She had long, streaming blonde hair that flowed effortlessly over her shoulders, tantalizingly nipping against her body near where the cleavage would begin on most young ladies trying to attract the attention of the men in the room. The slit in her dress was lower. And she attracted more attention.
A new 15-30 hold’em game was about to start. We would get in 4 or 5 hours of play prior to the beginning of the Memorial Day Classic No-Limit Hold-em tournament at the Four Star Casino in Eagle Pass, Texas. Manuel was setting up the table, getting ready to deal the first hand when everyone’s attention was drawn to the young lady as she approached the cashier’s cage. Ricardo motioned to Manuel to hold up the deal. There was one more player coming in. We watched and waited as the young lady bought in for $1,000 and walked toward our table.
“My name is Emma,” she said. “Miss Emma.” She cast a panoramic smile directed at each player, and leaned forward just enough to disrupt the thoughts of the nine men at the table as she placed her chips in five equal stacks of 40 reds in front of the six seat. Big Ralph Mendez was in the five seat and a good portion of the six seat. I’d never seen him move his chair for anyone before. If the floor was called to get him to move, Ralph would leave the game. And no one wanted that since Ralph was the main contributor to the bankrolls of the better players at The Four Star. But when Miss Emma sat down Ralph immediately moved his chair to the right, squeezing against the player in the four seat. Ralph gave the player a sympathetic look and everyone shifted to the right to allow for Ralph’s new seating preference. I was in the two seat and had a good view of each of the players. My primary focus was on Miss Emma.
The cards were in the air for the first hand. Miss Emma was first to act and quickly folded. I folded 2-7 in late position. The flop came and Miss Emma’s attention shifted quickly to each of the remaining four players still in the hand. The small blind had folded and Ralph Mendez was first to act. He had not moved a muscle when the flop came. He checked. Ed McCullough was in the seven seat. He always had his chips in his hand rattling them slowly. When the flop hit him, his chips would rattle just a little louder. Al Konoski was in the ten seat. He wore his cards on his face. He’d made a confident call before the flop, but the Jack, Queen, Nine rainbow flop brought a look of disgust. I put him on a medium pair, 7s or 8s.
I’m sure Miss Emma was picking up the same vibes that I was. Ed McCullough’s chips were clicking like a rattlesnake getting ready to strike as he moved three red’s forward. Al Konoski disgustedly threw his cards into the muck complaining about how he hadn’t seen a good flop all day. Al’s problem was that if he did get a good flop, the more observant players would notice the calm coming over his face and would stay out of his way. There was a call from the one seat. Ralph Mendez pondered the situation, looked at his cards again, and then made a reluctant call. I put him on Ace-x suited. The turn was the 7 of hearts, putting two hearts on board. The one seat checked, and Ralph took a deep breath, picked up six red chips, looked at Ed McCullough, and then checked.
McCullough bet the required $30 and Mendez quickly called out of turn. His A-x had to be in hearts. The player between McCullough and Mendez in the one seat folded his hand. The dealer started to say something to Mendez about acting out of turn but thought better of it and just shrugged his shoulders. The river was the Ace of clubs. Mendez checked again and Ed McCullough smoothly moved six red chips into the pot. Ralph Mendez called immediately. Ed McCullough turned over pocket jacks for a set. Mendez turned his Ace-four of hearts face up into the muck, commenting that he had too many outs to fold and that top pair on the river justified his call. The fact is he should have folded on the flop.
I glanced at Miss Emma and our eyes met. She smiled knowingly. She hadn’t played one hand and already had takes on three players. Maybe four. I wasn’t sure what she saw me do.
Thirty minutes went by – about 15 hands. Miss Emma had called twice pre-flop and went to the river only once. On that hand, Miss Emma called a double raise pre-flop from the button position. There were 3 other players when the flop came. Ace of diamonds, 10 of spades and 7 of spades. A San Antonio regular bet out from the eight seat, the other two players folded and Miss Emma called. The turn was a blank. The eight seat bet and Emma called. The river was a second Ace. There were no flush or straight possibilities. The San Antonio player leaned confidently back in his chair when the ace came on the river. He quickly and neatly moved 6 red chips into the betting area and waited for his lone remaining opponent, Miss Emma, to act.
Without hesitation, Miss Emma stacked up 12 chips and raised the bet to $60. The eight seat called and Miss Emma turned over two red eights. A single pair. The San Antonio player turned over K-Q of spades and mumbled something about Miss Emma’s bad play. I knew better. She had picked up another tell and had put him on a busted flush draw. If it wasn’t for the weak play of the other players I might have stacked my meager winnings and left. I decided it was still a worthwhile game as long as I stayed out of Miss Emma’s way. I was sure I could do that. What I wasn’t sure of was overcoming the effect her shy, demure smile was having on me each time our eyes met.
It was time for a break. I got up from the table on my big blind and walked toward the door. It was a cool October afternoon. I stood just to the left of the main entrance taking a deep breath and getting some fresh air when I saw her moving toward me.
“Miss Emma.” My deep breath was suspended in my lungs as she moved to within 18 inches of me. She had definitely invaded my space and I didn’t have any objections.
“You’re the only one at the table who offers any kind of competition, Mr. Garrison.”
“Likewise,” I said. Meaning that she was the only one who I had any fear of.
“I know you don’t cheat, Mr. Garrison…nd I’m not proposing anything illegal.” She reached into her purse and took out a key from the Fremont Hotel. It was to room 218. “I just thought that maybe we could help each other a little…and just maybe we could celebrate our winnings later this evening.” She pursed her lips as though getting ready to kiss.
She was proposing something illegal. Collusion. She was asking me to set up the other players. Raise on hands that would build pots for her when I knew I didn’t have the winning hand. And of course she would do the same for me. We’d split the proceeds later.
“I can’t do that, Miss Emma.” I could, but I wouldn’t.
She had a look of disappointment on her face.
“Well, you can at least stay out of my way.” She dangled the keys and put them back into her purse. She turned quickly and returned to the game. I took a brisk walk around the parking lot. I’d intended on staying out of her way; the thought of being rewarded for doing so, appealed to me.
It had been almost a year since my divorce. My life had been pretty grim until I’d run into Donna Meyer, an old high-school sweetheart, a few months ago. We dated each weekend and spoke of old times and the possibility of following up on what we’d had together years ago. I was excited about the idea, but now Miss Emma was fogging my mind up just a little. I was trying hard to convince myself that I hadn’t really made a commitment to Donna.
I returned to the game. Miss Emma picked up her purse and looked straight into my eyes with only a hint of a smile as the cards were dealt to me in the big blind. The first two players limped in, Ralph Mendez folded, and Miss Emma raised from a middle position. Three folds and Al Konoski called the raise, as did the small blind. I looked at my cards; QJ of spades. An easy call from the big blind, but I was thinking of what Miss Emma had said about staying out of her way. Without another thought, I threw the cards into the muck and immediately felt pangs of guilt. The rag flop that followed justified my fold, but that didn’t make any difference. I should have called pre-flop. Miss Emma took down the pot with a small straight against Al Konoski’s flopped set of nines.
An hour went by. Miss Emma continued to dominate and I had fallen behind. The limits had been raised to 20-40 by mutual agreement and I was on the button with AK of clubs. The pattern of the hand was similar to the previous hand that I’d folded to Miss Emma. Ralph Mendez was first in and Miss Emma raised. Ed McCullough called the raise without hesitation. Two folds and Al Konoski slammed his cards into the muck, mumbling beneath his breath as he picked up his few remaining chips and left the table. The one seat folded. It was decision time again. The correct play would be to re-raise Miss Emma, but if I did and beat her in a show down it would shut the door on any after hours cavorting I might have with her. I rationalized that it was OK to just call and make any further decisions after the flop. Both of the blinds called the raise. There were 12 small bets in the pot.
The flop came Ace of diamonds, King of spades, and 10 of spades. It was checked to Miss Emma who smoothly moved 4 reds into the pot. Ed McCullough raised from the seven seat and I was in a predicament again. I didn’t put McCullough on a straight. He was rattling his chips before the flop and I knew his cards were better than JQ. He could have flopped a set or a flush draw. I needed more information, and I was still caught up with my fantasies about spending the night with Miss Emma. I called. The blinds and Ralph Mendez folded. Miss Emma re-raised. She would and did raise pre-flop with JQ. Miss Emma had flopped the nut straight. McCollough confirmed my thoughts about his being on a draw when he didn’t re-raise. Miss Emma quickly picked up on this and she knew that I was on either a set or two pair. I was behind, but with the pot as big as it was, it was an easy call. We were down to three players.
The 3 of hearts fell on the turn. No possible help to anyone. Miss Emma bet and McCullough called, but there was no chip rattling. I caught an inquiring glimpse from Miss Emma. She wanted to know why I was still in the pot. Was I colluding with her against McCollough? I lowered my eyes and called Miss Emma’s bet. I’d make my decision after the river card.
Ace of diamonds. I’d filled up on the river. Miss Emma sensed this and hesitated before acting. She had already taken her motel room key out of her purse and laid it on her cards as a marker. She quietly moved 8 reds forward. She was breathing heavily and had her eyes fixed on me. McCullough folded.
My decision was interrupted by the shrill ring of my cell phone. I called time and moved away from the table. It was Donna Meyer..
“Buck, I was thinking about our date next week.”
“It’s still a go.”
“I didn’t want to wait that long..I’m in Eagle Pass.”
I was caught off guard. “I have your number on my caller ID. I’ll call you back. Don’t go away!” I said.
I moved back to the table and met Miss Emma’s continuing stare.
“Raise,” I said. I gave Miss Emma a sympathetic look. She looked at her cards, then at me.
The soft smile that had radiated from her face all day was gone. It was all poker now. Miss Emma picked up her keys and clenched them tightly in her hand. I was ready to duck if they came flying in my direction.
“The Fremont uses key cards,” she said. Miss Emma pushed her chair back and dropped the keys in a nearby waste basket as she walked away from the table.
What would I have done if my cell phone hadn’t rung? I would have raised. The phone call just made it a little easier. I stacked up my chips and threw four reds to Manuel. I had a date to keep.