Copyright ©Hans Olsson
Remember all the things you did
More strange feelings hard to hit
Frightening memories of a kind
Another journey through your mind
In Strict Confidence - The Truth Inside Of Me
"I live in an apartment in one of those complexes outside Leipzig. It's just like living in a small town. There's a shop on the ground floor in the northern corner. It's behind the wall of the laundrette, so every time you go in there you can always hear the faint beating from the washing machines, as if the building's heart was behind the wall. All day long, seven days a week, the tumble dryers rattle around. Some of them never get warm, but we're nervous about switching them off for any longer than it takes to unload the washing and throw in some more. If they stop working, then it'll probably be for good. I'm not complaining, that's not it. I love the house, it's part of who I am since I grew up there, and that's where I'll be returning to. It's just that the contrasts are so great.
"The landlord moved away many years ago, maybe to a complex a kilometre away. I don't know for certain, but he probably disappeared off to a place where there are tumble dryers that actually get warm. My point is that if you ended up at the wrong place when the Portugal Drought Incident came along, then you were stranded there. Our complex is stranded. Occasionally the most desperate ones from the other complexes come raiding, but we have an intricate system of traps and defences that those who aren't careful end up in. A couple of years ago, I managed to get hold of a metal baseball bat. It's a decent weight and I've stowed it in a safe place. It's pretty good for defence.
"Half the money I got for taking part is going towards repairs, because apart from the tumble dryers, there are more urgent things to fix. A crack appeared in one of the inner supporting walls two months ago. The building is still standing, but if the wall falls down then there's a risk that an outside wall will go with it, and then we'll have to rely on plastic sheeting until we can fix it.
"Once I saw a program about a completely deserted city. The damp had slowly chewed through the concrete so that even the tallest skyscrapers were full of mildew and spongy like sand castles. Perhaps that's how our building will end up, but until then we'll keep struggling on because we all like it. The money from King's Hope will help. If you want to help too, then we're outside Leipzig. The address is Dunkelstrand 48B."
Peter had the big blind for the first hand. He watched in disgust as it chewed off a chunk of his stack. Stephen folded, and Michelle raised to 15,000. It was already getting sweaty according to Peter's hazy judgement. On the other hand, he mustn't get stuck in the rut that carried over from the previous round. The number of chips around this table was a little over average for tables in the final round. At this stage you needed to accumulate even more chips than before. Milligan called, and the others folded. Ritva, who had the small blind, also discarded her hand. It was Peter's turn again. He peeked cautiously at his cards: 4♠5♠. It was a reasonable hand, but was it worth 15,000? Yes, especially since he'd already paid the big blind.
"Call," he said.
Beata turned up the flop at once: A♣9♦10♣.
Peter was first out. He estimated his chances to be slim, and he wasn't really keen on bluffing with strangers so early on in the round. Not before he knew how they played. He thought that the others had made pairs on the flop, and there were also draws that he didn't want to get involved with. Besides, he absolutely didn't want to be the first on the stage during the final round, that wouldn't give him any mention in The Book. Also, it would be an embarrassment.
"Check," he said for the sake of it, and then waited for someone else to raise the bets.
"Bet 25,000", Michelle said quickly, pushing a pile in over the line.
Peter's warning bells started ringing at once. She was dangerous, and she was serious with that bet. She probably had at least one club, maybe an ace as well.
Milligan drummed his fingers on the table and then hesitated. He measured up Michelle's stack by eye, and then counted his own. He'd lose about a third of it if he called. Peter wished he would, so he'd know if his intuition had been correct. It was becoming harder and harder to know due to fatigue and the constant pressure.
"Er, hm," Milligan said indecisively and lifted a water bottle to his lips. "I'd like to see what you have. You have … the jack of clubs," he said as if it were a certainty. "You can take this pot, and I'll take the next. You can be sure of that. I fold."
"I fold," Peter repeated mechanically. It was as he expected, but it stung anyhow.
Michelle turned up one of her cards to reveal Q♣.
It wasn't the jack of clubs, but it was damned close. She'd known what she'd had in her hand and put real pressure on. That meant that she, with her enormous pile, was extremely dangerous. Peter wished that she'd gone to another table.
A number of hands passed by without anything in particular happening, until the dealer button stopped in front of Amon. Peter once again had the big blind. Just as he'd placed his cards neatly in front of him, the speakers sounded.
"It's now 12 pm, and the first twenty-four hours of this year's poker tournament have been played. The blinds are now increasing to level seventeen, 3,000-6,000, with an ante of 1,000. Chips worth 500 will be gradually exchanged. King's Hope wishes everybody good luck."
Each round was becoming more and more noticeable.
When it was his turn, Ritva and Amon had matched the big blind and the rest had folded. He carefully bent back the corners of his cards and saw he had 9♣9♥. Those were at least cards worth betting on. Although he wasn't encouraged by Amon getting involved in the hand. The fact that he'd merely called caused Peter's warning bells to go off. There was something cocky about it, as if he had very strong cards. He glanced at Ritva who was in a similar situation as Peter, bleeding. Dying. Desperate. That meant she probably had good cards right now. Were they good enough? Peter stared at his cards. Pair of nines. No, he couldn't attempt to scare them away now.
"Check," he finally said.
Beata dealt the flop: 10♣J♠K♣.
That was a dangerous hand. He had the possibility of a straight, but he hadn't made any hits. If an ace came along, there'd be a potentially higher straight than the one he'd have. Three higher cards, of which one was a king.
We place our hopes on the king. The king can go and hang himself.
"Check," Ritva said.
"Check," Peter agreed. He wanted to scout the territory. Get information.
"I'll raise to 12,000," Amon said calmly. That was about a quarter of what Ritva had left. What could Amon be holding?
"All-in", Ritva said. Her eyes were firmly fixed on the cards on the table. She held her hands firmly clasped together in front of her. She was ready for whatever the rest of the cards would reveal.
Peter glanced once more at his cards. A pair of nines with the dangerous chance of a straight.
"No," he said in dismay and tossed his cards. No, it wasn't worth it, and discarding the hand was the best decision at this stage.
"Call," Amon said almost deliberately, and turned over his cards: K♠J♥.
Peter let out a sigh of relief. Two pairs. It had been close. Far too close.
Ritva hesitated, she appeared to be miles away, but she turned up her cards after a few seconds: Q♣10♦.
Beata dealt the turn, Q♦.
Ritva looked as if she was drowning. She was pale, and beads of sweat were oozing from her. She needed a nine or an ace for a split pot. A queen or ten to win the hand. Ritva was swaying back and forth as if in trance, as she watched Beata's hand. Beata burned the card on top of the deck and turned up the river: 5♣.
"I don't want to," Ritva exclaimed. "I don’t want to. Give me another card. Quick! Give me a new card!"
Nobody listened to her prayers. The guards came, grabbed her under the arms and carried her to the stage. Peter looked down at the table as the gun shots rang out.
Being so close to the top hundred was worse than he'd imagined. Especially since he didn't have an especially big stack. With every hand, he was torn between the idea of going all-in, or just saving his chips as long as he could. On the other hand, he had to think strategically all the time, since he couldn't go all-in with a seven and two, or five and eight or any other kind of rubbish. The guns went off at regular intervals from the stage, and each time he heard them he glanced over at Dibley's table. He didn't know if he could bear her being eliminated now. Not when they'd both managed to make it that far. He caught sight of her between players and piles of chips. She looked pale and tired. But alive.
Several hands later, Michelle had won a big pot from both Hamish and Claire, about 30,000 from each of them, and Stephen had taken a piece of Milligan's pile. He himself had lost yet another pot and was now dangerously close to the state of dying that Mads had been in. He had 37,000 left.
The gun shots were becoming more frequent. There were often three or four in a row as players were dragged up on stage and gunned down, expendable losers as they were. The final table, according to statistics from earlier years, usually crystallised out after six to eight hours of play in the final round. The tempo was almost always high at the start of the round, but it normally slowed down and almost stagnated towards the end. Lorenzo would have been able to say more on the subject, for sure. And it was starting to happen now, quite often some poor player passed by their table like a wraith with their head lowered and gaze empty. On one occasion, he heard quite clearly when the guards reloaded their guns up on stage. What was most horrific about it was that most of the players just accepted their destiny. They stepped calmly up onto the stage, looked out over the hall and were shot in the head. The mass psychosis made him feel sick. How would he behave himself when it was time to go up there? He didn't want to explore that option, not even in his mind. He shook his head. If it was his turn. If.
He tried to shake away his thoughts and focus on his table instead. During the previous hand, Hamish had lost a large pot to Claire and was now in real trouble. Peter had the big blind and was waiting to look at his cards. Stephen and Michelle had folded.
Hamish was fingering his chips and peered at his cards several times.
"All-in," he said, his forehead glistening with sweat. The rest of them up until Amon folded, Amon was scratching his nose. Peter's intuition told him that Amon had relatively strong cards.
"Call," Amon said.
Peter glanced at his own cards, 10♣K♣. That was a hand he had to bet on. He'd long since passed the point of desperation, and he was more or less forced to go all-in as well. Nobody knew how long it would be before he was dealt a similar hand. He had maybe 10,000 more chips than Hamish. If Amon felt threatened, maybe he'd pull out …
"All-in," he said, his voice trembling slightly.
Hamish's hands were visibly shaking. His red hair was sticking to his temples.
"Call," Amon said rapidly, crushing Peter's hopes of isolating himself against Hamish.
Hamish, who had slid beyond that invisible boundary of insanity that affected most people in an all-in situation, turned up his cards: 5♣A♥.
Amon revealed his J♥J♠, which made Peter feel sick. Amon was in the lead over both of them.
He then turned over his own hand, 10♣K♣.
Beata collected the pot together and burned a card before dealing the flop: 3♣J♣2♦.
His nausea was getting worse. There was the chance of a flush, but Amon had made three of a kind. And Hamish needed a four to survive.
Beata revealed the turn: 10♦.
That wasn't good. Not good at all. He felt the hope draining from him like air from a punctured bicycle tyre. He had a couple of seconds left to live. The same feelings were playing across Hamish's face. He was deathly pale and kept on licking his lips. Beata's face didn't reveal the slightest thing what she might be feeling for the players.
Robots. They're all robots.
She turned up the river: 8♣.
On the table lay 3♣J♣2♦10♦8♣.
Hamish whimpered. No straight for him. And Peter had made the flush. That was an enormous relief, but he found it hard to convince his thumping heart that he'd live a little while longer.
"Scheisse," Amon said, looking angry. "Flush on the river, you were lucky there."
Peter just stared ahead. Yes, he'd been lucky. This time it had gone his way, and he'd raked home a well-needed big pot. It was hands like that one that stirred up the soup and made the others around the table consider his actions more thoroughly. But it had been so close. He swallowed, wiped the sweat from his nose and tried to erase the memory of the hand from his memory.
"Congratulations," Amon said stiffly. "That was a good hand."
"I'll remember you, Hamish," Peter mumbled, ignoring Amon. Hamish was gone already. Peter watched as he stepped up on stage and they shot him in the back of the head as soon as both feet were up. Saving time, probably.
To shake off the sight of blood and brains spurting out of Hamish's head, he counted his chips. 105,000. He was relieved to find out that he'd almost tripled his stack, and the Sword of Damocles could quite happily hang over someone else's head, at least for a while.
The pace of play fell temporarily at the table, and pots wandered from player to player without any big fights being played out.
He sat and thought what his life would have been like if his parents hadn't been forced to comply with one-child politics. Moa would have been alive. What would have become of her in the ravaged world they lived in? In one way, Moa was like the woman in that music video, unobtainable and belonging more to the mind than reality. It would never be possible to make amends for what had happened, but the poker tournament at King's Hope was one way to close the circle.
After a number of hands, Claire was knocked out by Stephen. He'd had a full house with three twos and a pair of fives. Shortly afterwards Michelle won a large pot against Milligan, who was now down to 38,000. Things could change rapidly at King's Hope. Amon was also having a tough time, and his self-confidence disappeared when he lost a pot to Michelle. He'd been reduced to 65,000. The guns rumbled constantly, like a persistent tropical rain hitting a tin roof. And the speakers sprang to life far too soon again.
"It's now 1 pm and the blinds are going up to level eighteen, 4,000-8,000 with an ante of 1,000. At this moment, nine hundred and three players are fighting for the places around the final table. King's Hope wishes you good luck."
The next time Peter was dealt good cards was when a new player joined the table. He was slender with glasses, thin mousy-brown hair and wore a suit. He sat down on Claire's seat next to Beata. A guard followed him, carrying his chips which he then placed out on the table. The new player passed his wristband over the display, and it stated that his name was Tony Santino, number 58. He had a large stack. Peter guessed it was about 176,000. He swallowed and peered at the cards he'd been given, Q♠10♣.
They could be worth seeing the flop with, but Michelle raised to 24,000 and his stomach didn't like the feel of that. Peter threw away the small blind. Stephen, who had the big blind, called. Two players.
The flop was 10♠5♦A♠.
"Bet 12,000", Stephen said.
"Call," Michelle said, sounding almost irritated.
The turn was 8♣.
That card probably didn't change anything, or perhaps it changed everything because Stephen went all-in with the relatively few chips he had left.
Michelle did not hesitate for one second. "Call," she said, and turned up her cards: A♥10♦.
"What do you have?"
Stephen revealed his cards, 6♠7♠.
Peter leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms back in relief. If Stephen didn't get a spade or a nine, then he was out. It was obvious from his posture that he was very aware of that.
Beata turned up the river, 3♣.
On the table lay 10♠5♦A♠8♣3♣ and Stephen had been knocked out, quickly and brutally.
He sighed. "What a crappy game this is. What a place … Good luck to you all, see you soon." Then he stood up and followed the guards to the stage where the guns took care of him.
Peter began to feel concerned that there weren't so many left at the table. The blinds were like a hungry record player whose needle gouged out a growing furrow on the record as it spun round. The longer he sat there passively and discarded hands, the more stressed he felt. He'd seen it on TV so many times, but no images could describe the gnawing feeling of constantly knowing that the next hand you played was probably your last. It was awful. Paradoxically, the speed of play was slowing down despite that fact that players were frequently being ushered up to the stage. When they started to get close to the top hundred, many of them would play even more carefully. Then it would get really slow.
Beata turned up hand after hand without being generous with good cards. Peter threw a number of hands as the gun shots echoed around the room. They seemed to be never-ending, like an insane band with drummers who'd got stuck on a repetitive beat. Boom-bang-BOOM. Boom-bang-BOOM.
A while later, Milligan was knocked out by Tony's three of a kind with fours. Tony had slightly more chips, but it had been enough. A one-way road. It was once more becoming urgent to try to win a hand, even if the pots were mostly moving along with the blinds. Peter kept himself at a fairly constant level. Michelle and Tony were competing with each other who could take the most blinds and were leaving the others starved. Amon had started to crack, and he'd lost a couple of smaller hands. He was now down at 49,000 and wanted to go all-in. That was quite obvious to the others, and he was sweating profusely while he waited for the right cards.
Peter now had the big blind, and he was waiting for the opportunity to look at his hand.
"Bet 18,000," Michelle said calmly.
Amon glanced at his cards and then stared ahead for quite some time before making up his mind. "All-in," he said, and pushed his chips in over the line with a firm motion.
Peter looked down at A♣J♣. He had 93,000 left in total, and he'd survive even if Amon beat him, but the loss would hurt. Peter called anyhow.
"I'm folding," Michelle said quickly, she didn't seem to want to spend any more chips on that hand.
Peter and Amon glanced at each other, and then turned up their hands.
Amon had K♥J♠ and Peter showed his A♣J♣.
That was a good hand for Peter, and his greed exploded, eager and hungry.
Amon was for the moment dominated by Peter's better kicker.
Beata burned a card and revealed the turn, 4♠.
"Scheisse," Amon muttered.
Amon stood up even before Beata had a chance to deal the river, which was 7♦.
When he'd seen the river card, he nodded. "Now it's over. Well played, Peter. Good luck with the rest of the tournament."
Then he walked towards the stage with such long and decisive steps that the guards had to hurry to keep up with him. Peter smiled sadly as Amon made his dignified departure.
I'll remember you, Amon.
They were now three at the table. Peter had managed to increase the size of his stack, but he still needed more chips. With so few players around the table, he had to play a significantly larger number of hands and throwing cards with the dealer button was no longer an option. He experienced an almost magical streak: for several hands in a row, Beata dealt him good cards. Many of his starting hands also made hits on the flop.
He won four smaller pots in a row and then a larger hand from both Tony and Michelle. The chips were now distributed with Peter having 260,000, Tony 220,000 and Michelle 510,000. He suddenly had enough chips to be able to play several hands where going all-in wouldn't be the only sensible move. At the other tables, he saw how players regularly stood up. Most of them to go up on stage, while others changed tables or were merely stretching their legs. Dibley was still sitting there, that was a relief. But the closer they came to the top hundred, the harder the knot in his stomach became. Even if she survived, he didn't think she'd take the option of leaving King's Hope. He pushed that thought aside.
The speakers sounded again. "It's now 2 pm and the blinds are going up to level nineteen, 5,000-10,000, with an ante of 1,000. At this moment there are seven hundred and eighty-nine players left, and King's Hope wishes you good luck stacking up on chips."
Peter's stomach growled. It was too late for that. His bowels protested. Too late for that as well. The only plan of action was to carry on playing. His goal was now to accumulate enough chips to make it to the top hundred, but that wouldn't happen unless he could make it to a new table. The dealer button continued going around.
A few hands later he was given good cards once more when Beata dealt him Q♣A♦.
Tony had the big blind and Peter was first to act since he had the dealer button.
"Bet 30,000," he said.
Michelle scrutinised her cards, then looked up and examined Tony and Peter with the same precision.
"I'll fold," she said.
Beata burned a card and turned over the flop: 5♣5♥J♠.
He judged it to be a good flop for him, considering his high cards. He waited in anticipation of what Tony would do.
"Bet 35,000," Tony said, throwing a large pile in on the table.
Tony was signalling strength. Was he sure of winning, or was he bluffing? Peter let out a sigh. He didn't think Tony had three of a kind. A pair of knights, perhaps? A low pair in the hand? Were his own high cards good enough? At that moment he had no idea. During a short moment of weakness, he wanted it all to be over … There were too many players between him and the top hundred, and the ones that were left weren't dying fast enough.
"Call," Peter said after a moment's though, and a stack disappeared from his pile as he pushed them in over the line.
Beata revealed the turn, 5♠.
"Bet 35,000," Tony said guardedly, almost offhandedly.
Peter didn't like the fact that he hadn't made any hit. Apart from the three of a kind on the table, he only had ace high. But at the same time, he believed he was in the lead.
"Call," he said. His headache took an instant turn for the worse.
Tony had 120,000 left. Peter had slightly more, but not much in proportion. Tony's body language was betraying his anguish.
Beata turned up the river, A♥.
On the table lay 5♣5♥J♠5♠A♥.
Tony toyed with his chips for so long that the croupier warned him that his time was almost up. "All-in," he said, with just a few seconds to spare.
Peter had a full house. What could Tony have? Four of a kind was improbable. His gut feeling told him that Tony probably had a jack, and therefore a lower full house. When the ace had arrived, Tony had tried to make it look as if he'd made a hit. Peter had only one course of action.
"Call," he said.
Tony turned his cards over. Q♥Q♦.
Peter then revealed his own hand, Q♣A♦.
"Nah," Tony exclaimed in dismay. "You're the one they call Mr. Royal, aren't you?"
Peter nodded silently.
"I understand why. I've watched you winning the most improbable hands. It's not fair. If you carry on like that, you'll win the whole thing," he hissed and stood up, just as the guards arrived behind him.
Peter was unaware of how he wiped the sweat from his nose as Tony disappeared towards the stage.
"I'll remember you, Tony," he whispered, staring down at the table. He didn't want to hear that shot, but since the guns were firing constantly it was hard to know which one was aimed at Tony, and he realised he was counting the bangs.
He piled his chips together and was relieved that he'd almost doubled his stack. He looked around the room to try and get some idea how many were left. The tables were thinning out, no doubt about it, but there were still a large number that needed to be played out.
The previous hand was bothering him, now it was over. Tony had been right. He'd been lucky. Sure, he'd won, but it was only on the river that his hand had become unbeatable. If the ace had not come … But it had, that was all that counted. It was worrying nonetheless that he could risk his chance of The Book so lightly. Although it was necessary to take risks. It was also a fact that you couldn't win the tournament without at least a certain amount of luck. He shifted in his chair and suppressed the impulse to smack himself over the cheek.
Pull yourself together! Constantly overthinking everything is dangerous.
He and Michelle were now heads-up. When he thought about it, it was unbelievable. Apart from that, they'd managed to get rid of their opponents relatively fast and split the chips between them. He studied Michelle' stack. They had about 500,000 each. For the first time in ages, the air was lighter and easier to breathe.
He blinked a few times and looked down at the new cards Beata had dealt him: 3♥7♦. Peter had the big blind, and Michelle was watching him.
"I'll fold," she said in the end, discarding her hand.
Peter changed tactics and raised more times than Michelle did when he had the small blind. The pots he gained were small but well-needed, and above all his stack soon began to grow bigger than hers. Meanwhile, the guns rumbled like distant thunder. Twice. Three times. Seven. With every roll of thunder, he was nearing his goal.
A while later, Peter had the dealer button in front of him and the small blind. He looked down at 9♣10♣.
"Raise," he said, pushing in 30,000. He estimated that Michelle had about 500,000 left.
He leaned forward and crossed his hands beneath his chin while Beata burned a card and dealt the flop: A♣3♣J♦.
Peter was first to act after the flop.
"Bet 35,000," he said in an attempt to gain some cheap information.
"Raise to 150,000," she said, dashing Peter's hopes. Something fell into place in his mind. Now she had something good. Did she possibly have an ace in her hand? Or was it an attempt to bluff, since it was an exaggerated bet in relation to what was in the pot. He had a flush draw. Hard against hard, that was the way ahead.
"All-in," he said as calmly as his voice allowed.
"Call," she replied at once, and turned over her cards: A♥A♦.
"Oh," he said in dismay. His shoulders sunk as his energy drained from him. He'd survive, but the chips he'd fought so hard for would be changing owners. Again.
He slowly turned up his 9♣10♣.
Beata burned a card and dealt the turn, 10♦.
"In one way it's a relief," she said. "Now I can't do so much more. I was going to play you slowly, and it worked out in a way."
"Mm," Peter mumbled, his gaze firmly fixed on the table.
Beata mercilessly burned a new card and quickly dealt up the river: 7♣.
On the table lay now A♣3♣J♦10♦7♣.
Michelle let out a heavy sigh. "He was right, you know. You are incredibly lucky."
"I hope it continues that way," she nodded.
Michelle stood up. She swayed and for a moment Peter thought she was going to fall over. Then the guards were behind her. They placed their hands on her shoulders and shoved her to the stage.
"I'll remember you," Peter murmured.
He glanced at the clock. There was still a long way to go to the top hundred. Right then it was 2.49 pm. He stared at his chips. Incredibly he'd survived and come out victorious from table eighty-four. He'd managed to scrape together 990,000, which was fantastic considering how he'd begun the round. At the same time, it was far from over and he knew all too well that it could all be over with any new hand.
Around him, the tournament relentlessly continued.