The Door’s Unlocked

On the way to play poker, I made promises to myself. Not to do this or that stupidly in the game, let myself be bluffed out. I always vowed: if I lost all the money I had on me, I would never, under any circumstances again borrow money from Timmy. I already owed him, always did. The balance rarely came lower than half the total.

Timmy ran the game like selling tickets to the Ferris Wheel. As soon as you climbed on financially, you were gone for a circular ride, back to where you started without a dime.

Timmy would loan you money to stay in the game, because he was far and away the best player in it. Timmy’s game was larger than his bankroll. But nowhere near as fat as my old man’s wallet.

The next best player in the game was Jim Crosson, who managed to stay about even, feeding off lesser players like me, and Roy Pridgeon. Roy had great style with the cards and knew the language of betting, also the art of losing it all without loss of dignity. His nickname was Red Bull.

Big Tommy Crocker was another flamboyant bettor. His money lasted longer than mine, but still, it all got away. Timmy would have six or eight hundred in cash, in two wads in his front pockets, with rubber bands around the wads. More money than all the rest of us put together. He gambled at his house for dimes and dollars, but also in a big game, working for his father, who ran the no limit table in Georgetown. His father made book on sporting events, and Timmy did too.

Timmy gambled full time. On everything. All the money I could steal or borrow, I usually lost. But not always. Every now and then—often enough to set the gambling hook deeper—I broke even.

More than once, I won big, the coolest sensation of all time.

But too many nights, I stormed out of Timmy’s house, cursing myself for an idiot, seething with shame.

Five o’clock in the morning, most Saturday mornings, my heart and soul were pitch dark, me dead broke and hungry, suicidal if I stopped long enough to think about it.

I might not have enough gas to pick up Petesy Reynolds and get to pier fishing. Petesy always had money. He was a football player, but he didn’t gamble, and he was cool in a way that never made me ashamed or envious. He didn’t seem to think he was cooler than me. Which was different, because there seemed to be a constant competition going on with other guys, and I seemed to lose, but not always. Except with Petesy, also Johnny Butler, and Jimmy Sessions. Those three guys I was always comfortable with, Petesy in particular.

He was always glad to see me. Didn’t matter if I won or lost. 

Petesy would leave the front door unlocked, so whenever I got there, I could slip in and wake him up. Most mornings, he was already dressed.

We were careful not to make noise. Somewhere in the house, I never knew exactly where, four beautiful girls slept. Petesy’s sisters. One of them, Roslyn, was so pretty your feet got soft trying not to make a sound.