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It was early for serious players to get down to Caesars casino in Atlantic City. The geezers who burned off their Social Security checks were hitting the bathrooms before boarding buses back to their gated communities.

Daytime-night time was the same time, since my wife walked out on me for a clarinet player in Newark. I’d had it with women. Swore off women, and it wasn’t even Lent.

As I sat down at the blackjack table, I nodded to Chen, my favorite dealer. A waitress brought me a Johnny and water while Chen dealt my first hand. Show time! Three other guys at the table hunched over their cards impersonating department store dress dummies.

That’s how it went for the next hour. Last hand, I thought, then a break for lunch. Alone, of course. I was eating oatmeal at the banquet of life.

Twelve in my hand and the dealer showing 15. I tapped the table for Chen to give me a card. A trey came up and the dealer pulled a deuce. “Hit me again,” I said, as a tall blonde helicoptered by my shoulder.

Go for it,” she whispered, her voice oozing corn syrup.

Say something?” I asked. The devil was knocking at my front door.

Go for a card.”

I ignored her and nodded to Chen. I didn’t need a shill telling me how to play blackjack.

Chen dealt me a deuce, and had to stay with his 17 showing. Even up at 17.

Once more,” I said, eyeing the four hundred in the pot.

Things hit a speed bump when a rube sat down, tossing a handful of black fifty-dollar chips on the table. We all stared. Blue Jeans and T-shirt, grease under his fingernails. Where does a yokel from the Jersey Pine Barrens get that kind of money?

How much in the pot, Mr. Chinaman?” he shouted.

Soon as this hand’s played, Sir,” Chen said, swiveling his eyes over to me. “Card, Sir?”

Hit me.”

Hey, I want to be in this hand, goddammit!” He threw down chips to match the pot. The three statues at our table looked up without changing expressions.

In a moment, Sir,” Chen said.

Go for another card,” the cupcake whispered. “You’re going to be lucky.”

I hated kibitzers most — next to women. She was both. Her breasts were like two supermarket chickens reincarnated into flying eagles, threatening to escape her skimpy red top. This devil in a red dress was ready to separate me from my sanity, like my ex-wife.

You telling me how to play cards?”

I’m helping.” Her smile could’ve been a spotlight at a Hollywood premiere. “I’m a student of poker.”

Blackjack,” I corrected. “My card?” I reminded Chen.

I said I want into this game,” Piney shouted. “Deal me one hand.”

Stick it in your ear,” the babe said.

Mind your manners,” I offered politely to both of them.

Chen was ready to give me my card when the piney’s hand went down on mine. “Just a damn minute! I got two thousand bucks. You sayin’ I’m not good enough to play?”

Call the pit, boss,” I told Chen.

Well, what if you dealt him one hand?” the blonde asked. “See what comes up? C’mon, Mr. High Roller.” She winked at me, and I saw a sorority girl look, creep out from behind the makeup.

The other players dazed expectantly. Chen raised his eyebrows. This was irregular, improper, and probably uncorporate. The pit boss in the suit sidled up behind Chen.

Screw it,” I said. “Deal the kamikaze pilot in.”

Chen shrugged and dealt the piney, a court card up and one hidden. The piney demanded another, then another.

Hot diggity damn!” he shouted. “It’s my night to howl!”

Your card,” Chen said, sliding a card out of the shoe for me.

I turned up the corner. “Go for broke and raise me, Cowboy?” I asked. “The dealer has to stay at 17 and the rest of the table’s busted. Want to beat my hand to win the pot?”

You’re busted too,” the country boy whispered, but he flinched.

I came to AC twice a month since I was dumped on. It’s my playground. I wanted to take this pot, then see what game Miss America was playing.

Pay to play,” she said. “He’ll raise you.” Little pectoral muscles made the chickens dance in her tank top.

You city boys are so smart.” His voice had the gargle of someone who’d swallowed a pint of Jack Daniels. “You come down from Philadelphia and New York with your fancy ways, walking all over us locals. Take our jobs, our women. Turn our farms into condominiums. I am sick of you white-assed, lily-livered, sewer-swimming. subway-riding city folk.”

I shrugged elaborately. “That’s the game, Cowboy.”

With the superb wit of a rural, he took a fifty dollar chip from his stack, and Frisbeed it at my head. It struck me a second, before the pit boss tackled him off the chair.

Oh, Mister, are you all right?” Miss America gasped, holding my temples in her cool hands. “Oh, my golly, I’ve never seen…. I think we should get you to a room with a cold cloth for your eye. Can I call a doctor?”

Chen came around to put a hand on my shoulder. When he saw that I wasn’t mortally wounded, he insisted on comping me dinner, and a room for the night. “And, perhaps, we can finish this hand, Sir.”

Yeah, finish the hand.” I turned over the cards. “Twenty-one.” The pot was pushed across the table to me, I put the chips in a bucket, and made a decision to go for broke. I touched the blonde on her elbow. “Dinner?”

Well, yes, if I can interview you for my college thesis on gaming. This has all been so dramatic.”

Wait till you see a couple of supermarket chickens fly.”

 Bio:  Walt bounces between writing genres, from mystery to humor, speculative fiction to romance with a little historical non-fiction thrown in for good measure.  His work has appeared in print and online in over three dozen publications, including Short-Story.Me.    He's also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts, and from homes in eight states and to a couple of Asian countries.  He now lives in New Jersey, a nice place to visit, but he doesn't want to die there.

   By the way, I'm a guy who's lucky at love and lousy at cards — something my wife never stops mentioning.


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