P E R S P EC T IV E S
.NCE IN C49,74egTIMES
Continued from Page Five
fished in his pocket, laying his cards
down, and pulled out a grimy bill.
Red stared at him. So did John. Of all
the dumb tricks. For an instant Red
was scared he might have them, but
he had seen John glance over the
kid's shoulder as he came back in, ad
John was too surprised at the move.
"Red?" Charley asked, and handed the
bill across the table. "Sure," Red said
and passed him a small stack of chips.
"Your five, and five better," Charley
said in a strained easy tone. But his
face showed too much to let him get
away with it. There was more money
on the table than he earned in three
weeks washing dishes and mopping up
and peeling spuds from four in the
morning until eleven at night.
"Call," said Brit.
"Too much for me," Red said calm-
ly, and put his cards down. What the
hell did he care what they thought?
He watched Rag. Jesus, he wasn't go-
ing to - oh, that was better. But he
almost hadn't. You just couldn't tell
what a dumb one was liable to do.
Too bad about Charley too, but he was
paying for his education, that was
the way to figure it.
"I call too," Rag said after opening
up his cards, looking at the three queens,
closing the cards, then opening them
again to make sure.-
"Two pair," Charley said, showing
fives and nines.
"Jesus Christ," Brit said. "And you
raised on them. Three tens." He showed
them, and reached toward the pot.
"Ha, boy! Wait a minute, Brit. Three
queens!" Rag's voice was happy, loud
with relief. One by one he slapped the
queens on the table, and then grinning
like a kid he raked the pot in front
of him. "By God, best pot I've won
today. Watch out, boys, I'll have all
your money pretty soon."
Charley stood up, holding back tears
because he was a man among men now.
He swallowed the lump again and said,
"Well that cleans me, boys. Guess I'll
go help with supper." His voice was
cheerless, his attempt at a good los-
ing smile even more so.
"O. K., boy," they said, and without
a word of sympathy they went on with
the game. He stood looking as they
passed their cards to Rag, then as Rag
started his awkward shuffling Charley
turned and went out on deck. There
was a fog coming up fast now, and the
cold damp made him shiver, but he
stood at the rail looking out over the
water, not crying, no more than tears
standing in his eyes, his nose running
a little. All that money. None to send
home again. Home. They'd just be set-
ting down to supper now, and the dark
would be coming down. And, oh gee.
No friends, none of them gave a whoop
here. If he was home, gee. Swallowing
hard, he turned. away from the rail
and walked around to the galley.
"Poor kid," Brit said as he gathered
"The hell," John said toughly. "If
he don't know no better he's got it
coming to him." He waited for his last
card before picking up his hand.
RED DIDN'T SAY anything. He
was for blood this hand. Over
him there had settled that cold,
killer feeling. He was keyed up
but calm. A sharp, impersonal hate for
every man at the table was in him, and
his nerves, his mind, his eyes, his ears,
all tingled with concentration. Every
one of them had something right now,
he knew. There was silence. A feeling.
of hidden battle in the air. But Red
knew he would win this hand. He
wasn't kidding himself, but he knew
his luck was with him, he had felt
this way before, and never got fooled.
It would be the last game, because when
he got through they'd all be cleaned.
He spread the cards, one by one, and
almost yelled, or made some break. He
looked again hard at each card to make
sure one of them wasn't a diamond. No,
by Christ he had a royal flush in hearts,
dealt cold without a draw! The first
time in twenty years of poker. He had
to fight the impulse to lay them down
without going on with the hand. God
Brit had three sevens and a couple
of fives, and for the first time in the
game he was interested and wanting
to win. While he had been sitting there
he had got to thinking about that
little brunette up at the union office
in Toledo. One good pot and he'd have
enough to show her a good time.
"Say five, boys," he said.
"And five," Red added, putting ten
chips out. Brit thought fast. Maybe
Red had a full house too. Only thing
to do was shoot the works, take a chance
on getting four sevens. Well, what woul
John wanted to laugh at them. He
knew they were beat. Here were three
aces, club, spade, diamond. Nobody else
had the fourth. He would draw for it,
but even if he didn't get it, three aces
would beat in this game. Odds were
too big against four of a kind in straight
five-card draw. The dumb turds, they'd
see. He'd have their money pretty soon.
"I say five more," John said, look-
ing around calmly, holding back the
edge of triumph in his voice.
"Jesus Christ," Rag said. His hand
didn't look too good, but it could be.
A possible straight, or even a straight
flush if he was plenty lucky. "Well,
I got plenty of dough, I'll stick," he
added after thinking a minute. He
could save the eight, nine, and ten of
diamonds, and maybe - well, he'd take
a chance. But if he didn't get them, or
if somebody bumped again before the
draw, he was out.
"I'll stay," Brit said, and slowly pulled
the two fives out of his hand. Should he,
or shouldn't he? Ah, take a chance. Go
for the other seven.
"o. K.," Red said, and tossed five
chips in. Don't scare them out. Suck
them in easy, easy.
"Two?" Rag asked Brit, looking at
the backs of the two cards raised above
the other three.
"Yeah, I guess so," and Brit tossed
the pair down, still undecided. He look-
ed at the top card Rag dealt him. Son
of a bitch, a king of clubs. No chance
now. He looked at the other card. A
seven. Man alive, that brunette was his
right now. Four of a kind. They couldn't
"How many, Red?" Rag asked.
"I'll keep these," Red said easily.
"Who the hell you trying to bluff,
Carnahan?" John couldn't help saying
it, even if he scared Red out of the
game and lost money. The Irish bas-
tard thought he was so smart.
"Oh, let's wait and see, eh, John?"
Red said, his eyes looking into John's
until the wop looked back at his cards
I'll take two," he growled without look-
ing up. God damn that Red, he asked
for it. Some night maybe a knife,
maybe a push over when he got too
close to the rail and nobody was around.
No, not the other ace, but two nines.
Hell, a full house, three aces. Plenty.
"I'm taking two myself, boys," Rag
said, and carefully tossed two cards
into the discard heap where Charley
had sat, and counted out two cards for
himself. The only reason his face didn't
give him away was that he was so
stunned no part of him could move.
A straight flush in diamonds, queen
high. He was a rich man. The kid
could have skates and a bike 'too. She
could have three new dresses, and she
would put her arms around his neck,
and oh boy he was lucky. If he hadn't
won that last stand he'd never have
dealt himself this one.
They sat there quietly for a minute,
every man sure he had the pot. Then
the betting began, not big bets, but
every man bumping until all the chips
were out, and bills started to appear on
Red was surprised. He had known they
had good hands, but not this good. Es-
pecially he was surprised at Rag. Rag
must have a hell of a good hand, be-
cause ordinarily he lacked the guts to
keep on like this for very long. Red
was glad he knew what he knew, and
glad they had cards too so that the
pot would be fatter than it would have
been if one of them had dropped out,
He noticed that John was weakening.
It was Rag sticking that was doing that.
John glowered at his three aces. Could
that son of a bitch Rag beat them?
Could he beat a full-house? God damn
dumb Rag, he wouldn't stay in like
this unless he had a mitt full.' But
Christ, he was in too heavy himself
now to drop. Oh, why the hell did he
ever play with a dumb guy like that?
You couldn't tell anything about a guy
who didn't know the first thing about
the game. He might be crazy enough to
bluff, or he might not realize that
his cards weren't good, or - Jesus
Christ! Now it wasn't Carnahan he
wanted to knife, it was this dumb Rag
who stuck right in, and raised him
every time he raised Carnahan. Or
raised him even if he didn't raise Carn-
ahan. Well, God damn it, he was
through. Most of his pay gone right
now, but he'd save what was left. And
Rag better have 'em.
Red looked at him, smiling. "Staying,
John?" he mocked, his tone reminding
John about what he had said before.
"No, you son of a bitch, I'm out," he
snarled, and- threw his cards down.
Now again he hated Carnahan, and
would have killed him there at the
table, only Canahan was bigger, could
lick him in a fight. But later. Maybe
out .on the lake tonight. He lit a ciga-
rette and let his chin sink to his chest,
seeing on the edge of the table the red
hair floating in the black water, the
last struggles for life. He smiled a lit-
tle. Then again he didn't smile.
Brit knew that he had only a buck
left. If Red raised him, or if Red didn't
but Rag did, he was through. It hurt
him plenty. He was damn sure he
could take this hand, but it was his
own fault for never bringing more than
half his pay to a game. But God this
hand had run up so far above what
any other he had seen on board here had
that he couldn't blame himself. But he
couldn't win either now, for Red had
just raised him. Rag raised Red, and
Brit dropped out. "God damn it," he
breathed reluctantly, and thought one
last time about the little brunette. Well,
maybe she'd come across for the sake
of the party line. Yeah, and maybe not.
S IT WAS RIM and Rag now,
Red thought. Him, Tom Carna-
han, with a royal flush, Rag
couldn't beat it no matter what
they laid their cards down. But Rag
have a real hand because a coward in
poker only bets like this when he has
them. Scared money never wins. No
rent, no wife, no kid for Tom. If he
lost he took it. If he won he deserved
it. This was his royal flush, this was
his time to know he couldn't lose.
Rag raised him and he raised Rag.
He could feel sorry for him, but he
could feel in the sound of Rag's voice
that Rag felt sorry for him. That voice
was going to sound different when
they laid down their cards. But Rag
was excited. He looked down at his own
hands. The palms were damp, only he
could see it, but he was ashamed. He
didn't get excited, that was for dubs,
"Your five and five better."
But all this money, it wasn't from
Rag. It was a kid's, it was a homely
little wife's. No put that away. Poker
is poker. There aren't wives and kids
behind the chairs. Battle, and the hell
with it. Rag was like a kid, too greedy,
grabbing at something with big eyes,
and clawing, stretched fingers. And
Red held it beyond his reach.
Better to have been John or Brit.
The kid would eat light this month.
The wife and Ragsdale would go down
to the bank maybe. If they could. No
fun to take it this way. Bad business to
know the guys you played with. Get it
over with fast.
"Well, I'll call you, Rag." At least
never again with some guy he felt sorry
for. Being mushy cost money, and it
made you feel funny about so many
Ragsdale's face became one wide, big
boy grin. "Guess you better, Red," he
chortled. "By Jesus, I been busting to
show this hand. All I could do to keep
from laying it down the minute I got
it." He spread his straight flush out on
the table. "There you are, Red. Bet
you can't beat that." The strain gone, he
beganto laugh very loudly, the con-
trast between his laugh and the gloomy
silence of the other three a bizarre
one, almost weird.
Red didn't lay down his hand until
Rag stopped laughing. He fought the
idea that came to him, fought so hard
that sweat showed at the corners of
his forehead. It would be so easy to
just give the thing to the-dumb son of a
bitch, just lay the cards face down,
and not take the guy's money away
from the ones who ought to have it.
And he would feel good if he did.He
would feel holy and clean, like way
back when some other kid did a bad
thing, and he knew he was better than
Rag's laugh got nervous and stopped.
Red laid his hand on the table, and
spread the cards out, the ace on top.
Red didn't say a word. He didn't smile.
And Rag sucked in his breath so hard
that you could hear it easy. He stared
at the royal flush, he moved his arm as
if to pick up the cards and feel them,
There was no thought in Rag's head.
Only "no, no, no," running in rhythm
with the suddenly hard pulsing throb
of his blood. Her, kid, didn't even
exist. It was to win he had wanted,
not for anything, just to win, not
lose. He reached to gather up his cards
and let his arm lie on the table. It
felt heavy, he couldn't make the fingers
close over his straight flush there. The
dry lips he wet to say something,
but he couldn't wet the tight, dry throat.
He had made a shoving motion with
the back of the hand that lay there on
the table. It was all Red's he wanted to
say. But even in shoving air with his
hand he couldn't help clutching air
with it as if to grab that pile of chips
and bills. Just to get out of here was
all he wanted. Any place but here. He
could scarcely breathe, and he could-
n't make himself talk. He stood like
an old man, shoving hard on the arm
of his chair, dragging his own arm across
the table until it flapped loosely down
against his side as he stood. A last time
he looketd at the cards Red had laid
down before him. He nodded his head
vaguely and went out of the room.
"Christ," Brit whispered as the door
banged after the beaten.
Red made no move to pull in the
pot. He hadn't watched Rag leave,
but he watched that right hand as
long as it lay on the table. He stared
at the place where it had lain, and
there was still a small moist smudge
there. As he watched, the -smudge be
gan to contract, slowly 'at first, then
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