Send Down the Six
A slow death in the advanced stages of syphilis; an unjust conviction on child molestation charges (followed by some particularly brutal jailhouse justice): these and curses far worse are being thrown around the smoky room we are joining- but all in good fun, of course. As this scene and these voices become clear, we can see five men who fancy themselves honest-to-goodness poker players. Gathered at small, rectangular table sitting just below a toxic, second-hand haze, the cramped dining area barely allows space for their game but it has everything the men might want. They are each steps or less from a bathroom, a refrigerator, and of course- there’s gambling and filthy language.
We have voyeur’s privilege and more: being uninvited to be an audience but somehow still witness to all the action. Through our undiscovered presence we are privy to characters’ actions. In addition, we are informed of their thoughts and feelings via author’s prescience. To question how this could happen would only be a distraction; so better to just watch quietly and enjoy the chance to see real cards being played by real men.
It’s an interesting cast of characters, to say the least, with their occasional wins not just rewarded with a growing stack of chips and money at the end, but with vicious and hurtful bragging rights as well (the best kind of bragging rights, truth be told). The frequent misfortunes: due to bad luck, or bad play? One man would answer the former, the man across the table-the latter. But when rules or matters regarding fair play arose, this group of as yet unnamed gentlemen hammered their issues out to a final state of firm resolution or angry indifference. Regardless of any individual’s sour mood over good look turned bad, most returned the following Friday and would call any one of the others “friend”.
Imagine play is suspended momentarily while we take a look around the table-before another card is turned, the characters must be introduced.
To clarify the earlier description of these persons as “gentlemen”: they are men, sure. But “gentle” was not frequently seen at this table. While any one of them, as we have already established, might consider any other as friend: not one was above unsavory play or brutal remarks directed towards another. The host (and coincidentally one of our two main characters), known to the others at the table simply as “Coop”, employs a particular style of play including unlikely wins and risky wagers: staying in with less than desirable-even laughable hands, and then pulling out unlikely victories at the last moment. These “river wins”, or “suck-outs”-when the last card turns a pitiable loser into a miracle winner not only make Coop the man to beat on many a late poker night, but the man to fear as well. When it seems, after all, that only a miracle will save him, it is easy to remember the many times it has. This tends to beguile some, frustrate a few, and infuriate others-namely our other main character, Carlo. Carlo has often fell victim to Coop’s style of play, and is somehow still never at a loss for words and/or reasons to criticize it. Carlo prides himself on making the right bets, for the right reasons, at the right time-and he is sure that Coop will someday learn his lesson-either in a hand with Carlo himself, or at the end of a rusty blade in the parking lot of some shady gambling-house-soon after one of his lucky river wins. On either side of Coop and Carlo are the three other players-remarkable only in that they are also witnessing the hand being dealt.
While we looked around the area we are in, noticed the hole in the wall and the two ashtrays already well-stocked with remains sitting on opposite ends of the playing field, there seems to have been some sort of commotion in the game. Yes-bets were made as we looked around, and in a flurry of insults, chips and dares- Coop and Carlo have gone “all-in”: putting all their chips in the middle of the table in an attempt to take down a big pot that is certain to include temporary boasting rights.
As is customary when such a showdown occurs, the two opponents turn over their hands to show all where they stand.
The game is Omaha.Each player is dealt four cards, two of which they must use, and five community cards come out in the middle of the table: three at first, then two more (one at a time), so that wagering might occur between each reveal. As these community cards are turned over, the risk that any player’s hand might greatly improve (with four cards from which to choose) makes Omaha a dangerous game, and coincidentally one of Coop’s favorites. After all, with four cards to make a hand from actually hidden in your hand, and five coming up in the middle of the table, there is no reason to believe that the stretch from a 3 to a 7 can’t be filled to make a straight!
Gathering from the cards on the table-it is clear: the situation is quite dismal for Coop. The cards Carlo shows have him resting comfortably with a full house. Coop is showing three of a kind, three sixes to be exact- one of them in his hand, the other two on the board (and making up the smaller part of Carlo’s full house). The fourth card turned over is insignificant to either player. To lend appropriate gravity to the situation we see: there is only one more community card coming to the table; one card that can decide the final winner of the hand. Certainly (and especially in Carlo’s mind) this hand is all but over. Carlo is gloating, virtually assured of victory and most self-satisfied with his disciplined, textbook gambling and play that will soon be the undoing of the “river-riding” Coop. He closes his eyes and says a silent prayer, asking God to make this the day that Coop learns his lesson once and for all. And as Coop looks his own cards over, it becomes clear to him that:
- The only thing possible that can save him is four-of-a-kind
- His only chance for that is to get another six, and more significantly:
- There is only one more six out there…only one card left in all the other cards still in the deck that can save him: the six of spades.
Coop closes his eyes, and his head turns downwards. Carlo opens his eyes, looks at Coop and smiles.
It is at this moment that we feel ourselves drawn suddenly away to an undisclosed location- somewhere above.
Nestled in an immaculately kept group of clouds, and illuminated by a heavenly glow, God’s mansion seems without any possible connection to the rough and seedy scene we have left below. Inside, in what can only be described as the ultimate “man-space”, The Lord Himself is reclined casually on a plush, oversize sofa and our presence is likely detected- but considered harmless (for the time being) by the all-knowing. The decor of the enormous den we are in is modern, masculine, and up-to-date…and why not? Its owner, after all, is omnipotent; all powerful- and so being is able to update on a whim and in an instant. When stainless steel and lots and lots of glass were in, the snap of his fingers brought shiny fixtures and windows that were ten feet high and nearly as wide. The streets of gold and rivers of honey (and yes, virgins…there really were virgins) were in when mankind was wandering the desert and sacrificing sheep to obtain heavenly approval, but times change- as do standards in interior decoration.
Now the Lord lounges in comfort and understated rustic luxury, combined with modern convenience. This look being achieved, in part, by the antique bar (with matching stools) and brass foot rail in one corner, exposed barn-style beams above (nicely giving scale to the cathedral ceiling), wide plank hardwood floors, and the highest of high definition (and unbelievably huge) flat panel television mounted to the wall across from the aforementioned plush sofa, upon which still rests the aforementioned omnipotent deity. To call the television “high-definition”, by the way, would almost be an injustice. “Life- like” would be closer to describing the picture being intently viewed: a boxing match featuring what looks an awful lot like “The Manassa Mauler”, Jack Dempsey and “The Brown Bomber”, Joe Lewis- two long-deceased heavyweights who never in their life met in the ring, and yet seem to be fighting before us. The image is so, so real, it almost seems that one could walk right into the match (if daring to come between the two dangerous-looking men circling and hitting each other)- as if the screen was simply a window into another place. The crowd on the other side of this window witnessing the fight “oooh” and “aaah” as fight fans should, and the ref seems to do an excellent job keeping it fair and clean.
But wait; while we have been admiring the space and the things in it, our attention has once again been diverted from the characters and the action there. This really is a story and if we don’t stay with it- we’ll be lost. A woman dressed smartly and conservatively (and yet undeniably beautiful at the same time) just now entered from the right through a massive oak door left casually ajar.
She approaches holding two file-type folders in her hand, glances at the fighting action on the screen, and if possible wears an expression that is reverent and disapproving at the same time. “My Heavenly Father,” she says with her eyes cast downwards, “we have a conflict on the prayer-line.”
“Doris,” God says, “I’ve told you for eons that I don’t need all that formality…
‘My Lord’ will do.”
“Yes, My Heaven…I mean, My Lord…but this is quite unusual.” Says Doris as she looks down at the folders in her hands. The Lord sits up slowly and turns to face the boxing match, which seems to have gotten quite exciting while we were distracted, more directly.
“Gentlemen,” God says at the screen, “hold up for a moment please.”
The boxers pause warily and then stop with their gloves still up for a moment, looking first straight out of the screen in God’s direction, and then to the ref who gives them a short nod with inconspicuous chopping motion signaling a pause in the battle.
A conflict in the heavenly prayer line occurs when two individuals make diametrically opposing prayer requests at exactly the same time. Most prayers are handled by a number of different heavenly teams, each in charge of prayers that fall into their area of expertise, and rarely make it to The Lord Himself. When a conflict is brought to God, it usually involves an unusual circumstance or request.
“My Lord,” Doris says, motioning to the two folders she holds. “It’s a poker game, it’s a big hand, and it’s down to these two gentlemen.” Over her left shoulder, we can see that the boxers and ref have begun chatting with each other in what appears to be a pleasant conversation, but the crowd has begun a restless and displeased sort of grumbling. The Lord diverts his attention from his assistant for a moment to cast a warning look at the screen, one eyebrow raised as if to say Are you sure this is how you want me to see you behaving? -and crowd noise lowers from grumble to murmur. Doris continues: “One gentleman is praying for the winning hand, and the other is simply praying for the first man to lose…quite unusual, but the second man feels he has already won, and only wishes to make his victory final with some divine intervention. I wouldn’t usually bother you with this kind of thing, but these two are frequent callers, and the situation is…”
“Yes, yes, Doris…I understand, who are we talking about here?” God says reassuringly, reaching for a file. Doris hands him the first file. There are a handful of papers in it, but it is clearly the less bulky of the two files. The second file, still held in Doris’s other hand, is quite thick, and has several red notes and marks on the cover, and is over-filled with items bearing color-coded tags and what appear to be quickly written notes on odd sized pieces of paper slid into it. While the more compact file is passed to The Lord, we get a peek at the cover and the name on it, which says (in a tight, neat, old-fashioned script)
“Hmmm,” God says, as he nods approvingly at one page. A deeper, less friendly “mmmm” on another page- accompanied by a slow side to side motion of his head- a motion regarded universally as disapproval (interestingly enough, we seem to hear a distant rumble of thunder at the same time-despite what appeared to be a cloudless and sunny sky). As witnesses to this event, we find ourselves feeling favorably about the fortunes and deeds of Coop (even without knowing the details to them) when The Almighty makes the more positive gestures, and experience some sense of foreboding when the gestures to the negative are made. As human nature dictates, we also find that we are not just slightly more curious about what may precipitate the disapproval of God.
While we watch this procedure (taking more notice with smiles and the nods, as well as the frowns and mutterings), it is noteworthy that The Lord Himself is able to shift his position, as if without intent or purpose, so that we cannot see what he is looking at- thus preventing us from getting any details on Coop’s earthly conduct as it is being evaluated. When we slide to the right, for example, The Lord dips left and switches the file to his left hand, reaching for the macadamia nuts on a close by table with his own right hand- blocking our view of the file and its contents. When we move left to see the file in its new location, God moves it back to the original hand and turns slightly to the right (to recline more comfortably it would seem, but this again blocks our view).
The page turning and noises continue for a couple moments, and end with an overall impression of approval. When God finishes, he closes the file and looks up at Doris.
“So, what does he want, Doris?”
“A six, My Heaven…My Lord, I mean,” Doris says a bit uncomfortably.
“A six?” the Lord asks.
“The six of spades, to be exact.” Doris replies, shifting her weight a little nervously.
“He…wants…the six of spades? He is staying in a losing hand with only one card that can help him…and he wants us to do it for him???” God asks, his voice now not only slightly raised, but also seeming to come from everywhere at once- not just where we see him sitting.
The mood in the den has changed, and even the boxers, the referee and the crowd around the ring on the other side of the very realistic TV are paying as much attention to what is happening on our side of the screen as their audience of one once paid them. Through the window that allows light into the den, we see that a cast of clouds seem to have appeared out of nowhere, lending some gloom to the sudden feeling of doom.
God pauses for a moment, apparently weighing the information he has seen in the file along with its accompanying request.
“Who is the other?” God asks, motioning dismissively to the rather large and sloppy file still in Doris’s hand.
“Carlo,” Doris responds, holding out the file for inspection. The Lord looks at Doris for a moment. Then he looks at the file. The over-filled file with the many notes and scribbles on the cover. The file that Doris isn’t just offering, but is holding away from herself.
“Carlo?” he asks, still looking at the file as if to make sure, (and it is hard to avoid the feeling that he has seen this file before). “Is this the Carlo that…”
“Yes, that Carlo.” Doris says a little tentatively. She clearly is not eager to discuss details, and she still holds the file out away from herself, but the Lord has made no move to take it for inspection.
There is a long, almost uncomfortable pause where all action is suspended. Doris stands with the file extended; God gazes at the file as if in thought-still making no move to take it; the boxers lean toward us and the crowd in the arena goes graveyard quiet…somewhere in the distance, a coyote howls…
“Send down the six.” God says.
Doris leaves quickly, taking both files with her, and The Lord turns back to the screen. “Gentleman,” he says to the screen, “you may resume.”
The fight continues, a little slowly while the boxers attempt to loosen and warm back up.
We are suddenly aware of the significance of what we’ve been allowed to see, while still being no more aware of what we can do to get the nods from the man upstairs when our own files are brought to him for evaluation. As we begin an attempt to fathom what we might do or must not do, the Lord turns his attention to us, and says in a voice that is kind- while leaving no room to wonder over a response:
“Don’t you have somewhere to go now?”
We have no choice. As he asks it, so it shall be. We find the fantastic den and the lifelike television screen fading from view, and in their place come a small room and the smell of smoke.
While it seems like an hour has passed, it has been maybe ten seconds. Carlo is eyeing Coop with a look that belies a feeling of self-satisfaction and smug certainty. Not in regards to a hand already won (and while he would never real such weakness as the need to pray for poker victory, he did just pray for the chance to take all of Coop’s money and gloat for the rest of the evening), but also regarding his superior poker skills. There is, after all, only one more card to be turned over. He feels his keen poker insight has given him the most vital information regarding what is about to happen:
- He has a full house
- Coop has a mere three of a kind and with only one possible card to save him, giving him a four of a kind
- The one remaining six, the six of spades, is the only card out there that will help Coop- its coming a virtual impossibility when you consider the odds!
The table has gone quiet, and while no one admits it openly, a loss for either man would be entertaining to the three other players at the table. As is the case with those less willing to engage in such battle, the defeats of those braver than themselves are as anticipated as the victories- sometimes more so. Coop, his head cast downwards as it was ten seconds ago (the ten seconds that almost seemed like an hour), now raises his head and takes a deep breath. The table watches the dealer bring out the last card, floating it facedown towards the middle of the table. There is a purposefully dramatic pause, and then the card is turned over…
The six of spades.
Once again, curses are traded. But now they mix with cheers and congratulations as this scene fades away. If there was any lesson to be learned at this game, it is beyond me to relate it in any truly useful way, other than keep your file neat and thin. As the players and the room fade to black, we hear the sound of playing cards being dashes against a wall, and a lone voice shouting a word too profane to be repeated here.