Originally published in somewhat different form as “Social Climbing,” one of four stories published under the pseudonym Thomas Sparrow in his 1999 debut Northwoods Pulp: Four Tales of Crime and Weirdness and later translated into Japanese and published by Fushosha.
At this point of the evening even I thought I could read Nick’s mind: You fuck this up, Sam, you’ll never get another cent from me as long as you live, you scabby little cockroach—which may not be very long if I don’t win, you fucking dirt bag.
After Nick’s raise, Tom Geno folded, much to Nick’s distaste.
Miko was up next. He sucked hard on a Camel squeezed between his first two fingers, smoke curling around a tattoo on the back of his right hand, some kind of fancy sword in the middle of some flowers. There was at least a thousand of his cash in the pot already, from my guess, and a lot less than that in his shrunken pile.
Miko counted his chips carefully. Touched them softly one at a time and then slowly slid all but one into the pot.
I thought for a second Sam Cross was going to lay them down and give us the old read- ’em-and-weep. But suddenly Miko chirped up in an accent as thick as the syrup in a baklava. “I like to make raise,” he said, “but I have not enough cash. May I write marker? This I have for collateral.” He slid back the high-backed oak chair, glanced briefly at the knock-off Tiffany lamp hanging above the poker table and bent over at the waist. Pulling up his blue denim pant leg, Miko reached inside his black calf-high boot and lifted out a small handgun, set it on the table for us to appraise. Nick looked nervous.
Miko’s voice rose. “Is this value for marker? Any takers?”
“No markers to foreigners,” Nick Cross snapped.
John McKay grimaced and glanced over at his brother Peter who grinned thinly and put his hand to his upper lip to cover the oncoming sneer.
Sam Cross said, “Let me see that. I’ve always wanted a sweet little gun like this, I—”
“You’ll blow off your putz with that thing, Sammy,” growled Nick. He had a sour look and was chewing on a cigar.
“This is Walther PPK,” the Greek said, putting his palm down on the table next to the finely crafted pistol. “The double-oh seven—James Bond—he use this to kill many communists. Is worth seven hundred American.”
Sam said, “I’ll give you two bills—two hundred—for it.” He waved casually at his considerable winnings. “But if you want it back, it’ll cost you four—whether it’s tonight or next week. Savvy?”
“Is not enough. Is worth seven hundred.”
“Take it or leave it, pal, the clock is ticking,” Sam reached across the table and picked up the gun. Miko eyed him suspiciously.
Mayor McKay said, “Yes, please do,” his tone superior and weary. He stubbed out his cigarette in a square glass ashtray. ”If I would have known you were bringing a gun, Miko, I certainly would not have given my okay for you to join our game. Did you know about this, Peter?”
Peter McKay shrugged his shoulders and straightened up to the full effect of his large torso. He smiled benevolently at his brother and the rest of us. “I’m sure Miko feels a little worried,” he said, “about carrying a large sum of money in what to him is a strange town, thousands of miles and an ocean away from his homeland. Bay City can be a little threatening in some sections, late at night. Something my brother and I firmly resolve to change. Isn’t that correct, brother John?”
“That’s correct, Peter. But we aren’t here to discuss work.” Looking at the rest of us now. “How about we take care of business and get on with the game? You people don’t know how Evelyn can get if I’m too late getting in.”
“Relax, John,” said Tom Geno, chuckling. “You’ve still got time to get some lipstick stains on that nice shiny shirt of yours.”
Miko’s brow furrowed until his thick eyebrows met in the middle and formed a single row of bushy black hair. He glared at Sam. Sam had his back turned and was busy aiming the gun at the chandelier and the overhead fan and at successively all of the numerous antiques lining the walls and shelves of his rich sibling’s basement rec room. Truly a child at play.
“Okay,” Miko said. “Two hundred. I take it. I win hand and buy back tonight.” Then he hid his mouth with the back of his hand and leaned toward Tom Geno, Miko muttering a barely audible, “Man is a-hole.”
Mayor Geno coughed and almost did a spit take with his Whiskey-and-Seven.
Sam slid the diminutive weapon into the pocket of his worn sharkskin suit coat and counted out twenty ten-dollar chips. As soon as Miko got his hands on them they were tossed into the pot along with a fifty-dollar bill. The little guy was shoving it back at the politicians and the businessmen and the crooks.
“There you go, assholes. There you go. I sell my gun—only protection from the crazy drug sick maniacs you have here. And I have reason to fear. Some of you know. But I shall win this game and return to ship with pockets stuffed and then I will stay there until business is done and I can return home.”
(To be continued)
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