Up The Bank

by Attila Gyenis


Dimitri was nervous. This was not the first time he was in this quandary. Last time it turned out very badly. But he still couldn’t shake the buzz of the ‘wave.’ The ‘wave’ was what he called that feeling that swept through his body that said that lady luck was with him. Hell, he didn’t even care if it was mister luck, as long as it was luck.

He was feeling it. Or at least he thought he was feeling it. He asked himself, was this the real thing? He looked into his right hand discreetly again. His left leg twitched involuntarily. He made a mental note of the throbbing pain in his left knee that still remained. Most of the time he could ignore it, except when he had to walk up steps. It still didn’t bend very easily.

Dimitri’s bulky body was sitting in a wooden chair, a small wooden table in front of him, a pile of money in the middle of the table, and three other players sitting around the table. He looked over to Phil on his right. He tried to read his face. It gave nothing away. Across from him was Johnnie, an Italian-American who may or may not be related to the Gambino family, and Vincent on his left, who was a Gambino as in Vincent Gambino. Dimitri felt like the odd guy out. Not because he was Greek, but because it was his turn, and he didn’t have a clue as to what he would do.

He held his cards firmly, with no need to have to look at them again. He reached down to his seven and seven to take a drink. The ice cubes, which were almost melted, clinked quietly against the side of the glass. He was calm. He never sweated.

He held four jacks in his hand, and a king. This was the first time in months that he had this good a hand.

“Hey, come on!” Johnnie was very impatient. “You either fold, or put your money in the pot.”

Dimitri glanced over at Johnnie in front of him and made a decision, putting his glass down. He turned to Vincent, “I see you and raise you $2,000.”

Johnnie leaned back abruptly, exclaiming in a louder voice than necessary, “You can’t raise it you fucken idiot! The pot is already at the limit!” Johnnie shook his head unbelievingly. “You see Vinnie, this is why I don’t want him to play, it’s not even the other thing.”

The others standing by the makeshift bar looked over to them to see what the commotion was before returning their attention back to their drinks and conversation. They were all crowding into a third floor apartment in Brooklyn, and the bar consisted of a kitchen table in the corner covered with bottles.

Dimitri looked at Vincent and repeated, “I see you and raise you $2,000.” He turned to Phil, the only one who might be his friend, “You know, this is what I have to put up with when I play with a gorilla.”

“Not you or Vincent,” Dimitri quickly corrected himself before going on. “It’s fucken Johnnie. He already folded his hand and he still has to talk. I don’t know why he has to open up his mouth every fucken time about everything. I thought this was a serious card game. Am I wrong? Is it too much to ask that we play with a little respect?”

Phil turned his gaze down to his hand, his cards firmly clutched in his right hand, and further hidden by his left.

Johnnie just laughed, “The only one who shouldn’t be playing in the big league, my dear Greek friend, is you and your half-assed attempt at playing with the big boys. And not even with your own money. The only joke, my friend, is you.”

Vincent interjected, “Now Johnnie, Dimitri is our guest this evening, and we should treat him with the respect that he deserves.” Turning to Dimitri with a dark sparkle to his eyes, he asked, “Are you feeling pretty good? Do you want to up the bank on this round?”

Dimitri couldn’t shake the feeling. Maybe this was it, the ‘wave’ had finally returned. That rarer than rare feeling that he always got before a big win. But that was in the old days.

Nevertheless, it was his best hand since that straight four and a half months ago; and all he was playing for now was this small pot of money, even less than what was in his grandmother’s bedroom drawer. It seemed to be a real waste of a ‘wave.’

Dimitri tightened his grip on his cards and said as casually as he could, “That’s all I’m asking. Just $2,000.”

Vincent leaned back and took a hard look at Dimitri. He shook his head slightly and said quietly, “If you want to raise it, you have to up the bank by $5,000.”

Dimitri felt an inward smile that he hoped didn’t involuntarily appear on his lips. The money was not the concern at this point.  Dimitri was trying to determine if he felt the ‘wave,’ trying to determine if this was the real deal, or just another false alarm. He tried to see if his fingers and toes were tingling because that was one of the signs that it was real. The other sign was that when he closed his eyes, he would see a blue hue, the color that the evening sky turns just before stars start to appear. He closed his eyes momentarily and the blue sky appeared.

With his tingling hands holding his cards tightly, he responded, “Vincent, thank you for making that option available, I have always said that you were a gentleman of the highest standing.”

“Fuck off with the small talk.” Johnnie interrupted. He really didn’t like Dimitri after the previous incident four months ago.

“Johnnie!” Vincent admonished, “This is a classy game here and if you open your big mouth again, I’ll shut it for you.” Dimitri couldn’t tell if Vincent was putting Johnnie in his place, or if it was just a joke at his expense. But Johnnie quieted up anyway.

Vincent turned back to Dimitri, and looking him squarely in the eyes, asked again, “If you want to raise the pot, you have to raise it by $5,000. Otherwise, we play the house rules. The choice is yours, either you fold, or see the pot. Or we agree to up the bank by $5,000.”

“What will it be Dimitri?”

Dimitri looked at Vincent, then at Johnnie, then down to his hand. He knew that Phil was not looking at him at all so he returned the favor. His knee trembled.

With his tingly hands, and vision of blue sky, he said softly with a hint of disgust at his own timidity,  “Okay, I’ll see the pot and call.” He instantly regretted the fact that he didn't have the guts to raise the pot to $5,000. He slowly laid down four jacks, placing the extra king next to it. Phil laid down a full house, ace high. And Vincent laid down a four of hearts, a five of hearts, a six of hearts, a seven of hearts, and an eight of hearts. A straight flush.

Dimitri felt the tingly feeling of his hands fleeing. They were just shaking now. He dimly heard Johnnie laughing in the background. He heaved a sigh of relief but was also concerned that his ‘wave’ was now wrong twice in a row. Not that it had been that dependable before that either.

Vincent gently pulled the pile of money towards himself, “I was hoping that you would do the sensible thing. I didn’t want to have Johnnie break your other knee because you owed me another $5,000. I hate to see anybody not being able to walk to church.”

Johnnie continued to laugh, “But Vinnie, the fat fuck’s knee didn’t even break that time, I just fractured it. I took a pretty good whack at it and it didn’t even bust.” He continued laughing as he shuffled the cards.

Dimitri gulped down the rest of his drink, reached discreetly down to pat his knee, and felt better. Johnnie started dealing out the next hand. Dimitri’s first card was an eight of spades.