Bruce Louis Dodson
I've caught a 6 Parnassus that will take me to Masonic at the Haight Street intersection and find several empty seats in back. We stop at 7th Street. The doors hiss open and a guy who looks a lot like Wesley Snipes gets on. Expensive leather jacket, shiny shoes and shades, a ring on every other finger – fifty carat's worth of glass. He sits down next to me.
"What's happenin', bro?" His aura feels electric, nervous and excited. "How's it goin'?"
"Same ole same ole."
"Look at this." He pulls a roll of bills two inches thick out of a zippered pocket . . . dark blue rubber band around it. Two guys a couple seats in back of us, across the aisle, glance at the wad of money and then quickly look away as if they didn't notice.
"My name’s Jack," he says, "I'm lookin' for some action. Just got back from Reno. Won three thousand dollars! Look." He waves the roll. "I can't stop gambling. Don't care if I win or lose. You dig it?"
"Yeah, I'm hip," I answer. What the hell's he up to?
Jack retrieves a deck of cards from his shirt pocket and pulls out the King of Spades, the King of Clubs and king of Hearts.
“Watch where the red king goes.” He shuffles the three cards across his knees, but slowly . . . easy to keep track of what's gone where. The red king's in the middle, now the left side, right side, middle, right again, then left.
He moves into an empty seat across the aisle and lays them face down on the floor between us.
"Pick the red king."
"I'm no a gambler, Jack. Not lucky – never have been."
"This is just for fun. Come on." He smiles.
“Okay.” I point to what I'm sure will be the King of Hearts.
He turns it up. "A winner!" See? And you said you weren't lucky! Could have won you twenty dollars if you had your money down."
"The story of my life," I answer.
"Try again. Just one more time," he says. "No money. I just to see if you stay lucky, bro."
I pick out the King of Hearts with ease.
"You're good at this," he tells me as we make another stop and three more passengers get on. One of them wanders to the back end of the bus, another African American. He’s six-foot-two, built like a boxer – heavyweight. His face does not exude intelligence.
He stops by where we're sitting, staring at the cards and roll of money in Jack's hand.
The gambler pays him no attention, focusing on me.
"Look here." He pulls a twenty from his roll and lays it on the floor. “You put a Jackson next to mine, and then I'll shuffle. Watch me now."He swirls the cards around again then lays them on the floor. "Pick the red king."
"It's that one." I point to the card on the far left.
"You got to put your twenty down first, bro."
"No, I don't think so."
"Hey," the guy who just got on asks, "You mean if he can pick the King of Hearts, he wins the twenty?"
"Yeah," Jack tells him.
"Want to bet me twenty?"
"Get it out," Jack says.
He puts his twenty next to Jack's.
"Now pick the King of Hearts."
"That one," the big guy points. "The middle."
Passengers nearby are watching as the gambler turns it up. "You win, bro! Damn." Jack hands him back two twenties. "I don't care," he says. "I don't mind losin'. I just love to gamble. Anybody else wants some of this?"
The other passengers go back to staring out the windows, all except a guy who's on the aisle seat behind us.
"Want to try your luck?" Jack asks him.
"Nah." but you can see the greed seep up into his brain.
The guy who just now won asks, "Want to bet with me again?"
"Why not?" Jack says.
"Then how 'bout forty. Want to bet me forty?"
"Anything you want!" Jack grins. A gold tooth glitters as the big guy lays two twenties on the floor.
Jack shows the King of Hearts before he starts to shuffle and I notice that the corner's bent. It's marked.
He swirls the cards around, just like the old time shell game moves, then lays them on the floor beside the cash. The Red King's bent up corner showing so a child could pick it out, but now the big guy points to the wrong card.
“You lose." Jack shows the King of Clubs to him and to the guy in the behind us. “It ain’t so easy as it looks.” He winks and flips the card, with the bent corner. "Here’s what you be lookin’ for."
The man in back of us can't take it anymore. He reaches for his billfold, lays a twenty on the floor and says, "I get to pick the card up by myself ?"
"That's cool with me," Jack lays his twenty down and moves the cards a little faster this time.
"Which one, man?"
The guy's is afraid to say. It's too damn easy, and he knows it, but it’s too late to back out.
"It's that one," he says, pointing to the card with the bent corner.
"Pick it up, bro."
He bends down to turn it over.
King of Spades.
I don't know how Jack did it. I was watching every move.
"You lose," Jack scoops the money up just as the bus is coming to a stop. He's up heading for the exit with the big guy's right behind him, and they make a graceful exit as the doors come open with a sucking hiss, then close.
The pair go jogging down the sidewalk, laughing as the rest of us pass by in silence with the victim. I feel sorry and a bit embarrassed for him, sure he must have sensed that something was amiss.
A man is better off to trust his intuition than a total stranger, but of course, you never know for sure.