The Symbiotic Club

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This work contains adult themes and is not intended for children.

Chapter 12 - The Red-Dog Game

Despite everything that Buster Sampson could do, gaming activities at the club was meager in October. We had made the point that the officers were powerless to prevent us from gambling, but the rule still existed. The atmosphere remained tense; accordingly, most members didn't want to gamble.

The situation became secondary to me anyway since the sports agenda occupied much of my time. The local high school was in something of a slump, but the college team remained undefeated in large part due to the play of M. M. Martin. He had produced chaos in the opposing backfields in the early season and still managed to intercept at least one pass per game. He had been redshirted his first season and officially still had another year of eligibility. Still, two pro scouts came to town to assess his talent. I interviewed both of them.

It was after the second of these interviews that I saw Wanda in the stands. She was laughing and had her hand on a suede clad shoulder of a tall, tanned man. He was talking and smiling. He looked familiar although I was sure I didn't know him. Somehow, I figured Freddy would tell me who he was.

I worked hard to complete my column and reschedule an interview so as to make it to the club Monday afternoon. Freddy's car was in the parking lot along with Buster's, Ruth's and J. D.'s.

When I reached upstairs, they were involved in a game of red dog. When they began a round, Sampson encouraged me to take a hand, "Just don't get greedy; you'll be alright. Greed is what will get you.....every time."

Buster said it with the same air of authority that he said everything. This time, I interpreted it as sincere. However, I had seen him in action enough to know in such interpretations lay his traps. He probably wanted to see whether I would get greedy.

The ante was $20. I was reluctant to join, but Freddy was playing and there wasn't anything else happening.

As I was thinking, Professor Miller arrived.

"Just in time," said the Candy Man. "We got us a red dog game! Russ here is about to put in his money too."

"I don't know," I said.

"Come on," said Miller as he put two tens on the table. "You won't need to put any more money in if you don't have a hand, and you could win."

I put my money in the pot and was dealt my four cards.

As might be expected, the game was slow in developing. Freddy didn't say anything. I didn't want to focus on him so I looked primarily at the slouching Buster. He didn't fit the normal image of a civic leader. As a member of the city council, he had been a major influence in shaping the city. His factory, the city's largest manufacturing company, assembled air conditioners. He owned two retail businesses and assorted real estate in the county. None of that separated him from any of us. As he sat there that day he might well have been the lowest worker in his plant. In coveralls, he looked anything but influential.

With honors in all four suites, I went for $20 of the $120 pot.

"You should have potted it. I've potted it for much less," said J. D. He had, I was sure. He looked much more the part of a rich man. He wore a Stetson and a matching vest. Two rounds latter, he did take the pot barely beating a five of hearts.

Soon I was down $20, then $40. I passed up some plays that I could have made. There was $200 in the pot.

"Let's all pot it in the dark," said Candy Man who was first to make a decision.

"I think not," responded J. D. as he dealt the last round of cards. He had the slow but articulate speech of the southern gentry. His face seldom showed any emotion, and never at a card table.

It could have been interesting. If no one won before it got to J. D., the pot would have been $6400. He could have afforded to have lost that much. His grandparents had owned hundreds of acres which were fortunately south of the strip Sherman had burnt in his march across Georgia. The $3200 pot, when the required bet came to me, would have been a different matter.

"I'm glad we didn't," said Henry looking at his four cards, "even if it'd only been $200 to me." J. D. dealt Ruth's card down as he tossed in his cards.

Freddy asked if a check would be all right if he lost. Everyone said sure. He went for $40 and won. Buster passed. So did Miller. I had a fairly good hand and greedy thoughts. I could afford to lose $160, and that same amount would mean that I could probably play for a long time.

"I'll pot it." I whisper.

"What?!" asked J. D.

"He must really have a good hand!" said The Professor.

"Beat this," J. D. flashed a five of clubs. I breathed again. I had the ten in that suit.

We anted again. This round, I got all bad hands. Freddy got almost good hands twice, got greedy and left a check in the pot which Buster eventually raked.

It was after 6:00. Miller asked about a quitting time. Still, when the next pot didn't last long, we anted another $20 each.

I continued to get bad hands, either void in a suit, all low cards or both. Ruth attempted to take the pot. "Damn, the only suit that could hurt me."

Buster went for the pot. He had a good hand, but he couldn't cover the Jack of Hearts.

Buster was dealing. Everyone else folded to J. D. He looked at the $560 pot and back to his hand. "I guess I'll have to try her. The pot."

"You got a weak suit?" asked Sampson.

"Don't go too high in clubs."

Buster rolled over the ten of clubs. "I told you not to do that." said J. D. We all watched as he put $560 in the middle of the table.

No one took any money from the pot as the deal came to J. D. Buster smiled as he spread his cards. He said one word as he leaned forward toward the money, "pot."

J. D. put his card on top of the deck, "There's the card ya've got to beat. It's no small one."

Dalton sank back into his seat. "Damn! That King of Diamonds is one of only four cards that could beat me."

"Well, I kinda hate to say this, but since I put some of that money in the pot on your deal, I'm glad to return the favor."

Sampson counted out eleven $100 bills and a $20. He whistled. "Someone could get hurt here."

"We won't worry about you, Buster," said Miller. We all know that Buster had nothing to worry about. I felt that Buster was talking about me. It was difficult to look at $2240 and not get greedy.

In the next round Miller went for $1000. It was, I was sure, a well calculated risk. He had always demonstrated an awareness of the odd. Still, I was surprised by the amount. This time Chance didn't favor the odds. From the concealed compartment of his wallet, he removed a grand and added it to the pot.

"How much is in there?" J. D. wanted to know.

Both Miller and Ruth told him, $3240.

"I don't have that much with me."

"Hell, J. D., none of us have that much with us. We all know your marker is good. If you want to pot it, pot it". Buster spoke for us all.

"Well, I want to. At least I think I do. I've got better than a 50 50 chance. I've taken bigger gambles in my life. I'll do it. Turn her over."

Freddy was dealing. He turned a ten of hearts. J. D. simply tossed in his hand, took a blank sheet of paper, wrote $3240, signed it, and tossed it in the middle.

"Gentlemen, it's getting much later than most of us bargained for, I'm sure," began Sampson. "None of us want to leave this table, but."

"What do you have in mind?" asked Miller.

"Well, a recess perhaps to Sunday afternoon if that works for everyone." We all agreed. Sampson put the money and marker in his locker. J. D. said he'd bring cash for his marker but suggested we find another location. Sampson volunteered a room at his factory.

"I'm not sure I know exactly how to get there," I said.

"I do," said Ruth. "I'll be glad to give you a ride. We can meet here."

As we were walking down the porch steps, Freddy commented on what could happen, "The odds are unbelievable, but how would you like to get four aces with that pot? Wow!"

"It's difficult not to think about it," I said.

"Well, let's change the subject. What'd you think about Drake's new beau?"

"Who is he?"

"I thought you read your paper! His picture's in it all the time."

"I said I read it, not that I look at the pictures."

"Ha! Sure, okay, he's a Martin, Rooster Martin. His actual given name is Robert. He does P. R. for their bank. He's a member here; never attends. He did come to a dance or two last year, glad handing and all. Don't remember ever seeing him dance though. He's active in the Democrat Party. Not surprising, they're backing Drake against Bruce the Republican. Politics does make for interest bed fellows." He laughed.

I was pleased that he found amusement in telling me. Although I couldn't share in his enjoyment, I did thank him for the information.

Henry Ruth was waiting when I arrived on Sunday. It was a short drive. I took the opportunity to revisit the circumstances of his daughter's death. "Hey Candy Man, something I've wondered about for some time, but there has never been the right moment to ask. Perhaps there is no right moment."

"Spit it out, Lucky. What is it?"

"You think a Dalton may be responsible for Rose Ann's death, in part, because she was beaten to death?"

"Yeah, its violent nature is part of it, but, you know, the actual cause of death was strangulation."

"Is that right?"

"Yes. I talked to the Coroner. He's part of the Circle, you know. Used to play poker some on Thursday evening."

Sampson Manufacturing reflected its owner. The building was plain, earth enclosed, water cooled and passive solar heated. He boasted that he assembled air conditioners in a building that didn't use air conditioning. Clean and neat, the inside resembled a warehouse more than a factory. He took us to a work area in one corner with a heavy wooden table built to hold large window units in the final stages of their assembly. There was an odd assortment of chairs around the table.

"Isn't this just the ideal place," Buster said. "Best I could do anyway."

"Oh, I thought we'd play in your office," I said.

"Don't have no office. Take a seat."

J. D. exchanged $3240, in thirty four bills, for his marker. Over six grand was on that big wooden table.

No one remembered for sure where we sat the previous afternoon or who dealt last; so, we just sat where we wanted and agreed to let Ruth deal first. No one took a chance on his deal.

Sampson asked what could be done to turn things around at the club.

J. D. dealt next; Miller bet $1500 and reduced the money in the middle to about five grand.

"Well, it seems to me that we must have a new set of officers. A whole new set of officers," said Freddy.

Henry took $120 from the pot.

"If we only could!" I reacted as I began my deal.

"O! We can! Why can't we?" Sampson challenged me.

"Don't the Positions rotate?"

"Well that's the way it's always been, but there's no rule says that's the way it has to be."

"No, I've studied the rule book. We could replace them lock, stock and barrel, so to speak." Freddy reinforced Sampson's statement as he dealt.

Freddy won $80 from the pot and asked Buster if he still had the check. Buster took the check from his money folder and replaced it with the $80.

"Let's see. We'd need seven good men counting the Secretary and Treasurer. Surely we can do that," said Sampson tossing his cards into the middle of the table.

"Yeah, Secretary would be hard since Dale Chase has been in that office forever," said J. D. Oliver who also indicated he didn't want to bet.

"Yes, and that is how long he has been running the place. We'd also need a good person to be High Priest," said Sampson.

"Yeah, the H. P. would be difficult. He has so much ritual to memorize, so much responsibility, and he is the center of so much attention. He would be the target of any resentment from the change over. The old timers are used to everything running along like it always has." Freddy's analysis, again, seemed accurate.

During the conversation, the players' eyes seemed to come back to me often. I thought surely they didn't expect me to volunteer for one of these positions. I had been a member for such a short time and was still an outsider. We needed someone of respect, like Buster. So I looked at him and asked which position he was going to take. I tossed in my cards.

"Oh, I'm afraid I'm going to have to stay in the background on this one. We'll have to replace Gary. That will surely prompt trouble at home."

J. D. said that if he was younger, he'd love to serve, but, at his age, he just couldn't afford the additional drain on his energies. He would gladly supply whatever money was needed and help to get out the vote.

Miller volunteered for a Position other than Secretary or H. P.

"You'd make an excellent Secretary," Sampson said to Ruth.

"Yeah? I'll think about it. How about you, Lucky?"

"No, no way. I'd probably lose my job if Mrs. DuBoise even knew I was a member of the Star."

Everyone looked back at Freddy. "Well, whatever, if we're going to do it, we'd better get on with it," he said.

"What's the rush?" I asked. "The next term doesn't start 'till April."

"Yes, but the election's in February. The nominees are read in January. That's not far off." After a pause, Freddy said, "Okay, I'll go for H. P."

J. D. said, "Pot." I was not too unhappy when he covered the nine of spades with the ten. He had put into the game most of what he was now taking out of the pot.

Indeed, it's interesting how rapidly the money became academic. The pot had disappeared before the deal made two rounds of the table. Sampson had lost but most of the other players had won about what they had lost. Neither Freddy nor I got an opportunity at taking the big pot. I would have to wait for another day to test my ability to withstand temptation. Yet, the afternoon was redeemed for me by the focus of the conversation on the ride to the game and the discussion during the short time that it took us to dispose of the money. I repressed for the moment the conversation with Freddy on the club's porch.

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