Friday, December 12, 2008

SHUFFLE, Chapter Two

My cell phone lit up when I punched the speed dial button reserved for Runt’s number but he didn’t answer his phone. I knew better than to leave a message. Runt must have at least fifty unanswered messages from frantic people trying to get a hold of him, including Mom and Dad.

I didn’t know Shade’s number. I could call Casey at the police station for it but somehow that seemed a lot of effort just to retrieve a naughty novel. I always know how those kind of books end anyway.

I realized I wouldn’t be getting Runt’s truck back until Shade was done hauling whatever horse he needed to haul. A horse’s ass in the trailer and a horse’s ass driving the truck. What a visual. I just couldn’t decide if I wanted the ass driving the truck to be fully clothed or not.

Anyway, the way I figured it, I’d be getting my chance to get Shade’s number in about twenty minutes. That’s how long it would take before I got a call from Casey wanting to know the details about Shade and me. She’s never been known for her patience, especially when gossip was involved.

A nap before work seemed a priority, even if I knew it would be interrupted by Casey. I stripped out of my wet clothes and slipped into dry ones. Heavy-eyed and bookless, I scrunched down into the couch cushions but sleeping didn’t come real easy without my read. Worrying did, though. I’d borrowed/stolen a vehicle that had been borrowed/stolen from me and I hadn’t even had the dang thing two hours.

Shade’s stealing that truck had screwed up my main plan for the afternoon. I hadn’t mentioned it to anybody because I was too embarrassed but last month I’d stupidly accepted a check for poker chips from Dante Castaneda. A fifteen hundred dollar check! That’s so totally against the rules ─ my rules, house rules, gambling rules, any rules. Pick one.

I couldn’t exchange the check for cash money that night because Dante promptly went on tilt and galloped to broke. The check, of course, turned out to be hot. That’s just so wrong in so many ways.

I admit the situation was partly my fault. I knew better than to cover a player’s chips by taking checks. The owner of the card room sure wouldn’t do it. But Dante and I had a dating history and I’d taken checks from him before. Both the dating and the checks had been good in the past, one of them real good.

Funny how a hot check cooled a sizzling romance. I hadn’t heard from Dante since he wrote the thing. Trying to track him down, I called his little sister Sonja, but she didn’t know where he was either.

Sonja’s a dealer in a card room across town, another reason why I thought the check would be OK. I was counting on the sisterhood of female dealers or some such nonsense. I should have thought again because dealing poker is only Sonja’s sideline job. She’s not a good cowgirl.

A good cowgirl keeps her calves together. Sonja’s real moneymaker was doing a little sum’pin sum’pin with the gamblers after hours. I don’t know of any other poker room that allowed that sort of thing. Everywhere else a gambler strictly got poker ─ not poke her. Girls like Sonja put card rooms in a bad light.

But Sonja, with her bold blue eye shadow, brightly blushed cheeks, and deep red lipstick, had nothing to do with the fact I personally screwed myself out of fifteen hundred dollars. I took the check. I’m out the money. Not Sonja. Not the poker room. Me.

I shouldn’t have taken a check that large from anybody, let alone Dante. Fifteen hundred bucks cut pretty deep into my budget. I made good money, but it’s not my objective to support someone else’s bad habits. I’ve got my own to support. That was just one of the things I was going to tell Dante when I saw him again.

I fluffed a couch pillow and punched it a couple of times, wishing it was Dante’s face. If he didn’t pay up willingly, I didn’t have much leverage. I couldn’t go to the district attorney and press charges against Dante for giving me a hot check for the purpose of gambling in an illegal poker room. And if I bugged Dante too much about the money, I risked getting him mad and he knows where I work.

Not that I thought he would, seeing how much he likes to gamble, but he could sic the cops on us at anytime. Of course, he’d never be welcome in any card room across the state again. Dante had too much fun playing Hold ‘em to let that happen.

No, I was pretty much at his mercy. I’m sure he knew that the minute he wrote the dang thing. I guess that’s one way to get a girl to chase after you. Worse yet, I hadn’t had a date except him in ages and now even that was insufficient funds.

I sure wasn’t going to let go of that cash without warfare, though.

My phone started vibrating and I realized I’d finally dozed off. When I finally dug it out of my jean pocket, I was surprised to see it had rung ─ well, vibrated ─ four times during my nap. No wonder I’d had such great dreams.

I played my messages, knowing one was from Runt and one from Casey, but I was only half right. My brother hadn’t called. According to the verbal timestamp on Casey’s message, it’d taken her two and a half hours to get around to vibrating me up. The police department must be pretty busy. Her message was simple. It just said, “Call me.”

A senator from the Great State of Texas had also left a message. He wanted to know if there was a super-high-stakes game anywhere in the area. To impress a lady friend, he added. I could hear the wink in his voice over the phone.

Men! I knew what he meant, all right, but I didn’t know of any game like he wanted. Not tonight, anyway, so I called him back and told him so.

Two other players wanted to know what time I’d get to the poker room so I text messaged them and two hundred other regulars and semi-regulars with my starting time and the night’s menu. If the poker and free drinks don’t bring them in, the homemade free meal at midnight does.

This early in the evening everybody would read my message. In the middle of the night only a handful would bother reading it. And, if it’s Sunday, my TM would reach zip. Sunday was family day. There might be a game ─ there’s always a game somewhere ─ but it wouldn’t include the guys with families.

My phone vibrated again. Casey. She was making up for lost time by calling again so soon.

Casey, Weeba (Reba, really, but we’d called her Weeba since we were little), and I sometimes couldn’t go an hour without talking to each other. Then there were times we didn’t talk for weeks. It never mattered. We always picked up right where we left off. The weirdest thing was that sometimes all one of us had to do was think about the other and the phone rang.

The three of us go clear back to grade school. Casey and I went to college together, but Weeba couldn’t afford it. She should have borrowed the money because she’s the smart one. Looks-wise, she’s pretty in a different way, with short red hair and lots of freckles, but she’s shy to such an extreme that you forget she’s a nice looking girl. She just fades away into the background. Her boss at the dry cleaners where she clerks was always after her to look customers in the eye when she talked to them.

Casey’s the main act all the way. She’s beautiful, with a tiny body, long curly dark hair, and a porcelain complexion. She’s so outgoing it was a major problem in high school and college since she was the biggest flirt, attracting guys like bugs to a fly strip. She married a cop right after we graduated college.

“Don’t ask!” I said as I answered my cell. I groaned and struggled to untangle myself from the sofa throw.

“No way are you getting off that easy,” Casey said. “I want all the details!”

“Jeez, let me see.” I sighed, pausing just to pull her tail. “Mustang broke, took Runt’s truck, great book, add Shade, man with an alleged gun in his tighty-whiteys, me soaking wet, phone call to you, lost truck, lost book. Hmmm, that’s about all.”

“What?” she said, her voice going up an extra notch. “Girl, if I was talking to anyone but you I’d think English was your second language and you were delusional. I said details. Like what do you mean 'man with an alleged gun?' Did you report that to the police? And are you and Shade together again? That’s really what I want to hear more about. How come you didn’t mention Shade when we met Weeba at the coffee shop this morning? You holdin’ out on us?”

“Well, I’m not for sure about the gun part, that’s why I said alleged,” I replied. “And no, I didn’t report it. The answer to Shade and me being together again is a very big NO. I hadn’t seen, talked to, or thought about him in months. Then this afternoon I almost ran him over.”

My other line beeped. The caller ID read Rob. “Hey, let me call you later. My brother’s on the other line. I’ve got to tell him Shade stole his duelie.” I clicked over without giving her a chance to reply, but I swear smoke drifted out of the tiny little speaker.

“I didn’t loan Shade nothing! He took,” I said defensively when I transferred over. “And do you know he’s going bald?”

“This isn’t Runt, Stripper. It’s ol’ Baldy himself on Runt’s phone, apparently. You seen him?”

I sat straight up. Damn, he must have got to Runt while I was sleeping. I jumped up from the couch and carried the conversation to the bathroom.

“No-o-o. But you obviously have since you’re on his phone,” I sarcastically cooed.

“No-o-o. But I found a dog on the side of the road with this cell phone clipped to the collar.”

“Very funny. Let me talk to Runt,” I said, half distracted by the mirror. Rain and sleep had smudged my makeup. I swiped at it with a tissue.

“Funny, but not like in ha ha. More like in odd. As I said, Runt’s not with me.”

“You’re the odd one,” I said. “Have you been drinking?" I struggled one-handed with my jeans, my thoughts snapped together as my pants unsnapped. No wonder Runt hadn’t answered his phone all day. One of Runt’s dogs had his cell phone? That made no sense.

“No, Pokerface, I haven’t been drinking. This dog was just sitting by the side of the road until he saw me, then he started jumping around like it was feedin’ time. I pulled off the road and when I opened the door, the damn thing jumped up on my lap and bounced over to the passenger seat. I saw the cell phone and speed dialed the first number and got you. Do I take the dog with me? Kick him to the side of the road? Shoot him? What?”

“I don’t know. You found him.”

“He’s your Ridgeback fur nephew. What’s his name?”

“He’s the Ridgeback? Sloppy.”

“I like Shade better but you can call me Sloppy if you want to, Stripper. Jeez. Is that the toilet flushing?”

He heard that? Quickly, I said, “The dog’s name is Sloppy. His registered name is Sloppy Drunk. And the cell phone apparently works better than a dog tag, now doesn’t it? Are you coming to take me to work or what?”

“This big mutt is registered? I’m on my way…with Sloppy.” Click.

Great. The biggest dog in the world was going to take me to work ─ and he’s bringing Runt’s dog.

The bit about Sloppy and the cell phone was typical Runt. He was always training his dogs to do something weird. I remember when he taught Sloppy to open the frig and retrieve a beer. One day Runt was mucking out the barn, dying for a cold one. By the time he got back to his trailer house, Sloppy had taken all the beer out of the frig and placed them by Runt’s chair. Every one of them was as warm as coyote…well, I’ll just say the beer were all warm. Runt said if he hadn’t been laughing so hard, he would have been damn mad.

This phone thing was probably just another trick gone bad. The only thing I was concerned about at the moment was getting to work before the next round of rain hit. We always need rain this time of year so I really didn’t want to wish it away completely, just long enough for me to get into the poker room unsoaked.

I gave Shade and Sloppy twenty minutes then deposited myself at the same place I had been dropped off by Shade earlier. Thankfully, my wish came true for a momentary break in the rain, allowing me not to look like a wet calf when I got to work.

I was standing on the passenger side of my driveway when I spotted a green extended cab pickup leisurely headed down the street. Suddenly it speeded up and veered over to my side of the street, heading straight towards me. It hopped the curb and parked two wheels on my neighbor’s lawn.

Runt’s truck, coming from the opposite way, pulled into my driveway at the same time and blocked my view but not before I saw the driver poke a pistol out the window and aim it at me.

Holy smokes. I opened the duelie’s door, pushed the wet dog out of the way, and scrambled in. Shade barely had time to grab his jacket and chuck it onto the wet seat.

“Eager to see me, Stripper?” he asked. He had a cocky grin under his mustache so I guess he wasn’t still mad at me for the bald comment.

“That man in the pickup has a gun!”

“Jeez, Tana Rose. You see guns everywhere. You’ve got to stop reading these trashy novels.” He tossed me my book. “That’s hot stuff, Stripper. You use any of these ideas on dates?”

The green pickup roared off, tires spinning on the wet grass and tearing hunks out of the lawn.

“No, really, Shade. This time I’m sure I saw a gun.”

“Or a cell phone. Or a pipe wrench. Or who knows what. This is dull, boring Bryan, Tana Rose, not Houston or Dallas. There’s a better chance it was a jilted boyfriend than a dude with a gun.” He glanced sideways with a look that took me in from top to toes. “On second thought,” he said, “maybe it was a dude with a gun.”

Jerk. Silently I threw his cowboy hat at him. “I know what I saw,” I mumbled, but now I doubted myself. Could have been something else, I guess. I mean the odds of seeing two men pointing guns at me on the same day in this town must be lower that the odds of me ever dating Shade again. Still, it had looked like a gun to me, but Shade was probably right, although I’d never admit that to him. I’d lived in gun-toting Texas all my life and had never seen a handgun in public that shouldn’t have been there. Now I’d seen two of ‘em, or at least I thought I had.

Sloppy’s big tongue slurped my cheek, his way of showing appreciation for my outfit, I was sure. My size 12 jeans were tight and my coral shirt was cut fairly low, showing plenty of cleavage. Turquoise jewelry hung from my ears, my neck, my wrists, my fingers, and my naval, although that last one only I knew about and the way my luck was going, it would stay that way. My platinum blonde hair was cut short in jagged spikes.

Shade looked me up and down again but didn’t say a word. He was in the same clothes as when I last saw him and he smelled…well, good. A little more like deep piney woods, campfire smoke, and sweaty horse.

“You stink,” I said as I wrinkled my nose but I didn’t say anything more. Not because I was pouting over his not believing me about the gun thing. I just wanted to find out if he knew as much about where I worked as he did about where I lived. He took off in the right direction without asking directions.

To be continued Monday


  1. Thanks for the 'fix'. BUT don't make us wait until MONDAY. pleeeeeeze?
    ox lulu

  2. Seriously! Monday? As Lulu said, "Pleeeeeeeze?"

    Love it, girl!


  3. Boy, I wish i had kept my copy! I could sell it in a heart beat!

  4. I'm ridin'(er, readin')at a gallop.
    I don't know if my heart can hold out
    'til the end!

  5. You gotta love a man who knows where he's going without getting directions. Does he navigate everything that well? Hmmm! I know, I'll just have to keep reading to find out. Meany! Tn'T


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