It had begun, late one night, at the back table of a local honky-tonk, by two fellows, killing time between drinks with a deck of cards and money on the table. Soon regulars regularly played out 5 card draw, for a $5 ante, with 5 hands per round minimum. And though “Poker night at the back table” was never made official, nor did it last long enough to rise to level of “tradition”, it was fun… while it lasted.
Pushing away from the table, ordering a rum & coke and settling in on a bar stool to spectate, the cards had been kind. After 3 rounds I’d given up my seat, $35 better than I’d sat down with. Serving with a smile and accompanied by a bemused, nodding glance towards the entrance from the bartender. Following her gaze, my eyes fell upon a young couple that had just entered the bar.
The fairer of the two passed for normal in a purple mini dress with a white faux fur coat. Her beau, on the other hand, had apparently watched Tombstone one too many times and taken Val Kilmer’s performance of Doc Holliday to heart. Black suit & hat, red vest, gold watch chain and with a thin mustache and soul patch.
With a forced heavy southern accent, he sent her to the bar to start a tab and “fetch” him a drink. Then sauntered to the back table, topping off his performance with an eye-rolling, “I’m your huckleberry” as he took the open chair and arrogantly dropped a wad of bills onto the table.
The girl brought him his drink. He shooed her away mumbling something about men’s work. He casually lit a cigarette, as the dealer stifled a smile and dealt him in. Returning to the bar she took up the stool on my left and watched with prideful anticipation.
“Doc” initially held true to his impersonation, winning several hands, accompanied by more quoted Holliday one-liners, through the first two rounds. However, in the third, his flamboyant demeanor and luck began to falter. Still, he pushed ahead through the next few, winning a little and losing more, as his cash cache began to dwindle.
The girl was taken aback when I advised that maybe she should get him out of there while the gettin’s good. She shot back with defiant arrogance that, “He knows what he’s doing!” Really now, well if he knows he’s losing then I guess he knows.
It was irrelevant, as a few hands later he was asking if she had any more money. She shook her head and he returned to the table. Attitude, arrogance and accent gone, in an “I’m the adult here voice” he stated that he needed his money back. His request was met with some degree of sympathy, an air of incredulity and outright refusal.
His tone rapidly shifted from demanding, “Give me my money back!” to desperate and whiny, “Please… that was my entire paycheck!” Finding negative looks of ill-intent denial from the table, he rushed over to the bar and demanded to speak to the owner, who emerged from the back room to hear “Mister Holliday’s” tale of misfortune and threats of being reported to the police because, “Gambling is illegal!” To which the owner shrugged and nodding towards the back table said, “What gambling?” The table was empty, the game had broken up… poker night was over and according to all regulars concerned had never happened.
At this stage all posturing was gone as the kid broke down into actual tears onto a faux fur shoulder. She led him to the door and amidst several curses and threatening swears, informed all present that we were thieves and should be ashamed of ourselves. I spoke for the whole in response, “Maybe don’t ever gamble more than you can afford to lose and never expect others to pay so you can play pretend.” This was met with solemn nods all round and silence from the couple.
As they exited, the barkeep began to inform them they had neglected to pay their tab. I waved her off knowing they’d already paid for a lesson painfully learned and didn’t have anything left to give. So on that — the bar’s last poker night — I broke even.
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