Sunday, January 11, 2009

SHUFFLE, Chapter Twelve

UPDATE: Some time ago, when I was writing SHUFFLE, I submitted the words “poker folker” to Urban Dictionary. They rejected it. Tonight, as I sat at my computer getting Chapter Twelve ready to publish tomorrow, I got word from that web site that they have published my words. I invented a phrase! I’m so excited! Click here and give my words a thumbs up.

“Ca-rap,” I said to Casey. “I’ve been trying to track down Dante for weeks and tonight of all nights he pops up right in front of me. He owes me money big time.”

I turned the Mustang into the lot as Casey started sputtering and protesting. “What…wait…what are you doing? I can’t go in there.”

“I’ve text messaged him to death!” I continued, pretending I hadn’t heard her. “That dern guy isn’t coming through with anything. Not even so much as a courtesy call. The jerk!”

“I’m not going in there!” Casey said.

“I know. I know. Let me just make a phone call.” I dialed up the owner of the room. “Moss, this is T.R. Is Dante Castaneda winning or losing?”

“Hey, T.R., Ya know, I just don’t get to see enough of you. You need to come over and work for me. We need a good looking gal over here at Texas Way.”

“Moss, you big flirt. You know your wife wouldn’t allow a woman dealer in there. So how’s Castaneda doing? He up or down?”

“Well, I’m trying to see. It looks like he’s up to me. Why you want to know?”

“I got an H.C. on him and I think I’ll come in and bluff it out of him. That OK with you?

“Honey, any night I get to see you, is a good night for me. Come on in.”

“Don’t make me call your wife, Moss,” I said, laughing. “See ya in a sec. I’m out in your parking lot.” I turned back to Casey as I tucked my phone away.

“H.C.?” she asked.

“Hot check. Listen. I know you can’t come with,” I said, chopping the sentence short, “and I’m kind of skipping out on Margaritas, but I really need to settle this with Dante. Can you come back and get me in a half hour or so?”

“Well, I do need to go to the grocery store. I was going to go in the morning but I could do it now, I guess. It’ll take me closer to an hour, though, to shop and then lug it home. Plus I’ll have to think of something to tell Ralph. Girl’s night out doesn’t usually include grocery shopping.”

“True story,” I laughed. “An hour’s cool. You’re the best. Ring me when you’re on your way back.” I hauled my phone out again and switched it from vibrate to ring. I didn’t want to miss her call in the ensuing excitement ─ or disappointment.

I jumped out of the car before she could change her mind and Casey took over the driver’s seat. Going to the grocery store was the last thing I ever wanted to do ─ unless it’s for beer and chips.

I stood at the door of Texas Way and gave a little wave. I knew Moss was watching on the closed circuit TV. Sure enough, the magnetic lock buzzed and I walked right in.

Since dealers like to face the door, Dante had his back to the poker room entrance. Moss was standing off to one side talking to a regular. He smiled at me, still talking, and pointed in Dante’s direction. Like I wouldn’t know the backside of that man.

A couple of players looked my way, ready to speak, but I placed a finger to my lips and pointed at Dante’s back. Everyone immediately shifted their focus back to their poker tables as if I wasn’t there.

Dante was straddling his chair, its back up against the table, his boot toes wrapped around its back legs. Sunglasses hung by one of its arms from the back of his shirt collar. The bill of a maroon A&M baseball cap was crammed down the butt of his jeans, leaving the crown to bloom like a flower at the small of his back. A rear pants pocket bore the worn circular imprint of a chewing tobacco tin.

If all that wasn’t a dead give-a-way to who was sitting in that chair, the early-onset salt and pepper mop of hair ID’d him better than a driver’s license.

The seat next to Dante was empty. I knew I had Moss to thank for that. Dealers and game runners have to stick together on this H.C. stuff. Dante had a load of chips in the pot so I knew I was safe slipping into the vacant chair. He wasn’t going to get up and walk out on a potentially winning hand.

Dante glanced my way, looked back at the pot, then quickly swung his face my way again.

“Well, hey, T.R,” he said as he leaned over and kissed me quick on the mouth. “I figured you’d be with Shade.” I though I detected more than a little jealousy.

Half the men at the table started talking at once, asking about Mother’s wig and Sloppy.

“Greetings, everybody. Where do y’all get your information? Sounds like you don’t need me to tell ya. You already know it all.” I ran my freshly done nails back and forth across Dante’s shoulders.

“True story,” one of the players said as everyone laughed. Dante was looking a little pale.

“Guys,” I said, “I want to sit in on a little poker while my girlfriend does domestic duty.” A couple of players snickered, thinking the worst. I didn’t bother to correct them and say it was grocery shopping. Let them have their fantasies.

“Anybody care if Dante slips me a couple of chips?” I asked, adhering to the unwritten rule that a player can’t take chips off the table unless they’re leaving the game. They can, however, pass them to another player, provided no one at the table has a problem with the move.

A few guys nodded their heads, giving me the OK. Since Dante had more chips in front of him than anyone else did, the players at the table were probably happy to see somebody take them away from him, even though it wasn’t through gambling.

“Maybe Dante cares,” Dante said.

“He don’t care, T.R.,” a guy I didn’t recognize said. “Take as much as you like. Your pretty face is a much better sight to play against than his ugly mug.”

Someone across the room laughed out loud and commented, “That’s for sure.”

I reached over and pulled $500 from Dante’s pile into my own chip area.

“Thanks, guys, don’t mind if I do.” I smiled, looking straight at Dante, just waiting for him to protest again. It was a little more than I’d first thought of taking but I figured I’d better get as much as I could. With all the guys paying attention now, I didn’t expect Dante to object and I was right. He watched me sort the chips that used to be his. He wasn’t smiling but he wasn’t mad either.

I planned to pretty much just look at my cards and fold for a couple of hands, unless I got monsters. I’d have to play those. Then, hopefully, I’d get a good hand or I’d play a whopping bluff.

I was just aiming to get my money for his hot check back into my budget, nothing more. Win or lose, Dante still owed me. The five hundred he passed me still left a thousand due me. If I won with his money, all the better. Nothing like double dipping.

My first hand didn’t thrill me. King nine off suit wasn’t worth the blind so I folded. My second hand, however, was another story. King, ten of spades ─ my favorite hand. I’ve been real lucky with those cards in the past.

I called the twenty bet to see the flop. Even though I love this hand, if it doesn’t hit on the flop, I always fold. I won’t chase good cards, even with my favorite hand. I’m a tight player.

Bless me and my luck. The flop came king, king, ten. I’d flopped a boat! No wonder it’s my favorite.

Not only was it a family pot, meaning no one at the table had folded yet, but the player in the first position was betting my hand for me. Dern right, I’m going to call that bet. I just wished it was Dante betting in the first position.

I was excited but I doubt it showed on the outside. Shade doesn’t call me Pokerface for nothing. Half the table ─ including Dante, which was disappointing ─ folded but there were still five of us left in the hand. That made for a six hundred and sixty dollar pot and we hadn’t even seen the turn card. It came up a blank for me but the first position kept betting. By the time we got to the river card, it was just him and me with one thousand and sixty in the pot.

“I guess we’re gonna chop,” I told him, as I called his last bet. “You’ve been bettin’ it all the way.” The guy gave me a look that said women shouldn’t play poker and they definitely shouldn’t know the terminology.

As I turned my cards over, I looked around the table at the guys so I could watch their reaction. Whoops erupted when they saw my full house. Even Dante had a big smile on his face. The guy who’d been doing all the betting threw his cards into the muck in disgust.

A player who’d folded before the river asked the dealer to expose the man’s hand. Any player in the hand can request to see a folded hand. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a player wants to know what kind of hands a guy’s betting if they don’t reveal their cards very often.

As it turned out, the guy I beat out had tens full of kings to my kings full of tens. A good hand. I would have bet it heavy too. It just wasn’t as good as my hand.

So much for a chop. After I tipped the dealer four redbirds, I had over fourteen hundred dollars in front of me. Go figure.

“You got lucky,” Dante said, giving my knee a little pat.

“Lucky?” I asked as I raised an eyebrow. “Skill,” I stated.

But the thought flitted through my head that I should stop while I was ahead, but a big stand like I was planning offered fringe benefits. If I won, Dante would feel I’d always be willing to put it everything on the line to win and win big, no matter if the “everything” was chips, love, or revenge.

Plus word gets around. If I won another big hand, poker players all over town would think twice before they bluffed against me or wrote me hot checks. I’d certainly get my fifteen minutes of fame. OK, maybe the fame would be a little longer than that. The guys who got beat would be talking about it for a long, long, long, long time.

But I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. First I had to win with a big stand and it was taking a little longer than I had anticipated. I had a time limit.

The blinds for the fourth hands were posted. If everything went well, this would be my hand for revenge. The last hand had been great but it wasn’t a win over Dante and he was my adversary. The other gamblers were just pot-feeders.

Tension must have been in the air because a couple of players stood up and backed away from the table. They didn’t go far. They wanted to watch the action. They just didn’t want to be in that action.

The dealer pitched the hole cards and I found myself with an eight of diamonds and an eight of hearts. It was a good start.

Several guys folded before they had to act. A guy I didn’t know, Seat Two, bet fifty and a man named Sammie called and plunked down his chips.

The guy I’d beaten with the king-ten called and so did I. I wanted to see if Dante would raise. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until I exhaled loudly after he called. So much for the poker face of a professional.

To my amazement, the flop was the six of hearts, eight of spades, and ten of hearts. I had a set of eights, two in my hand and one on the board. The flop, good for me, was, hopefully, bad for Dante.

The flop was only ten high but two hearts were showing, fuel for someone to have a straight or a flush, both of which would beat my set. I sure hoped those guys weren’t calling fifty dollars with a seven-nine or some such junk in their trunk. At least I didn’t have to worry about a straight flush like the other players did. I had the blocker for that ─ the necessary eight of hearts.

Other hands could win the pot but the worse possibility for me was a set of tens which would beat my set of eights. Called a set-over-set, hands don’t get much unluckier than that. It just downright demoralizes a player to lose like that.

I checked my set. Dante bet fifty. Seat Two raised another two hundred. Sammie folded and Mr. Tens Full of Kings called. I called the two hundred and fifty. Dante immediately pushed four hundred towards the pot.

Wow, he called the raise and went over the top. I wondered what the heck he had. He hadn’t hesitated on the reraise.

Both men were leaning forward aggressively. That could be a tell indicating they had strong hands and the flop had been good to them. On the other hand, it could be their testosterone acting up.

After the first peek at my hole cards, I placed a small stack of chips on them and begin riffling another stack. I didn’t look at my hole cards again. I’d seen them and they weren’t going to change.

Seat Two called Dante’s raise. Mr. Tens Full called. I hadn’t hesitated when I called the first reraise, so I decided to stir things up. I immediately reraised another two hundred.

With his mouth agape, Dante paused, then closed his mouth and pushed his chips into the pot. The dealer rolled his eyes at our craziness. Seat Two called my raise and that ran off Mr. Tens Full.

“Man, what are you thinking?” Sammie asked Mr. Tens Full. “All that money in the pot and you can’t call another two hundred dollars? You ain’t gonna get better pot odds that that.”

Ten Full just shook his head and leaned back in his chair. The three remaining players, me, Dante, and Seat Two, all seemed to have something we were proud of which made the hand kind of scary. But I came here to win big with the cards I’d been dealt or win big with a good bluff. Dante and Seat Two had to be wondering what I had, just like I was wondering about them.

Two thousand, six hundred and fifty dollars in the pot. A very good pot, not only for a Monday evening but for this particular poker room. These men weren’t Whitey’s high-dollar crowd. The gamblers here were working men, hard working and hard playing men.

The dealer flipped the turn card: an ace of hearts. “Action’s on you,” the dealer said to Seat Two.

The ace was bad. If it was just Dante and I, I’d feel better but Seat Two had me worried. Not to mention there were too many hearts showing to be comfortable. If three of a suit are showing on the board, a player has to assume a flush is hiding in someone’s hand. And I knew it wasn’t in mine.

I checked. Dante bet two hundred. I felt sure I could beat one of the men but I doubted I could beat them both. I caught myself holding my breath again, waiting for Seat Two to act. Me, who never has a tell. Go figure.

There wasn’t another game going on in the room. All of the poker folker were gathered around our table, trying to see at least one of the player’s hole cards, but none of us were peeking at them.

I knew Moss was behind me. I didn’t dare turn to see the look Dante’s face. I was the only woman in this gamblers den and suddenly I felt very lonely.

The dealer repeated himself, telling Seat Two again that the action was on him. The gambler’s hesitation could be a tell ─ or it could be bait. We only had one card to go. He could have a monster and be trying to suck all the money on the table into the pot. Or he could have come too far to fold.

Electricity tingled through me as he did just that. Seat Two folded.

I couldn’t believe it. In his position I would never have folded. His money had already been spent. What’s a couple of more chips to see the last card?

I breathed again. Relief had to show all over my body. Only Dante and I were left in the game.

Just what I had wanted.

Two men who had been sitting at our table earlier were right at our elbows, thinking, of course, how they could still be in there winning it all. Dante and I weren’t sweating but several of the men around the table were. Pots and plays like this one don’t come around every day. Or every month, for that matter. It was exactly the game I’d been hoping for.

“Heard you’ve been trying to get aholt of me, Tana.” Dante said, putting the emphasis on the last syllable of my name. He was adding pressure, not taking any off.

“Yeah, Dante.” I said, heavily pronouncing the te. “Seems we have a little unfinished business.” Small talk during a hand usually isn’t my game but there were just the two of us now.

“Well, I heard Shade moved in on ya. Didn’t think you’d be interested in little ol’ me anymore.”

“Who said I was ever interested in you, Dant?”

A couple of spectators hooted. I didn’t know if it was because of my comment or because of my pet name for Dante that caused the reaction.

I gave him my sweetest smile, one I saved for special moments. He’d seen it before.

“I hate to bring this up in front of everyone,” I said, “but I have a hot little piece of paper with your name on it that I want to trade out with you for some cool cash. It’s just a little too hot for me to handle and you’ve been hard to locate lately.”
A few of the guys watching the play unfold snickered under their breath.

“Ah, shucks. And I thought it was me that was too hot for you to handle. That’s why you had to step down to a less combustible sort of man in your life.”

Ego talker! Wisecracks from the gawkers agreed with my opinion of Dante.

“I call,” I said, sliding my chips towards the monster pot. Three thousand fifty dollars, minus the house rake. I could only hope my hand would hold up.

The dealer tipped over the river card. A ten of spades.

Dante hesitated slightly. I couldn’t tell if the pause was caused by our conversation or the cards. He tossed two hundred into the pot. I was convinced he had a set of sixes. Dante may play loose, but I couldn’t imagine him betting so much on a flush draw.

I hesitated ─ a planned hesitation. Would he think I was worried about my hand? His hand? Him? Or all of the above?

I tossed in my own two hundred. My pretty stack of chippies had dwindled down to three hundred and forty dollars. What did I care? I was playing with his money anyway.

What the hell! I pushed all three hundred and forty into the pot. The room hummed around us.

Dante called. A murmur spread over the poker folker like the wave at a football game. Pots this high were rare, even at Whitey’s.

A trickle of sweat dribbled down between my breasts, another down the small of my back. Dante finally had little beads of perspiration at his temples. It wasn’t the biggest pot either of us had ever played but we both felt the intense emotional pressure of this hand.

Eye contact ruled. The room was extremely quiet.

My phone rang.

Damn! I prayed it wasn’t Runt or Shade. Either of them would be a bucket of ice water on this hand. But I’m a gambler. I hit the speaker button without taking my gaze from Dante’s face.

“Hey,” I said.

“T.R., I’m outside,” Casey said.

“Right. Give me a minute.” I pushed the call end button.

Dante raised an eyebrow at me.

“Dante. What ya got?” the dealer asked.

Dante smiled at me. Just as I thought, he showed a set of sixes, a winner in any other hand.

I turned up my eights. Set-over-set and I had the higher set. Poker folker expelled their collective breath.

“Eights wins,” the dealer called.

Dante and I were stilled locked in an eye hold. He shook his head and gave me a sweet smile.

“Hate to win and run, Dant,” I said, raking in my chips. “But my ride’s waiting outside.”

Moss handed me three empty racks. As I reached into my bag for the hot check, Sammie started stacking my chips. “Don’t forget about this,” I said to Dante. “You still own me a thousand. Tonight you just bought yourself a little time. No hard feelings. See you around.”

I grabbed the racks and walked away.

“T.R.,” he called after me. I turned to look back at him. His fingers pushed through his thick, beautiful hair. “Good play. I won’t forget. No hard feeling here either ─ well, at least none about the poker loss.”

He gave me a coy little half-grin at the double entendre. “If Shade don’t mind, I’ll call you.”

I gave him my special smile again. “You do that.” After all, there really wasn’t anything between me and Shade.

I cashed out with Moss. He leaned in to me. “Way to go, T.R. About that dealin’ job I offered ya on the phone….”

I laughed and shook my head no.

“You certainly class up the joint.”

I laughed again at that one. Me? Class up a joint? It’d have to be a pretty low class joint to start with for me to add class to it!

“Then how about doing a little debt collection for me?” Moss smiled at me, then winked. “I’ll make it worth your while.”

“Moss! You’re married! If I’ve told you boys once, I’ve told you a million times. I don’t do married.”

“Damn, girl. I may be married but I’m not dead. Can’t blame a guy for tryin’.”

I laughed again and started to walk away. Talk in the poker room was returning to normal.

“Wait up, T.R.,” Dante called after me. “I’ll walk you out. Play a few hands without me, boys.”

Moss buzzed the lock and Dante and I walked out the door. No lights marked the card room entrance so except for Casey watching from the car, we had privacy provided by the early evening veil of darkness.

“What’s up with you and Shade?” Dante asked again.

“What’s up with you writing me a hot check?” I replied. “The way I hear it, you’ve got a couple of them around town. If you’re not careful, you’re going to write one to the wrong person and get your ass kicked.”

Dante smiled and leaned in for a quick mouth kiss but I turned my face away. “O-o-oh, T.R., you know I would have made it good eventually.”

“Yeah? Before or after you won the lottery?” I turned to walk away.

“Now, T.R.! Don’t be that way. A couple of big accounts went slow-pay on me and I jumped the gun on their checks’ arrival dates, that’s all. I’m gettin’ it straightened out.”

Dante grabbed my shirt sleeve and pulled me back. He took hold of my arms and placed them around his waist. I didn’t resist. I don’t even know if I could have resisted. His big calloused hands went to the back of my neck where his fingers laced together in my hair. He used his thumbs on my jaw bones to direct my face to his and tried to kiss me again. This time I let him connect.

The kiss was long, hard, and hurtful to the point of pleasure.

God knew what he was doing when he placed noses above the lips. A kiss is so much better when the kissee smelled as good as Dante smelled. As the kissor, I knew that for a fact.

Casey tooted the horn on the Mustang.


It took effort but I pulled away from Dante. “I got to go,” I said, but I was thinking about my chocha. It hadn’t caught fire. It hadn’t even glowed. It might have smoldered a bit though. I mean, the man can kiss! But he wasn’t Shade…or rather his kiss wasn’t what I thought ─ and what Casey had promised me ─ the Shade-kiss would be.

I turned away from Dante again and this time he let me go.

“What was that all about?” Casey asked accusingly when I got into the Mustang.

“What? That kiss? Nothing really.”

“Nothing, my you-know-what! What about Shade?” she asked.

“What about Shade?” I replied. “It’s not like Shade’s really kissed me in what…five or six years? And who are you to ask, Miss Two-Dates-in-One-Night-in-High-School?”

“OK, I concede that point. But Dante wrote you a hot check, a very big hot check.”

“Yeah, but he’s a very hot man. Not as hot as Shade, of course, but hot, nevertheless.” We were at a stop light and Casey looked towards me.

“At least I know how Dante feels about me,” I told her. “With Shade?” I shrugged my shoulders. “Who knows? And ca-rap, Shade can have any woman, any age he wants! Every woman in Texas wants Shade and probably lots of them in Louisiana, New Mexico, and Colorado too. Why would he pick me?” I reasoned. “And at least I don’t feel too old to date Dant,” I mumbled, thinking of his salt and pepper hair. “In fact, after that kiss I don’t feel old at all!”

“Jeezs, you single girls and your problems!” the old married lady said.

“Plus I got my money back. With interest. Dinner’s my treat.”

Yup, after that win and that kiss I definitely didn’t feel old anymore. That combustible chocha stuff was probably an urban myth anyway.

To be continued Friday.


  1. I'm pulling for Shade. You've already made me like him...I don't like Dante. I can be happy about her winning, but not her kissing. :)

  2. I gave you a thumbs up!

    Well, the plot thickens! Chocha? You putting that in the dictionary too! :)


  3. I still love the book! but when are you going to show more of the red womans house I found a pair of mirrors like she used on her kitchen counters, for 2 dollars, at that garage sale on the way home,I wanted some ever since i saw the ones she had!!!


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