8. High Stakes

by Calico

“I’ll take…” Hannibal Heyes paused for a second, mused, “…I’ll take two.”

The dealer, with a slight – knowing – smile, flicked two cards across the table.

The next player also took a moment to study his cards. “I’ll take one,” came the deep voice of the older man.

Flick. Another silent smile from the dealer.

Jed Curry frowned. This was an important hand, the stakes were high. “I’ll take…” A firm chin was stroked, thoughtfully. Still thinking.

The dealer’s tapered fingers lingered on the pack. An eyebrow was raised at the blond gambler.

“I’ll take three,” came the decision.

Flick. Flick. Flick.

For a moment, a dark brown gaze watched the boyish features stay expressionless. Not quite a ‘Heyes’ poker face – but pretty good. Then the blue eyes crinkled, ruefully. “I got nothin’!” A handful of – nothing – was tossed in.

“And, dealer takes two.” A deft movement flicked out two cards.

The dealer’s face gave nothing away. Or…did it?

Dark eyes scanned it searchingly, from beneath discretely lowered lashes. Was that a disappointed look? There! Before the lids dropped.

But… It could be a bluff.

And…

The intelligent gaze flicked to the older man on the right.

When he had fanned his hand after taking a single card, had there been a hint of smugness? Just the smallest tightening of the corners of the mouth?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Hannibal Heyes had played against these particular opponents before.

He knew not to underestimate them.

Not to take any ‘tells’ at face value.

He took another look at his cards. Not that he needed to. He knew what they were. A strong hand. But – was it strong enough? He was not sure. The glance went to the pot. No doubts there! Whatever he thought about the odds – he sure liked the look of that pot!

From under a curly blond fringe, a hopeful gaze was thrown, first at his friend – always better with the cards, then at that so tempting pot. A mute conversation was held. The dark-eyed player understood. His partner was relying on him.

“I’m in for …three,” declared Hannibal Heyes, confidently.

“See you,” grunted the older man.

“I’ll see you and,” the dealer’s eyebrow rose, challengingly, “…raise you five!”

An audible intake of breath. Hannibal Heyes shot his partner an annoyed look. No need to give anything away, even if you WERE out of the game.

“Too rich for me!” declared the older man, throwing in his hand.

“What about you?” smiled the dealer at the solitary, remaining adversary. “Is it,” the smile broadened, “…too rich for you, too?”

The dark eyes checked the ample resources of the dealer against his own scanty stock. Still he managed a nonchalant smile. “I’ll see you – and – raise you another three!”

“Fighting talk!” admired the older gambler on his right. “Especially the way the luck’s been running. That,” he nodded to indicate the dealer, “…that wily card-sharp has been beating the odds all evening!”

“I mean to keep it that way, too!” silked the dealer, eyes narrowed. “I’ll see your three. What do you have?”

“The luck has to turn sometime!” declared Hannibal Heyes, stoutly. “Full house! Jacks over sevens.”

Gratifyingly impressed sounds from his partner and the older player.

The shoulders of the dealer drooped. “You’re right,” resigned voice, “…The luck has to turn sometime.”

A delighted grin dimpled a satisfied gambler’s face. Hands reached for the pot.

“Sometime! But not THIS evening!” went on the dealer, gently catching one of the eager wrists. “…Queens over tens! Read ’em and weep!” she crowed, laying down her hand.

“Mother!” whined Hannibal. Sheesh! Not again!

“Mrs. Heyes!” protested young Jed Curry. “You pretended you’d lost!”

“You two never learn do you?” grinned Hannibal’s father, standing up from his place at the kitchen table and stretching.

Both small boys watched the pot being swept back into the button box. The last of the extra big and extra shiny ‘staying up late’ brass buttons were flourished, gloatingly, before them – and then dropped in with the others. That meant – a resigned glance was exchanged – bedtime now. No more arguing.

“…When you sit down to cards with HER,” went on Mister Heyes, with a rueful shake of the head at his wife, “you count yourself…” He raised his eyebrows, encouragingly, at his young son to complete the oft-heard family quotation.

Hannibal watched his mother split and restack the pack one handed, before putting it away. Would he EVER be able to do that QUITE as neatly? “You count yourself lucky to keep a shirt on your back,” he sighed, “…let alone a button to fasten it with!”

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