He had the calm confidence of a Christian with four aces.
Unfortunately, a glance tells me Riley only has a pair of threes. And honestly, the way his eyes shoot to the door every time a floorboard squeaks, tells me he’s quickly hemorrhaging the confidence I pumped into him only an hour ago.
It had been put to me to convince Riley he was keeping his promise to his wife. I mean, it was Christmas time and cards were in his hand—ergo—he was taking care of Christmas cards. Tanya wouldn’t have a shapely legal leg to stand upon. Riley may be my neighbor and friend, but what a wimp. If only we hadn’t needed a warm house and body.
“I fold,” he says.
“You can’t fold every hand,” says Sherman, a buddy of mine who’s more lumberjack than financial analyst.
The last of our foursome, Marty, leans back and releases a long steady stream of cigar smoke up into Tanya’s fru-fru light fixture.
“I should be working on those cards,” Riley says. The paunch in his Grinch-like gut expands with every heavy sigh.
“Grow a backbone, man,” I say, fingertips working the bristle of my unshaven chin. “If she’s so hyped on Christmas cards, let her do them. I call.”
Sherman’s three-of-a-kind/jacks high beat out my two pair. I gather cards while Sherman gathers chips. It may be time to let Riley win a hand. I give the whistle.
“She does do them herself—she’s real creative. One year she’ll put in photos, the next a letter. She’s done a letter from her, from me, from the dog. This year, because of her mom, she asked me to do it—from an angel’s perspective.”
“Are we gonna play or what, Nancy-boy?” says Marty, grinding his cigar into the bottom of a cut-off beer can. “Remember what Oscar Madison said, ‘Marriages come and go, but the game must go on.’”
Cards fly across the table. Riley’s got another crappy hand. How many times do I hafta tell him—keep your cards close to your vest.
Sherman suddenly laughs, shaking the table. “One year, I offered to help wife number two with Christmas cards, but she didn’t like what I wanted to write.” He signals for two new cards. “Christmas—a time when people from all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ.”
“What’s wrong with that?” asks Riley. “Politically incorrect?”
“Nahh, she didn’t like that it was a quote from Bart Simpson. So I said, ‘Don’t ask for my help anymore, woman.’”
It’s Marty’s bid and he makes it big. The rest of us follow suit. With the next round, we all fold, leaving Riley with the pot. “You call yourselves poker players,” he crows, raking in his chips. “You know, you guys are right. If I want to play poker, that’s my right.”
“Exactly. You’re king.”
Riley antes up and deals. He’s sitting taller—the paunch no longer stressing the buttons on his shirt. I hear metal on metal coming from the front door. Sherman and Marty look at me, but Riley seems oblivious to the fact that his wife is now stepping through the door.
“Well!” says Tanya, dropping her bags with a thud. “So, this is your idea of helping me with Christmas cards? And to think mom felt sorry for you being all alone.”
Riley stands up and fans his poker hand at his wife. “It’s Christmas and these are cards.” He looks at me for backup.
I pound the table. “Riley, were you supposed to be doing Christmas cards? What’s wrong with you?”
Sherman throws down his cards—but not before checking his hand. “Amazing lack of consideration . . .”
“Yeah,” adds Marty, shrugging into his jacket. “We’re really sorry, Tanya—had no idea . . .”
Riley sighs and releases his cards—the picture of calm. “I am sincerely sorry, Sweetheart,” he says, gently unwinding Sweetheart’s scarf and removing Sweetheart’s coat—completely back to his namby-pamby self. “But how can I write a letter from an angel? You’re the only angel in this house.”
And Tanya buys it. I can’t decide if he’s bluffing or what. I want to shout he’s a fool—but he’s still married to wife number one. And he got the last pot.
That’s when I recall the most important poker adage of all: If you can’t spot the sucker within the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.
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