Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dealin', Dealin', Pretty Mama Don't You Tell On Me

I lay on the couch and let the Muddy Waters' tunes on the stereo drift in and out of my consciousness. There was a knock on the door. Then another. I got up and opened it. Woody and another fellow stood there. Woody was one of those guys I had met on the street who had quite a colorful life story. Although he was like many people I met in California and on the road in that he didn't talk much about his family, I did know that he was born in some small town in Texas and went back to visit his mom often. He had left home at fifteen to live on Gaudalupe Street in Austin and deal pot. He apparently arrived in that town at the right time. Not only did he cash in on the burgeoning counterculture there, he also met Janis Joplin, Doug Sahm, the guitar-playing Vaughn brothers, and the underground cartoonist Gilbert Shelton of Freak Brothers fame. He also got busted in 1975 for a one ton shipment of killer Oaxacan weed. Since then, he had married at least once and done everything from cooking in a diner to picking apples and cherries in Washington State to working sound for rock and roll bands. He had just returned from a visit to his mom where he had run into some old connections. The fellow with him was one of them. Besides bringing along his friend, Woody had also brought along a couple hundred pounds of weed that he was trying to move.

"Hey Ron," said Woody. "This here's Bowie. Him and I go way back. Like to Guadalupe Street in '69."

"Hey, good to meet you." I said. "I've heard a lot about you."

"I'm sure you have." said Bowie. He switched the bottle of Jim Beam he'd brought with him from his right hand to his left and gave Ron's hand a vigorous shake.

"When did he get here?" I asked Woody, after the two sat down.

"This afternoon, around three."

I went over to shut the door.

"Wait." said Bowie, "There's someone else coming."


"The taxi driver." said Bowie. "He's been driving us around all day."

"Yeh." said Woody. "And taking your money."

"I'll win it back." Bowie said. "Or he'll drive me around 'til I do. Or we'll make it back with the dope"

"What are you all talking about?" I asked.

"This guy picked us up at the airport and Bowie here asked him to take him gambling." explained Willy. "So he's been driving us around to every goddam joint in the city."

"Oh, yeh?"

"Yeh. We started over in North Beach by the old Boarding House, then we went to the Haight, then someplace I don't know the name, and we ended up in some old house in the Fillmore near that liquor store you like." continued Woody. "I finally convinced Bowie to split 'cause I saw a ripoff comin' down. If you know what I mean."

"Shit. I can take care of myself." said Bowie. "And you, too, Woody."

"Well, where is this dude, anyhow?" I asked. "Hopefully, he's cool."

"Don't worry," assured Bowie, patting his inside coat pocket. "I got a piece."

"Oh great." I thought. "Just what I need--a gun in my house."

Just then, a tall black fellow came up the stairs. He wore a three-piece suit and a beaverskin hat. As he entered the room, he nodded my way.

"Hi, man," he said. He tossed his hat on the sofa, removed a sealed deck of cards from his coat pocket, and extended his hand. "My name's Fast Black. That's for blackjack, not no racial thing, you unnerstand. Don't worry, man. I'm cool. See, I even got a unopened deck of four dollar and eighty nine cent playing cards, poker style. That's what it says right here on the box, see?"

"And you better not open 'em yet, either." said Bowie. "Or I'll throw your ass outta' here."


"Anyhow," said Bowie. "Let's play some cards. But first let's pour some drinks and do a line or two. Where's your glasses, Ron?"

While I cleaned some glasses that were in the sink, Bowie took the deck Fast Black held out to him, broke the seal, and began to shuffle the cards. Nothing fancy at first. Just like you or me, only faster. The he got going and threw in some fancy stuff. Made the cards look like an accordion. To finish what looked like a single motion, he laid the cards on the table for Fast Black to cut, waited for the cut, picked the deck up, and dealt the first card face up.

"Five card stud..." he said. "Nothing wild."

He dealt the next card down.

With a black queen showing Fast Black bet fifty bucks. Bowie matched his fifty, hoping for another jack to match the one he had showing. The next card helped Fast Black, with another queen against Bowie's six of clubs. Bowie stayed in the game though, and added another hundred bucks to the hundred Fast Black threw in. The next card was dealt face up. It gave Bowie a pair of jacks and nothing more for Fast Black. Another hundred bucks a piece went into the pot. Bowie dealt the last card down. Fast Black looked and bet another hundred. Bowie matched. When fast Black turned over his cards, he still showed a pair of queens. That didn't beat Bowie's three jacks. Bowie took the money from the center of the table. Fast Black collected the cards and shuffled.

"I don't have no fancy tricks." he said, placing the shuffled deck on the table. "Just cut the suckers so I can win some of that money back."

"I guess we'll play some straight draw this time." said Fast Black. "Fifty bucks to get in."

"No problem." said Bowie. He grinned as he took two cards from his hand and laid them on the table. "Give me two cards, Mr. Dealer."

Fast Black took that hand with a pair of fours. Then it was Bowie's deal. It went back and forth like that for a couple hours. All the while Bowie was pouring himself glass after glass of bourbon and getting sloppier and sloppier. Betting when he shouldn't, not betting when he should, and trying to bluff even though his face reflected every card he held like it was a mirror. In contrast, I noted, Fast Black was still sipping on his first drink.

I leaned back on my chair, a little sleepy, and turned up the radio. The station was playing an hour of Robert Johnson tunes. "Stones in My Passway" was drifting somewhere on the edges of my consciousness when I heard Bowie yell.

"Hey, motherfucker, that's my money! Don't touch it or I'll kill you!"

I focused on the two cardplayers. Bowie, madder than a pit bull in the pit, had his hand in his gun pocket. Fast Black was grinning.

"What's goin' on?" I asked, a bit nervously.

"This motherfucker done stole my money." accused Bowie. "I had fifteen hundred bucks laying in front of me and just 'cause I closed my eyes for a couple minutes, this sonuvabitch took it. He's already won a grand off me but he wants it all. I'll kill his ass.!"

"No man, that ain't it at all." said Fast Black. "Fuck you, I ain't got your money."

"Well, then where the hell is it?" demanded Bowie, his face not more than three or four inches from Fast Black's.

"Shit...don't ask me. I mean, I can't help it if you can't keep track of your cash." Fast Black stood up and edged his way towards the front door.

He never did get there, though. Bowie jumped in front of him and pulled out the pistol. I crossed my fingers and hoped no bullets were gonna' fly.

"You ain't goin' nowhere, motherfucker." threatened Bowie. He waved the gun in the air. "I've been in the joint long enough not to care about much. Besides, my wife just left me so I don't give a fuck about nothing."

"I told you," insisted Fast Black. "I ain't got your money." He watched the gun wave in the air like a flag in a tornado.

A minute or two later, Woody awoke. He glanced around, sized up the situation and began to talk. Just like he'd been in this circumstance before. In fact, he probably had

"Come on, Bowie," he said. "Put the gun away. This ain't Texas or the OK Corral or nothin' like that. We're a little civilized out here."

"That sonuvabitch took my money and I ain't moving 'til I get it back." said Bowie. He was sober now, what with the adrenalin cresting through his body, and had the gun pointed right at Fast Black's chest. Fast Black was nervous, his mind working overtime on a way out of this dilemna.

For several minutes or maybe only a few seconds -- you know how time stretches in tense situations -- nobody moved.

Fast Black said he had to pee. Bowie wasn't gonna' let him but Woody convinced him somehow. While Fast Black peed, Woody talked to Bowie--quietly and quickly. When Fast Black returned, Bowie told him to get the hell out.

"You better watch your back, too, asshole. 'Cause we'll be looking for you."

The next morning Bowie found the cash on the kitchen floor.

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