by Buzz Dixon
The idiot wore mirrored shades to play poker.
Vince didn’t say anything, of course, and neither did the dealer, though when the two briefly exchanged glances he saw the casino employee roll his eyes.
The private room could hold up to twenty people, players and spectators, but for this game only four occupied it: Vince, the dealer, the host, and the mark.
Since he enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the casino, Vince needed no host. The host attended the game to keep the mark happy.
The dealer would keep an eye on Vince.
Not that Vince needed watching. He felt grateful to be back in the casino, especially after the fiasco that got him disinvited seven years ago.
He and the mark sat across from each other at the small, circular green felt table. The dealer sat midway between them on one side, the host sat in a spectator’s chair close to the mark on the other side. Above them and around them, hidden by the bright lights of the private room, tiny cameras supervised by security officers recorded every moment of play, guaranteeing everything stayed on the up and up and by the rules.
Of course, the first rule in every casino is “Never wise up a mark.”
The mark appeared in her mid to late twenties, long thick heavy straight black hair, ostentatious and unattractive faux-diamond encrusted sunglasses, clunky necklace and earrings to match, long black velvet gown that would look elegant on a woman who knew how to wear it but made the mark look like a little girl playing dress up in mommy’s clothes.
Vince noted her sharp turned up nose and her delicate chin, the product of skillful but not entirely invisible cosmetic surgery. The mark wore heavy foundation, the way too many immature girls and young women wore it thinking it made them look sophisticated.
He guessed her to be of Middle Eastern extraction, but she talked fur shure Val. Vince pegged her as a typical rich brat, far more money than brains but thinking her money made her extra special.
The mark — Miriam, she called herself — blathered on as the dealer set up.
She blew into town three days earlier, making the rounds of casinos, flashing first cash then a resilient credit card, blowing a thousand here, five thousand there.
Even for a mark, Miriam possessed a remarkably short attention span and as soon as she began losing, she’d split.
Vince got a call — an unofficial call — from a casino employee with an ambiguous job description, filling him in on Miriam: “She looks bored and ready to bolt. Not too bright. We attached one of our hosts to her, but he can’t keep her interested. Chat her up, invite her to a friendly little game. You know the drill.”
Vince knew the drill very well.
He made his living as a freelance shill, luring high rollers into private games at the casino, getting them to sign markers for more chips, leaving them to the tender mercies of the casino’s collectors when the game ended.
In return, Vince got to keep five percent of his winnings, the rest he immediately circulated back into the casino’s coffers by placing a deliberately foolish long shot bet on a roulette wheel or craps table.
This way should the gaming commission come around, Vince would depart for greener pastures while the casino could claim clean hands: “Hey, it was just a private game between two private individuals; we know nothing about it.”
He found her at a craps table, having a great time rolling the bones but not really betting in any logical manner. She blew off few hundred in chips, tipped the stick man, then started eying the exit.
“Not very interesting, is it?” Vince asked.
Miriam the mark shrugged. “Not really. I mean, I like shooting dice, that’s totally cool, but I can do the same thing playing Monopoly with my brother?”
“I know. No real challenge to it, no real risk.
“No real excitement.”
“’Sha, like tell me about it. Nothing round here is really exciting, is it? Just a buncha blinking lights and banging gongs. It’s like Disneyland only you don’t go through your money as fast.”
“They do have quieter rooms.”
She fixed her reflective lens gaze on him. “Are you trying to lure me upstairs? ‘Cuz if you are that is the lamest pick up line…”
Vince smiled, careful to hide his teeth. “Not upstairs,” he said, gesturing to the nearby private poker room. “Over there.”
He quickly explained his proposal to her: A private, high stakes poker game. The kind of game rich people played, sophisticated people.
Vince’s ability to read a mark in the blink of an eye spotted her weakness immediately: Gauche and insecure, wanting to be seen as classy and glamorous. Pitch to that weakness and she’d gamble herself in debt to the casino up to her surgically refined nose.
The host knew where this conversation led and, other than to confirm to Miriam what Vince said, kept an impassive face.
As Vince expected, she swallowed the bait hook, line, and sinker. They summoned a house poker dealer and entered the room.
The casino laid out the room to focus players’ attention on their game. It looked like a brilliantly lit set from ///The Wizard Of Oz/// with high walls leading up to the lights and hidden security cameras, and a perfectly circular table set in the middle of the perfectly circular floor.
The casino succeeded in providing gamblers a place where they could go broke yet feel good while doing it.
“I gotta warn you, I’m pretty good at poker,” Miriam said with a giggle. “I beat all the girls at the sorority.”
Vince smiled and said nothing. Miriam doubtlessly won by raising the ante until others folded.
She wouldn’t enjoy that edge here.
He expected her to take her mirrored shades off when she sat down but she didn’t.
It would be cheating for Vince to try to see her cards, but if Miriam wasn’t smart enough to hide them, hey, that’s her problem, not Vince’s.
Much less the casino’s.
“So what kind of poker do you like?” Vince asked. “Texas Hold ‘Em? Chicago High Low? Follow The Hookers?”
Miriam smiled weakly. “Eeeh, I’m not really familiar with those games. I like Five Card Stud.”
“Five Card Stud it is,” Vince said.
The first couple of hands went fast. Vince really didn’t need to look at the cards reflected in Miriam’s sunglasses; she proved to be an incessant bundle of tells, bouncing in her chair when dealt a good hand, biting her lip at a bad one.
Vince let the game go back and forth for a bit, allowing Miriam rack up a few early victories instead of easily beating her. He bet lightly when she held weak hands so as to keep her losses down, he bet heavily when he could see a good hand reflected in her sunglasses so she would win.
All part of the plan, all part of the plan.
He let her get a little ahead of him, then suggested doubling the ante so he could get a chance to win back his losses.
She agreed. The ante rose from purple $500 chips to burgundy $1000 chips then light blue $2000 chips, Miriam winning a narrow margin of the pots.
Once he thoroughly hooked Miriam, Vince moved in for the kill.
Using what he saw in the sunglasses’ reflection, Vince started folding when he held bad hands, standing pat when he could easily beat her, and raising the ante when she held a hand almost but not quite as good as his.
The narrow losses sucked Miriam in deeper and deeper. She began raising her own bets, and Vince methodically worked her over like a champion prizefighter taking a palooka apart.
It wouldn’t do to go for the quick knock out, oh, no. Vince needed her to go deep into hock with the casino, and for that, she needed to bleed.
Still, he exercised caution.
Seven years earlier he ran some Asian-American hotshot through the wringer and the clown proved more Asian than American: He went up to his room and tried to kill himself in shame after losing a quarter million in markers.
The casino found him before he died and smuggled him out of their establishment and into a fleabag on the outskirts of town before notifying the authorities. The has-been hotshot recovered, but his family raised quite a stink, and while the casino’s video proved everything happened on the up and up, Vince no longer found himself welcome in town.
He couldn’t afford to let that happen again, so he watched Miriam carefully.
So far she seemed stupid, not suicidal.
Down thirty grand, she gnawed her lower lip. “Can I get more credit?” she asked the host assigned to her. The host agreed.
Borrowing sixty thousand in chips, Miriam returned to the game with renewed confidence.
She still lost, but oh, so closely, so narrowly…
Again she borrowed. A hundred thousand, two hundred thousand.
Vince smiled, daring to show a thin line of teeth this time. Five percent of two hundred large would be very fine, very fine indeed…
Now Miriam seemed quite antsy, agitated. She threatened to draw blood from her lower lip.
From the reflection in her sunglasses, Vince saw she held two pair: Eights and fours, with a stray trey.
But he held a full house: Queens over tens.
“I…I can’t lose this hand,” she said. “My ‘rents will blow a gasket if I lose half a million.”
Vince smiled, more teeth this time. “You can always fold.”
“If I do, you’ll just outraise me on the next hand, and the next hand, and the hand after that,” she said. She perked up, as if remembering her easy sorority victories. “Can I get an extension on my credit?” she asked her host. “Please?”
The host looked dubious. “How much?” he asked.
Miriam drew in a deep breath, then said: “Half a million.”
Casinos trained their employees from day one that nothing should come between the house and a fool’s money, but the host looked clearly conflicted. It’s one thing to clean out smarmy techno-jerks from Silicon Valley, it’s another to prey on a naïve young person risking her family’s money.
Still…she came to the casino looking to take ///their/// money, so…the host nodded.
Miriam turned back to Vince, looking confident that she could out raise him.
Vince spent a lifetime learning the intricacies of gambling in pool halls and betting parlors and work camps and jail cells, and damned if he’d let her buy her way out of trouble.
Turning to the dealer, he said: “The young lady takes advantage of the casino’s generous credit. I’d like to do the same.”
“How much?” the dealer asked.
“I’m not greedy,” Vince said. “A quarter mil should do it.”
The dealer eyed him carefully but said: “All right.” He knew Vince could read the cards off Miriam’s sunglasses, so for him and the house, he saw no risk.
Vince smiled again at Miriam, more teeth than before. Even with her fresh half million in markers, between his credit infusion and the pots he won before, he could still out bet her if she tried stringing things along. “What say we raise the bet to all in?” he said. “Winner take all.”
Miriam looked like her insides just turned liquid. “S-sure,” she said, not sounding at all confident.
They pushed their respective piles of chips into the center of the table, two mountains of purple and burgundy and blue and grey. Vince allowed himself another smile and laid his cards down.
“Full boat,” he said. “Queens over tens.” He leaned forward to rake in the pot.
Miriam looked puzzled. “’Full boat’? I thought they called three of one kind and a pair of another a full house.”
“Same thing, lady,” said the dealer, sounding a little sorry for her.
“Oh,” said Miriam softly, then brightly added: “In that case, I have a full boat, too! Three aces and two jacks.”
Vince gaped in amazement, losing all semblance of a poker face. The dealer and the host blinked as well, then turned their attention to Vince.
Miriam raked in the chips, tipping her host and the dealer a few thousand, then leaned over to offer her hand to Vince. “Thank you so much for a rilly fun evening!”
Vince looked at her, seeing his own gobsmacked expression reflected in her sunglasses.
Sensing Vince’s lack of sportsmanship, Miriam shrugged and flounced off to settle her markers and transfer her winnings to her bank account. Her host followed her, leaving Vince and the dealer in the room to await the imminent arrival of casino management.
The dealer could see but one single, solitary consolation: As bad as it would be for him, Vince would get it far, far worse…
Only after the airliner reached no-seatbelt altitude did Miriam take off her sunglasses.
Their weight felt like pliers on the bridge of her nose: When you combine two mini-HD screens and a micro digital camera, you get more weight than a human face can comfortably bear.
The screens occupied the space where the lens should be. Facing outwards, they usually showed what would normally be reflected on mirrored shades but for the last deal of the game, a mini-processor replaced that with a computer generated image of her bogus hand: Eights and fours.
The mini-processor sat in the clunky jewelry around her neck. Spider web-thin wires, hidden by her thick hair, connected her sunglasses to the processor.
She designed the custom HD screens to be see-through: She could look out but anyone looking back would only see the video image.
Miriam — not her real name, just the one on the credit card and bank accounts she owned — looked at her image in the fake reflection of her sunglasses then turned them off.
While willing to sacrifice her original nose and chin to pull off her plan, she refused to let the cosmetic surgeon touch the epicanthic folds of her eyes.
Family pride demanded she keep them.
Seven years she worked on the plan: Going to school, studying computer engineering and digital imaging, taking drama classes as a minor in order to hone her skills in that discipline.
Her big brother came so close to dying.
Her brother, whom she laughed and played with and shared so many good times while growing up.
Despite being American born and bred, her brother could not escape the deep Confucian strain of his Asian heritage, and tried killing himself when he foolishly dishonored his family by getting suckered into a poker game by a professional card shark.
He recovered, but slowly, and though his physical health returned he now seemed grey and sad.
Their parents seemed greyer and sadder, too, far more than a mere seven years should account for.
So she planned. And worked. And did her research.
Through years of painstaking trial and error, she figured out the algorithm that enabled the mini-processor to scan the light reflected off playing cards as they subtly, microscopically tinted the face of the human holding them.
It then correlated that change — too tiny for a human eye to perceive but glaringly obvious to a digital one — to the cards the player laid down.
In only took a few deals to garner enough data to read the cards in her opponent’s hand by the light reflected off his face, that information born to her through her large, tacky-looking earrings.
Cheating? Not at all. If her opponent could read her cards in the reflection he saw, surely she could read his cards by the light reflected off him.
She held enough patents to never need the money she just recovered, but she needed the plan to restore family honor, to make them all happy and whole again.
Now she would return, justice meted out on both card shark and casino. Mom would cook a huge meal and dad would open a bottle of soju and she and her brother would play Monopoly again, just like they did when they were kids.
And just like when they were kids, she’d kick his ass.