I think I’ve mentioned before that I have a repeating theme in my idea journal of some kind of story happening after an apocalypse. Once upon a time, when the idea first came to me, it was a group of 4-10 people alone in the wilderness. Since then I’ve played around with it a bit more, but I always come back to the same central people. This is not a full WIP because a) I don’t actually know the point of the story and b) I haven’t outlined anything. It’s just loose scenes that sometimes seems connected.

Anyway, here’s one such scene. The idea came from a conversation with my son, who has been playing poker since he was about ten. If the world as we know it was over, would things like gambling and poker still survive? We had our guesses.

Anyway, here’s a scene that may never get used for a story that doesn’t exist yet. Enjoy it … but don’t steal.

He came out of the pantry area holding 4 eggs. “What do we have for meat?” he asked. 

I shook my head. “No meat.” I hated having to admit that. We should’ve done something about it days ago. I’d been trying to. But the hunting just wasn’t working. It was getting colder, the animals were going in hibernation or moving south. Either way, no meat. 

He looked toward the chicken coop, likely counting. I gave him a minute to reach the same conclusion I’d already reached: we cannot afford to slaughter one of them, not right now. “We should try and get some,” he said.

I ground my teeth against each other, holding back the anger that threatened to surge out of me. “Don’t you think I’ve been trying to do that when I take my bow and arrow out in the morning?” I asked. 

He froze in the act of cracking eggs and turned to look at me. His eyes narrowed like he was studying my face to draw it detail-by-detail. “I figured. I didn’t mean it like that. I meant we should head into town and see if we can score some.”

I unclenched my jaw. “Oh.” We didn’t have anything valuable enough to trade for a large enough cut of beef for the group. He knew that. We did have things that could add up to something if you found a way to gamble them into larger sums. “You mean poker?” 

He smiled. “Worth a shot.”

After breakfast I grabbed the boy and we headed into town. We had a small grocery list folded into my pocket and a small basket of things that we could trade: 6 fresh chicken eggs, 4 large zucchini, and a pair of gloves weaved double thick. It had to be enough. “You know the plan?” I asked the kid. 

He nodded. Then, when I trapped him with the “I mean business” glare, he groaned and stated the plan anyway. “If it’s Texas Hold ‘Em, I’m up. If it’s Omaha, you’re playing. Keep it simple for a few hands, learn the players. Don’t go big unless you know you can win or bluff it out because there’s no backup. We get one shot.”

Lots of people around here can play Hold ‘Em, it’s the most common game in the town. So I’m aware that probably means the kid is playing. I’m not a bad player myself, but no one ever expects the kid to be any good. That’s our secret weapon. They assume he can’t play so they treat him with kid gloves. By the time they realize he can handle himself, he’s already swindled them for most of their money. He’s a conservative better, but he’s a constant better. You can be sure he’s been suckering you for a little at a time while you’ve been sitting back trying to figure out if this kid can play or not. 

I step into the hall first and head directly to the table. There’s a big sign today that gives me the current price list. 

Vegetables: 5 chips per pound

Eggs: 8 chips per dozen

Meat: 25 chips per pound

“We’ll need at least 100 chips,” I whisper to the kid. He nods once and ducks into the crowd. He’ll go scout the tables while I trade in what we have. 

Two people are in front of me. The first lady, older than me, gets 10 chips for a bag of carrots and walks off. I notice the cashier didn’t weigh her produce. That’s good for me. When they go with their gut, I typically get a little more. I should get 5 chips per zucchini without a problem today. 

The second guy is cashing in. He hands the cashier a stack of chips. The cashier counts only five of them. Then he uses that five to make a stack of ten by evenly matching them. Next, he makes four more stacks equal to that. “Fifty chips,” he calls. 

A man steps out from behind him with a crate of meat. My mouth practically waters at the sight. It’s a big crate and it’s full. That’s another good sign for me. Usually they’ll ask what you want first if they’re running low. The fact that he has this crate right here means he likely has duplicates of all those cuts in the back. The guy makes his selection and then it’s my turn. 

I smile. “How much for gloves? They’re winter and double thick,” I tell him. 

He takes the gloves from me and checks the seams. He pulls on the fingers, making sure they don’t come loose. “Twenty,” he says. 

I drop the rest of the basket on the counter. “Make it fifty for the whole lot and you’ve got a deal,” I tell him. He looks in the basket, moving his head around to see what I may be hiding. He tucks his index finger under the top zucchini and moves it up just a hair to see what is underneath. He sniffs the box, likely checking for the tangy smell of overripe produce. Then he nods. “Deal.”

He pushes the fifty chips he just counted for the guy in front of me my way. “Good luck out there,” he says. 

When I find the kid, I hold the chips out to him. “You have to double it,” I tell him. He pushes his hand back at me, shakes his head. “What are you doing?” I ask, frustrated. 

He points. “Omaha,” he says. 

He’s right. The only table with an open seat has a dealer handing out four cards per player. It’s gonna have to be me. “Shit,” I whisper. I wasn’t feeling it this morning, honestly. But I don’t have a choice. Not really. I reach for the hem of my shirt and tug on it. I’m not too proud to use whatever assets I’m given and this shirt shows cleavage if I pull it low enough. I drop into the chair. “Can I play?” I ask. 

“Next hand,” the dealer tells me. So I get to sit back and watch for a hand, which is really the way I like things anyway. 

There’s four other players at this table. I watch one hand, the guy to the left of the dealer wins with two pairs. Then we’re playing. I check through the next hand, more interested in watching the players than paying attention to the cards. I pull a straight, but it’s a low straight and there’s a pair on the board. That could mean someone at this table has a full house, especially in Omaha. Guy to the right of the dealer bets the minimum. Call from the player on my right. I raise, doubling the bet. Everyone calls. 

Turns out the guy to my right did have the full house. I don’t mind losing because this tells me something important. This guy either doesn’t know how to play, because he didn’t know the strength of that hand, or he’s too shy a player to bet. I hate players like that because they’ll always wait for you to make the move. It means you never know what they’re sitting on. 

The guy who bet also teaches me something interesting when he shows his cards. He was sitting on a pocket pair, meaning he really had two pairs. He either doesn’t know how to play either or he’s used to Hold ‘Em. Still remains to be seen. 

Dealer throws more cards my way and I have a pair of Queens among my four cards. I decide to play it simple and just call, for now. Nothing comes up to help me, but I throw in the minimum anyway. Two guys fold until it’s just me and the guy I suspect normally plays Hold ‘Em. Next card pairs one of the ones on the board. Now this means I technically have two pairs, one of them Queens. I need to know if he has three of a kind. I decide to bet big, draw him out. I push in enough chips to be half the pot. He folds. I don’t want to count my money, not right now. But I expect I’m sitting pretty close to what I started with. I need more and I’ll need bigger pots. 

I fold the next one because it didn’t feel right and just watch it play out. No one bets the entire round. They just all check it out. Turns out the player who I think is too shy to bet had three of a kind. Who sits back and checks through three of a kind? This guy is gonna drive me crazy. 

I’m thinking I’ll sit out the next hand. Maybe I’ll even get up and see if the kid can find a table playing his game. I’m just not feeling it. But the cards are dealt before I can make my decision and I’ve got two clubs and two hearts. I’d be a fool not to wait around and see if I can pull a flush. Everyone checks the first set of cards, including me, because it’s a load of junk. The flop gives me a pair, but it’s a low pair. I bet anyway. One player calls me, the guy who won that first hand I watched. I expect he’s going to be my best competition. 

River card puts a possible flush on the board and not in my suit. I check. So does everyone else at the table. 

Guess what ass had the flush? Never bet guy. Yeah, I’m going to need to leave the table. I actually put my hands on the table to push back and feel the kids’ foot behind my chair. He’s keeping me here. That means there are no other tables. I’m not out yet, just down. I can do this. 

After three more hands of low pots, only one of which goes to me, I’m starting to hurt in the chip department. I figure I’ll play one more, win or lose, and then I’m walking away. I’m hoping I have at least enough to score a pound of beef and we can go. 

I pair two of my mis-matched cards right away. Now we’re talking. I notice two of the cards, however, are suited. In Omaha you can bet on one thing, if there’s a flush draw someone is waiting on it to finish out. I take a look at my chip stack, mentally checking against what I would need to score a single pound. I throw in everything beyond that, which doubles what is already in the pot. Two people call me. Hold ‘Em guy is out. 

The next card is another heart. Someone has the flush, I’m sure of it. Right away Mr Win a bunch of hands throws in double the minimum. So he probably has the flush. I get ready to throw my cards in. Mr never bet calls. 

I fully intend to throw my cards in. Honestly, I do. I have my hand on the bottom corner, ready to throw them like a frisbee at the dealer. But then my left hand grabs the chips, which is most of what I have left, and tosses them instead. It’s like my hand decided to act without permission from my brain, who knows better. 

I close my eyes so I don’t have to watch the card drop. When I open them, I realize there are just some times in your life when luck is still with you. Mr Big Spender checks. I’m betting he just realized there’s at least a chance I have what he thinks I have. Mr Never Bets decides to take this moment to change his stripes, poor guy. Maybe he thinks he can scare me off the pot. “I’m all in,” he says. He pushes his entire stack to the center. 

“Me too,” I say. My push isn’t nearly as impressive. The dealer separates out the little bit he has on me to the side, I can’t win that. 

Mr Big Spender folds, but he’s smiling. “Good luck you two,” he says. Then he sits back, crossing his arms over his chest like this is a show he’s been waiting all day for. 

“What you got?” the dealer asks. 

Mr Never Bets flips his cards. Ace high flush, as expected. I’m proud of him for betting, honestly I am. I wish I could tell him not to judge all future tables by this one. I wish I could tell him that is a good hand and he was right to bet. But anything I say now would make me look like an ass as I flip the cards needed to round out that full house and take the pot away from the table. 

I’d feel bad, really I would, if this wasn’t enough chips to buy four pounds of beef.

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