Check Raising the Devil
By Greg Solano
Ivan carefully peeked down at the two playing cards, carefully lifting one corner at a time. You had to protect your cards, make sure no one could see them. The first was an eight of clubs, the second an eight of spades. Pocket snowman as the poker players called them. Ivan was down to his last two hundred dollars, he had been running bad for weeks. His normal bankroll of ten thousand dollars was all but gone. He was getting desperate and had dropped down from the big game of ten and twenty dollar blind no limit game to the much smaller one and two dollar no limit game. Everyone so far had folded to him and with only three players yet to act he raised to ten dollars. The man to the left of him folded and the next two called the ten dollars.
The flop was four of clubs, six of hearts, and seven of spades. Not a bad flop for his eights. He had a chance of a straight if a five came and he still had top pair. There was no chance of a flush and anyone who stayed with high cards could not have liked the cards that were dealt. With thirty dollars in the pot he decided to bet the pot, throwing thirty dollars worth of chips into the middle of the table, he kept his face stoic showing no emotion as the chips made that familiar sound as the clay chips hit the felt.
One more player folded and the last pushed all his chips in without any hesitation whatsoever. Ivan was not expecting that. His mind raced, what could he have? Two pair is unlikely, did he have a pair of fours, sixes, or sevens? If he did then he now had three of a kind. If Ivan called the all in bet and lost he would be broke, if he won his two hundred would become four hundred. He had seen this player show a bluff just a few hands earlier, could this be another bluff? Did this man sense that Ivan was on his last dimes and decide to scare him off? Ivan had always played aggressively and felt the man was just being a bully; Ivan pushed his remaining one hundred and sixty into the middle. He flipped over his snowman and said a familiar prayer to the poker gods, “ONE TIME BABY!”
The man who had been stone faced until now, cracked a smile and turned over the three of hearts and the five of clubs. He flopped a straight. Ivan’s hope turned to anger, “HOW COULD YOU CALL ME WITH THAT! I RAISED PRE FLOP!” Ivan still had a chance a five would give him a higher straight. The next two cards revealed no five, only a king and an ace.
Ivan got up and walked away, dejected, broke and cursing the day he began playing poker for a living. It was the most depressing walk, often compared to walking the plank on the pirate ship of old. He headed out to his car put the key in the ignition and began the hour long drive to his home from the casino. Halfway home and the dash began beeping. Damn Ivan thought, low on gas. Come on car make it home. Ivan slowed down to the speed limit and hit the cruise control hoping enough gas would be saved to make it home. As the Chevy headed up a long steep hill on the highway the car began choking for gas and then stalled completely. He coasted to the side of the road and parked the car. Just my luck Ivan said out loud as he pounded the steering wheel.
It was a continuation of the bad luck that had plagued him for weeks. Ivan got out of the car and began thumbing for a ride. Many cars blew by him and the wind was cold and pushed him back against his dead car. Semi trucks were worse. The wind and cold from the semi’s chilled him to the bone. Finally a large RV bus pulled to the side just past his car. Ivan began walking to the RV when the side door popped open and a well dressed man poked his head out. “Car Trouble?” “Nope, just ran out of gas, you don’t have any do you?” Ivan asked as he continued to walk to the bus. “Nope, come on in we will give you a ride.” Ivan stepped on the bus and for a second thought he had stepped into the Bellagio Casino. The bus was opulent and right in the middle was poker table with gold cup holders and gold inlayed chips. It was odd though, only two chairs were at the large table. The bus drove off and Ivan sat at the poker table as it was the closest chair. The chair was unbelievably comfortable and swiveled on its permanent mounts in the floor.
The man was well dressed, could be an Armani suit, deep dark black hair and black metal framed glasses. “Want a drink?” the man asked as he lifted up a gold metal flask. “Sure” Ivan said “I could use one.” “I’m Grigori but my friends just call me Greg” as he handed Ivan a shot. “Do you play?” Greg said as he picked up some chips. “a little” Ivan replied. Ivan was in no mood to discuss poker as he headed home broke from a poker game. “What do you do for a living?” Ivan asked. “I make deals, help people make their dreams come true or rid them of their problems” Ivan’s curiosity was piqued, what exactly did that answer mean? As he thought about that very question the words also came out of his mouth, He didn’t mean them too but they did.
“You want to be a big shot TV poker player right?” How could Greg have known that? Ivan thought. “I make my living at poker, I don’t care about fame just the money” Ivan said as he tried to hide the fact he was lying. “I can make it happen for you, but like any good poker game there is a risk for the reward.” “you can be the next winner of the world series of poker, you can be the next poker superstar” I just need one thing, your soul” Ivan laughed, “ok, yeah whatever, my soul, sure.” The hair of the back of his neck stood up and somehow Ivan knew it was real, or was it? “I told you I make deals, make peoples dreams come true, but every dream comes at a cost.”
Ivan had always been a gambler; he looked down at the gold inlay chips and decided he could outplay the devil. “Heads up, my success against my soul, I win you make my dream happen, you win I am yours” The bus ride was smooth and quiet almost as though it was not barreling down the highway. The tinted windows let very little light in yet the full moon was visible. It seemed to turn orange as the devil himself contemplated the deal. He picked up the cards, smiled and said “shuffle up and deal.” The two sat down at the table and took turns dealing the cards. Each started with ten thousand in chips and Ivan played conservatively at first trying to gauge his opponent. The two traded wins back and forth and the pots were small keeping each essentially even in chips.
Then Ivan looked down at ace of spades, eight of spades. He was on the button which meant he was last to act after the flop. Ivan raised three times the blind which was now at five hundred and one thousand. His raise was to three thousand, Greg just called and the flop was eight, eight, ace. Ivan had flopped a full house. Ivan checked hoping that the devil would bet. The devil obliged and went all in. Ivan had him now he thought. He had beaten the devil. Ivan pushed his chips to the middle as he stood up.
Grigori stood up and began a speech, “in the Hebrew religion, the 2nd Book of Enoch, contains references to a Grigori, a fallen angel. I am that fallen angel, I am Satanael or Satan. Many have tried to defeat me for thousands of years, who do you think you are to defeat me? Ever heard of Wild Bill Hickox? He tried to defeat me with the very same hand you are holding. For a hundred years that very hand has been called dead mans hand. Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” Satan smiled and turned over a pair of aces. Satan held a bigger full house than Ivan's eights full of aces. Ivan sat down knowing he had lost.
The RV drove away into the darkness. A lone police car headed down the highway towards Ivan’s Chevy parked on the side of the road. As the police car approached the Chevy you could see a body laying in the middle of the road. A semi was overturned a few hundred feet past the Chevy. Ivan’s cold dead body lay in the road. Blowing in a gust of wind to the side of the road were two playing cards, The Ace of Spades and the Eight of Spades.