"The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision."
The four of them sat around the kitchen table. Jimmy sat left to Spades (who was the dealer) so he put his chips in first, just a few white ones.
“Now you put double what he put in,” Richard instructed from Marty’s left.
“Why?” Marty asked, already confused and feeling vulnerable. Each white chip was worth a dollar, and reds were five, greens twenty-five. He knew that. He knew the hands too. Richard had printed out a copy of them and placed it in front of Marty so he could keep track.
“Because you are the big blind,” Richard replied, further baffling him.
“Ah, yeah, so two more dollars, two toonies,” said Marty with a light smile.
“Speaking of big blind,” Spades murmured from across the kitchen table.
Marty put in his chips, giving the dealer a glare. Jimmy caught it instead and raised both eyebrows, nodding his head upward.
“What?” Marty asked, and then looked around to see what he was referring to. Tony had just stepped inside the front door.“Oh hey!” he called to him. “What’s up Tony?”
“Not much,” the blind man said in his usual soft tone.
Richard put his chips in next. Marty stood up. “Wanna come join us? We’re playing some poker.”
“Poker?” Tony asked.
“Yeah, might not be a role-playing game, but its good. We’re betting some gold pieces anyway.”
Tony smiled as Marty headed to his room to get his desk chair for him. When they were both seated again he noticed Spades giving Tony a look, his eyes darted up and down and then fixed onto Marty as if to ask “Who is he?”
“This is Tony, our neighbour,” Marty answered for him. “You ever play poker before, Tony?”
“Oh, once or twice.”
“Yeah, well, this is our first round.”
“Hey Tony,” Richard greeted.
Tony nodded in the direction of his voice. “And the others are Jimmy and—uh Spades,” Marty introduced, suddenly unsure if he should have used his alias. He didn’t know his real name.
Spades said nothing as he shifted his two card’s places in his hands. Marty wondered if he had done that to put cards in order, maybe because the two cards were chronologically ordered. He may have been trying for a straight or a straight flush.
“You leaving the city?” Jimmy asked Spades.
Spades put in a red chip and a white chip.
“Spades just put in six dollars’ worth of chips,” Marty told Tony, who nodded in turn.
“Shit, fuck it. Fold,” said Jimmy.
“Pussy,” said Spades, putting down the communal cards. “First flop.”
“Uh, fold too,” Marty followed. “It’s not being a pussy, it’s not being reckless. My two cards were shit anyway, a two and a four, different suites.”
“Better not to risk it,” agreed Tony from right beside him.
“Okay, I’m putting twenty,” Richard declared, dropping in twenty dollars’ worth.
“What’s the community cards?” asked Tony.
“Uh—six of spades, eight of hearts and two of clubs.”
“Shitty,” said Tony.
“Very shitty,” agreed Richard. Marty was surprised when he had agreed to play with them. Before he never seemed to like Jimmy. Marty had insisted he play though. He was in such a good mood just an hour before; he wanted all his friends around him. Any enmity that Marty had for Richard for holding out on him had vanished the second Spades had walked in the front door.
When his loud knocking came, the two room-mates ran into Richard's room. Marty slammed the door shut as Richard peered through a crack in his curtains. “Some black guy out front,” he had said. “Maybe the big men sent him?”
“What?” Marty had asked, moving over and squeezing in at Richard's side, pressing his face up against the window. “Oh shit! It’s him!”
Now that he had one million and three hundred thousand dollars he was angry at no one. He looked at Richard and sighed, thinking about what to do about him. Marty considered giving him some of his share of the money so that he could get out of the house, just enough money for a few months food and rent. He was not quite sure what he was going to do himself, although he doubted he would be staying any more than another day.
“What to do,” Richard asked, looking at his cards.
Marty nodded. “Yeah, exactly. What are you doing, Jimmy?”
His friend to his right stuck out his lips, moving them slightly to one side, the look he usually made when he was thinking things over. “I don’t know,” he said after a bit. “I guess jumping town.”
Marty raised a hand, pointing to Tony with the other.
“I mean, going to move somewhere else,” Jimmy corrected himself, taking the hint. “Nowhere in Canada is warm now, not even Vancouver. I guess maybe somewhere tropical."
“What about you Spades?” Marty asked. “Where you going?”
Spades shook his head, shifting his two cards in his hands again. When the final round was done a few minutes later he had won the pile with two pairs. Marty thought about quitting, but then Tony suggested he play a round for him. At first Marty thought he was joking, but then Tony explained that if Marty could be his eyes and whisper his cards to him it could work.
Jimmy grabbed all the cards and dealt them out.
“A king of hearts and a seven of diamonds,” Marty whispered in Tony’s ear. Spades had put down his cellphone on the table, blasting some hip-hop that Marty didn’t recognize. It sheathed his voice from the others so he didn’t complain. The blind man nodded, placing the cards face-down in front of him, the cards, it seemed, projected in his mind.
“We can’t stay here,” Richard said to Marty when it was his turn put in chips. “We can go anywhere, elsewhere in Toronto, or maybe Montreal or Vancouver, or the states.”
“No, not the states,” said Marty.
“You guys are planning to move?” Tony asked.
“Flop,” said Jimmy, laying out the first three community cards face-up on the table.
“A nine of spades, four of clubs and a queen of spades,” Marty read them out. “And yes, we’re planning on it soon, sorry to say.”
“I like it here,” Tony said.
Marty cringed at the thought of Tony staying while everyone else left. It was unsettling for him as he pictured the two thugs that Richard had mentioned confronting him in his room in the basement. “And then they’ll see Ivan,” he thought, feeling his insides start shaking.
He got up and opened up the fridge, grabbing a can of the Junction crafted brew that he and Jimmy had picked up a few days before.
“Get me one,” called Spades, flinging in some red chips into a pile that was already bigger than the last one. Somebody must have raised the stakes when Marty wasn’t looking.
“Good jackpot,” he said to Tony as he brought the two cans of beer to the table.
His partner nodded. “No sweat,” he said softly. When another round passed the pile doubled in size. Tony himself had upped the ante this time. Marty politely reminded him that it was his money he was betting.
Tony ran his hands over Marty's columns of chips. “That’s a lot of money,” he said.
“Yeah,” Marty replied hesitantly, looking at the other three. “We got some decent dough. Just been saving a lot lately.”
The others’ faces remained blank. They were playing poker after all.
“You’re ready to pay Ivan then,” Tony laughed.
Richard’s eyes widened very slightly. Marty caught it.
“Ivan?” Spades asked.
“Our landlord,” Marty answered, taking a sip of beer. It was hoppy and thick, not the way he usually preferred his beer. “He’s in Russia, has been for weeks now, almost a month actually.”
“Oh yeah?” Spades asked.
Marty nodded. Spades was looking at him intently. He knew that look. Spades had given it to him before when they had first met at Jimmy’s old place. It was an icy look. Marty looked away for or a second, but he still felt Spades' eyes on him.
“Next card going down,” Jimmy announced, placing the fourth community card down.
“Jack of hearts,” Marty said, glancing back to Spades. He was still looking.
“Lots of royals,” Tony commented. “Like a court in a campaign setting.” When it was his turn he raised the bet, putting in a few blues. "But the king is missing," he noted as he flicked in the last chip.
“If we go together we can get some land somewhere,” Marty said.
Richard looked up from his cards. “Like farm, you’re thinking?”
Marty nodded. “We can put our lot together and get something, not even much land, but we can have a nice house and work the fields together, get some animals.”
“Like a commune,” Richard said, folding his cards. “I’m out.”
“I think it would be worth it,” Marty continued. “If we do it together we can have better lives than each of us would alone. Alone I would probably spend it all in a year, but together we can own things in common, you know? Who knows, we could meet some nice hippie girls too."
"Hippie girls?" Spades asked, suddenly smiling. "They smoke all my weed!"
Marty laughed as he laid down the last communal card.
“Ace of hearts,” Marty read.
“Fuck that. Fold,” Jimmy replied. He stood up and went for the fridge.
Spades turned his stare from Marty to Tony who in turn did not even know he was being stared down. “Raise,” Tony said when it was his turn.
“Fold,” Spades said after a minute of silence.
"We won? We won!" Marty yelled as he reached forward and scraped the chips in. “A few extra hundred! Thanks Tony!” He stopped himself short of kissing him on the cheek.
“I guess when I said I played some poker I was holding back,” he chuckled. “I am actually a bit of a poker dungeon master.”
Marty laughed. When he started piling up the chips to count Spades demanded that Tony show what he had. Tony flipped his cards.
“Bluffing,” Spades scoffed. "You have shit."
“Another round?” Tony asked.
Spades stood up. “Nah, going to go roll up some ting. Jimmy?”
“Can I get some?” Marty asked as everyone besides him and his game partner starting getting up.
“Sure,” replied Spades. “Meet us upstairs.”
“Rich?” Marty asked. The brit shook his head, starting for his room. He was going to put on the kettle instead. “Okay, what about you Tony?”
“No, don’t smoke,” he replied. “I think I’ll go back downstairs, maybe take a nap.”
Marty stood up with him, grabbing his elbow to help him. As they started toward the door Spades called after him: “Later Big Blind.”
“Catch you later.”
“They’re going to give me the money tonight. I can give you half of it,” Marty said as he took Tony down the first step. “Thanks eh? Since when were you into poker?’
“I played for years,” he replied. “Bluffing got easier when I went blind. I read voices. People spend so much time maintaining their appearance that they neglect their vocals. You can hear it when someone is quivering, or when they’re hiding something, or when someone has nothing. The hands are the easy part.”
They reached his room and Marty averted his eyes from the window as he stepped inside and turned on the light. “Tony, what would you do if you suddenly had some money? I mean decent money.”
“How much? A few hundred?”
“No, a few thousand, say four or five grand. I mean, that’s enough to rent someplace better for a bit. Why not do that?”
Tony nodded, taking his seat on his bed. “That can only last for a month or two though. After that I can only get my disability cheques so it's not really a solution, just a tiny boost..”
Marty nodded, turning his head to the far wall. He nearly looked up to see what was in the window, but re-averted his gaze, bringing it back down to his friend at the last second. “That’s true. I don’t know if you should stay here though. Once me and Rich are gone there’s no one else really, except that kid upstairs but I haven’t seen him in ages, doubt he’s coming back anytime soon. The conditions in this place, Tony, they’re really shitty. It can’t be healthy for you.”
Tony shrugged. “It seems okay. What else can I do anyway?”
Marty sighed. “I guess so.”
“Unless,” Tony started, stroking his beard. “Maybe with that money I could make more, maybe go to Niagara Falls and gamble. I couldn’t do that on my own though.”
“No I guess not. This place though, it’s not safe.”
Tony placed both his hands on his knees. “This place is as good as any. And I will never have any decent money. That's just not going to happen.”
“I suppose,” Marty mumbled, backing out the doorway. “I’ll see you tomorrow then, eh Tony?"
He smiled. “Catch you later.”
Marty went back upstairs. Richard had retreated to his room for the night. Marty had to talk to him, make a plan fast. First though, he wanted some of that joint upstairs. He went out the front door into a chilly evening.
“Honk! Honk! Honk!”
The trumpeting sound stopped him in his tracks.
A big black car was idling in the driveway. The front doors flung open from either side at the same time. Two men stepped out.