Player #4

     It just wasn't the same anymore, thought Billy Bouton as he bent back the glossy corners of his cards and peeked quickly at a jaunty jack of clubs and a tepid two of diamonds. There was less banter and laughs, more perspiration and strain.

    When it had all started those eight years ago, everybody played their cards the way they played their lives: loudly, boldly, happily. Now, their poker nights were heavier and slower, the smoky air laden with a whiff of desperaion.

    With the side of his mouth, he blew a stray strand of red hair from his eye and looked around the table. He fought a smile at the dramatic grimace he noticed to his left. Pocket kings for him, he figured. 

    And then there was her;  across from him. She was tough as nails and always had been. He remembered the night when she icily bluffed a full house even while Joe Junior was about to show his first hand.

    All these games later, he was still unable to read her. She was as unpredictable at the table as she was in the sack.

    Billy met the bet, tossing the chips in so casually that one rolled off the table.  Years ago, someone would have joked about going down for a dollar, but nobody said a word now as Billy carefully replaced the runaway chip.

    Hell, he thought, it was only money; there was lots more where that came from.  While the bookstore/cafe made less money than a one-legged tap-dancer, he always had that other revenue.

     "Come on, gang; can we loosen up a bit here?" he asked loudly. "My hand's the funniest thing around."

The End

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