“Dan, do not be too late!” She was not sure if Dan heard her, so she called out again. “See that tomorrow morning you have a meeting with the teacher.”
Dan’s mother was determined to make Dan a civil engineer. She hoped to take over his father’s company, which was not doing well in recent years.
“Yeah, Mom, I will be home till midnight.”
He left for his traditional bridge game with his friends, of Friday afternoon. Poker, in reality.
It had already been four o’clock. He knocked in the door with the familiar signal: ta, ta, ta-ta! Michael opened it. Inside, it was a scent of freshly roasted coffee. John was already at the table.
“What do we do, we play in three?” Dan stopped a little confused.
“Nope, the fourth is in the bathroom, I picked him up from the sports hour. George.”
“Which George?” Dan was surprised.
“Look, you’re talking about the wolf and the wolf is at the door!”
The bathroom’s door opened, and Dan was about to fall on his back. It was the footballer, Helen’s boyfriend! Damn, as God sometimes arranges these things, as if he is putting them by the hand. It’s time for revenge!
“Hi George, nice to meet you, I hope you’re not going to take all our money,” Dan said.
“Hi, you’re Dan, aren’t you? Helen spoke to me about you, I’m glad to meet you.”
Dan had a brief moment of embarrassment, Helen probably had told him about his proposal.
“Look at what we have here,” Michael interrupted. A very new deck of playing cards, sealed, George brought it. Plastic. Let’s see who takes it home.
That was an unwritten rule between them. The player who earned the most keeps the deck of playing cards.
Apparently those present players already had their seats. Michael back to the door, George to the wall with the lamp behind him, and John in front of George. Dan sat on the last remaining free seat on George’s left.
Michael stretched a green wool blanket on the table and smoothed it almost ritually, with tedious, almost cute movements. It was his way of showing how much he likes this game. At that very moment Michaela came to the door. A brunette slumped girl with a long, glossy hair, and a typical rocker-like appearance. She always liked to look at their poker games quietly, and she always prepared the coffee and emptied the ashtrays. All players gave him money from what they were winning at the table, even if they were finally losing. Only Michaela was not interested in the money. Sometimes she does not even get them. She simply liked to look at them while they were playing poker.
* * *
At 9 o’clock there was a funeral atmosphere in the room. Michaela had gone at 7 o’clock at the club, so no one had empty the ashtrays full of cigarette butts now. The coffee had ended long ago, and everyone here seemed more and more nervous. Except George, who earns invariably. He moved slowly, stared at the cards in his hand, and watched suspiciously, watching any movement at the table, including the deal of the playing cards. An incipient myopia, he had excused, which increased when he was tired. But he invariably win.
By 10 o’clock, he had earned all their money.
”Ok, it’s enough for me for today. I’m going to the club.” Michael stood upright. Anyway, he had no money left. John followed him. “Well, do you come?”
The question was addressed to the two remaining at the table.
“I have to get home, tomorrow morning I have a job,” Dan answered. “I still have a cup of coffee, I will find a cigarette butt to finish it.”
“I’m going to a show in the city, I’m dating Ileana at 11 o’clock. I’m taking a bath before I leave.”
Dan felt a reddened iron penetrate his stomach. “Look at him, I had nothing else but to give to this bastard money to have fun with Helen!” After the leaving of the two friends and George entering the bathroom, he was alone in the room. He strolled nervously through the room from the window to the door, and stopped smoking a butt, sitting at the place where George stood during the game. He picked up the playing cards on the table and started a patience, thinking about Helen. He reached a critical point where he had to decide what to move. He focused on the playing cards for a moment, and suddenly stopped just when he had to move a card. He could not believe it. The dumbbell, he cheated them! The cards were rigged. Each of them was marked on the back with a point that was not visible unless you were looking from a certain direction under the light of the lamp. In fact, just from the place where George was sitting during the game.
He was angry and got up from the table taking a few steps toward the bathroom where George was taking a shower. He stopped halfway. What chances did he have in a direct confrontation? George was indeed well built, and taller. He’ll solve him while you blink, without Dan getting to touch him at all. To call his friends to tell them how they lost their money in front of a cheater? By the time they came, George was away, spending the money with Helen.
Suddenly the idea came to him. He remembered how dear George was looking at every penny that came into his pocket. “He certainly likes the money. And even a lot.” He hurriedly searches his pockets. He still had 25 bucks left. He sat quietly at the table, replaced the marked cards on the table with some of the same design that he took from a drawer of Michael, and quietly waited for George to leave the bathroom.
“All right, I finished!” George came out lively and cheerful from the bathroom, half dressed already.
“Aha, his myopia is gone,” Dan thought.
“It’s 10 and a half hours, you say you meet Helen at 11 o’clock. Me neither, I have nothing to do by then, I’m a little bit bored, and I get angry at the thought of going home with money in my pocket. If I had won, yes, but so, what the hell do I do with this small change? Let’s start a game in two before you go, to get rid of this money.
George slowed the rhythm of wiping with the towel, and he saw on his face that there was a struggle in his mind between leaving now with the money he had earned, and winning something more.
“Okay, Dan, but up to 11 o’clock, we have a reservation at a restaurant.”
“Sure, I can not stay any longer, I have to go home.”
They pushed aside the full ashtrays and the empty coffee mugs, and Dan began to deal the cars.