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Hole Lotta Shakin’
A Tony Mandolin Short Story
By Robert Beers
Sam Clemons came in late and was roundly harangued by Roosevelt for being a lazy good-for-nothing, and then he sat next to me, saying, “Mister Mandolin. So good to see you boy.”
Bain took the time to catch the eye of every player before dealing. Then he intoned, “This is five card stud. No fancy shifts, no hold-em nonsense and none of that idiotic baccarat add-ons the easterners are trying to mix in. You will be dealt five cards, check them over and then discard what you don’t like. The dealer will give you one chance at getting a better hand, but don’t blame me if all you get is junk.”
Michael-Hall excused herself from the table saying, “I believe I will just watch this time.”
I took my cards and kept them on the table, lifting the corners just enough to see what I’d been dealt. I saw a pair of threes and the rest junk. But in a game like this that could be a winning hand. I’d have to gauge the player’s faces for tells.
Clemmons picked up his cards, looked around the table and then, through a blown smoke ring said, “I’ll open with my ante plus two dollars.”
Everyone anteed and the Green said, “What’s that?”
A green dollar bill was sitting on top of the coins. I’d tossed in one of my silver dollars per Bain’s advice.
Clemons chuckled, “We all know the rules.”
Almost everyone, including the President, chanted, “If it don’t clink it’s a dink.”
Frankie asked across the table at me, “What’s a dink?”
Craig chuckled, “You really do not want to know.”
“Sorry,” Swift-Hook retrieved the bill and tossed in a coin, “I didn’t know.”
I noticed only silver sat in the middle of the table.
Bain then said, “Very well, the game can now begin. Look at your cards ladies and gentlemen and then tell the house how many chips you wish to buy. Unlike the gambling houses along the wharf, this house will not extend credit. You gamble with what you have, nothing more.”
By the time the buy-in was completed I counted over a couple hundred dollars in chips being distributed around the table. The values ranged from a quarter all the way up to two dollars. In 2017 money I was looking at thousands of dollars in enameled wood.
Bain said, “Mister Clemons has opened with two dollars. Mister Mandolin, you are next. You may match, or fold. What is your choice?”
Now I’d played my share of poker, in a variety of styles, but this type was new, and I kind of liked it. I had the feeling it was Bain’s own take on the game, and in acting as host, he kept the game moving as well as reducing the threat of a temper tantrum.
I tossed in a two dollar chip, more curious than anything else.
“Miss Swift-Hook?” She placed her cards onto the table. I thought she was folding, but she said, “I will add a dollar to Mister Clemons’ bet.”
Roosevelt chuckled, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a shark in our waters.”
Bain smiled and said, “Lord Harris that makes it three dollars for you to stay.”
Harris smiled and put his cards on the table. “Not even the esteemed Admiral Dewey could save this vessel.”
“So,” Bain murmured, “Mister Jackson. Match, raise, or fold?”
Frankie slid a two dollar and a one dollar chip across the table. “I’m in,” he rumbled. I recognized that tone. The big guy was already in fantasy land. I hoped he wasn’t thinking he was Cool Hand Luke or something like that.
That left Professor VanMeter who also folded, and Green who tossed in a pair of chips saying, “Not this time Clemons. Not this time.”
Both Craig and Roosevelt stayed in.
Ducky Smith eyed Swift-Hook from behind her cards, one predator sensing another in her hunting ground. Then she tossed in three dollar chips and put her hand down. “All right, let’s see who has a pair big enough to stay in.”
Roosevelt laughed so hard he nearly fell out of his chair.
Clemons smiled and blew a smoke ring.
Bain just said, deadpan, “Cards. Mister Clemons?”
Where it came around to me I took three and then watched and waited as the rest of the cards were dealt out. As far as tells were concerned, I saw several possibilities, but nothing definite. Roosevelt twitched his right eyebrow now and then, but it could be just that, a twitch. Craig chewed his lip and Smith’s nostrils flared. The other players had similar signs. Frankie had gone entirely flat, which meant he was either Luke or the Cincinnati Kid. Either way, I was getting nothing out of him.
Swift-Hook was another blank slate, but that could be the reporter more so than the person. A good reporter can step out of the way and simply record what is happening rather than injecting opinion. That is a breed so rare these days it’s almost extinct. Swift-Hook seemed to be one of those.
Bain then said, “Very well. Mister Clemons, the bet falls to you as you began this round.”
Clemons’ eyes twinkled as he tossed in a pair of two dollar chips. “There you go folks, let’s raise the rent.”
I lifted the corner of my cards and checked. Yes, the other twos were still there. I’d gotten lucky and drew four of a kind, but I also did not want to appear to be too confident either. I matched Clemons’ bet without a word. So did Swift-Hook.
We lost two more players before it got to Frankie, both Green and Craig dropped their cards onto the table. Roosevelt chuckled and stayed in, matching Clemons’ raise. Smith smiled big, showing teeth and said, “As I said, let’s see who has ‘em,’ and tossed in five two dollar chips.
“Woah!” Roosevelt exclaimed, “What’ve you got in that hand little lady?”
Clemons never changed expression, still chuckling, he matched the raise.
I figured that four of a kind, even if it was just twos would be hard to beat, so I matched, keeping silent.
Frankie tossed a handful of chips onto the table, “Double it,” he said.
“Oh God,” I thought, “He’s gone Cool Hand Luke on me.”
Michael-Hall purred, “Mister Bain, you do have good taste in men.”
Roosevelt tossed his cards to the table, saying, “I do believe it is a good time to withdraw from this conflict.”
That left Ducky Smith to stay, fold or raise.
She stared at Frankie, but she may as well have been trying to read the expression of a statue.
Bain murmured, “Madam, your decision please.”
Pursing her lips, she tossed in the cards muttering, “Too big, even for me.”
It was down to four. The three newbies as it turned out, and Mark Twain.
Roosevelt asked Bain, “What, did you bring us three ringers, Landau?”
Bain replied, “Not intentionally, I assure you.” Then he said, “Mister Clemons? Twenty dollars to stay in.”
Clemons glanced at each of us, obviously looking for a tell. After a few seconds, and just as Bain was opening his mouth, he shook his head and lay the cards down. “Not this round, it appears,” he sighed.
“Miss Swift-Hook,” Bain said, “That put this final round into your control. What is your decision, stay, raise or fold?”
She looked across the table at the big guy and said, “I do believe that, given the number of chips before him, Mister Jackson would simply double the bet again, and I do not have the wherewithal to match him. So I will call.” She pushed her remaining chips into the center of the table.
She was right about Frankie. In his present state of mind, he’d just keep saying double it until he was the only one left. I doubted he even had a single pair in that hand. I said, “Let’s make it an even fifty and see what we have, all right, big guy?”
Frankie looked down, his lips moving as he counted his remaining chips, and then he shrugged and pushed them all in. “Call,” he said.
Bain said to Swift-Hook, “Miss, I am afraid you do not have the amount needed to stay.”
She said to me, softly, “Damn you, Tony Mandolin.”
I replied, “Sorry.”
“Mister Mandolin, reveal your cards, please.”
I turned them over and everyone there, except for Bain reacted.
“Well, that explains it.”
“Would’ve beaten me.”
And a sigh from Swift-Hook with an added, “I would have lost, even more, I see.”
“Mister Jackson, your cards, please.”
Frankie smiled, and as I expected, turned over a pile of junk.
The reaction was even more explosive than at my winning hand, and it included applause.
Roosevelt stood and reached out to shake Frankie’s hand, saying enthusiastically, “That was one of the best poker performances I’ve seen in a long time. Bully, my boy! Bully!”
Bain said, “Well then. How about we take a break for smokes and drinks?”
I looked at the chips and asked, “How do these get cashed in?”
Roosevelt said, “Martins takes care of that. And don’t worry, the man’s a straight arrow all the way.”
I then said, “Thanks. Make sure he gives the money to Miss Swift-Hook.”
She gasped, “What? I can’t take that! I’m not for sale, Mister Mandolin.”
“I know,” I said, “But I also know that you’re not rich. I don’t need that money, not now and you do. Bain,” I asked, “What happens if I refuse to take the pot?”
He shrugged, “It is redistributed to the original bettors per their bets. Standard procedure, minus a small fee for the house’s trouble.”
Then I said, turning away, “if she won’t take it, then do that.”
I heard an exasperated, “Mandolin!” as I went out into the open bar.
Craig and VanMeter were deep into a conversation as I approached. Craig said, “…but I’ve been known to race a few dust-buggies across the empty wastelands of science in my day. However, I find Tesla’s insistence that this new form of power he’s discovered can do as much as he claims. And it certainly does not give credence to Herbert’s fiction. It would take a power plant the size of a city, not a chair to accomplish that feat.”
VanMeter drank some of his beer and then said, “Electromagnetic discharge is a release of light. Light can expand the fluid of Time-space. The faster time-space moves over matter, the faster that matter experiences time, relative to that which has the fluid of time-space moving over it more slowly. This, of course, would only facilitate faster travel through time while everything slower was seemingly nearly frozen in time. In my opinion, there is never the ability to travel backward in time. It’s a one-way street. The physicists who say it is possible are merely looking at a two-dimensional view of space. Time-space is not merely a flat plane, and it cannot be wrapped back onto itself, nor can it flow in reverse.
“You gentlemen must be interested in Mister Wells’ writings,” I said.
“It makes for some very active discussions,” Craig replied, “That is for sure. You, Mister Mandolin are a very good poker player, but not as good as your large friend. If the pot had not been limited, you would have lost.”
I nodded, “Probably. Excuse me, gentlemen…” I wandered over to where Bain was standing and talking quietly with Clemons and Roosevelt.
I said, “Do you mind if Frankie and I call it a night? We’ve had a rather busy day…”
Roosevelt waved his cigar, “No, not at all. Very glad to have met you, my boy. Don’t be a stranger.”
Frankie came over, his eyes just a bit wild, “Mister President, again, sir it is a real honor—“
Roosevelt cut him off, saying, “Mister Jackson, it is I who should be honored. Would you object if I had our photographer take a photo of the two of us for history’s sake?”
Frankie’s mouth worked, and then he managed to get out, “I-I-I don’t know what to say! I mean…”
“I believe that is a yes, Mister President,” I translated.
Frankie was over the moon as we rode the elevator back down to the 5th floor. “I can’t believe it,” he said, for about the seventh time, “I simply cannot believe it.”
I said, “You do know you won’t be able to tell anyone about this,” I reminded him.
“Oh I am going to tell someone,” He stated.
“Frankie…” I began.
“Greystoke,” he said, “I’ll tell Greystoke, and I know he won’t blab.”
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Artwork for this video was provided by Robert Lee Beers.