I was tired, bored, and thirsty when I saw the neon sign of the roadhouse up ahead. I pulled my truck into the parking lot and went in. I had been driving for 12 hours straight, and it felt really good to be able to stretch my legs.
It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the low light in there. As I stepped to the side out of the way of the door and waited for my vision to adjust, my nose was assaulted by the distinct odor that permeated the air of the joint. An aroma that any biker, trucker, or oilfield roughneck would instantly recognize. A smell compounded of spilled beer, stale vomit, old sweat, and a coppery tinge of blood.
I felt right at home.
I walked over to the bar.
"Beer." I said to the bartender when he came over.
He filled a thick glass mug and set it in front of me without taking his hand off of it. "Buck fifty." he grunted. I slapped a couple of dollar bills on the counter. "Keep it." I said when he started to make change.
He nodded and turned back to serve another customer.
I found a table where I could put my back to the wall and see the door. I could see whoever came in the door before their eyes could adjust enough to see me clearly.
Not that I was too worried, I had a snub nosed .357 magnum revolver under my coat, and a couple of knives and a straight razor cached in various places on my person.
My dad told me long ago, "Son, it's better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it."
Good advice for anyone.
I was packing a considerable amount of cash, most of it in a money belt under my shirt. A little over 30 grand that represented everything I could save and scrimp together from the last 20 years. What I wore and the contents of my truck were all I had in the world. I had never felt freer in my life.
The one waitress came by occasionally to refill my beer, and once, to bring me a burger and fries. I leaned back against the wall and listened to the house band cover classic rock bands. They were actually pretty good.
When they took a break, I sent them a couple of pitchers of beer via the waitress.
I watched a guy come in and sit down at a table not far from mine. We exchanged nods, but didn't speak. He was soon joined by a handful of other guys, and pretty soon there was a poker game going on.
I watched the action for a while. Only one of the guys was any good, however I had spotted his 'tells' after only a dozen hands.
When a couple of the guys went broke, I lifted my beer in a salute to the guy who had first sat down.
"Feel like joining us?" he asked.
"Sure." I said. I took my beer over and sat down. I chose the chair that put my back to the wall again.
A big biker-looking dude at the table noted this and grinned. "Good, I like a careful man."
"5 card draw is the game." said the dealer. "Nothing wild. $5 ante, table stakes."
I nodded and took a couple of hundred from my wallet. I could see the dealer practically drool when he saw the cash.
"Deal 'em." I said.
I lost the first hand to a full house. Won the second with a straight flush, and the game was on. I was slightly ahead when one of the other guys went bust. A guy trying to look like a cowboy, and failing, took his place. His one redeeming quality was that he did however have a really cute girlfriend.
She took a seat at the table I had just vacated. Her boyfriend didn't give her a second glance. When the waitress came back, I gave her a $50 and told her to give the girl whatever she wanted to drink or eat, and to keep the change to start a tab for her.
The girl’s boyfriend ignored the exchange.
As the game progressed, the cowboy wanna-be lost steadily. He won a few small pots, which kept him interested and in the game.
Then, a couple of hours after he sat into the game, the dude got what he thought was a good
hand, and he started betting heavily. The others folded fairly quickly. When it was down to
just me and him, I raised him $500. He counted the money in front of him. He had less than
"Listen, I have the title to my car with me. I'll put that up against your $500." He said.
I shook my head No. "I have a brand new truck outside. I can't drive to cars at once. He looked at his hand a bit his lip. "OK, I'll bet my girlfriend against your 500 bucks." The other players roared with laughter at that suggestion. His girlfriend was furious.
She jumped to her feet. "What the Hell do you think you're doing trying to use me as stakes in a poker game?"
I looked over at her. "No sweat. When I win you, I'll settle for just you having dinner with me tonight."
"At least you're a gentleman,” she said. She sat back down and crossed her arms and legs, looking pissed.
I turned back to the dude. "Bet accepted."
He laid down his cards. 4 kings. "Read 'em and weep,” he said as he reached for the pile of
cash on the table.
"Not so fast." I told him.
I laid my cards down face up, one at a time.
Queen of hearts
Jack of hearts.
10 of hearts
9 of hearts
8 of hearts.
You could have heard a pin drop as he sat there with his jaw hanging open.
I reached out and collected the pot, folding the bills and tucking them away in my jeans. "Gentlemen," I said. "It has been a pleasure and a privilege to sit in on your game. But the time has come for me to be elsewhere."
I tossed a $100 bill on the table. "Drinks are on me. The dude's girlfriend stood up when I came up to her.
"I won't hold you to that silly bet." I told her. "I just wanted to teach him a lesson about being greedy."
She slung her purse over her shoulder and finished her beer. "No," she said. "You won me fair and square."
I offered her my arm and she slipped her hand into the crook of my elbow.
The dude finally stood up. “'But Angie! He said that you don't have to go with him!'
Angie gave him a pitying look. "You lost me when you made the bet whether you won or not. And David? There 5 nothing of mine at your place that I can't live without."
She let go of my arm and dug into her purse. Taking a house key from her key ring, she tossed it to the table in front of him.
"By the way, the car's in my name. I'll be keeping it." and she took my arm again and we walked cut the door.
I was glad she had hold of my left arm, 'cause I thought sure as hell I was going to need the .357 to get out of there alive.
But no one except David said a word as we strolled on out into the night.
As the door closed behind us, shutting off the sound of David's pleading, Angie fumbled a cigarette out of her purse. She was shaking so hard that I had to steady her hand so she could get the damn thing lit.
She took a deep drag on the cigarette and let the smoke out slowly. Then she turned to face me squarely. "Where are you headed?" she asked.
"I was thinking about Seattle, or maybe even Vancouver across the sound."
"Sounds good to me,” she said. "That is, if you don't mind the company."
I bowed to her. "It would be my pleasure to have you along."
She took another puff on the cigarette, looking up at the stars shining down through a clear sky. "I'll follow your lead,” she said at last.
"Sounds good." I replied.
She started off toward a yellow Mustang parked a few yards from my truck. Just before she got there she stopped suddenly and called over to me just as I opened the door to my truck. "I just realized, you never told me your name.
"Does it matter?" I asked.
She shook her head with a smile. "I guess not."
A moment later, we were both out on the highway, heading on into the night.