“Excuse me, sirs, would you care to take your seats?” The calm voice interrupted the pair of men as they chatted and, as they turned to face the speaker, a waiter indicated with a nod of his head that they should follow him. Hands held they arrived at a table covered with green baize and the waiter indicated two vacant chairs – the other six being already filled. As the two men took their places one leaned towards the other and kissed him lightly.
“For luck,” Rick stared into the profile of his friend, noticing the intensity in his expression and lay a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Hey, are you ok?”
“Not really, Rick,” Jon whispered, watching as the woman across the table from him started to shuffle a pack of cards, ignoring the glances towards them of some of the other players. “Maybe I should have told you before agreeing to this pro-am charity event, but I don’t really know how to play poker”
– – – – –
The pile of chips in the middle of the table was bigger than it had reached at any point previously that evening. Jon looked down at his cards for the fourth time in as many seconds and then glanced up at his one remaining opponent. The obese and sweating man, dressed in an ill-fighting blue suit, with thinning hair swept over his shining cranium, may or may not have stared back at him. The mirrored sunglasses simply showed Jon’s own face so it was hard to tell.
“Your bet, sir.”
Nodding his understanding at the female croupier Jon stared at the pile of chips again. Eight people had started the game, about ninety minutes earlier, and now there was just the two of them left. Rick had folded only the hand before, and Jon knew that only luck had got him to this point, or maybe that bad luck had got rid of the more experienced players ; luck, he was sure, which was about to run out. You could only win so many hands by other people having worse ones. The fact that the fat man – Charlie or Carl, Jon couldn’t remember which – had bet most of his remaining chips worried Jon. The fact that hadn’t even looked at his cards in the last five minutes, just sat there smiling, worried him more. What worried Jon the most, however, was the fact that all he had himself in his hand amounted to nothing more than a hope for a miracle tied together by a common suit.
The river – as Jon had learned the open cards on the table were called not that long ago through quick whispered hints from Rick – showed the Queen of Hearts, the Jack of Hearts, the Queen of Spades and the eight of Diamonds. The one time his opponents mask had slipped, when the smile had appeared, was when the second Queen landed on the table and Jon was sure that the fat man was holding something special in his hand. Glancing at his own cards, again, he stared at them as if they’d tell him what he should do next.
Ten of Hearts, six of Clubs, seven of Diamonds and the King of Hearts.
Even his rudimentary knowledge of poker led him to believe that he held what amounted to only a slim chance, especially with close to a million dollars at stake. Nearly two hundred and fifty thousand dollars of that money was his; while he knew that it would be donated to charity he also knew that Carl’s – or was it Charlie’s? – charity of choice was simply a front for a much more ‘organised’ business than it was for anything worthwhile.
So he knew that, if he lost, the money would be wasted.
As if reading his thoughts the fat man smiled for the first time and stared at him through the mirrored lenses.
“Two Queens in my hand, kid,” The fat man said, shrugging as if daring Jon to call his bluff, then snorted with laughter. “Seems pretty ironic, you know …considering.”
Staring at the fat man, Jon laid his cards face down in front of him again then suddenly pushed all of his chips into the center of the table. The croupier looked at Jon, then the chips, then the other player who, with another small smile, nodded his head and pushed all of his own chips into the middle. A buzz of anticipation played out in the faces and voices of the people who were still watching the game. With a small movement Rick stepped closer to Jon and rested his hand on his shoulder as the dealer dealt the final card.
The fat man – Charlie, Jon suddenly remembered – laughed as threw his cards across the table revealing the two of Spades, the three of Clubs, the Queen of Diamonds and the Queen of Clubs were revealed. He reached out and started to sweep the chips towards him, chubby fingers grasping.
“Four of a kind,” Rick whispered, “Four frikkin’ Queens!”
“I know,” Jon breathed softly, and then started to laugh. “Thank the Gods for that!”
Throwing his own cards face up, across the table they landed beside the last card that the croupier had dealt : the Ace of Hearts.
The fat man paused, glasses slipping down his nose, and stared – bug eyed – at the cards.
At the winning hand.
The chips slipped through his fingers as he rocked back in his seat; reaching out, Jon grabbed Rick by the hands and pulled him close, kissing him deeply.
“People are looking,” Rick said when he managed to get some air.
“Yeah,” Jon replied. “I know. Do you think they’ve never seen a Royal Flush before?”
– – – – –
As they walked, hand in hand, towards the car – knowing that close to one million dollars was being sent to UNICEF – Rick suddenly stopped, turning to face Jon with a quizzical look on his face.
“There is something I don’t get.”
“You said that you didn’t know how to play poker.”
“That’s right, I don’t.”
“But you out-played Charlie Parker. You beat the unbeatable.”
“Did you think that he was bluffing?”
“…erm, no, not really. I thought he might be telling the truth.”
“You didn’t know then, did you?!”
“About the cards – about his hand – about the odds of you getting that last card?”
“Nope. Not a clue.”
“All that money, though, what were you thinking?”
“Simple. After everything that we have been through, after every choice we have had to make and every piece of bigoted crap we’ve had to face I knew there were only two choices, two paths – victory or defeat – I did the only sensible thing.”
“What – you guessed; you gambled?”
“No. I won.”
– – – – –
If you must play, decide upon three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time. ~Chinese Proverb