The Ghost Fish

They swore the game would be great. No rake, a nice food spread, and two big screen televisions with scary movies playing all night. It would be a Halloween theme and the players would be drinking and having fun. I was going to play at Running Aces and was looking forward to seeing the costumes on my favorite cocktail waitresses, but when a no-rake home game pops up with free food and drinks and soft players, I can’t turn it down.

I showed up right at 7 pm to make sure I got a good seat, and I wasn’t the first. There was a zombie on the porch. I didn’t expect to see a player who had gone so far with his costume. I figured I would see a football jersey or two, maybe a skull shaped card protector, but not a serious costume. Good for him though.

“Here for the game?” I asked as I walked up to the porch.

“Braaaaaaaiiins.” he said, and then took a big drag from his cigarette.

“You’re in the wrong place bud.” I said, “Poker players aren’t known for their brains.”

“Braaaaaaaaaiiiiins!” he said, louder this time.

Okay, good for him for not breaking character. Maybe he would say nothing but “braaaaiiins” all night. That would actually be funny. I knocked on the door and the woman of the house welcomed me with a hug. We shared small talk while she got the table ready. She also dealt the game and basically ran the whole process. Her husband played in the game and usually lost, but they both had very good jobs and the few hundred that he lost once a month didn’t mean anything to them. They just ran the game because they enjoyed it, which made it the best kind of home game. Profitable for me, and fun to play.

I recognized a few of the players, but there were a few that were new to me. This usually meant they would be soft spots. I figured I knew most of the good players in the city, and none of them were in this game. Across from me, in the seat next to the dealer, was a middle aged man in a purple Randy Moss jersey. The zombie was to his left, the dealer to his right. The regulars were in a row on my left, and the host was on his wife’s right in the ten seat.

On the third hand I was dealt a pair of kings. Purple jersey was under the gun, and he raised to $8. The players between us folded and I reraised to $22. Everyone else folded, and Purple jersey reraised to $44. I reraised to $90, hoping to trap him in the pot. He thought for a few minutes, and looked right at me with purpose in his eyes. The rest of the players were talking about what to put on the TV and they didn’t seem to be paying attention to what was shaping up to be the first big pot of the game.

My opponent slowly lifted the front of his cards, clearly trying to show me his cards without showing the rest of the table. Why would he be doing that? As he lifted the front edge of the cards, I was shocked to see two black aces. He was letting me off easy! I’ve seen it before, a player who just doesn’t want his aces cracked, but this guy hadn’t spoken a word to me, and he was saving me three hundred dollars. After he slowly let the front of the cards back down onto the table, he pushed all of his chips forward. I tried to keep a stone face as I slid my cards into the middle.

The dealer/hostess was involved in the discussion about what horror movie we should watch first, and she casually pushed the pot to her left and purple jersey guy stacked up my chips. His eyes never left mine, and he was quiet in an unsettling way. The whole experience was odd.

“Deal me out a round.” I said, as I got up to use the bathroom. This was going to be a good game if these guys were going to show me their hands, and I was looking forward to it.

When I got back, the seat to the dealer’s left was empty. There were no chips in his spot, and I didn’t see purple jersey guy anywhere.

“What happened to the one seat?” I asked.

“What one seat?” replied the hostess, glancing to her left.

“The guy in the Moss jersey,” I said, “The guy who won that pot from me.”

“There hasn’t been anyone in the one seat yet Fox.” she replied.

I was confused. When I gave a quick description of the guy in the purple jersey, a wave of recognition rolled across the face of our hostess.

“Fox,” she said, turning white, “You just described Jim Sanders. He used to play in our game all the time, but he went broke ten years ago. On Halloween night.”

One of the older players, who I knew had been playing in home games around the cities for a long time, chimed in as well.

“I remember that. He swore he would be back, but we never saw him again.” he said, “I’ve never seen him anywhere since. I heard he got married and his wife wouldn’t let him play any more.”

Another player from the other end of the table remembered Jim Sanders too.

“I remember him,” he said, “He was a mean son of a bitch. He would swear that he had aces every time, just trying to get you to fold. I saw him show a guy a pair of fours once, just from the front edge, made em look just like aces.”



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