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October '05 -- stories that Brad likes

Poker Night
  by Andy Henion

More Than a Little Impressed
  by Peggy Johnson

Down With the Ship, Yo
  by Brian Beatty

Crazy Jake and Me
  by Lincoln Michel

Sportscaster Reporting About Dwarf Athletes at the 1984 Olympic Games
  by Jonathan Shipley

The Time Hopping Inter-Era Pirate Talk Show Host
  by Nick Mainieri

Selected pages from a 'Choose the Adventure You Want' story
  by Brooks Callison

The upper Midwestern village of Battle Axe wherein I reside contains a tavern named The Howlin’ Soybean which accommodates classic rock and roll bands on Saturday nights in our summer month. The drums and guitars are loud enough to keep me awake although my wife and infant son sleep soundly to the point that they both snore on the mattress next to me. I subsequently ease out of bed and dress in casual clothing and walk the two blocks to The Bean, as it is known, and take the only open seat at the bar next to a rural prostitute named Darlene. I proceed to drink a malt beverage in swift fashion while making sure not to make eye contact with Darlene. The band is playing a song that involves killing one’s wife and burying her in the backyard and I cannot help but question its validity as classic rock and roll but then I remember that songs from my youth are currently being classified as such. Darlene slurps a mai tai and pokes my calf muscle with her toe.

I order another malt beverage and remain occupied by looking upon the band. The four musicians are thick-necked individuals who share other similarities including soybean farming, ruddy complexions and, I surmise, high cholesterol. I went to high school with the bass player, a three-hundred-pound individual named Ernest who had a predilection for slaughtering house pets with lawn darts and pulling the elastic bands of his classmates’ undershorts up around their necks. Ernest wears a straw hat and spits frequently on the stage.

When my malt beverage arrives I step away from the bar just as Darlene is leaning over to whisper something into my ear and she falls and bangs her head upon the metal part of my stool. I try to catch her drink with my free hand but am unsuccessful and Darlene consequently ends up in a puddle of mai tai with several of us gazing upon her limp form including the bartender, a scowling gentleman with a neck mole the size of a baby gourd. After several moments the bartender turns to one of the tavern patrons and says, Take her home, and the fellow grips Darlene under the arms and drags her toward the door. Another tavern patron, an acne-plagued fellow who looks to be in his teens, subsequently takes hold of Darlene’s legs and the two transport her out the door like that, smiling at one another in the process.

I take my malt beverage and walk through the tavern, squinting against the cigarette smoke and nodding to persons I know on a marginal basis. At one of the tables the superintendent of schools is arm wrestling with the high school football coach and I stop to watch the veins bulge in their necks and the spittle fly from their active mouths. Word has it the superintendent of schools is fornicating with the high school football coach’s wife and that the high school football coach therefore demoted the superintendent of schools’ son to second string. Rumors are also pending that the superintendent of schools has impregnated a middle school student, that the high school football coach secretly likes young Asian men and/or that the high school football coach lost approximately two-thirds of his penis and a testicle in a fireworks accident. My wife is a part-time secretary at the school board office and keeps me informed on such matters.

When I reach the back of the tavern a door opens and the realtor who sold us our home appears with two handfuls of empty shot glasses. The realtor, a small person who hunts grizzlies, lions and other big game ostensibly to compensate, smiles greatly and invites me into the backroom to engage in a spirited game of poker. I have heard numerous stories about poker in the backroom of The Bean, most of them involving what is known around the village as the Soybean Mafia, and I respectfully decline but the realtor insists in his small person’s voice and subsequently places the shot glasses on the bar and leads me into the backroom with his hand on my upper back, which is no small task, along the way asking about the status of our home and explaining that he is still at our service when we are ready to move on to something with a little more elbow room. Like a magician he produces a business card and slips it into my palm, a maneuver he has executed with me approximately a dozen times at settings ranging from the soybean parade to his mother’s funeral.

The backroom consists of a single table at which four individuals are seated before various mounds of coinage and paper currency. Each of the participants holds a significant level of prominence in the community, most notably Chester, a former submarine skipper who now farms nineteen hundred acres and maintains a three-silo operation. I have heard it said that if you consume tofu there is a sixty percent chance the soybeans come from Chester’s farm. I have also heard it said that if you are an ambitious soybean farmer and attempt to capture even a portion of Chester’s market share, he will have your shinbones and/or clavicle broken.

Chester used to date my wife.

This is a fact that causes tension, particularly because Chester continues to sniff around the school board office during her lunch period, and it flares up now as I acquire a seat at the poker table. While the other participants offer me a hearty greeting Chester simply shuffles the playing cards and makes a face as if he is trying to purge a whiffle ball. As usual I am taken aback by his hawk-shaped face and drooping eye—undeniable features to my way of thinking, yet whenever I remind my wife of this she refuses to admit it, claiming it wrong to judge. This from a woman who characterizes her own sister as a walking sperm bank.

Five-card stud, Chester announces, his drooping eye focused on me. Five bucks to ante.

I place a five dollar bill in the center of the green felt and the rest of my currency on the table in front of me. I have only twenty seven dollars but it is mostly one dollar bills so it looks like more. I have not played poker since my college days and I am unclear on the order of the winning hands, particularly as it pertains to a straight and full house, but I nonetheless win the first three hands and accumulate roughly one hundred and eighty two dollars. The waitress brings several rounds of shots and malt beverages and I drink freely, and I become inebriated.

The fourth hand is my downfall. I become locked in a high stakes battle of five card draw with Chester and before I know it I am without sufficient funds with which to meet his final raise. Chester stares at me for a few seconds with his hawk face and his drooping eye and says, We can do one of two things: I can take the pot right now or we can get a bit creative. Thinking he will bring my wife into the equation and I will thus gain the opportunity to tear off his fucking ears, I say, What did you have in mind? Chester stares at me for a moment longer, obviously enjoying making a production out of this, and says, Lose, and you walk out of here naked.

The other participants laugh as if a sane person would never agree to such a bet. This does not deter me, however, for I have an ace-high straight, and I say, Deal, and spread my cards on the table in rather dramatic fashion. There is a much nodding and smirking and then Chester then throws out his cards so they land all helter-skelter and I see a three and a six and a nine and a queen and a king and I think, Holy shit, he was bluffing, I win, and I begin reaching for the pot when the realtor says, He’s got a flush, chief, and I stop and reexamine the cards and indeed see five symbols of the same shape and color, five clubs in fact.

Chester has a smart-ass look about him but I will not give him the satisfaction of reneging so I stand straight up and down and remove my shirt, shorts and underwear and drop them to the floor and say, I am going home to make sweet love to my wife, Hawk-face, and walk out of the bar just drunk enough to think it is really going to happen.

Andy Henion likes sharp-tongued movie sidekicks, the triple option and burnt orange automobiles. He's had fiction in Raging Face, Ink Pot, and some other places. He lives in rural Michigan.