For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
Los Angeles, California, June 7, 2009
They say that every poker player has a 'tell', an idiosyncrasy if you will that tips the hand that they are playing to opponents around the table. For instance, whenever I'm dealt a pat hand I inadvertently lay my cards down in front of me, always horizontally with relation to my body, then lace my fingers together and place my folded hands under my nose to hide the shit eating grin spreading across my face. It usually drives the other players to fold in nanoseconds, which explains why I never seem to win a decent pot!
As usual I had a handful of nothing special for Texas Hold-em inspiring me to fold on the flop. I'd crossed the fine line between caution and chicken, my fiscally responsible maneuver earning me several catcalls and expletive riddled remarks questioning the roots of my family tree from the usual suspects. I took a quick survey of the table, counting noses. There were faces missing from the game, friends taken from us by that jack-hole Jai Lai. What an evil bastard, may he rot in hell.
"You won't get into Heaven with that potty mouth," whispered a voice in my head.
"Shut up! The big boss in the sky is probably thinking the same thing," I mumbled trying not to draw attention my way.
"Shame on you Whitey Roode, you'd better be careful fool. You know He hears it all, and I'm here to tell ya He keeps a list," cautioned the nagging voice.
"Right, just like Santy Clause," I chuckled.
"Whatever, it's your ass Whitey," the voice shouted back in a tone I recognized.
"Ronnie? You're haunting me, really? Why am I not surprised?" I snapped a little louder than I intended to.
"Who the hell are you talking to Roode?" Wally asked gruffly. I froze realizing I'd been entertaining the table. The game had stopped and 10 eyeballs were staring at me blankly.
"Didn't I tell you to see a shrink about this voices in your head shit?" Wally added, scolding me. He did too…
One of the big changes after the Sally November case closed involved Wally Price. Captain Price, I still had trouble picturing him as the new commanding officer at Hollenbeck Station. But as fate would have it, Lt. Dillhole got kicked upstairs after taking credit for my smart detective work, and "Chief of Police Oscar Celaya" had the pick of the litter after he moved up the ladder, skipping over Captain and catapulting straight on to COP. Quite a coup if you ask me but possible when you have the Mayor over the proverbial barrel. It turned out that the information contained on the flash drive that Judy and I found opened a lot of doors for a lot of people. And that door swung both ways some people going out and some people getting in. I'm glad I never saw the whole list. And even more glad that Hassan turned out to be a stand up guy even if he was an assassin, a hired gun with a heart, go figure. You know he never did tell his Russian masters about me and Judy like we thought he did, who'd a thunk it?
People will surprise you, I guess you never know, just when you you've labeled someone bad they turn out to be good. Sometimes good people are sent down rocky paths in life for reasons known only to the Skipper in the clouds. Many of the names on that list were getting their just desserts including his honor the mayor. I get no pleasure watching others suffer. To quote the English poet Alexander Pope, "to err is human, to forgive divine." I suppose that you could say that the older I get, the sappier I get. I will plead guilty to that, happily.
"Did I hear you say Ronnie?" asked Judy as she folded her hand, tossing her cards to the center of the table.
"I think it's the corned beef he's been eating. I told him to stay outta the Jew's deli; it's gone down hill without Lu. Why you go there anyway when Angelo and me always got a table for you, huh?" asked Fat Johnny, tossing in his two cents as well as his crummy cards.
"I guess that leaves just you and me Rebecca," Iggie said gleefully drumming his fingers on top his face down hole cards. That was his 'tell'. I'd bet my car that he has pocket aces!
"Fabulous!" Becca said sarcastically. She watched him drum his fingers for a nanosecond longer then tossed her cards into the pot with all the others.
"Take it Iggie, I hope you choke on it," she quipped, kicking back in her chair and taking a long drink of her Chimay Blue. The girl kept surprising me. She fit in with our misfit crowd without letting go of who she was. Meaning she could mix it up with the best of us losers and still go home the class act. A real chameleon, that'll come in handy on the job.
The table continued to eyeball me, waiting for an explanation while Iggie greedily raked in his winnings. What was I supposed tell them, the truth? Negative, as soon as they heard me claim to be haunted by the spirit of my ex wife, it'll be off to Cedar's Sinai Psych Ward for good old Uncle Whitey! No way, I decided to keep that genie in the bottle for now. To be honest, I'm not sure I believe it completely myself. Wally harrumphed and gave me the look, I needed to say something to throw these dogs off of the scent.
"Look, I was just thinking about her is all, sometimes it seems like she's still around, you know," I said finally, opting for a partial truth versus a complete lie. "Live in the light" like the preachers always say, I'm working on it.
Anyway, it seemed to do the trick for now. Judy smiled, and Wally waived me off as he reached into his igloo for another cold one. Rebecca Tran smiled at me as well and tapped her beer bottle with Fat Johnny's glass of house wine. Iggie ignored us all, busily stacking and counting his chips, what a wiener! We weren't the same old gang, but we were healing nicely together, a mix of old and new faces. A flash of light suddenly came through the window from the street startling us. It sounded like a fender bender. We got up to investigate and sure enough a Mini-Cooper had gotten into it with bobtail truck that I'd seen driving around the neighborhood all week long. It belonged to a Burbank production company filming a movie around the corner. Interesting? Maybe I'd walk over there tomorrow and check out what they had going on. Who doesn't like to see how they do things in Holly-Weird? Hell, I'm no exception.
"Come on guys! Are we playing cards or what?" whined Iggie from behind his enormous stack of chips.
Our ragtag gathering walked back to the table one by one, giving Iggie the business as they rejoined the game. I took one more peek out the window and noticed a small crowd of kids across the street. They were following after a man in a black windbreaker and a Dodger's baseball cap worn backwards. It seemed normal enough until the fella turned for a moment to say something to one of the kids trailing behind him. The fella was wearing a white collar, like priests and preachers do. What would a priest be doing out at this time of night, and in this neighborhood no less, leading a bunch of kids on a stroll like the Piped freaking Piper of Hamlin? I made a mental note to find out and tucked it away in my brain for later. Once a gumshoe always a gumshoe I guess…