“A Bad Bet”
You know, sometimes you just have to wonder.
There I was, just relaxing and sipping a beer. Didn’t know the bar, but sure knew the game. Liar’s poker. Played with dollar bills, the attendant serial numbers, and more bluffing than calculating. And the winner of each short round gets the bill.
These two guys playing were making the most ridiculous bids imaginable as to what they were holding, and actually laughing and joking when they lost, as the money went into one or the other’s stack of ones. Not only that, but couldn’t they see the large sign behind the bar, not far from them: No Gambling.
To make it even more head-scratching, the guy standing beside them and observing all this risky absurdity looked more like a plain-clothes cop than any I had seen in a movie. Incredible!
Couldn’t they read? Were they all drunk? Were my own eyes deceiving me?
But then I figured I got more savvy. That sign didn’t mean business; it was just de rigueur. They had to have it up, and in plain sight. The law is the law—but it is easy to turn a blind eye.
I watched with bemused interest for maybe 20 minutes. Then, I couldn’t take it anymore. If there was easy money to be made, let me have some of it.
I paid my modest bar bill and made sure I had a couple of fivers in change. I walked over to the group.
“Gentleman,” I said firmly as I slapped a five on the bar, “I’m in.”
Silence, as the three looked wide-eyed at me.
The third man approached me. “You are proposing to bet that money?”
“Those are off-duty bartenders simply biding their time with the pool tip money. Sir, you are under arrest.”
“The Perfect Gift”
They had been dating for two or three months now, the better portion of that period exclusively, David was fairly sure. Certainly on his end it was exclusive, and the signs were positive that the situation was mutual. The most recent indication was her being both free and enthusiastically willing to share her birthday with him, elegant restaurant and later a scenic drive on the palisades on the agenda.
Cynthia was a gentle and refined young woman, pretty in an unpretentious, girlish way, occasionally curiously skittish (as it seemed to him), rather quiet and maybe a bit withdrawn, but certainly capable of being animated and even talkative when the mood was bright. And they had shared an increasing number of sunny times of late—all as platonic as could be, but, David thought, perhaps even that aspect of the relationship was pointing toward progress. Again he thought he saw signs, indications, as subtle as they surely were.
They had met quite by chance in a bookstore café, David commenting favorably as well as perfectly ingenuously on her chosen read that weekend afternoon. A conversation began, continued pleasingly for perhaps half an hour, and David offered his email address for further literary discourse, if desired—and lo and behold a message came two evenings later.
Within two weeks de facto dating had begun. Never more often than once a week, and sometimes not for two, yet steady and increasingly dependable. Almost always afternoons, and uniformly venues (usually suggested by her) that spoke of culture and taste. Museums, revivals of classic films, once a ballet matinee.
Now a more “serious” engagement presented itself, in the mutual celebration of her birthday. David knew something special had to be done. There would have to be a gift, and a meaningful one. Chosen wisely. Chosen for a woman of taste and a certain obvious refinement.
Two days before the rendezvous, David found himself in a small jewelry store. No, certainly not for any kind of ring—which might be taken as symbolic—but merely to assess the other options.
“Nothing is more perfect for a gift than something that makes a pretty girl feel prettier.”
The unctuous salesman mouthed it as if he had already said it several times that day. Verbatim.
“Does she wear much jewelry? Do you know what type of adornments she prefers?”
Remarkably good question, thought David. She seemed to wear little jewelry indeed. Maybe unobtrusive earrings on occasion. But rings, no. Necklaces, no. And what else would there be?
“Well, she really doesn’t wear much.”
A sly, knowing smile from the salesman was summarily ignored by the businesslike gentleman.
“I think I have the perfect gift. What color are her eyes?”
“Rather blue, maybe on way the toward green.”
“I have it! Let me show you a piece.”
It was indeed lovely; in fact, elegant.
“Green amethyst and pearl. Torsade in sterling. Looks wealthy; lives on a budget. Under a hundred and fifty, but no one would believe it. A necklace fit for a princess.”
David left the shop feeling like a combination of Prince William and James Bond. “To know, to do,” he actually enunciated. “Savoir faire.” He shook his head and firmly pursed his lips in self-congratulation and pride.
As they settled into a booth at the restaurant, there was no use, and no attempt, in trying to conceal the small, tissue paper-adorned gift bag, which held the appropriately cased gift, along with a separate, carefully selected greeting card. Yet neither of them made reference to the offerings, as they lay conspicuously on the table, and pleasant conversation continued.
“You know,” he said offhandedly, apropos only of its suddenly striking him, “I really don’t know much about your background, your family. In fact, I know almost nothing at all.”
A smile hardly worth the name appeared and just as quickly vanished from her face as Cynthia slightly adjusted her sitting posture. Her eyes, their prior lambency become coldly fixed as if in introspection, went to examining the glass of water placed to her right before her on the table.
“I mean,” said David brightly, “I don’t mean to be overly inquisitive or to pry, it’s just that…”
The waiter arrived as if by cue, and David did not notice Cynthia’s most apparent relief.
After the drinks and appetizer were ordered, Cynthia spoke immediately and animatedly:
“Oh, I noticed there’s a Charlie Chaplin retrospective starting on the 11th at the Rialto. What say we catch one or two?”
“Oh. OK. Sure,” David replied. “Sounds good!” Then he paused but briefly, and returned to his unanswered question.
“So, maybe you can tell me a little about your family, and, maybe, what kind of little girl developed into this lovely and fascinating woman?”
He was pleased by what he considered the well-phrased and charming close, oblivious to signs of returning discomfort in his partner, as she re-adjusted her seating position, averting his eyes.
“How about it?” he pressed.
Cynthia slowly turned her head, now straight toward him, fixed her eyes coldly upon his, and spoke in measured cadence.
“Listen, David. I like you, and we are having a fine time. As we always do. But there are certain things I simply do not wish to talk about.”
Taken completely aback, his look of surprise and bewilderment almost immediately transformed into one of imploration for an explanation.
There was silence for ten seconds.
“David,” she remonstrated, “if that is not sufficiently clear, let’s just say for now that my childhood was not exactly a happy one—and there is a very good reason you never see me wearing anything around my neck.”
Andrew Sacks is a transplanted NYC boy who has spent most of his life living in the greater Los Angeles area. He’s an English professor, primarily in public community colleges, and a rated chess Master. As a freelance writer, he’s published works in short fiction, poetry, and articles about the game of chess and other subjects.