The Poker Game

~ ‘FURIOUS FICTION’ SHORT STORY CHALLENGE ~

June Criteria:
– Your story’s first and last words must begin with ‘J’
– Your story must include a game being played
– You must include the phrase MISS/MISSED THE BOAT

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Jack of hearts. Queen of hearts. 

The two cards you have been dealt. 

An ancient-looking fridge hums loudly in the corner, percolating the still night air. The only thing louder is the rustling of a Cheetos packet, infiltrated at regular intervals by five rapacious, yellow-stained fingers; belonging to one paunchy, middle-aged man.

You slide your chips towards the centre of the dining table, hand quivering. It’s been a long night and if you lose this hand, you will be going home broke.

Cheeto-Fingers picks up on your nerves. He looks at you as his hand dives into his Cheetos bag. He pulls out a single cheese puff and places it delicately on top of your stack. “An extra chip for you! Seeing as you’re having such a lousy night and all.” He laughs at his own joke. 

You manage a weak smile. Stupid, cheesy joke. Literally.

All five punters, whose names you forgot to learn, have placed their bets. 

Baldy-Beard-Face deals. He burns a card, pauses for dramatic effect, lays out three fresh cards face-up. But he’s not done! He massages these cards, until they’re all exactly the same width apart, and perfectly centred in the middle of the table. He reclines back in his chair, admiring his work as if he’s Piet Mondrian. 

King of hearts. Eight of spades. Eight of diamonds. 

Chain-Smoker folds. She sucks on a cigarette and thick ribbons of smoke swirl restlessly towards the kitchen ceiling.

“If ya can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen. Get it? ‘Cause we’re in a kitchen!” Cheeto-Fingers is on a roll. 

Baldy-Beard-Face places the fourth card down. Again, he tends to the arrangement of the face-up cards. You imagine him bringing out a ruler to ensure they are all “regulation” width apart.

Ace of hearts.

Bets are placed. Baldy-Beard-Face folds. Three players remain: Cheeto-Fingers, Sweaty-Pits and you.

The final card is flipped over, the river card. Baldy-Beard-Face, no longer invested in winning this round, focuses more intently on his ‘art’. He pushes the cards around the table, perfecting their formation. This process obscures the river card from your view. 

You hold your breath. A flash of red. Hearts! But how many? The one in your chest begins to pound.

“Don’t go breaking my hearrrrt!” Cheeto-Fingers sings off-key. Throughout the evening, yellow-orange Cheeto dust has been building up around the outside of his mouth. Radioactive clown makeup springs to mind.

Ten of hearts. 

You cannot believe your luck: you have a Royal Flush! But you must remain calm, maintain your poker face. There is a lot of money at stake.

“I’ll go all-in, why not?” You remark casually.

Cheeto-Fingers folds. Consoles himself by inhaling a fistful of Cheetos.

“Go all in, eh? Yer bluffing? I’ll see ya.” Sweaty-Pits rasps, voice rough as a cat’s tongue. He matches your chips.

It’s time for the big reveal. 

A smug smile spreads across Sweaty-Pit’s face, like a greasy smear, “A full boat, how’d you like that, darlin’?” He raises a can of mid-strength beer in premature celebration.

You unveil your royal flush. “You may have a full boat, but seems you have missed the boat this time…darlin’.” 

Cheetos spray across the room like yellow shrapnel, as Cheeto-Fingers laughs at your joke.