The Jackpot

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Despite all the threats over the years – poker players really are tame at heart, settling things like ladies over a coffee table – there was only one time someone was actually brazen enough to brandish a firearm inside the Endboss. It was – no, it wasn’t Ricardo – it was Breezy John who had walked through the door that night with the gun. (They always get that detail wrong, for some reason, and it drives me nuts.)

Anyway, Breezy John pointed the damn pistol at the cage and took the money.

And it really was over like that, basically. John walked to the side door, the one where Fiona goes to smoke an entire cigarette between downs, sort of curiously looked around at all of us, and then he was gone. Few have seen him since.

No one got up, not even to check with Numb Tony in the cage. Conversation immediately ensued, though.

“I think John needs it,” I remember someone saying.

“Well, yeah, he has cancer again. But couldn’t he have just asked for help?”

“Yeah…”

“Well, it did ruin his vocal cords.”

“Yeah no one can stand that computer voice. His wife didn’t stay around, you know.”

“Are you kidding?” Ricardo spoke up, yeah that’s why they remember him. “I was never going to give that fuck a dollar!”

Why not, I wondered, considering what John was going to do with it, but he immediately answered, as if I had really said it.

“He always ran hot. Unbearable. Did I tell you about when I flopped a flush and he made a ridiculous call with a set then made quads? Unbelievable how bad I run.”

“A real luckbox, for sure,” another piped up, his voice cracking a bit after rarely speaking. “Remember when he sucked out on me, heads-up for the Shrimpmeat Tuesdays Tag Team Title?”

Right. That’s when I picked up my phone, checked the time, and dialed emergency services. We didn’t do much else until the police arrived, other than discuss a few dozen hand histories. Tony, who had been the cashier in the cage, closed it down and got himself a Schweppes. Ricardo fumed intolerably, his nostrils the size of his pupils. Why would anyone think that guy had to balls to do what Breezy John did? He never returned to the Endboss, either, but for an entirely different reason.

I sipped my usual coffee. We played some cards. Why not? All the regs knew the Endboss chips were still good, thanks to Numb Tony’s family. Only a few noobs huddled hungrily around Tony at the soda machine, racks of small chips in hand like Roman clients.

However, when Fiona went out to suck down her Parliament, she was late to the table for the first time in as far as I could remember, and her eyes were red and puffy.

I didn’t ask her if she was okay, because I knew to stop myself, but she noticed my glance all the same. She carried on pitching the cards, but fired one right into my left knuckle, hard.

It stung. I looked up into those black eyes, now desperate smudges on that yellowing face and beneath that deranged mothy hair. I remember feeling useless, which was really odd considering everything going on. I guess Breezy didn’t feel that way.

Meanwhile, Tony was shaking off his fright. “He better bring that cash back!,” he burbled and yelled, spilling his Schweppes all over the orange Endboss uniform. A buffoon to the end.

I raised my cup of coffee in a mock toast.

“He’s never coming back!” I found myself yelling too, but I was surprised, because I was angry, forceful, and for no clear reason.

I needed to chill out. I was sweating heavily, and quickly put my arm back down.

I looked at Fiona again and she looked at me, now pitifully. Ricardo and the table were still talking bad beats, and I joined in.

Fiona looked away and dealt the turn. I saw that I had spilled my coffee, too. onto the felt. I barely seemed to know myself, all of a sudden.

I waited but she didn’t meet my gaze, even when she pushed me the pot. In fact, it would be a long, long time until we spoke again.

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