I take over your life to be a part of my play
So from now on you’ll be living my way
And the best of it all is that you don’t know
That I have your life under total control
Mechatronic - Mind Control
”Thirty years and they’ve still not managed to make flying comfortable. First class only means that you get ten centimetres more leg room than in economy. Jesus, it’s disgraceful! The food here’s a disgrace, too. Yesterday I ordered an Americana pizza and gave clear instructions to the chef that I wanted extra creamy Cheddar, and that they should only use chili peppers from American farms so it would taste like it does back home. I think he misunderstood on purpose. The pizza I got was thin and watery. May Jesus have mercy on his soul. I prayed for him in the evening and hope he learnt something from the reprimand I gave him.
"I prayed for my country as well. Because it’s going downhill, believe me. The fact is that things got better for a couple of years after Portugal. King’s Hope grew and many great ideas and initiatives spread from there. Cid Andrew is a pioneer of the calibre of Columbus. King’s Hope shook up the world a little and that was needed. I voted for Erland Plowfeldt when he introduced those good reforms back home. I pray in his memory almost every day. Do you remember how it was? Segregated schools were reintroduced as a first step, and soon separate busses as well like in the good old days. It’s different now, of course. Far too many busses if you ask me. I mean, they drive around everywhere nowadays. Busses running shuttle traffic filled with Muslims, dagoes, gooks and niggers. They talk about multicultural racism, but I don’t buy it. For me, it’s the same crap everywhere. Well, at least it’s nice that they reintroduced the racial busses. Rosa Parks is probably turning in her grave, he, he. But that was then, and now is now. And you know what – society became calmer. Violent crime sank when they stopped forcing us to integrate. Don’t put lions amongst the lambs, I’ve always said. Because if you do, you have to count on a bit of bloodshed. If Erland hadn’t been murdered, we’d have had a much better society. God bless his memory.
"I hope you see this and think about what I’m saying. It’s a fact that violence and the fear of just stepping out through the doors diminished when the ten cities were split up according to race and religion. I wish all states would adopt that model, instead of how it is now when only about half of them have followed suit. It really works. They don’t show facts like that on the news any more, unless you’re willing to pay, and where I come from most people can’t afford it. This is the best news channel in the world. Undistorted facts. Think about it. What fascinates me the most, and that’s God’s providence, is that everyone respects each other. Well, most people. Lambs and lions, my friends. Kept apart in harmony, together in a bloodbath. When I get out of here, I’ll have enough money to continue what Erland started. Doing it small-scale is good, but we have to scale up. Lambs and lions. May God be with you.”
New faces, same kind of table. Peter had placed out his chips on his side of the line, and was sitting and waiting at table number five for the starting signal. That tiredness, the kind that was called the deep poker zone, was starting to build up. So far, it was nothing to worry about and everybody could cope with one late night. It was when the next morning arrived that the real challenge would come. And it was exhausting being on edge all the time.
Round four was due to begin at 11.16 pm, in about ten minutes. This time, he was sitting to the left of the croupier who was called Jonas.
“Hot waitress index,” the man opposite Peter said. He had number 390 and his display showed that he was Julius Hoffmourner. About 14,500 in chips lay in front of him.
“What index?” Peter wondered.
“Hot waitress,” he repeated, nodding insinuatingly towards their croupier. “I watched you eyeing him up. It doesn’t bother me,” he added hurriedly when Peter started to protest. “I’m just saying that all the croupiers are damned good-looking. That’s what the index is about, when times are tough the attractive ones get the waitress jobs. Or in our case, work as croupiers at the casino. When times get better, they’re soon employed by banks, travel agencies and other places that can take advantage of good looks.”
Peter stole a glance at their croupier. He was about thirty, had white teeth and the tightly-fitted casino uniform sat perfectly on his well-trained body.
“Just look at the one at table 7”, Julius added, pointing.
Peter looked. The female croupier was attractive. She had firm breasts, thick brown hair and a soft-looking face.
“That’s exactly my point,” Julius continued, “there are clear signs that all is not well in the world. But it could be worse, couldn’t it?”
“How?” a woman interrupted. She was Bianca Nevaz, number 6,617 and was sitting to the left of Julius. She had about 11,200 in chips. “This is a matter of life or death, how can it get worse?”
“We get to play poker! We don’t have to starve. We’re contributing to the general good!”
Peter thought he heard a weakly sarcastic tone in his voice.
“Contribute with what?” Bianca exclaimed. “They take our blood when they’ve shot us to death. They’re blood suckers. Vampires!”
“It’s more than that,” Julius countered. “We’re creating jobs. Our families get money. The queues get shorter in the healthcare systems during this period of the year …”
“And the population gets smaller as well, just as it says in the brochures,” the player to Peter’s left chimed in. Sam Jackson, number 92. Sam was wearing a cowboy hat, sunglasses and a white T-shirt with the text “Faith helps me and Jesus fights at my side”. He had a belly that flowed over the edge of the table and threatened to knock over his piles of chips, 38,300 of them.
“That’s not quite true,” Peter said. “I was discussing this with a friend a couple of years ago, and we came to the conclusion that it can’t make any difference. The brochures contain statistics about reduced food problems, but they’re always regional statistics and that doesn’t reflect the big picture.”
“Exactly,” Illi Mantherra agreed, number 5,479. He was a thin, black man with an East African appearance. Illi was sitting immediately to the right of the croupier and had about 21,100.
“Why shouldn’t it be true?” Sam wondered. “Jesus Christ, at home we run a charity collection for the needy, and around the time of the King’s Hope tournament, the need is always the greatest. Of course it helps if the population decreases! It even says so in the brochure.”
“In some places, it can help for sure,” Illi nodded. “But it can’t possibly help globally with the low figures we’re talking about here. If you run a charity to support your needy, of course they’ll be better off just then. And it can’t possibly have anything to do with King’s Hope.”
“What do you know about it?” Sam wondered, turning up his nose in dislike. “People like you don’t know a thing!”
“People like me … Look, I have two doctoral degrees,” Illi snarled, “one in mathematics and one in philosophy. Even if about ten thousand people, in our case nine thousand nine hundred to be exact, are removed every year, it would take years before the population would be down at a level that it would make a difference to how food rationing looks in New Catalonia, for example. To make a real difference, a few million people would need to be culled each year. No, the brochures only present a partial truth; the corporate truth.”
“What is the truth, then?” Sam wondered.
“Don’t you know?” Illi exclaimed, taken aback. “Though it’s true, in the States the situation is a little different. You jumped at the Resize Human Pop bill that included one-child politics. The truth, for me at least, is that corporations have gained far too much power. They can’t just give out small doses of information like they do. People need to know how the world looks and where the distribution of food and information takes place, otherwise we’ll never get back to global stability again. And if the media and corporations can’t get along without economic interests, then we are where we are.”
Sam was just about to say something, but kept quiet. He licked his lips and leant back, causing some of his chips to fall. Peter had become strangely energised by the discussion. The others around the table were easily wound up. Maybe he could use that to his advantage. There were two remaining players that had sat silent so far. The first of them, a younger tattooed man whose nameplate just said Roberto Wallboroso, number 3,755, sat to the left of Bianca. Roberto had 10,900 in chips.
The other, an Asian gentleman with sunglasses by the name of Tonh Then, number 7,185, was sitting between Roberto and Illi and had about 16,600 in chips.
Jonas began to deal cards. Peter received 9♣, Sam 4♦, Julius 10♣, Bianca J♦, Roberto 3♠, Tonh 9♥ and finally Illi was dealt J♠. Jonas then gave another card to Illi, 6♠ and Bianca Q♣.
The round started at 11.16 pm and Jonas dealt the cards. Bianca had the dealer button and Roberto and Tonh sat on the blinds. Illi called. Peter carefully lifted the corners of his cards – 7♠8♠.
An acceptable starting hand, worth checking out the flop with. But how should he play it? He raised to 2,500 and hoped he’d scare away the rest. In the end, Tonh joined in and the others folded.
Jonas turned up the flop, 3♠3♥10♥.
These weren’t fantastic cards and Peter hadn’t made any hits that matched his cards. Tonh checked, after having hesitantly plucked at his chips for quite some time. Maybe he had a flush draw? Peter put the pressure on Tonh anyhow and bet 3,000. Tonh called.
The turn was 6♣. Real rubbish cards on the table, but Peter hardly thought the situation had changed. Tonh felt amongst his chips, reached for first one pile then the next and then checked. Peter’s had a strong intuitive feeling that Tonh had nothing. Perhaps two superior cards, jack-queen or something similar, but no hits. And more importantly, after having put 5,500 chips into the pot, Tonh had about 11,000 remaining. If he wanted to keep fighting over the pot, he’d soon have to make a very tough decision. Was he prepared to do that? Peter’s gut feeling told him that he didn’t.
“Bet 12,000”, he said.
Tonh twisted in his seat. The sunglasses he was wearing flashed in the light. In the end, he folded to Peter’s great delight. He’d gained respect around the table straight away.
“What did you have, then?” Sam wondered, glaring at him.
Peter merely smiled in reply.
Jonas had already collected the cards together, shuffled them and had begun dealing the next hand. The dealer button was in front of Roberto which meant that Peter was under the gun. When the second card landed in front of him, he quickly looked – 9♠2♦. No action for him.
Sam matched the big blind, followed by Bianca. Illi checked. Three players. Excellent, now he could try to read them. The flop came up, A♠2♣5♦.
The ante had already helped the pot to grow to 4,200. Sam pushed in 2,500 almost directly. It was possible he desperately wanted to scare off the others. Bianca surprised everyone by doubling Sam’s bet.
“What do you have, little lady?” Sam wondered and peered at his cards. Illi quickly folded. Sam threw an angry look in his direction, Illi’s rapid pace didn’t give him much thinking time.
“People like you,” Sam said. “Ever since the cleansing at Wounded Knee, my country has been a great country. We’ve been able to get along, your people and mine. You know why? Because every day I pray to God that people like you will continue to understand your place in society. It works for the most part, but here at the casino you take far too much space. Why did you back down now, for example? You must understand that your style of play affects us others negatively.”
“Seriously, why are you being so rude?” Illi exclaimed and swept out his hands so that three chips fell off his tallest stack.
Sam clenched his teeth so much that his jaw was straining. “I’m saying how it is. If we’d been at home, it would have been quite different.”
“Wait a minute,” Peter added, seeing an opportunity the others couldn’t see. “You pray to God for things like that?”
“Why not take the opportunity to pray for some good cards?” he wondered, lifting his eyebrows in amusement.
Sam cleared his throat. “In the Book of Proverbs, it says: Do not be among those who give pledges, among those who become guarantors for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should he take your bed from under you? Do you understand what that means?”
“It means that we mustn’t borrow from God in vain. I don’t need to be indebted to Him to win all your chips.”
“I see. I guess you read the Bible a lot?” Peter wondered. He’d found Bible quotations around a poker table amusing.
“Every day,” Sam said, stretching.
“Isn’t greed a mortal sin?”
“It’s got nothing to do with greed,” Sam replied, licking his lips.
“I bet that there are some things you haven’t considered. Have you, for example, considered that Adam and Eve each have a belly button?” Peter allowed a moment’s silence to let it sink in. “Or …,” he continued, “that Jesus probably had an erection when he died on the cross? That’s the sort of thing that the Bible doesn’t usually mention, but that phenomenon is well-known and is called a death erection. It happens most often with hangings or violent deaths, like crucifixion, for example.”
“You damned liar,” Sam growled. “Don’t say such things to me! I’ll get you. Just you wait!”
If looks could kill, then Peter would already be dead. He noted that he’d gotten inside Sam’s head and really rattled him. If that was the right or the wrong thing to do, time would tell. The fact remained, it was easier to take chips from a tilted player and Sam was now pretty much horizontal. He suddenly heard something very familiar behind him.
He spun around and caught sight of Mashmud, just as Mashmud was stretching over the table to rake in a pot he’d won. Mashmud grinned in recognition and Peter nodded mechanically. In a strange way, it was actually comforting to see a player he recognized, even though he’d have to put up with the Ka-ching. All the others he’d spoken to, he’d only seen one or two times and then it was almost as if they’d been swallowed up by the ground. If Mashmud had taken himself this far, then he’d get even further himself. And it would be a piece of cake.
In the end, Sam folded and Bianca started to sort out the chips she’d won with eager hands. It seemed to be possible to intimidate Sam, and the others played fairly conservatively.
When Jonas had shuffled and dealt the next hand, Peter looked down at 5♠7♥. He ought to be careful and merely call. He was on the big blind and three of the others were just limping, so he should consider raising. Since he’d already won a big pot, it was likely that the others would be cautious. Besides, they’d not shown any signs of strength directly, neither with their chips nor their body language. Did they really want to fight over the pot? It was worth testing.
“Raise,” he said, and nonchalantly pushed in 6,000 over the line. A shiver ran down his spine. This wasn’t exactly sticking to his plan. At the same time, he had to use the weapons he had right now, namely his chips, his position and his image.
Daring play, the commentator’s voice in his head boomed.
But Julius discarded his hand followed by Tonh. Illi, who’d been on the small blind, shifted position before joining.
Jonas revealed the flop, A♠3♣A♦.
A rainbow, and Peter had missed the mark big-time. Illi was first out, and he took his time before finally pushing in 4,500. There was something about his body language that caught Peter’s attention. Illi was also trying to bluff. He had better cards than Peter, for sure, but he wasn’t comfortable with them, above all not with two aces on the table. Peter guessed that he had one high card and one weaker kicker, perhaps king-three or queen-ten.
“Raise,” Peter announced, reaching for his chips. He counted out 9,000 and then pushed them in over the line. If Illi matched that, he’d have about 10,000 left. Illi was getting close to the point where he’d be forced to consider going all-in. Peter waited patiently and Sam sat and glared at him the whole time. Illi folded.
“What did you have?” Sam asked directly.
“If you’d called then you’d have seen.”
“Bullshit. You can’t have good cards every time, kid. Next time it’s gonna hurt. By the way, do you know why a snake never bites a lawyer?”
“No,” Peter replied, quite uninterested.
“Professional courtesy. You’re a snake, Peter,” he said bitterly and then fell into silence.
Peter discarded a number of bad hands while the dealer button continued its journey around the table. He occasionally heard a “Ka-ching” from Mashmud. Now and again, somebody screamed just before the guns went off. The constant rustling and clicking of chips hung over the hall like the vibration of a drum.
A few hands later, Bianca had the button. Illi folded and Peter looked down upon Q♠J♠.
He glanced at Sam, who stared back.
“I raise,” Peter said, and pushed in 2,000.
“You ain’t got nothing, kid.”
Peter sighed deliberately. “Well, you’ll have to pay to find out!”
“You can bet your sweet life I’m going to! Call.” Sam’s frustration was genuine, and Peter decided that was to his advantage. Sam had tilted. Roberto joined. Three players. Jonas turned over the flop, 2♠10♠5♦.
“A ten on the flop always helps someone,” Roberto mumbled helpfully.
Peter had two higher cards, the chance of a flush and a backdoor draw for a straight. Roberto was first to play. He studied the pot, peered at the other two and then checked. Peter placed 3,000 into the pot to glean some information about the others. Roberto didn’t reveal anything.
“Call,” Sam declared sharply. By then his face was red and he couldn’t see that his own stack of chips was starting to become depleted. Roberto hummed to himself and then folded. Peter was once again alone against Sam.
Sam stared down at the table, a little too long, which was sufficient for Peter to know that Sam was really uncertain. A pair of tens with a high kicker, that’s what Peter guessed. Sam felt like an old-fashioned player who valued his pairs higher than what they were actually worth in different situations. One thing was for sure though, Sam was being provoked, but with his minimal remaining stack of about 5,000 he was pretty much out of the tournament. That usually made most people think twice.
“Check,” Sam said rigidly.
Jonas turned the river, 4♥.
A sense of calm came over Peter. That card had probably not helped Sam, unless he’d completely misjudged him of course. Would Sam see an all-in? No, even if Sam was tilted, that would be too much.
“Bet 10,000”, he said and with that was standing ready to push Sam over the precipice.
Sam clenched his jaw so hard that his cheek-bones stood out on his face.
“You want to call,” Peter stated, now controlling Sam like a radio-controlled toy. “The question is, do you dare? Or am I not allowed to say things like that to you?”
“Fold”, Sam said with great effort. “Show us what you have, kid.”
Peter granted his request and turned over his pair of queens. “Let’s see your tens, then,” he said with pretend confidence, he was not totally certain what Sam had.
“Asshole,” Sam said and carelessly tossed his cards on the table. One of them tipped up and revealed 10♦.
“You knew all along, didn’t you?” Julius grinned, glancing at Sam.
Peter shrugged, reached over the table and collected the large pot he’d won. Of course, he didn’t know what Sam had in his hand, but he’d got a good feeling, and from Sam’s behaviour and the cards that lay on the table it was quite simply a reasonable assumption. More importantly, Sam had believed he’d had the better hand and that Peter had played him rather than the cards on the table. Sam was now really wounded, perhaps so much so that he ought to go all-in on the next hand he played. A number of hands followed where nothing much happened around the table.
Peter pinched himself carefully on the arm. He wasn’t tired, although he knew that it was the adrenaline pumping around his body that was making his sense of reality waver. That was dangerous, since when this round was finished, he’d feel the tiredness. He saw the same thing mirrored in the faces of the others. They were on the edge of becoming tired for real. Peter pulled himself together, suppressed a sudden yawn and focused his gaze. He tried to judge the situation. About ten had been shot already, but round four would probably continue a while longer.
It occurred to him that it was starting to become very real. He had enough chips so he’d survive a while longer. He was quite a long way from becoming deep-stacked, but it was going well for him. The blinds were no great threat to his stack at the moment. On the other hand, for Sam they were much more painful. He only had one deal left before the big blind came along and took a significant bite from his remaining pile. The chips changed owners on the Teflon-covered battlefield, and every time Peter made any effort to join in a pot, Sam muttered out loud.
During one hand, Peter managed to steal the blinds. “But you’ve got nothing! You bastard, tell us what you’ve got!”
“You’ll have to join in the next hand I’m in and see for yourself,” Peter suggested. “Because you want to play. I can see it.”
“I’ll give you … you’re going to regret that!”
Peter said nothing. Instead, he leant back with his arms resting on the table and waited for new cards.
A few hands later, Sam was first to act pre-flop.
“All-in,” he said, pinning his eyes on Peter. “Let’s see if you can bluff now that I’ve gone in.”
Peter looked down at 3♣3♦. He didn’t think these cards would be enough this time to win the hand. Especially since Sam looked vengeful and probably had good cards. “No thanks,” he said simply and discarded his hand.
It was as if an Indian arrow had hit Sam in the neck and he stared in surprise at Peter and at the table.
“Call,” Bianca said, her stony face not revealing anything of what she was actually feeling. The others folded.
The flop was 10♣6♦J♥.
Bianca turned up Q♠K♠.
Sam showed his J♠K♦.
The turn was 2♣.
A tense silence spread around the table.
The river was Q♥.
Sam was out.
“I’m gonna kill you all!” he shouted, jumping out of his seat. “Cheats! Nigger lovers! I’m gonna …” He received a knock to the head from a guard that had materialised behind him. Sam swore and tried to fend them off, but they were there straight away and took a firm hold of his arms. When they passed by, Sam lunged at Peter but the guards were ready and the attempt merely resulted in a pointless, pathetic shove. Sam was pushed up onto the stage and shot in the face.
“We shall all tread that path,” Roberto said solemnly, drawing murmured agreements from the others.
When Sam died, he’d taken the momentum around the table with him. Peter stole some chips by betting aggressively and lost a couple of pots when the others went on the attack. The dealer button appeared to crawl around the table, slowly and with great difficulty.
After what seemed like a long, eventless time, the speakers came to life again. through the speakers again. “It’s now midnight and the blinds are now at level ten, 600-1,200 with an ante of 200. Good luck!”
The next hand Peter wanted to play came a while later, when Jonas dealt him 10♣Q♦.
Julius had the button. He reached out for his chips and at that same moment the speakers came to life again.
“It is now 12.11 am and round four is finished. Round five begins at 1.11 am. Good luck.”
The speakers fell silent with a click and a collective sigh of relief could be heard. Four thousand people had died in less than twenty-four hours.
Peter called. Tonh had been limping ahead of him. He wanted to see the last flop as cheaply as possible. Everybody did. Bianca betted and Roberto checked. Four players, that was interesting considering that it was the last hand of the round.
Jonas turned up the river, 6♠8♥10♠.
The highest pair, not bad at all. Bianca bet 2,400 rather half-heartedly. Ahead of them, they all had one hour to enjoy being alive. Roberto folded. The others had perhaps straight draws. Or three of a kind, but Peter was certain. Nobody wanted to get knocked out now, when the break was literally on top of them. He was convinced they would fold.
Tonh surprised Peter. He surprised them all.
“All-in,” he said, his voice betraying his tiredness.
Had Peter completely misjudged the situation? No, Tonh couldn’t have any monsters in his hand. He probably just wanted to steal the last pot. With his pair of tens, Peter couldn’t pass up.
“Call,” he said.
“I’m folding,” Bianca said.
Peter turned over his cards and peered at Tonh.
“I knew it,” Tonh sighed. “I need a seven or a nine,” he mumbled. “Although it’ll be hard to beat your good luck, Peter. Just make sure you don’t waste it.” He turned over his cards, 9♣9♦.
The turn was 5♦.
Tonh rose and stood up straight.
Jonas revealed the river: 3♦.
On the table, there were now 6♠8♥10♠5♦3♦.
“I’ll be headed home now,” Tonh said, with a gratitude in his voice that gave Peter the shivers. “Good luck.” Then he walked with dignity towards the stage with a train of guards behind him.
The thought of going home was so tempting that it was dangerous. He pushed the thought aside at once, before it started taking hold. Peter tried rattling his chips, but he still jumped when the gun shot echoed in the hall.
I’ll remember you, Tonh.
Peter had in total 43,500 in chips. That wasn’t bad. He rolled his shoulders to get his circulation going again. He was starting to feel a heavy weight beating behind his eyes. He’d have soon been awake for twenty-four hours, and not even half the tournament had been completed. But Peter would survive this. Around the last table he’d read his opponents and been inside their heads. He’d do the same at the next table. He stood up and walked to the elevators. It was time to find Lennart to find out what The Lollapalooza was. Above all, he needed coffee.
Copyright ©Hans Olsson