This is my Friday Frights this week. The theme this month is Thanksgiving Gone Wrong. Wrong is in the eye of the beholder . . .
Deuces wild. High stakes. In fact, the highest.
Joe is desperate to do whatever it takes to save his son. Johnny has a rare blood disorder requiring copious amounts of blood transfusions to keep him alive, transfusions costing many thousands of dollars a month. His insurance was paying for it, until Joe was laid off and his insurance was dropped. Now there is barely enough money for the basic necessities, let alone this.
This card game, on Thanksgiving Day no less, is his only chance. He has to win. There is no other alternative. He needs the money for an operation to be performed tomorrow.
His wife, such as she is, abandoned the two of them when Johnny’s disease was diagnosed. She never had been much of a wife, but now she adds horrible mother to her resume as well. They managed just fine until his lay-off. It is a whole different ball game now.
Joe is a master at poker. He has never before played the truly high stakes games at the highest levels, but in his neck of the woods, he is a legend; unbeatable; the best. Tonight he will play the titans of the world.
His mom is home watching Johnny, knowing what Joe is doing but not really knowing. Joe borrowed some money from his uncle and now he is here, sitting at Table Number One, a huge assemblage of chips in front of him. At the moment, the game belongs to him. Yes, two and a half million dollars in chips are his, thanks to him winning the last pot.
A new man enters the room, dressed all in black, complete with dark sun-glasses and a Satanic hoody covering his head. Joe is not taken back by this. Many of the players wear hoods and shades to hide their emotions. Joe is the true master of the poker face and does not need the fancy crap. Bring them on. He’ll stare down any of them.
And yet . . .
The stranger does not say a word, merely taking a seat directly across from Joe. The dealer announces Deuces Wild, and the new man grins, seemingly licking his chops, his stare forcing its way into Joe’s head in spite of the subterfuge of the dark eye covering.
Evil. Something about the man drips of evil. There is a heavy odor of some malicious intent in the room that was not there before his presence darkened the playing table. Joe has a hunch-much more than a poker hunch- that the stakes will now be upped.
The play is heady, Joe and the stranger taking all the pots, seemingly making this a two man show, the others there merely to fatten the kitty. An audience builds, spellbound by the play, wondering how long the two main combatants will hold court. Back and forth, the expertise of the two men enthralling the onlookers.
Joe is in to it, confidence building, knowing the main cards will be played later. The stranger has a complete poker face now, no emotion showing at all. The time for sneering grins is over.
The last pot of the tourney. Three and a half million bucks sitting on the table, talking to both of them. Here it is: the coup-de-gras. If Joe wins this, he’s sitting good. He must win!
Ah, but the tension in the room becomes thick as the stranger’s two exposed cards show aces. Aces! And the deuces! My God! With two deuces, he would be holding four aces.
Now the smile, the weird, evil grin returns, filled with some overwhelming horror, a display of victory ahead of the fact. There are still more cards to be dealt, but he’s acting as if it’s finished: the hand is his.
Four deuces in the deck. How many does he have?
Joe’s hand right now shows Ace, King, Queen. Possible Royal Flush. Two more cards to come. No deuces in Joe’s hand. But the possibility exists. There is still a chance.
The stranger tosses all his chips into the center of the table. The pot is matched and he has raised another million. Joe matches, but doesn’t raise.
A hush comes over the crowd as the hooded man receives his last two cards, looks them over, and tosses the rest of his chips in, matching and raising again.
“You don’t have enough to cover my bet,” he says, speaking his first words of the evening. “What is your plan?”
Joe smiles, not even looking at his last cards. “I know what you want,” he says, as he pushes his chips into the pot."The balance is agreed upon.”
The stranger nods. “Agreed.”
No one in the audience knows what the stakes are. Only the two players know, and they’re not tipping their hands. Who would believe anyway? All they know is that the pot is huge; millions waiting to go to the winner, the loser to go out the side door, head hung down because the fame would belong to only the victor. But fame does not matter: to either of them. The game is as old as time itself. Different faces; same results. One winner takes all. Usually, the man in black walks away the winner.
With a nod to Joe, the hooded one turns his cards over. Four aces: an apparent win. Excitement fills the room. Everyone knows what is needed for Joe to take the pot and win the game.
Joe stands and reaches his hand out to his antagonist. They shake and Joe flips his cards over. Two deuces belong to him. He has a Royal Flush, all spades. How fitting.
The crowd goes wild as they watch Joe rake in his winnings, finally allowing himself to show emotion. Tears form at the edges of his eyes, succinct but true. Tonight, he and his son both get to live.
Bowing from the waist, the stranger leaves. There is no animosity from him. He lost: fair and square.
Death is a gentleman.