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I raised my eyebrows. __100 was pretty much what was left in my pocket and a pair of eights really wasn't worth risking it for. He needed to have a weaker pair or be on the bluff. Damn, I wished it were the prial and not just the vulnerable pair in my hand. Now three eights would take some beating. A final look before folding, as the cards fanned out in my hand, I had to look again as the third card I was convinced was a nine was revealed as an eight. My God, I did have the prial after all.
A glance to the ceiling in silent thanks, I agonised how to extract as much money as possible from the situation. No longer did I want Ronnie to have a weak hand, but one that might attract a call or, heaven forbid, a raise. I chucked in the last hundred in my pocket, accompanied by the announcement: "And another monkey on top. I'll owe it."
Thankfully my credit was good.
"Five hundred quid more!" Jonesey gasped, his ferret like eyes darting from me to Ronnie and back again as things suddenly took an interesting turn.
Ronnie looked me up and down, deferring the decision. He knew that if I had nothing in my hand that was the sort of bet I'd make to try to steal the pot. Or he might just have a real monster hand himself and be trying to get me to commit more by acting unsure. He gave it a couple of minutes before announcing: "Okay, let's not fuck about, let's make it a grand."
A rumble ran around the three other guys at the table. Pots like this came around about as often as Halley's Comet.
Unlike me, Ronnie always had the money on him, digging a lump of notes from his jacket pocket and tossing it in. The centre of the table resembled something out of the World Series of Poker. Now I faced a dilemma, my confidence having drained like a deflating balloon. Three eights was good, but far from guaranteed to win when faced with another __1000 to call.
My whole body was shaking, beyond the point of caring about giving away a tell. Fuck it, I've a prial of eights, I told my wavering conscience. Win and there was over three grand in the pot, lose and I owed __1500. "Okay, I'll see you," I confirmed, heart fluttering.
Ronnie turned over J-Q-K of hearts, an awesome hand.
He grinned, clearly expecting to win. Yet a running flush was no match for my prial in the game of three-card brag. His face dropped as I made the revelation, still unsure in my mind where that last eight had come from. The others at the table blew hard, eyes bulging, and would still be talking about the hand for months if not years to come.
As I scooped in the money, it dawned on me that some sort of divine intervention really was taking place. It was too much just to be pure luck. I began to wonder just how far I could go to exploit the situation before it ran out, and was about to find out. "That grand and a half I owe you says you can't beat me at pool," stated Ronnie, anxious to get his money back.
I exhaled long and hard till my lungs were empty. Now don't get me wrong, I've been a pretty good player in my time, a sometime hustler if the truth be known. But a one-off frame for such a huge stake? I'd be crazy to accept.
It was Saskia's fault. She'd been watching the developments in the grey corner of the pub with a keen eye. "Go on Ree-chee, be man not mouse," she goaded in that broken accent of hers.
* * *
Five minutes later I was sick to the very pit of my stomach as Ronnie addressed the black ball. A straight-ish shot, he could hardly miss. Lifting back the cue, he launched, the money ball fired into the dead centre of the pocket to retrieve a grand and a half I could really have put to good use. A relieved sigh slipped from Ronnie's lips.
Yet for some reason, unbeknown even to the man himself, he'd put some top on the white ball.