successes at this game to know it indicated nothing, but still James' failures at the game weighed on me.

Maybe I shouldn't tell him to fold when watching him overplay a hand from behind. It only encouraged him to do opposite. Perhaps, I smothered him by outperforming him, and then sharing my triumphs with him... of course he resented me. Maybe I was the cause of his struggles... of our struggles.

The cat had had enough and with lightning speed slinked through the rain up onto the door step. It got onto it's hind legs and scratched at the door. It demanded to be let in.

Bwin blinked at me again. I folded. I had made the money.

The storm whipped around a lawn-chair from my neighbor's yard and pitched it down the street, the white plastic bouncing onto the road with vigor. The cat was gone. Must have made it in.

Where was Jim? I expected him to knock on the door. To whisper his apology and to work on things. He would come in out of the rain. I would let him back in. I realized, for the first time that day, I had thought it. I would let him back in. I said it, so I knew it was true. I didn't need to give up on us.

The rain slowed. I smiled thinking of Jim in a wet shirt. He wasn't all bad.

There was a beep. I looked at my bwin table and saw a hand still in action. It was my blackberrry. It's red light blinked, I had a message.

I looked at it... James... "I thought it over. We are a bad fit. We can't stay holding on to something we should have given up a long time ago. I'm sorry for the way I've treated you but we need to let it go. I'll get my things tomorrow."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Okay, there's a card in there...

It is through the corridor of trees, rangy oaks swollen with Spanish Moss and made languid by the breeze, that I rush toward Oglethorpe’s home. My feet burned with wear and cold and now the shoe leather no longer protected instead the jagged edges of holes turned inward cut and scalded against the base of my toes. The furrows of departed wagon wheels, mud tracks hardened into permanence, and their intertwined serpentine ridges made agony of my ankles, but still I looked forward and not downward, as the once muddy but now frozen drive rose higher with just the wisp of sated smoke from his chimney visible in the distance.

Behind it, grey bounding clouds slowly bellowed a storm, darkening like nightfall even in the afternoon. Weary or not, close to my goal or far from it, I would have edge to my step as I could feel the weight of the front baring forward. I leaned into the thicker air and anticipated the whipping winds and slanted bullets of sleet. A rolling, rumbling grumble tumbled across the sky, and the branches splayed outward caught in the new pressure’s fury. The moss and leaves spiraled upward into a dark cluster of twilight confetti.

I quickened my step even more. The gaps between gusts shortened with each bluster and through the last of the pauses, as the branches unbowed and the leaves and moss settled, the house encompassed more with each step on the hardened mud. As I ascended the rise, it loomed, like the storm at its back, rising bigger and broader with darkness.

A wooden rickety mess was what I expected, surely this home, this frontier manor could barely have had time to grow and age as this house had, but the stripped paint, and weathered ballastrades grew visible. Harsh jagged angles, slits for windows, and destitute annexes accosted me as the wind indeed whipped anew.
The once languid breeze now a combustible gale under an explosion of frozen rain, a bitter jarring spittle so thick I could barely see one foot for the other. In it I had no more time to absorb the audacity of the structure, this somehow sturdy monument of disrepair and its contradictions, was all the more closer yet I could barely make it out.

Directly, I found myself on the threshold and though an overhang cast a long sillouethe of protection it was false one, as still fiery sleet found me even as I clung to the door for cover.

An iron knocker as pitch black as the door raked my temple as I tried to envelope my head in my jacket. At once, I grabbed the knocker and punched it’s barrel into the door time and time again. It was the frantic knock of a hurried child and I decided weather excused my failing in decorum.

The storm absorbed the house, the sleet and ice now hard falling thick snow. It was no feathery respite instead the temparture had dropped at least 10 degrees and the accumulation was absorbing my ankles. The cold was all I knew. My feet burned icily.

I had been at my goal only moments and already the singlemindedness of my journey was replaced with a new solitary thought, I needed warmth.

I couldn’t believe that mere moments before this jarring weather was an impossibility. And now I felt the the cold whispy breath of death chilling my marrow.

I took from an inner pocket the weathered playing card, the Jack of Cups that would be my introduction and I felt myself trembling. It was hard to tell the trembling from the shivering but the sudden fury of nature weakened me in fear. My teeth rattled in an uncontrolled spasm.
irst my fingers, then my palms and quickly even my wrists numbed.

I wiped snow off the card.

I submitted to the weather and leaned into the door ready to fold into a ball to contain my fleeting heat.

Then, the massive door opened with answered urgency and I fell twisting backward into the house.

From the floor I could see candles and gas-lights flickering up along a thick staircase behind me and worse I could taste the mildewed tufts of the worn dark carpet and somehow my frozen nostrils still could find a scent of rotted leaves and wet dead animal.

I looked up at two narrowed eyes on the outer halo of a candle parting the darkness peering down at me.

The candle moved upward bringing the lower face into view.

Yellow teeth parted and thin lips pursed a single word, “Move.”

“I’m… I’m Edgar Aames, I’ve tr…”


The candle lowered toward me, and a large heavy hand grabbed my coat and dragged me from the threshold. I slid on the worn carpet toward the stair cast like a fishing lure spinning farther into the dark house..

I heard the door close resolutely and the noise of the hammers of its lock falling in a jarring twist.

The air was barely warmer inside then outside. But it was warmer.

I start to push myself up.

Suddenly, a thick boot jammed into my chest, expelling my breath and winding me, and compressing me against the floor. I struggled for air and as I coughed the boot pressed harder. It felt like my lungs were imploding.

The mouth of my greeter slowly lowered into candle-illuminated view and I barely made out the reedy eyes glare at me as I might a stray dog whose intentions for trespass were unclear.

“Edgar Aames? Means nothing.”

I swallowed and reached for air trying to pull it in.

The boot pressed harder.

“Back to the blizzard?” the thin lips hissed.

I felt the wilted edge of the card in my hand and as I struggled to breathe I brought it into the candle-light.

The eyes peered into me.

I was light-headed and felt a thousand tiny blades surging to my bloodstream from my depleted lungs.

Fingernails scrathed into my palm as my captor grabbed at the card. He hurriedly turned it over.

“Jack of… Cupsss,” the final word slithered into pause.

The boot’s weight slowly, absentmindedly abated, and I watched one hand holding the candle move closer to the one holding the card. I caught half a breath and shook my head slowly to steady my consciousness.

After a moment of his study, his thumb rubbed across its face a yellowed claw digging into it.

I gathered my breath and at once I was pulled upward. The warm fetid breath washed over me as he intoned, “Who are you… Edgar Aames?”

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