Pat Ruger: Caribbean Shuffle

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Chapter 8

“Let’s go!” It was Jimmy on the cabin phone and he was finally excited about something. “I found a game!”

“What’s the buy-in?”

“A dime. I’ll spot ya if you want.”

“No, I can …” I remembered then that my debit card was gone. “On second thought, I’ll take you up on that. What room?”

“3844, on the third deck. I’ll grab some cash.”

“You can get two grand from the ATM?”

“You can here … Meet you there.”

Detectives usually made poor poker players. They tended try too hard to use their detective skills, often “detecting” patterns and tells where there weren’t any. Jimmy and I were different. We let our gut feelings rule our playing, and more often than not, tells were slowly revealed.

I finished getting re-dressed while absent-mindedly flipping the channels on the TV. Eight of the first 10 channels were cruise line infomercials. One was of particular interest — 45 percent off all Tag Heuer watches in the Promenade Shops, Sunday only. I made a mental note and left the set on, grabbing my cabin keycard and letting the heavy door slam as I moved forward up the corridor toward the elevators.

Once on the third deck, I made my way aft and found cabin 3844. For some odd reason, I tapped “shave and a haircut” on the cabin door, and felt a bit silly. The door opened and Jimmy grabbed my arm, pulling me into a smoke-filled room.

“This is a private game …” he said, somewhat under his breath.

I looked at the exquisite suite we had entered, not very comparable to my balcony room. It spanned about 600 square feet, give or take, and included a kitchenette with granite countertops and stainless steel mini-appliances. A large hexagon-shaped card table was set up in the middle of the room, complete with green felt top and chip trays built in. There were 4 players already sitting. One was wearing a formal nautical uniform. Each had a lit cigar, like the old days at the squad, I remembered. A couple of beautiful blonde staff members stood nearby, waiting to provide what was wanted, I surmised. They wore barmaid-type uniforms that showed off their shapes.

Jimmy turned towards the table. “Gentlemen, I’m Jimmy and this is Pat. Thanks for letting us join you guys.”

We took the last two seats as introductions began.

To my left, a husky fellow was stacking his chips neatly. “I’m Sam, glad to have your money …” He smiled, only half-kidding. Sam was about 40 and had sandy, thinning hair. He had started drinking early, as there were 3 empty glasses in front of him, complete with tomato juice residue climbing the sides.

At 10 o’clock was the elder in the room, a white haired 70-something whose crinkled hands were struggling to shuffle the deck. “Terry, glad to meet ya.”

A geek was sitting at midnight, straight across from me. With a somewhat squeaky voice, he introduced himself. “I’m T.J. from Frisco. I hope you brought some better luck than mine …” I noticed his chips were fewer than around the table. T.J. was wearing a purposely torn but perfectly clean yellow tee shirt and straw Fedora with a blue band above the rim. He picked up his Oakleys from the table and carefully placed them on his face.

“Don’t let him fool ya, he’s got more money than all of us combined. This is his suite!” This comment came from the naval suit sitting at 2:00. Chuckling, he held out his hand to shake. “Mike Perkins, I’m the entertainment manager. We need to hurry, I’m on stage at 8.” Mike had a black beard, thick black hair combed straight back, and manicured nails. He was swimming a bit in his size-40 dress white uniform. His red tie was loose and white shirt unbuttoned at the neck.

We obliged the shake. “They let you smoke in the cabin?”

“Money talks,” Sam replied, accentuating the point with three perfect smoke rings straight across the table. He looked at the geek. “What’d this set you back, T.J., 20 grand?”

“Thirty … for the week …” T.J. smiled.

Jimmy gave our money to the banker, sitting to his right, who exchanged them for three colors of casino chips, blue, brown and pink. The blue chips were embossed with “$100,” brown had “$50” and the pink said “$25.” We each took our stacks and placed them in front of us.

Terry waved to one of the blonds, “Tina,” according to her name tag, and she brought a couple of cigars to us, along with lighters and cutters. “Dominican, not Cuban, but they’re good,” Terry said as we accepted them. “You guys cops? You look like cops.”

Jimmy seemed to be adept at clipping and lighting up, while I struggled a bit, but eventually got it done. Rusty.

“I am, he was,” replied Jimmy. “No jurisdiction here.”

“What’s the game?” I asked as I put the cigar down in the built-in ashtray.

“Caribbean Shuffle,” Terry replied, and he set the deck next to Sam, who tapped it rather than cutting. Terry picked the cards back up and began dealing.

“Something like Texas Hold ’em, but it’s 4 down each and 3 community cards up. We bet after the fifth down and after each up card.”

Terry was on his third round of down cards. “The joker makes it interesting,” he said on round four and stopped when we had them all.

“A wild card?” Jimmy asked, almost laughing.

“Nope,” Terry answered. “Not wild … dead if you have it.”

“So what happens if it turns up there?” Jimmy pointed to where the community cards would be.

Terry smiled widely. “We reshuffle.” He paused as that sank in. “The pot stays put and only those still playing that hand get to play the reshuffle.”

“You mean,” I started to ask, a bit in shock. “You mean I could have 4 aces and the joker pops up there and we have to re-deal?”

“I think he’s got it,” commented Sam. “You might stay in longer in this game, just in case that happens. We get some pretty big pots going.”

“One more thing,” added Terry. “If you get the joker in your closed hand, you’re the only one who knows it won’t be coming up.”

The first hour was fairly uneventful. We went through a few cigars and kept the barmaids busy. Chips changed hands and changed hands again. I think we were about even when the first joker appeared as the Dominican card. Apparently the 3 cards turned up are named for the 3 largest islands in the Caribbean — Cayman, Dominican and Cuban. None of us had yet folded when it turned up, the dealer gathered the cards and re-dealt, and the game continued. Jimmy won that hand and the larger pot that went with it.

“Did you know,” I announced, “that Jimmy here is Jimmy Stewart?”

Jimmy shot me a grimace.

“You don’t say …” said the older gentleman. “Is it a wonderful life?” Everyone laughed but Jimmy. Terry continued with his best Stewart impression, “S-s-say th-th-there, do you want … do ya … do ya really want to … do you really want to play poker? Let’s get … let’s get Clarence to play with us!”

Another round of laughter. He began to prattle off another gem when Jimmy raised his hand.

“Okay,” he said sternly. “My money is waitin’ here to lose, just like yours. You want to win it or not?”

“You ain’t been losing much, yet …” Sam answered. “Let’s see if your money’s any good.”

The game continued and I silently calculated the odds of a joker popping up in one of the 3 “up” cards. Three chances in 53, roughly 6 chances in a hundred — slightly less than 6 percent. That’s once every 17 deals, about once an hour.

Midway through the second hour, I pulled 3 ladies and deuce. I checked on the first bet and called the first hundred bet when it came back around. I wanted to the pot to grow, and that wouldn’t happen if everyone folded.

Amazingly, the fourth queen appeared as the Cayman card and I concentrated on slowly keeping the betting going, carefully raising each time the bet came around. A couple of the others must have also had good hands, because there was a boatload of chips in the pot by the time someone called.

The Dominican card was a 3 of hearts and betting was muted, making only a couple of rounds. Everyone had bet what they wanted on the previous card and evidently the 3 didn’t help anyone.

Then came the Cuban — the joker. Damn! I looked around and there were few chips in front of anyone — they were all in the center of the table. “Dammit!” I said aloud. Everyone sat there shaking their heads incredulously.

“Well, this’ll be a hell of a hand,” T.J. said and laughed while throwing his cards in. “Deal ’em up.”

I hated this game. Know how often I pulled 4 queens in a poker game? ‘Never’ came to mind. The last time I had 4-of-a-kind I had been dealt 4 fives and was able to grow the pot pretty well. I lost to a 10-high straight flush.

In the next deal I was given the 4 of clubs, 6 of clubs, 2 of diamonds and 10 of hearts. I couldn’t really fold, since most of my wad was in the pot. Terry ran out of chips anyway, so we dealt out the hand. Up cards were two jacks and the 6 of spades, giving me two pair. T.J. stood triumphantly with a full house and no one had better.

The game ended after that hand with no hard feelings and an invitation to return the next evening, which we politely declined. Jimmy picked up a couple of T.J.’s chips and motioned to Tina and her partner, Tammy, to come over. They did so and he slipped a chip in each of their tops. “This is for you,” he said to one, and, “Thanks,” to the other. They both smiled, Tina kissed Jimmy on the cheek, and T.J. cackled again.

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