The smoke filled the room like a London fog, so that the four men playing poker seemed part of it. The Young man, Tom Martin, looked out of place in the ominous setting. His face was white and his ruffled hair stuck to the beads of perspiration on his forehead. He was looking across the table at Big Joe who was shuffling cards. “I wish could handle them like he can, “he was thinking. “There’s no sign of tension or shaking in his pudgy fingers. Why do I shake so? He’s no better than I.
“This is the last hand as agreed,” Big Joe was sating. “Right, Tommy?”
Tom nodded and looked at the stack of ships in front of him. He had been lucky so far. He was ahead by Fifteen hundred dollars. But he knew that was not enough. He needed three thousand by the next day or else!
Tom picked up his cards one by one. He had heard that a smart poker player watches his opponents pick up their cards before looking at his.
He looked at Gene Esposito. Gene was always nervous. Surely one could never guess what was in his hand by observing him. He probably even twitched in his sleep. Then to hi right sat Charlie Ryan. Charlie was deeply engrossed in his cards and an ugly scowl creased his face. He undoubtedly had a lousy hand.
Big Joe had a perpetual smirk on his face. No doubt it was there when he was born and will be there long after he’s dead. He is always had a big black cigar in his mouth that he chewed mercilessly.
Big Joe was a gambler at heart and by trade. He was rich and his motto was “Never give a sucker an even break.” Tom both hated him and envied him as he watched him across the table. He had guts, money and power. If he could only be like him he could take care of his wife Helen, and his child. He wouldn’t have to worry about doctor’s bills and the three thousand he had taken from the bank where he worked. It had to be replaced by tomorrow or it would mean prison for him.
He looked at his cards.
He swallowed hard. There it was… a full house… three kings and two jacks. It was the best hand he ever had.
He looked up see Big Joe watching him. Smiling still.
“Open Tommy” He said.
“YYes for five hundred. Tom stammered.
From there everything went quickly and the room seemed to spin.
“One and One better.” He heard from far away.
“Raise you five. What do you say Tommy?”
And then before he knew it the pot had swelled to giant proportions and only he and Big Joe were left in the game.
“Two thousand to see you,” Big Joe was saying. “Watcha got?”
For the first time in a long time, Tom felt good. He laid the cards down quickly face up. He looked at Big Joe. Only something like four aces could beat him. Big Joe was lucky, but the odds were against him this time.
Big Joe put his cards down one by one. The first card was ace of diamonds. The second was the ace of clubs. Tom began to feel panicky. He wished Joe wouldn’t be so tormenting. He always did that. It gave him a sadistic pleasure whether he lost or won.
He laid down another card, still smiling; it was the two of spades. “That’s more like it!” Tom thought. “He’s just teasing me.”
Big Joe, all eyes on him, took a deep drag on his cigar forcing more smoke into the small room and laid down the ace of hearts.
Tom’s heart was like a trip hammer. Really scared now…
At that moment he made up his mind. If he lost this pot, he couldn’t take it any longer. If Joe laid down the ace of spades and beat him…
His life insurance company would be paying off in a few days. He would not go to prison. His wife and son, Tom would be a lot better off with the money than with a loser convict. He made up his mind, if he lost, that would be it.
Big Joe, ever smirking, ever chewing on his cigar, laid down the last card.