good story and good to hear from you again
| The Drunken Walrus was a squat red brick building crouched menacingly next to the abandoned railway station. Nothing on its windowless façade identified it as a drinking establishment, save for a broken neon shark and a sign on the front door reading “No Solicitors.” There was no visible indication that the establishment was either open or closed, but any potential visitors wandering by in these first hours after midnight would find the door firmly locked.
Closed as it might appear, however, there was activity within. In a dingy little backroom beyond the squalid little bar, the highest stakes poker game ever played in Drunken Walrus history was coming to a close. Seven men sat hunched around a severely water stained poker table exchanging wary glances. The pot currently residing in the center of the table was nearly enough to fund the training of a small militia for a covert regime change. The one man at the table who appeared capable of such an endeavor had been the first to fold, and it had taken nearly half an hour for all but two to follow his example. The fate of a rather sizable sum of money now rested on the shoulders of two men, The Owner and The Winner.
The Owner was known as The Owner because he was the owner of The Drunken Walrus, a grizzled old man officially named Theo. He didn’t look like a Theo. He looked like the kind of guy you didn’t call Theo unless you were sure he didn’t mind. He also looked like he was ready to strangle The Winner. He was sure that he had seen The Winner somewhere else before. His face looked familiar, his voice sounded familiar, and something about the way he carried himself kept nagging him. It was debatable which was annoying Theo more; The Winner’s constant winning, or his illusive memory of him.
The Winner was unknown to the other men at the table, but had been dubbed as such because he kept on winning. Earlier that evening he had stumbled into the crowded back room where the game was taking place. Poker games at the Walrus are usually private affairs, and rarely does a stranger enter the mix. But even the most cautious gamblers become bored of the same faces peering over their cards, so when the well-dressed stranger had casually requested an invitation to join in, they had begrudgingly shown him a chair.
Every man at the table now deeply regretted that decision. Every hand played from that point on had gone to the new player, and his identity had quickly changed from The Stranger to The Winner. They had all watched in vain for anything that could warrant renaming him The Cheater, but everything he did with the cards appeared to be legit.
The game was down to Theo and The Winner now, and every man at the table was silently rooting for Theo. They had reached the point were there is nothing left to bet but luck, and nothing left to do but show your cards.
Theo laid his hand on the table. It was a damned good hand. The Winner examined the cards and gave Theo the kind of gracious yet pandering smile that makes you want to throw a chair at it. Theo saw that smile, and knew instantly that The Winner had won.
The Winner tossed his winning hand on the table with a small flourish. Everyone else watched the cards as they settled on the table, but Theo’s eyes remained glued to The Winner’s hand. His face and voice may have been vaguely familiar, but it was that subtle toss that reminded Theo of the soul-crushing Vegas vacation his troll of a wife had dragged him on several years ago. He had seen a wrist snap like that before, and the mystery card player’s identity followed that memory into Theo’s eager grasp.
Theo’s hand came down like a lead weight on the pile of money before The Winner could scoop it up. The other card players watched silently as Theo glared into The Winner’s eyes and uttered a single, cryptic demand.
A wry little smile played across The Winner’s lips. He winked, adjusted his tie, then suddenly snapped his fingers and waved his arms in front of himself. There was a puff of white smoke, and when the air finally cleared, The Winner was nowhere to be found. All the surprised onlookers found on the chair in his place was a black top hat with a white rabbit peeking curiously over the rim.
Theo departed on an unannounced sabbatical to Nevada the next day, leaving an uncharacteristically closed Drunken Walrus, and an addition to the No Solicitors sign scrawled in black magic marker: “No Stage Magicians, Either.”
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