Wednesday, July 15, 2009


The “Take Three” challenge, posted at Leslie’s Omnibus, works as follows:

I send you three sentences. You write 1,000 words in any format you choose - short story, essay, poetry, screenplay, news article. You must use all three sentences. The twist is that you can use them anywhere you want in the story, as long as all three sentences appear somewhere within your 1,000 words.

I’ll select four writers at a time, posting the challenge sentences on Friday, with the 1,000 words due the following Friday.

Leslie asked me to try my hand at this, and since a 1,000-word story is like a 100-word story (only bigger), I figured I’d give it a shot. The sentences set forth in the challenge are highlighted in boldface.

* * * * *

My heart was still jackhammering as I walked away from Final Table. It felt as though a jet of pure adrenaline would squirt right out of my ears if I unscrewed the Panama from my head. There was a brick of Benjamins the size of a cinderblock waiting for me at the cashier. Somehow, I had pulled it off.

I have no idea what impelled me to enter the tournament. No fucking clue whatsoever. I had been playing penny-ante games with my buddies for years, online Hold ’Em for a few months. But I had never spent any time in a bricks-and-mortar card room. Hell, I could’ve counted the total number of times I had ever been in a casino on my fingers... and a few toes.

When Irwin and Barney suggested a trip to Vegas, I wasn’t all that excited about it. But after a while, it started sounding better and better. Barney had a friend who was a fairly serious player. Not a whale, mind you, but serious enough to get a suite at the Bellagio. (Comped, of course. Who the fuck pays for a suite at the Bellagio?) Anyway, this guy had planned a trip out there but had to bail. Instead of canceling, he offered the room to Barney. Free is hard to turn down.

Friday afternoon, I met up with Irwin and Barney at the airport. Three clock-hours later we were sitting in this huge-ass suite, figuring out what to do next. What to do next, we decided, was to grab a quick bite and then check out the casino.

As I’ve already mentioned, I’m not exactly what you’d call a casino hound. But I love people-watching. There’s always at least one glaze-eyed biddy sitting at the slots or the Keno machines, robotically mashing the buttons, a thin stream of spittle leaking from the corner of her wrinkly puss... a mute testament to the power of variable ratio reinforcement. Keeps gamblers coming back, you know.

There was a ten-dollar blackjack table with a couple of open seats. I sat down and bought in with a few hundred. Blackjack’s OK. Pretty much everything else in a casino is for suckers, but with blackjack there’s an element of skill.

My first five hands were bullshit. I’d have thirteen or fourteen, the dealer showing a face card. Crap. Draw; bust; repeat. Twelve hands in, I was starting to get a little pissed off. I’d won maybe two out of the twelve, and my stack was melting like a stick of butter under Grandma’s armpit. (Don’t ask.)

Just about when I was ready to say “Fuck it,” and walk away, the cards started coming. Blackjack. Again. A five-six double down capped with a King, with the dealer busting. For the next two hours I rode a hot streak; when I sensed that my luck was beginning to turn, I colored out and stood up.

In a celebratory mood, I decided to take a walk on the Strip in the cool of the neon-lit night. Maybe I’d grab a Negroni at Caesar’s, just on the other side of Flamingo Road. Yeah. I could almost taste that cold, bittersweet goodness...

I had just turned north when I caught a flash of movement from the corner of my eye. A “charity mugger” swinging a clipboard like a weapon and a wearing a determined set to her jaw came barreling down the street in my direction. She planted herself right in front of me and launched right into her pitch, brandishing her lipstick-smeared front teeth.

“Japanese and Norwegians murder hundreds of whales every year! Whales are intelligent! As smart as we are...”

Sure they are, sweetheart. And they’re delicious. Ever try whale bacon? Tastes like pastrami.”

I was being deliberately cruel, but suddenly I could see a big, red “ASSHOLE!” light up in electric letters over my head. Shit, I thought. I’ve just won a pile of money and all I can do is act like a tool.

The girl had already reached the same conclusion and had turned to walk away. She was muttering under her breath; I was glad I couldn’t make out the words.

“Miss, please don’t go. I’m sorry I was being a jerk just then.” I peeled off five crisp Bennies from my roll and handed them over. “Here. Go save a few whales. Maybe buy yourself a nice dinner.” She looked like she could use it.

She smiled. As she turned to head west on Flamingo, she said, “Thanks, Mister. This’ll be a lucky trip for you.”

Next day, I wasn’t thinking about Whale Girl when I saw the sign advertising a Texas Hold ’Em tourney at the Mirage. Why not, I figured.

* * *

Poker in Real Life is way different from online. Your heart wants to jump out of your mouth half the time, especially when a couple of Kings show up on the board and you bluff that you’re holding the trips.

At first the blinds are small. People are checking each other out, testing the waters. Of course, that’s not action. Action is when the blinds start getting humongous... and the wild men come out of the woodwork.

One asshole kept pushing all-in with garbage pocket cards, winning by sheer luck. The guy was just a twitching loon who needed to be locked up before he hurt himself, much less anybody else. I simply bided my time, folding every hand until American Airlines showed up. Then I jumped on his sorry ass and sent him home.

It was then that I remembered Whale Girl. “Lucky trip,” she’d said.

That’s when I really started playing. Started taking a few big pots. Folded a few hands that I knew were traps. And when I got to Final Table, I knew I had everyone else by the shorties.

So here I am, recovering my wits after pulling off the biggest win of my life. “Save the whales,” I think to myself.

“Collect them all. Win valuable prizes.”

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