Doing some writing lately, and I’m just not sure about my pacing. I’m hopping that latter chapters would be longer and that these first two are just a by product of the relatively small number of developments actually taking place. I could also combine these first two into one chapter, but I don’t like shifting the scene or the focus of the story within a chapter. Also i might just be a shitty writer. Let me know what you think.
More than one hundred and fifty thousand dollars was spread around the edges of the weathered oak poker table. Most of that money was divided between two opposing sides of the felt covered oval. At one end, a pile of poker chips worth close to seventy thousand dollars was haphazardly piled in front of a skinny twenty three year old college drop out who everyone in the room knew as Nicky Boy.
The randomness with which his chips were stacked seemed fitting to anyone who looked at him. Leaning back in his chair, nosily blowing small bubbles of grape bubble gum, clothes a size too big and tad too loud; Nicky was the epitome of dirt bag style. He loved his image, and would play it up when in a big game hoping it would entice a reckless call or mistimed bluff from the other players. He would needle his opponents with a barrage of inane questions that tip toed the line between friendliness and contempt.
At the other end of the table were four neatly stacked towers belonging to a sixty eight year old man who no one at the table had seen before that night. When he first joined the game three hours ago, the stranger lied when he introduced himself as Victor. When the college drop out said his name was Nicky, the man smiled politely while failing to mention that he already knew Nicky’s name, his job, his family, his vices, and how much money he was going to lose that night.
The stranger was far from an anomaly in the card room. Every week Nick saw half a dozen old timers walk in the club, dressed up like they were an extra in a Martin Scorsese film. This club wasn’t in Vegas; it was nestled away in the warehouse district in north Philadelphia. Absent were the chandeliers, enticing neon lights, and over oxygenated air you would find in a corporate owned casino. Sal’s was a mob hangout with florescent lights and thick black drapes over the windows. The cracked wood floors were covered with an assortment of imitation oriental rugs, and a heavy mist of cigarette smoke hung near the ceiling.
“Are you sure you’re in the right place old man? This isn’t exactly the Borgata after all.” Nicky inquired as he leaned forward to dramatically analyze Victor’s suit.
There were only three things in that room that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a casino like the Borgata. The first was the roulette wheel that had paid off for Victor to the sum of fifteen grand thanks to some careful wheel tracking done by an associate earlier in the week. The second was a massive craps table which, with a little help from loaded dice, had allowed Victor to accumulate an additional seven grand earlier in the night. The third item was the elegant brunette who had signaled Victor when the black jack table she was sitting at had a favorable count. Once Victor had collected eight thousand from the black jack table he started playing poker, and the brunette left to work on the step of Vic’s plan.
“Honestly, a pressed suit, cuff links, and a matching tie are a little formal for a place like this. You do know AC is about an hour to the east of here right? Maybe he’s here for a job interview. Well pops, just as an FYI, the dress code for the staff here is what one could call business casual.”
The barrage of questions didn’t seem to phase Victor as he called Nickys five hundred dollar preflop raise, and dealt the first three communal cards onto the center of the fading green felt: ace of hearts, four of spades, and four of hearts.
To most participants, Nicky appeared to be disinterested in the three cards that had been placed faced up in the center of the table. As he normally did, Nicky pretended to focus on everything other than the poker game in which he was involved.
“You’ll notice both of our cocktail waitresses working tonight are wearing Jeans and sneakers. Bruce, our bouncer slash banker, has really stepped up his game this evening and is wearing jogging pants and a T shirt instead of his usual sweat pants and muscle shirt. And I, in my role of general manager of this fine establishment-“
“Is dressed like a dime store pimp.” The man sitting to Victor’s left interrupted as the other regulars at the table laughed in agreement.
“Frank, I heard you finally saved up enough money from cutting old ladies’ lawns to get those season tickets you always wanted. I don’t know how you can work with all those grass clippings with your allergies, But you let me know how much you want for them tickets when my Cowboys come to town.” Nicky Chirped at a balding man wearing an Eagles jersey sitting directly to his left.
“First of all, its commercial landscaping, and second, I own the company you skinny son of a bitch.”
There was no malice in the man’s response to Nicky as he, and almost everyone at that table, was use to Nicky spending equal time busting balls and dragging pots.
“Last time I handled a weed whacker was over four years ago, which was about the same time Nicky boy was getting shoved into lockers by guys who actually knew how to get laid in high school.”
Only the well dressed stranger seemed to notice the rapidly pulsating line of flesh running up the left side of Nicky’s neck. Nicky could feel the force of each heart beat rock his body as his hands struggled to remain still on the table’s faded green felt.
“Speaking of getting laid in high school Frankie, how much did roofies use to cost you? Oh and I’ll have you know during my entire academic career I was only shoved into a locker twice.”
Nicky had an excellent memory and near perfect vision, but he couldn’t stop himself from taking a 2nd glance at the two cards he was holding.
“With his mouth, I would have guessed at least five times.” joked Bricks, a small time street dealer who was part of the same organization as Nicky’s father.
Victor took note of the slight tremble Nicky’s hands made as he took a third peek at the pocket pair Victor had dealt him.
“Yo, didn’t Manny say he locked you in the janitor’s closet over night one time?” Bricks continued as he compulsively readjusted the platinum chain hanging down the front of his pristine white and blue Rocawear hoodie.
Victor pushed a stack of chips worth five thousand dollars across the felt as he calmly said “Raise.”
Victor had already won over fifty thousand dollars since joining the table, and was up over seventy five thousand since entering the club four hours ago. Although Nicky had only contributed 12 grand to Victor’s winnings, the losses had tested his pride. The four of clubs and four of diamonds in Nicky’s hand, combined with the four of spades and four of hearts laying face up in the middle of the table, gave him hope that his brief losing streak was about to come to an end.
“Bricks, did you even go to high school?” Nicky asked as he casually splashed ten yellow five hundred dollar chips into the pot, as he continued to try and show disinterest in the game.
“Huh? Uh yeah, For a couple of years, yeah.” Bricks said as he tossed his cards face down into the center of the table, which now contained a little over twelve thousand in chips and was quickly drawing more attention from the rest of the guests at the neighboring tables.
Nicky had only been dealt a 4 of a kind once before. It was two years ago, and that hand had won him just over a thousand dollars from a player who thought his full house was unbeatable. Unlike that night, Nicky wasn’t sitting at a low limit table in Atlantic City playing for small stakes. Today he was sitting across from a whale who was trying to clean out his father’s club.
“I’m out too.” Frank whispered as he sheepishly folded his hand.
With the round of betting complete, and with only two people left in the hand, Victor placed the 4th of what would be five communal cards into the center of the table. It was an eight of diamonds.
Nicky didn’t see any reaction from Victor when the card hit the felt. In fact, Nicky wasn’t sure if his opponent had even looked at the card. Nick didn’t worry about it because at that moment he had the best possible hand even if the ace had helped Victor. The only thing concerning Nicky was how he could get the aging man and to put the rest of his money into play.
Nicky sighed and turned his head to gaze at one of the more shapely waitresses working his father’s club that evening.
“Barb!” Nicky yelled out as he knocked on the felt to indicate he wasn’t going to bet. “Can I get another Captain and Coke?”
After a brief pause, as Victor waited for the waitress to acknowledge Nicky’s order, the older gentleman said “Fifteen” as he counted out twenty yellow and ten brown chips to add to the growing pot.
“Call.” Nicky quickly said with a shrug as he sent a pile of clay chips cascading into the center of the table.
The quick call by Nick was on purpose as he had already diagnosed that his opponent was a good player, and would be aware that quick calls and double checking hole cards are a sign of a player on a draw. There were two hearts on the board and he wanted his opponent to think he was chasing a flush. Nicky knew you could never be certain, but he was fairly sure his opponent had a pocket pair, probably Aces. It would give his opponent a full house and explain his betting so far in the hand.
Nicky wondered what the likelihood was of being dealt four of a kind when your opponent has a hand as powerful as a full house. He didn’t know the exact odds but he was sure that it was a very unlikely event. The cramped warehouse, whose top floor served as an illegal casino and sports book, held 68 people that night. Out of all those people there were only two who knew those odd. One was Victor. The other was a quiet man sitting seventy feet away at the casino’s dimly light bar. Aside from a rebellious bartender, neither Victor, nor anyone else at the casino that night had notice him stroll in twenty minutes earlier.
If Victor had seen the man sitting at the bar, he might have started to worry about the success of his plan. Or maybe he would have just smiled as he remembered when a year earlier he had beaten the quiet man’s four of a kind in a near identical game.
“Looks like there’s a big hand going on over there.” The bartender commented as she reached above her head for an often ignored bottle of whiskey.
Sarah was aware how patrons would take notice of her whenever she would reach for the top shelf. Her purposefully undersized shirts and low cut jeans would expose an enticing flat stomach highlighted by a small ring of tattooed text circling her navel. Her body was bronzed by the sun and toned by an overly adventurous lifestyle, and for many patrons seeing it’s hypnotic movements behind the bar was the highlight of their night.
Normally she performed her top shelf routine to coax a few extra tips from the lonely men who inhabited her bar on a slow week night, but tonight she was using the move out of impulse and desire.
“Must be quite intense.” The guest sitting in front of her said as he nodded slightly and casually let his focus shift to Sarah. She felt her pulse quicken for a brief moment as he locked his gaze on her pale blue eyes. Despite the attention, she was slightly disappointed by how he had failed to notice the movements of her lithe body and the flash of youthful flesh it had exposed. The man held his stare just long enough for his piercing green eyes to fluster Sarah and cause her to shift her focus to the bottle in her hand.
She thought he was handsome, but not so much so that he appeared out of place or intimidating. She knew her attraction was not solely a byproduct of his looks, but instead was a result of what she perceived to be a sense of importance. He wasn’t distracted or burdened, but seemed focused even when just sipping a drink at the quiet end of the bar.
“I think the other three tables stopped playing just to see what’s happening.” Sarah continued as she glanced at the crowd that had gathered around the table where Nicky Boy usually held court.
“Must be over a hundred grand sitting on that table.” She said as she poured herself a shot from the aged bottle resting in her right hand. At the same time she used her left hand to place a shot glass in front of the man whose affections she hopped to gain by the end of the night. Based on the dark grey Joseph Abboud suit he seemed to inhabit without any pretence, she assumed he was a man of class and sophistication. She hoped this sophistication extended to a knowledge of the Kentucky whiskey she was pouring him in an attempt to illicit a real conversation.
“You can’t find many places that stock Pappy’s Family Reserve.” The man commented through slight amazement as he shifted his attention to the bottle in Sarah’s hand.
“Of course most places don’t allow their staff to share a drink with their cliental.” She replied.
“So what should we drink to?” the man asked as he watched the action at Nicky’s table unfold on the security monitor bouncing off the reflective glass directly behind Sarah’s slim figure.
“Well I can’t drink with someone if I don’t know their name” Sarah purred as she held her glass an inch away from his.
The man paused as he tried to decide if he should give his real name to this momentary distraction standing in front of him wearing a snug black t-shirt which revealed a trite song lyric circling her belly button. He smiled at her knowing she was misinterpreting his pause as a moment of playful drama. Sarah could feel her cheeks begin to flush as she struggled to hold still from the onslaught of nervous energy coursing through her body.
“My friends call me Bishop, and judging by your name tag, I’m guessing you’re either Sarah, or you have a roommate who is missing a shirt.”
Even though the joke was a little cheesy, she giggled a little too loud and remembered that she had heard much worse working at Big Sal’s club over the past 18 months. She fooled herself into thinking the reason Bishop let his line of sight move away from her name tag, and to an unremarkable area of the bar behind her, was caused by either a fleeting moment of embarrassment following his joke, or the tension of their conversation had gotten the better of him.
“Well just so you know, I do have a roommate, but her name is Candice.” Sarah leaned in closer to give her words more of a desired impact. “And she’s not coming home tonight.”
Bishop smirked as he continued to stare at the reflection of the security monitors behind Sarah and said “You still haven’t told me what were drinking to.”
“Well since we are in a casino, how about” Sarah paused as she worked up the courage to finish her toast.
“To getting lucky.” She concluded as she felt her body grow warm with relief as her moment of insecurity was over. The uncertainty of the situation was something Sarah was unaccustomed to, since most of the guys, and some ladies, she brought home from the bar were much more obvious with their attraction to her.
Bishop looked her over during a brief, but real, moment of contemplation before chuckling at her sophomoric attempt at flirtation and letting his attention return to the reflection of Nicky’s table. Sarah taped her glass against his and leaned back for a quick pull of the Kentucky bourbon. Bishop held up his shot just below eye level to give the impression he was studying the whiskey before taking a slow draw. In truth, the only thing Bishop was pondering was Nicky, and how inaccurate Sarah’s toast to “Luck” would be for the college drop out tonight.