Hand Shakedown

“100k?” Sam asked. “I thought this was just training?” he took a single step back from the dealer’s table. The other two gamblers, one on each side of Sam, fidgeted in place. They seemed to want to back away too but were afraid of the well-dressed dealer. The tall, suited man behind the table smiled and nodded

“It is, but even training needs an element of risk.” He made eye contact with Sam first, then he looked at the other two. A short, stocky, balding man with a clean-shaven face; and, a gaunt, pallid woman with stringy brown hair that reached her shoulders.. Both of them had been like Sam. Homeless survivors barely making a living by pick-pocketing. “Obviously,” he chuckled. “I don’t expect any of you to have that kind of money, but that’s part of the training too. If you lose…,” the dealer gave an exaggerated shrug and smirked. “You lift folderol until we’re square.”

“It’s rigged,” Sam said. He narrowed his eyes at the dealer. “No way we could win against you.” To his surprise, the dealer nodded, then gestured at the door.

“Of course. You’re welcome to go back to the streets if you don’t want to learn about your abilities. Think of your losses as a tuition fee,” the dealer looked at the other two. “That goes for each of you. Stay and earn some learning, or walk a beat on the streets.” Sam looked at the other two, but they both seemed intent on staying. He was more afraid of staying than returning to the streets, but he felt better knowing the three of them would be in the same boat. He stepped forward to the table again.

“Alright. I’m in.” Sam made the effort to smile at his partners on each side. “I haven’t played Go Fish since I was a kid.”

“This game’s a bit different,” the dealer said. He dealt two cards to each player. “Since you all are new, we’ll start off with just two cards.” He placed the rest of the deck face down in the middle of the table, then covered the deck with a small black, ceramic bowl. The four players looked at their cards. Sam held a 10 of spades and a jack of clubs. The dealer placed his two cards face down in front of him, then he pulled a small ceramic bowl from under the table and covered his cards.

“Find what you can, and cover your cards,” he instructed. Sam reached into the darkness under the table and felt around until he found something that seemed big enough. He pulled out a translucent tupperware container, but the dealer shook his head.

“It needs to be unseen.” The dealer nodded at the woman. She placed a black top hat over her cards. The short man used a transparent glass bowl. Both he and Sam reached under the table again. Sam focused on it being opaque. He found a small cardboard box and covered his cards while the chubby man used a small cooking pot. The nodded at all the covered cards in approval.

“Good, here’s how this works.” He looked at Sam. “Sam, do you have a 10 of spades? Hint: I know you do.”

“I do,” Sam nodded and moved to lift the box to retrieve the card, but the dealer stopped him by placing a hand on the box.

“If you do have the card you say, ‘Yes I have it, go fish.’ ” Sam pulled his hand back.

“Yes, I have it. Go fish,” he said. The dealer smiled and nodded at the box.

“Check your cards,” the dealer said. Sam lifted the box and found only one face-down card. “If I picked the wrong card…,” the gentleman smiled. “I didn’t. But if I did, you win. If I got the right card,” he showed the group the 10 of spades. “I win. That was a demonstration. Do you understand how it’s played?” He asked the group.

“What if we don’t have it?” the woman asked with a weak, raspy voice. The dealer tapped the black ceramic bowl over the deck.

“You go fish in a bigger pond. Get it?” All three nodded their heads. The dealer moved their covers out of the way and collected all the cards, then handed the deck to Sam.

Sam shuffled the cards in full view of everyone, then dealt two cards to everyone. Each player checked, then covered their cards. The gentleman covered the deck, then nodded at the short man to Sam’s left.

“You first, Herbie.” The short man looked straight at the woman.

“Lira. Got a two of diamonds?” The pale woman shook her head.

“Go fish in the big pond,” she said. Herbie reached into the darkness under the table. The black bowl covering the deck moved slightly, then his hand came back holding another card. He looked at it, then slipped it under his pot.

“Not bad,” the gentleman said. “My turn.” He asked Herbie for a nine of hearts, which the rotund man did not have. The gentleman reached under the table and pulled his hand back in a single, smooth motion. The black bowl did not move, but he placed a new card under his bowl. Lira sat up straighter when she realized it was her turn. She looked at Sam.

“Sam, do you have a queen of clubs?” Sam nodded.

“I do. Go fish.” The woman bit her lip and stuck her hand into the shadows. She closed her eyes for concentration and fumbled under the table for a moment. Finally, she returned with a card and looked at it.

“Damn it!” she forced a whisper into a raspy shout and slammed her hand on the table. She slid her card under the top hat. The gentleman produced a notepad and pen.

“Lira. 100k,” he said aloud and looked her in the eyes. Then he nodded at Sam. “Your turn.”

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