Here is the third of my five entries for the week. As always, may the Idol gods be kind and generous...
This was always my favorite part. The big reveal. I’m an adrenaline junkie by nature but hunting safaris to Africa or climbing Everest were something I’d likely never be able to afford so poker is about the only thing that gets me going. I’m not a high roller but the stakes are usually high enough that my wife would kick my ass if she knew. I usually do okay though. Never a big winner but never a big loser. But the chance that I could be was enough to keep the juices flowing.
The guy on the end wearing a cheesy Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses flipped his cards with a casual toss, no doubt the way he’d seen it done on television.
“One pair,” said the dealer, his voice dry and robotic. “Eights are high.”
The next guy in line, the accountant looking type with the bad rug, flipped over his cards with a confident gleam in his eye.
“One pair,” the dealer called again. “Tens are now high.”
It came to the third man at the table. He was clean cut and impeccably dressed in a neatly tailored and pressed suit. A suit that cost more than I’d probably make in a year. I’d been trying to figure him out all night. Reading people and the million different subtle signs that give us away is one of my talents. I’m damn good at it and I use it to my full advantage in every facet of life. But I couldn’t get a read on this guy. He had no tics and no tells that I could see. He clearly had money. He projected an air of cool, calm, calculation and quiet authority. I had him pegged as a CEO type. So why wasn’t he in the VIP room at some posh casino in Vegas or maybe Monte Carlo and playing in this little hole in the wall place instead?
He looked at me, gave me a small smirk and flipped his cards over.
“Straight,” the dealer called blandly. “To the ten.”
I saw the shoulders of the guy with the previous high hand slump in defeat. Again. For the past two hours, the winning hand had alternated between me and Mr. CEO. Two disgruntled players had already left the table, seeking their fortune elsewhere. All eyes at the table now rested on me. I paused long enough to return Mr. CEO’s smirk before flipping my cards over.
“Straight,” the dealer said. “To the Queen. Winning hand.”
Mr. CEO nodded to me, an inscrutable expression on his face as the other two players snorted derisively. The dealer collected all of the cards and began to shuffle once more.
“Well played,” said Mr. CEO, his voice deep, rich and carrying the hint of an accent. “You’re a very good player.”
“Thank you,” I replied. “So are you. We’ve been pushing each other pretty good all night.”
I settled back in my seat and took a sip of my drink. Mr. CEO’s eyes never left me and I was growing uncomfortable under his scrutiny. I tried to ignore him and looked around, taking in the frenzied whirling of the lights and people, listening to the low humming roar of the people winning and losing large and small sums of money all around us. I looked back and he was still looking at me, one corner of his mouth pulled up in an amused smirk.
“What?” I finally asked.
He leaned over the table, his eyes focused and intent. There was definitely something about this guy that just commanded your attention.
“I was just wondering,” he said. “If you’d be interested in playing for some slightly… more interesting stakes.”
I doubted that I could match this guy dollar for dollar but I was definitely interested and curious. The gambler in me was jumping at the chance to take this guy for a good chunk of change. Maybe it would be enough to buy my wife a new car. Or maybe on a real vacation. Not to mention just the charge I got out of winning.
“How much are we talking about?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s not money that interests me,” he replied.
A cold chill of fear and a tingle of excitement swept through me simultaneously. I wasn’t sure what to make of this man or his proposal.
“So what is it that interests you?” I said. “I honestly don’t have much of value.”
“Actually, you have quite a bit more than you think you do.”
The man snapped his fingers and all movement around the casino stopped. All except for Mr. CEO and I. No lights flashed, no slots were set to beeping and ringing, nobody cheered or shouted… it was as still and silent as the proverbial tomb. I wanted to jump to my feet but found myself rooted to my chair, completely dumbstruck as I looked around me.
“H- how did you do that?”
The man smiled and the sight of it poured ice water through my veins. “Just a simple parlor trick.”
I looked around, not believing what I was seeing. This had to be some sort of elaborate prank, right? Like one of those flash mob things?
“I assure you, Mr. Locke, this is no illusion,” the man said. “And this is no cheap stunt like a flash mob.”
I looked at him, stunned. “How do you know my name?” I asked. “How do you know what I’m thinking?”
“You’ll find that I know a great many things about you.”
I tried to speak but found that I had no voice. My mouth simply opened and closed like a fish that’s been pulled out of the water. We sat and stared at one another for a moment before I looked around at the crowd in the casino again. Nobody moved. Nobody spoke or laughed or even giggled. Nobody drew a breath. It was like being in the middle of a wax museum.
“Who are you?” I finally managed.
He smiled. “That depends on who you ask, I suppose,” he said. “I’m many things to many people. But then, names aren’t important anyway.”
“You know mine,” I said. “Only seems fair.”
“Very well,” he said and smiled. “You may call me Abaddon.”
“Okay,” I said hesitantly. “So what are the stakes, Mr. Abbadon?”
He leaned back in his seat and stroked his beard, sizing me up. It felt like greasy snakes were wrestling around in my stomach and my hands trembled. I had no idea what was going on here but I didn’t like it.
“What would you say if I told you that I could make you wealthy well beyond your wildest dreams?” He started. “Provided you win the hand, of course.”
I looked him in the eye, trying to get some read on him but came up empty. I cleared my throat and tried to calm my racing heart.
“I don’t know,” I hoped I sounded casual. “My dreams are pretty wild.”
He leaned forward again and toyed with the chips in front of him. “And all of that can be yours,” he said. “Just imagine, being able to take that vacation to Paris with your wife that you’ve dreamed about. You can buy her a car for every day of the week. Anything and everything you could ever want could be at your disposal any time you want it.”
I ran a hand through my hair. I could feel the juices beginning to flow, feel my mind calculating the odds and feel that surge I call the gambler’s rush rolling through my body. Anything I could want whenever I wanted it? I liked the sound of it.
“And what am I putting up in return?”
“Your two daughters,” he said. “Katie and Kylie. Precious little things. That is what you are to put up.”
I stared at him, completely dumbfounded once again.
“My daughters?” I asked. I couldn’t have heard him right. “You want me to put my daughters up as a bet?”
“Yes,” he replied simply.
“You have to be joking.”
He shook his head, smiling. “I’m afraid not,” he said. “I’ve observed them for quite some time and think that they would do very well down below with me. Their youth, their energy and vigor is just what I am in need of.”
“B-but those are my daughters.”
He rolled one of the chips between his knuckles. Smiling at me, he tossed the chip into the air where, in a puff of smoke, it turned into a bat and flew off. Given what I’d seen already in the last hour, it neither surprised nor frightened me.
“I will of course, make arrangements for you and your wife to visit them,” he said. “Contrary to popular belief, I’m not entirely cruel. We can set up biannual visits lasting an entire day in duration.”
I looked around, trying to organize my thoughts.
“Think of the life you could give them should you win the hand,” he pressed. “You could give them the world, every advantage you never got.”
It should have been as easy as saying “hell no” and storming away from the table. So why couldn’t I form the words? Why couldn’t I storm away? Why couldn’t I just tell this… thing in front of me to just get screwed and leave?
It was because I thought I could beat him.
With the thought coalescing in my head, tiny bursts of electricity seemed to go off in my head and body, encouraging me.
“So if I win,” I started. “I will be the wealthiest man on the planet?”
“By far,” he said. “The money will be in your bank account before you get up from the table.”
“But if I lose, you get to take my daughters to Hell or where ever you’re from?”
“And yourself and your wife will get biannual visits a day in duration to spend with them.”
I leaned back in my seat and looked up at the ceiling, a million different thoughts warring in my head. There were so many reasons to walk away, to not even consider the man’s offer. But there were so many in favor of it. Not the least of which was that by winning, I could provide for my family far better than I ever could at my current nine-to-fiver.
Abbadon tapped a chip against the table, his eyes locked onto me. “What is your decision, Mr. Locke?”
My heart flip-flopped in my chest and a feeling like a sheet of ice that had broken off of a glacier slid down my spine. I was dizzy and had the beginnings of what could turn into the mother of all headaches.
“Deal,” I said simply.
He laughed and clapped his hands. “Excellent.”
The dealer at the table suddenly came to life, shuffling and mixing the cards with mechanical precision. He looked up at us and nodded, oblivious to everything else. With quick flicks of his wrist, he dealt out our pocket cards before throwing down the three card flop. I snuck a quick glance at my pocket cards. I had a ten and a King. The flop gave me the Jack and Deuce of Clubs and the Nine of Hearts. I just needed a Queen to show her pretty face for me in one of the last two cards. I glanced at Abbadon but he gave me nothing but the air of pure confidence. Of course he did.
“The turn, gentlemen,” the dealer intoned.
He turned another card face up between us. The Four of Spades. No help to me but no help to him either. Abbadon eyed me, a small smile pulling at the corner of his mouth making my stomach churn even harder. He had something. Three of a kind? Oh Jesus, if he had trips and the card I needed didn’t show, I was done. Katie and Kylie would be taken away from me.
Oh God, what had I done?
“The river, gentlemen,” the dealer said. “Good luck.”
My heart stuttered drunkenly and I felt the sweat rolling down my face as he turned the card over. The Eight of Clubs. I sat still, looking at it, not believing it.
I looked up at Abbadon, tears in my eyes and adrenaline coursing through my body as I watched him turn over his pocket cards. The Ten of Hearts and the Queen of Diamonds.
“A straight,” Abbadon said, amusement in his voice. “To the Queen.”
I nodded absently but remained silent, my mind spinning and whirling.
“You’ve been called, Mr. Locke.”
My hand trembling, I reached out and turned my pocket cards over. I watched the look of shock register on Abbadon’s face which was followed by a darkening anger. He looked up at me, murder and fury in his eyes.
“The Ten and King of Clubs,” the dealer said. “The winning hand is a flush.”
Abbadon stood up and looked at me again. Without a word, he turned to leave.
“What about my winnings?” I called.
“I’m a man of my word,” he said over his shoulder as he stalked off.
He melted into the crowd and suddenly, everybody sprang to life once more. The slot machines beeped, buzzed and rang. The crowd was as loud and boisterous as before.
I pulled out my phone and logged into my bank account, waiting while it made the connection. I gasped and felt like I’d been punched in the gut when I saw the amount sitting there, waiting to be spent. People looked at me strangely as I exited the casino, my face glued to the screen and tears streaming down my face. I got in my car and started for home, stopping to pick some flowers up for my wife on the way.
We had a vacation to plan.
This has been my entry for therealljidol Season 8, Topic 36B: Artifice. Thank you guys so freaking much for keeping me in the game this long. I have no idea what to expect this week so I guess you'll find out right along with me! Thank you SO much for your support over these crazy months!!!